The true source of power in the government

Justin Marinelli, Senior Writer

I’m going to share with you a trick I rely on frequently when I don’t know what to think of an issue: I look at those people whom I respect and I let their views influence my thinking more than the alternatives.

This is especially interesting for me in the case of the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling on net neutrality, which stated that Internet service providers would not be allowed to offer customers faster Internet speeds at higher prices. Many whom I consider politically naive are ecstatic, while many of those whose opinions I have come to respect consider this to be an ominous development.

I’m still putting together what I think on the matter, but in the meantime, I’m going to use this as an example to point out something interesting that not many people realize about how the government actually operates.

When we boil down what actually happened with the FCC ruling, what we see is that a bureaucratic council awarded itself the power to decide how Internet service providers distribute the service they are in business to provide. I can think of no better symbol of how the American government really works.

In high school we were all taught that our government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, the judicial branch, and the legislative branch. Like many things we were taught in high school, this is a simplification of a more complex reality that blinds us to the more interesting things that are really going on.

In practice, the branch of government that actually has the most influence over the actions of the American people is the vast bureaucracy of civil servants and public employees that administers this country. The FCC ruling is so amusing because it reveals this dynamic in the most blatant fashion.

I sometimes imagine a future in which the president is mainly a figurehead and the real power lies in the bureaucracy, but I wonder if this vision is more true than we realize. If the bureaucracy continues to grow in the future the way it has done so in the past, there’s no telling how true this might become. It sounds absurd now, but the future is open, and there’s little reason to suspect that the government will change less in the next 100 years than it did during the past century. Given the complexities and demands of governing and administrating a country of around 320 million people, I think I know which bet is the safe one.

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