James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and a Founding Father, once wrote, “The great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

We suggest that it’s the second part of that observation that has proven the most difficult as Americans have witnessed the rise of a massive federal bureaucracy.

It’s a concern to many, including Antony Davies, associate professor of economics at Duquesne University, and James Harrigan, managing director of the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona. In a recent essay they jointly wrote, part of it said:

“With almost two million civilian employees, the federal government is the largest employer in the U.S. As the federal government has become larger and more complex, it has become more difficult for Congress to do its job. Congress has delegated the power of rule-making to unelected bureaucrats in innumerable agencies, commissions, administrations and programs.”

In many cases, the federal programs that arise seem less designed to solve problems than to micromanage people into behaviors that benefit favored constituencies, the two argue.

Consider the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.” SNAP benefits can be used to buy food, but not vitamins, cleaning supplies or hygiene items. To be eligible, a person must be working at least 30 hours per week or, if not working, caring for a child under age 6. Or, the person must be unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation, or participating in an alcohol or drug treatment program, or a full-time student (but not a college student). Otherwise, the person must register for work, and participate in employment training, and take a suitable job if offered.

That’s just part of the micromanagement involved in simply qualifying for SNAP. There are additional rules for receiving SNAP, different rules for adults without dependents and still other rules for people older than 49 or younger than 18.

“Voters with more goodwill than attention reward politicians whose intentions sound most noble. Politicians, unable to solve complex problems, hand the problems over to bureaucrats. Bureaucrats, unaccountable to voters, craft solutions that call for more bureaucracy. And our problems are never solved because no one in the system is rewarded for solving them,” concludes the essay from Mr. Harrigan and Davies.

As long as the federal bureaucracy remains largely unchecked, expect it to continue to grow unabated. What’s needed is for elected representatives in Washington to take responsibility for a federal government that has been out of control for many years.

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