The gilded dysfunction of Versailles on the Potomac
The abandonment of citizenship fuels the rise of a reckless nuclear powered courtier class
“Liberty withers and decays unless it's put to use.'' – Lewis Lapham, The Wish for Kings
In a C-Span interview about his book, “The Wish for Kings,” Lewis Lapham described what he saw as the ascendance of the “courtier spirit” not just in Washington, DC, but in all of the large private sector corporations, universities and foundations in the US. When asked to describe the transformation of the nation’s capital into a modern Court, Lapham opined:
It's about the splendor of Washington that has been the magnificence of its marble, of its pretensions, of its bureaucratic vastness, so that it has become like a palace at Versailles. It is a court society, a world unto itself, sometimes called "inside-the-Beltway." It's grown and multiplied since the end of the Second World War so that the expense of government, the number of functionaries, of people who serve government in its many facets -- I think there's something like now 100,000 lawyers and lobbyists who work on various degrees of regulation. The staff of the Congress has multiplied to 35,000. It's this sense of a vast Versailles-like court, the Hall of Mirrors in which the various servants of government flatter one another or blame one another, strike poses, issue bills, make announcements, stage pageants of one kind or another.
Today, Mr. Lapham’s estimates of federal employment seem quaint, like the silver chamber pots that adorned the fragrant apartments of the original Versailles.
Projections for 2023 by the Congressional Research Service peg total Executive branch civilian employment at 2,288,566. Legislative branch employees are estimated at 35,240, and Judicial branch employees at 34,556. If the Post Office and uniformed military personnel are included, total US government employment for 2023 is expected to reach 4,339,753.
For comparison, Walmart, the largest civilian employer in the US, has only 1,300,000 domestic employees, about one fourth the federal government total. Amazon is number two with 1,000,000. Of the top 10 US employers, six offer primarily low wage positions in fast food or retail sales.
Thus as the splendor, wealth and spectacular nature of the government in Washington, DC grow every year, the ranks of the nation’s laborers are increasingly dominated by a low wage, low benefit peasantry whose only connection to political life is via voting in elections with pre-determined options guaranteed not to disrupt the affairs of the Court.
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