What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run the Government and Their Misconceptions about the American People
a book by Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg
(our site's book review)
Each year unelected federal administrators write thousands of regulations possessing the force of law. What do these civil servants know about the American people whom they ostensibly serve? Not much, according to this enlightening and disturbing study.
The authors surveyed federal agency officials, congressional and White House staffers, and employees of various policy-making organizations about their attitudes toward and knowledge of the public. They found a significant chasm between what official Washington assumes they know about average Americans and the actual opinions and attitudes of American citizens. Even in such basic areas as life circumstances (e.g., income levels, employment, racial makeup) the surveys revealed surprising inaccuracies. And when it comes to policy issues--on such crucial issues as defense, crime, social security, welfare, public education, and the environment--officials' perceptions of the public's knowledge and positions are often wide of the mark. Compounding this ignorance is a pervasive attitude of smug dismissiveness toward the citizenry and little sense of accountability. As a result, bureaucrats tend to follow their own preferences without much reference to the opinions of the public.
The authors conclude with recommendations to narrow the gap between official perceptions of the American public and the actual facts. These include shorter terms, rotation from the Washington beltway to local offices, compulsory training in the responsibilities of public office, and better civic education for ordinary citizens in the realities of government and politics.
"Unaccountable government! Bureaucrats run amok! They think they’re better than us while spending our money in ways we don’t approve of! It sounds like a Tea Party screed. In fact, these are the conclusions of Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg’s book What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run the Government and Their Misconceptions about the American People. They are trying to explain why the public feels so disconnected from government, a worthy objective, and lay blame on arrogant bureaucrats representing the cosmopolitan elite. As a political sentiment, I share their views; as scholarship, they haven’t proved their case. . . . Bachner and Ginsberg start with the fun idea of turning the tables on government, surveying what elected and career civil servants know about the American public. The results aren’t pretty. Bureaucrats (even by contrast to White House and Congressional staffers) are ignorant about and derisive of the views and circumstances of the public. . . . Their argument falters over the fact that even though bureaucrats don’t know what the public thinks, their own views are similar – as Bachner and Ginsberg’s own data illustrate. One example: the authors excoriate NASA for focusing on human space missions, editorialising that 'nothing seems too bizarre for the fertile imaginations of NASA publicists'and 'virtually all the scientific payoff could be achieved with much cheaper unmanned flights' – yet they also note that 75 per cent of Americans support the Space Shuttle program. How are bureaucrats’ views an imposition on the public if they are the same as the public’s?" (Source: What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run the Government and Their Misconceptions about the American People, by Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg, Kori Schake, Times Higher Education)
We are not ruled by Congress, and we are not even ruled by the President. We are ruled by the federal administrative state, according to Bachner and Ginsberg. This state-within-a-state is theoretically subordinate to the President and it's supposed to execute the will of Congress. In reality, though, this state-within-a-state is a monoculture of permanently installed leftist bureaucrats who act at their own initiative to advance their own ideological goals, all the while obeying the first law of bureaucracy: CYOA (cover your own ass). Another law: if the excrement hit the fan someday, those with the most power will skate but scapegoats would be found lower down the chain of command, since blame is a frequent flyer in all authoritarian systems, and as everyone who's ever had the dubious pleasure of serving in the military or any other bureaucracy knows: poop flows downhill.
Bureaucrats act at their own initiative to advance their own ideological goals, all the while obeying the first law of bureaucracy: CYOA (cover your own ass)
As everyone who's ever had the dubious pleasure of serving in the military or any other bureaucracy knows: poop flows (or rolls) downhill
Don't rock the boat—one of the key principles of bureaucracy
The very definition of how bureaucracy operates is CYA (cover your ass) by actually doing nothing to rock any boat, but reporting that you're swamped in work—you could use more help, so the bureaucracy keeps getting bigger and more expensive even though most workers are doing as little as possible because they do not want to stick out because they suscribe to the prevailing conformist mentality found in all bureaucracies (whose unspoken objective is preservation of the status quo—which makes everyone risk-adverse), and if they were getting a lot done, human resources would fire some workers and the ambitious worker would look like a teacher's pet and like he was currying favor, so other workers would stab him in the back and make this troublemaker look bad so he would lose his job before anyone found out that the backstabbers were basically do-nothing go-along-to-get-along deadwood—mere chairwarmers.
Modern Republican presidents have confined themselves to modest and ineffective attempts to constrain regulatory overreach, in particular by requiring cost-benefit analysis, but administrative agencies can lie and the investigators become stymied. Agency members simply will not obey Republican orders—most of them are Democrat-staffed and managed. The authors’ analysis of how bureaucrats' out-of-touchness-with-citizens affects the American political system, as well as their recommendations, focus mostly on the bureaucrats, because they are the most out-of-touch with Americans. The authors studied civil service stiffs, staffers from Congress and the White House, and the policy wonks.
Politicians keep alive the illusion of the USA as a democracy to "keep the natives from getting restless," so to speak
Fiduciary responsibility is basic to the principal-agent relationship. But it is lacking among the ruling bureaucracy in Washington. Quite the opposite. With statistical measures, the authors show the rulers have contempt for the ruled, know little or nothing about them, do not care what they want. We, however, do not buy that these bureaucrats are "ruling" us—such terminology was used to stress points and highlight ideas, not verbalize accurate reality. The people that control us are the oligarchs and neocons of the shadow government. The U.S. is an oligarchy, as even Bernie Sanders and Jimmy Carter admit—among dozens of others. See Democracy—an American Delusion. Politicians keep alive the illusion of the USA as a democracy to "keep the natives from getting restless," so to speak.
We do not buy that bureaucrats are "ruling" us—the people that control us are the oligarchs and neocons of the shadow government
The authors say that “Official Washington is wealthier, whiter, and better educated than ordinary citizens. It lives in its own inside-the-Beltway bubble, where Washingtonians converse with one another and rarely interact on an intellectual plane with Americans at large.” Which gives a whole new meaning to the term "insiders."
Official Washington is wealthier, whiter, and better educated than ordinary citizens. It lives in its own inside-the-Beltway bubble
Washington doesn’t think very highly of the American people, a study of 850 non-elected officials and others working in the nation’s capital concludes. These Beltway insiders, who make policy or regulations or craft legislation in federal agencies, on Capitol Hill and in other Washington jobs, tend to think Americans are uninformed, know “very little” about key issues, and have opinions that can be ignored. They found 73 percent of government officials think the public knows little or nothing about programs aimed at helping the poor, 71 percent think the public knows little or nothing about science and technology policy, and 61 percent think the public knows almost nothing about childcare. Federal workers are in the top 10 percent of American earners, averaging over 81 grand a year.
The federal government employs about 2.5 million career civil servants, most of whom consider us ordinary Americans to be dumb as nailheads
"The two political scientists at Johns Hopkins University point out that the federal government employs about 2.5 million career civil servants, most of whom consider us ordinary Americans to be dumb as nailheads, while actually getting the facts all wrong about who we are and how we live." (Personally, we'd prefer the insult "dumb as a bag of hammers," or "dumb as a stump," or "dumb as a rock." Does being dumb as nailheads imply that the nonhead parts of nails are somewhat smarter than the head? [Rumor has it that the opposite ends from nailheads are actually pretty sharp.] This is indeed quite perplexing.) (Source: Political Scientists Discover That Washington Bureaucrats Think Ordinary Americans Are Idiots, Charlotte Allen, Independent Women’s Forum)
What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run the Government and Their Misconceptions about the American People ends with a conclusion: Those unelected bureaucrats in Washington who want to run our lives for us are not our friends. (Did the authors think for one second that we thought differently?)
- Who Will Tell The People?: The Betrayal Of American Democracy
- Doing Democracy
- A Dream Deferred
- Yearning for Democracy
- Tragedy and Hope 101: The Illusion of Justice, Freedom, and Democracy
- Democracy On Trial
- A Democracy Or A Delusion?
- When Corporations Rule the World
- America's Deadliest Export: Democracy - The Truth about US Foreign Policy and Everything Else
- 9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes against Democracy Succeed
- Anticipatory Democracy
- The Rise of Global Civil Society: Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up
- All the Myriad Ways
- The Quickening of America: Rebuilding Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives
- National Security and Double Government
- America: What Went Wrong?
- Discarding Democracy: Return to the Iron Fist
- What’s gone wrong with democracy: Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?
- Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
- When Corporations Rule the World
- The Rise of the American Corporate Security State
- The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption
- Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America
- The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America--and What We Can Do to Stop It
- The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government
- National Security and Double Government
- A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption
- Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the Global Economy IMPLODED -- and How to Fix It
- The Shadow Government
- Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market
- Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security
Various authors see the shadow government from various perspectives—like the blind men and the elephant, but the overall gist is creepily similar