Iain Murray, Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You

Iain Murray, in his excellent new book, takes the reader on a tour through the sprawling, wasteful, oppressive and destructive mess that we are all paying for upon pain of imprisonment.

Most readers of this blog are of a conservative or libertarian disposition already. Our inclination is to see the government, as presently constituted, as a ruinous burden on the economy, and a noxious growth choking out our freedom and our future prospects. Iain Murray’s book provides facts and evidence, and many anecdotes, demonstrating the accuracy of this view. If anything, by the detail and specificity of his depiction, he shows that things are worse than I thought, which is an achievement.

Murray demonstrates that government employment has, in recent decades, ceased to be a subpar way of making a living. Government employees are very well paid (one and a half to two times their private sector equivalents), enjoy excellent health and retirement benefits, and have job security beyond the dreams of private sector workers. Further, these jobs are often not particularly strenuous. “Government workers all over the nation are enjoying a better standard of living than the people who are paying them.”

Murray shows that government employees have become an organized class of many millions of people which has interests antagonistic to the rest of us. If you add in contractors and grantees, the total is upwards of 14.6 million people at the federal level alone. Pile in state and local and “we reach the astonishing conclusion that close to 40 million Americans are employed in some way on government business” — about 26% of the labor force. Even if you think we should have a large, well-funded government, that is too many.

But it gets much, much worse. The activities engaged in by this massive and well-compensated class of people are generally economically regressive and destructive. We are paying a fortune, and mortgaging our future, to see value destroyed instead of created, and prospects and prosperity thwarted. The cost of compliance with government regulation is increasing at an accelerating rate, Murray cites a figure of $1.7 trillion as the cost of compliance to the entire economy in 2010 — which is grossly equivalent to total corporate pre-tax profits. (Agencies generate their own make-believe numbers about the purported benefits of their activities.) The power of the administrative state is incessantly eroding our liberties, with Constitutional guarantees of due process and against unreasonable searches and seizures withering away. This powerful administrative machinery is constantly being captured by businesses that profit from it. Agency by agency, Murray shows these same processes occurring.

Murray shows how there are “special interests backing the bureaucrats in just about every case of regulation.” Support for legislation leads to campaign contributions. Individuals move between the regulatory agency, the regulated industry and lobbying groups — Murray provides numerous egregious examples. These individuals, at the top of the pyramid, function almost as an entitled aristocracy, with little to justify their power and privileges.

After this painful pilgrimage pessimism would appear to be appropriate.

But Murray does not abandon us in the bowels of the inferno. In his concluding chapter he offers a detailed list of suggestions about effecting an exit from this mess we have gotten ourselves into — shrinking the federal government, rechartering executive agencies, reforming government employee compensation, and several others, all worthy ideas. Murray’s list of proposed reforms is entirely convincing to me. But I have believed in this sort of thing all of my life. Having the already-convinced say “right on, Iain” is not enough. The challenge is to make this type of thinking a majority view.

Murray’s proposed reform measures must have political impetus on a mass scale or they will remain a blackboard exercise. The incumbents and beneficiaries of the existing regime will not be defeated by ad hoc and sporadic opposition. However, Iain Murray does not focus on the question of creating political support for his proposed agenda which, to be fair, is beyond the scope of his book. The one hint he makes in this direction is his comment that Mrs. Thatcher made a grave mistake when she failed to privatize the BBC, “which, with its dominant state-supported status on the radio and television airwaves, has become a tool for the bureaucracy to perpetuate itself, promulgating leftist views and indoctrinating the British public with the idea that Thatcherism is evil.” We have a similar problem here, but with the MSM is much less dominant than the BBC, and in the USA we see a greater scope and reach of alternative and pro-reform media. The ongoing indoctrination of the American people, however, is a huge obstacle to positive change, and is the one thing that occasionally makes me think we will not succeed in turning things around before we suffer a very painful systemic crash.

Nonetheless, there are grounds for hope. Fortunately, we are living in the midst of a growing realization that the existing order is not only ineffective and ruinous, but is also doomed. What cannot go on will not go on. The Tea Party is one manifestation of this growing awareness and growing activism. If the incumbent power centers manage to vilify the Tea Party sufficiently, to poison the brand, they will merely cause a change of label. Tainting a label cannot change the underlying substance, the growth of political awareness, organization and mobilization, which is going to lead to substantial reform of the existing order.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who is interested in the issues of freedom, government power, and political reform of the existing power structure. The strength of Stealing You Blind lies in its quantification, vivid details and illustrative anecdotes, which a short review cannot capture. It will strengthen the convictions of readers of this blog. It may change the mind of readers who are open-minded, who are not already ideologically or professionally committed to the existing way of doing business.

Full disclosure, I received a review copy. However, I can truthfully say that I would have paid full price for this book and have gotten my money’s worth. Buy a copy, read it, then give it away to someone who will learn and benefit from it.

See also this interview 10 questions with ‘Stealing You Blind’ author Iain Murray.

Iain Murray’s Twitter is here .

Here are his posts on the NRO Corner.

This is an interview of Murray by Glenn Reynolds.

6 thoughts on “Iain Murray, Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You”

  1. If the incumbent power centers manage to vilify the Tea Party sufficiently, to poison the brand, they will merely cause a change of label. Tainting a label cannot change the underlying substance…

    In the PoMo universe, the label is the substance. Attacking narrative identity is their primary tactic.

    For those who recognize the substance is the substance, labels lose power. Confidence in one’s identity defeats the labelers. The country class has all the power. The must recognize it and put it to work.

  2. How many people know that DOD civilians are now allowed to live on military posts? Picerne Military housing, a private company, gets all $1200 of my husband’s housing allowance. We were only allowed to have two bedroom house with one tiny bathroom. Across the way two civilians are living in a 4 bedroom 2 1/2 bath for $1300. Out of the 15 available apartments on our street only one of the families that have moved in are military, the rest were civilians. My husband’s medical unit only has 50 soldiers but there are 200+ people that work in the unit. The military is mostly made up of civilians who are next to impossible to fire. We’ve dealt with people stealing time from the government and one major HIPAA violation without anyone being fired. They’re talking of changing the retirement benefits of soldiers but they refuse to admit that the DOD employees too many civilians. I don’t how it looks to the civilian world or what other’s see in other agencies but I know from the military’s point of view the civilians are being paid for jobs that use to go military personnel for a much higher costs and they’re getting a lot of the same benefits we do.

  3. “I don’t how it looks to the civilian world …” I do. They don’t know anything about these issues. Zero. Zilch.

    The DOD has had immunity from Conservatives, since they love soldiers. I share the sentiment. But I have no love for the bureaucracy.

    But it is every bit as wasteful as any other arm of the government.

  4. One problem is a kneejerk attitude – especially with regard to regulation – that a bureaucracy can accomplish more if it has more people. This fails to take into account the law of diminishing returns: after a certain point, adding more people to a system makes it easier to lose information and to reduce bureaucratic activity.

    A stroke of inspiration strikes me, having watched The Social Network earlier today…can Internet social networking applications be adapted to government regulatory agencies, to make the flow of information more rapid and efficient and less labor-intensive?

  5. “But it is every bit as wasteful as any other arm of the government”.

    Without a doubt that is true. The “paperless” Army takes three or four times the amount of paper than the old system. Then there is the projects that the Congress insists the military needs but no one wants. Then there is paying for people getting sick from the houses they refuse to fix. I could go on but I think you get the idea. My husband serves because he wants to. We know and appreciate that the public pays his salary. We hate to see the waste everywhere.

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