Commentary: Your plane landed safely, thanks to the bureaucrats at FAA

 San Francisco International Airport is shown in 2020.

San Francisco International Airport is shown in 2020. Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

The "administrative state" is not as scary as it sounds.

A faddish phrase on the right is something called “the administrative state,” which refers to the federal workforce deputized by Congress to craft and enforce rules over the environment, banking, health care, product safety, mass communications, the power grid, etc.

A recent profile of the Claremont Institute — which has the unenviable task of stitching together an intellectual fig leaf for Trumpism — noted that scholars there view our nation’s bureaucrats as a “fourth branch,” effectively overturning the Constitution.

For some years, the right has been dressing up this vision of government as a scary horror show.  Here’s National Affairs in 2015:

“The domain of the administrative state is vast, ranging from the most trivial to the most significant matters of public and private life… With the issuance of an environmental rule, it commands once-sovereign states to re-order their electricity markets or face crippling blackouts. Its legions regulate our health care and our children’s dolls, our national banking system and our neighborhood stop signs.”

The writer cites Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts: “The Framers could hardly have envisioned…the authority administrative agencies now hold over our economic, social, and political activities.”

You know what else the Framers could not have envisioned? Flying machines.

But sure enough, two American brothers invented them. And then, the United States government, amid a massively destructive world war (which the fabled Founders also could not have envisioned) funded research to power the flying machines with jet engines.

Fast forward about 70 years, and in 2019 there were more than 1 billion passengers flown by American air carriers, according to FAA data.

Even during the pandemic, there was an average of about 5,300 flights en route in the National Airspace System every minute during peak hours.

Given all that air traffic, surely there were a lot of accidents and deaths, right?

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that in 2019, American air carriers were responsible for four deaths. In 2020, the number was zero.

Journalists don’t report on the planes that landed, but maybe we should.

Every day, people get on a flying machine, and a few hours later they wind up 2,000 miles away, where they attend to business, see family or engage in some leisure activity. They complain about the foul smelling air, waiting on the tarmac too long and having to take their shoes off. But the rational among them don’t fear that they’ll die in a fiery crash.

Who on earth do you think made this happen?

It was the heroes at the Federal Aviation Administration, that’s who.

About 14,000 air traffic controllers help keep us safe, in addition to the pilots — many of them trained, with your tax dollars, on military aircraft — as well as maintenance crews.

The FAA’s air traffic operations budget for 2021 was $8.2 billion, which according to the latest estimates, is less than three times the total value of the Minnesota Vikings.

A bargain!

Although commercial aviation might be an extreme example, there are many daily activities requiring government oversight that we find commonplace but are miraculous, if you think about it for just a minute.

Do you stare at the food on your plate and fear it will sicken you?

Is the worker next to you in the assembly line a 12-year-old child? (Well, maybe not the best example given recent news out of Alabama.)

If you’re on Medicare and go to the hospital, do you assume the facility will meet some standards for safety and sanitation?

The administrative state — at the direction of our elected representatives in the United States Congress — did all that.

As David Schultz of the University of Minnesota Law School relayed to me, in 1946, Congress — by virtue of its authority granted in Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution — enacted the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs how federal agencies shall be deputized to create and enforce rules.

We live in a complex society of 330 million people who are engaging in countless transactions with one another every minute, involving complicated and sometimes dangerous technology. We have bent nature to our will, though often at our own expense and without understanding (or caring) about the consequences.

To a large degree, a lot of this activity requires very little government intervention, and a lot of it is indeed largely unregulated.

But please explain to me how we’re supposed to fly a billion airline passengers around America without the FAA, i.e., the administrative state.

Or how, in the absence of the dreaded administrative state, the U.S. Congress is supposed to go about regulating the National Airspace System.

You can’t because it’s not possible.

As Schultz told me, “We can’t expect Congress to have the time or expertise to know how many parts of benzine per billion are hazardous to your health.”

That’s why we have the EPA. And thanks to the EPA and the rules it’s promulgated and enforced, combined emissions of the six most common pollutants have decreased 78% in the past 50 years.

Carbon pollution is another matter, and the EPA’s recent defeat at the Supreme Court is the cautionary tale here about the right’s effort to dismantle the administrative state.

We live in a glorious age of labor saving devices; abundant food, water and electricity; nearly instant access to Alexendrian libraries full of knowledge; and the ability to safely travel vast distances that would be unthinkable to those brilliant Founders.

These things require rules and people to enforce them. Otherwise, we’d be living in a chaotic hellscape. We know this because it’s happened in other places. Think of the Russian gangster state in the age of Putin, for instance.

And it was often true in America before we created modern governance. Do you know how many banking panics there were during the 19th century? A lot!

This new chatter among right-wing “intellectuals” about how we have to do away with the administrative state isn’t really new.

Its roots are in the 19th century. 

It boils down to whether rich and powerful people should be able to do whatever they want. 

It was always barbarism dressed up in gilded finery, and it still is. 

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.