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L is for Liberty

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Candi Choi
February 8, 2021

There has been a lot of discussion regarding “unity” with the inauguration of a new President, Joe Biden. There are several unifying functional components that are required for providing responsible decisionmaking in society; the people, the government and the Constitution. The functionality of the three is heightened when working together toward a common end; the preservation of life, liberty and happiness. Government over-reach can be a glaring problem to unity and a well-functioning society. However, government administrations that are reasonable and responsible in their approach to monetary policy, taxing, spending and regulation stand a chance.

When we consider government over-reach from the lens of the opposing side; limited government, we can better understand the reasonableness that is necessary for governing. During a veto of the Seed Bill, President Grover Cleveland stated, “A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of the government’s power and duty should be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the government should not support the people,” writes Robert Higgs in Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. He had interpreted the, “Prevalent tendency,” and, “Limited mission,” of the government to not support farmers while in need. However, Higgs further writes that the taxes, interest and prices set by the government and paid by farmers at that time, “Had not fallen proportionately,” and, “Agricultural producers found themselves caught in a painful price-cost squeeze.” Here, the reach of the government’s policies to tax and spend was out of proportion with the mission of the government which was to help protect the life and liberty of the people. Thus, the size and scope of government prevents the whole society from functioning appropriately.

People support the government to fulfill its mission, however, everything must be within reason. If a government can tax citizens then there is reasonable expectation that the needy and suffering are cared for and businesses have the capacity to flourish. Otherwise, where lies the government’s maintenance of life and liberty? In his book, Alexis de Tocqueville and the Art of Democratic Statesmanship, Brian Danoff says, “People desire freedom so as to live secure,” from extensive government. For instance, if a government within its discretion stores up balances of unspent funds, uses discretionary monies on frivolous spending to make political points and continues to increase taxes on citizens during times of crisis also has the potential of extending the reach of government. Thus, the government is to be reasonable in it its application of ideologies and policies when supporting its role in helping to maintain life and liberty.

Once the government yields a certain reach it is difficult for, “We the people,” to place limits on the government growth which through time continues to regulate society; such as the moderate growth of the Interstate Commerce Clause and Commission. This alone undermines the argument that the people should support the government, unless the government is responsible enough to address projects through lasting solutions that address the true needs of citizens, like encouraging businesses and employment with less regulations and taxes. This is true especially, when there is an undue burden placed on society in an already strained economy. Thus, it is possible for the government to reasonably support the people and the people can reasonably support the government.

The Founders established a union between government’s constitutional responsibility and individual citizen responsibility; a functional society. Perhaps it’s time for each party to uphold their part of the union through the freedom of daily decisionmaking without political costs. People are reactive to situations that threaten their life and liberty. The government has a responsibility in being steady and reasonable when applying policies that are intended to maintain and protect against threats to both life and liberty.

Author: Candi Choi holds an MPA from Virginia Tech with specialization in local government management. She has experience with real estate, local budgeting, policy, planning and constituent affairs. Her contact email is [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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