Posted: July 31st, 2013
By 1776 the founders of the United States were aware of the potential tyranny that an unlimited government could cause and they meticulously set out to decentralize power. In his 1859 essay, On Liberty, noted political philosopher John Stuart Mill suggested that there is a “struggle between authority and liberty” and that left unchecked government is a “dangerous weapon.” This week we are going to explore the issue of limited government.
What do we mean when we use the term ‘limited government?’ Some of your readings will suggest that this means a smaller government with fewer employees, laws, regulations and taxes. Others suggest that a limited government is a government whose actions are limited to the written rules of governance.
This issue is ultimately based in the perennial debate regarding what is the nature of man and what form of government best serves our desire for freedom. Mills wrote that there was an inverse relationship between individual freedoms and the size of government. Bellevue University Professor Dr. John Spivack suggests that the real threat is bad government.
Author Ryan Messmore’s article this week partially agrees with Spivack, “To advocate good government is to recognize the indispensible role that political authority plays in a healthy community.” Messmore continues, “To advocate limited government is to understand that not everything necessary for a community to be healthy is the responsibility of government. A good but limited government is one that serves its citizens by exercising well its particular tasks and refraining from other tasks.” Messmore suggests that government must live within its (written) rules of governance.
The manifestation of this debate comes in several guises including a discussion about what is the role of government. Does government exist to protect our rights? In week two you read Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence where he wrote, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (emphasis added). Or does government, as some later suggest, providing for our needs?
Another manifestation of the debate over the effective size of government concerns our nation‘s debt. In an article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal (Obstacle to Deficit Cutting: A Nation on Entitlements , 09-14-2010) Sara Murray writes, “Efforts to tame America’s ballooning budget deficit could soon confront a daunting reality: Nearly half of all Americans live in a household in which someone receives government benefits, more than at any time in history.
At the same time, the fraction of American households not paying federal income taxes has also grown—to an estimated 45% in 2010, from 39% five years ago, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.”
Gary Gerstle, in ‘Federalism in America: Beyond the Tea Partiers.” writes, “This approach to federalism should not be confused with what right-wing federalists have in mind: dismantling the central government as we know it. Such a dismantling entails eliminating fundamental federal government programs, including Social Security, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare and Medicaid, and even the Internal Revenue Service… A seismic rollback is, of course, precisely what archconservatives desire. But it is not what most Americans, not even a majority of Republicans, desire. Nor would it be good for America. A progressive version of federalism seeks something else: public policy experimentation that triggers a revival in the possibilities of state action at all levels of government.”
Who is correct? Gerstle or Murray? Or could both offer legitimate thoughts on a very complex and difficult issue?
Finally, we will examine growing role of agencies. As you read in Week Two, in the Federalist No. 47, James Madison wrote, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of TYRANNY.” This week Pestritto will examine the case of the C.T. Chenery Corporation where government agencies seem to exhibit Madison’s concern and the role of agencies.
In the Wall Street Journal editorial, Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System, (January 18, 2011) United States President Barack Obama wrote about the need for a proper balance between good government and the threat of unrestricted agencies: “For two centuries, America’s free market has not only been the source of dazzling ideas and path-breaking products, it has also been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known. That vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people.
“But throughout our history, one of the reasons the free market has worked is that we have sought the proper balance. We have preserved freedom of commerce while applying those rules and regulations necessary to protect the public against threats to our health and safety and to safeguard people and businesses from abuse.
Compose a reflection of at least 400 words in which you explain what answer you believe Pestritto; Messmore; Dreier and Flacks, and Halpin, Williams, and Teixeira (four entries total) would give to the following question:
Should the US Department of Education be abolished?
In your essay, convey the answer that you feel each selected author would be most likely to give to the question based on what the author has to say in his or her reading. The author most likely does not explicitly address the question being asked; you will, therefore, have to understand each author well enough to predict accurately how he or she would be most likely to respond to the question. As you read the assigned texts, you should keep the question in mind, which, I hope, will help you determine what is most important in the reading and what you can merely skim.
“From child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to our most recent strictures against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.
Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.”
In your readings ‘The birth of the administrative state: where it came from & what it means for limited government’ Pestritto tells us that the modern state is “empowered…with broad governing authority…[which] reside within the executive branch…but their powers transcend the traditional boundaries of executive power to include both legislative and judicial functions.”
As you see the debate to decide the effective size and role of government is complex. Today our two primary parties argue these issues when deciding budgets, regulations and laws and if you examine each party’s platform, you will also recognize this issue.
Advocates of Limited Government:
Ron Pestritto: “The Birth of the Administrative State: Where It Came From and What It Means for Limited Government”
Ryan Messmore: “A Moral Case against Big Government”
Progressivism and Expansive Government:
Peter Dreier and Dick Flacks: “Patriotism and Progressivism”
John Halpin and Conor P. Williams: “What is Progressivism?”
Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin: “The Progressive Tradition in American Politics” [pay particular attention to the bullet list, Progressive reforms: A century of accomplishments”]
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