The Fourth Branch of Government

The vast majority of the “good things” that government does is done by the bureaucracy. The protect people; build roads; manage schools and, in general, attempt to administer with honesty and expertise. This is certainly not the fashionable position by having worked in politics and government for decades I believe it to be true. Since when does years of hard won expertise, experience, and contacts count as a negative. This Foreign Policy article makes me think that one of the lead stories of the next few years will be the battle between an administration who, in the words of Steve Bannon, want to “deconstruct” the government and those exact experts who understand what they are doing. Here is the main point of the article.

 

No, what worries me is something new, more real, and much more dangerous: the shallow state.

The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)

The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things.


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