Outstater: Madarins ‘of the First Pin’
“Hoosiers might never see an automatic taxpayer refund that is unexpectedly near its trigger under a bill filed by the Senate’s fiscal leader (Republican Luke Kenley).” — Jan. 6, 2012, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
I fight it, but more and more I think of my public officials, elected or not, as mandarins.
The comparison has become disturbingly apt. They simply don’t behave in ways that bring to mind the brave men and women who founded this state under the Northwest Ordinance or even the local citizen legislators of the 20th century.
This new breed of official — public servants, they like to be called — have grown more brazen in recent years, treating tax revenue as if it were an imperial right. Any tax cuts must be offset by revenue increases, salaries and benefits of government employees must be perpetually increased, and services must never, never be cut or discontinued. The emperor’s treasury must be full.
Discouraging in this regard was Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman’s recent report on her 92-county tour of the outstate mandarins . . . oops . . . local elected officials. She returned from her visits with recommendations that would be familiar to anyone living in the Tang Dynasty:
- Allow low-level mandarins to use “surplus” revenue from some accounts for work on the people’s roads and streets.
- Urge the Imperial Court to find a way to pay for the administration of emergency services, which could include new taxes on provincial communication systems.
- Streamline village government by eliminating village councils and moving fiscal authority to the regional capital where it could be overseen by mandarins of a proper rank.
- Increase professionalism among low-level mandarins by adopting anti-nepotism and conflict-of-interest decrees.
Mandarins were the pluperfect bureaucrats. They served the imperial Chinese civil service, a system dating back to the Zhou Dynasty 2,600 or so years ago. In more recent history, tragically, they were the models for the cadres who distributed the Little Red Book during the late Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s Great Leap Forward.
Ms. Skillman, who pointedly did not meet with any township officials on her summer tour, might know that the mandarin system was developed as a way of stopping the spread of nepotism and favoritism — a goal pursued by her and Emperor . . . oops again . . . Governor Daniels.
“Theoretically, local government authorities were given the task of selecting talented candidates, mandarins, then categorizing them into nine grades depending on their abilities. In practice, however, only the rich and powerful would be selected,” reads our Wikipedia entry.
In reference to a method of further classifying Chinese civil officials, Ms. Skillman’s tour of Hoosierdom can be understood as a mandarin of the “First Pin” visiting mandarins of the “Ninth Pin.”
“Those directly under the Emperor heading the top departments were considered First Pin, and those who are county judicial officers, for example, were generally Ninth Pin,” Wikipedia continues.
It didn’t work for China and it won’t work for Indiana. While the hiring of a bungling nephew was an occasional problem, the mandarins became a permanent ruling class that eventually smothered a great civilization in taxes, rules and regulations.
Now, everyone likes Becky Skillman. But even putting the mandarin analogy aside, there is such a thing as the right person in the wrong place (another wonderfully useful Chinese concept).
Ms. Skillman was the right person to tell the story of the early Daniels administration — that it was morning in Indiana and everything would work out swell. But that story ended in 2008 when it became clear what a mess government can make of things.
Peggy Noonan addressed this in her Oct. 1 Wall Street Journal column: “Here’s the problem: There now is no story. At the end of the day, there is only reality. Things work or they don’t. When they work, people notice, and say it.”
We need someone on the throne . . . oops for the last time . . . someone in a position to restore our democracy to constitutionally working order, not someone treating money wrenched from the citizenry as the entitlement of a political class.
And that someone can’t be a mandarin — even a Republican of the First Pin.