Bureaucrats Gone Wild

In the United States these days, about 95 percent of all new “laws” are written by bureaucrats rather than approved by Congress. A pair of recent news stories documents the dangers of bureaucrats gone wild.


Last week, the U.S. officially defined 70,000 ways we can get sick or die. These classifications must be used by health care providers and insurance companies. Bloomberg News reports that “Doctors have already begun mocking the diagnostic list, picking out the most absurd and arcane, such as Z63.1: ‘Problems in relationship with in-laws,’ or V91.07XA: ‘Burn due to water skis on fire.'”

Unfortunately, this new system is widely expected to create problems for doctors and patients seeking reimbursement from insurance companies. It will also force doctors to spend more time with paperwork and less time with patients. Undoubtedly, costs will go up as customer service goes down, all in the name of bureaucratic excess.

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The other story, reported by the Washington Post, described how the federal government spent decades steering Americans away from whole milk. In fact, whole milk was banned in school lunch programs. Across the nation, sales of low-fat milk soared. All this was done in the belief that it would reduce heart disease.

But despite the massive propaganda effort, the Post article says scientists aren’t clear “whether this massive shift in eating habits has made anyone healthier.” Even worse, “millions might have been better off had they stuck with whole milk.” Contrary to what the government bureaucrats expected, “people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidences of heart disease.”

A rational response to this news would be to refrain from making blanket recommendations. It would seem reasonable to conduct additional research while spreading the word that the results of existing research are contradictory. That would let individual Americans decide for themselves.

But that’s not the way things work in government. As the official dietary guidelines are being written, believers in the original war on whole milk are going to battle with the skeptics. The fight is entirely over what the guidelines should say — and don’t be fooled by the word “guidelines.” Those who believe in the evils of whole milk will fight to ensure that the guidelines remain mandatory for school lunches and any other programs they can impact.

These stories are examples of what the brilliant 20th century sociologist Robert Nisbet described as “an iron law of bureaucracy.” He saw bureaucrats as “secular missionaries with their own handbook for redemption, one that is underpinned by a doctrine of rigorous documentation, calculability, step-by-step itemized planning, and accountability.”

Sadly, they often behave as if it’s better to have rules that are wrong rather than freeing people and allowing them to decide for themselves. As economist Thomas Sowell put it: “You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.” These unelected and unaccountable busybodies are a cancer threatening the life of our free society.

Much of the public anger with official Washington can be traced to the behavior of overzealous bureaucrats. In the real world, outcomes matter. A big part of what the American people are looking for in our next president is someone who can cure this cancer.

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