Hints of big government
Two recent articles have reminded me of the perils of government: not just democratic, parliamentary, socialist or communist government, but all government. Any government constituted by people is vulnerable to all the foibles of our imperfect species, and one of our most pernicious faults is our inexhaustible belief that we are smarter than everyone else.
Case in point…according to a November 15th story by Robert Watts posted on the TimesOnline website, the British government is preparing to implement an inspection system for private homes to “ensure that parents are protecting their children from household accidents.” In short, local councils in each town will gather data on homeowners to ascertain where children might be at risk, and will be empowered to supervise the installation of safety devices, such as smoke detectors and hot water temperature regulators.
I can appreciate the impulse to keep the kiddies safe, but we are not talking about some campaign to let parents know about devices that can help prevent their children from falling prey to accidents around the house – or a program to assist them in installing such contraptions – but rather an actual invasion of the state into the homes of its citizens in order to force them to comply with a government mandate.
Ok, so that’s England, not us, but closer to home is a November 15th article in the Washington Post revealing that the Obama Administration is getting ready to propose a federal takeover of America’s public transportation systems. This is perhaps not so sinister as Britain’s intrusion directly into the homes of its people, but it stems from the same we-know-better-than-you impulse that drives the nanny-staters in London.
In this case, Obama believes that managers in Washington can do a better job of regulating the operation of the subway systems of Boston, New York or Chicago than can the experts who have worked at the local level for their entire careers. What is truly ironic in this case is the fact that this move is in response to the fatal crash on Washington D.C.’s red line in June of this year. Yet, Washington’s Metro system is already regulated by the federal government in its role as managers of the District of Columbia.
I possess a strong libertarian impulse, but I am also a realist. I understand that there are some aspects of society that demand the attentions of a strong federal government. I know that the Post Office could not function without centralized management from Washington, that the need for nationally uniform air transport regulations calls for an agency like the FAA, and that there are many other issues that only the federal government is equipped to address. However, I also strongly believe that our leaders in Washington have lost sight of the checks on their power that common sense – and the Constitution – used to dictate.
This being a kind of sermon, it would not be complete without a bit of “scripture,” and I have just the thing…
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
As many of you clamor for government to do something about our health care issues you should keep Jefferson’s quote in mind. I cannot argue that there is not a need for some government action to address the issues we face in the cost and availability of health insurance, but no matter how benignly motivated, giving over more power to Washington bureaucrats is always a risky proposition. There are a number of other areas in which the present administration is pursuing centralized and heavy-handed action, and I urge a similar caution in these matters.
In more modern terms, Jefferson’s words should simply caution us to consider carefully the powers we endow to the government, especially the big one in Washington D.C. It may very well be that some aspects of the problem can only be addressed by the kind of one-size-fits-all solutions the federal government is capable of. However, it is clear that there are many reasons why Americans have trouble getting insurance. The diversity of the causes demands that more responsive, market-driven, and local government solutions be considered before resorting to the feds’ “big guns.”
I was not writing for the Collegian back then, so you’ll just have to take my word that I was equally critical of the ways in which the Bush Administrations grew the power of the federal government – this in not a matter of partisan ideology. The founders knew that the only way to limit government’s power was to keep it as small as possible. The Constitution has to be flexible enough to allow for changing times, but we must always keep the ideal of smaller and more responsive government as near to our hearts as we can.
Thus endeth the sermon.
Ben Rudnick is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.