When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, he set upon a course of bringing the best and the brightest into his administration. We can debate whether or not he succeeded, but we certainly should not begrudge him the attempt. With the system we have, a President and indeed the federal government as a whole have the obligation to find the best people they can. So if you walk around Washington, DC today, you will find a lot of bright, capable people populating the place.
But keep in mind that if these people populate Washington, it means that they are no longer in your community, and are perhaps thereby (as a wit once remarked) raising the average IQ of both places.
And that’s one of the drawbacks of having too much power flow into one place. It draws both people and resources out of the hinterlands in order to support a structure that might not be the most effective in the world.
The people of Israel were warned long ago about this very trap. They demanded a king because they wanted to be like every other nation in the world, which on the face of it is a poor reason to do anything. “Everybody else is doing it” doesn’t fly with me when my kids say it, and it didn’t fly with God either. Through his prophet God warned them what would happen:
This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. (1 Sam 8:11-18 NIV)
That’s exactly what happened once they got their king, and that’s exactly what happens to us when we grant too much power to any central authority. It happens in government, it happens in business, and it even happens in churches. The tension between the “efficiencies” of central control versus the freedom of local autonomy percolates over and again, and will continue to do so. But we need to think long and hard about how much of our lives we want to give over to the control of others, especially when it takes the best and brightest from among us.