There is a dangerous new trend in American politics that is seen by few, and well-articulated by fewer. Both parties are guilty of it, and it is irrespective of personal philosophies (largely). That trend is the continual appeals to Washington DC to solve the problems facing the nation.
Let’s be honest here. Most of the problems that the United States is facing have been started or exacerbated by the federal government, and its “need” to intervene in the economy, foreign nations, social issues, etc. Spend more money to alleviate the debt, they said. It would work, they said…
Each time the capitol is sought after for solutions, the ability of people to solve their own problems necessarily decreases. However, this trend did not simply appear overnight. It was due to the long and hard work of the Progressive movement that we now see the power of Washington DC, and the diminishing authority of states and localities. In order to bring some light to this, some background is necessary.
The Progressives may or may not have all been complete statists that wished to impose a centralized control over the entire country. However, many of them were, and their legacy is still felt today. Three figures from the early Progressive movement stand out, and those are Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.
TR expanded the power of the federal government, and the executive branch in particular, to unseen new levels. His basic philosophy on Presidential power was that he was able to do whatever the Constitution did not explicitly forbid him to do. That is a huge amount of content left uncovered. Should the President really be able to do anything not specifically forbidden? According to TR, yes.
Nowhere in the Constitution does the President have the power to preserve massive amounts of land for national parks, but he did it anyways. Nowhere in the Constitution does the president have the power to create new departments in the federal government to manage those lands, but he did it anyways.
He also took huge steps in economic regulation, most famously “trust busting” to ensure the “fairness” of the free market. While at times there may be arguments to be made for prevention of monopolies, his actions taken would become precedent for other Presidents to do likewise, and expand regulation on the economy without consultation of Congress. Most notably, he used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 to break up the American Tobacco Company, Northern Securities Company, and subsequently the Standard Oil Company. This precedent is still called upon, whether realized or not, by the executive branch today.
Next came Woodrow Wilson. There were two major acts of the federal government that greatly expanded government influence. The Sixteenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, and the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 effectively signed a sort of death warrant to the 10th Amendment. With the ability of the federal government to levy income taxes from any source, and the ability to manipulate the money supply on the whim of a clandestine board of financial czars, the power necessary to centralize all the power in Washington DC was born.
Now we come to the famous (or infamous, depending on your view) Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Progressive hero, a libertarian’s worst nightmare. The amount of concentration of power that came to Washington DC under FDR was unprecedented. To this day, thank God, no other President has centralized the federal government as much as was done by FDR. However, this gave future presidents tools for doing things that big governments tend to do: infringe on essential civil liberties. Milton Friedman knew the dangers of concentration of power, and his words ring true today.
Now, due to the established precedent, that power has staying Washington DC has continued to grow for the past eight decades. The natural result of this concentration of power is that the American people now look to the feds for help in almost any issue that arises.
This new trend in American politics is a sharp deviation from how the country originally functioned from the time of the Founding through the early years of the Progressive era. Now granted, times certainly have changed; the world is a much smaller place than it was 200 years ago, or even 50 years ago. But the principles of the foundation of the United States are ones that work.
Simply because there is more technology, more danger, there are more people, etc. does NOT mean that administrative power must be centralized by the national government. In fact, power should NOT be concentrated centrally because such leads to a whole slew of other problems much worse than what that centralization was originally meant to solve.
The foundation of American politics, which has crumbled over a period of 200+ years, was that people would look inwardly to their own communities to solve their own problems. This was one of the most amazing aspects of the United States that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about in Democracy in America in the 1830’s. The people did not look to Washington DC if they had an issue in their community; rather, they came together and solved the problem on their own initiative and prerogative.
The constant action of the laws and the national habits, peculiar circumstances, and above all time, may consolidate it; but there is certainly no nation on the continent of Europe which has experienced its advantages. Nevertheless local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations. Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty. The transient passions and the interests of an hour, or the chance of circumstances, may have created the external forms of independence; but the despotic tendency which has been repelled will, sooner or later, inevitably reappear on the surface. -Chapter V, Part One, Volume One
The problems that the nation faces in our present time will not be solved by more action on the part of the federal government. In fact, quite the opposite will happen, as governments are the least accountable institution in a given society. Rather, an entire scaling back of the enormous power and influence MUST happen if anything is to be solved. Some steps that can be taken include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Abolishing the IRS, and instituting a Fair Tax
2. Abolishing the Federal Reserve, backing up the money supply with something of actual value (gold, for example) and allowing competing currencies
3. Abolishing the Department of Education, Common Core, and all federal regulations on education
4. Abolshing the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Dept of Homeland Security, Dept of Agriculture, National Security Agency, etc.
The most important out of that short list is to abolish the IRS and the federal income tax. Money is the fuel of the growing Leviathan state, and the simplest and most effective way to stop it is to starve it. Many of these initiatives headed by the federal government are not Constitutionally authorized, and are thus left up to the states. There is not the power to control education, there is not the power to control agriculture and hand out welfare benefits, and there is not the power to manipulate the money supply at the snap of the finger.
Most of what we see out of Washington must be returned the states, and to local governments. It is unhealthy for a republican society to be constantly appealing to the national government for answers to political problems. It is an abdication of responsibility, and an implicit forfeiture of liberty. Just as was written by Tocqueville, local solutions are the only way to effectively secure liberty. Otherwise, centralized tyranny is inevitable.
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