Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Individual Accountability and "the General Welfare"

My long-time childhood friend Brett Wilie asked, “What is the legitimate role of government in a free society? Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to do 21 things. As much as three-quarters of what Congress taxes us and spends our money for today is nowhere to be found on that list. To cite just a few examples, there is no constitutional authority for Congress to subsidize farms, bail out banks, or manage car companies.”

I think we can all share in Brett’s frustration.

I agree with Brett - as a matter of fact those things are not spelled out specifically. And the legitimate role of government is a good question! Lucky for us it is one the Founders answered. That is well spelled out in the Preamble... "in order to form a more perfect union, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity..." Section 8 re-emphasizes Congress's role as "pay debts and provide for... the general welfare." As such, farms, banks, and industry fall into the role of government described. Moreover the Constitution authorizes the creation of "laws to be necessary and proper" to govern the land - the end result is our current culture.

“When you give a mouse a cookie...”

I want someone to ask, "Why do we allow morons to invest in companies blindly through IRAs and Mutual Funds, to surrender their responsibilities trough proxy statements, and to refuse to hold incompetent executives accountable for their lack of skill and performance? Why don’t amateur investors understand risk? Why should the rest of us bail them out for their bad decision making?” The "Market" corrected. Shareholders were supposed to lose money. In this case, a lot of it. But they didn't. Liberals felt that the losses would have been catastrophic, and stepped in within the current role of government to establish a consistency of operations for the nation. Unfortunately our representatives aren't very good at governing. Most of them are so poorly educated that they are unwilling to grasp the criminal nature of corporate executive's actions. Moreover, the process of American politics has them emasculated to the point of inability to act. (Two year old feeder cattle have more will - and testosterone - than a representative facing mid-term elections.)

So Brett, it is the inept people - folks just like you and me (voters and shareholders) who are to blame. We get the government, and the economy we deserve.

Republican democracies only work in the presence of individual accountability. That means loss when things go wrong - but it also means gain when things go right. And maybe that is the liberty that our Constitution protects?

“Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Ben Franklin