June 7, 2013

The Fiction of Civil Service Reform

In the earliest days of the Republic, when the political parties were barely forming, the order of the day upon a presidential inauguration was the implementation of the spoils system. The new party in power threw all the old civil servants out, and rewarded their loyalists and ward heelers with patronage jobs. It was corrupt, and unfair, and totally American. Winners win, and losers suck hind tit. The beauty of the process was that when the other party won the presidency in 4 or 8 years, and the previous ward heelers and graspers and other nefarious bastards got throwed out, they were replaced by new ward heelers and graspers and other nefarious bastards.

The true beauty of this system is that the bureaucrats, such as they were, were fairly incompetent at their jobs, they knew they would be kicked to the curb in 4 or 8 years, and therefore they did as little as possible. Meaning inflicting as little damage upon the American populace as possible. Incompetence and venality can oft serve a Republic well, if these flaws are directed properly.

Early reformers, what we would term today jocksniffers and busybodies and Nosy Parkers, decided we must reform this most American of traditions. It hit full stride after Andrew Jackson brought in a gang of outlaws, incompetents, and drunkards that even Washington could not tolerate. But it didn't gain that much traction until the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 in the Chet Arthur administration. Henceforward civil servants were to be screened, and tested, and given steady work, and guarantees, and were to promise to be apolitical. It was to be a professional class, a meritocracy. We now call these busybodies Mugwumps. For good reason. Even my beloved Teddy Roosevelt (who was in fact a bit to the left of Leon Trotsky) was a rabid civil service reformer.

I'm not attempting to gainsay the intentions of these people. I am here to explain, again, the law of unintentional consequences. For what the Mugwumps overlooked was the inexorable fact that the person most enticed to a nice cozy sinecure on the government teat would not be the person loyal to his elected patron. It would be the person loyal to the politician ensuring his nice cozy sinecure on the government teat. This became, in 1933, the Democratic Party.

Once the executive office lost control over the administrative branches the rot set in. We are now on our fourth generation of Big Government sucklers. Don't think the spoils systems doesn't still exist, either. But instead of the president awarding the spoils, the machine bestows the spoils. Like begets like, and an assiduous rent seeker will hire a like-minded rent seeker. It is a daisy chain of corruption, wrapped in an American flag of meritocracy which conceals some nasty institutional bias.

You really don't have to peel an onion back to see the rot. Cut it once, and watch it bubble and fester. We are seeing the tip of the iceberg here in the corruption and institutional bias of virtually all of our federal agencies. This disease is so deep and endemic we will soon hang our heads in shame that we allowed it. That includes liberals and libertarians. You fuckers are not off the hook. This unacceptable bullshit is antithetical to the very core of your beings, should you choose to be honest with yourselves.

I would love to see the mighty swath of the reaper take this to its forgone conclusion. I'd rather outlaw federal public sector unions, imprison the truly egregious malefactors, and bring in the most malodorous miscreants I could dredge up in Appalachia to run the nuts and bolts of this country. Or perhaps just let the winning presidential candidate appoint his cabal of buffalo skinners, cardsharks, sneakthiefs, necromancers, and crystal gazers. At least they'll be gone in the obligatory 4 to 8 years. They'll be, unlike the career moralist and pecksniff, a momentary screwup. And, as I say every night as I stroke the two-dimensional hair on my Calvin Coolidge portrait, doing nothing can be a beautiful thing.

We need Civil Service reform all right. And it begins by firing the Civil Service.

Posted by Velociman at June 7, 2013 7:56 PM | TrackBack

Well said, sir. Glad to see you're back on the job over here.

Posted by: Marianne at June 7, 2013 10:07 PM

Can I get an AMEN !!

Posted by: james old guy at June 7, 2013 10:29 PM

The only cure is to repeal the entire Constitution and revert to the Articles of Confederation.

Posted by: bob sykes at June 8, 2013 7:53 AM

I used to have a different login, but with the most recent PRISM thing, time to change. Yeah, it won't stop them

As a many year federal employee - you are very correct in your assertions - it is a miniscule number of people who understand and stand up for law, princple, and responsible behavior of government officials. When found out, they will be made to suffer, this I know firsthand.

It is a matter of faith that good will prevail.

Posted by: Anonymouse at June 8, 2013 8:01 AM

Bubbling onions, sneakthiefs*, malodorous miscreants, Mugwumps and (heaven help us) jocksniffers (an image we revisit with the positively adorable "pecksniff" in the last graph). This magical literary journey had me blinking my eyes in wonder. Had the Internet delivered unto me some gonzo textbook dispatched from a distorted Hogwarts?

But then why-oh-why, Crawford, did you have to lay a big fat cliche in the middle of this with that "tip of the iceberg?" Why?



*wouldn't it be sneakthieves?

ps: There is something beautiful in every human being.

Posted by: Erin O'Brien at June 8, 2013 8:07 AM

^ Even Kermit Gosnell?

Posted by: PeggyU at June 8, 2013 1:42 PM

Some cases are tougher than others, but three women agreed to marry Gosnell.

Posted by: Erin O'Brien at June 8, 2013 4:05 PM

Common sense rarely works in D.C. plus if your plan was enacted the unemployment rate for the coalburners would double overnight and you sir would be branded a "rayciss".

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