Tag Archives: Kakistocracy

The Clerisy and the Kakistocracy and the Administrative State

If anything, both Left and Right have developed a newly intense resentment of the way in which purely private actors can exercise tremendous influence over their lives: corporate mergers and restructurings take away jobs and upend the economic situation of communities dependent on them; Facebook and Twitter endeavor to silence unpopular political views, or else are used as vehicles for ochlocratic attacks on hapless Starbucks staffers and Chipotle managers; in 2008–09, the world economy was convulsed by the fact that a great many Wall Street firms made bad investments that they did not quite even understand, necessitating trillions of dollars in bailouts and “quantitative easing” to stave off economic disaster. It is easier for a man to walk away from his wife and children than from his credit-card debt or student loans. Nobody seems to really know what his health insurance will cover — or what it will cover the day after tomorrow. A third of the teachers participating in a grant program found themselves saddled with loans — loans they had never signed up for, sometimes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars —because of paperwork issues. Innocent men and women are wrongly prosecuted and end up financially ruined even when they escape jail, and even as prosecutors boldly boast about abusing their powers.

The burden of these developments always seems to fall on those who do not have much money or power. You miss filing a 1040EZ one year and you’ll get your bank account hijacked by the IRS; Lois Lerner hijacks the entire IRS for a political project and she ends up with pension that’s twice what most American households earn in a year. Corporate executives flit from one gilt perch to the next, politicians flout both law and morality without real consequence, and their cronies and minions rarely miss a paycheck. Meanwhile, the New York Times is full of advertisements for Rolex and Cartier, Tiffany and Zegna — and stories about how nobody can really be expected to get by on $200,000 a year.

In Francis Fukuyama’s magisterial Origins of Political Order, he specifies three things that undergird the development of political development: the state, the rule of law, and accountability. The first we have plenty of — more of than we need, really. The other two . . . less so. Irrespective of how you feel about the current legal efforts being made against President Trump, it is impossible for any intelligent person to look at the situation and conclude that anybody — anybody — involved in this mess is simply working to apply the law rather than conducting a political jihad or counter-jihad through legal means — lawfare, as they call it. The rule of law took a beating during the Obama administration, and the chaos of the Trump administration does not seem likely to contribute much to its recuperation.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Crony capitalism and statolatry all the way down.

“Urban Renewal” and The Kakistocracy


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 1 – Tim Tielman in Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo

Urban renewal was the lethal marriage of progressive urban engineering with what Tim [Tielman] calls the “kakistocracy“—thieves who justify their crimes against place in the canting and condescending language of efficiency and inevitability.

New York’s Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, while being driven through urban-renewal-decimated Auburn, New York, “In the 1950s, with a progressive government and newspaper, you got into urban renewal and destroyed everything of value in your town. If you’d had a reactionary newspaper and a grumpy mayor, you might still have it.” Try to imagine Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand saying something one-ten-thousandth as perceptive. (Confirming Moynihan, the largest American city to reject urban renewal funding was Salt Lake City, whose voters, following the lead of their delightfully cranky libertarian Mayor J. Bracken Lee, rejected the federal bulldozer in 1965 by a vote of 29,119 to 4,900.)

Moynihan had a soft spot for Buffalo, probably because it was filled with the ethnic Catholics who claimed his heart, if not always his head. His support was critical in saving Louis Sullivan’s terra cotta-ornamented Guaranty Building (1896) from senseless demolition. (In a 1961 essay in Commentary, Moynihan called Buffalo “a big, ugly, turbulent city.” I once asked him if that description caused any problems in his campaigns. He looked at me incredulously. “How many people in Buffalo do you think read Commentary?”)

Tielman says, “Absent the federal and state money, none of this devastation occurs in Buffalo or Niagara Falls.” He elaborates: “Where did this free money go? To the existing power structure”—whose acts of destruction were facilitated, I regret to say, by urban Catholic mayors, who sacrificed significant portions of their cities to the Greatest Generation’s Greatest God: Progress.

. . .

[T]he Canal District [in Buffalo] is now threatened by every parent’s nightmare: a children’s museum, a $27 million project, jointly funded by a state development corporation and corporate donors, with the city offering a $1-a-year lease for forty years.

Tim is not enthusiastic. “Did you know Buffalo is the largest city in the country without a children’s museum?” he asks in mock outrage. “We can’t let that stand!” More seriously, he notes that “children’s museums attract fewer people than cemeteries,” and that this one “has nothing to do with the Canal District—it could be anywhere.” (It could be anywhere—what an apposite caption for so many of the edifices that deface our cities: This could be anywhere.)

. . .

Jane Jacobs occupies the catbird seat on Tim’s bookshelf. He rhapsodizes Jacobsian over pre-urban renewal Buffalo, which was “dense with buildings and crowded sidewalks, where one could wander block upon block, past shop after shop, restaurant after restaurant, office building after hotel, without apparent end. Buffalo was a beehive, where all of life’s necessities, pleasures, and luxuries could be had within the square mile of its core.”

Its demolition was not the work of some invisible hand or inscrutable force but rather, in Tielman’s phrase, “social engineers” who destroyed the essence of the city.

. . .

Next time you’re in Buffalo—and you really ought to visit; the Buffalos and Lowells and Pittsburghs are so much better for the soul than Orlando or Myrtle Beach—take one of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo‘s open-air bus tours.

The Real Buffalo Rises: How one American city lost, and then reclaimed its destiny.


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 2 – Tim Tielman visits two office buildings in Buffalo


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 4 – St. Paul’s Cathedral and Sullivan’s Guaranty Building<