By Peter Hendrickson of LOSTHORIZONS.COM
IN THIS EDITION’S LEAD COMMENTARY, I ALLUDE TO the “invisible hand” of restraint upon the state designed and deployed by the Founders and Framers. This is the mechanism whereby every individual American effectively constrains the size and power of the federal government simply by acting in harmony with the taxing clauses of the Constitution.
The “invisible hand” restraint mechanism is a subtle engine of freedom, operating just like Adam Smith’s better-known “invisible hand” engine of prosperity. It is fueled by millions of decisions intended only to benefit each American individually, each of which nonetheless acts organically and inevitably to benefit everyone by keeping the state small and more-or-less un-dangerous to liberty. For nearly all of the 150 years or so during which the engine ran strong before sputtering into “idle” in the 1940s, the state remained small and in harness, and the American people grew in prosperity while preserving their liberties.
This “invisible hand” engine of freedom is, in fact, the ONLY mechanism whereby effective constraints can be laid on the state. Certainly the founding generation felt this way, as evidenced by the prescriptions and proscriptions within the federal charter. Had the framers been willing to rely upon the political process to keep the state under control, no rules concerning the taxing power would have been seen as necessary. As I said last week:
The founders recognized that under no circumstances can a state which is allowed to control the disposition of a significant fraction of the country’s aggregate resources be meaningfully restrained in any respect. They also recognized by equipping each individual with the power to largely decide how much of his or her own resources stays home, the simple dynamic of each person looking out for his or her own interests will operate as a mammoth “invisible hand” on the state’s shoulder, imposing a critically important restraint which can be imposed in no other way.
OF COURSE, AS I ALSO SAID LAST WEEK, responsibility for keeping the framers’ engine of freedom humming along is on you and me. Left untended, that engine will do nothing, and in the absence of the countervailing pressure of each American to keep control of his or her own money and power, the state’s power will automatically grow. As Jefferson observed, “[In the absence of activism to the contrary,] [t]he natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
Nature tolerates no vacuums, and human nature especially tolerates no power vacuum. When individuals relax their grip on their resources and the power that attends control of those resources, opportunistic interests will rush to seize them. It’s up to each of us to keep things balanced the way the way their supposed to be, with the state bound down to its proper size and role.