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August 17, 2008

Key Principles of Government

In this latest election cycle I’ve been frustrated by the lack of talk about core principles.  It seems that window dressing is king right now and a few buzzwords about change are shaping the political debate.  That’s bad news for people who think critically — especially for those of us who know that change for the sake of change is not necessarily a good thing. We could change from bad to worse, for example, so I want to know why we need change and where (and how) the change agent wants to change things.

While mulling over these notions, they triggered some thinking about my own core principles. I felt it was wise to put my core beliefs about government in writing (even if in a rough format) and provide some basic application of them regarding the federal government.  I am a strong believer in federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances. As such, I feel the Constitution clearly restricts the federal government from action — particularly in domestic issues.  Similarly, in the areas where federal action is authorized, it is often severely limited. In fact, the Tenth Amendment is very specific about this:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In a nutshell, this means the federal government is severely limited to a few (primarily national and interstate commerce) powers with the remainder left to the States and the people.  Thus, I advocate a very limited role for the federal government and argue against many social and spending programs currently found at the federal level. However, please note that I am not against all government social programs. While opposing federal programs, I will argue for more involvement at the state and local levels of governments. At these levels of government there are not the same Constitutional prohibitions. Similarly, I firmly believe that social programs are more effective from a practical and service-oriented point of view when administered at the lowest level of government possible (state, county, city, special district, etc.).

So, understanding the above, I will embark on drafting my “Key Principles of Government” as they relate to the federal government specifically, and to all governments in general. Please note that this is a work in progress — thus the short sentences, bullet format and limited explanation/supportive details.

1. Government exists to protect life and liberty and maintain an orderly society.

Government protects but does not create rights. Our government is a representative democracy (not a direct democracy). Minority rights are safeguarded from the “tyranny of the majority.” The federal government exists primarily to:

  • provide national defense (foreign and domestic)
  • promote national interests
  • administer interstate commerce and conflicts

2. Government should be limited and restrained.

Power begins with the people and authority comes from God. Just because a problem exists doesn’t mean the government should try to solve it. A government that governs least tends to governs best. When possible, local solutions are preferred over national or state ones. The Constitution should be followed explicitly. If additional federal involvement is deemed needed then the Constitution should be amended to authorize such action.

3. Economic markets should be free.

The free enterprise system powers personal prosperity. Because government intervention disrupts the “invisible hand” (see Adam Smith) of the economy and encroaches on personal freedom, it should be rare. Also, to avoid creating special advantages and unintended consequences, government should limit its involvement in the economy as much as possible.

4. Taxes should be low.

It’s not the government’s money. Anything the government possesses it has had to first take from somebody.

5. Simple solutions are preferred over more complex alternatives.

The simplest working solution is usually the best one. The more complicated something is the more parts there are to break. Long-term costs and benefits should be considered above short-term impacts.

What do you think? Did I leave anything out? I invite your comments and suggestions.

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