28 Mar

What we can learn from Thomas Jefferson and Star Trek… a recipe for limited government [Reader Post]

                                       

How many people marry the first person they ever kiss or date or even have sex with? Not that many. The average age an American loses their virginity is 17 while the average age they get married is 27. Nonetheless, despite a decade in the dating pool, experiencing everything from one night stands to years of living with someone, when people finally take the plunge, half of all marriages end up in divorce.

There are lots of things that one might take from that observation, but the thing that is most compelling is that despite their best efforts, people are not perfect. They make mistakes. After spending the first 10 years of their adult lives trying to get it right for what is arguably the most important decision of their lives, half the population still gets it wrong and asks for a “do over”. Despite all efforts to make a good decision, half the time we get it wrong. And that’s with everyone involved seeking a common goal!

So the question is: If, with everyone involved seeking to do what’s in their and their partner’s best interests, we get it wrong half the time, how often does government, with its myriad players involved, many promoting conflicting, even mutually exclusive positions, get things wrong? No doubt far more often that individuals earnestly seeking a lifetime of happiness.

Unfortunately with government, unlike marriage, rarely, even in the face of abject failure, does a law or regulation get thrown out. Once a law is on the books, they almost never come off regardless of their cost or efficacy. Of course if it were only a few laws there wouldn’t be much of a problem. It’s not a few. In terms of actual federal laws, today there are somewhere in excess of 20,000 on the books. That is nothing when compared with the regulations those laws have spawned.

The Code of Federal Regulations is the list of all of the regulations of the United States – which are based on the bills passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. Today the Code contains over 150,000 pages of regulations. And those regulations are growing fast. In 1970, 183 years after the Constitution was ratified, the Code contained 53,000 pages. Today, a mere 40 years later we’ve actually added 100,000 more. And the pace is actually increasing and becoming more onerous.

If these regulations had little impact on our lives it wouldn’t matter if there were millions of them. Unfortunately their impact is anything but little. Federal regulations alone (and there are lots more laws at the local level) cost Americans over $1 trillion per year, or approximately 7% of our GDP and more than we actually pay in income taxes. And those are just the direct impact costs. Imagine how many companies are never started, how many would be entrepreneurs settle for secure government jobs, or how many companies fail because of the phalanx of federal regulations? No doubt the number is huge.

This leviathan of government regulation is made all the more worse because it has spawned an army of millions of federal government employees and lobbyists, none of whom wants to put themselves out of work. The intractable problem of government growth and increasing regulation will not solve itself. It’s going to take brute Constitutional force.

A Constitutional Amendment should be passed that states that all federal laws have an implicit sunset provision of 10 years unless it passes each house of Congress by at least 60%. It would also stipulate that all federal regulations would sunset after 10 years, regardless of the margin of passage of the underlying law. The effect of this Amendment would be a greatly diminished the number of zombie like federal regulations that never die, regardless of their cost, efficacy or unintended consequences. Each sub 60% law would have to be re-authorized each decade.

The most obvious impact of this change would be that politicians and bureaucrats would no longer be able to spin yarns about milk and honey without any accountability. At the time of reconsideration, each sub 60% bill (or every regulation) would have a decade’s worth of hard data to analyze, making it far more difficult to hoodwink the public with rosy scenarios that have no basis in reality. The beauty of this proposal is that it would force legislators and regulators to defend a law’s actual results rather than opine on its promised virtues. Given that most government programs cost more than projected, rarely work as promised, and often have significant unintended consequences, a decade should be a long enough time to inflict any law or regulation on the country and her citizens.

This proposed Amendment would apply to all existing laws and regulations, giving each 10 years from the day of ratification before it expired. The result of this would be immediate and twofold: It would dramatically slow the growth of government and regulations while simultaneously beginning to make government more efficient. By forcing politicians and bureaucrats to focus on defending their existing laws and regulations (AKA power) it would immediately diminish their incentive to create new programs. At the same time, given that politicians and bureaucrats would have to argue against a law’s or a regulation’s actual consequences rather than it’s promised benefits, it would force them to focus their attention on producing demonstratively positive results rather than just spending more money or accumulating more power.

In the Omega Glory episode of Star Trek Captain Kirk and company come upon a planet where the inhabitants are speaking the garbled versions of the words of the preamble to the Constitution. The people don’t know the actual words or even what they mean but do so because that was what has survived through the generations. In a similar way, when laws and regulations (and the bureaucracy they spawn) calcify and become completely detached from the original goal for which they were established, they cease to be proper tools of government and instead become simply another instrument of government power and coercion. By putting in place a mechanism for objectively evaluating the success or failure of government actions in relation to the problems they were intended to address, this Amendment would both demand real accountability on the part of government as well as give citizens a reason to remain engaged in its workings.

I can think of no better mechanism for putting Thomas Jefferson’s words into action:

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

About Vince

The product of a military family, growing up in Naples, Italy and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and being stationed in Germany for two years while in the Army, Vince spent half of his first quarter century seeing the US from outside of its own borders. That perspective, along with a French wife and two decades as a struggling entrepreneur have only fueled an appreciation for freedom and the fundamental greatness of the gifts our forefathers left us.
This entry was posted in Congress, Constitution, Economy, Politics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 1:32 pm
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19 Responses to What we can learn from Thomas Jefferson and Star Trek… a recipe for limited government [Reader Post]

  1. Aqua says: 1

    Um, as a major league Trekkie, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it was not the Pledge of Allegiance, but the preamble to the Constitution. Otherwise, great post. I’m a big fan of Star Trek and Thomas Jefferson. Just want to point out one thing……..if Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would be voting for Ron Paul. They have (had) the same non-interventionist policies.

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  2. Curt says: 2

    @Aqua: I corrected it for Vince, thanks Aqua.

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  3. malize says: 3

    @Aqua:

    Would that be the same Jefferson who waged war against the Barbary Pirates and trashed the nations economy in a vain attempt to remain “neutral” in the Napoleonic Wars?

    I’m also sure that the Cherokee and Shawnee would not share your opinion of Jefferson’s non-interventionist policies.

    Basically, every time I see a Paulbot annex Jefferson to their cause posthumously — it annoys me.

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  4. Russell says: 4

    Anyone who had actually read some of Jefferson’s writings would be naturally suspicious of that quote. Jefferson didn’t write in aphorisms, but put meat near the bones of his thinking. So it’s no surprise that it is bogus:

    http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/when-governments-fear-people-there-libertyquotation

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  5. Aqua says: 5

    @malize:
    I’m not a Paulbot, but thanks for jumping to conclusions. I was for Rick Perry and voted for Newt in the Ga. Primary. Tripoli declared war on us after Jefferson refused to pay tribute.
    Not only did I support the war in Iraq, I believe it was one of the single greatest strategic moves in the war on terror. As much as I like Ron Paul’s monetary policies, I can’t bring myself to embrace his foreign policies. And even though I think Iraq was a good move, I believe Bosnia was a mistake, Libya was a mistake, and if we go into Syria, it would be a mistake. Iran…….I would turn the country into a parking lot.
    I do have libertarian leanings and I am a big fan of Jefferson. I don’t agree with everything Jefferson said, but if you would like to look further into his non-interventionism, please, feel free to Google Jefferson’s feelings on a standing army.

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  6. Vince says: 6

    @Aqua: Thanks!

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  7. Vince says: 7

    @Curt: Thanks Curt!

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  8. Vince says: 8

    @Russell: Hey Russell, thanks for the link. From it I find this “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” While the quote was slightly off (and therefore by definition not an actual quote), I must take exception to the characterization as “bogus”. Bogus certainly suggests something was fabricated with nefarious intent. This was far from that. Poor sourcing on my part, but certainly there was no intention to mislead readers.

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  9. Wm T Sherman says: 9

    Shatner is Canadian, and old, and does not have the background, so he’s out, but I would like to see a President that does a scenery-chewing ham-acted performance at every public appearance. That’s what this country needs.

    Truth – IS – beauty.

    Corbamite…. turns back the force of the weapon, destroying the attacker COMPLETELY.

    We’ve got to take that one in ten thousand chance!

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  10. malize says: 10

    @Aqua:

    well, thank you for assuming Jefferson would vote for Paul…you’ll excuse me if I assumed you were a Paulbot since appropriating Jefferson is something they seem prone to do without taking in the man’s body of practical work.

    But I’m afraid even ol’ pragmatic Tom Jeff would see how naive and short sighted Mr. Paul’s foreign policy statements are given the present geopolitical situation…and that’s when you allow for his misrepresenting US military presence worldwide and ignoring the overall purpose (and proven success) of forward power projection.

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  11. Russell says: 11

    Vince, that quote does indeed appear on that page. What does it say about that quote? That it is sourced to something Jefferson wrote? Or does it say this:

    We have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote, “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny,” or any of its listed variations.

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  12. Vince says: 12

    @Russell: My bad… with my old eyes I didn’t see the word Spurious in pink. I’ll have to add the qualifier “attributed to Jefferson, but likely not an actual quote” the next time I use the reference. Unless someone unearths an actual source between now and then… Thanks.

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  13. Aqua says: 13

    @malize:
    Oh, I still think Jefferson would vote for Ron Paul. Jefferson was a non-interventionist, but he was not an isolationist. If you put Jefferson’s philosophy up against the current GOP candidates, I’d be willing to be he would vote for Paul.

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  14. Jim S says: 14

    I think we need to look at the trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon” and call for a “General Order 24″ on DC.

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  15. malize says: 15

    @Aqua:

    Yet Paul is an isolationist. He and his followers hate to have that label applied to him, but when you boil through all the song and dance, the man’s foreign policy ideas are isolationist or (when he makes statements such as bombing someone back to the stone age who messes with US) totally not applicable to real life application.
    I’d trust Paul to run the economy and that’s about it, because his foreign policy would be more dangerous to us in the long run than even the current occupant’s foreign policy choices…and that is saying something.

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  16. malize says: 16

    @Jim S:

    You know, if we were to go “by the book” like Lt. Saavik…

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  17. Jim S says: 17

    @malize: Somehow, I doubt they have read that book in DC. They certainly don’t read the bills. ;-)

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  18. joetote says: 18

    Funny. This is something i wrote a few years ago and I’m pretty sure I actually used this analogy on this site somewhere along the way. Thomas Jefferson was so on the money as was Chief Joseph in the Star Trek Episode, although he didn’t realize it until Capt. Kirk recognized the WORDS! And what fabulous words they are, EVEN NOW! Great post Vince

    “And please consider this one more time (again, this is from a previous post of mine) It’s up to “WE THE PEOPLE” to start the revolution. That’s right folks! Revolution! Only we are the one country in the world that can do it the correct way, peacefully through the ballot box. It starts in local elections and works its way up. “WE THE PEOPLE”! Reminds me of a Star Trek episode (The Omega Glory) in which the Constitution played a huge role, , but it’s true. “WE THE PEOPLE”! These are easily the most powerful words and the greatest document ever written. Take back our country! “WE THE PEOPLE” can do that! We have to! Our very survival as a free country depends on it! We cannot let our forefathers down again!”

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  19. joetote
    hi,
    yes you wrote many goodies for the readers here and those lurking too, to be informed,
    I always enjoyed it and learned from it.
    here my comment is about what VINCE MENTIONED THAT THERE IS HOW MANY THOUSANDS OF PAGES OF REGULATIONS, AND WHAT CAME TO MY MIND, goes along your treasured words;
    WE THE PEOPLE****** SO MANY MORE STARS THAN I PUT THERE,
    and they in GOVERNMENT COMMITED FRAUD AGAINST THE PEOPLE AND THE PROOF IS
    THOSE THOUSANDS OF PAGES WHICH PASS BEFORE READING WHAT’S IN IT.
    HOW THE HELL CAN THE PEOPLE READ THOSE CONFUSING PAGES WHICH EVEN THE JUDGES DON’T CARE TO READ, WHERE IS THE RIGHT OF WE THE PEOPLE?
    THEY INFRINGED ON THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE, IT MEAN THEY ARE NOT FOR AMERICA, NOT FOR MAKING IT SO CLEAR THAT NOT ONLY LAWYERS BY THE HOW MANY IN GOVERNMENT HAVE TO SPLIT THE READING AMONG THEMSELVES, HOW THE HELL AGAIN CAN A FAMILY WITH UNIVESITY CHILDREN DECIDE TO GET TOGETHER INVITE THE NEIGHBOOR THEIR SONS AND DAUGHTERS, INVITE THE GRAND PARENTS VETERANS WHO KNOW BY HEART THE LAWS OF THE LAND, AND THAT CLOSE CIRCLE DECIDE TO READ THOSE PAPERS, HOW MUCH TIME WOULD IT TAKE, HOW MUCH FOCUS FOR ALL WOULD IT TAKE TO DISCUSS THE MEANING OF THE FIRST FEW PAGES,
    THEY ARE ; WE THE PEOPLE CONCENTRATED IN THAT ONLY CIRCLE, AND MULTIPLY THE CIRCLES
    AND DISCUSSIONS AMONG MORE CIRCLE.
    THIS IS WHERE THE PROOF OF THE GOVERNMENT FRAUDE, NOBODY IN ALL THE CIRCLE WOULD COME TO ONE EXPLANATION, MEANING IT WAS DONE ON PURPOUSE SO NOBODY CAN UNDRERSTAND AND THIS ALONE IS VERY WRONG DONE TO AMERICANS, AND MUST BE CHALLENGED BY WE THE PEOPLE FOR THEM TO DISCARD ELIMINATE THAT ININTELLIGIBLE LANGUAGE OF THEIR OWN LAWERS, TO PREVENT WE THE PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THE THOUSANDS OF LAWS THEY SIGN JUST IN THESE LAST YEARS OF POWER BY THE PEN ONLY
    BUT NOT BY THE PEOPLE, and the judges should trash the one they are debating now,
    because of what was done to WE THE PEOPLE , THE JUDGE REPRESENT BEFORE ANYONE IN GOVERNMENT

    ReplyReply

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