This is a topic I’ve long struggled with: are we better off with modern civil service protections, or would we be better off under the Spoils System? Lately, I’ve tended to agree with Glenn Reynolds “that the entire Civil Service system should be scrapped.” I’m think the civil service tends to perpetuate the opinions and prerogatives of a small handful of elites, and is fundamentally anti-democratic. Not that I always believe “anti-democratic” is a bad word, but it has to serve a purpose in the framework of individual liberty and protecting political minorities from the worst excesses of democratic government. I think civil service protections fail this test. I’d like to highlight his current top comment in Glenn Reynolds post, which I think offers food for thought. His commenter supports a return of the Spoils System:
A real spoils system would have several advantages:
- You could get rid of them all by electing a new party to office.
- Bureaucrats might be restrained by knowing that they will soon be turfed out into the private sector so they will want rules that they could live under after the next election.
- They might also be restrained by the knowledge that if their behavior got to obnoxious they would cost their party votes and potentially end their employment.
- Everyone would realize they are partisan hacks and thus not excuse their overreach behind some sort of non-partisan good government BS.
Lately, I’ve been thinking the same thing. The downside is there are people in the civil service right now who are actually knowledgable, do a reasonable job, and not political hacks. But there are far too many political hacks hiding behind civil service protections. These days I tend to agree we’d be better off with the spoils system, provided it was operated with the knowledge and understanding that there’s a lot the government does that requires people who are competent and willing to work hard. I’d hate to see, for example, document preservation exports cut loose at the National Archives because they were hired by the “wrong party.” But I’m willing to concede that civil servants who live by the sword (politics) can also die by it. That’s probably how it should be. An awful lot of civil service protections were generally meant to promote big, permanent government and rule by unaccountable “experts.”