Checking the Federal Monopoly: A Bipartisan Case for States’ Rights

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 1.12.55 AMWe all know monopolies are bad. Lack of competition lets them get away with all sorts of bad behavior, from treating workers poorly to ignoring the wishes of their customer. Most people agree that government has some role to limit monopolies.

But what happens when government becomes the monopoly?  When the federal government passes the Patriot Act, or Real ID, and tells its dissenters, “If you don’t like it, tough”?  How about when the federal government passes the NDAA, allowing US citizens to be locked up without a trial; or claims the right to assassinate its citizens via drone strikes; or appoints drug czars who claim marijuana is as dangerous as heroin?

We worry about the power Wal-Mart would have if it became a monopoly, but at least Wal-Mart can’t lock us up without a trial.

This is not to say that the federal government hasn’t done anything good. The Civil Rights Act pushed then-racist Southern states to accept racial equality. The Environmental Protection Act protected thousands of endangered species, and the Clean Water Act helped prevent tragedies like this.  But on balance, the federal government has become a monopoly we should no longer be proud of.

Of course, there’s a difference between a corporate monopoly and a government. If you don’t like the government, you can vote our elected officials out. But in 2012, 114 million people voted; your vote was only one of those. Congressional elections, where incumbents win over 90% of the time, can be even harder to affect than presidential ones. In a country our size, with politicians as entrenched as ours, does your vote really check the federal monopoly?

The solution so rarely acknowledged is one that dates back to 1798: more states’ rights, ie nullification. This solution isn’t perfect: states in the South, for instance, might use this as an excuse to prevent LGBT protections (I think fears that they’d reinstate racism are overblown; this is, after all, the 21st century). But on balance, states’ rights beat the system we have now. State governments offer more choice and better democracy.  They can cater to their citizens without the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach we see in Washington.

Take the example of legalized marijuana.  The federal government’s current laws ignore the wishes of Colorado and Washington voters, although to his credit Obama may not enforce them.  If the federal government legalizes marijuana, it will be ignoring the wishes of countless states that don’t want to legalize. The issue is not whether arguments against marijuana make sense. The issue is that voters in different states are clearly split on this issue, and a one-size-fits-all law that makes the drug legal in all 50 states tramples voters’ wishes just as surely as our current laws do.

By contrast, state elections are as democratic as they come. There were only 1.8 million votes cast in Colorado’s last gubernatorial races. One vote may still not make the difference, but it matters a hell of a lot more than 1 in 114 million. At the local level, you have more influence to both guide and check your government. At the federal level, that influence just isn’t there.

And ultimately, if you don’t like a state, you can leave. If you don’t like the federal government, tough. Emigration’s a monster. If you give the federal government all the power, and then they use that power to indefinitely detain US citizens or tap your phones, you’re SoL until the next election at the very least (and that’s assuming you’re enough of a power player for your voice to count at the federal level). If your state passes those same policies, you can leave the state without leaving our great nation.

Here’s how states are using nullification—the practice of voting to ignore a federal law they deem unconstitutional—in the 21st century. Colorado and Washington used it to legalize marijuana. Several states proposed nullifying the TSA. More are looking at nullifying the NDAA. Some are nullifying tighter gun laws, and others have tried to nullify Obamacare.

The record in itself is telling. Nullification isn’t some far-right doctrine that’s code for racial oppression. It’s bipartisan and flexible. It was admittedly used in the 1960s as an attempt to block the Civil Rights Act. And the time before that, it was used to block the Fugitive Slave Act.  In the 1850s, when the federal government that handed down Dred Scott vs Sanford said black people were property, it was to states—who nullified the Fugitive Slave Act and declared Dred Scott bad law—that black people turned for support.

It’s worth pointing out that you do not have to support nullifying everything. You can nullify X without nullifying Y. This makes it one of the most flexible tools out there for citizens to change their government.

We all have our favorite example of government overreach. Obamacare or the NDAA. Real ID or drone strikes on US citizens. Nullification lets you stand up and fight back against government overreach, but in a way that doesn’t require dismantling the entire thing.

Nullification isn’t liberal or conservative. But I contend that its principles—choice and competition, a bigger voice for the individual citizen—are deeply American.

Note: I’ve mostly focused on the moral case for nullification. For the judicial case, click here .

Note: If you want to learn more about current nullification bills, or get involved, here’s a great resource.  For current examples of attempts to nullify the NDAA, or to help with the effort, here.

Why Moderates are Wrong: Rebranding the GOP

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 4.26.58 PMLately, a lot of the media have been claiming that the GOP needs to become ‘more moderate’. We need to embrace big government, Keynesian stimulus, and higher taxes; and stop being ‘fringe’.

There’s just one problem with that: We already have a liberal party in Washington. You may have heard of them.

Our country faces big questions in the coming years. What is the proper size of government?  Is health care a right, and if so should the government force us to buy it?  Should government only protect our rights, or focus on income redistribution?

These are questions that we as a nation must grapple with, and we as the GOP have a moral imperative to offer voters a legitimate choice on these subjects. A country whose only two partiers are those of big-government and bigger-government is a country that disenfranchises those millions of citizens who want truly small government.

This is not to say that the GOP needs to be the party of opposition. We shouldn’t mindlessly oppose something just because Democrats champion it; and indeed, on some issues we need to recognize that Democrats have the right of it. Gay marriage, for example, is a right. You are either born gay or you’re not, and those born gay should have the same right—not just to marry, but to marry the romantic love of your life—that straight people already enjoy. The GOP is on the wrong side of history on this one, and when we tell people who they can and can’t spend their lives with, we risk alienating people who otherwise agree with our small-government policy. Among the coveted youth, 79% support gay marriage.

A second area we would do well to evolve in is foreign policy. The party of small-government should not be the party of endless war. Again, we already have a pro-war party. It is the party of FDR, the party of Wilson; the party that, just or not, got us into two World Wars, increased the deficit 13-fold, and expanded our operations into Libya. It is the party that supports drone strikes on US citizens. Of course, not all the sins of war are on one side. But we should eschew the interventionism of Reagan and George W. Bush, where Republicans and Democrats seem to compete for the neocon vote. As small-government conservatives, we should stand true to our principles and avoid the sort of nation-building abroad that has already cost $3.2 Trillion.  Just as important, we should offer voters a genuine choice between the interventionist policies Obama seems to be embracing, and a legitimate Constitutional foreign policy.

The fact is that most of our issues have two sides. Keynesian or Austrian? Pro-choice or pro-life? More guns or less guns; more regulation or less; a government that champions the free market or one that redistributes wealth?  The GOP needs to become the party that offers voters a legitimate choice on these issues.  In many ways, that means we need to become more conservative.  We need to become Austrian economists and true champions of small government.

If the GOP simply becomes the party of slightly-less-big government, we will have sold out our principles. More importantly, we will have sold out millions of citizens who want elections to mean a true choice between competing ideologies.

But if we embrace true constitutional conservatism, we can pick up legions of voters in Democratic strongholds. If we absolve ourselves of the neocons and Pat Robertsons of the GOP, we can excite a generation of young people and once more become the party ascendant.

We have a moral obligation to offer voters a genuine choice opposed to the  party. We have a moral obligation to stand for small government and free trade instead of bombs. And in this case, which is so rare in Washington, what is morally right is also what will win us elections.

We’ve tried the Mitt Romney, John McCain, big-government tax-and-bomb approach. It failed. Let’s give Constitutional conservatism a try.

What This Blog Is

Any blog is going to be colored by the person writing it, and I make no bones about my personal viewpoint.  With that said, here are my views:

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  1. Personal freedom is sacred
  2. Most voluntary interactions makes both parties better off. Government is not voluntary.
  3. People are often irrational. I know too many psychologists to claim otherwise.
    Some people use this as a justification for bigger government. But it’s the reverse. After all, if you knew 535 irrational, nepotistic, often emotional Congressmen with revisionist memories (i.e. 535 humans) were going to run our country, would you want them to have more power over your life? Or less?
  4. Market distortions have unintended consequences. These are bad.
  5. Non-Aggression PolicyAnd the two most important:
  6. We use debate to become better informed. I’ve changed my views before when they became inconsistent with the facts, and I will again. If you disagree with me, prove you’re right. I’ll keep an open mind and expect the same courtesy.
  7. As a nation, we deserve intelligent, reasoned discourse. The issues we’re dealing with are complex. We deserve facts and reason, not deranged cries from the right, or cheap propaganda from the left.

If you disagree with any of the first 5 principles, feel free to stick around. Intelligent debate is how we move our country forward.

If you disagree with the last 2, please find another blog. My time is precious, and I have no desire to waste it arguing with nutjobs who think Obama’s a Muslim terrorist or that all Republicans are either wealthy or stupid. Been there, done that.  But, if you’re looking for intelligent, reasoned consideration of the issues at hand: welcome. I’m glad you’re here.