Call it what you want—the administrative state, big bureaucracy or The Swamp—social scientist and author Thomas Krannawitter says it’s only grown larger in the 25 years he’s been studying and speaking out against it. Now he’s trying a different approach. In his book “Save the Swamp,” he uses humor and satire to make his point.
Sharyl: How do you define the modern swamp?
Krannawitter: The modern swamp is what some of us social scientists call the administrative state, meaning unelected government employees who have the power to issue and enforce regulations as if they're law. So think of every federal regulatory agency from the, the EPA to the IRS to the SEC to, right? All these things. For most people, it's very unclear what the connection is between elected members of government and the millions of unelected bureaucrats who are out there telling people how to run their businesses and use their property. I step into the character as an advisor for bureaucrats. I'm going to give you tips on how to make the most out of your government position. So I give advice on how you can go harass people as an unelected bureaucrat. Maybe you have an ex-spouse, maybe someone you don't like. You can go harass them, shut their business down. Nothing's going to happen to you. Bureaucrats never get fired. I have a chapter in there on how results don't matter when it comes to government programs and policies and regulations. These are all tools to exercise control over other people. Nobody cares about the actual results. And I trot out one example after another, perhaps the biggest being the war on poverty that was announced in 1965, war not just to reduce poverty but eliminate poverty in the United States. We've spent $25,000,000,000,000 on the war to end poverty and poverty rates have actually gone up in recent years. And yet all of these programs stay in place.
Sharyl: I've heard people argue that President Trump has made the swamp worse. I've heard people argue that President Obama started the swamp. What is your take on that?
Krannawitter: The swamp is over a hundred years old. This problem did not start with Trump. It didn't start with Obama. This goes back to the 1870s and 1880s. And the idea was that ‘government by unelected experts is better than government by elected rubes because people who get elected, all they do is, they're not necessarily intelligent. They don't have expertise. They just lie and bribe and promise things they can't deliver, flatter people. And that's how they get elected.’
Sharyl: Well, there is some truth, right?
Krannawitter: And there is some truth to that - and that's what gave the progressive movement its initial momentum.
Sharyl: So the idea is that persistent bureaucracy would be a virtue, not a vice?
Krannawitter: Yes. In fact, the early social scientists who were sketching out the plan of what an administrative state would look like, they often used the phrase, “the permanent government.” And the way they wrote about it, they said, ‘You know, we'll still have elections, and elections are really useful because elections distract citizens. Every two years, there are elections and Republicans and Democrats are yelling at each other and calling each other names, and meanwhile there's this gigantic Leviathan of a permanent government that is in no way affected by the results of the election.’ So in that sense, elections actually serve a useful purpose for those who are supporters of the swamp.
Sharyl: How does your book end?
Krannawitter: My book ends in a satirical ironic way arguing that, right now the real problem with the swamp is it's much too small. There are all these areas of life that, that regulators don't have total control over. When you look at working employed Americans right now, about one out of six working Americans work for government directly. And I say, I end by saying “That's outrageous! We can't have just one out of six! We need to have three or four out of six. At least half the population should be working for government at some level to provide safety and security for everyone else as well as subsidizing whatever people need subsidizing.” So that's the end of the book.
Krannawitter says he hopes our true story ends differently with free, self-governing citizens challenging the swamp — not saving it.