Book Review: Bring Back the Bureaucrats by John DiIulio

The following is a revised, truncated excerpt from a book review assignment I did for a college course. Because I was not trying to be lazy and simply copy and paste I have changed a few things as well as shortened it for this post. Hopefully you enjoy…

In the book Bring Back the Bureaucrats:Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government author John DiIulio aims to resolve the problem of inefficient, and ineffective, government. The book seeks to highlight certain issues within the day to day operation of the government and provide historical context for how we, as a nation, have come to this point. Additionally, the author offers up solutions to these issues in the form of his general ideas for a path forward. Or at least, that is his intention.

 In any debate the basic building block is how you frame the debate. Or, to put it another way, the effectiveness of any argument depends upon the premise. For Mr. DiIulio, the basic premise of his argument is that the Federal government is ineffective, inefficient and in desperate need of repair as a direct result of a lack of bureaucrats. He begins the book with a basic framework from which to develop this premise, going into great detail to highlight various wastes and inefficiencies within the Federal government. He details the growth of the scope of government over time, in addition to the growth of government spending. In order to further drive home these points, he contrasts this growth with the lack of increase in government employees over the same timeframe. 

Beginning with the 1960s, Mr. DiIulio leaves very little undisturbed when it comes to government. He discusses in great detail the increases in spending, stating that from 1960 to 1975 federal government spending doubled in dollars[1]and then did so again from 1975 to 2005.[2]However, the problem here for Mr. DiIulio is not that the spending was increased, the problem is instead that the federal workforce was not. This increase in spending without an increase in the federal workforce leads to what Mr. DiIulio calls “Leviathan by Proxy”.[3]

This is the crux of Mr. DiIulio’s argument, that since the Leviathan of government cannot be tamed, the proxy system that has arisen is doing a disservice to all Americans. Because this proxy system is woefully inadequate we must therefore bring back the bureaucrats. The author cites examples of the work shifting from Federal employees to nonprofit organizations, for-profit contractors, and state and local government proxies. He laments this shift because of how the proxies have come to function. Citing that they are operating on federal funds in the way of grants, grants for aid, and contract competition. He remarks that “big government in drag dressed as state or local government, private enterprise or civil society is still big government”.[4]

While Mr. DiIulio certainly makes a valid point about big government in that regard, it is here where his argument as a whole begins to unravel. It would appear from his argument, as well as his proposed solutions, that the issue for Mr. DiIulio is not that government has become Leviathan but rather that it is done by proxy. It seems that the author is perfectly fine with ditching the “by proxy” in favor of Leviathan. Indeed, he seems to think that not only is the big government Leviathan acceptable but preferable. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter to explain how if we only knew how government would end up growing that we would have been better off accepting the big government plan in the beginning.[5]

Therein lies the problem, this is a flawed premise. It is illogical to think that efforts to reduce the size and scope of government are somehow responsible for the growth of government. Because the government now shifts from the federal level to the state and local level (in certain cases) and uses non and for-profit contracting does not in and of itself mean it is responsible for the government having grown. The big government programs still exist and as such these are merely efforts for government to get around the limits and restrictions that those of us who favor smaller government try to put on it. 

The issue is the big government not the by proxy. Mr. DiIulio’s entire argument is based around what amounts to an “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach. Since government always tries to grow, we should just accept it and allow it to grow rather than put in restrictions. But this too is another flawed premise. In arguing in favor of ridding the “by proxy” in favor of Leviathan, the author never actually gives a reason as to why this approach is better. His argument amounts to “it’s happening anyway, so we may as well revert it all back to federal bureaucrats”. Absent from the pages of this book is any coherent reason as to why federal bureaucrats would be better than private enterprises or even state and local proxies. In fact, the latter should be just as good as a federal bureaucrat given that they are also bureaucrats, just at the state and local level. If bureaucrats truly provide a superior service then a state bureaucrat is just as good as a federal one, is it not? 

Additionally, Mr. DiIulio brings up an important point with regard to federal bureaucrats, albeit a different one than he intended. He points out that the current system “undercuts public administration’s democratic accountability”[6]and to him this is a reason why the system needs to go back to the federal bureaucracy. This argument does not hold water either though, because an unelected bureaucrat is not in any way democratically accountable. There is no reason to think that simply by virtue of reverting the administration of the big government program back to the federal government then that will somehow make the program more accountable to the public. In reality the opposite is often true. It is not uncommon to see that in most cases a lack of accountability is one of the main reasons for inefficiency within bureaucracy.[7]

The role of government should be as minimal as possible. Our founders started with that premise and designed our Constitution to give very specific enumerated powers to the federal government. They knew and understood that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”.[8]Furthermore, to Mr. DiIulio’s point that the increase in federal workers is somehow more beneficial simply because there are more of them I must refer to the words of James Madison: “One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one”[9]

This is the fatal flaw within Mr. DiIulio’s argument, there is nothing about it that lines up with the intent of the founders. While Mr. DiIulio makes some excellent points that the current system is also not keeping with the original intent, that does not in any way justify succumbing to the big government Leviathan. The problem is that the government has grown too large and interferes in every aspect of American life, not that it is interfering inefficiently. The solution to that is not to give us more of the thing we don’t want, the solution is to stop the interference.

I will say the book itself is an interesting read given the level of detail that the author goes into with regard to spending and government programs. Also, there is a section at the end containing rebuttals to his arguments from two sources who are on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. He includes these in an attempt to refute them, however, from my perspective he never actually addresses their concerns.

All in all, the book was enough to keep me reading, if only because of the fascinating mental gymnastics required to arrive at some of his conclusions. In the end, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading this book unless you have some free time that you want to spend annoyed. But even then, there are surely better ways to annoy yourself.


[1]. John DiIulio. Bring Back the Bureaucrats Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Cheaper!) Government. Templeton Press, 2014. P. 14

[2]. Ibid

[3]. Ibid. P. 6 

[4]. Ibid. P. 42 

[5]. Ibid. P. 79-89 

[6]. Ibid. P. 7 

[7]. Ronald N. Johnson, Gary D. Libecap. TheProblem of Bureaucracy. University of Chicago Press. 1994. P. 2

[8]. Ronald Reagan. “Inaugural Address.” Address, January 20, 1981.

[9]. James Madison. Federalist 48. Ed. Clinton Rossiter. New York: Signet Classics, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA), 2005.

Someone has to be the adult in the room…

We’re in deep trouble if, as it apparently seems, that someone is me.

Recently, for those unaware, President Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made headlines by announcing that she was planning to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics in an effort to reduce the department’s budget. Predictably, this was met with a chorus of agony and hand wringing from people on both the left and right. President Trump eventually overrode her though and insisted that the funding would remain in place much to the delight of many of the aforementioned hand wringers.

Here’s the thing though, he was wrong to do that. That statement will come as a shock to many people for many reasons, not the least of which being that I’m sure some people think I worship the guy. But I’ll say it again: he was wrong to do that. And if you’ll allow me, I will explain why.

Before I get too far along though I’d like to provide some background about my extended family. My grandmother has five siblings. As I was growing up all of those siblings and their children, and their children, would get together multiple times throughout the year in various ways. For the most part the entire extended family lived fairly close to each other so there were always gatherings of some sort going on. On top of that, at least twice a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, the entire extended family would get together.

The reason I bring this up is because within that extended family there were four people with Down Syndrome: my cousins Bonnie, Randy, Richard, and Dennis. I grew up with these people and saw them on a regular basis. They were part of the family and while I knew some of them much better than others, I had many interactions with all of them. They have all passed on now, but they were important members of our extended family and each one blessed us all in different ways.

Of all of them, the one I had the closest relationship with was Dennis. He lived with his mother, my grandmother’s sister, in the house literally just up the hill from my grandmother’s house. Every Sunday we would go to my grandmother’s house for lunch, or Sunday dinner as it is better known, and many times after lunch I would walk up the hill and shoot some basketball with Dennis. We would talk and he would tell me what was going on in his life and he was just one of the warmest people I have ever met in my life, an absolute joy to be around. I think fondly of every time I got to interact with him, and I would be willing to assume that everyone else in our family feels the same way.

I say all that to provide context, not to attempt to claim that I have some better understanding of the type of people to whom the Special Olympics provide valuable outlets and services. I do understand the value of the Special Olympics and the value that it provides the people involved at every level. I wholeheartedly agree that the Special Olympics is a valuable and needed organization.

What I do not agree with is that it is within the purview of the Federal Government. Or any government for that matter. That is why I say that President Trump was wrong to override Betsy DeVos with regard to its funding as part of the budget for the Department of Education. The Special Olympics, while a valuable, and dare I say, noble organization, is not the responsibility of the taxpayer by way of the Federal Government.

I expressed that sentiment yesterday on Facebook and I received a reply that actually surprised me. Both because of who it was from, although that shouldn’t have, and because of what the argument consisted of. The argument that came to me was essentially this: “we wasted money on that garbage Mueller investigation, we can afford to fund the Special Olympics. Especially since it isn’t that much money.”

On its surface I suppose that isn’t that bad of an argument. We certainly did, as taxpayers, waste multiple millions of dollars on an investigation that at best was a giant waste of time and money and at worst a coup attempt. Surely, given that we throw money at terrible things such as bogus investigations we can afford to throw some money at such a good cause as the Special Olympics, can we not? Well no, actually. You see, the problem with that argument is the wasteful spending. The problem is that we spent money that we should not have, so the solution to the problem of wasteful spending is not to give us more of the thing we don’t want. It is not any sort of rational justification that since we waste money on one thing it is ok to waste it on another. This is a flawed premise. More than that though, it’s how we got here to begin with.

The whole attitude of “we’re spending the money anyway” is how we end up in situations where we are funding things that we should not be. Despite how good it may feel to know that we as taxpayers are spending our money on something such as the Special Olympics, it is still an improper use of tax money. The big problem is that no one wants to be the bad guy who stands up and says no. But someone has to. So, I guess that someone is me.

And therein lies the problem. In the age of social media politicians want to have some kind of thing that they can point to in an effort to say “see look what I did!” No one wants to be the adult who has to make the tough decisions, because being the one to make the tough decisions isn’t fun. The disciplinarian is usually not the “cool” parent and what we have in the majority of our politicians is the equivalent of a bunch of people fighting over who gets to be the cool one. But, in keeping with the parenting analogy, it’s never good for the child when parents take that approach.

When a child is never told “no”, they become uncontrollable and in the long run a detriment to not just themselves but society as well. So too does government. Like the gluttonous child whose parents let them eat whatever they want without regard, the government also becomes an insatiable blob devouring budget restrictions in the same way children engorge themselves on junk food. Addicted to the “sugar high” of this feel good spending the government becomes the bloated leviathan due in large part to simply never having been told no. That is why it is up to adults to stand up and say “enough!”

Just as with the child, it is for its own benefit that we tell the government no. It doesn’t matter what well meaning program we happen to stand up and say no on, the point is that it will never be one that the governmental child wants to let go. People who get up in arms about the elimination of funding for something like the Special Olympics are like the family member or friend who says “oh come on, what could it hurt? Let the child have the candy.” The problem is that the child has already had too much candy and it is now up to the parent to put their foot down and say, for the child’s own benefit, “that’s enough”.

I understand that such decisions will never be popular. That does not in any way alleviate us from the responsibility of having to make them. Not every decision that gets made will be popular, and that is ok, they are still necessary. Neither will these decisions always be easy. Again, that does not mean they are not the responsible and correct decision to make.

The worst part about the whole thing for me though is that all of this is completely unnecessary. The Special Olympics only receives 10% of its funding from the Federal Government, if it cannot find a way of increasing its funding to survive upon losing 10% then perhaps it has bigger problems to begin with. Or maybe, just maybe, all of the people who wring their hands, pull their hair and gnash their teeth at the thought of a private entity losing Federal funds could step up and put their money where their mouth is. Perhaps they’d be willing to fund this noble enterprise so desperately in need of money rather than sitting back with a smug sense of accomplishment that they kept it funded by extorting the rest of us.

Greetings

Hello everyone. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. For the first post I figured I’d give you a heads up as to what you can expect with this blog.

I am first and foremost a Christian. Everything I do comes from the perspective of Biblical Christian Worldview. I think it is important that you know that upfront because 1) I’m not trying to hide it and 2) it will help you to know where I’m coming from.

While I do not claim to be a perfect Christian, if there even is such a thing, I am doing my best to adhere to God’s word and live accordingly. I do not think I am better than you nor am I holier-than-thou.

Next, I am a Conservative. I believe in low taxes, a limited federal government and the elimination of all but the bare bones government. If the left and right are defined as the left being a complete and total government control of everything and the right being a complete absence of government, then I am as far right as is humanly possible without the total elimination of government. I don’t like anarchy because it can only last until someone with more guns shows up. That’s a gross oversimplification but this is already a longer post than I intended it to be.

Lastly, what can you expect from this blog? Well it will certainly be about politics that’s for sure. That’s a big part of who I am. But more than that it will be about pretty much anything I feel like writing about. It will be politics, pop culture, book reviews, movie reviews and possibly even occasional sports. It’s a blog, and it’s my blog, so whatever suits my fancy.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it.