Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Friday, April 29, 2005


It turns out I'm a moderate.

Well, maybe not. If I understand correctly, I disagree with parts of number 7. Let's examine:

"Social security is just plain stupid."

Agreed. It's a tax on stupidity. If you can't reserve a portion of your own income and invest it better than the government can, you rely on a government safety net to protect you from your own stupidity. But as there is no social value in protecting people from the consequences of their mistakes, it follows that social security is just plain stupid.

"Moderates believe that the Federal Government should stick with the only thing at which they are good. Providing for our country's defense."

Here's where I start to disagree. True, our federal government provides for our defense in a way that could not be accomplished by individual states. If 49 states agree to go to war, the fiftieth state has no incentive to also go to war, because they can reap the benefits while incurring none of the costs. Only with supra-state control over this issue can war be conducted effectively. And please note that I agree completely with this concluding sentence:

"Our military should kill people and break things, not deliver food and supplies to other countries, they are not pack mules, they are warriors."

But that is not to say war is the only thing federal government is good at doing. Federal intervention is necessary any time the federal government can achieve something more efficiently than the states (i.e. not very freakin' often).

The Constitution gives Congress power to tax and spend for "the general welfare of the United States." If you stop reading after the word "welfare" you can use this clause to justify basically any federal spending program you could possibly want, up to and including HillaryCare, but the sentence doesn't end there. "...of the United States" is a technical phrase, meaning "federal." Any expenditure that benefits the United States as a whole, rather than individual states (or worse yet, private entities) violates this clause, in my opinion. But building an embassy in Poland is for the general welfare of the United States. Launching spy and communications satellites is for the general welfare. Funding the FBI is for the general welfare of the United States.

And there is another important aspect of federalism specifically spelled out in the Constitution. While my extremely purist version of federalism above may have accurately described the situation at the time of ratification, the Fourteenth Amendment dramatically alters the relationship between the federal and state governments. Section 5 of that Amendment grants Congress power to enforce the provisions of this article - i.e. by preventing states from violating Equal Protection and Due Process rights. And that was very necessary at the time of ratification, because if we left Civil Rights up to the states in 1880, no black person could have hoped to prevail in court, get fair local legislation, or enjoy impartial protection from the state's executive branches.

Again, this falls into my principle of only letting the federal government do what it can do more effectively than the states. If Alabama in 1930 couldn't effectively guarantee Equal Protection to all of its citizens, it was necessary for the federal government to step in and change that. But the principle has two corrollary points - the feds should never go any further than necessary to vindicate individual rights, and they should bow out when their role has been fulfilled. Neither, of course, is likely to happen.