Charles C. Milliken
By 2062, electoral politics as we have known it will be obsolete. Some of the forms may remain, but the reality of electoral politics actually changing anything will be long past. Compared to what electoral politics was in this nation, say a hundred years ago, the path to this future has already become clear.
This path has a long history, which I would trace to the Civil War (War Between the States, War of Northern Aggression – whatever). The force of bloody arms settled the supremacy of the federal government. Having established that fact for all time, the long question was what was that all-powerful entity to do? The answer was to see to it that the nation was run along lines that the electoral winners decided was appropriate. The first step was the Interstate Commerce Commission, founded in 1887. The state of the railroad industry was considered scandalous. Corruption was rife. Outrageous financial frauds had been committed. It was the heyday of the so-called “robber barons.” Despite this, railroads became ever more important to the economic life of the nation, and populist sentiment decried the wild west of the rails. The chief sticking point was the cost of transporting goods. Farmers especially – remember in those days farmers were the majority of the voters – resented how much they had to pay to get their goods to market and also how varied the rates were depending on whether there was competition in a given area, or not.
On the other side of the fence, the owners of the railroads continuously engaged in ruinous price competition where there were overlapping lines. They tried to get together to set prices, but failed every time, because, crudely, there was no honor among thieves. The answer became clear as a bell: if the federal government could be persuaded to set rates, then everyone would be happy. No one could cheat, and rates would be set high enough for everyone to, all things being equal, operate profitably. Thus was born the first of the federal regulatory agencies, later to multiply like rabbits. (The ICC was abolished in 1995, with its various regulators parceled out to many other agencies.)
Once the principle was established that the government could decide what was right and proper for railroads, Congress passed its legislative authority to the ICC. How could it be otherwise? Congress certainly wasn’t going to vote on the correct freight rate from Chicago to Omaha, or a thousand other destinations. The ICC will do that. Fast forward 93 years, and Congress decides air and water isn’t clean enough and we have the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA will decide how clean is clean and how regulations, with the force of law, will see to this result. Congress has nothing more to say in the matter (absent some egregious action by the EPA). If Congress has no more to say, then neither do the voters. All this has been validated by the courts, under a doctrine of deference to the experts.
Rule by experts has now been cemented in place, and aside from a flutter of deregulation, such as under President Donald Trump, the expertly run authoritarian state marches on.
History validates that electoral politics is an aberration. For thousands of years kings, pharaohs, Caesars, tsars and kaisers required no election. Russia is still ruled by a tsar, just with a different title. China is run by an un-elected dictator. Likewise Cuba, and dozens of other nations.
The best historical model – one our Founders were well aware of and admired – was the Republic of Venice. Remember, we were founded as a republic, not a democracy. “Experts,” chosen by family connection and merit, ran Venice for one thousand years, very successfully. If you want to see where we are headed, and don’t believe me, read a good history of Venice. Instead of a tourist trap, it was a leading power.
The trappings of elections will still be there. Augustus Caesar ended the Roman Republic but was careful to keep up appearances – good enough for a 400-year run.
Charles Milliken is a professor emeritus after 22 years of teaching economics and related subjects at Siena Heights University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.