Miranda – With the track changes in your last note, it was getting a little unwieldy, so starting a new thread. For much of our fundamental disagreement – both of individual v. collective, liberty v. government authority – I actually think George Will’s column from this week captures it precisely. In particular, the following two statements from his piece:
The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected.
The argument is between conservatives who say U.S. politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy thesource of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty preexists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when “instituted” to “secure” natural rights.
It’s disheartening that you don’t believe fully in natural rights. That essentially says that individuals really have no meaning without the paternalistic hand of government/the majority to tell us what we can/cannot do. As Will argues in his piece, there are rights that existed before the creation of government. Government exists not to give rights; it exists to protect the ones that we are already provided (and please spare me the tangent on slavery, women not being able to vote, etc. etc. – the Founders weren’t the best at living out the ideals they set).
With each of your emails, I’m constantly drawn back to my earliest point – that a smaller government confined to its original constitutional bounds actually best serves both the individual and the society. Your comment “How do you allow for all individuals to pursue the improvement of civil society (or their own situation) when it is patently clear that law benefits some and significantly harms others?” is a perfect illustration of this. If you have fewer regulations, fewer opportunities for the strong to leverage government power for their own benefit, then the individual/small business/local association/etc. has more space to flourish – which will benefit both those individuals and society. The problem for many on my side is that our government (at all levels) has gotten so large and so pervasive that the average individual cannot perceive a time where government does not intrude on their day-to-day lives as individuals. So for most, my arguments about individual liberty are an utter abstraction.
I return to another argument – I’d be much more supportive of your thesis if it actually worked. It doesn’t though, while driving the nation to bankruptcy simultaneously. Inequality has not gone down despite an increased social safety net that spends more money every year. Life expectancy and health outcomes have essentially been flat (or even declining for the poor) despite healthcare expenditures rising double or triple the rate of inflation. Poverty has risen markedly in the past 10 years (chalk up some to the Great Recession, some to terrible government policy). Yet – today’s liberals pursue more of the same.
As an aside – this is hogwash: I do think that political rights, in the absence of some social and economic rights are rendered somewhat meaningless as rights as exercise is impossible. Hence also my belief that our current primary goal must by deciding what we think that baseline must be, and the most efficient means to make sure the majority of people within society are at that minimum. Perhaps the most socialistic/communistic statement you’ve made so far. And it makes the fundamental error of combining negative rights and positive rights. Our Constitution protects the former, and doesn’t say a peep about the latter. Again, while an abstraction, if government were smaller and played less a role in our day to day lives, you’d find that the exercise of those negative rights will lead to improved social and economic outcomes.
The last thing – the centralization that you refer to is utterly antithetical to our constitutional construction. Federalism, particularly the 10th amendment, was conceived as a ‘fourth branch’ if you will. Liberals (and many conservatives) forget that the constitution gave powers to the government that otherwise would have resided with individuals and states. Our regulatory and bureaucratic state fundamentally destroys one of the (many) protections of liberty in the constitution. The federal government was constructed as the least powerful governmental entity – not the most. If there was one clause in the Constitution I would change today, it would be rewrite of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper clause. SCOTUS has misinterpreted those so badly.
To the Hobby Lobby case specifically, I wanted to address this comment of yours: you would prefer that employees leave gainful employment and look elsewhere for jobs that meet the same criteria but also have specific clauses within insurance provisions that meet their personal ideological and medical needs? In short, yes. That’s the beauty of the free market and the free movement of labor. There are literally hundreds of businesses that sell arts and crafts supplies like Hobby Lobby. I’m sure many of those businesses provide birth control as part of their insurance plans. If I’m a potential employee looking for a job in that industry, perhaps that’s an important factor to me. Maybe it isn’t. If it is, I won’t interview with Hobby Lobby. And over time, if it’s an important enough factor for enough potential employees, Hobby Lobby will find that it may need to change the policy, or cut back on its growth plans. But here’s the point – all of that can be done without any government interference. There is zero need for government to be involved. Let the labor market work. And to your point about ‘religion against the economic health of the state’ – that’s cut-and-dry – the constitution protects the former and says nothing about the latter. Point for religion.
Ultimately, your view on the size, scope, and sphere of government action simply doesn’t comport with the Constitution. If Democrats want to amend the Constitution, great – let’s have that debate. But let’s not try to skirt around it with more and more regulation that doesn’t fit at all with how our country was founded – on the individual, on natural rights, with government there to protect those rights – not to create new-fangled ones because we can’t imagine an individual doing something ‘the majority’ doesn’t like.
Happy Easter (am I allowed to say that?)