The Legitimate Role of Government in a Free Society – Michael Swickard, Ph.D.
Fredrick Douglas wrote: Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.
Dennis Prager was asked what is the biggest danger to our country? “We have not taught the next generation what it means to be an American.” That is true but there is something more dangerous: we seem unable to identify the legitimate role of government in a free society and which actions by government are not legitimate.
Walter Williams wrote, “If the Constitutional Founders would come back today, they would have contempt for most of us.” He added, “Saying the Constitution is a living document is the same as saying we don’t have a Constitution.”
The United States Constitution is the rule book and the driving force to define the legitimate role of government. It was enacted by the Founders to limit government, not limit citizens. This country was created as a Representative Republic with an intentionally limited government. Our government is now all powerful, we are not.
Cowboy wisdom: “Water ain’t gonna clear up til you get the pigs outta the creek.”
We, the people have and do ignore the Constitution for policies we want that are not enabled or even prohibited by our Constitution. Example: the minimum wage, special interest rights and differential taxation of citizens based on political power. These and many others are not in the Constitution. Thomas Sowell wrote, “If you believe in equal rights then what do Woman’s Rights, Gay Rights, etc. mean? Either they are redundant, or they are violations of the principle of equal rights.”
The 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court Ruling should have been the end of “Social Justice.” Mr. Bakke was denied admission because he is white. They had a quota to achieve a racial goal. Is that the legitimate role of government to attempt racial goals?
The Supreme Court said no but that action is alive and acting on our lives today. Some citizens really want to make “Social Justice” legitimate. To do so we must pass a Constitutional Amendment against the 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibit such actions. Then today’s government sponsored “Social Justice” would be legitimate. I’m not advocating this.
Instead, I advocate we align government actions with the U. S. Constitution through the amendment process of the Constitution if that be the will of the citizens. Or, lacking the will to do so then the government should not do those actions.
The second amendment: … the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. Very specific. However, over the years Government has constantly infringed on that right without passing a Constitutional Amendment. Walter Williams wrote: Nothing in our Constitution suggests that government is a grantor of rights. Instead, government is a protector of rights.
I am here to hopefully get you thinking about that question and then be able to proclaim loudly when an action is not the legitimate role of government in a free society. As you can tell, this is a target rich environment of illegitimate actions.
The Minimum Wage is an example. I am well over 21 years of age so theoretically I can make my own decisions. What if I decide to be a Baker? I go to Bob the Baker and say, “I know nothing therefore I would be glad to work for two dollars an hour. What does Bob say? “Michael, the government will not let me, a person of legal age do this.” Is that the legitimate role of government in a free society to make sure two people of legal age not transact a deal? It is not. No matter the “Good intentions” of the rule makers, the Constitution does not allow that interference in the actions of two emancipated American citizens for the purpose of politics.
In 1979 I owned the Lincoln County News in Carrizozo, New Mexico, and participated in the government CETA program where I hired high school students to work in my print shop at $2.65 an hour but only paid one dollar myself. CETA paid the rest. One dollar was what those unskilled workers were worth to me. If I had to pay a $2.65 an hour, none of them would have ever been hired.
You can talk all you want about “A living Wage” but I cannot put my finger on the part of the U. S. Constitution authorizing that action. We can pass a Constitutional Amendment, but we have not. There should not be a minimum wage. Someone always has a contradictory story: there was this person who worked for sixty years at the minimum wage and never once got a raise. OK. But it does not make the government action legitimate regardless of the stories told.
Background: The first Minimum Wage law was the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. Have you ever read the testimony as to why this was passed? Labor unions hated that some labor contractors were bringing in people of color who would work for less than the union’s prevailing wage. Let us say the union wage was ten dollars a day but these people of color would work for five dollars a day. What this did was put a price on racism. Maybe those contractors were racist to the core but when they had a crew of ten workers, it was 50 dollars a day total cost rather than 100. Many contractors selected the lesser cost. So, the politicians decided to stop this Free Market approach to labor. If you want to read more about this, check out Dr. Walter Williams. He explains this well. Williams was an economist who grew up in the projects of New York City and lifted himself out of poverty through education.
Let us look at another central part of our society where citizens are treated not equally. Our government taxes citizens differently depending upon political will. We did have a Constitutional Amendment enabling Income Taxes but nowhere in our Constitution is there a rejection of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection under the law provision. Everyone should have the same tax percentage. Want to tax different citizen differently then repeal the 14th amendment or adhere to it.
Milton Friedman, “Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals, and it should protect citizens from crimes against themselves and their property.”
He continued, “When government in the pursuit of good intention tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost comes in inefficiency, lack of motivation and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”
What we have lost is the Free Market. In a real Free Market, no exchange takes place unless both participants benefit. But our current government makes winners and losers in the marketplace and the politicians become wealthy purveyors of influence by controlling the marketplace rather than let the Free-Market control itself using Market influences.
When you see rules, like the Minimum Wage then it is not a Free Market and ultimately, we all lose our freedom. Friedman commented on the Phil Donohue Show this gem: “Underlying most arguments against the Free Market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” He also said what we all know: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Government can make someone else pay for your lunch. So, they pay, and you eat. The government itself has no money. All it can do is take money from some citizens and give that stolen money to others. Is that legitimate?
Ayn Rand wrote, “Instead of prosperity, socialism has brought economic paralysis and/or collapse to every country that tried it.” We are surrounded by socialism and have been for several generations. We accept many of those actions such as Social Security, Medicare because we think it a good idea for the society.
What about the concern for Corporate Greed? The Constitution gives no authority to be concerned with “Greed.” Know this: it is always the other people who are greedy, not us, eh? Unless government interferes then the only thing corporations should do is maximize their profits for the investors.
Now if government make it into a monopoly, that is not what the Constitution allows. If someone cheats or lies, then that is illegal and should be stopped.
But do I care how much money someone has? Nope. If the Marketplace is Free it will police itself. Digital Technology had the disk operating system of choice in 1981, CP/M and I had a KayProII with it. They didn’t work well in the marketplace and Bill Gates slipped in by being better at making a deal with IBM. So, he is rich and the guy from Digital isn’t. Do I care how much money any of these people have. Not in the least because Bill Gates provided Microsoft Word and I retired the KayPro along with my 1939 Underwood Number 5 typewriter.
I am concerned about stuff as innocuous as Enforced Recycling and enforced payment of it. Government just does it and we mostly agree. Show me in the Constitution where that is authorized. Can’t do it but many citizens think it is a good idea to do. We are bombarded daily with “Good Ideas” not authorized by the rule book. Where do we draw the line? Do we never do actions not authorized by our Constitution? That would be my hope. Remember, we can always change the Constitution if there is enough citizen will to do so.
Should we have Agricultural Subsidies? Midnight Basketball? The Ethanol Mandate? Oh, and how about spending everything we have to combat Global Warming? I was at New Mexico State University during the first Earth Day in April 1970. I took pictures and wrote a story that according to the speakers we would all be dead in five years from Global cooling unless we turned our pocketbooks over to the government. Well, we didn’t. I was working at KOB-TV in Albuquerque when the five years was up. The KOB News Department wanted to do a story about we were all going to be dead in five years from global cooling. I opposed doing a story on it since even then almost fifty years ago it seemed a hoax. Come 1980 and it was Global Warming going to kill us shortly. On and on and on over the years. Now it is close to illegal to question the hoax that Global Warming is just about to kill us all.
We have to pay a fee for having a dog so for a fee the government returns our right to have a dog. We have to pay a fee to own property, to sell a product, to start a business, to build a home, to get married, to hunt, to cut hair… I could go on.
Gas prices? Some want gas station owners arrested for gouging. Shouldn’t they charge cost plus what people will pay. Where in the Constitution is increasing prices illegal? What if government requires no gas sold for more than $2 gal?
Like President Ronald Reagan said, “The ten most dangerous words in the English language are: Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Let us now reason together other actions as to their legitimacy. You all throw out your laundry list of not legitimate action by our government and we can work on them for a short while. Thank you –