What has gone wrong? In Federalist 51, James Madison wrote,
But the great security against a gradual concentration of those several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional and personal motives to resist the encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of the attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions… (emphasis added)
We have written about incentives here. Unfortunately, today the incentives are wrong. The Seventeenth Amendment has misaligned the interests of our Senators and our state legislators have forgotten their role as one of Madison’s “auxiliary precautions”. A century of consolidation later, our government has become so powerful that it corrupts nearly everyone who arrives there. Further, we the people have forgotten our own role as the primary control on government.
As the e-mails, blog posts and articles counting down the days to the November elections appear, 100 days, 99 days, 98 days, …., it is important to be consider that November is not the solution to our problems. Remember Lord Acton,
“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The solution to our problem is not to find the right people and send them to Washington. By all means, vote the bums out, but if that is the end of it, the new crop of bums (from both parties) will forget their limited government rhetoric just as surely as their predecessors did. We have a continued role to play as an informed and active citizenry.
When people have faith in the intentions of a party or a politician, they don't care about the methods. Centralizing power requires an audacity of hope that only good people will have the opportunity to exercise that power. We have to recognize that those in power will not always have the best of intentions, and the best solution is to limit the power of government regardless of who is in charge at the moment. A limited government will naturally result in limiting the incentive for corrupt people to pursue government power.