You are here

Why they act that way

James Madison points out in Federalist 10 that the more diverse and populous a country the less influence popular sentiment has on its government and the easier it is for national elites to run things in accordance with their own ideas of what makes sense. The reported deal on immigration brought that famous argument to mind, as well as the following passage from my book-in-process:

The reasons for the difference of outlook [between the people and their rulers on immigration] are evident … The people value the ties that make them a people and believe the country should be run for their benefit. Ruling elites in contrast are concerned with the power and efficiency of governing institutions, the status and security of those who run them, and maintenance of the liberal principles that support and justify their rule. It is in their interest to expand the human resources available to them, even at the expense of those who are already citizens, and weaken the ties that make it possible for the people to resist rational management and act somewhat independently. Also, they prefer cooperating with members of the ruling class in other countries to representing the interests of their constituents.

John McCain wants the deal to move forward before “the politics of 2008” (i.e., popular outrage) make it impossible. I’m sure he speaks for many. Immigration is a basic point with huge implications, and it’s silly to suppose that those who rule a country like the United States have any very direct concern for the views and interests of the people they supposedly represent. The people are too numerous, they believe too many different things, and the social distance is too great between rulers and ruled. Why shouldn’t those in power look instead to the views and interests of the people they work with every day, who know the score, who have the same personal goals and interests they do, and who want to run things in a way that makes sense and will work from the standpoint of those at the top?

Popular government, it seems, is self-destructive. It can work only to the extent government does few things and most of them locally, and it ends by making government do so many things so that nobody who isn’t a professional can begin to keep track of them. The professionals then run things in accordance with their own standards, which quite naturally include institutional biases like institutional self-aggrandizement. The EU is an example of that process writ large.