Sunday, May 13, 2012

How Do You Like Your Government?

I have come to the conclusion that the war for political control is often waged in the middle and the battleground is the role of government.  For me, it comes down to two critical arguments:

1)      Whom do I trust least on regulating business: The private sector or the government?
2)      Are there times when I want an active government or a passive government?

With respect to the first question, I have no doubt that government can make matters worse when it over-regulates.  I also know that unintended consequences can also arise from the best of intentions.  And further I accept the sad fact that the private corporatist sector has far more influence than you and I.  That being sad, the best quote I have ever read about deregulation comes from the man who in 1978 led airline deregulation under President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Alfred E. Khan “I believe in deregulation where regulation is unnecessary, inefficient, and injurious to consumers.”  By applying that axiom it will be difficult for any free market zealot to convince me that we should allow the financial, energy, utility, food, medical device, and pharmaceutical industries, to name just a few, to regulate themselves.  Do we not have enough evidence from financial market meltdowns, oil spills, unsafe drugs, tainted foods, etc. to say the kids can’t look after themselves?  Of course, a good start would be to properly enforce the regulations that are on the books today and to force Congress to write their own laws and truly get special interests out of the picture.

As for the second question, we are fortunate to have a stable democratically elected Republic that is capable of righting wrongs and bringing its citizens and our great society forward.  And while many social conservatives, libertarians, and anti-government zealots love to cry about government waste, I challenge any of them to say we would be better off without this short list of laws an active federal government.

·         Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906

·         Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914

·         The Banking Act of 1933 (aka Glass Steagall)

·         The Social Security Act 1935

·         The National Labor Relations Act 1935

·         Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938

·         The Fair Labor Standards Act 1938

·         Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (aka GI Bill)

·         Small Business Act of 1953

·         National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956

·         The Clean Air Act of 1963

·         Civil Rights Act of 1964

·         The Social Security Amendments of 1965 that created Medicare and Medicaid

·         Air Quality Act of 1967

·         Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969

·         The Clean Air Act Extension of 1970

·         Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

·         The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972

·         The Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972

·         The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974

·         Clean Water Act of 1977

·         Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978

But government can also overreach and when it does it is usually related to suppression of the 1st Amendment and an overactive socially conservative mindset.  The short list below covers instances when the government fought to silence opposition by making it unlawful to speak out, protest, or publish anything remotely attacking or condemning the government’s deeds.  Thankfully the creation of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 has countered previous tyrannical laws.  As for the social angle, anytime government has tried to impose a social restriction, usually at the behest of religious organizations,  it has been at the expense of individual freedom. Today, I think we can all laugh at the thought that birth control pamphlets in 1912 were considered pornographic and a clear violation of the Comstock Act.

·         The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

·         Comstock Act of 1873

·         The Mann Act of 1910

·         The Immigration Act of 1918

·         The Sedition Act of 1918

·         The National Prohibition Act of 1919

·         Defense of Marriage Act of 1996

·         Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo of 2005

Well there you have it, yes I want an active government that regulates wisely because businesses cannot be trusted, but I don’t want a government encroaching on my individual liberty that is guaranteed by the Constitution. 

For the record, I support the Affordable Care Act.  While some will argue that the individual mandate encroaches on the liberty I just spoke of, I also believe that healthcare is something we are all part of, and thus you cannot exclude yourself.  Some may call that hypocritical, but they’re probably the same people who would have been against the Social Security Act and the GI Bill. 

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