President Obama has appointed yet another czar. This time it’s a pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, to monitor the compensation paid to seven companies currently under the opiate influence of federal bailout money. We’re long past czar fatigue.
The political usefulness of a czar is that it allows the President to underscore the importance of an issue. The czar does not acquire any powers not already resident in the office of the Executive, but does have more than the usual influence accorded a federal bureaucrat by virtue of his presumed access to the President. Thus, appointing a czar is a political and management device, nothing else.
But too many czars spoil the soup. By press accounts the President has appointed over 20 of them. At the very least we need to differentiate these functions by title. And by distinguishing according to title, the President would be helped in that he could designate the specific degree to which a particular bureaucrat is special.
To start, let us refer to Mr. Feinberg as a pay Shogun. A shogun was a military leader in Japan serving the Emperor, so that seems fitting. Similarly, Steve Ratner could be retitled the car Kaiser. Carol Browner could be called the environmental El Supremo, befitting the supreme importance President Obama places on destroying our economy in the fight against global warming. To emphasize the warmth of his feelings toward the Arabs, the President could title his middle east envoy, Senator George Mitchell, the peace pharaoh.
A basic rule of economics is that things obtain value through scarcity. In contrast, excess, like an excess of currency, devalues an object. The proliferation of czars has debased the label. The President needs diversity in his labels. History is replete with titles for dictators great and small.