Leviathan by Proxy: A Discussion with John DiIulio

with John J. DiIulio Jr.

This episode of Liberty Law Talk welcomes a truly gregarious man of public administration, John DiIulio, on his new book, Bring Back the Bureaucrats. That title might well lead to a collective sigh filling the air; however, DiIulio argues that we’re dishonest about the federal government in two significant ways:

(1) The federal government spends lavishly, but we borrow it from the wealth of future generations rather than tax ourselves.

(2) We actually administer most federal government programs not with federal bureaucrats but with a host of intermediaries: nonprofit entities, for-profit companies, state and local government employees that DiIulio refers to as “government by proxy.”

The number of federal bureaucrats hasn’t increased since 1960 while federal spending has ballooned. State and local government employees have increased dramatically in large part, DiIulio notes, to administer federal programs at their level. As a result, DiIulio argues that this government by proxy is another lie that lets us have big government but without actually seeing and feeling it. In the process, the feds have made many state and local government employees their agents while similarly corrupting the nonprofit sector, making it dependent on government for its revenues. The effects can be seen in incompetent and mismanaged government agencies, the proxies constantly lobbying for more money, with evident manifestations of stupidity visible in the daily headlines.

And so we can disagree with DiIulio. Will hiring federal bureaucrats with the intention that they must administer their own programs result in more limited, transparent, and accountable government? We might wonder how, exactly, is anything as large and monstrous as the federal government ever going to work well and accomplish its objectives efficiently? The nature of the case seems to augur against such a possibility. But DiIulio is here pointing to another discomfiting part of our government. We might dismiss his remedy but probably not his diagnosis.