This article was written in November 2007, but it’s still relevant today!
What is “The General Welfare?”
It’s always a pleasure to read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Those documents, hammered together to “form a more perfect Union”, launched an exercise in democracy and free enterprise that remains the envy and wonder of the world even today.
The Founders limited the responsibilities and prerogatives assigned to the Federal government, concerned that it could expand and constrain the freedom and rights of the people.
The Constitution states in Article 1, Section 8. “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the Unites States.”
The Founders established checks and balances to prevent small but powerful groups from leveraging the power of the government to serve their interest to the detriment of the rest of the citizens.
Over the years, greater portions of the economy, our freedoms and our finances have fallen under the control of government, and more are being proposed. No task is too large (Ending Poverty) or too small (seat belts) for government to manage on our behalf.
What we should ask is why the government needs to do these things, as opposed to private citizens or enterprises, or leaving them undone. Why should we believe the government would do a better job than private citizens or enterprises, working through the free market?
Are these government programs really necessary to provide for our “general Welfare”?
Ethanol: After government mandated adding ethanol to gasoline, demand for corn rose and has driven up the cost of food. Ethanol takes as much energy to make as it provides when burned. Exactly who benefits from a more expensive, less energy efficient alternative fuel?
Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Drug companies and venture capitalists have the ability (and are) funding such research. Why does government need to?
Passenger Trains (Amtrak): Interstate highways and air travel, both government supported, virtually eliminated inter-city passenger trains. Why does government provide train service?
Farm Subsidies: Payments for not planting crops, or to plant different crops, or to buy “surplus crops” and take them off the market, drive up the price of food for all. Who exactly benefits from this?
The problem seems to be the triumph of financial interests over frugality, integrity and common sense.
Government growth is fueled by special interests seeking advantage (financial or competitive) for themselves (or those they “speak for”) by having their costs or benefits paid by government (the taxpayers, that is). Politicians focused on reelection (power, money, prestige) are beholden to special interests who support campaigns and to voters who expect more government money in their districts.
Since politicians and interest groups understand that taxpayers don’t like to pay taxes, let alone more taxes, they have to be clever in pitching their programs.
They’ll say a program (Nationalized Health Care) is beneficial and necessary for the “general Welfare” of the citizens at large, or identify a specific interest group in great need. You shouldn’t mind pitching in just a little more for such a worthy cause.
They’ll say that some other group (business, corporations, or the rich) will pay the cost, hoping we’re gullible and won’t recognize that those costs will show up in the cost of the products we buy.
These schemes wouldn’t work unless the public allowed it. We are enabling this process if we fail to watch over our representatives, or hope we’ll get more value back than we put in through tax payments, or forget that there is no “free lunch”.
Nobody else worked harder for your money than you did.
Nobody else will spend it more wisely than you will.
Nobody else will be as responsible in managing your risks.
Nobody else has a right to use your money to solve his or her problem.
If you believe the above, make sure your representatives know you want spending controlled, and watch how they spend your money. Don’t vote for politicians or parties that want to expand government.
If not, consider a new legislative initiative I began developing after my car turned 10 years old.
The Federal “Auto Pride Act” will provide a free new car every four years, eliminating the embarrassment experienced by owners of older cars. In addition to the health benefits associated with a positive mental attitude, the Act would boost employment in automobile manufacturing.
Farfetched? Doesn’t meet your definition of providing for the “general Welfare”?
Perhaps, but the UAW, the Big Three and Senators and Congressmen from Michigan would support it.
Do you think the public would support a program that gives them a new car?
The only reason it might fail is that the free cars can’t be made available to “the children”.
Ray F. Chadwick, November 5, 2007