All elected officials should be required to read, memorize and abide by Article I, Section VIII of the United States Constitution. Abuse of the powers enumerated in this clause has been the cause of more problems than can be identified by any one person. The most devastating problem this abuse has created is that it has created a culture of dependency and entitlement in many citizens that would have horrified all of the founders.
Whatever happened to what Leonard Read called, “The Essence of Americanism”? In short, Read appreciated, as many liberty loving Americans once did, that the state is not the endower of man’s rights, and therefore the state is not sovereign. The essence of Americanism is, in short, a belief in a limited government, where if an individual has a right to her life, then she has a right to sustain that life – by benefiting fully from the fruits of her own labor. When the founders crafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights there wasn’t a single person who turned to the government for security, welfare or prosperity and that’s because government had no power to take from some and give to others. And therefore people turned to an even more powerful entity for help – themselves. What has caused many Americans to abandon this discipline? What is causing people to yearn for an increase in the welfare state? Has our enormous material prosperity allowed Americans to forget what factors have contributed to this success?
Note, that nowhere in this part of the Constitution (speaking of the powers of Congress) does it say that Congress is to set up and run businesses (aside from the lamentable permission to run a postal system); nowhere does it say that Congress can subsidize businesses; nowhere does it say that Congress can build schools, etc.Now, I have not looked at the KY constitution, but I do not believe many additional powers would be enumerated there either (HT to the student that directed me to section 177 which states that, “The credit of the Commonwealth shall not be given, pledged or loaned to any individual, company, corporation or association, municipality, or political subdivision of the State; nor shall the Commonwealth become an owner or stockholder in, nor make donation to, any company, association or corporation; nor shall the Commonwealth construct a railroad or other highway.” The student rightly points out that “in general practice over the course of years this section has been forgotten to a certain extent .” And the reason being is that someone has overstretched the meaning of “public purpose” from section 156b of the same document which says that, ” cities may exercise any power and perform any function within their boundaries that is in furtherance of a public purpose of a city…” )
Why am I writing on this? Because I simply can’t sit back and read any more letters to the editor proclaiming that “it’s up to the government to make sure that … insert demand here.” A recent letter to the editor of my local paper has spawned my following terse reply:
A writer indicated Wednesday that Danville needs more than just restaurants and challenged the leaders of Danville to “wake up and smell the roses” and do something about it.
First, there is no Danville per se – rather there are thousands of individuals in Danville seeking work, recreation, home lives, church lives, etc. What each of these individuals need is different from the next, so it is not clear exactly who exactly this ” Danville ” is and what exactly she needs.
Second, government officials neither have the ability nor the responsibility to create new businesses (and therefore jobs). Individual entrepreneurs, if they see an opportunity, are free to open up any business they wish (with some exceptions in Danville of course). If a mini-golf would be profitable, then I challenge a citizen of Danville to open one. If a mall would be profitable, I once again challenge a citizen (or group of citizens) to build one. I, myself, do not believe these would make money in Danville and have therefore chosen not to risk my personal savings on these endeavors. If I see something that the citizens of Danville really want, I would make every effort to start a business to satisfy those wants.
It is all too common for citizens to rely on governments to provide for the things we want. It’s not possible for government officials, even in a town as small as Danville, to have all of the requisite information and incentives to provide for the things the citizens of Danville want. To believe otherwise and to allow governments to do so would put us all one step further along the road to serfdom. Which areas of our commercial lives provide us with the least satisfaction? Government services, the post office, public housing, etc. Which areas provide us with the most satisfaction? UPS, Apple iPods, Walmart, Applebees, cellphone services, etc. The difference? We are most satisfied with the goods and services that are provided by entrepreneurs that face consequences from treating customers poorly and reap rewards from treating them well.
There is, of course, an important role our city officials can play. They can make it easier for people to start a business: by making sure zoning requirements promote the starting of business instead of stifling it: by better publicizing the procedures one would need to go through to start a business; by working with the state and federal governments to keep taxes low and to keep intrusive regulation to a minimum; and by not playing favorites by unfairly using tax dollars to subsidize some businesses and not others.