Executive Orders and the End of Liberty

On August 1, 2023, it became “illegal” to manufacture or sell incandescent light bulbs anywhere in the United States, and consumers are left with no choice but to purchase LED bulbs. Incandescent bulbs were a previously legal product about which no public outcry had arisen.  No law was actually passed anywhere. The decision was made solely by the executive branch of the federal government. Congress did not vote.  There was no consensus for any such thing. A staple consumer item has disappeared from store shelves everywhere.

As usual, the critics of this action have missed the point.  They accuse the administration of going “too far.” They debate the relative merits of incandescent versus LED bulbs, but they never mention the lack of any legislative action.  Outlawing a product is a drastic step that should require a national consensus and a Congressional majority. The government has not been able to outlaw tobacco products despite relentless public campaigns. Cigarettes remain legal, while incandescent light bulbs are now considered contraband.

It does not matter which kind of bulb is better. By arguing such things, we acknowledge the state’s power to control our consumer goods without restraint. It matters only that the executive branch now bans well established staple items regardless of the other two branches of government.

Our system of checks and balances was the product of millennia of trial and error by previous failed governments and civilizations. Those civilizations paid in blood for their lack of constitutional limitations.  Our founders learned from their failures and built on such progress as those civilizations had made over the centuries. Our founders created separate but equal branches of government that would hold each other in check. Our constitution was born of an understanding of history, philosophy, and morality. 

In contrast to the original carefully constructed system of checks and balances, today’s remnant of that system reminds one of Ayn Rand’s primitive civilization in Anthem (1938). The tribal elders of Anthem recoiled in fear when an inventor brought a crude light bulb to them. Panic-stricken, they told the inventor they would destroy it, thus forcing the inventor to flee with his light bulb into the woods.  A state without checks and balances will inevitably descend into tribalism and chaos. Basic items will be banned for no reason while humanity is left at the mercy of nature.

The light bulb ban is not the only example of government excess by mere decree.  Electric cars are slowly being imposed on us with no legislation and no general consensus.  Pandemic lockdowns were imposed despite legislative and public opposition.

A new example has surfaced this month in Boston, where the mayor has unilaterally banned new construction on municipal buildings that would use fossil fuels.  This ban was accomplished through an executive order instead of through City Council. The mayor’s plan is ultimately to extend this ban to all residential construction in the city, although it is unclear if such extension will also be accomplished through mere executive order. The ban might be only symbolic at this point, as it is unclear whether new municipal buildings are even contemplated in Boston. It is also unclear whether such new buildings would use electricity generated from coal fired power plants. Such generation might be ignored the way electric car owners now ignore the source of power in their cars.

The critics miss the point in the Boston case also.  They focus on “costs” and how this will make development more difficult. Few voices focus on the big step Boston has taken toward tyranny. When any government executive moves toward such a complete change in the lives of the general public without legislative or popular consensus, “cost” becomes a lesser concern than our basic liberties. The Constitution was not adopted in order to save on “costs.”

“Conservatives” must get used to the idea that we now argue about more than mere “costs” or the most efficient ways to build real estate. We are fighting for the liberties with which we were born.  The issue is no less than tyranny. It is no coincidence that the same mayor (Michelle Wu) has been under fire for maintaining an “enemies list.” Those that would change our lives through executive order apparently have a much larger “enemies list” than the one at issue in Wu’s court battles.

Wu advocates a “green new deal” for Boston and beyond. The original program with that name would have required every building in the U.S. to be torn down or completely renovated in the name of fighting “climate change.” It should be no surprise that the ideological successors to Pol Pot and Reverend Jim Jones would pursue a policy that would displace the entire population.  The most brutal of dictators have relied on mass relocation of their people for various reasons. As in the case of Pol Pot and Jones, those policies ended very badly. There is no way to remove/rebuild every building in the U.S. without displacing each person that lives and works in those buildings.

We feel safe that no such policy will ever be enacted because it is so extreme. But we must remember that the idea of a national consensus is now quaint and poses no obstacle to government initiatives. Executives now act on their own without a legislative mandate. In fact, Congress is now powerless to stop the bureaucracy from doing anything. Extremism is no obstacle to government policy.

It is unlikely that the left will ever realize its dream of complete replacement of every building in the U.S., but only because the government will be restrained by its own chaos. Attempting to displace the population (or any portion thereof) would cripple the government(s) long before such policy got very far. Even the government is subject to the laws of economics — especially if China’s troubles will render them unable to fund the bottomless pit that U.S. policies have become. At some point, the worst of the Green New Deal policies would finally bankrupt our government so that “mostly peaceful” rioters might have to finish the job.

The Wu administration appears to be unconcerned with the lack of a general consensus, as its press release justifies its initiative with lip service to “advancing racial and economic justice.”  There is no explanation of how mass dislocation has anything to do with race. But invoking race has become a shortcut for every extreme policy. Now that the United States has become an entirely administrative state with no legislative checks, the administrators can simply repeat that line with every new extreme initiative. All they need is a catchy melody and they can create a song with that title. “Racial justice” will be the funeral dirge for our formerly limited government and our civilization.

Image: Free image, Pixabay license, no attribution required.

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