The way I understand our government is to view the constitution as a starting point that enabled the accumulation of precedents that is specific to our history.
We started with a constitution that was ratified only after vigorous debate. This debate analyzed every aspect of the document to capture a consensus view of how a government should operate. One of the expectations was that each regulation that impacts the citizens would be debated explicitly in congress. When confronted with a need to comply with some law, regulation, or tax, the citizen should be able to look at the legislative record to see the genesis of the rule, how that citizen’s concerns were debated, and who supported the law. The citizen being asked to comply with the law will have direct access to a representative who is part of the body that creates the law. The citizen had a prior opportunity through his elected representative to influence the writing of the law, and has a future opportunity to influence the modification of that law.
Today we have to comply with regulations invented and written through secret deliberation of unelected bureaucrats or regulations that solve or prevent problems, some of which no longer exist and have no risk of returning.
The citizens still can elect representatives, but the power of the representatives is limited to setting the budgets of the agencies previously created and occasionally granting these agencies more autonomy to expand their regulations.
This is a government that is not the democratic government that was originally intended. Instead it is government consisting of democratically created agencies. It is as if the constitution was a boot-strap tool to use democratic principles to build agencies that can then deliver the final government.
Our government is not democratic, it is the fossilization of our history.
At one point, a particular problem came up that the population urgently demanded congress to pass laws to address. Congress passed new legislation creating new regulations and a new agency to enforce those regulations. The democratic act satisfied the population.
The government focus shifts to staffing the agency, setting budgets, acquiring office space and other necessary assets. The agency then went about its tasks. Initially its tasks were challenging despite the narrow focus of the original legislation.
Popular attention shifts to watching the enforcement of the regulations and the prosecution of the violators. Eventually the population is satisfied with the results.
Over time, the population ages, new generation and concerns take over. Meanwhile the original agency stays in place. With no explicit mandate to change the agency, congressional action is focused primarily on setting the agency’s budget that continues to grow due to promotions of the older staffing and the hiring of new staff to keep up with the growing economy.
Eventually the original problem disappears or dwindles to a level that is easily tolerated. Most likely this result would have also happened if there were no legislation in the first place. We live in a time of rapid progress that changes both our attitudes and our problems. No one questions the continued necessity of continuing the agency let alone questioning the wisdom of its original passage.
Instead the conditions that motivated the original legislation become exaggerated to mythic proportions. A problem that affected a relatively small part of the population transforms into one that universally and grievously affected the entire population. It is unimaginable that we would stop enforcing the rules because the problem would inevitably return with far worse consequences.
Meanwhile, new problems emerge that grabs the public attention. The public demands a solution. The agency sees that the problem is closely related to their mission and proposes to congress a simple increase in their budget or an increase in their authorization to expand their mission to this new area. Compared with debating and passing a new legislation from scratch, this is almost trivial to do. The population is satisfied with a simple increase in an agency’s budget and quick debate on increased authorization to allow the agency to make its own rules.
The actual rules are worked out in secret deliberation by unelected bureaucrats. The new rules are posted for public comment, often with little fanfare and with a short time window. The agency reviews the comments in secret and announces their final regulations. Then they start enforcing those regulations.
The citizens are left with only the power to elect representatives whose only power is to determine how much to increase the budget and authorization of the agencies. If we object, we our appeals to our representatives are a waste of time. They are as powerless as we are.
The one thing that they can do is create new agencies to progress the building of the ultimate government.
Thanks to the wisdom of the drafters of the original constitution, we have used democratic processes to design the ideal government that can efficiently govern us and our descendants. We retain a vestige of the original democratic powers for the single purpose of approving new debt to continue funding the real government.