Given all of the above, I have come to a conclusion – an epiphany in the form of a short and simple phrase. It boils the purpose of government down to one short truism defended by the very history ofAmerica’s birth and the legislative intent behind the framing of our Constitution. The phrase is straightforward and easy to digest – it is therefore my hope that Republicans can better understand and thusly enact this “sound bite” as an elucidation of the phrase, “small government”. Without further ado:
The true purpose of any government is to protect, not to do! This is especially true of the federal government which is meant to act on only certain explicitly defined powers.
Now, of course, it is near impossible to pare the parameters of appropriate government action into a sound bite, and as such, it is necessary to explain further what it is that I mean if only to avoid being misunderstood. As previously discussed, the government should act only by the execution of the law. This is because law, in its purest form, is designed to provide equal justice for all.
Now, in applying the law, the government has two tools at its disposal, both of which, if wielded unwisely, are extremely dangerous. The first is force, utilizing the police and military, and everything between. The second is regulation.
Regulation can be a tricky beast, however. Over regulation of an industry is undeniably crippling to its ability to produce and compete both in domestic and global markets. In fact, the process of studying, organizing, preparing and then regulating and fumbling through waves of litigation has impeded American progress at an escalating and alarming rate since the 1940s. An intricate and growing web of bureaucracy has eroded our great tradition of ingenuity and roll up our sleeve, get it done attitude, and it is why Japan is nearing8,000 milesof high-speed train line while we have only one such line. Senseless over regulation is why our vast natural gas reservoirs remain veritably untapped and why NASA estimates it will take us twenty-plus years to put a man on the moon again, compared to just nine in the 1960s, before the microchip was even invented. Regulation, therefore, in many respects, is a problem that must be dealt with ifAmericais to move forward competitively in the global marketplace.
Yet, regulation is necessary! It has its legitimate purpose, and that purpose is to protect. To protect against the over zealous, yes, but truly, regulation is properly utilized only when it tells one person or group that it cannot infringe upon the liberties of another. Regulation properly guards the liberties of all against the desires of any particular group (faction) to directly harm another, or even to act in a way that is reasonably calculated to lead to a great harm to the constituency.
The formulation of regulation to protect against direct harm is theoretically easier – more “black and white.” Thou shalt not kill, by way of example. But, regulation limiting one group from acting in a way that is reasonably calculated to lead to a great harm to the constituency is more difficult. An example of this latter version of regulation would be a regulation that, because of the moral hazard inherent therein, forbids loan originators from lending to individuals with horrible credit only to turn around and sell that imprudent risk to another institution.
How do we know when we’ve gone too far in regulating against foreseeable harm in order to protect the many? At what point is it simply too much regulation, where innovation, indeed progress is halted and an erosion of our American tradition of independent, productive and competitive grit evinces a palpable threat to our future prosperity? The answer, actually, is quite clear.
Regulation, properly formulated, warns people that the force of the law will be used against them if they do something untoward. Regulation, improperly formulated, forces people to do something.
Sometimes it is quite difficult, because of the gray area. We almost ask our elected officials, if you really think about it, to be prophetic, to foresee impending, even if lurking doom. But, this is the job of our legislators, is it not? Every elected official is tasked to be truly judicious and consider, with extreme scrutiny, the merits of any proposed legislation. Unfortunately, in these days of 2,000+ page bills prepared by staff members at the guidance of lobbyists, we aren’t receiving that level of service from our congressmen.
Turning back to the 10th Amendment and the legislative intent behind its enactment: When a federal system of government is established wherein the national government is given only defined powers and explicitly forbidden to exercise any other powers, it follows that the federal government should not be permitted to expand through the creation of agencies and programs designed to do that which it was not explicitly granted the power to do.
Unfortunately, though, the expansion of the federal government is currently escalating at an even greater pace than subsequent to the Great Depression. The result, as we all are aware, is a government that is hemorrhaging money, building unconscionable debt, and doing so in the provision of wasteful, ineffective and or outright broken systems.
The crisis with regards to our federal government is two fold: Not only are critical issues not being addressed, we see that those tasks the federal government does take on are handled inefficiently. The government’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill in theGulf of Mexico, for example, exemplifies a federal government stretched too thin, unprepared, and incompetent at doing what is actually in its proper role to perform.
Now, many would respond to the above by simply advocating for the review of government inefficiencies and the development of standard operating procedures designed to cut waste and red tape. There is no doubt that this is desperately needed, for the government is so wasteful it is mind numbing. For example, no matter who I ask, not one person seems to be able to adequately answer the following question: why is it so difficult to fire a government employee?
Usually, the answer I receive is two pronged – one, its easier to just move them to another agency; and two, there is just too much paperwork, making it time prohibitive. Well, ever heard of a work at will system where the employer can lay a worker off for reason as well as for no reason, of course with certain restrictions such as discrimination? I don’t know about you, but I would feel a lot safer and more confident in my government if lazy, unproductive and disingenuous federal employees could actually be fired. Maybe this would elevate the level of customer service we receive when we call the Internal Revenue Service or visit our local Social Security Office (with all due respect to the many hard working individuals in those agencies).
However, the problem is unfortunately more systemic than can be solved by efficiency evaluation and implementation. And the problem has nothing to do with Democrats v. Republicans, incompetence, or even corruption, though these factors certainly aggravate the situation.
The problem lies in competing interests and detached government. The reason why our founding fathers found it prudent to vest the overwhelming majority of government power in the individual states, rather than a central government, was because they had just lived through the reality of a government betrothed to the citizens of Britain over the interests of the citizens of the colonies, and so detached from the colonial realities, it proved tyrannical.
Why is it so important to vest more powers in the state, rather than the federal government? Didn’t Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, in the Federalist Papers, advocate for the creation of a central government to unify the states into one nation better able to guard against the dangers from foreign force and influence, mediate dissention and hostilities between the states, and safeguard against domestic insurrection and faction? Well, yes, but these were arguments to forge a union in lieu of America disintegrating into a number of confederacies with competing interests, less capable of defending against foreign interests and other pressures as a result of infighting much the same as was the reality of the warring city-states in ancient Greece. Further, they were arguments in support of explicit powers to be granted to a central government. They certainly were not arguments in support of granting all or even vast power to the federal government.
It is prudent to vest powers in the state governments because a federal government must take into consideration the competing interests of all the states in order to make a determination as to how it will regulate any given matter. To be fair, the federal government must consider the reasonable interests of the citizens of not justCalifornia,New YorkorVirginia, but must consider the voice of every person in all 50 states. In doing so, the government is rightfully endeavoring to be just and representative of its constituents.
Unfortunately, this venerable undertaking is the exact cause of government inefficiency. This is where red tape comes from, because, to gather the voices of 300 million, there must be forms. There must be government employees to categorize these forms, and of course there must be a committee to develop protocols for the procedures to submit, decipher, and consider those forms. And so on.
After millions and millions are spent, a system is finally implemented. And what do we get? We get a system that addresses little if any of the particular concerns brought to Congress’ attention by the interested localities, but instead mandates in a way that theoretically won’t upset any particular group. The result is a wasteful program that does not address that which it was created to address, or is severely hampered in its philanthropic intent to so do. The program burdens the entire nation, and therefore is answerable to the entire nation, depriving it of any ability to succinctly address the problems facing the region that originally requested help.
Why? Again- human nature! If I am required to pay for a program, I will require a say in how that program is run. Multiply that by 300 million, and suddenly thousands ofMainelobster fisherman, through their representatives in Congress, are telling farmers inCaliforniahow to irrigate their crops. What we get is a far off, isolated, but all too interested government engaged in false philanthropy, creating a result contrary to their altruistic purpose. What we get is a catch-22!
The problems, though, do not stop there. Unfortunately, and as a direct result of government programs designed to provide for the welfare of all, human nature rears yet another ugly head – entitlement.
Entitlement programs, as they are sometimes called, are programs that are initially designed to address a particular problem plaguing a region or group of individuals. The program is created, and, so as to not discriminate, other groups and individuals are granted access to the program upon demand. The program grows, and grows. It becomes more and more inefficient, wasteful and ironically, less capable of addressing the concerns of those it is “helping”. Congress, in its right mind, then, may attempt to cut spending on that program.
But woe to the Congressman who votes to cut spending for such a program. He or she will be maligned for cutting funding to schools, welfare, veterans aid, or whatever program is to be cut. There will be riots in the streets. We are witness to this inGreece,France,England– all overEurope, and it has already begun here in theUnited States.
If a Republican votes to cut a program, the Democrat opponent will campaign on a platform crucifying him for cutting off the funds, and vice versa. Why? First, because insofar as political posturing is concerned, it is successful. It is propaganda 101. But, to truly answer the question, I find it prudent to further analyze why these programs become entitlement programs.
An entitlement program is a federal program that guarantees a certain level of benefits to persons or entities who meet requirements set by law, such as Social Security, farm price supports or unemployment benefits. If an individual or group meets the legal requisites for receipt of government aid, it leaves no discretion with Congress on how much money to appropriate. Moreover, some entitlements carry permanent appropriations.
The reason why government programs are nearly impossible to dismantle, whether or not they fit into the narrow definition of an entitlement program, is because they breed dependency into the minds and hearts of those they “help”.
Once you become dependent upon something or someone else doing a particular thing for you, it is human nature to rely upon that external force to always do it for you. Why should I save money for retirement if the government is doing it for me? Why should I work if the government will ostensibly pay me not to work? Going back to the concept of plunder, and why government is necessary to guard against man’s animalistic instinct to take from others instead of producing for themselves – we plunder and we sit idly while things, gadgets, robots and governments do for us because, just like water, it is in our nature to follow the path of least resistance.
Now, fast forward five, ten, twenty or thirty years into the future to when people have become entirely dependent upon any particular program, and try to dismantle that program. Good luck! Those dependent upon the program will riot in the streets and fight tooth and nail for that which they feel they are entitled to.
Analogy time! One of my favorite channels to watch is the Discovery Channel. Recently, they aired a series titled Life, in which Oprah Winfrey narrates to some of the most visually stunning high-definition footage of the world that surrounds us. In one particular episode which analyzed the intricacies of mammals and how we’ve evolved to become the dominant species on the planet, we find ourselves following the lives of myriad animals ranging from dolphins and whales to meerkats and cheetahs. The thesis of the episode is that the key to mammal’s success as a class is not just in the size of our brains, but actually results from our exhibiting the most complex social behaviors out of any in the animal kingdom. In other words, we are successful because we live and die by the strength and weakness of our families and our capacity to use and share wisdom across generations allows us to flourish.
At one point, we find ourselves learning of the close-knit family dynamic which shapes the African Elephant’s ability to rule the landscape. We follow a heard of six or seven elephants lead by a matriarch, the oldest and wisest female, and her daughter which has just birthed a one day old baby elephant. Soon, the baby elephant gets stuck in waste deep mud at the edge of his first watering hole. The mother quickly comes to the rescue, extending a trunk to push the baby elephant out of the mud. Unfortunately, she is only pushing her baby deeper and deeper into the mud. Finally, the matriarch pushes the mother out of the way and simply lets the baby figure out how to escape the mud on his own.
This tale of a baby elephant’s struggle is a perfect analogy for our federal government. You see, despite the mother’s good intentions, it was best for her to let her baby figure it out on his own. Let’s assume she helped him out. What would happen the next time he got stuck in the mud, or the time after that? If the baby elephant could always rely on his mother to get him out of the mud, he would understandably become dependent upon it and never have the incentive or chance to figure it out for himself. Then, one day, he gets stuck in the mud and his mom isn’t around, resulting in him baking to death, unable to escape the sun’s rays to shade or water.
Likewise, what happens when the federal government is unable to bankroll inefficient entitlement programs through the expansion of our deficit? All those people so dependent upon the program will be left out to dry.
Moreover, just as the mother elephant made things worse for the baby elephant, the federal government, through action, often makes it harder for individuals and localities to efficiently govern and produce for themselves as they need and see fit.
Understanding the dangers of a strong, vast and expanding federal government in the context of today’s modern politic, and the roadblock it places in the path toward more perfect liberty and justice for all is essential to the rebirth of the Republican platform. The federal government must be reduced in size and efficiencies implemented post-haste.
But what of the critical issues facing our nation? For let me be clear- the challenges facing our nation are many, and they absolutely be met! It is not sufficient to argue that government should be smaller, that deficit spending must be choked off, and in that same breath ignore the critical issues of our time. It is the failure to meet these critical issues, decade after decade, that has lead us to this pivotal moment in our nation’s history.
Now is not the time to cut government funding, many will argue. How, they will ask, can we tackle the mounting problems facingAmericawhile simultaneously reducing the size of the federal government? The Democrats will argue that the issues cannot be met without the further extension of the federal government’s long arm into growing jurisdictions or an emergency increase in the debt ceiling. But they are dead wrong!
The answer is found in our very own backyards, our local town, city and county governments and most of all, in our state governments. As was the intention of our founding fathers, the true power in government to effect change is laid in the state. For it is each locality and each state that best knows how to govern the intricacies of the varying geographies within their boarders.
Unfortunately, the current paradigm of American governance has shifted to where the federal government increasingly administers programs that should be left to the states, either by holding the operation of those programs ransom with the carrot that is federal aid, or through the outright commandeering of those functions. We are increasingly delving into a system of governance where the reality is that of the American management of states. Instead, as was the legislative intent behind the 10th Amendment, it not only should, but absolutely must be theVirginia management of Virginia, New York of New York, California ofCalifornia, and so on!
Yet, states as well as the individuals comprising each state are looking to the federal government to do more and more. Congressmen and Senators are increasingly taking the burdens ofAmericaon their shoulders, directing the awesome force of federal government at the states in reaction to the simple fact that states are failing in the tasks provided them, such as the administration of proper education. And so, the Democrats have taken up liberty’s torch, having seen that so much is being left undone at state and local levels, erroneously using the interstate commerce clause of the United States Constitution to mandate what should be done.
And it is not just the Democrats who increasingly are seeing it fit for the federal government to engage in the false philanthropy of providing for the welfare of all through government mandate. The Republicans, though their appropriations are aimed at different pockets, are equally as guilty of using the treasury coffers to fund inefficient programs outside the proper scope of federal government.
The Republicans have lost their way. Deep down, in our stomachs, we have always known the flawed thinking of “socialism”. We’ve read Orwell’s masterpiece, “1984”, we’ve been taught about the dangers of communism, but we’ve lost the tongue for being able to express what we even mean by “small government” in an age when government is rapidly expanding, often at our direction.
In order for the Republican party to regain its strength as more than just a viable party, but one that actually leads this great nation once again to prosperity, our platform must begin with revolutionizing local and state politics. The core of American politics must be infused with a revitalized and re-focused Republican platform that understands that the role of government is to regulate in order to protect, not to do everything for its constituents. This mentality will enable the implementation of fiscal responsibility in state and local budgets as well as empower those governments to more succinctly tackle the critical issues facing their respective regions.
Why is this so important? In fiscal year 2010, state governments collectively ran a budget deficit approaching $55 billion; the result of both Democrats and Republicans allowing government to expand into improper arenas. In doing so, we are thereby strapping state governments in their ability to properly perform the functions they ought to be performing.
This year, in particular, the near bankruptcy of the majority of our states is analogous to the mother elephant and her newborn stuck in the mud. The states, addicted to federal funds, almost unanimously turned to Troubled Asset Relief Funds and other sources of bailout moneys to delay their bankruptcies. But, now, the federal government is increasingly unable, or at least unwilling to borrow money fromChinato underwrite the states and pull them from the mud. What now?
There is absolutely no question that the federal government has the authority as well as the duty to govern in certain arenas. But, it is with the states that the majority of power must remain if we, as Americans, are to continue to honor the intentions of our sage founders.
Empowering each region to budget for that which is of greater importance to their constituents will allow each region the flexibility to tackle their laundry list of problems in the order they see fit. The result – pockets of happy constituents popping up across counties, cities, towns and states. Further, as each of these local and state governments are directly accountable by their respective taxpayers as to money spent and a proximal demand for results directly effecting the region, it stands to reason that these governments will have more incentive to efficiently and expeditiously address the relevant issues than the federal government could plausibly ever have.
This will further result in each locality creating new and innovative ways to tackle the issues plaguing their region. One county or one state may develop craftier solutions than the other, and as capitalism goes, the next state over will be free to build upon the advances of the next. This is the true American way. The alternative, nationwide, top-down standard operating platforms – the trend of today, not only stifles innovation, but also sets in stone today’s system(s) as the best we can hope for.
As Republicans, we must rise from the ashes, begin at the grass roots, and institute fundamental change in every locality in this nation. We must change politics from the inside out, from its core, starting with town, city and county government, right to the doorsteps of our state capitals. We must fight to free local and state government from the strings of entitlement programs and a host of inefficient systems, thereby bringing state budgets into fiscal responsibility.
As the states become more fiscally responsible and resolutely focused on tackling the critical issues facing the residents within their boarders, there will be less for the federal government to do, freeing up the treasury to invest in what it properly should and providing the necessary opportunity to reduce the federal deficit. Then, and only then, will there be less of a need for states to reach out to the federal government for aid. Best of all, perhaps, utilizing state and local governments as they were originally intended will work to remove the Democrats’ desire to spend on false philanthropy from Capital Hill.