Mission Statement

Mission Statement: This blog is dedicated to both political philosophy and application to current issues based on the ideas of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. Additionally, this blog strives to create an atmosphere where intelligent discussions based on the principles of logic, no matter the viewpoints expressed in their conclusions, are not only welcome, but also thrive.

To learn more, feel free to read the introduction and subsequent posts which explain the aforementioned philosophy and purpose of this blog in more detail.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Issues 10: Please, not more PROGRESS!

     As a libertarian, one of my large concerns is the size and involvement of government. I am not just concerned that it is so large and involved, but that these traits do not seem to ever lessen. Indeed, the system appears to be set up in such a way that makes it unlikely and difficult for this to happen. As Ronald Reagan told us, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.” Our soaring deficit and inability to make enough program cuts to bring spending back in line with income is one proof of this statement’s veracity.

     Why is this? Part of it is the nature of the beast. Politicians are judged by constituents on what they do, what they vote for, what they accomplish. Unfortunately, making changes to make the government more efficient does not seem to count as an accomplishment. The two-party system makes it difficult for movements to remove programs to ever gain traction, too. A party steadfastly defends its actions for fear of being seen as weak, divided, or admitting a wrong.
     Another factor is the complexity of the government in the first place. With a budget well over $3 trillion, who will notice $3 million spent on pork? After all, that is only ONE MILLIONTH of the total budget. Think about that: our government is so large that $3 million is only 1/1,000,000 of the budget. Who cares? Numbers like that are easily forgotten.
     Take the example of wool and mohair subsidies in the National Wool Act of 1954. Paying for the production of these substances was deemed in the best interest of the government in WWII because they were used to make military uniforms. They were passed as part of another bill, and lingered even after the military stopped using them in uniforms. It wasn’t until 1995 that they were repealed. Whew, that was close. But we finally got it right, it only took time. Wait! They were reinstated you say? After we decided that they were no longer necessary (it being debatable in the first place) and went to the effort of ending the program, it was restarted just a few years later because people were not happy to lose their money? And therein lies the other side of the coin: people will generally put their own self-interest over that of the country or the Constitution.
     Although it may be politically difficult to reduce and make efficient a government, it is by no means impossible. I propose that this is a multi-step process that must address all levels of the issue, from selfish voters and politicians to procedural matters that make it more difficult. This post will only address procedures.
     The first procedure I propose to change is the act of piggy-backing many unrelated bills together. The language could say something to the effect of “only one proposition, with all of its necessary component parts, may be in any given bill.” Or maybe it needs to be “all bills may only be 2 pages long.” More articulate people than I can word it appropriately if there is ever a chance to do so. The benefits of this bill are that it forces each representative to vote for each initiative, giving voters more control over holding them accountable. If a representative votes for a separate bill that subsidizes wool, it would be very easy for opponents to paint them as irresponsible pork-supporters. On the other hand, if a representative tries to deny a major bill that has too much pork attached for that very reason, it is easy for the opposition to say “Rep. So-and-so has shown through repeated voting that he or she is against babies, apple pie, and American flags. How terrible.” Voting on each issue as a separate bill increases the transparency of the system, making it easier for voters to understand the full nature of a politician’s voting record and hold them accountable.
     The second issue is perhaps a better one for actually shrinking the government, not just slowing the wild growth: make it law that all legislation expires automatically after five years; at that point it must pass the legislative process again in order to stay in effect for five more years. This would have several benefits. First, it prevents programs from being forgotten and shelved, only to fester in the bureaucracy. Second, and perhaps most sadistically, it keeps the Federal government tied up enough with work that they will be forced to focus on only the most important issues. Those issues that are widely regarded as necessary and proper will pass votes easily, while those that are contentious will have to be prioritized for fight. The result should be smaller government that is more responsive to the people and focused on the most important issues.
     Don’t misunderstand me—this is a step, but a large part of the problem still lies at the feet of every American citizen and every politician. In lieu of systemic changes, personal sacrifice on many people’s part is necessary for positive (or negative, if you prefer the term) change. I will address those issues, most likely separately, in later posts. This is merely a suggestion of procedural changes that can make government more accountable, a prospect that should be popular enough with voters to have a chance at success.


The Heathen Republican said...

I agree wholeheartedly on the topic of one-issue bills. Too many stupid laws are attached to larger laws, and of course, that's how bill sponsors bribe others into voting for them.

The only flaw I can think of is that one-topic bills may not be enough of a narrow definition. To you and me, it seems pretty clear, but to politicians, they can do all sorts of things and still call it a single topic. For instance, one revenue off-set in ObamaCare is to tax tanning salons. You and I may say that a surtax on tanning salons is clearly off topic, but the writer of the bill will claim it's a single topic because the surtax is used to cover expenses within the larger bill.

Automatic expirations are also a good idea. I call this an escape hatch that we should build into our legislation. Others I would suggest are specific measures that dictate when a law expires. For example, we'll fund NPR only until it earns enough advertising revenue to self-support. Or we pass a stimulus bill that expires as soon as GDP rises 2%. After all, if the point is to stimulate us out of a recession, no one should complain when we pull back the money once we successfully grow GDP.

Live Free said...

I think that is great idea building into every piece of legislation a part about when it will expire. Maybe that should be mandatory for every piece of legislation, no matter its purpose? If it is really that popular, it will get put back. It would help prevent the big-government culture that never leaves, I think (sort of like "allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire").

As for the single-topic laws. I really have no idea how to word that so the lawyers that infest Congress wouldn't be able to wiggle around it. If I could, I would. Unfortunately, I am not that smart.