Grassroots Commentary

The Role of Federal Government

John Pickerill · Oct. 12, 2011

When 55 men met in Philadelphia in 1787 to write our U.S. Constitution, their key concern was how to preserve the sovereignty of each of their own states but at the same time improve the effectiveness of a federal government compared to The Articles of Confederation. Each state was very leery of a large federal government because history had shown again and again that it tended to grow more powerful and tyrannical over time. Therefore, to ensure the preservation of liberty, the U.S. Constitution would only grant this new federal government with a small list of specific governmental powers, and that all other powers would be reserved to the individual States.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition. … The States can best govern our home concerns and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore … never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold at market.”

If you thumb through a copy of the Constitution the first thing you will notice is it isn’t very long. The second thing you will notice is how few powers it grants the federal government (borrow money, regulate commerce with foreign nations and between States, immigration, bankruptcy law, coin money, post offices, patents, punish piracy on the high seas, declare war, raise an army, maintain a navy). And it was only allowed to collect taxes for executing these few powers.

Over the last 100 years we have seen this principle of limited federal government undermined significantly. In 1913, we legalized counterfeiting of our dollar when the Federal Reserve System was created. Since then the resulting inflation from printing money caused our dollar to lose 95% of its original value. In the 1930’s we transferred our pensions to Washington in the form of Social Security. In the 1960’s we transferred our healthcare insurance to Washington in the form of Medicare. Sadly, today’s retirees are now dependent upon these federal programs to merely get by from day to day. Our younger generations are forced to pay into these programs even though Medicare and Social Security benefits will only buy a fraction of what they do today. The ever increasing inflation due to our Federal Reserve’s money-printing practically guarantees that. We also transferred our moral obligation to the poor and less fortunate to Washington in the form of Medicaid, Unemployment Benefits, Food Stamps, and endless other welfare programs. Now instead of helping each other directly at the community level, we just assume Washington will take care of it.

I can perhaps sympathize with liberals that it is not fair or moral for those who paid into Social Security to be deprived of their benefits, especially the most vulnerable of our society. And when conservatives remind them that the U.S. has actually defaulted on its obligations before, they may be correct when they respond, “…why in the world would we ever want to default again.” Indeed. To put their collective mind at ease they should be delighted to hear that our former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, recently stated, “There is no chance of the U.S. defaulting on its bonds, not when our government can borrow dollars and print new dollars to meet any future obligations.” So rest assured, everyone will continue to receive his or her Social Security check. The only problem is that the more money the government prints, the more inflation it causes. That Social Security check will continue to buy less and less as the dollar continues to lose value. What good will that check do when it no longer can pay the rent or buy even a few groceries or a gallon of gas? Isn’t that the same as a default? Isn’t our federal government supposed to protect the value of our dollar?

I believe liberals are on the right track when they focus on moral obligation to our fellow citizen in time of need. However, I disagree that we need the federal government as a tool to carry out that moral obligation. It is not charity to use the government to rob money from one man to give it to another man. Robin Hood may have had good intentions, but he was still a thief. True charity is the free-will giving of your time, talent, and treasure to help those around you in need. And that charity will be greatly needed as our current economic situation continues to degrade.

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