Monday, September 8, 2008

The Case for Limited Government

Why Do They Do That? 1

Previously I tried to show that basic conservative philosophies are not immoral. Now I want to examine some issues and explain why Christian conservatives think the way they do.

Let's look at why conservatives emphasize limited government first because many other conservative positions are related to this issue.

There are 3 main reasons conservatives strive to limit the scope of the federal government, and the first the Constitution itself.

Constitutional Limits
People would like the federal government to do lots of things; some might even be good ideas. Frequently, though, these ideas run afoul of the Constitution.

The founders had experienced a strong central government, and they didn’t care for it, so for the first US government, they experimented with a confederacy. It was too weak. Their next approach was in between – a federal system, and that’s the system we have today. Under the Constitution the powers of the central government are carefully stated, and the states are left with a rather broad "everything else."

The powers delegated to Congress can be summed up as taxation, regulation of international and interstate commerce, coining money, and providing patents, roads, courts, and national defense. There’s a little more, but not much.

Everything else is supposed to fall under the jurisdiction of the states.

Of course, you can ask, "So what?" What does is matter what they wanted way back then? Can’t we just run things the way we see fit?

No. And there are two reasons why.

Lucky Romans 13
Christians have this darned Bible that insists that we obey the law. Romans 13 contains the most direct statement of this: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established."

Of course, some will argue "we must obey God rather than men," and we should – if government forbids what God requires or requires what God forbids, we must obey God. But when we’re talking about how to achieve things we think God wants us to do, the Constitution’s forbidding certain methods doesn’t give us warrant to simply ignore the law.

As long as the Constitution says the federal government cannot do certain things, we can’t ask it to do those things. We can change the Constitution, but we can’t just ignore it – God does not give us that option.

Turnabout is Fair Play

Good sense also requires that we obey the Constitution. If we ask the government to ignore the 10th Amendment, we have little grounds to complain when they want to ignore the 1st or 4th. If we let them ignore section 8, how do we know they won’t ignore section 9?

This is not a game we want to play; once the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s awfully hard to put him back.

The Law of Unintended Consequences
Another reason conservatives want to limit government is we know from experience what the government tries to do – whether legitimate or not – will often go awry.

You know Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will go wrong. In politics there is a similar notion: the Law of Unintended Consequences.

A nation, an economy, these are dynamic, chaotic systems, and it isn’t always possible to tell what will happen when you start changing things. A great and recent example is the move to add ethanol to fuel.

An attempt to help our oil situation, people wanted to add corn-based ethanol to our gasoline. It doesn’t release as much energy as gas, but it’s a clean and renewable resource.

And when you find a new use for corn, demand can outpace supply, which drives corn prices up sharply – causing people who live almost exclusively off corn to suffer.

Ok, maybe we should have seen that one coming. We should see this coming too – once laws get from Congress to bureaucrats or judges, they can be applied far beyond what the authors originally envisioned. We also see laws that were just poorly thought out or poorly written.

Examples abound: the endangered species act being used against family farms, RICO being applied to pro-life groups, babies getting put on no-fly lists, McCain-Feingold and 529s, the AMT drifting down to affect the middle class.

Laws go wrong. A lot. Our best bet is to keep our leaders from making any more laws than are absolutely necessary and to keep them as simple as possible.

Sinful Men
Part and parcel of the last point is the sinfulness of people. Politicians do things they shouldn’t. Bureaucrats do things they shouldn’t. Giving these people more power than we must is unwise.

We do have to give government a certain amount of power, but there are different levels of government, and the closer we can keep the decisions (and power) to us, the better our chances of keeping these people in line – and getting rid of them when they go astray.

Despite a common misconception, conservatives don’t want no government, but we believe that keeping government’s role as small as possible and as close to the voter as possible is both a requirement of the law and the best way to limit the trouble it can cause us.


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