Good Ideas Grow Leviathan

Conservative voters wonder how the politicians they elect and send to Washington, D.C. invariably go native. These politicians retain the conservative talk but quickly forget the walk. Reasons given for the conversion of conservatives into big government supporters include desire for social acceptance, aversion to incessant criticism from the government media complex, pleasure in the perks of office, increased isolation over time from problems experienced in flyover country, ignorance of the impact of the unintended consequences from laws, and acclimation to the Beltway echo chamber. Perhaps the biggest reason that conservatives go native is they think the laws they have in mind are based on good ideas and the best of intentions. No one can doubt this. But consider there are trillions of good ideas and they are all waiting to be crafted into legislation.

Christians subscribe to a worldview that this is a fallen world and that heaven beckons in the next life. Progressives are too impatient for this sequence and don't endorse the concept of constraints, so they press forward to create heaven on earth now. Implementation is built legislatively by one good idea on top of another. Aside from faith and belief, conservatives oppose progressive initiatives because progressivism knows no limits. Antoine de Saint-Exupery captured conservative fears with commentary on the utopian quest. "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." It will take a very large number of good ideas to achieve perfection. This means a lot of laws must be passed and a lot of liberty and property taken away.

A few days before Christmas, I was out of town visiting family. UPS had tried to deliver a package but no one was home. A note instructed the package must be picked up at the UPS package depot by the addressee possessing proper photo identification. It turned out the package was a box of wine. It was a federal law that mandated UPS verify the package went only to whom it was addressed and that that person was of majority age. It is easy to speculate that this law was passed in response to untended packages of wine left on doorsteps inviting underage delinquency. The motivation for passing this law was based on the good idea of putting safeguards in place to protect the children. Our march to a risk-free world may be long, but surely it is a worthy venture.

Another motivation for pushing legislation based on good ideas is the imperative of the politician to be perceived by the voters as "doing something." Compassion coupled with the drive to "do something" must irresistibly allure politicians to the legislative drafting table. For example, by overwhelming margins, on 4 January, Congress passed a law providing $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims from superstorm Sandy. This law is obviously a good idea. Who would be heartless enough to impede its passage? There should not even be mention that the United States has been bankrupted by its two major parties, that the money must either be borrowed from the Chinese or printed by Ben Bernanke, that the moral basis for ostensibly confiscating property from taxpayers in all other regions to be transferred to a specific region is as bankrupt as our country's fiscal policies, and the application of economics devoid of politics would cause people to choose not to live in the high risk seaboard and expect to be financially rescued when the risk becomes reality. Besides, if $9.7 billion is a good idea, isn't a follow-on law providing $50 billion an even better idea?

It is preposterous to think that any law ever passed wasn't based on a good idea. There are too many checks and balances for that. After all, the House and the Senate must both have passed the prospective law (actually a bill at this stage) after reconciliation of differences between these two chambers. It is possible the bill even survived a filibuster attempt in the Senate. Then the bill was signed into law by the president. If he had objected, the law must have won two-thirds majority of those present in both chambers of Congress to override the president's veto. If a legal challenge is subsequently mounted, courts weigh in with endorsements of laws they think are good ideas. The courts may even make legislative extensions incorporating good ideas of their own. Finally, the government media complex will certify that almost all laws are based on good ideas and the best of intentions.

One of the biggest threats to liberty is the deluge of laws based on good ideas and the best of intentions. The size of Leviathan ratchets up with each law passed. Conservatives need to exercise influence on their caucus, persuading them to slow down, look beyond the motivation and surface appeal of the bill, and scrutinize the details carefully. Republicans promised the public that they would have at least three days to study bills before the House voted. However, the Republican leadership has reneged on this repeatedly. Exposure to the public for a short season would likely provide feedback to congressmen resulting in deterring or cleaning up many bills. The ideal would be the passage of only those laws that support the guiding principles for smaller government including repealing legislation, rescinding regulations, eliminating programs, and shutting down agencies. Active support for the principle of subsidiarity means that, in many if not most cases, conservatives in Washington should push for their states and locales to address legislation instead. Finally, voters need to be wary of candidates posing as conservatives who think more laws are better than fewer laws, especially since theirs will be based on good ideas.