Monday, January 17, 2011

Unlimited Constitutional Government

Begin with that ideal state limited by a constitution with strict language that is narrowly understood and big government is just a matter of time.

Most Americans agree that we have too much government. The general theory along the right wing among conservatives, libertarians, and objectivists is that we need to adhere to strict construction, not loose interpretation, of the Constitution.  Specifically, the “minarchists” (versus anarchists) claim that the only proper functions of government are those that protect rights; and that government should be limited to defense (armies, police) and adjudication (civil and criminal courts).  Ayn Rand was not alone in saying this, but of all the advocates for individualism and the market she did most clearly state the hypothesis.   

One classroom in the FBI's 10-acred Hogan's Alley
urban simulation training site at Quantico, Virginia.
Government is an agency of law.  Where do laws come from?  We are comfortable with legislatures and executives.  Even a part-time parliament and a temporary president need buildings.  Certainly, the courts cannot meet in open fields.  Even if the police and army lived in tents, they would need at least those, though, hopefully, we could shelter them in better facilities.  How are these to be built and maintained?  What prevents the government from constructing them, using government- trained skilled trades workers from government craft programs? Military academies train military engineers. Why would the government not have other schools for training civil, mechanical, electrical, etc., engineers and scientists for government service?

Libertarians would like to privatize the post office, but does the government have no right to transmit its own messages? If the government can publish legislative minutes and proposed laws and notes of enforcement and judicial proceedings, then can the government not own its printing presses, television and radio stations, websites and other communications media? What mandate is there that the government must pay private contractors to provide any or all of its services?

U.S. Treasury Building being restored.
Today, the federal government operates military academies and police academies. Should the government not operate its own law schools, legislative seminaries, and bureau or agency colleges? If government buildings are not to be insults, they must be decorative, and thus we can imagine government schools of art and design. What prevents the existence of government craft manufacturers to make the things created by the designers and artists for use in government facilities?  Who maintains government facilities? Who paints the walls; and who trims the grass; and who clears the snow and ice? 

We accept that courts need support, of course, from recorders, bailiffs, and clerks. The police need dispatchers, clerks, receptionists.  These people need equipment.  Who makes it?  Napoleon Bonaparte was not the first general to realize that an army moves on its stomach.  What prevents the police and courts from having their own internal departments for food production and preparation? Who produces the pots and pans and stoves and refrigerators?  If the legislature decided that its work could be better engaged listening to music, could there not be a government orchestra? After all, the military has its bands and orchestras, why not the courts and police, and why not the engineers and gardeners? 

Products of the Springfield Armory.
(Where does the steel come from?)
Today’s news contains complaints about the wages paid to government employees (see close), but the open market in labor determines those payments.  More to the point, every business wants the best employees and, certainly, we, the people deserve the best in government services.  Why not have this work done by government employees, trained at government schools, clothed from government factories, fed from government farms?  What mandate is there that government employees cannot be given homes as part of their compensation? 

This is the “arsenal theory” of government.  In order to assure that it can carry out its strictly defined and narrowly interpreted functions, the government must be able to produce the goods and services it needs.

There is another theory: COTS – commercial off the shelf technology.  Patriotic innovators and greedy charlatans have always wanted to sell things to the state, but the modern system of procurement originates in the industrial revolution which made interchangeable parts possible.  (See close.)  Would the only allowable alternative be that government be supplied via competitive bid contracts?  It may be a sound theory.  Today, those contracts are the source of the “military industrial complex” and the “revolving door” between agencies and their suppliers. 

Over the years, I have interviewed many business people for magazine articles that I write.  A sales manager for IBM once told me that if the first he heard of a government agency placing an open bid for a printer was reading about it in a bid list, he would fire the salesman assigned to the account.  It is the job of the technical marketing representative to help the client understand their needs.  Ideally for them, the provider crafts the language of the bid.  How fast should a printer be?  How often should you need to replace the ribbons?  Those are technical questions.  The same principle applies to new jet fighter craft.  Competing providers will vie against each other for the opportunity to inform and influence the specifications.  Today, both the arsenal and COTS modes are in operation.  Nothing in republican, libertarian, or objectivist political theory provides a standard to know which should be what. 

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