Monday, March 15, 2010

The Function of Government

On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

- Thomas Jefferson

To the liberal milieu, there is no end to the purposes and devices to which government could be applied. Any list presented here of the follies of governmental intervention and imposition upon society, industry, and private citizens would be not but a superficial and tabloid account of the of encroachment this construct has made into all spheres of our lives. Government far overstepped its bounds in the 20th century, usurping authority and power never intended for it.

Why? Why was this allowed to happen? Where were those who were supposed to be keeping tabs on government?

It's been said that the only thing that evil requires for its spread is for good men to do nothing. It can be argued that the same goes for government. When good people do nothing, that is, when responsible people and companies fail to carry out their responsibilities, government steps in to fill the vacuum. This holds as true for banks and businesses failing to manage themselves with ethical practices as it does for parents who fail to provide for, or who outright abuse, their own children. Governmental spread is often by osmosis. Where there is an insufficiency of (self) control, the government will step in and take control. "We understand that individual responsibility is the foundation of a free society," stated the Patriot Post in its March 11th online issue. Unfortunately, we now live in a society where people are anything but responsible.

Governance is the system of control that manages a polital unit. Whether that unit be a sovereign state, a province, or a locality, in a civilized society governments will exist in some form or another. In the United States of America, the Federal Government is divided into three branches, each mandated by the Constitution with separate and distinct powers. It is a compelling and often ignored precept of this Constitution that "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" (Amendment X). These are the reserved powers, those powers that are forbidden from federal assumption. The Federal Government is entitled by the Constition to exercise only the express powers, that is, only those powers that have been enumerated and specifically granted to the Federal Government.

Enter the Necessary and Proper Clause. This clause provides The Congress with the power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers [the enumerated powers]".

"All laws" encompasses quite a lot and the introduction of this clause provoked bitter controversy among those debating our Constitution. Anti-Federalists argued that this went to far and would enable The Congress to grow out of control. Federalists insisted that this clause was necessary in order for The Congress to execute the powers that were enumerated, and nothing more. The Federalists won that debate.

This was our Rule of Law, that there are supreme laws (i.e. our Constitution) that manage how we make laws, when we make laws, and what a law can do.

Unfortunately, today, it too often is the case the The Congress has altered this clause to include "all laws ... for carrying into execution the foregoing powers and anything else we feel like doing."
Liberals today have departed from our Rule of Law. Instead, there has been, since Roosevelt's New Deal, a tremendous power grab, an exponential increase in the reach of government into areas not enumerated by The Constitution and only speciously connected to that which is "necessary and proper." Far too often, if it feels good for their constituents, then politicians will argue the necessity of a law or governmental program without any thought of what the Constitution dictates.

And that is my point in this blog -- if it's not in the Constitution, if the Constitution doesn't provide for it, then the Federal Government has no business doing it, whatever it is.

You'll notice I haven't mentioned a single program. I'm not arguing against government run health care, or research into methane gas emissions by cows, or the NEA. I don't have to. It's already clear that these intrusions into such areas by the Federal Government are wrong. Constructionists and Constitutionalists don't need to roll around in the mud arguing against political pet projects and programs. It's already clear on the face of it that such projects are unconstitutional.

Think about it. Think about how far away we've wandered from the vision of Thomas Jefferson's Federal Government. Think about the enormous benefits to our society that could be had if we would simply shed these extraneous programs and massive overspending and reform our Federal Government into what was intended.



Gleno said...

I wanted to thank Donzo for his excellent comment in the blog that preceded this one. There, he did a very fine job of specifying those sorts of functions the government ought to be performing.

Genie of the Shell said...

I don't agree with you about most federal programs being unconstitutional. That's not how I interpret the law.

But I wholeheartedly agree with you that if Americans took more personal responsibility, the government wouldn't have to do (and shouldn't do) as much. That would be a better America.

If only we all suddenly sprouted angel wings and halos.

Gleno said...

It's worth mentioning that my position isn't that a lot of programs and expenditures do not have value, it's more to the point that, I believe, they could be better rendered and regulated at the state and municiple level.

If I were king, there would still be a lot of fat chopped away, but in any case, the Constitution would be more respected and followed as it was intended.

Donzo said...

Does the government do it the BEST way, or is there another way it can be done, that is cheaper, or fairer, or has more accountability?

Sometimes big things, take big money, but still promote the general welfare. Like Space Exploration.
Othertimes, government becomes a bloated, carcass of deception, filth and fraud. Like Social Security.
The problem, is things like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) are not necessarily Constitutional, but are still REALLY good things, that can only be done on a National scale. You can't do the FDA on a State or Local level.

Gleno said...

"The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex." --James Madison, Federalist No. 48

"On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?" --Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 12, 1782

Glenn said...

I believe that the distinct political positions of the "posters" to this blog having in common the understanding that the failure of the general public to act responsibly (personally and socially) is likely the key to the problem of governmental paternalism. In the absence of responsible and conscientious behavior by the general public, as should be taught to them by their parents (or guardians, let's not split hairs on this) and passed on to their children, someone or something needs to step in and attempt to stem the tide of chaos.
Left to their own devices, some people would organize, plan and provide for themselves and those around them with a mind for the common good. However, even most educated professionals I know would do absolutely nothing for any length of time that they can if they feel they find a way to not get caught. As a long time educator at a college that uses an “open enrollment” policy, I have observed that only a very small fraction of people are benefitted by a blanket “chance” to make something of themselves. This fraction can be cut to a far, far, far smaller fraction if you look only at students who have their tuition paid for by the government (a.k.a. you and me). Far too often the mentality of the general public is romanticized to make people feel better about society as a whole.
I do not want to rattle the cage too much, but let us also remember that the Founding Fathers also wanted land owners to be able to vote. I think this is less a case of fiscal discrimination than finding a benchmark for who is smart and responsible enough to make important decisions and also has a vested interest in those decisions. These are also the people most likely to hold the government responsible for their actions and limit their powers. Land owners are less likely to say, “take some more of my money and give it to the guy who plays Xbox all day.” However, a healthy adult who plays Xbox all day has the same vote, and they are more than willing to vote for someone else to pay for their rent, insurance, education, etc.
My family spent much of my childhood receiving assistance from the federal government. I was recently talking to my mother (who lives adjacent to a federal housing project) about this topic, and she mentioned how furious she was about the nice cars that are parked outside of these project apartments as well as the behavior of the people in those apartments. When we were on “assistance,” she said that we were regularly visited by government representatives so that they could monitor what we were spending our money (that we were given) on. She distinctly remembers her friend having to answer for where she got the money to get a new toaster. There was also a limit to the value of automobile that could be owned.
You may see this as horrific, but wouldn’t you be happier if the government that took your money was to more closely monitor what was done with it once it was given away? If people were told, “You are eligible for welfare, but you have proven to be too irresponsible with this money, so you can either go get earn your own money or go to pauper’s prison,” then folks may be motivated to act as expected.
In the same light, if a company was to be on the verge of financial collapse and was both allowed to collapse and their executives had to carry the stigma of that collapse on through the rest of their lives, then they may be less apt to take money from operations and give it to themselves as multi-million dollar bonuses. In my job, I have access to financial info for huge companies. If you are high up in a financial institution and make over $600K, then I feel that a $26 million dollar bonus is extreme.

But I digress.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Donzo, that some things only the Federal Government can handle, even if it does it badly at times, and needs some serious beatings because of it. Nuclear power run on a state by state basis? I don't think so.
At this point in our countries history, I don't see how we as a country could even function if the Federal Government didn't step, over their authority even.
Would there still be segregation in the South?
I would be in favor of amending the Constitution, if that's what should be done, to more aptly empower our government to do what the people obviously want and expect it to do, which it is already doing.
Perhaps the Fed is the victim of it's own success.
Limited government sounds great, until you want or need something. Like streets, schools, hospitals, food, shelter, bridges, protection, justice etc.

Gleno said...


A excellent post, sir. At the risk of raising eyebrows, I have to say that I firmly believe that the Founding Fathers were correct when they said that only Land Owners (not "Lan Downers") should be able to vote. While this rule may be archaic today, I believe that there should be some measure that a voter need achieve in order to vote. The idea of universal suffrage is as romantic as it is foolish.

How can we in any stretch of human logic believe that a country can reasonably function when those who are reaping the benefits have the ability to dictate the terms of said benefits?

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." He was exactly correct.

The public voting itself all the entitlements that it now receives is analogous to the CEO's being paid absurd salaries and bonuses even in the midst of the collapse of their own corporation.

Don't you (anyone) dare be outraged by what CEO's "earn" and then turn around and defend the current system of welfare and entitlements.

Gleno said...


I think you've inadvertently setup a straw man in your statement, "Limited government sounds great, until you want or need something. Like streets, schools, hospitals, food, shelter, bridges, protection, justice etc."

Those are EXACTLY the things that the Federal Government SHOULD be involved in, with the possible exception of managing hospitals.

Defense, Justice, Roads, Commerce, Postal System, Food & Drug regulation... those are the areas the central government should be involved with.

DanKeniley said...


Great movie reference for one of your lines, "I believe that there should be some measure that a voter need achieve in order to vote"

Starship Troopers

"Service = Citizanship"

The only way you are classified as a citizen is if you serve in the military.

Do you want to know more?

Gleno said...


"Would you like to know more?" is one of the greatest movie lines ever. :-D