Gary North – October 08, 2018
Everyone who understands the federal government wants to reform it.
There are two huge problems. First, there is no agreement about which reforms would be good and which would be bad. The second is the absence of a plausible strategy of reform.
I think there should be far less government. But how can we as citizens achieve this?
WHAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD DO
The primary function of civil government is to identify and then enforce justice. God has assigned to civil government the task of enforcing His Bible-revealed civil laws. The courts are to honor this fundamental biblical principle of justice: equality before the law. This principle is best articulated in this law in Leviticus: “Do not cause judgment to be false. You must not show favoritism to someone because he is poor, and you must not show favoritism to someone because he is important. Instead, judge your neighbor righteously” (19:15).
This law is violated by all forms of wealth redistribution, other than the laws of restitution. Restitution restores the lost wealth of the victim of theft, plus an equal penalty payment. In contrast, the welfare state uses the power of civil government to redistribute wealth from economically successful people to less successful people, with government agencies as intermediaries. This is the politics of plunder. It makes thieves out of citizens who vote for politicians who pass laws that empower government agencies to redistribute wealth. This outlook rests on an assumption: God’s distribution of wealth by means of the free market’s auction process, as well as inheritance, has failed. The state must therefore intervene in order to counteract the effects of the free market’s competitive auction process. The law and the courts supposedly must favor the poorer man in his quest to gain legal control over part of the wealth of others. The law and the courts supposedly must treat the rich man and the poor man differently. This is exactly what Leviticus 19:15 prohibits.
In a democratic civil government, voting is the way that citizens bring covenantal sanctions against elected rulers. They vote for incumbents or for their opponents. This is covenant renewal in the civil covenant. Because biblical civil government does not authorize the use of the ballot box to elect politicians who promise to use the power of government to redistribute wealth, covenantally faithful voters must limit their use of voting rights to restrict the misuse of civil government. The vote is to be limited to vetoing laws and policies that violate this principle of civil justice. Politics should be limited to vetoing evil policies and passing laws consistent with biblical law and biblical ethics. Politics should not attempt to capture the government to benefit a special-interest group that wants to use the same laws to redistribute wealth in a different way. The biblical goal is the elimination of such government bureaus, not their capture and subsequent reform by Christians or anybody else.
Most modern politics favors the expansion of the state. Laws are seldom repealed. They accumulate. In addition, government agencies add layers of rules and regulations to existing statutes. As these laws accumulate, economic productivity slows. These laws and regulations disrupt the market order. They lead to periodic economic crises. Then, in order to cure the crises caused by previous laws, politicians and bureaucrats add even more laws and regulations. This can be described as a vicious circle. Only rarely in history have governments rolled back laws and regulations. This took place in Great Britain from about 1845 to 1875. But then the expansion began again. Similar reversals took place in China after the reforms of Premier Deng in 1979, and also in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.
THE AUGEAN STABLES
For years, I have talked about the Federal Register. Every day, the administrative agencies of the federal government post new rules and regulations. These are posted in the Federal Register. For years, the total number of pages was in the range of 80,000. The good news is this: in 2017, it dropped to about 66,000. This is an extraordinary reduction. I hope it continues. I don’t know if this has something to do with Trump, but whatever the cause, I am in favor of it.
Consider the manpower it would take to repeal the administrative regulations published in one year. Somebody has to read each of these regulations. If you have ever read one of them, you understand that they cannot be read intelligently by anybody who is not a specialist in the administrative law of a particular agency. But the only people who have this expertise are lawyers inside the agency, who will resist all attempts to change what they have decreed, and incredibly expensive corporate lawyers, who in many cases may represent companies that favor the regulations. These regulations keep out smaller companies. In any case, the lawyers hired by these companies would be out of jobs that may pay $500 an hour if all the regulations in a particular industry were repealed.
We are not simply talking about one year’s regulations. We are talking about decades of these regulations. This is the Augean stables, filled with a familiar substance. We are like Hercules trying to clean the mess, but we do not have a nearby river to divert that can do this job.
For a century, politicians and bureaucrats have attempted to play God. They have operated on the assumption that they are almost omniscient. They have assumed that they can pass endless laws and impose endless regulations by means of these laws in a coordinated fashion. But there is no coordination. These laws are dreamed up by lawyers who have little economic training, and then they are published. They become the law of the land. There is no agency that coordinates all of its own regulations. In any case, the regulations go back for decades. A new group of lawyers has no understanding of the details of what went before. They are simply adding layer upon layer of new regulations.
I am only scraping the surface of the problem. Now let’s consider all the state laws that have been passed over the last 80 years or so. Then consider all of the state administrative agencies that have written regulations in terms of these laws.
Then there are local laws and local regulations. No one pays any attention to them. There are not teams of lawyers who specialize in local laws and regulations in your town. You don’t know who they are. They don’t exist. The public is unaware of these laws and regulations. The public is too busy to care.
Here is the philosophical problem. Anyone who attempts to select which laws to roll back is playing God. Not only must there be thousands of these people to begin the process of reform through removal, their efforts must be coordinated. But who is in a position to coordinate them? No one.
What agency is going to hire these gifted and expensive specialists in repealing regulations? There is no such agency.
How could the government create such an agency? Who would write the rules to govern the agency? Who would enforce these rules on the agency?
You get the idea. We are talking about at least a century of laws passed by progressives, and we also know that laws passed by conservatives, such as the Patriot Act, can sometimes be just as bad.
This is only the beginning. Next, each proposed reform has to be legally repealed. How would this be possible? Who is going to do this? Is the legislature going to repeal the law that made the regulations possible? Yes. Do legislatures do this? No. Does any Congressman or elected official have the time to read all of the proposed laws to be repealed? No. They never read them in the first place. Yet some of these laws are 1,000 pages long. They are incoherent. No one reads them. My friend Bill Richardson, who was the founder of Gun Owners of America, and who was also an influential state senator in California for many years, wrote a book about this: What Makes You Think We Read the Bills? I assign it to my students in government in the Ron Paul Curriculum. It is a funny book. It is also a depressing book.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
When most voters favor the existing political order, there is almost nothing that an individual citizen can do to change this in any significant way. It can be changed in the aftermath of violent revolutions, but these usually centralize power even further. Therefore, most political change that is meaningful comes from a change in ideas. This can speed up during economic crises, but usually economic crises, like revolutions, lead to an increase in the power of the state.
This is why politics is generally futile as a means of transforming society. The change must come from a widespread change in people’s thinking. Therefore, if you can change people’s opinions regarding the illegitimacy of the welfare state, this is an important strategy. To teach people who favorite state intervention that this intervention is opposed to the Bible, you must have considerable skills as a teacher. You cannot change the minds of many people. People regard political reform with suspicion, and they usually oppose cutting back any existing welfare state programs. They especially resist when these programs benefit them individually.
The best strategy is to limit the expansion of the existing state. Limit taxation. Limit government debt. If the free market economy continues to grow, but the state and its apparatus do not grow at a comparable rate, the effect is to make the intervention of the state less oppressive. More and more people benefit from the expansion of liberty than benefit from the expansion of the state. This strategy makes politics mostly defensive. Occasionally, a bad law can be repealed, but this is exceedingly rare. Whatever you can do to persuade people to resist any further expansion of the state is positive.
At some point, modern welfare states will go bankrupt. They cannot continue to expand. They have promised too many benefits to too many voters. They have not set aside productive capital to support these long-run wealth-redistribution programs, especially in the area of free or subsidized medical services and government-funded retirement programs. An important aspect of Christian economics is to show why these programs will go bankrupt. The primary reason they will go bankrupt is because they are inherently immoral. They involve theft through political power. When they do go bankrupt, Christians who understand Christian economics will be in a position to explain why the cause of the bankruptcy was a violation of the principle of equality before the law. At that point, some citizens may listen to a call to fight any further expansion of the state.
If we really believe that the free market is the primary source of liberty institutionally, then we should do whatever we can to repeal really bad pieces of legislation when we get the opportunity to do so. But this won’t be often.
Innovation today is exceedingly rapid. The bureaucrats cannot keep up. Furthermore, they have little incentive to keep up. They just want to collect their paychecks and do as little work as possible. They want to avoid risk.
If budgets are cut because of the looming bankruptcy, then fewer bureaucrats will be on the payroll to enforce the gigantic pile of regulations in each agency. Rather than attempting to repeal all of these regulations, which really is not possible, we simply cut the budgets because we have to cut the budgets, and we leave the market alone. The all-purpose strategy in reducing the effect of the Augean stables in our lives is to cut back the number of cattle in the stables.
If a newly inaugurated President would simply write an executive order repealing all previous executive orders, that would help. If he would simultaneously announce that he was going to offer pardons to anybody prosecuted and convicted by an administrative law court of the federal government, that would help. I wrote a proposed inauguration address for the newly elected President Ron Paul to this effect in 2011. Sadly, he was not elected. The speech is here: https://www.garynorth.com/public/8877.cfm.
Starve the beast. Balance the budget. Cut the budget. End the FED. Then sit back and enjoy the ride.