Bring Back Government

Washington Monthly recently reported on a new book by Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, and its review by John DiIulio.

Neither of them can be considered politically liberal. Fukuyama is best known for his book The End of History and his association with the rise of the neoconservative movement. DiIulio, late of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith Based and Community Organizations is, as the Monthly noted, a

scholar of government as an institution, and it is in that capacity that he expands on Fukuyama’s critique of modern governments, including that of the United States, as increasingly ineffective not because of excessive size, but because their bureaucrats serve too many masters, including client groups and private interests. And both Fukuyama and DiIulio hold that Americans’ distinctive mistrust of government has kept it from redeeming the hopes and plans of the Progressive Era reformers who sought to give the public sector its own sense of mission and esprit de corps.

DiIulio is concerned that “third party government”–the outsourcing of federal government responsibilities to state and local governments and to private contractors– is making government less accountable as well as less effective.

I have been making this point for years, along with many other scholars, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I agree with this diagnosis, and with DiIulio’s prescription:

There are many steps on the path to reversing America’s political decay by proxy. We need to reinvent federal grants-in-aid to the states, drain the federal for-profit contracting swamps, and wring more public value from grants to nonprofits. But we also quite simply need to hire more federal bureaucrats. The federal bureaucracy is more nearly the solution than the problem. In Bring Back the Bureaucrats, I crudely calculated that we need about one million more full-time federal workers by 2035 in order to serve the public, stop draining its purse, start improving performance, and create an actual system of national public administration.

Most reasonable people can see the problem that DiIulio describes very clearly:

America’s political decay is fed daily by public disdain for public servants and fueled each election season by bovine congresspersons in both parties who score points with voters by bashing “the bureaucrats” and “running against Washington.” The first step toward slowing or reversing America’s political decay is to recognize how for-profit contractors and other administrative proxies have rigged the system in their own interest, expand the federal civil service, and start treating federal bureaucrats as if our public well-being depended on them—for it does.

Unfortunately, the “bovine” folks in charge of Congress are so deep into batshit crazy territory, I doubt anyone will listen. 


  1. I trust my government more than I trust their Wall Street. My dad worked for the Federal Gov and he and his co-workers more than earned their pay. The crazies keep de-funding parts of the government that MAKE money for the USA. They stripped Millions from the collection division of the IRS that returned 100 bucks for every dollar spent. DUMB DUMB DUMB. You are right Prof K. Our government exists for US. We need our government. It is not perfect but we can make it better. It is NOT our enemy. Never was.

  2. Our fear of terrorists has forced us to give up many basic freedoms through the Patriot Act. There is a camera on every street corner, a government phone tap on every phone. Our elected officials are only interested in raising money to get reelected and the voters…at least the ones who show up…elect their reps based on how many federal tax dollars they can bring home. Our system is flawed and probably always will be. The idea of increasing the bureaucracy is as detestable as removing regulations from wall street. If anyone really cares about reform I would suggest visiting and sign the petition.

  3. Seriously? There’s a camera on every corner and a government tap on every phone? Seriously?

  4. We all, I think, fall for the need for villians. People and institutions to blame for what those with some independent cognition left see is the trajectory of our civilization. Government is a very popular target. Easy to hate and laugh at. Business is one of my favorites to blame. Some prefer other’s religions.

    But all of those institutions are mirrors that reflect the same specter. Our culture. A force that through our numbers and connectedness has birthed the Anthropocene Era of life.

    Culture is now way more influential than what brought us here, physical evolution. And completely out of the control of any of us. The more brains there are connected to a problem the less the ability to decide and act and understand. We’ve become army ants.

    The way to be most aware of this is to let go of your villains and observe as remotely as possible. Observe the ants instead of being one.

    Culture is a thinking specie’s adaptation to its environment. Like evolution and natural selection is to physical differentiation. So, we will adapt to survive. We are helpless not to.

    If you leave that dispassionate observer place and give in to your instincts to worry it becomes apparent that the best thing to worry about is the transition from our present culture to the next adaptation.

    It’s hard to imagine it as anything but traumatic. Traumatic on an hitherto unexperienced scale. So traumatic that I personally have to deny it. Hide from it. Cover it over with hope.

    How I wish to be wrong. How I wish that the future could be resolved by fixing things. By collaborative change and progress. How much I long for that gift to my sweet grandchildren.

    Just when I think hope has triumphed, the dispassionate observer returns and says, really?

  5. Government work, paid for with our tax dollars, should be done by government employees – with few exceptions. Private business is in business primarily to make money; not provide services.

  6. The Reagan dream is dead. I notice that the republican presidential hopefuls now include a few who are sounding like democrats. May be a glimmer of hope.

  7. While reading Pete’s above post, “The way to be most aware of this is to let go of your villains and observe as remotely as possible. Observe the ants instead of being one”, suddenly I remembered a one-page personal narrative I wrote in grade 12 and, now confessing, used it a second time my freshman year in college. See, I was already into recycling.

    “The Scavenger Hunt” was its title and the gist of the narrative revolved around my not being prepared and not being willing to join the scavenge hunt, Pete’s army of ants, that awaited me upon entering adulthood. I wished to stay behind with the old women and the children, perhaps be a remote and innocent observer. By the conclusion, I’d evidently given in to the pressure, but as my final sentence said, “But, I am not resigned.”

    Yes, popular culture pulls us along, some without realizing it, some who seem to thrive on it, and a few who are acutely aware of their being dragged through life against their true wishes. At present, I’m back to the observer status watching from a safe distance so I’ll not get pulled into this pit of present day culture battles where I would become immersed in a battle led by villains and devils and likely would lose my sense of personal identity.

  8. I don’t know about phone taps.

    However, the city has many Public Safety Cameras
    in various neighborhoods. They are easy to spot, a
    360′ zoom lens and a blue flashing light, that indicates
    its on the network and operational.

  9. Every day the far right scream machine undermines our government and the people that work hard for it to work, yes there are problems and will always be but thats the price we pay for being a large complex country. Turning it over to private business is wrong and destin to fail every time. Look no further than Americas wars over the past 10 years and the privitation of war and where it’s lead and the final cost still isn’t known, or the perception of America its left on the world.

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