The Corner

Republicans vs. Bureaucrats

This article is one of the weirdest pieces I have read in the Wall Street Journal. More precisely, it’s the weirdest criticism of the Republican party I have heard. The author rants about how Republicans — and their anti-government philosophy – have made government jobs very unappealing by despising bureaucrats and paying them less than their private-sector counterparts. As a result of this lack of appreciation for bureaucrats, regulators inevitably fail to do their job. But, to add insult to injury, Republicans then blame them. 

On this point, at least, Mr. Issa got it right. The regulators did fail us. They were too cozy with industry and too blinkered by the free-market faith to see the reality unfolding under their noses.

But what ought to make conservatives choke is the fact that those failing agencies were also the product of years of conservative governance, with its well-known hostility to bureaucrats and its apparent determination to make federal work unattractive.

And:

So this is how it works with conservatives at the helm: We starve government agencies of resources, we keep their employees’ pay well below their private-sector counterparts, we make sure they know what we think of them as they wait their turn at the photocopier. Then we demand they protect us when there’s a problem with extremely complex financial instruments, whose designers are defended by some of the best-paid lawyers in the world.

First, I am not sure where the author gets his data about the Bush administration starving government agencies of resources. In this study, Melinda Warren from the Weidenbaum Center at the Washington University of Saint Louis and I looked at federal spending on regulatory agencies and their staff. What we found is that spending on these agencies has gone up dramatically in the last eight years. And so has their staff.

You can read the whole study and check out our charts here.

Also, I may be part of the anti-bureaucrat lobby, but I don’t believe that paying government employees a lot of money or hiring more of them would result in an efficient government. Bad institutions deliver bad results. 

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