Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rep. Paul: Free Market Would Have Kept BP Responsible

In an interview today on CNBC's Street Signs, Congressman Ron Paul discussed who is responsible for the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. While many conservatives and libertarians blame the government and President Obama for the disaster, Rep. Paul (who identifies himself as both conservative and libertarian) puts the primary blame on BP.

Rep. Paul said that Obama and Bush both took too much heat for the disasters that happened during their terms. "There are sort of limits on what the government can do," Paul said. "I just think that we've developed a culture where everything is to be solved by the government."

The Congressman suggested a free market scenario that would have prevented the disaster:
If you would have had property rights, somebody would have owned the fishing rights, and oil drillers couldn't go in there unless they had permission from the fisherman... There would be bonds put up, and there would have to be provisions for accidents like this.
But no, government gives them permission. They limit the liability of the oil companies, and then they say the taxpayer will pick up. That's a moral hazard, by saying the government is going to inspect and give the license and protect everybody. So it is the system that is wrong, rather than saying, 'well, the government just hasn't done enough.' They probably did too much too soon, and we would should think about another approach to problems like this.
Dr. Paul also talked briefly about the Washington Post allegations that his investments in gold create a conflict of interest with his position on the House Financial Services Committee. You can watch the entire interview below.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Slow Down Government, Part II: Congressional Reform

Over the last decade, we have seen a disturbing trend of unaccountability in Congress. The bills have gotten longer, costlier, and more blatantly unconstitutional, and they seem to pass them faster than we can read them. This post is Part II of a two-part series on legislative reform. Part I dealt with reform of state assemblies. Let's look now at how we can slow down the U.S. Congress.

The leading authority on downsizing Congress is, fittingly, the organization Downsize DC. Downsize DC has authored four bills which could be passed to reform the U.S. Congress. These would require legislators to pay more attention to what they pass, effectively slowing down the process and allowing the public to be more informed about what is in the bills.

The first of these is the "Read the Bills Act" (RTBA). RTBA requires that each bill be read in its entirety before a quorum in both the House and Senate. It requires each legislator to sign a sworn affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that they have read a bill before they vote on it. It requires that every bill be published online for at least a week before a vote, with the date of that vote publicized in advance. RTBA does not allow Congress to waive these requirements.

Downsize DC also proposes the "One Subject at a Time Act" (OSTA). OSTA requires that each bill cover only one subject of policy change and that each bill's name specifies what the bill actually does. OSTA would avoid rider bills that sneak controversial measures into unrelated bills. For example, in 2005, the REAL ID Act, establishing a national identity card, was hidden within the "Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief." REAL ID is not a military defense or tsunami relief appropriation. It is also a controversial proposal that would have been heavily debated if proposed as its own bill. REAL ID passed through the appropriations bill, and was undiscovered by the public until after the bill had passed. OSTA also requires that a bill's name describes what it actually does. This might replace a marketing slogan like "No Child Left Behind" with an honest title like the "Act to Require Standardized Testing to Receive Federal Education Funding." The bill could only do what it says it does, and it would be difficult to spin it to be interpreted as otherwise.

Next on the Downsize DC agenda is the "Write the Laws Act" (WTLA). WTLA requires Congress to write specific legislation, rather than delegate the responsibilities of regulation and punishment responsibilities to bureaucrats. Congress would have to specify each regulation, and it would have to be enforced by the courts. This means the EPA can't suddenly decide that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that causes global warming and start charging companies fees for CO2 output. Congress would have to pass a law, and I imagine the citizens would not make it easy for them.

Finally, Downsize DC's "Enumerated Powers Act" (EPA) would require Congress to cite the constitutional authority it has to pass each law. The "enumerated" legislative powers of Congress are in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. As the 10th Amendment specifies, any powers not specified in Article I, Section 8 "are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." If the enumerated Powers Act were passed, Rep. Phil Hare might have to "care" about whether a bill like Obamacare is constitutional.

Of these four bills, the one with perhaps the best chance of passing is the Enumerated Powers Act. It has been introduced to the current Congress by Rep. John Shadegg as H.R. 450.

If Congress believes that they have the authority to regulate us out of doing anything without their permission, it is only fair that we do the same to them. It would be nearly impossible to pass something like Obamacare, another stimulus package, or whatever other monstrosities our congressmen are concocting if Downsize DC's legislation were passed. Congress should be forced to read the bills, write them responsibly, specify the laws within the bills without delegating powers, and justify the constitutionality of every law they try to pass. If we want to reduce the size and scope of government, we should start by putting Congress on a leash.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Slow Down Government, Part I: State Reform

Congressional reform is a perfect starting point for the Lysander Spooner Institute's efforts to reduce the size and scope of government at all levels. Right now, it is simply too easy for legislators to pass massive bills that spend and regulate us without limitation or accountability. By putting more limitations on the way our federal and state legislatures do business, we can slow down the expansion of government. This post is Part I of a two-part series on legislative reform. Today, we'll address reform of state assemblies, using Pennsylvania as an example. Part II will discuss reform of Congress at the federal level.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest state assemblies in the country with 253 members. This has led many advocates of smaller to government to consider shrinking the size of the state's over-staffed, over-priced legislature. Research by Penssylvania's Commonwealth Foundation has found that reducing the number of legislators does not substantially change the cost, effectiveness, or accountability of the assembly.

The problem in Pennsylvania is not the number of legislators, but how they legislate. The Pennsylvania assembly legislates full time. They are literally professional politicians, making a salary of $78,314. This lucrative establishment has helped earn Pennsylvania the Department of Justice's ranking of the 11th most corrupt state in America. Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation reports,
While the cost of the General Assembly has skyrocketed, Pennsylvania's economy has remained stagnant. For the period 1991-2009, the Keystone State ranked: 43rd in job growth, 48th in personal income growth, and 47th in population growth. In 1977, with a part-time legislature, the Commonwealth had the 22nd heaviest tax burden; today, Pennsylvania ranks 11th in state and local tax burden per capita and 45th in economic freedom.
A Commonwealth Foundation analysis found that "each increase in the level of professionalization [of legislators] results in an estimated $441 increase in spending per person, and a 0.4% increase in taxes as a percentage of income. Benefield compares PA to Texas, which has a part-time assembly that meets 140 days over a two-year term. The Texas assembly passes more bills (probably smaller, easier-to-read bills) and maintains better job growth than Pennsylvania's "professionals."

As a starting point for downsizing state-level government, lets put an end to "professional" state assemblies and go back to the republican system of representative assemblies.

Mission Statement

The Lysander Spooner Institute supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose. To advance this platform, the institute conducts policy research which may be used by political parties and candidates to design platforms, programs, and resolutions. The institute also educates public officials and the general public about its platform through publications, op-eds, press releases, and responses to media inquiries.