The objectives of the book are:
- Restore the Constitution to its critical role as our key founding document
- Reverse the changes in our government that have been justified by the interpretation of the Constitution as a “living document”.
There are 10 chapters arranged as follows:
Chapter 1 – reviews forms of government and explains why our founding documents created a government structure that no other form of government has equaled
Chapter 2 – covers the Declaration of Independence and how our government has departed from the form and principles outlined in our founding documents
Chapter 3 – discusses religion and the morality it provides, the importance of morality to a successful society, and natural rights and why the primary purpose of government should be protecting these natural rights
Chapter 4 – outlines the extent to which the principles of limited government created by the founders are still followed today
Chapter 5 – the essential nature of liberty and how it differs from the concept of freedom Chapter 6 – the historical development and importance of the rule of law
Chapter 7 – the critical role of national defense and why it’s a primary responsibility of government
Chapter 8 – the key role played by education
Chapter 9 – the rationale for, and importance of, free enterprise and free trade and why free enterprise far exceeds any other economic arrangement in fostering economic growth, prosperity, and liberty
Chapter 10 – what we can do now
The Role Of Government
Laws are fundamental to the concept of society, and the principal differences among all societies are in the laws by which they function. By the 18th century, concepts of individual rights and laws to protect them were being developed. David Hume wrote A Treatise Of Human Nature in 1739, and John Locke in his Second Treatise On Government said that all men are endowed by a supreme being with natural rights which include life, liberty, and property and that governments are instituted for the purpose of protecting and advancing those rights.
English government and the Scottish Enlightenment produced great advances in the concepts of appropriate government, and the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution perfected them by constructing a government with the appropriate checks and balances and limited and specifically enumerated powers for the federal government. No other form of government has ever equaled it, because its philosophical framework is the best ever put into practice.
We have a tripartite government, separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, and free elections of the president and our representatives. The greatest danger to our form of government is failure to understand the principles of the Constitution and how important they are and the attack on it through the judicial process by progressives who favor the theory of the so-called living Constitution, i.e., it is appropriate to subject the Constitution to imaginative judicial interpretation which is consistent with current conditions and mores. Progressives believe the rights an individual possesses are given him by the society of which he is a part and that social expediency rather than natural right should determine the sphere of individual freedom of action. This is an inversion of the principles of the American founding which are based on the philosophy that man’s natural rights are from God.
The system of government designed by the founders has allowed this country to become the most successful in the world and provide a beacon for millions to understand the opportunity which our system of government provides.
The founders outlined the functions and responsibilities of the three parts of government so that there would be no overlap and each would have checks and balances on the others. Today, the judiciary has begun to create policy instead of just determining the constitutionality of laws. Policymaking by the judiciary was prohibited by the founders.
When has the federal government ever actually operated to a high level of performance and efficiency on any major activity? Governments are good at operating only a very few things, like the military, and its efforts to bring more of the economy under government control are misguided.
The Constitution created a separation of powers between the federal government and the states, with a specified list of powers given to the federal government and all others to the states. The government has in the past seven or eight decades violated this more and more frequently, particularly by expanding the Commerce Clause to cover almost everything the federal government wants to do.
The founders were very concerned about tyranny of the majority and designed government to minimize this threat.
An entitlement mentality has become entrenched, and once started, entitlement programs have no natural limits, because it is almost impossible politically to resist expanding them, much less roll them back.
Some of the most dangerous things about our government currently are the growth in public sector employment, the growth of entitlement spending, inadequate spending on national defense and fatal mismanagement of the country’s finances. Public employee unions’ expanding power is very dangerous politically and very costly financially. By 2050, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are projected to cost the equivalent of 18% of GNP, the average cost of the entire federal government historically.
All tax revenue has to come from the private sector, and every dollar of increased taxes is taken from those parts of the economy which produce growth and create jobs and invested in the public sector which is extraordinarily inefficient. This transfer is extremely costly to economic growth when it grows beyond a certain point. High taxes reduce incentives to work, save and invest and social spending (transfers) reduces incentives. Rather than allowing the market to allocate investments, politicians take the money and reallocate it to favored constituencies and organizations.
The long term average national debt has been about 44% of GDP and it was 40% at the end of 2008. Obama’s budget projected it to reach 87% by 2020 even with the grossly inadequate defense budget.
Congress has exempted itself from Obamacare and has a government funded retirement plan far more favorable than that available to the public.
The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom focuses on 10 areas, five on regulatory burdens, three on the size and intrusiveness of government, and two on property rights and freedom from corruption. Those countries with the highest scores enjoy much higher standards of living than those with much lower scores.
Five of the worst problems with our government currently are:
The growth in public sector employment
The growth of entitlement spending
Inadequate spending on national defense
Mismanagement of the country’s finances
Hypocrisy in government
Morality And Religion
Without some sense of morality society would fall apart, so the question is not, “Can a society exist without a concept of morality?”, but “How is what is moral determined?” The distinction between the two kinds of views about what is moral, the relativistic view and the view that morals are universal, is critical to the to the survival of our country.
In any society there is a concept of obligation to the society, and respect for the institutions which form the fabric of that society is a moral requirement. If many of these institutions which support a society are weakened the society will collapse. There’s plenty of historical evidence for this.
Belief in religion and the morality it provides
Belief in a government with the limited powers which operates within constitutional limits Respect for the rule of law
Commitment to national defense
Belief in universal high-quality education
Belief in free trade and free enterprise
Liberals are basically secularist at heart. Our elites try in every way to reduce the influence of religion in our society and the understanding of its influence on our history and to reduce the reliance on our founding documents as guidelines for how our government should function. The concept of natural rights has been transformative. Washington warned that morality could not be maintained without religion. In a nation of limited government, religion is the greatest source of the virtue and moral character required for self-rule. The founders recognized the need for public morality and the role that religion played in nurturing it and the religious nature of the natural rights underpinning our legal system.
Without a transcendent foundation, our rights become the arbitrary gift of government. The founders’ insight was that each person is endowed with natural rights which do not come from government and which they must try to prevent government from violating. If the connection between natural rights and individual rights is not defended, the vacuum will be filled by government definitions of rights which can be changed arbitrarily. This is why totalitarian regimes, except religious theocracies, try to eliminate religion from the public square. If there’s no competition from religion, than there is no concept of natural rights.
Our Constitution is primarily one of negative liberties, and it defines what the government cannot do to impinge on our liberties. Progressives seek to transform the Constitution into one that identifies positive rights, such as the rights to all sorts of material benefits from the government, including housing, employment, financial security, etc.
Moral absolutism based on religion is the foundation of our country. Cultural relativism is secular and allows morality to be whatever you want it to be.
Spending is so hard to control because of public employee unions’ bargaining power and the entitlement mentality which produces never ending programs designed to promote equality.
People are disenchanted with government, because it is doing poorly what it is supposed to be doing and doing far more than it should be doing by extending its influence into our lives far beyond Constitutional legitimacy.
Marx’s Communist manifesto listed the following planks:
Abolition of private property
Heavy progressive income tax
Confiscation of property
State control of credit
Government ownership of communication and transportation
Government ownership of the means of production
Collective farms and regional planning
Government control of education
Equality of opportunity and equality of condition are two diametrically opposed views of how a society should be organized.
There’s never been a government success which operated along the lines Marx proposed.
A society cannot stand when the productive part of the economy is progressively reduced by continually increasing its taxes to pay for growing entitlements for the unproductive part.
In 2008 the percentage of income taxes paid by the various brackets of earners follows:
Top 1% – 38%
top 5% – 60%
top 10% – 70%
top 25% – 86%
top 50% – 97%
The concept of fair share is entirely politically motivated. Since it can’t be defined, it cannot be a reasonable basis for any public policy.
A Brief History Of Liberty by Brennan and Schmitz is mentioned favorably.
The remarkable achievement of the founders was to set up a government which was designed to protect and promote natural rights.
Spalding says, “freedom must be understood within the context of constitutional and moral order”. Spalding explains the difference between freedom and liberty. Freedom is more expansive and suggests a general lack of restraint, whereas liberty means the rightful exercise of freedom, the balancing of rights and responsibilities. Liberty came with duties and obligations appropriate for self-government. The progressive view is that liberty should be compromised for the best interests of the society as determined by the elites. Our founders created a fabric of government which had no historical model, but they drew from English, Scottish and Roman political philosophy and experience to create it.
The more government involvement (outside its core functions) in the society the less liberty
What are some of the current activities of government which increase its involvement in our society and decrease liberty?
A massive Keynesian government spending program to deal with the recession Allowing half the people to avoid paying income taxes
Engaging in class warfare
Absurd labor laws
Creating a labyrinth of regulations, in broad areas including the environment, taxes, human resource management, and product liability
Promoting an antibusiness environment and trying to fix what’s wrong with business politically
Promoting equality of condition at the expense of equality of opportunity Enacting a nationalized healthcare program
Encouraging tyranny of the minority
Having no immigration policy and encouraging illegal aliens
Denying American exceptionalism
Allowing teachers unions to prevent sensible reform of education
Reducing defense spending to a dangerous level
What is most important now is to restore a limited government and the maximization of personal liberty.
Liberty is the cornerstone of America
There are differences between a democracy and a republic
Algernon Sydney and John Locke provided much of the philosophical foundation for our government’s founding
There have been no revolutionary advances in the concept of government since our founding.
Liberty and freedom are not the same. Liberty is freedom within the social contract The less government involvement in society (outside its core functions on which nearly everyone agrees) the more liberty
American exceptionalism is derived primarily from our form of government
The Rule Of Law
Edwin Meese says the Constitution is our great charter of liberty because it is our fundamental law against which the actions of government officials must be squared.
The rule of law means that the same laws apply to everyone. Its adoption was a major advance in the development of the social contract, because it guaranteed an enormous increase in personal liberty. The rule of law in America starts with and is based on the Constitution.
Matthew Spalding says the rule of law is based on four key concepts:
First, the rule of law means a formal, regular process of law enforcement and adjudication, the idea of due process – a system of laws and a process for their enforcement instead of the arbitrary will of some authority figure. For the rule of law to be credible, the laws must be clear to the people who are governed by them, and they must apply to all equally.
Second, the rule of law means that the law applies to the rulers and the ruled alike. Madison thought that allowing the legislature to either exempt itself from any of the laws it passed or to legislate special privileges for itself would be a fatal blow to the rule of law.
Third the rule of law implies that there are certain unwritten rules, generally understood standards, implicit in the law itself, to which specific laws and lawmaking must conform. For example, Madison thought laws impairing the obligations of contracts were contrary to the first principles of the social compact and to every principle of sound legislation.
The Constitution is central to American life, is the arrangement that formally constitutes the American people, and is the fundamental basis for our rule of law.
The Bill of Rights spells out many of our negative liberties. There have been only 17 amendments to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights but there have been more than 5,000 bills in Congress proposing to amend the Constitution. Progressives continually try to end run the constitutional amendment process through both the legislature and the judiciary. They do this by defining individual rights that aren’t in the Constitution and governmental powers not in it, such as the Commerce Clause expansions, and by disingenuously flexible judicial interpretations.
The Obama administration employed the two strategies to legislate without Congress, (1) by administrative decree establishing a federal rule, and (2) by refusal to enforce existing federal law. The principal areas where this was done were in environmental regulation, labor law, immigration law, regulating the Internet, and selective enforcement of federal law.
Every time you create a new body of regulation you have to create new bureaucracies to provide regulatory oversight. Obama vastly increased the Code of Federal Regulations.
Another example of government intrusion into society is over criminalization through criminal laws created by administrative agencies without congressional oversight. This endangers civil liberties and places Americans in danger of unjust criminal conviction for violating crimes of which they are unaware.
Another quasi-government intrusion that endangers civil society is our over litigious environment which is continually being expanded and aggravated by the powerful trial lawyers’ lobby’s influence on congressional legislation.
Stephen Marksman’s speech at Hillsdale College titled “The Coming Constitutional Debate” is an excellent presentation of the challenges the Constitution will face in the next few years. These challenges are all attempts to amend the Constitution without the formal amendment process.
Issues to guard against:
Expansion of the Privileges Or Immunities Clause of The 14th Amendment. Progressives are seeking additional federal oversight of state and local laws. Their strategy is to refashion the Privileges Or Immunities Clause as an unlimited Bill of Rights within the 14th amendment.
Negative Liberties Versus Positive Rights. Progressives seek to transform the Constitution from a guarantor of negative liberties into a charter of affirmative government. The Constitution defines what the government cannot do to you. It does not guarantee rights to such things as education, healthcare, a good job, affordable housing etc.; all positive rights – the brainchild of progressives to provide the justification for more involvement of the federal government in our society. Young believes the creation and judicial support of positive rights is the greatest threat to liberty in the history of the Republic. There is nothing in the Constitution which specifies positive rights.
The principal purpose of the Ninth Amendment was to prevent an extension of federal power, not to provide an open ended grant of judicial authority to do the opposite as progressives favor. The most dangerous constitutional threat is the effort to transform the Constitution from a guarantor of negative liberties to a provider of positive rights without going through the formal amendment process.
National defense involves a difficult trade-off in a democracy, because other priorities are more politically popular unless the threats are imminent.
The range of potential missions facing today’s military is vast. We must deal with regional conflicts, humanitarian disasters, protect the sea lanes for free trade, deter rogue states through a credible military capability and strategy, and hedge against threats from Russia and the rise and increasing belligerency of China.
The two primary components of a strong military are the quality of its people and of their weapons and equipment. Squeezing the defense budget has badly affected both but especially the age and obsolescence of our equipment. Failure to modernize our nuclear forces and antimissile defenses is indefensible.
Does it make sense to compromise national security to pay more benefits to people who feel entitled to them? Obviously an adequate defense would be the first priority were it not for the political reality of the short time horizons of our politicians and voters. The more sophisticated weaponry becomes and the more it relies on high-tech electronics the more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. All of our communication and data acquisition is at increasing risk. The only guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century is the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military.
National defense is one of the few constitutional responsibilities of the federal government
Without a strong national defense nothing else matters
Republics and democracies have a hard time politically providing for an adequate defense in peacetime
Our military equipment is dangerously out of date and force levels, particularly the Navy have declined alarmingly
Defense spending has been squeezed over the last 40 years by the astronomic growth of entitlements
Our defense spending requirements should be determined before spending on anything else, after careful analysis of the threats and the resources needed to deal with them
Education should produce people with a broad range of knowledge (mathematics, science, reading, writing, grammar, history, civics, geography, foreign languages, and problem solving), which will prepare them to live in any sort of situation.
The founding fathers left it to the states to decide whether to provide an education and to determine the type of education. The federal government has no education role under the Constitution. It is a fundamental responsibility of each state, though the federal government has gained increasing control of the states’ education policy and practices through strings attached to grants.
Since it’s now clear (from PISA tests and others) that many other developed countries are more successful in educating their citizens, the US rate of growth relative to them is expected to decline.
One of the great modern tragedies is a drastic decline in the quantity and quality of history teaching. This is very dangerous for our citizens’ understanding of the world. Americans are becoming historically illiterate and political correctness in education is a grave threat.
Two of the most important subjects of history study are the Constitution and the details of government, how it’s organized and how it operates. During the 1960’s and thereafter coverage of social history has expanded at the expense of political history. This is extraordinarily irresponsible and very dangerous. How can you be an effective leader if you don’t know the story of how our nation’s past leaders grappled with the perennial challenges of governing a free people? As Santayana said. “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it”.
Why are we so far behind in education achievement when we spend more money than anybody else but Switzerland? We have a diverse population, we spend a lot on special needs children, and we are required to teach a more diversified curriculum, which detracts from the focus on the specific skills tested in the standardized tests.
There is a remarkable lack of correlation between more spending and more educational progress. The federal government has spent 1.8 trillion on education in the last 40 years without our students showing any measurable improvement in performance relative to the rest of the world
The federal No Child Left Behind program was a slow-motion train wreck. The increasing federal intervention and the resulting burden of complying with federal programs, rules, and regulations have caused a large growth in states’ bureaucracy, which has a parasitic relationship with federal education programs. Instead of responding to students and parents, federal education funding has encouraged state education systems and school districts to orient their focus to the demands of Washington.
A strong fundamental curriculum would include mathematics, science, reading, writing, grammar, history, civics, geography and foreign languages. Most public schools today don’t teach these in a fundamental way. A variety of new techniques has been tried but
none have worked effectively. The only way to improve education is to expose it to more competition by promoting school choice, etc. Fortunately a number of states are now implementing options such as vouchers, tuition tax credits, online learning etc. Indiana has enacted the largest school voucher program in the country. Mitch Daniels’ Indiana education reform plan expands school choice, increases school accountability, improves teacher quality and limits the stranglehold collective bargaining by teachers unions has over local schools. The states are working hard to create new educational approaches that are promising.
The following are characteristics of charter schools:
They receive public money but operate independently
There are not subject to some of the rules, regulations, and statutes which apply to the regular public schools. They are held accountable for achieving the results in the school’s charter
They are part of the public school system and can’t charge tuition
They can hire teachers they think will be effective at mutually agreed wages, and the teachers don’t have to be members of the teachers union
Charter school students are chosen by lottery
While charter schools are exempt from some of the procedural requirements of regular public schools, they are not exempt from educational standards set by the state. Charter schools’ autonomy is important because it opens the possibility of creating a school culture that maximizes student motivation by emphasizing high expectation, academic rigor, discipline, etc. Charter school principals and teachers have more control and flexibility about work rules and school duties.
Charter schools have been created because of poor performance of regular public schools. Restrictive collective bargaining agreements that prevent rewarding good teachers and removing bad ones, intrusive court interventions, and counterproductive teacher certification laws have all been enormous barriers to improving school performance.
Teachers unions fight hard to prevent expansion of charter schools but are gradually losing the war.
An important alternative to charters is homeschooling.
Analysis of the record shows that students do much better when there’s more competition between regular public and private schools, charters etc. Considering political realities, the only way to significantly raise the quality of American education is by creating more competition to regular public schools.
A good teacher is one of the most valuable people in society, and good teachers should be well paid and encouraged to work in a dynamic and inspiring environment to which they make a major contribution.
Rewarding good teachers more in-line with the value of their contribution and giving them more autonomy, along with making it easier to identify and terminate bad teachers, could radically improve the quality of American education.
The American public education system is characterized by high cost and low quality. The following aspects of the system all lower quality and drive up costs:
Tenure – makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers
Performance – teachers are not evaluated for the quality of their teaching
Teachers’ unions – their dues massively support and elect officials with whom they negotiate their compensation.
Hierarchy – Union rules require teachers with the least seniority to be laid off first. Assessment of a teacher’s value is not a consideration when layoffs are required.
Teacher innovation – Teachers’ unions work hard to protect their jobs from competition.
States must be encouraged to act as laboratories to develop better teaching approaches. The federal government should honor the Constitution by staying out of trying to direct American education.
Government attempts to redistribute wealth and income smother productive incentives and lead to impoverishment. The proper sphere of government is to create and enforce a framework of law that prohibits fraud, but it must refrain from specific economic interventions. “Its main economic function is to encourage and preserve a free market” – Henry Hazlitt
“The great dialectic is not between capital and labor, but between economic enterprise and the state”. – JK Galbraith
“The record is clear that there is no alternative for improving the lot of the ordinary man that can hold a candle to the productive activities unleashed by a free enterprise system.” – Milton Friedman
Free enterprise is business conduct without direct government interference, risking capital to make a profit under the laws of supply and demand, producing products and prices where supply and demand tend to be in equilibrium.
Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations explained that free enterprise capitalism maximizes liberty within the framework of the social contract. Government is required to have restraints on business activities, such as colluding, the creation of monopoly power, the exploitation of workforces, the use of hazardous materials, pollution, inadequate consumer safety, etc. A critical part of the concept is competition which drives innovation and continuous improvement in the quality and price of products and services.
Schumpeter explained creative destruction, the process of transformation that accompanies radical innovation. Innovative entry by entrepreneurs is the force that sustains long-term economic growth, though it destroys the value of established
companies in the process. Though creative destruction harms many, it is an essential part of the process of economic growth. Society as a whole benefits from an improvement in the overall quality of life due to competition and creative destruction. The free enterprise system can be uncomfortable for many at times, but it is unquestionably the greatest engine for economic growth ever tried. Government, with overregulation, high taxes, misguided and arbitrarily imposed costs, failure to understand what activities really produce jobs, etc. is jamming a stick in the gears of the engine.
There is a positive correlation between a country’s per capita income and its economic freedom. In every area of the world those nations with the highest level of economic freedom have the highest standard of living. There is also a positive relationship between economic freedom and environmental performance. The nations whose economies are ranked as most free do the best job of protecting the environment and the least free do the worst.
There is a negative relationship between economic growth and government spending as a percent of GDP. Increasing government involvement in the economy reduces liberty by definition, but it also reduces economic opportunity, growth, and prosperity.
For political realities and social stability the government does need to provide safety nets under the hardships created by creative destruction, but it needs to be careful not to do this in a way that creates long-term dependency.
The government also needs to provide stability in periods of widespread financial disruption.
The fundamental value in an economically free and open society is that individuals are free to pursue their own paths to prosperity. The basic idea of economic freedom is to increase opportunities in all types of activities, with free and open markets as the arbiter of society’s wants.
Adam Smith in The Wealth Of Nations outlined the value of free trade to all trading parties. David Ricardo also explained comparative advantage, why both parties can gain from an exchange. If one country can produce certain products more cheaply and efficiently than its trading partner, but the trading partner can produce other products more cheaply and efficiently, both can gain an advantage by trading. America benefits more from free trade, because it has the freest movement of goods and services between the 50 states which is the largest totally free trade market in the world. This it is one reason America has grown faster than other developed countries.
Ricardo in, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, addressed an important issue. The principle of “comparative advantage” is that if one country has an absolute advantage over a trading partner in all products they can still benefit by trading if, in the absence of trade, they have different relative costs for producing the same goods.
Trade helps countries develop their economies by requiring them to modernize their business practices to be able to compete in world markets.
Free enterprise means the ability to conduct business with minimal government interference
Free enterprise is the most dynamic engine for economic growth and individual prosperity and well-being of any economic or social system
An individual maximizes the welfare of society by pursuing his own interests with minimal government interference
Economic growth occurs through creative destruction
There is a strong positive relationship everywhere between economic freedom and economic growth and overall well-being
There is a strong negative correlation everywhere between government spending and economic growth
Excessive government involvement in the economy reduces both liberty and economic growth
Free trade promotes economic growth
Candidates for national office should agree to:
Support the Constitution in its original form and reject the concept of the Living Constitution which adapts the Constitution to current circumstances according to personal preferences of the judges
Support the concept of natural rights and which are enshrined in the Constitution and that they have been the foundation for the development of our system of laws
Promote small but effective central government with limited intrusions into our private lives
Support the understanding that promoting equality of opportunity is far superior to promoting equality of condition, that the former promotes liberty and prosperity, and the latter promotes tyranny and want.
Support the rule of law and the system of laws based on the Constitution Support a strong national defense
Recognize the need to improve American education and the long-term economic and social costs of not improving it
Support free-market capitalism
Support free and open trade but with safeguards against the types of abuse that China has practiced – stealing intellectual property, etc.
Recognize the value of a low tax regime for economic growth and prosperity Support responsible management of the country’s finances
Reduce the size and growth rate of entitlements
This summary largely consists of direct quotations from the book, (often without identifying them as such by quotation marks), and often shortened, paraphrased or otherwise changed.
All material included on this site is for educational purposes only.
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