by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Many parts of government have little accountability and operate from motives that go beyond their legal framework and the public purpose.
Unless there is a continuous new process of restraint the government will expand to undertake all programs it considers useful–with no regard for cost or compliance with the principle of limited federal government. Once established, these programs have strong defenders among those who have prospered from them, making downsizing hard. The battle is almost never about the taxpayer.
This has brought us to a constitutional crisis. The 16th Amendment gave the federal government unlimited new power to borrow against future incomes, even for current spending. To make government work for the people requires a vigilant enforcement of the constitutional limits on federal activities, including the Tenth Amendment’s explicit restraint. This isn’t being enforced. The invention of “mandatory appropriations” and entitlements allows government to grow on autopilot without political accountability or votes. And the Federal Reserve, operating outside the three branches of government, has asserted unlimited power to borrow, purchase assets, hire and make expenditures through its new consumer protection agency.
One of the practical difficulties in restraining government is its instinct for self-preservation, the tendency to accentuate the problems that arise from any limits. The people’s goal is to restrain government in the most efficient way, whereas the government’s tendency is often the opposite, as the sequester showed–cutting critical services, such as fuel for aircraft carriers or the number of air traffic controllers on routes frequented by politicians and their fundraisers.