Invest Your Money In Countries With Smaller Blobs

18 December 2003

The Blob That Ate the Nation

by Craig J. Cantoni

A voracious blob is devouring the nation of its self-reliance, common sense, wealth, competitiveness and freedom. But because it is amorphous and insidious, Americans do not realize how big the blob is and what a threat it is to their standard of living and way of life.

What is the blob, or Blob? The Blob is government bureaucracy and its bureaucratic offspring in the private-sector. Yes, something as boring and seemingly innocuous as bureaucracy is indeed a major threat to the future of the nation.

How big is the Blob? Well, because it is amorphous, its dimensions cannot be determined with accuracy. However, we can discern some of its features.

For example, we know that there are 21 million government employees at the federal, state and local levels. We know that there are 1.4 million words in the Internal Revenue Code, over 100,000 pages of Medicare regulations, and 676 pages to the Medicare reform bill recently signed by President Bush—to identify just a tiny fraction of the Blob.

We know from reliable think tanks that the cost of federal and state regulations is $1.6 trillion, or 17.2 percent of national income. Moreover, we know that Americans have to work until July 11, or 53 percent of the year, to pay the cost of government and the cost of regulations.

We know that the Blob has put American manufacturing at a serious competitive disadvantage in world markets. A recent report released by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturers Alliance shows that the United States has higher manufacturing costs than all major competing countries but Germany, largely due to the cost of regulations, lawsuits and health care. Of course, health care costs are high because the Blob destroyed a consumer market in health insurance 60 years ago.

We know that U.S. manufacturing employment has plummeted to a record low of 12 million workers while government employment has skyrocketed to a record high of almost twice as much. We know that private-sector union membership also has plummeted while public-sector union membership has skyrocketed to become one of the largest special-interest groups in local and national politics.

We know that many of the fastest-growing and highest-paying occupations in the private sector have been spawned by the Blob to cater to the Blob, including millions of accountants, lawyers, consultants, administrators and lobbyists.

We know that professions like personnel (human resources) used to help people and organizations become more productive. Now personnel people are de facto agents of the government, spending much of their time feeding reports to the Blob to keep it from devouring their companies.

It is not a coincidence that the more that the Blob has infiltrated the work place, the less caring the work place has become. Nor is it a coincidence that the largest human resources association, the Society for Human Resource Management, has grown in lockstep with the growth in work place regulations, so that it now has over 130,000 members. Other professional associations that cater to the Blob have seen similar growth and have just as many or more members.

We know that many of the Blob’s de facto agents in the private sector are Republicans. Because they make a living by catering to the Blob, they have been co-opted politically and no longer support the conservative principle of limited government.

Legislation like the recent Medicare reform bill is manna from heaven to the Blob’s many agents, who will be paid handsomely to interpret the gobbledygook that fills the bill’s 676 pages, including such indecipherable wording as the following:

”(a) Exclusion From OPD Fee Schedule – Section 1833(t)(1)(B)(iv) (42 U.S.C. 13951(t)(B)(iv)) is amended by inserting before the period at the end of the following: ’and does not include screening mammography (as defined in section 1861 (jj)) and diagnostic mammography.’”

We know that interpreting such gobbledygook is make-work, not real work. It is work that does nothing to make the nation more competitive and productive. In fact, it makes the nation less competitive and productive, for it has shifted some of the best and brightest Americans from producing goods and services of value to untangling red tape.

We know that about 25 million Americans are employed either directly by the Blob as government workers or indirectly as private-sector agents. Assuming an average pay and benefits package of $40,000 per worker, the Blob’s payroll totals $1 trillion, a staggering number that excludes the cost of office space, office equipment, travel expenses and other overhead necessary to support all of the Blob’s employees and agents.

We know that while our Blob is getting bigger, the Chinese, who had a blob beyond belief under communism, have put theirs on a severe diet. The Chinese now have more freedom than us in K-12 education and health care.

We also know that the Blob consumes something more valuable than money, time and talent. It consumes America’s entrepreneurial spirit, self-reliance, freedom and common sense. We cannot measure the loss of these things, but we have plenty of examples to show that the loss is huge.

My personal example is the 60 hours that I have spent since my father’s death six months ago filling out forms and speaking with his attorney and accountant. Thankfully, he had his assets in a trust that went to my mother, thus keeping her out of probate court and keeping the tax man at bay. But even with that, the regulatory maze has been a nightmare. Sadly, a man cannot leave his money to his family without his family jumping through regulatory hoops, and without high-paid agents taking large chunks of it for themselves in fees so that the government doesn’t take larger chunks.

Even intelligent, educated people do not understand why the Blob is growing. For example, author Diane Ravitch recently published her very disturbing book, The Language Police, which explains in horrifying detail how textbooks, curricula and tests have been censored by crackpot special interest groups and stripped of meaning, historical accuracy and intelligence. Yet as a former assistant secretary of research in the U.S. Department of Education, she advocates more educational authority being centralized in Washington.

Arrrrrgh! It makes me scream. Can’t she see that centralization makes it easy for crackpot special interests to get a small cadre of faceless bureaucrats to engage in censorship and issue diktats that affect 280 million people?

We know that most Members of Congress are attorneys and have never worked at the bottom of large organizations. Apparently, neither has Ms. Ravitch.

If she had worked, let’s say, at the bottom of a company of 20,000 employees, she would know how out of touch the executives at the top can become, and how powerless and frustrated the employees at the bottom can become over the inane policies issued by the top. Now multiply the inanity, powerlessness and frustration by a factor of 14,000, and you’ll get an idea of the Blob’s impact on the average citizen.

Why 14,000? Because the nation is 14,000 times larger in terms of population than a company of 20,000 employees. Thus, it stands to reason that politicians and bureaucrats at the top of the nation will be 14,000 times more out of touch than the executives and bureaucrats at the top of a 20,000-employee company. But that doesn’t stop them from issuing diktats about how much water a toilet should hold in Peoria, Illinois.

We are stuck in a vicious cycle. The more bureaucratic that the nation becomes, the more important that make-work becomes. The more important that make-work becomes, the more important that people who do the make-work become. The more important that people who do the make-work become, the more that government and industry are run by lawyers, accountants and bureaucrats. And the more that people in such professions run government and industry, the more bureaucratic that government and industry become.

That explains why so many government and business leaders only see the upside of centralizing authority to gain economies of scale. They seldom see the downside. For instance, there is a movement in Arizona to consolidate school districts into mega-districts in order to save money on purchases and overhead. But the advocates, most of whom have never done real work, do not see the impossible-to-measure impact that centralization will have on employee flexibility, innovation, accountability, morale and productivity. Nor do they see how centralization will make parents even less able to influence what is taught in their neighborhood school. And for sure, they are not aware that most mega-mergers in industry have not lived up to their rosy expectations.

In conclusion, can the Blob’s growth be stopped? No, it’s too late. Too many influential people get their power, wealth and status from catering to the Blob.

What’s the answer, then? There are two answers: First, start investing your money in countries with smaller blobs; and second, make sure that your kids become lawyers or accountants instead of doing real work for a living.

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The author of a book on bureaucracy and a former executive of manufacturing companies, Mr. Cantoni is a columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (HAALT).

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