Is the administrative state concerned preoccupied with salvation? On foreign policy the United States spent over a decade nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq on the premise that citizens in both countries needed to be saved from autocratic rule. Democracy was to be the “Jesus” of Afghanistan and Iraq with a pseudo biblical narrative provided by the American constitution and injected intravenously by American politicians and the military.
On the domestic front, the majority of the U.S. federal budget is devoted to saving people. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2013, 24% of the federal budget was spent on Social Security. Three federal health insurance programs – Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program – accounted for 22% of the federal budget. Other safety net programs, according to the Center, accounted for 12% of federal government spending.
You may ask what is wrong with the administrative state subsidizing consumer expenditures on food, health care, and other safety nets? The problem that government “salvation” creates is the promotion of the belief among program clients of their personal destinies. Their lives become an open window that the administrative state pries open pursuant to onerous rules that require personal and financial disclosure. Like religion, program clients are required to bare their souls; sharing information on source of income, home address, family size, marital status, criminal records, and work history. This is dehumanizing.
The rebuttal offered by social welfare proponents is that this is the price program clients pay in order to get benefits. But should that price include giving up privacy?
On the flip side, why do beneficiaries of social programs feel that they must submit themselves to government salvation? Were they unable to build and maintain the social networks necessary for sustenance during the rough patches? If not, should government be responsible for providing substitutes for those unavailable organic social agents?
Proponents of government intervention will counter that without the administrative state’s safety nets, society will be subjected to more crime, foreclosures, and family disruptions; that the costs of these negative externalities will be borne by society at costs higher than the programs designed to mitigate them.
If that is the case then maybe the state should focus more on being a clearinghouse of information versus a behavior regulator. The state can leverage information capital to facilitate pointing citizens toward resources that can substitute for the lack of organic social agents. It shouldn’t take a thousand pages of rules regulating behavior to direct a person to resources that can help them.
The risk of submitting to the administrative state as savior is following a narrative that doesn’t promote individual liberty and self-actualization. The state can avoid being a savior by simply providing good road signs.