Monday, November 7, 2011

Smaller than what?

“Small” is a relative term. If one is 6 feet tall and plays in the NBA, you would be small. If you are 6 feet tall and in the 6th grade (11 years old), you would not be small. Small portions of food are variable as you might note whenever you attend a family gathering. Small monthly payments can become quite hefty after a few months as can small tax increases. The term “small” is defined by the standard and the context used for its comparison. Take “small government” for example. Compared to California, Wyoming has a small government. Compared to the state government of 1920, Wyoming’s government might be considered as bloated or huge. You should have a clear enough picture by now to know that advocates of “smaller government” aren’t really saying very much. In fact they probably have their fingers crossed behind their backs when they utter those priceless (or worthless) words.

If I were to magically become king for a day and eliminated the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts and nothing else, I would have kept my promise of a “smaller government.” Not much would change, however, for most of us. A few struggling artists and musicians would have to struggle harder, but most of us would not detect a difference in the size, scope or intrusiveness of our government. Even if the promise of a smaller government is carried out, but the costs of operating the remainder are the same as before, we may be somewhat freer, but the concentrated power and lavish expensing for the governmental remnant will still have minimal positive impact for most American citizens. When considering the impact and size of the United States federal government, relative terms are meaningless. One must deal with absolutes….clearly defined limitations, responsibilities, duties and powers. One of the most egregious reasons for our present fiscal condition is that government has consistently used relative definitions for determining eligibility for transfer payments. For example the current income for the “poverty line” for a family of four is more than $20,000.00 per year. As a consequence, despite our nearly 50-year “War on Poverty,” the rate of those below the poverty line hasn’t changed. The line of demarcation is raised to reflect inflation and other cost increases which in turn is inflationary. As the government pumps more money into non-productive or low-producing sectors of the economy, there are more dollars competing for goods and services without having a corresponding impact on productive output.

This one example should be sufficient to illustrate that “smaller” is meaningless. If we agree that we need absolute or concrete parameters for government’s size, then the next step would be to identify the clear-cut limits for our federal government. Obviously the template that we presently have should be our starting point ….and, personally speaking, our end goal. The Constitution of the United States is broad enough to adapt to changing times and specific enough to limit government’s natural inclination to grow more powerful…if we adhere to it. There have been numerous efforts to change the Constitution through formal means or via unconstitutional legislation and rulemaking that goes unchallenged. In 1974 Rexford Tugwell penned The Emerging Constitution wherein he suggested that the U.S. version be more globally oriented and embrace a broader definition for “citizen.” Nearly every alteration that has been suggested or surreptitiously implemented has resulted in greater power for government and loss of freedom for our sovereign states and citizens.

Personal liberty is a gift from God, a Natural Right and an inherent desire of people. The Founders and the Framers recognized that the natural inclination of any government…monarchy, oligarchy, democracy…whatever…is to increase size, power and control. As a result of their insight, they devised a system of checks and balances among three co-equal branches that are (were) subservient to the people and their respective sovereign states. The interaction and oversight among the stakeholders should have insured that individual freedom would not be imperiled. Throughout the history of our nation the states and the three branches of the federal government have jousted and competed for preeminence in the federal power structure. The three federal branches have traded places at the pinnacle of influence and power from time to time, but it’s the states…the 50 sovereign entities who have fallen behind the power 8-ball. Often they did so willingly in exchange for federal revenue sharing….the modern equivalent of beads and baubles for Manhattan. Many state politicians lusted to serve in Washington D.C. so they were reluctant to take a stand against federal encroachment on states’ rights.

In a previous column (“Defining and Weaving” 11/4/2011) I suggested that the Congress is the logical focus for a constitutional restoration effort. The drive to re-establish the Constitution as the sole arbiter of federal action and involvement must include a corresponding devolution of federal power and oversight back to the respective states. This can be accomplished in the form of diminishing block grants over a short period of time. I would suggest 2-5 years. Simultaneously, federal taxes should be reduced in a corresponding manner. Some states will choose to continue the many federal programs that they will inherit. Others will seek to pick and choose which programs are necessary or desirable for their states and will jettison the others. The end result is predictable.

The states that choose to pick up the myriad programs will suffer fiscal, economic and social distress (see California and New York). The states that choose wisely and discriminately will do “OK.” The states that choose to absorb very little of the former federal portfolio will thrive. Their economies will flourish. Their populations will grow,….and their power in the Electoral College will increase. It’s really no big deal. Throughout our history people have moved from state to state seeking opportunity and liberty. As long as we have some states that are committed to liberty and prosperity in lieu of oppressive federal dominance, we can survive and succeed. Let’s do it.

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