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Those Appointments

January 2, 2001

Tags Big GovernmentCalculation and KnowledgePolitical TheoryInterventionism

Reagan Building for Government EmployeesWhile journalists and political junkies eagerly await and discuss each of Bush’s choices to serve in the cabinet, the real issue is not even on the radar screen. What about the declared purpose of the departments themselves? 

Each was establish for the purpose of intervening in the rights and liberties of Americans. The machinery of the bureaucracy itself is structured to do no other. And whoever takes a cabinet or sub-cabinet position will be empowered–and expected–to push a statist agenda.

Let us take two departments, the EPA and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. The EPA’s mission statement empowers the agency to enforce "federal laws protecting human health and the environment…effectively." That means that the agency must necessarily be at war with the market economy. That is what it is supposed to do. 

No doubt even Christine Todd Whitman, the current governor of New Jersey, will be an improvement over the zealot Carol Browner. Let us even assume that Whitman is less inclined to use all of the powers of her office as has been the case with the current EPA head. If Whitman is less zealous in "protecting the environment" than Browner, one can expect the media to soon jump on her as being a "corporate stooge" or a "friend of polluters."  

Should Whitman decide to roll back on the expansive Clinton-Gore environmental agenda, she will soon find herself in the crosshairs of environmental groups and their media allies.  Of course, Whitman is politically astute enough to cave in to some of their demands.

The problem here is not that zealots run the EPA.  The real problem is that the EPA itself has been created as a tool to pursue the agenda of environmentalist organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.  For an administrator to do anything less than impose and enforce ridiculous rules that have less to do with cleaning the environment than throwing sand into the gears of economic progress is to commit dereliction of duty, and everyone who works for the EPA intimately understands that point.

That is why the EPA acts as an enemy of property and business owners no matter who occupies the office of President of the United States. The EPA functions as it is supposed to only when it is violating property rights and doing economic damage. Anything else is politically unacceptable and probably illegal. 

As for the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, its purpose is to enforce laws and regulations that shouldn’t exist in the first place. The Division says of these laws "apply to virtually all industries and to every level of business, including manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and marketing. They prohibit a variety of practices that restrain trade…"

Let us assume that Bush appoints someone who is the economic opposite of Joel Klein, one of the forces behind the unwarranted Microsoft prosecution.  We can even assume that he had religiously read Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State and Dominick Armentano’s Antitrust: The Case for Repeal.  In fact, we can even assume that this new Antitrust head believes that Congress should immediately repeal all antitrust laws.

The problem for that person will be that unless he quickly finds an antitrust threat to the economy, he will be out of a job. Antitrust advocates and their media allies have no desire to argue the point whether or not antitrust laws are legitimate. Such groups argue that the very presence of such laws mean they must be enforced rigorously. Anything less is politically unacceptable.  

Thus, the real discussion that should be taking place–whether or not antitrust laws have any business being on the books–will always be subordinated by the demands that antitrust laws be enforced.  Therefore, if the new appointee wishes not to be vilified, he must find an "uncompetitive" merger or "predatory monopoly" that must feel the force of the law.

The list hardly stops with the EPA and the Department of Justice.  Laws that effectively give it the power to circumvent the U.S. Constitution and to expand the powers of the Leviathan State guide each department.  For example, the U.S. Department of Education, which President Jimmy Carter created to reward the National Education Association for helping to elect him, serve no real useful purpose in American life.  In fact, even when William Bennett ran the department for President Ronald Reagan, the DOE used its powers to help further centralize public education, something that has been proven to be harmful to schools.

Granted, Bennett used the department as a bully pulpit to promote classical learning and educational excellence, but in the end simply extended the power of his office.  While one might agree with Bennett’s position that schools should be something other than dispensers of condoms and politically correct propaganda, it would be even better if the central government followed its constitutional directives and played no role in education at all.

The Department of Health and Human Services is simply a vehicle to further the welfare state.  Whatever good it may do in the public health arena (and that is doubtful), the department is little more than a means by which the government transfers billions of dollars confiscated from productive citizens to give to nonproductive people.  Likewise, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided the means for the central government to directly involve itself in the private lives of individuals through housing.  

While one may rightfully condemn the lawlessness of Joel Klein or the zealotry of Carol Browner, the problem is that folks like them have a legal vehicle with which they can mount their assaults upon individual freedom.  As the central government has expanded the number of cabinet offices, it has likewise struck blows to liberty.  We don’t need "conservatives" in these cabinet positions unless they are there to close those departments for good.


William Anderson (send him mail), is a former Mises Institute scholarship student who now teaches economics at North Greenville College. See Anderson's Daily Article Archive 

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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