I always liked the actor Jack Palance, even when he played the bad guy, Jack Wilson, in the Movie Shane. It was one of the first movies featuring exaggerated special effects as Jack stood on a boardwalk, drew his six shooter, and literally blew a farmer away, launching him back into the mud. But the role I liked Palance best in was that of Curly Washburn in the movie City Slickers. In the movie Curly asks Mitch Robbins, played by Billy Crystal, if he knows what the secret of life is? Curly then holds up one finger and says, "One thing, you stick to that and the rest don't mean s***." Mitch asks what the one thing is, and Curly smiles and says, "That is what you have to find out."
The secret of life is comparatively easy. But Curly got me wondering what one thing might restrain the central government and return us to some measure of Federalism. So here are a few ideas that might qualify as the one thing.
A Balanced Budget Amendment. I'm pretty sure that this one is discussed frequently on the cocktail circuit and in the corridors of Congress. It is offered during evening news programs by politicians as the cure to our ills. Some are no doubt sincere while others just figure it makes for good politics. After all, who would not want to vote for a guy who promises to control government spending much in the same way that the American people must with their personal spending? We may have been indoctrinated, uh -- educated -- in public schools, but we know that if your income don't equal your outgo, your upkeep is gonna be your downfall. But will this restrain government? Dubious. What part of the Constitution has the central government not abused? Think hard. In my view, if a Balanced Budget Amendment could survive the process, the central government would find a way around it faster than a Federer serve. No restraining of government here.
Term Limits. Applied across the board this might work pretty well, if you could keep the term short -- like perhaps one day. By the time they found their chair the term would be over and the world would be a better place. But, alas, what is meant generally is two conventional terms. Can you imagine how much mischief politicians can make in four, eight, or twelve years? First of all, if you have a good guy in office, term limits will move him out and you may get a bad guy instead. And, if you have a bad guy in office you can bet he will be serving the special interests instead of the people so that he can get a cushy job on the outside later. Then there is Proposition 140, passed in California in 1990, imposing term limits on the State Assembly and Senate. How is that working out? A recent report by the Center of Government Studies concludes that the politicians are so consumed by peripheral matters that power is transferred to the Executive and the Lobbyists. I don't think term limits will work.
Campaign Finance Reform. Here is a sure-fire way to get the politicians to be responsive to the people rather than the special interests. We just need to get the money out of politics. We ought to come up with an answer pretty soon. We've only been working on it for about 150 years. Suppose we pass a law that only individuals in the area of representation can contribute to political campaigns, and their names and amounts contributed must be fully disclosed. That removes the Unions, Corporations, and Political Action Committees. How long do you figure it will take the courts to rule that law an infringement on free speech? And, even if we came up with a plan that makes some sense, it would never be so comprehensive as to thwart the special interests. I will hold a good thought, but not my breath.
Repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. I'm warming up to this one. If these Amendments were repealed it would go a long way toward breaking the link between the central government and the American people. Repealing the 16th Amendment will return the Constitutional prohibition against direct taxation of the people by the central government. (Article I Section 9) And, repealing the 17th Amendment will return power to the States, which will then exercise more control over the U.S. Senate. The central government will have to find other ways to collect revenue and the States will effectively have veto power through the U.S. Senate. Sounds better every time I hear it. But, I don't believe we're quite there. That little problem of indirect taxation through inflation still hangs around in the background.
Eliminate the Lender of Last Resort and return to a Sound Currency. Whoa! We may be on to something here! What is the true power of the central government? Check your wallet and see if there are any Federal Reserve Notes (FRNs) in there. Given this economy, your wallet may be a little light, but if you have one of those notes, you are looking at the real instrument of central government power. You see, the central government can pursue any adventure it desires and then make an arrangement with the Federal Reserve to print up enough of those FRNs to pay for that adventure. And, because of Legal Tender Laws we all have to accept those notes. And, those adventures generally take the form of welfare or warfare, again serving special interests. Not to mention that the nation is then further indebted to the Federal Reserve for FRNs created out of thin air. Sounds like a slick deal until someone asks, who pays? The answer is really pretty simple. When the money supply increases for whatever reason and that increased money is then chasing the same goods and services, prices have to go up. In other words the people pay!
The FRN or fiat money is the great deceiver. Just imagine that there was no money and you raised turnips. You are a person who derives his wealth through the productive means. So, every day those who derive their wealth through the political means show up in pickup trucks to take away a portion of your turnips. You know the people we're talking about; politicians, police, bureaucrats, etc. So, at the end of each day, you have a certain percentage of your turnips left for your own consumption and trade. And, what is going on becomes quite clear.
I think we have found the one thing that will restrain the central government -- take away their counterfeiting machine. Isn't that what Dr. Ron Paul has been saying all along? That will leave the central government only two transparent options to take our wealth -- tax us directly or kill us. Neither method sets well with the people. I can see Curly raising that index finger now.