This post is about what role I believe a federal government should play in our lives.
1. Small government not for the sake of having smaller government but for the very specific reasons I list below:
- As governments get larger they become less transparent and more prone to enabling individual corruption. This idea comes directly from Plato’s Republic where Socrates discusses the successive degradation of one form of government into a less desirable form. Obviously the most desirable form that Socrates championed was a Republic (The Republic was written by Plato about conversations with and ideas from Socrates). It was that model, of a Republic, that inspired our founding fathers as they built our government.
- A large government needs more money to sustain itself in order to pay for the politicians, staff and other resources like office space. That means they tax its citizens more than necessary or they cut services the people like and want or they do both.
- A cruise ship is much slower to turn than a speed boat. The larger the government the more difficult it is to change course. This is important because times change and legislation that was once relevant and good can become outdated. Case in point: patent and intellectual property laws. It’s a good thing to change course. In business it’s called a pivot. A company that discovers they are headed in the wrong direction will pivot their goals and direction in order to remain competitive. The government should be able to do the same in a reasonable amount of time.
- People in control of large governments tend to feel entitled to tax-payer money, power and fame. They forget that they are servants first and that they make decisions that affect the people. In smaller governments the servants are closer to the people and more easily held accountable. Take, for example, state and city governments. If we stripped away all the dross in large government it would be easier to hold people accountable for their actions because the actions would be more apparent and more easily traced to specific people.
- People in control of large governments tend to loose site of why they are serving. They should hold public office to help protect our country from attacks, to protect our economy from corporate greed (monopolies and such) and, in my opinion, offer a solution for taking care of its citizens’ health. Instead they all too often get caught up in the minutia of running the government and protecting their own interests—getting reelected (I’ll discuss my thoughts on term limits later).
2. Regulation is important but too much regulation makes it difficult for businesses to launch, change direction and expand. There is a middle ground somewhere and it takes forethought and careful consideration to be there. I offer two areas that need regulation to differing degrees. There are probably other areas that I haven’t considered yet but these two seem to be of the biggest concern.
- First, the economy. The economic structure in America was based on a free-market society, laissez-faire (let it be or leave it alone). The idea of a truly free market is fun to think about but not practical in reality. Capitalism coupled with greed create anti-competitive behavior which results in huge companies that control entire markets—these are monopolies and they are bad for innovation and for the consumer. Monopolies have no incentive to innovate (bring better products to market) or to lower price (because there are no competitors to offer a different solution). We can’t leave it here though. The world has become a lot more complicated and there are other areas in the economy that, without regulation, also enable greed to hurt consumers. It takes balance. Balance is hard though because on the one hand if you regulate too much it will stifle the economy. On the other hand if there isn’t enough regulation than consumers may get really hurt (think of the housing market crash that was caused by unregulated financial derivatives which probably encouraged bad lending practices). There is no hard and fast rule that we can apply to all of these things. We need to have discussions about how best to act.
- Second, health care. As with the economy in some situations, the health care industry can be counter productive to the end goal. The end goal is helping people get healthier but that is in stark contrast to the economic realities of the system. Namely, hospitals make money when people get sick. Health care is an industry where people don’t have a choice whether they participate (in most situations). If someone is sick or in pain they can choose to use health care or they can stay at home and suffer or die. The industry has a captive audience of people who have no other options and those people will pay whatever they have to for the services they need. This is a similar situation to utility companies. Most areas have one choice for services like natural gas and electricity (at my house that is the case). I have no other options so in order to protect me, the consumer, the government regulates these types of infrastructure-intensive industries. They regulate price. The health care industry is more complicated and it’s never so black and white but the underlying principles are the same. For this reason the health care industry needs regulation to make sure that the industry isn’t gouging people. Perhaps one solution is for the government to produce a book of medical procedure costs that explicitly sets the price of most procedures. Maybe all hospitals should be run as non-profits. Of course, there would be a lot to figure out in a system like that. However, that’s one possible solution for reigning in health care costs. Japan has a solution like I’ve described but it goes even further and actually outlaws for-profit hospitals and clinics (read up on it here). I don’t know if that’s the right solution for America because innovation in health care is good and it benefits everyone. As I mentioned earlier, too much regulation stifles innovation. I’m sure the most powerful country in the world can come up with a creative solution. If the great minds in our country can’t come up with a good solution using the capitalism paradigm than maybe we do need to have universal health care. By universal health care I don’t mean Obamacare that just requires me to buy insurance, I mean health coverage that the government pays for in whole or in part (as most governments in other developed countries do).
3. Military superiority and advancement are key to protecting the United States. Let me start off by saying that Bill Clinton did a great thing by balancing the budget while he was in office. We had good times, domestically, under his leadership (in general). However, he balanced the budget at the cost of our military. He gutted military spending in order to take care of domestic concerns. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should take care of domestic concerns like jobs creation before giving money or aide to other countries, too. But look what happened. Clinton spent eight years dismantling our military and shortly after he left office Al-Qaida attacked America in the deadliest terrorist attack we have ever seen. Where was America, internationally, when Osama was gathering his forces? If America had overtly displayed its military dominance during that time perhaps such an attack would never have taken place. Bush inherited a broken military. Its no wonder there was miscommunication and lack of cohesion in the military, and other security agencies, that lead to some bad military decision by President Bush. A strong American military is the first defense, as a deterrent, against evil in the world that seeks to tear down the freedom-rich country that we have created. We don’t need to spend half our budget on military spending but we do need to allocate a reasonable amount of resources so we maintain our dominance (for protection of our citizens).
These ideals are what I see as the role of the federal government. I’m not saying these are the only principles we should live by because every society needs to have laws that govern it’s citizens domestically. However, my ideal rejects civil law at the federal level in favor of state-run legal systems. Laws that control the actions of citizens should be as local as is reasonably possible. In that way the people who are affected have the most say in what those laws are. There are some situations where it is important for the federal government to step in and solve issues that aren’t specific to one state. That’s good and important but as an exception not the rule. There are other federal government responsibilities I have not mentioned because I haven’t studied them closely. One such responsibility is maintaining currency. Currency should be regulated by the federal government so that citizens are free to “trade” between states easily. For any areas currently controlled by the federal government, that I have not mentioned, I welcome a civilized debate about whether they should be under federal or state control (or exist at all).
The culture of politicians in America is sick. It is unhealthy for citizens to volunteer for service in the government and then decide to stay in power for as long as they can (or be allowed to do so). The current political landscape is ripe with examples of politicians who get into positions of power and are then swayed by outside lobbyists to tailor a specific law in favor of that group. This creates a situation where politicians are made to choose between serving the people and considering what’s good for a specific business or organization. The way I see it we are setting up our people to fail and to make compromises that are unhealthy for our legal system. Let’s do it differently, I have two proposals to change things.
- Let’s outlaw lobbying as it currently exists. No more pandering to politicians for custom-made legislation. Instead we create a structured and regulated forum by which companies and organizations can submit “briefs” that describe how a law would affect them (to help inform our law-makers).
- We should restrict congressional service to one or maybe two terms—that’s it. Our founding fathers never envisioned a system of full-time politicians. Serving in congress was meant to be just that, a service not a career. There are plenty of able-minded people in this country who understand the issues good enough to govern our country well. Let’s give them a chance. In restricting term limits we bring back the idea that you serve your country and then go home and continue with your life as before (similar to military service for most soldiers).
In these two ways we can begin to change the culture in Washington back to one of patriotism and service to our country.
If you took the time to read this lengthy post, thank you, I will value any feedback you provide. I’m especially interested to discover a similar discussion about your ideal government.
UPDATE: I updated this post and title from “My Republican Ideal” to “My Political Ideal” because a friend pointed out that each individual has their own ideas for government and the best we can do is connect with a party that more closely matches our ideals than another party. I also removed a comment that was inflammatory because that’s not what I intended with this post.