Monday, December 24, 2007

Where do you draw the line?

Some good comments coming in.

Jasmine says
Jon, I'm glad you've started this blog. Your + Joel's debate is a very interesting read....But for every example you provide of how government has done more harm than good, it seems that one could also find examples of how government regulation has probably been "good" for us too (e.g., education or gun control). And I agree w/ Joel that a wholesale absence of government wouldn't necessarily.
And John says
I'm not sure I agree with the statement "The more government tries to create a better society, the worse off we are".

Collective goods like air quality, endangered species, and child labor/sex laws are examples where state-imposed limitations on our freedom has resulted in a world that is better off.

I am certainly not an anarchist and I do believe there is an important role for government. I am still figuring out where the lines should be. One general principle is that you should push the government down to the lowest level that makes sense. So if Congress is going to make a law, we should ask, could this be done at the state level? If a state is making law, we should ask, could this be done at a local level? The further down the pyramid you push the regulations and the limitations, the more people feel like they are making decisions about their own lives. Otherwise,you're risking having a few people in a far-away city making decisions that affect people's lives without them having much say in it.

This is what drives libertarians crazy about world government organizations like the U.N., the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank. In 1950, according to Wikipedia,
The invasion of South Korea came as a surprise to the United Nations. In the preceding week, Acheson had told the United States Congress on June 20 no such war was likely. Instead of pressing for a Congressional declaration of war, which he regarded as too alarmist and time-consuming when time was of the essence, Truman went to the United Nations for approval.
According to the Constitution, going to war must be an act of Congress. Truman sidestepped the people's representatives and went to war under the legitimacy of a world body that is not elected or accountable to US citizens. This should have been an impeachable offense and was a terrible precedent. Not only has every military action since been done without Congressional authorization, we still have thousands of troops stationed in Korea. World government making decisions for people is pushing the decision making as far away from the people as possible.

George Washington said
The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.
And James Madison said
War should only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits.
The division between federal law and state law is extremely important. If a person doesn't like the laws in his state, at least he can leave and go to another state. This creates competition between states. Competition leads to lower costs and improvements. Even though not everyone has the resources to relocate, just the threat of people leaving at the margin is enough to keep states in check. At the federal level, there is very little choice. You can't easily change your citizenship (it's almost impossible, you become persona non gratis and you still have to pay U.S. income taxes for several years).

The other benefit of allowing states to make most of the laws is that it allows for experimentation. Experimentation leads to innovation. Libertarians are horrified when a state like California legalizes marijuana for medicinal purposes and then the Federal government prosecutes people suffering with terminal cancer.

Finally, we have wandered far away from what the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, says. In article I, section 1, line1, the Constitution says "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." That line is pretty important. It says the Congress shall have all legislative powers, yet today we have executive orders, signing statements, and agency rules that have the effect of law. We also have the courts making decisions that have the effect of law. It also says "herein granted," but you would fine that most laws passed today by the Federal government are not granted within the Constitution. The founders knew the dangers of a centralized government and tried to drastically limit its power. Of course, citizens become complacent and people in power always try to obtain more. The founders would be shocked that the Federal government involves itself in defining what marriage is, outlawing marijuana, preventing people from drinking unpasteurized milk, and determining what we should be teaching our children in schools.

1 comment:

lee bialog said...

What are your thoughts on Eisenhower enforcing school desegregation in Arkansas in 1957 - a classic case of the federal government getting involved to protect the rights of people living in a far-away city? It's not inconceivable that under a libertarian system, certain demographic realities in some states or municipalities could mean that some areas could choose to resegregate certain institutions. Or more likely, some states or municipalities might choose to discriminate against certain religious or ethnic groups they view as undesirable or dangerous, in areas where that minority isn't large enough to defeat it through their vote. Not that the federal government has been innocent of this, but one could argue it is a problem with the current administration. It's easy to say that all disenfranchised or victimized groups can just move to another state - but for the severely underprivileged, this is often not a possibility.
At what point is it legitimate for the federal government to protect a victimized minority from oppressive state or local laws?