Pundit’s Mailbag — Founding Fathers And Reformation
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 19, 2007
Our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — How Would Founding Fathers Feel About Today’s America? brought the response below from Joe McGuire.
We’ve been fortunate to have Joe’s input before where he manned the ramparts against tyranny when the Pundit suggested that every refrigerator sold should be required to have a built-in thermometer so as to allow consumers to easily determine the temperature. We suggested this because of our series on botulism and carrot juice, which raised the issue that consumers were being told to maintain set temperatures but weren’t given tools to do this easily.
Since Joe’s last letter, he has moved up or at least East and is working as Vice President of Business Development at Rosemont Farms, based in Boca Raton, Florida. This note responds to the Pundit’s response to a correspondent who felt that the Founding Fathers would be disappointed with America today, an idea the Pundit did not find very likely:
I don’t believe the problem exists with the ‘special interests’ per se. The problem exists with the ones who are on the receiving end of the special interests (especially legislative and executive). Power is a commodity like any other; it has limited supply. The Founding Fathers knew that it should be limited within the federal government, and that is exactly what the US Constitution does. It distributes the power (enumeration) in such a way that it is not abused. Also known as checks and balances.
There are all kinds of legislation that are passed every year that benefit the special interests at the cost of the people. Legislators spend money like there is no tomorrow because they have figured out a way to get themselves re-elected and even vote themselves raises.
But the sad fact is that they break the law most of the time because the Constitution does not give them the power to redistribute wealth (private property) the way they do. The Farm Bill is a wonderful example. The intent of the Founding Fathers was to have a very limited federal government, and the vast majority of the governing is to be done at the state level where the people have a greater opportunity to have influence (read the 10th Amendment).
Upon the signing of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was heard congratulating the group on the founding of this constitutional republic with the caveat, ‘if you can keep it.’ We need to have a reformation of sorts and hold our elected officials accountable to the law. It is pretty simple but seemingly far away. The power needs to be rebalanced.
— Joe McGuire
We appreciate Joe’s frank portrayal. He is, of course, correct in saying that “There are all kinds of legislation that are passed every year that benefit the special interests at the cost of the people.” This is wasteful and regrettable but not tyrannical.
Because we have a multitude of special interests in a shifting array of coalitions, today the farmers get their bit, tomorrow the senior citizens, next day it is the students, then the highway builders and on and on.
This happens because the nature of democratic politics is that it is not just shear numbers that matter but the intensity of interest that matters.
This is why every election you will see politicians travel to, say, grain-producing regions and solemnly swear to increase supports for wheat and corn.
Now one might think that promising to increase the cost of every American’s corn flakes and toast would be a bad political move. In fact, however, the phenomenon of concentrated benefits and diffused costs leads to another outcome entirely.
The small increase in the cost of corn flakes will hardly motivate anyone to oppose that candidate. But a small cost on 300 million people is a large benefit to a few corn farmers — more than enough to motivate them to not merely vote but raise money and campaign for our corn support loving politician.
So, alas, although more steadfast politicians could certainly help, politicians spend money because their constituents want the concentrated benefits that come from such expenditures.
As far as what the Founding Fathers envisioned, it was more of a mixed bag. Some, such as Hamilton, clearly favored a strong national government, building the infrastructure for an industrial society. Others, such as Jefferson, celebrated the yeoman farmer and the pastoral life.
Jefferson won our hearts, but Hamilton (and Madison) wrote our future.
As far as everyone breaking the law — and there are plenty of things that happen that we don’t think the Constitution allows — these are disputes over interpretation. Obviously the other branches of government haven’t agreed with our correspondent. Although he is free to continue to push for his interpretation, we think it confuses things to say that Congressmen are breaking the law when the whole point is that there are divergent interpretations of the law.
The debate over state vs. national power is one that reaches back to our founding as a nation. The problem today, however, is that it is unclear that people really have more “influence” in their state capitol than in D.C. After all, the Constitution was written in a day when transport was difficult and communication slow, so a more nearby geography combined with much smaller population to give people more influence in their own state.
People also felt themselves to be citizens of a state, yet today people commonly cross state boundaries and feel no particular ‘rootedness’ to their state of residence.
As far as reformations go — well, we bow before no one in our desire to push ahead and improve our system. Yet we live in a miracle of constitutional governance that has led to a society that is mostly free and mostly prosperous.
We can certainly do better and we will join Joe in striving for that. But a reformation is a bit much. After all if after this reformation we could wind up like any other country on earth — which would Joe choose?
Sometimes it is wise to look at how green the grass is all around you right now.