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"Ending Big SIS (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic" is a stern look at the current crisis in politics and government.
The surface problems are known to all: uncontrolled spending; exploding debt; legal and regulatory absurdity; imperious bureaucracy; misdirected investment; and crippled private businesses and institutions.
But these are actually symptoms, not basic problems. They cannot be cured until we face up to a deep crack in the structure of our political institutions. We have allowed special interest groups of all kinds - the Founders of the republic called them "factions" - to capture segments of the government and then use its sovereign powers to tax, legislate, spend, and regulate to promote their own agendas rather than the interests of the nation as a whole.
Indeed, we celebrate capture. We assume that this jockeying for governmental advantage is part of democracy, and that somehow it will all work out. But it will not work out, because too many interests have won too much over too long a period. Our institutions, which were designed to make government act slowly, make it impossible to reverse course, especially because the winning interests support politicians who will block reform. In fact, the problems will worsen, as ever-more groups demand a share of the pie.
The Founders regarded capture by faction as a threat to the existence of the republic, using, in the words of one historian, "a dreadful image of a spreading rot" of a cancer eating at the vitals of the body politic.
They were right, and American politics is approaching the day when the very legitimacy of the government will come into question.
The book assesses the fears of the Founders, how their ideas governed our political arrangements for 150 years, and the rise of the special interest state in the 20th century. It analyzes the powerful forces that uphold Big SIS, and closes with some specific suggestions on how to reverse course.
From the book:
The Founders' view: Like architects analyzing the lines of force necessary to prevent the collapse of a building, the Founders focused on making the forces of factional passion neutralize each other, thus keeping the republic standing. (p.2)
Effect on other institutions: The leverage exerted by Big SIS affects decisions far beyond the money that it commandeers directly. It distorts the incentive structures throughout society, and sends investors and workers skittering off in unproductive directions. (p.91)
The ratchet: Big SIS [is a ratchet that allows] motion in one direction only - toward greater government activism -- and then locks. (p.112)
Rational ignorance: As more rules are created, and as complexity and opacity grow, it becomes more difficult to be "well-informed". The rational response is not to increase one's efforts but to cut them back, becoming even less diligent in seeking knowledge. 9p.119)
Rapacity: The interest gets the benefits while the costs are borne by society at large, so there is "no constraint on the social cost such an organization will find it expedient to impose on society in the course of obtaining a larger share of the social output for itself." (p.120)
True Greens: [T]he strongest clients of the True Green agencies would regard shutting down most industry as a worthy sacrifice to Gaia. (p.146)
Motivations: The power motive is as strong as the profit motive and is usually more destructive. (p.178)
Legitimacy: A dire consequence of a government's loss of legitimacy: in a crisis, people do not step up to defend it. . . . Lenin said that the Bolsheviks did not seize power in 1917; they found it lying in the gutter and picked it up. (p.168)
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About the Author
His substantive experience encompasses energy and the environment; administrative law and procedure; property rights; consumer protection and competition policy; intellectual property; and high tech/telecom. He has written two books and numerous articles and papers. A full bibliography is at the website supporting this book, www.specialintereststate.org.
Mr. DeLong is a cum laude graduate of Harvard College, where he majored in American History, and a magna cum laude graduate of the Harvard Law School, where he was Book Review Editor of the Harvard Law Review.