Too Many Czars

Mickey Kaus quips, “We need a Czar Czar, to crack the whip on all the czars. … P.S.: Also a federal czar policy. Right now, czar decisions are made on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, with no attempt at czar harmonization.”

I have to agree that we’ve gone czar crazy.  We’re, in theory anyway, a representative republic with strong institutions, with separation of powers and checks and balances.  Why, then, are we suddenly so enamored of unelected autocrats?

The idea that we should give Hank Paulson or his successor carte blanche to spend the GNP of a decent sized country is just bizarre to me.  But he’s at least a cabinet secretary ostensibly fireable by the president and answerable to legislative oversight.   But what the hell’s a “car czar”?  And who is the government going to hire to run the entire auto industry who’s even remotely competent to take on such a task?  And why do we need both an Energy secretary and an energy czar?  A HUD secretary and an urban-affairs czar?  An HHS secretary and a health czar? An economic czar?  It’s just madness.

The only good news is that the whole thing’s basically a joke.

“There’ve been so many czars over last 50 years, and they’ve all been failures,” said Paul Light, an expert on government at New York University. “Nobody takes them seriously anymore.” He pointed to officials placed in charge of homeland security and drug policy.

The problem is that “czars” are meant to be all-powerful people who can rise above the problems that plague the federal agencies, he said, but in the end, they can’t. “We only create them because departments don’t work or don’t talk to each other,” Mr. Light said, adding that creation of a White House post doesn’t usually change that. “It’s a symbolic gesture of the priority assigned to an issue, and I emphasize the word symbolic. When in doubt, create a czar.”

In other words, these czars have responsibility without authority, a rather unenviable position.

via Glenn Reynolds

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    It is certainly predictable that an authoritarian liberal like Obama would expand the number of czars on his watch.

    A Ruskie-phile like Hussein will likely begin to think he is a Balgojevich-type czar himself and use the public coffers to enrich himself and his Kenyan patron, the dictator Adewale Ogunleye

  2. caj says:

    A Ruskie-phile like Hussein will likely begin to think he is a Balgojevich-type czar himself and use the public coffers to enrich himself and his Kenyan patron, the dictator Adewale Ogunleye

    Posted by Triumph | December 15, 2008

    Do you never get tired of yourself….you keep coming up with all this gibberish?????
    Can you do us all a favor and please get a “real” life!!!!

  3. Triumph says:

    Do you never get tired of yourself….you keep coming up with all this gibberish?????
    Can you do us all a favor and please get a “real” life!!!!

    Typical liberal response–can’t address the substance of a critique so you just try to shout down your adversary.

    Next thing you know, you’ll be throwing shoes!

  4. caj says:

    Next thing you know, you’ll be throwing shoes!

    Posted by Triumph | December 15, 2008 | 05:41 pm

    I wouldn’t waste my energy!

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    Can you do us all a favor and please get a “real” life!!!!

    caj relax, Triumph is our resident…uhhh…curmudgeon…no…jester, yeah he is our jester.

  6. Brett says:

    They’re basically too lazy/chicken/incapable of actually reforming the bureaucracies in question to work closer together or work on a problem they want them to (or they’re too cheap to simply create a new bureaucracy with connections to the old one out of whole cloth), so they create an overarching “authority figure” with vaguely defined power.

    Huh. I wonder how you’d get around that – you don’t want to go back to the era where the bureaucracies were heavily dominated by the spoils system (assuming that’s even possible for the US today), but you also need to re-orient at least part of the current bureaucracies. I guess one way would be to build a new bureaucracy and slowly phase out the old one’s unnecessary tasks (and people), but that would involve getting into fights with the public sector unions (the Union of Federal, State, and Local Government Employees is a major political donor).

  7. Joe R. says:

    caj relax, Triumph is our resident…uhhh…curmudgeon…no…jester, yeah he is our jester.

    Aren’t jesters funny?

  8. rodney dill says:

    Apparently we now need a shoe Czar

  9. Michael says:

    Aren’t jesters funny?

    We need to get a Czar on that.

    Huh. I wonder how you’d get around that – you don’t want to go back to the era where the bureaucracies were heavily dominated by the spoils system (assuming that’s even possible for the US today), but you also need to re-orient at least part of the current bureaucracies.

    Simple, give the people at the bottom of one org chart authority to work with the people at the bottom of the other org chart. Limit authorization escalation to 2 levels, if your boss’s boss won’t make a decision and bear the responsibility of it, he shouldn’t be in that position.