Nevada's New Class, Part I
- Monday, October 27, 2003
In the Soviet Union, the specially privileged became known as the nomenklatura.
The term came from the lists of names—nomenklatura—kept by Soviet authorities. Reliable collaborators were cataloged: The Soviets never knew when an administrative slot would open up and they’d need another dependable domestic Quisling.
Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, this stratum of socialist state bureaucrats became known as “The New Class.” The phrase had been the title of a momentous 1957 book on socialism’s corrupt realities by the former Stalinist and Yugoslavian dissident, Milovan Djilas.
The “New Class” phrase was a killer. Not only was it sociologically accurate—the socialist states had, after all, spawned this new socio-political caste—but it also was derisive: A classless society was what generations of socialists had promised would justify their crimes.
Now, the real nature of systems that promise Better Living Through More Governmental Confiscation and Coercion was plain for all to see.
Eleven years before the Djilas book, George Orwell, another apostate socialist, had identified the real operative principle. It comes at the end of his satiric fable, Animal Farm. The donkey Benjamin is reading aloud to a companion from what is written on the barn wall.
Before, the wall had displayed the “Seven Commandments” of Animalism—the farm’s official ideology. Now, however, nothing was there except a single Commandment:
“ALL ANIMALS ARE CREATED EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”
It’s this principle that Nevadans have lately become all too familiar with.
More and more we’re learning how state legislators who are also local government employees have—behind the scenes and unknown to the public—amassed more and more de facto power, and with it, usurped more and more special prerogatives.
Naturally enough, it’s been the special privileges—the double-dipping of local and lawmaker salaries, the taking of city or county sick pay for the days working and being paid as a legislator—that have received most public attention.
But the real source of the problems is the concentration of power that has occurred behind the scenes. And here what is involved is not so much the double dipping into taxpayer money, as the triple dipping into governmental power.
Early this year, the Nevada Policy Research Institute released an analysis of the constant pressures within Nevada state government to always increase spending. At the root of the situation, the Institute reported, were the decisions of two different state attorney generals in the late 1960s and early 1970s to effectively abandon the classic, limited-government interpretation of the state constitution’s separation-of-powers clause.
Instead the state’s top lawyers—ambitious for higher office—seemingly sought to please the state’s growing public sector unions, and the well-muscled political machines they increasingly fielded.
Ignoring the full meaning of the separation-of-powers principle in the English common law tradition—that it applied not only horizontally in government but also vertically—the AGs reversed decades of settled interpretation of the state constitution. They declared it no longer barred local government, school district and university system employees—all members of the state executive branch—from simultaneously making laws in the legislative branch.
How wrongheaded were these legal opinions can be seen from a hypothetical: Say that one of the state’s U.S. Senators also hankered to sit simultaneously on a local school board. Were that permitted, the senator’s position on the school board would unavoidably become conflated with the power of his federal office—contaminating both.
On the school board the operative principle would quickly become: “All trustees are equal, but one is more equal than others.” The federal clout and national connections of the senator would entirely overturn the balance of powers natural and appropriate, within the processes of local self-government, to a board of school trustees.
It is the same when state lawmakers are allowed to simultaneously hold jobs in local government, school districts and the university system. Quickly the situation becomes one where: “All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Soon—as it is now clear happened in both city and county government in Las Vegas—the legislators’ presumed supervisors begin making “special allowances” for their powerful subordinates. Perhaps they are enticed by the prospect of special benefits. Perhaps they are just intimidated by the highly unequal power equation between them and the lawmakers.
It doesn’t really matter: If Nevada lawmakers can get away with simultaneously holding jobs in the executive branch, their power as lawmakers will inevitably contaminate their job functions as employees.
Inherently, it is a recipe for corruption.
Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Next week, in Part II, he explores the long-veiled third element of the “triple dip” into state power of Nevada’s would-be New Class.