Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How the Sausage is Actually Made

One of things that Mencius Moldbug likes to emphasise is that most Western countries increasingly aren't democracies in a meaningful sense. Sure, we vote for politicians every couple of years. But the vast majority of the important decisions about what becomes law are made by civil servants - professional government officials who decide what's going to happen. Congress has decided that the job of governing is so vast that it will just palm it off to the secretary of the relevant department to figure out what to do. They in turn will palm it off to a bunch of junior guys, who may palm it off to some corporation or lobby group or NGO.

Don't believe me? Check out the 'Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act', a.k.a. 'Obamacare'. Do you know how many times the phrase 'The Secretary Shall' [promulgate regulations, develop standards, award grants, carry out a program, establish a formula...] appears in the act? Quick, see if you can guess.

It appears 883 times.

It's not even like the politicians are even going to any great lengths to hide how little involvement they have in lawmaking. Nancy Pelosi famously declared about the Obamacare Bill, in public, that '[W]e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it'. Not only did she not know herself, she wasn't even afraid of admitting it. So why did she pass the Bill? Someone told her to pass the Bill, and she trusts them enough to just go along with the recommendation. Who wrote it? Who knows! Some combination of lobby groups, civil servants, NGOs, and God knows who else.

So far, the Secretary has issued over 12,000 pages of regulations elaborating on the law. And in case it wasn't clear, I'm pretty certain that the Secretary herself hasn't read and understood the intended (let alone actual) effects of all 12,000 pages of regulations. Again, who actually wrote them? Great question. Care to wager on the chance that you'll be able to get a straight answer to that question if you asked the Secretary, or Nancy Pelosi?

This isn't just a Democrat thing. Moldbug has a great example about some ridiculous Executive Order on 'Protection of Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations'. Does anyone imagine Bush knew virtually anything about this subject before passing the order? The mere suggestion is laughable.

The idea that most of the important legislative choices are being made by a bunch of nobody government officials is so rarely discussed in the popular discourse that you suspect most people don't really believe it. Come on, how much power can some random bureaucrat in an obscure bit of the government have to affect my life?

As if to remind you, here comes the latest dreary outrage in government overreach in the name of corporate cronyism - as of last Saturday, it's now illegal to unlock your mobile phone in the USA so that you can use it on another carrier.

As a policy, this is yet one more example of restricting consumer freedom in the name of protecting big business. WHEC helpfully informs us that:
Officials say carriers rarely went after customers that unlocked their phones...
and that's a guarantee you can take to the bank!
...but instead targeted businesses that bought throw away phones, unlocked them and shipped them overseas.
 Which is a clear problem because... um... you see...

But that's not what's shocking here. The real kicker is the following:
In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking cellphones would no longer be allowed. But the librarian provided a 90-day window during which people could still buy a phone and unlock it. That window closes on Jan. 26.
 F***ing who? The Librarian of Congress? Who on earth is that? And why are they determining whether I can unlock my cellphone?

If there are any Shylock Holmes readers that can prove that they knew before last week that decisions on copyright were made by the Librarian of Congress, I will personally send them a cheque for $1000.

Who wrote this awful regulation? Who decided that we needed to make criminals out of people who want to use a local SIM card while travelling in Europe before their contract is up?

Beats me. Some flunkie in the US Copyright Office of the Librarian of Congress. And how did the person get the idea to do this? Presumably the phone companies donated to somebody important, and got this disgraceful back room deal.

If you still believe the fiction that laws are made by elected representatives, you may be wondering whom you complain to to get the Librarian of Congress replaced. Oh, the halcyon days of youthful naivete! Do you think the Cathedral cares one whit about your opinion?

Every now and then the public service will step sufficiently far out of line that politicians will occasionally overrule the decision. The public assumes that this means that the rest of the regulation has been given careful oversight and assented to. Care to wager over how many of those 12,000 pages have been scrutinised by any elected official ever, given Congress couldn't be bothered writing them in the first place?

And for the remaining 99.9% of regulations, some group of guys whose titles and positions will be meaningless to you are busily deciding how the power of the state will be administered.

At least in the EU the elites have essentially given up on the farce of pretending that any meaningful decisions will be decided by the popular will.

Here in the US, the charade continues a while longer.

None of this would have been a surprise to the great Robert Heinlein, who described it very memorably way back in 1961 in his book 'Stranger in a Strange Land':
IN THE VOLANT LAND OF LAPUTA, according to the journal of Lemuel Gulliver recounting his Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, no person of importance ever listened or spoke without the help of a servant, known as a "climenole" in Laputian-or "flapper" in rough English translation, as such a Servant's only duty was to flap the mouth and ears of his master with a dried bladder whenever, in the opinion of the servant, it was desirable for his master to speak or listen. Without the consent of his flapper it was impossible to gain the attention of any Laputian of the master class.
Gulliver's journal is usually regarded by Terrans as a pack of lies composed by a sour churchman. As may be, there can be no doubt that, at this time, the "flapper" system was widely used on the planet Earth and had been extended, refined, and multiplied until a Laputian would not have recognized it other than in spirit.
In an earlier, simpler day one prime duty of any Terran sovereign was to make himself publicly available on frequent occasions so that even the lowliest might come before him without any intermediary of any sort and demand judgment. Traces of this aspect of primitive sovereignty persisted on Earth long after kings became scarce and impotent. It continued to be the right of an Englishman to "Cry Harold!" although few knew it and none did it. Successful city political bosses held open court all through the twentieth century, leaving wide their office doors and listening to any gandy dancer or bindlestiff who came in.
The principle itself was never abolished, being embalmed in Articles I & IX of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America-and therefore nominal law for many humans-even though the basic document had been almost superseded in actual practice by the Articles of World Federation.
But at the time the Federation Ship Champion returned to Terra from Mars, the "flapper system" had been expanding for more than a century and had reached a stage of great intricacy, with many persons employed solely in carrying out its rituals. The importance of a public personage could be estimated by the number of layers of flappers cutting him off from ready congress with the plebian mob. They were not called "flappers," but were known as executive assistants, private secretaries, secretaries to private secretaries, press secretaries, receptionists, appointment clerks, et cetera. In fact the titles could be anything-or (with some of the most puissant) no title at all, but they could all be identified as "flappers" by function: each one held arbitrary and concatenative veto over any attempted communication from the outside world to the Great Man who was the nominal superior of the flapper.
This web of intermediary officials surrounding every V.I.P. naturally caused to grow up a class of unofficials whose function it was to flap the ear of the Great Man without permission from the official flappers, doing so (usually) on social or pseudo-social occasions or (with the most successful) via back-door privileged access or unlisted telephone number. These unofficials usually had no formal titles but were called a variety of names: "golfing companion," "kitchen cabinet," "lobbyist," "elder statesman," "five-percenter," and so forth. They existed in benign Symbiosis with the official barricade of flappers, since it was recognized almost universally that the tighter the system the more need for a safety valve.
The most successful of the unofficials often grew webs of flappers of their own, until they were almost as hard to reach as the Great Man whose unofficial contacts they were . . . in which case secondary unofficials sprang up to circumvent the flappers of the primary unofficial. With a personage of foremost importance, such as the Secretary General of the World Federation of Free States, the maze of by-passes through unofficials would be as formidable as were the official phalanges of flappers surrounding a person merely very important.
So it was, so it is, so it will continue to be.

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