Archive for statism

*The Trouble with Government Solutions and Laws of Good Intention*

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on November 14, 2012 by Legatus Libertatis

The Trouble with Government Solutions and Laws of Good Intention:  Why regulations and government programs are rarely the best options – and are often completely inappropriate options – for solving society’s problems.

Many people in this country follow a two-step process; they first identify a problem in society, and next ask the question, “How can government solve this problem? – or more specifically, “How can the federal government solve this problem?”  This process leaves out a very critical step that the Constitution and Federal system require.  Once a problem in society is identified and recognized by the public, the first question must necessarily be, “Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to address this problem?”  If the answer is “no”, then the issue should not be placed into the hands of the central government, no matter how good an argument can be made for an effective government solution.  If the answer to that critical question of Constitutional authority is “no”, the problem must be solved by other entities, be they state or local governments, volunteer organizations, non-profits, charities, Churches, corporations, clubs or any other group of people with a common cause.  Why can’t these groups address problems in society, as they have throughout human history?  I say they absolutely can.

Many Americans, particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum, will seldom directly explain why their ideas for a government solution to a problem warrant violation of the 10th Amendment, which delegates to the people and the states those powers not expressly granted to the federal government by the Constitution.  They will not explain why the law of the land should be ignored in favor of their government solution because they are never asked to – because the assumption is already made that problems, once identified, should be addressed by the government.  These statists and leftists will go on to argue against the merits of alternative solutions.  They will claim that only the Federal government has the resources to tackle a given issue (in some cases this might be true, because the government has enforced its own monopoly).  They will claim that businesses are too corrupt and greedy to act in the public’s interest.  They ascribe angelic altruistic qualities to agents of the government,  believing them to be paragons of virtue and efficiency, even when evidence to the contrary is blatant and overwhelming.  Why do people on the left believe that one group of humans (bureaucrats and elected officials) can accomplish things that no other group of humans can?

Questioning the effectiveness or authority of government to solve a problem is not the same thing as saying the problem shouldn’t be solved.

Who will keep poisons out of our food and prevent our automobiles from exploding on the road?  I point you towards organizations like Consumers Reports.  More importantly, I ask if it is in any company’s interest to sell products or services which injure or kill its customers?  Of course it isn’t; businesses want repeat customers, not corpses and litigation.  In the last year alone we have examples of voluntary recalls in the agricultural produce and automobile industries which precede orders from the overseeing federal agencies.  The free market drives quality and many industries can effectively regulate themselves.  Additionally, the vacuum created by a reduction in government oversight would invigorate a whole private sector industry focused on quality control and consumer protection.  Only the government can test substances or warn consumers about hazards and defects?  It is not as though scaling back the FDA would return us overnight to the dystopian jungle of Upton Sinclair.

Piles and piles of regulation are not the only thing standing between us and sausage made of human fingers.  This is an example of a problem which government DID step in and solve once upon a time, but the government is never willing to step back and say that its job has been done and the agency can be dissolved.  The unelected bureaucrats in these federal agencies will continue to write new regulations to keep themselves relevant and expand the scope of their power beyond their original mandates.  The FCC was born out of the Interstate Commerce Commission created to regulate railroad rates, and today they have reinvented themselves into the police agency of the internet rather than admit their own irrelevancy and go gracefully into the night.  When there is a place or need for government oversight, the government will never contain itself to that limited scope or voluntarily surrender power when it’s job is done.

Ultimately, whether it is a federal agency, a charity or a business, we are still merely talking about a group of people coming together with a common objective in mind and pooling resources to accomplish the objective.  I do not believe that people who join the payroll of the federal government are suddenly imbued with magic powers which allow them to see and predict more clearly or to operate more efficiently and magnanimously than any other man or woman.  Even when there is clear demonstrable evidence of government waste and inefficiency, programs are not scrapped and losses are not cut.  We continue to pour millions, billions, and in some cases trillions of dollars into bloated programs which long ago utterly failed in their mandates (which in many instances were unconstitutional to begin with).  There are numerous examples.

Amtrak and the United States Postal Service are excellent examples of failed government programs.  Only in the federal government could a department continually operate in the red, losing money every quarter, defaulting on payments and not be shut down.  If the USPS were a private business, it would have declared bankruptcy ages ago.  Today it even outsources deliveries to more efficient private enterprises like UPS and Federal Express, yet statists insist it must be preserved to provide services to Americans than no one else could or would.  Better examples still are our government’s Wars on Poverty and Drugs.  Trillions of dollars, decades of work, immense manpower, and libraries full of new regulations have failed in every measurable way to solve the problems they were launched to address.  To suggest ending such failed programs, however, is to invite accusations of heartlessness.  This brings us to the most dangerous and detrimental phenomena at play: Laws of Good Intention.

While both major political parties in the country fall into the trap of justifying government programs by their good intentions, rather than their results, it is an affliction most acutely associate with the Democrats and the left.  Having completely bypassed the critical question of whether or not the government is constitutionally authorized to address a problem, they design a solution with all of the best intentions in the world.  I do not doubt that the proponents of such government solutions genuinely believe their plan will alleviate suffering, elevate the downtrodden, rectify injustice or otherwise improve society.  The trouble is that this good intention is expected to then shield and insulate them from any criticism or challenge.  To oppose the government solution is seen as opposition to the very idea of solving the problem at hand.  Too often, I have been accused of cruelty or a lack of compassion merely because I suggest that a government program is failing, and that the private sector should be allowed to attempt its own solution.  These programs are never judged on the merits of their effectiveness, only the good intentions behind them.  If the intention is good enough, the program must continue.

That we continue failed programs which the nation cannot afford is as much a display of our values as a society as it is a meaningful step towards solving the problem, or so those on the left will say.   Following the recent presidential debate in which Mitt Romney said he would end funding to Public Television, LeVar Burton appeared with a counterpoint on the O’Reilly Factor.  Burton acknowledged that PBS and Sesame Street were financially successful, and would be able to survive on their own in the marketplace like any other network or show, and he acknowledged that the country was massively in debt, yet he asserted that we should continue to fund Sesame Street because it “sends the message” that we, as a people, value education.  Americans are unable to express their values without using the taxing and spending policy of the central government as their messenger?  When I ask people why they think NPR should receive federal funding, they respond by touting the excellent programs and music and news that can be found on NPR.  They do not realize that they are making an argument for why NPR should be able to exist and compete on its own in a marketplace that – with the introduction of satellite radio – is diverse enough that stations can exist dedicated to golf, horrorcore or chamber music.  And what does it do to the charitable nature of Americans when tax deductions for donations are reduced and government tax-collectors take your money with the threat of guns and jail, to give it to charities that the central planners have deemed worthy?

So many of these arguments and debates going on in America’s political discourse, about the effectiveness of a given government program, the efficiency of a given government agency, the good intentions or societal values reflected, or the exclusive ability of government to do what no other entity can, are predicated on willfully ignoring the question of Constitutional authority, and should be moot.  Even in those rare instances when it can be shown that a federal program can effectively address a problem, that program should not see the light of day if it falls outside the scope of Constitutional authority.  We should have faith in ourselves to group together and solve problems on our own, as individuals, groups of neighbors, corporations, charities, city councils, and every other variety of organization that is not the federal government.  At the end of the day, the problems will be solved by people sharing ideas and working together.  In some cases, those people will be part of a government agency, but they absolutely do not HAVE TO BE part of a government agency to be capable of improving society.

I do not believe that the federal government knows how to spend your money more wisely than you do; it is plagued by waste and excess.  I do not believe that people should be forced to spend money on programs they find morally objectionable; the left would have us believe that without federal funding, the alternative is for stem-cell research to be outlawed, and they never talk about the billions of dollars invested into the research by the private sector.  I do not believe that the Constitutional restrictions on federal authority should be ignored and disregarded because someone has an idea that is “so good” or “so well-intentioned” that it deserves implementation regardless.  I do not believe that it means I do not care about children if I question the effectiveness of public schools and the Department of Education.  I do not believe that it means I want the elderly to suffer and die in the streets because I point out that Social Security is insolvent.  I do not believe that people in the government are inherently better at doing things than any other people in the country.

We the People are responsible for creating society’s ill and for solving them.  We created the federal government to address specific issues, enumerated in the Constitution, and we retained for ourselves the powers and rights to solve all other problems by different means.  I have faith in those other means, and more importantly, the Constitution REQUIRES us to rely on them, regardless of how certain the statists in Washington are that they know better than we do.

-Legatus Libertatis

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