Government “paralysis”


Author: Timothy Sandefur

A reader sent me a link to this article by Philip K. Howard, adding, “Common Good’s recent Philadelphia conference—‘Ending Government Paralysis’—explored a number of innovative strategies for streamlining government and enabling our legislsative leaders to make sensible and needed choices. The article that follows highlights the issues that sustain government inefficiencies and reviews a number of thoughtful solutions. We look forward to your comments.” I don’t know what Common Good is, but I wrote the following reply:

Thank you for forwarding the article. I must say I am actually a big fan of government “paralysis,” as you call it, or, as I call it, of constitutional liberty. One could certainly have a more streamlined government, in which—as Mr. Howard puts it, “elected leaders could make choices” about how you and I and other common ordinary citizens are allowed to live our lives. They could make choices about what we may say, write, think, read, own, earn, build, sell, buy, and use, and we would then have no choice but to obey. The system would be smooth, clear, and “democratic.” But, of course, we would then have no liberty. To defend our liberty, America’s founders chose instead to create a system that set up all sorts of barriers in the way of government—what Mr. Howard chooses to call the “dead hand” of the law. They called it the Constitution, and it divided government into three branches, balanced against one another—they even further divided the legislature into two houses—and then gave them all power to stop and check each other. Then they further divided the system by separating the federal government from the states, and limiting federal power to a few, specifically enumerated items, reserving the rest. Why did they do this? They told us, in the first line of the Constitution—to preserve the blessings of liberty. They did not do it to foster democracy, or encourage government’s intervention in private life. Those were things they rightly distrusted as dangerous to freedom and the public good. I’m afraid I must agree with them, and raise my glass in a toast to government paralysis—the great dream of oppressed peoples everywhere. May we always cherish it.