James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Experts on Everything

The real problem of big, centralized government is that it forces members of the legislative branch to be experts on everything if they are to pass effective legislation. The problem's even worse for the Chief Executive.

How is one person supposed to be so well-versed on military readiness, agriculture, manufacturing, technology, poverty issues, legal and illegal drugs, the stock market, property values, and the culture and internal affairs of every other country in the world?

They can't know. That's why they serve on a couple of committees and then let lobbyists and party leaders determine their votes on issues outside of their expertise. But if you don't know anything about an issue, why should your vote get to count?

Perhaps we should have five representatives from each electoral district, and five different legislatures. One for defense and foreign affairs, another for finance and economic policy, a third for education and social services, a fourth for criminal justice, and a fifth for infrastructure and natural resources. An expert on woodland preservation wouldn't be the same guy deciding to impose trade barriers against a rogue state. The economist wouldn't be voting on abortion. The people would be able to elect different people representing different areas of expertise. An upper house can co-ordinate the functions of these legislatures and veto their legislation.

I'm not proposing such a plan, only pointing out that it's more sensible than having one representative be responsible for legislating every aspect of our lives, even on things he knows nothing about. Inject a division of labor into the democratic republic. But an even better plan would be to make big government smaller, and centralized government decentralized. I'd prefer a government that doesn't legislate every aspect of our lives to begin with.


  1. James,

    There's an extent to which I think that you have a point - but I also think you're overstating the issue. Since the Progressive Era (and really hitting stride during the New Deal) there has been an explosion of Administrative Agencies (to the extent that Administrative Agencies are occasionally referred to as the Fourth Branch of government), whose jobs it is to exercise the specialized expertise that Congress lacks. Many of these agencies, some of which are staffed with hundreds or thousands of people, are tasked with extremely general and broad mandates -- basically to exercise policy in their respective fields in the best way possible.

    None of this is a justification for the administrative state, of course. But it does provide a more realistic picture about exactly who it is that makes the decisions that have such a significant effect on all of our lives.

    - John

  2. I should have clarified my post to account for the administrative agencies. But I don't believe legislators even know enough to know what they don't know. That is, I don't think they have the knowledge to delegate power to the regulatory agencies.

    Furthermore, Congress still passes lots of bills on all kinds of things, often compromising dozens or hundreds of pages. Although they are elected, they are otherwise not qualified by any reasonable criteria to do this.