The rise of the fourth branch of government

George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley writing in the Washington Post:

There were times this past week when it seemed like the 19th-century Know-Nothing Party had returned to Washington. President Obama insisted he knew nothing about major decisions in the State Department, or the Justice Department, or the Internal Revenue Service. The heads of those agencies, in turn, insisted they knew nothing about major decisions by their subordinates. It was as if the government functioned by some hidden hand.

Clearly, there was a degree of willful blindness in these claims. However, the suggestion that someone, even the president, is in control of today’s government may be an illusion.

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

If the fourth branch of government, the administrative agency state, makes the government seem to be run by a hidden hand, as Turley claims, it certainly is not Adam Smith’s invisible hand, it is the hand of the devil. If the government were run by the invisible hand envisioned by Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), it would result in a smaller, kinder, more efficient and certainly more competent government.

Turley’s piece is long but a worthwhile read. Nothing most conservatives don’t already know, but worth reading anyway. Turley has always seemed to me to be a rare person that cannot be classified as either a conservative or a liberal. Most who try to sit that fence are actually liberals trying to play everyone for fools. I’ve never thought that about Turley. I also wouldn’t stick the dreaded “moderate” moniker on him, that “know nothing” described by Margaret Thatcher and someone who can never figure out what to think about anything. Turley clearly has something to think about most things, and he’s mostly right.

There is one sentence quoted above that might be suspect. “…the suggestion that someone, even the president, is in control of today’s government may be an illusion.” An alarm went off when I read that sentence. Is this an attempt to bolster Obama’s claim that he only knows what he reads in the newspapers and hears on CNN? I don’t accuse Turley of anything here, he did refer to “willful blindness” in the previous sentence.

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