Monthly Archives: September 2011

Restoring Federalism: Debunking the Fear of an Article V Convention

Last weekend I attended an Article V convention conference at Harvard Law to discuss the viability of states calling an Article V convention.  The event was co-sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn some on the left have come to the realization that the answer to a runaway national government is a return to federalism as the framers intended.  The mechanism to return to federalism is an Article V convention. 

I whole-heartedly support, and do not fear, an Article V convention.  Since my political philosophy is squarely on the right side of the political spectrum, I know many on the right fear an Article V convention.  Those on the right often cite a runaway, wide-open convention that would supplant the Constitution or the country already has a Constitution that works.  Likewise, there are many skeptics on the left that fear an Article V convention. The left expressed fears the right would impose a national religion and corporate money in politics is corrupting government.  Responses from both sides are based on fear.  Fear is nothing more than an emotional response to a situation.  When pressed, those opposing an Article V convention are hard-pressed to engage in reasoned, civil discourse. 

It is contradictory to state we have a Constitution that works yet oppose the concept of states proposing amendments.  If we have a Constitution that works then, in theory, it would be a perfect document not requiring amendment.  The argument is nonsensical.  Even the framers recognized the need to amend the Constitution and, indeed, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times.  Clearly, the reason the Constitution does work is because the framers provided a method to amend it.  It’s only a question of who proposes amendments. 

Some believe the next election cycle is the panacea to our ills.  Some say, if we could get control of the House or the Senate, or if we could get control of the White House everything will magically reverse course and we can all live happily ever after.  Perhaps that is true if you live in a fairy tale, but we live in the real world where the situation is much more nightmare-ish.  Last year Congress’s approval rating was eleven percent.  After the results of the historic mid-term elections Congress’s approval rating soared to a whopping twelve percent.  Folks, we’ve tried that for decades and government continues to grow and continues to abridge and deny our freedoms, rights, and liberty.  If you believe the next election cycle is the panacea, then there is no need to continue reading.  

Let me explain how I overcame my fear of an Article V convention.  I believe Washington D.C.is broke and cannot fix itself.  I base my belief upon the fact that regardless of which political party controls the White House or the Congress,Washington simply will not constrain itself.  In the thirty years of my adult life government has grown.  The debt has increased from $1 trillion in 1982 to nearly $15 trillion today.  The number of federal employees has increased.  The budget has increased.  Regulations have increased.  Individual rights and liberty have decreased.  This has happened under Republican or Democrat control of the White House and/or Congress.  My fear is not the possibility of a runaway convention; rather it is the reality that we have a runaway national government.  

Otherwise, if you believe as I, that Washington D.C. cannot fix itself it is logical and rational to consider other options.  Since the Bill of Rights was ratified there has never been a single amendment ratified that constrained the power of the national government.  Congress has proposed every single amendment that has ever been ratified.  Congress has a vested interest in keeping the status quo within certain left/right limits.  The ebb and flow of power between Republicans and Democrats requires a dose of political Dramamine.  When the right is in power the left is ticked off.  Likewise, when the left is in power the right is ticked off. 

Ultimately, many citizens are unhappy with the ruling class.  Many are apathetic or frustrated and don’t bother to vote or participate in anything closely resembling politics.  The Constitution established federalism; a system of governance where two sovereignties have political authority over the people.  The states delegated a few powers to the federal government and retained all other powers not otherwise delegated.  The framers created a system of checks and balances.  The states were a check on the federal government just as the distribution of powers amongst the three branches within the federal government was a system of checks and balances.

Likewise, the Constitution distributed equally the power to propose amendments.  This approach is logical and consistent with two sovereigns under federalism.  Give each sovereign a method of proposing amendments.  Congress can propose amendments with a 2/3rds vote in the House and the Senate.  Likewise, states can propose amendments when 2/3rds of the states send applications to Congress to call an Article V convention.  In either case, proposed amendments must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states. 

Like any good lawyer trying a case, the closing argument is a summarization of the trial and an attempt to convince a jury to decide for or against something.  Federalist 85 was the last federalist paper written and was the closing argument for constitutional ratification.  In summary, Hamilton says the Constitution is imperfect and those opposing ratifications will find ways to point out imperfections.  Ultimately, the Constitution provided the states with a trump card. Hamilton said, “We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.” 

During the 1787 constitutional convention the framers considered including the option for states to call a wide-open constitutional convention.  This idea was proposed, and defeated, several times.  The framers clearly rejected the idea of a wide-open, general convention.  Instead, the framers included a provision for a limited convention to address specific issues.  Moreover, the framers debated methods to propose amendments and the historical record from the constitutional convention proceedings, state ratifying conventions, and other sources clearly demonstrate the intent is to allow amendments only.

Article V clearly places both methods of proposing amendments on equal footing, and clearly states Congress shall call a convention for proposing amendments.  Congress performs a ministerial role once states apply for a convention.  Congress is obliged to call the Article V convention.

In my mind, the Article V conference at Harvard confirmed both the left and the right are dissatisfied with Washington, D.C.  We can find agreement for the need for states to call an Article V convention.  I spoke with several people and groups on the left and the good news is they are beginning to realize that federalism is the solution to a runaway national government.  That’s right, federalism as established in the Constitution.  Ultimately, the choice comes down to a handful of options:

 1)      A national government that continues to consolidate power and forces both the right and the left to live unhappily with the outcomes.  This is the status quo.

2)      Put your faith in the next election cycle and hope the next group of elected officials reduces the size and scope of government.  This has been tried repeatedly and has failed miserably.  It reinforces the status quo.

3)      Use the tools provided in the Constitution to reign in the power of the national government.  States call an Article V convention and propose amendments.

4)      An amicable divorce.  The union is dissolved peacefully into regions.

5)      A revolution.  Think secession.  Possible civil war. 

Federalism affords those with varying interests and political views to live as they desire without undue and overbearing influence from Washington.  Those farthest to the left may wish to live in a state that embraces socialism and provides health care, housing, food, education, etc. to all the citizens of the state.  Likewise, some may wish to live in a state that protects individual rights and liberty, property rights, and has a minimum level of state regulations.  In fact, we could have fifty different solutions (or fifty-seven according to the President).  People would vote with their feet and live in a state that best represents their interests.

My support for an Article V convention is a risk/reward scenario.  What are the risks and rewards of this option relative to the risks/rewards of other options?  While you may disagree with my conclusion, it is my belief that pursuing a constitutionally proscribed and peaceful method to amend the constitution provides the greatest chance to return the country to federalism with the least amount of risk.  You must weigh the risks and rewards of an Article V convention against the clear and present danger of doing nothing or putting your faith in the next election cycle.

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An American Economic Recovery Plan

Government interference in free markets over the past eighty years produced a tangled web of laws, regulation, and upside-down monetary and fiscal policy.  Decades of heavy-handed government intervention has driven manufacturing and production overseas. America had a robust economy with low levels of consumer debt and a reasonable chance for personal savings.  

The modern day economy is almost entirely service oriented and people lose money if they save money in traditional savings or money-market accounts.  To keep ahead of inflation and the debasement of the currency people must earn returns in the six to seven percent range to maintain their standard of living.  For many, they cannot achieve this return on their investments or do not have access to equity and bond markets, commodities, and other investment opportunities.  Certainly, the person earning $25,000 year doesn’t have a substantial amount of savings; however he wants to earn a return so he can, at minimum, maintain his current standard of living. 

Today, a person may earn one percent interest in a savings account.  Subtract the inflation rate (nominal CPI number) and the debasement of the currency, a person loses six to seven percent a year just because they are trying to save.  Monetary policy purposely keeps interest rates low to keep interest payments on the outstanding debt as low as possible.  Paradoxically, the very people government claims to help are the people government hurts most.  Real unemployment, referred to as the u6 unemployment rate, is seventeen percent.  The rate for young, unskilled workers is even greater.  Even worse is the unemployment rate for minorities. 

Government and the media lie, deceive, and perpetuate a myth to unwitting citizens.  The economy cannot truly recover because the manufacturing base has declined drastically over the past thirty years.  The dollar’s value has been debased substantially since President Nixon broke the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971.  A dollar in 1971 requires a 432% return on investment to be equivalent to a dollar in 2010.  In other words, you must earn a return of 4.32% per year, every year, from 1971 to 2010 to maintain the value of a dollar.  What cost a dollar in 1971 costs $5.32 in 2010.  What costs you a $1 in 2010 would have only cost you 18 cents in 1971. 

In addition, the government is nearly $15,000,000,000,000 in debt.  According to the President’s 2012 budget proposal, the debt is expected to rise to $22,000,000,000,000 by 2020 using unrealistic assumptions.  The budget proposal assumes annual GDP growth between four and five percent, and assumes the interest rate will remain at or near today’s levels.  GDP growth hovers near 1.5% and, historically, interest rates don’t remain low for a decade or more.  The historical twenty year interest rate averages roughly 5.5%.  If interest rates rose to 5.5%, interest payments on the debt would rise from $270,000,000,000 to nearly $1,000,000,000,000 annually. 

In my estimation the only possible change to reverse the inevitable demise facing the country is a complete return to free markets without government intervention.  Here are my proposals: 

  • Eliminate all subsidies to every industry, company, non-profit, non-governmental organization, etc.  Government should not pick which industries win or lose, or winners and losers within an industry.
  • Eliminate the corporate income tax.  Taxes are an expense to a corporation just as wages, rent, phones, and utilities are expenses.  Income tax expenses are incorporated into the cost of the product which means the cost is passed on to the consumer.  It is a hidden tax and hurts lower income earners the most.  Moreover, global companies with revenues that have not been repatriated from overseas can now bring that money back to theU.S.  Lastly, businesses will be attracted to the country because there is no corporate income tax.
  • Eliminate the current individual income tax system and replace it with a flat tax or a fair tax.  If the latter, repeal the sixteenth amendment.
  • Eliminate the inheritance (estate) tax.  This is a form of double taxation.  Income is taxed when it is earned, then when property is passed onto a person’s heirs it is taxed again.
  • Implement a plan to sunset the Social Security program.  While this may take 20, 30, 40 years to phase out.  The program must be terminated gracefully. 
  • Implement a plan to sunset the Medicare program.  Again, this may take 20, 30, 40 years to phase out.  The program must be terminated gracefully.
  • Eliminate baseline budgeting where last year’s budget is rolled forward and, typically, the budgets are increased.  Each year, every federal government department, agency, and bureau must justify its existence and budget.
  • Implement a plan to eliminate federal departments and agencies that are unconstitutional.  The plan must phase out these departments over three years.
  • Develop energy sources here in theUnited States.  Government must eliminate all barriers and restrictions to drilling for oil, natural gas, natural liquids, and shale oil.  All technologies, old and new, must compete in a free market without subsidies from government. 
  • Eliminate all affirmative action programs.
  • Eliminate the minimum wage.
  • Pass federal legislation prohibiting public sector unions in the federal government. 

The federal government, including the banking system, has competing interests with the American worker.  Those that succeed are punished and vilified as fat-cat, greedy people while others are rewarded and supported by government programs paid for by others.  Individual taxes are highly progressive.  Corporate taxes are the highest out of the G20 countries.  Statutory laws and regulations (many not made in pursuance of the Constitution) act as a wet blanket to smother creativity and ingenuity.  Government imposed risks far outweigh potential rewards.  Is anyone surprised when U.S. businesses move all or part of their business overseas?  

Can the federal government fix itself?  Are there principled leaders to run Congress and the country?  If the thirty years of my adult life is any indication, the answer is a resounding NO!  We need true reformers at all levels of government!   Government’s role must be limited and narrow!  In other words, we need to redefine government – Now!

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The Rise of American Mediocrity

American exceptionalism is not passed on in the genes, nor is it a characteristic conferred upon a favored few by the ruling class. American exceptionalism embraces the notion that every human being has an equal opportunity to exercise his God given abilities in pursuit of his dreams; to improve his personal condition which contributes to society and the welfare of others. 

The Declaration of Independence is the genesis of American execpetionalism.  The Declaration stated unequivocally certain fundamental and philosophical truths:  that every man is created equal, that man is capable of self-governance, that man is rational and reasoned, therefore capable of improving his own condition and acting in a manner consistent with his desires while not infringing upon the rights of others. 

In a broader context the Declaration provided the framework for a system of governance that eschewed status societies where a privileged few exercised dominion over the masses.  The Constitution established a contract society where the governed delegated a limited set of powers to a federal government.  A government designed to secure mans’ natural rights and constrained government by the rule of law.  A government meant to keep man free. 

In modern day parlance, the founders and framers created the ultimate risk/reward society.  Man was free to live his life, exercise his personal and economic liberty, and pursue happiness according to his desire without government intervention.  In other words, man was free to succeed or fail on his own.  Undoubtedly, some would succeed, some would fail, and others would muddle along.  

Moral hazard existed in every man’s life.  There was no government safety net.  Government was not formed to keep man safe from the pitfalls of life.  There was no government welfare system, food stamps, or unemployment insurance.  There was no JeffersonCare.  I’m confident that Virginia statesman Patrick Henry never said “Give me liberty or give me healthcare!”  The notion that government could compel man to purchase a product under threat of coercion would have appalled and outraged the founders.  One needs to look no further than the Boston Tea Party as proof. 

Every man understood he was personally responsibility for his own life and to make of it what he wished.  Mans’ desires were diverse and plentiful.  Every man chose his course and lived with the consequences of his decisions.  What each man produced from his physical and/or intellectual abilities was his property.  Man was free to associate with others to barter or trade his property for another’s property, to pursue the goods and services he determined best meet his personal conditions.  

Government did not direct man in pursuit of his personal and economic liberty.  Government did not prohibit man from choosing his profession.  Government did not limit the choices available to man.  Government did not require licenses and permits, certifications, audits, or paperwork.  Government did not choose winners and losers amongst industries or within an industry.  Government did not interfere with mans’ life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. 

Today, we have only the illusion of a free society and free markets.  Mans’ freedoms and liberties are severely curtailed by government.  Mans’ liberty to choose his industry is limited.  Mans’ liberty to interact in free markets is limited.  Mans’ natural right to his own property is violated.  Statutory laws and regulatory actions, many not made in pursance of the Constitution, by government prohibit, limit, and coerce man which violates the fundamental truths that every man is free to live his life, exercise his personal and economic liberty, and pursue his own happiness. 

Are my assertions flawed?  I think not.  Here are a few examples: 

  • Automobile choice is limited to what government determines is acceptable.  CAFÉ standards imposed by government result in more injuries and deaths.  Read this article for more proof.
  • Our choice of energy is limited, and the cost is greater, because government regulates fossil fuels under the hoax of global warming. 
  • Our choice of shower heads and toilets are limited due to government regulation.
  • Our choice of light bulbs is limited due to government regulation.
  • Our choice of profession is limited due to government regulation.
  • Property ownership is limited due to government taxation.
  • Our natural right to own firearms and carry firearms is limited due to government.
  • Government compels us to participate in the ponzi scheme known as Social Security.
  • Government compels us to participate in the Medicare system.
  • Government compels us to buy health care insurance under ObamaCare.
  • Government discriminates against us through a progressive tax system.
  • Government confiscates a man’s property that he rightfully possesses and gives to another that has done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Man is not free, is not at liberty to exercise the very rights government was instituted to protect.  Man has a limited set of choices proscribed to him by government.   Government limiting mans’ choices restricts freedom and liberty by substituting a false set of choices; government proscribed choices where the ruling class determines what man can and cannot have, as well as limiting the choices of man.  Government has created restrictive boundaries around all aspects of mans’ life.  In other words, government has boxed man in forcing him to live within a very narrow set of laws and regulations.  

Government is no longer constrained by the Constitution.  Instead, government uses the law to constrain man.  Man no longer relies upon his own ability to determine his course in life.  A large segment of society voluntarily relinquished their freedoms and liberty in return for government largesse.  Individual responsibility is conveniently exchanged for government welfare programs, sold under the guise of compassion and equality, to an unwitting but fully complicit populace addicted to handouts, freebies, and benefits paid for by the sweat and equity of others.  

The ultimate risk/reward society has transformed into a do-nothing/subservient society perpetuated by the ruling class that desires to entrench themselves in power.  The seed of American exceptionalism planted by the founding fathers and framers requires hard work, sacrifice, and individual responsibility for man to enjoy the fruits it produces.   Too many people are either afraid to try and succeed, and possibly fail, or seek the lazy way in life.  The desire to nurture the seed of exceptionalism has vanished in too many people.  Society is enthralled in the decline of American exceptionalism. 

A person relieved of all personal responsibility and willing to submit to government for basic necessities will never prosper and forever be stuck in mediocrity.  No chance of success.  No chance at failure.  He simply subsists as a ward of the government.  The trade-off proposed by government requires a person to give up liberty for security, prosperity for subservience, opportunity for mediocrity, and personal responsibility for government benevolence.  Because too many people are willing to partake in this exchange, we are witnessing the rise of American mediocrity.

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The Nameless, Faceless Victims

Is it morally wrong to steal?   If it is morally wrong to steal, why is it morally wrong? Rather elementary questions though important questions everyone needs to answer.  If you are Christian or Jewish the Bible tells you it is wrong to steal.  Indeed, Thou Shall not Steal, is one of God’s Ten Commandments.  Religion aside, how would you answer those questions? 

The act of taking one’s property from them against their will is wrong.  Most would agree.  If you walk up to a stranger and take $100 from them it is wrong?  If you go to your neighbor’s house and take his property it is wrong?  The stranger and your neighbor have a face, they are real people that you can touch and see.  They are not nameless, faceless victims.  They are as real as you and me. 

However, the association is between two people.  The person doing the stealing and the person from whom you are stealing.  There is a certain risk in stealing someone’s property.  Perhaps things will turn violent.  Perhaps you will be caught, arrested, and put on trial.  There are definitive risks to stealing another’s property.  Stealing is not a victimless crime.  There is always a victim.  There is always moral hazard to the criminal. 

The criminal says they are in need of something; food, shelter, clothes, a flat screen TV, or a cell phone.  There’s always something the criminal needs.  The criminal argues that they deserve your property.  The criminal argues to drop all charges against him would be compassionate and benevolent as he needed those things.  The criminal argues there is inequality and he deserves the same things as others.  Perhaps the criminal goes as far to argue that all people should have the same things. 

Let us introduce a third party into the stealing arrangement.  A third party capable of stealing property from one person and giving it to another.  A very powerful, third party acts as an agent or enabler of the person receiving property. The third party acts under the guise of compassion and benevolence. 

Today, we live in a society where a third party takes property from a person who labored to produce something and gives property to another person that has done absolutely nothing to deserve that property.  If this happened without the third party it would be a crime; burglary, robbery, larceny, etc.   However, introduce a third party to the equation and the person receiving property is no longer viewed as a criminal, rather they are viewed as a needy.  The third party removes all moral hazard from the equation.  The person receiving another’s property no longer risks violence or jail time. 

In Orwellian fashion, if you object to having the third party take your property you are branded as selfish, greedy, and uncaring.  Because of these kinds of people it provides the justification for a third party to arbitrarily determine from whom they take and to whom they give.   

Those that receive others property no longer have to commit an actual crime as it’s defined today.  Instead, they rely on the enablers to commit the crime.  Government is the criminal in the equation in civil society today.  Under the guise of compassion and benevolence, the all powerful central government believes it can fairly discern from whom they take and to whom they give.

Under this system there are no victims in the traditional sense of the word.  Those that receive property via the government don’t have to actual steal from a stranger or from their neighbor.  Since the government confiscated the property they are no longer the criminal.  While some recognize the property comes from another person, others believe in a fairy tale society where government simply provides for the needs of society.   

Our system has created millions upon millions of nameless, faceless victims.  Government plunders property.  Government redistributes property.  Government is the criminal.  Government perpetuates this criminal activity under the guise of compassion and benevolence. Government is an entity and is incapable of compassion or benevolence.  Government is robotic, mechanical if you will, and simply acts without constraint.  Government acts to ensure its own survival.  The old adage, might makes right comes to mind. 

Our system of legal plunder is not only the most immoral system it is the most selfish system.  If you believe that stealing is immoral it doesn’t magically become moral just because government does it on the behalf of others.  If it is immoral to do individually, it is immoral to do collectively.  Furthermore, it is the most selfish system because it allows people to avoid responsibility; for themselves and for others in society.  To ask or expect government to act on your behalf to take care of others in society is selfish because you as an individual are more than capable of helping others in need.  Whether it is your time, physical labor, intellectual labor, or property you dissolve yourself of all personal responsibility. 

Recipients simply need to ensure the system lives so they may continue to receive the property of others.  How do they do this?  They vote.  As long as government continues to provide millions upon millions of voters with other people’s property they vote them into office.   

The Founders had a very different view of people.  The Founders accepted mankind was imperfect due to human nature.  Historically, societies were structured around status.  The Founders and Framers formed a contract society which was encoded in the Constitution and respected life, liberty, and property.

The Founders and Framers had confidence in the common man and recognized man has the capacity to govern himself.  This ability to reason qualified man to improve his personal condition as well as the welfare of his peers. 

The Founders and Framers reasoned that man was able to express his enlightened, reasoned-governed interests and to find the means best suited to accomplish this.  Therefore, man was able to exist as a self-directed and autonomous individual.   

The Founders and Framers did not view government as enforcement mechanisms to ensure equality of outcomes, redistribution of property, or to act under the guise of compassion and benevolence.  By enabling government to act in this capacity the people push our society closer to tyranny every day.

Note, George Handley authored an article on the Brussels Journal site.  Some of this is directly attributed to him (quote or paraphrasing).

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