In Part I of this series, I argued a fundamental reason our government is broken is the political selection process favoring ideological warriors over pragmatic problem solvers. I introduced my “Funnel of Futility” theory: as ideology becomes increasingly important in one’s decision-making process, the more futile working with an ideological opposite becomes. In contrast, as more data-intensive decision-makers interact, the partisan gap narrows, and government becomes more useful and efficient.
In Part II of this series, I suggested that government has overshot its equilibrium position in the modern U.S. economy, and Americans ought to make every effort to rein it in. That said, I suggested this site does not advocate a wide-ranging dismantling of every government department. As such, I advocated that the scalpel is always preferable to the hack saw when rolling back government overreach.
In Part III of this series, I maintained that equality of opportunity does not imply equality of outcomes. I further maintained that this site whole-heartedly and enthusiastically supports institutions that promote and recruit people based on a purely meritocratic system. The more data that an institution uses to measure its people, the better. That said, Reflections of a Rational Republican vehemently opposes government favoritism towards certain groups based on immutable characteristics such as race or sex. Rewarding certain groups who have earned their status, such as veterans, is acceptable since that is based on a person’s actions rather than something that one is either born with or not.
In Part IV of this series, I argued that free markets are preferable to tightly controlled ones. I further maintained that though markets may be chaotic, they are the single most efficient mechanism for price discovery in modern societies. Tightly controlled markets tend to be far more inefficient than free ones, because controlling entities like governments have no more information about that market than most individual participants. When governments impose too many regulations or try to maintain tight control of different industries, prices rise, and competition and quality tend to weaken. I concluded that the market is not a force of good or evil. It is like water. It will always take the path of least resistance.
In Part V of this series, I suggested that government does have a role in mitigating negative externalities and market failures that unencumbered capitalism can generate. Specifically, government has a role in establishing systems and regulations that curb negative externalities when business has little incentive to do so. Government also has a role in helping reduce the negative impacts when markets fail. That said, government regulations should balance their costs against their projected benefits. Heavy-handed and unnecessary regulation is worse than useless — it can result in real damage to the economy and people’s lives. In fact, Reflections of a Rational Republican believes that in recent years, the pendulum has swung too far toward overbearing regulation. While this site believes the market is efficient most of the time, government does have a role for softening the blows of more extreme market volatility, market failure, and the impact of business’ negative externalities.
Today, I will introduce the sixth official guiding principle of Reflections of a Rational Republican — individual rights trump communitarian impulses.
Individual Rights Trump Communitarian Impulses
“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true. “
— James Madison in Federalist No. X
The challenges with which James Madison struggled in November 1787 are very similar to the travails Americans face today. In Federalist No. X, he argued that the existence of factions was a necessity for the pursuit of liberty, and that there ought to be curbs on the tyranny of the majority. Reflections of a Rational Republican continues to endorse this notion of representative democracy that James Madison so eloquently enunciated over two hundred years ago. Put simply, representative government ought to ensure that the rights of the individual trump communitarian impulses, so long as those rights do not harm the rights of others.
Madison’s words continue to ring true today in an America in which the political left increasingly demands that a small minority of the population pay an ever-increasing share of the tax burden. In fact, the top 10% of earners pay 45% of all taxes in the United States, a share larger than any other OECD country. The top 1% pay a full 40% of income taxes.
Nevertheless, Madison saw these conflicts in his own time as well:
“But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.”
He argued for a republic precisely because the representative government it provided helped mitigate these conflicts and blunt the tyranny of the majority inherent in a pure democracy. In the end, he maintained:
“The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.”
Reflections of a Rational Republican is committed to adhering to Madison’s principles. So long as an individual rights do not harm those of another, the government ought to defend these rights against communitarian impulses.