ARE THE BUREAUCRATS STRANGLING AMERICA?
A Republican senator views the future with alarm – have we changed, as he says, “from the liberty-loving democracy to a fear-stricken mass of automatons”?
By Arthur R. Robinson, United States Senator from Indiana
We are going through a revolution. Call it what you may — a “change”; and “evolution”; “gradual substitution”; or simply “the New Deal” – the fact is that we have change from a liberty-loving democracy to a fear-stricken mass of automatons ruled by an army of bureaucrats.
Our bureaus which were formerly our servants have now become our masters. Bureaucracy has gone wild in the last year. Today we see a superstructure of more than forty agencies with upward of 40,000 additional government employees.
This is but the beginning. As the gradual change in our form of government moves forward, new agencies are needed. This means more federal employees, more supervision, more bureaucracy – and it all means more money from the citizens’ pocketbooks. But these bureaucrats, utterly irresponsible, do not care who pays the bill so long as they can go merrily on.
This towering burden of bureaucracy contains many incipient dangers to American democracy. We now see in process a moving away from the democracy toward an autocracy of executive dictatorship with countless bureaus and employees, all independent of control by the electorate.
These bureaucrats represent,in large part, plain political spoils. Once in, it is almost impossible to dislodge them, for they wield an increasingly great amount of political influence.
The Home Owners Loan Corporation is reputed to be the worst offending agency of the emergency set-up in this regard. The Senate adopted an amendment to a bill which would make it possible to employ personnel in the HOLC without regard to political considerations. The Senate adopted the amendment; the President wanted it and the HOLC board wanted it; but when the bill reached the House, that body struck out the amendment. Few more unpatriotic acts have been charged against either house of Congress. Yet ever since the advent of the new deal, if anyone has dared criticize, he has been branded “unpatriotic,” “old dealer,” “Tory,” or “standpatter.”
No one has any thought of quarreling with the good intentions of the administration, but present efforts toward recovery have resulted in a virtual abdication of power by the people’s Congress and in a government by Presidential proclamation and edict. Indeed, the system of government now extant is alarmingly reminiscent of the old Russian government by ukase under the czars.
The first step in the much advertised revolution is the virtual abdication of control by representatives of the electorate under the guise of “emergency legislation.” But too often “emergency” enactment graduates into permanent legislation. A majority vote in Congress enacts legislation, but it requires a two-thirds vote to override a veto. Thus constitutional controls are displaced by extra-constitutional controls. This first revolutionary step is bound up with efforts toward hybrid control, some of which is voluntary and some involuntary. Thus as much of the New Deal’s voluntary crop-control efforts fails, we see the administration swinging into an era of compulsory control -witness the Bankhead cotton bill.
Compulsory control is the second major step in the revolution. In industry, with the NRA (National Recovery Agency), we are living under a bureaucracy. Now we learn that the NRA may be made permanent. Industry is being governed by codes, and agriculture is being regimented by voluntary and involuntary crop- and stock-control efforts.
Almost every act of our daily life is influenced directly or indirectly by some of this army of bureaucrats. Here are some of the bureaus or controls, almost every one set up under the New Deal: AAA, CAB, CC, CCC, CCC [Commodity Credit Corporation], CFC, CSB, CWA, DLB, DSH, Ex-IB, Ex-IB (2), EC, ECPC, EHFA, ECW, FACA, FSLD, FCA, FERA, FFMC, FSRC, FLB, FICB, FSHC, FHLBB, FCOT, FDIC, HOLC, IAB, IBRT, ITPC, LAB, NCB, NEC, NLB, NPB, NRA, NRRB, NPSAC, PAB, PWA, PWEHC, PLPB, SAB, SPBW, RCA, RACC, RFC, SES, TVA, TVAS, USIS, and others.
A political raid foreshadowed what would happen as soon as the bureaucrats could get into the saddle. Just before the present administration came in to power the Senate adopted a resolution demanding that it be furnished with a list of the available jobs in the public service.
This list made a volume of more than four hundred pages and was soon characterized as the “plunder book.” Ironically enough, it was issued on the anniversary of the signing of the first Civil Service Act. Needless to recount what was done with trained and efficient service employees— a literal clean sweep was made by the New Deal regardless of merit or experience.
But the real iniquities began to appear with the Civil Service itself was figuratively tossed out the window and thousands of new employees hired without regard to training or qualifications. Under the lash of the Executive last March, the Congress passed the cruel and inhumane so-called Economy Act. It reduced the budget a few hundred million dollars, but it impoverished thousands of disabled veterans and their families, and depleted purchasing power at a time when it was most seriously needed.
A few millions were lopped from the budget by cutting veterans’ benefits, and several times that amount expended on tree planting in the CCC. Moreover, $148,000,000 was taken from the public works allocation and from labor in the building trades to get the CCC started. Thus useful projects for which money was allocated had to be delayed. Able-bodied young men between eighteen and twenty-five were given jobs while at the same time thousands of disabled war veterans were thrown on charity and relief.
In its annual report last June — and that was before most of the new bureaucratic units had been set up — the National Civil Service Reform League said:
The new administration has turned it’s back on the only method of safeguarding these new agencies from maladministration. Without a single exception the agencies of government thus created have been thrown open to the political spoilsmen to do with as they see fit. The excuse given one objection is made to exemption from civil service tests has been that these agencies are a part of the emergency program and that they may prove temporary in character. A more specious excuse could not be devised to hoodwink the public.
Mark you, this comes from a distinguished nonpartisan body of citizens.
The role of the spoilsman has been eased considerably by the administration’s novel double-budget system. We have had an “ordinary” and an “extraordinary” budget. The former was used to include the ordinary business of operating the government, the latter as a “catch-all” for the emergency expenditures.
When the New Deal was to make a great show of “balancing the budget,” or “reducing expenditures,” and “redeeming pledges to reduce expenditures,” it referred to the ordinary budget. But when it asked Congress for an appropriation of a few million or a few billion dollars, it used the extraordinary budget.
As a result we are faced with a treasury deficit of upwards of ten billions and our national indebtedness will reach a new high when it hits the thirty-two billion mark.
The people should refuse to be deceived any longer. Either we must retrench and safeguard our financial standing or we shall be plunged headlong into reckless and utterly uncontrolled inflation.
More alarming still are the estimates which show that a year after the New Deal began approximately one out of every six persons in the United States owed part or all of his living to the bounty of the federal treasury. In addition to this number more than 860,000 were mortgagors or borrowers of the federal government.
However, the real danger is that almost enough people now owe their living to Uncle Sam to control elections and make this dangerous bureaucracy self-perpetuating. Such a step has obvious perils. It would lead to violent change. Either an extreme right-wing or some form of Fascist control would develop, or the machinery of government would suffer a complete breakdown, which would be followed by extreme left-wing control, communism, or something worse.
We have seen power become more and more centralized. We have seen state lines practically obliterated by controls from Washington, as the federal government has taken over more and more of the so-called reserved powers of the states. New state-encroachment bills are being passed today. With these emergency controls we see regimentation of agriculture and industry. The next step, and the one in the midst of which we find ourselves, is that of compulsory control. After this will come absolute price fixing, and then we may expect a sharp era of income regulation. What next? The collectivism of the New Deal will lead us, if we are not careful, into an era of thoroughgoing regulation. This regulation, if carried to its logical conclusion, may well bring on an autocratic government.
Let America beware!
Bureaucracy never means efficiency — it always spells inefficiency. Look at what it did to Russia during the Russo-Japanese War. We are in the midst of a world that envies us, to say the least. We have a enormous international problems. Bureaucracy, irresponsible and its nature, can settle none of them. Representative government, imperfect though it may be, is still the most efficient devised by man. Let us not discard it. Constitutional government is as essential to the American people today as it any time in the past.
Only by demolition of much of the vicious structure of bureaucracy which has so suddenly grown up among us may we preserve our freedom and the Constitution of the United States which guarantees a square deal to all men.
This article was published on September 22, 1934 in Liberty magazine. With a few minor changes, it could have been written today. Eighty years later we have failed to heed Senator Robinson’s warning and have instead allowed the federal bureaucracies to expand and flourish – further increasing the federal powers (and debt) while diminishing the States’ powers. We still make first cuts at the expense of our veterans. Senator Robinson references a mere forty new bureaucracies. How shocked would he be to discover the eleven pages of Cabinets, Agencies, Bureaus, Departments, and others currently listed on the federal government’s registry? How would he view our current debt problem and our treatment of veterans?
The article notes “Senator Robinson has been a hard, consistent fighter in the cause of nationalism, also against foreign debt cancellation – on which subject he has spoken his mind in Liberty. He is known especially as a Senatorial champion of veterans’ claims; he himself served in the A.E.F. and the army of occupation on the Rhine, and rose from shavetail to major.”
Franklin Roosevelt had been in office for just over one year and America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Unemployment FELL to 21.7%.