The Crisis of the Administrative State, Part 4

The key fact of contemporary bureaucracy is this: the problem of bureaucracy today is less its centralizing tendencies in Washington than it is the culture of bureaucracy that now runs fully from top to bottom at all levels of government.  It’s bureaucratic turtles all the way down, if you know that old apocryphal story. It may actually be worse at the local level than in Washington DC these days, such as the Coralville, Iowa, police shutting down 4-year-old Abigail Krstinger’s sidewalk lemonade stand because she lacked a $400 city permit—a feat duplicated in Midway, Georgia; Appleton, Wisconsin; McAllen, Texas, and more than three dozen other cities across the country that were reported in the media. Some parents were slapped with $500 fines for allowing their kids to sell lemonade without the proper (expensive) permits. Local bureaucracies have even restricted or stopped annual Girl Scout cookie sales drives. Most public schools can no longer hold fundraising bake sales because of regulations.

Public health bureaucrats might at least be able to make out a tendentious case of preventing an obscure lemon juice-borne bacteria, though none has yet been offered anywhere that anyone can find.  Nor can a public health or safety rationale be conjured up for the decision of the Los Angeles Unified School District to shut down a popular girls softball tournament in January 2013 that had been held for the previous 13 years on weekends on public school grounds, always with the permission of school principals. Liability fears were not the problem. That year the LA Unified School District closed down the tournament in the middle of its round robin games, saying the tournament lacked the proper permits. When the tournament applied for permits, the District told them it was too late for a permit to be granted. The District educrat who turned up with police in tow to stop games already in progress was unable to give a reason to reporters why the unofficial tournament needed a permit. “I had to shut ‘em down.” (As of 2009, the LA Unified School District had 3,748 employees drawing salaries over $100,000 a year—few of them classroom teachers—at a time the district faced an $800 million deficit.)

This means that many reform ideas proposed for Washington will not significantly change the operation of bureaucracy at the state and local level. Hence, we may need to employ the “Charles Murray Option,” and begin with massive civil disobedience. Start with making the police arrest kids for their lemonade stands and school bake sales. See how long that works.

Parts 1, 2, and 3 are here, here, and here.