Thursday March 24 , 2016
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Why the Constitution Matters, Part I

I have been under the weather for the past few days so I have been delinquent in posting regularly to this blog.  That, friends and listeners, is about to change.  As we transition the show to an everyday event, we will begin posting with more regularity.

As many of you know, I hold the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document, providing for all of us a foundation upon which to build a great and sovereign nation.  The Constitution is supposed to limit government and contains within its wonderful words explicit strutures that provide checks and balances and separation of powers between branches of government and between levels of government.  Today, however, one is constantly reminded that the Constitution, unless guarded and defended every day, will be eroded, dismantled and eventually dismissed as the very core of the exceptionality of America.  Thus, the assault on the Constitution that is being mounted by this administration and congress is frightening in its intensity and pervasiveness.

In the next few days, I will offer a series of blog posts that will highlight the deliberate attacks of this administration and congress on the Constitution.  We will examine each dimension of their ideology, why the Constitution gets in the way, and how we can fight back.  Progressivism, or socialism, is threatened by the ideas captured in our Constitution, so those that take progressivism as their religion are threatened.  If the people of the United States can be fooled into believing that the Constitution does not matter, then whatever limits the Constitution might still hold on government will be gone forever.  We will have moved from representational democracy to a form of tyranny unconstrained in any manner.  This state of the nation cannot stand.



Remembering Al

On March 10, 1953, my little brother Allen Martin Clovis was born.  He lived a great, full and amazing life.  He passed in 1997 during a liver transplant operation.  I wonder what he would have to say about the current healthcare debate and what might have been had he lived. 

Allen was four years behind me in school and five years behind me in the service.  I went to the Air Force Academy and Al went to Washburn University in Topeka, KS.  He earned a degree in business and I earned a degree in political science.  We each ended up flying F-4G Wild Weasel surface to air missile suppression aircraft--a very manly mission back in the day.  He flew in Germany, and I flew Weasels in California.  We had a lot of common friends in the business.  Along the way, Al got a masters degree in international relations and I picked an MBA.  He went off to Russian language school and I went off to the Pentagon.  He was a spy and I worked as an operations analyst in a think tank in the basement of the Pentagon.  We collaborated, often at a distance and often indirectly, in the Cold War--something at which both of us were very good.  When I left the Pentagon to return to flying duty, Al literally took my desk in the Pentagon.  I went on to command a fighter squadron, he took an early out and came home to get a law degree.  Along the way, he wrote a novel, Potsdam Protocol, that mirrored his experiences crawling around in East Germany.  About the time I was retiring from the Air Force, Al got sick and was hospitalized.  He was never the same after he went back into the KU medical center in Kansas City.  On March 24 of 1997, he died during the operation to replace his liver and one of his kidneys.  I miss him very much.

I wanted to share this brief story for many reasons.  First, Al was a great American, a renaissance man, and a great patriot.  He served his country with great honor and courage.  He was a good lawyer, teacher and scholar.  He worked hard at whatever he decided was important and taking care of those that often could not take care of themselves was where he seemed to be at his best.  His practice, though not financially rewarding, was based in family law where he helped families keep their homes, children to stay with their parents, and children that needed a safe and nurturing setting.  He always fought for the underdog, regardless of circumstances or odds.  He was much admired and had a host of friends.

If Al were alive today, given what he went through medically, I think he would have praised the healthcare system that kept him alive for a long time.  He would have also fought hard to make sure that those that truly could not afford health insurance would have access to coverage and those that might be denied for pre-existing conditions, such as he endured, would also be able to find reasonable access.  However, he would have wanted more than anything for all of us to be able to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies and with our lives.  He would have fought hard to keep the doctor and patient as close together as possible and he would have led the march to keep government out of our lives.  He believed in the oath he took to support and defend the Constitution, and he believed every word of the Constitution as it was written.  That is why he chose to hang up his helmet and take up the bar.  He believed we were all equal before God and the Law.

I miss Al, particularly this time of year.   He was more than a brother, he was a brother in arms.  We shared experiences that most never get the chance to live.  He was good at what he did, and I was always proud of him.  Keep your mach up, little brother, and always check six.


The Government and Economics in America

The Constitution provides the organizing principles for the social, political and economic structures of America.  The explicit clauses of the Constitution that deal with interstate commerce and fiscal policy in theory provide a nurturing environment for a vibrant capitlistic system of free enterprise.  However, the government, particularly the national government, has had a persistent appetite for power.  Throughout the history of the nation, particularly since the end of the Civil War, more and more power has migrated to the national government.  Today, every headline about a problem seems to beg a national government solution.  Unfortunately, national government solutions can be generally categorized as matching the "one size fits all" formula.  The national government, particularly over the last two decades, has demonstrated behavior that is either indifferent to, or dimissive of, the governance environment of state and local governments.  Worse, the penchant of the national government to gather power has had a deleterious impact on free enterprise.

Free markets are self correcting and need little or no interference, or support, from government.  Buyers cooperate with sellers, and information is passed between actors in the market through prices.  The more competitors there are on the supply side, the better market operations are for consumers.  However, there are circumstances when we need government help to ensure our economic system continues to operate effectively.

At the college where I am employed, Ione of the courses I teach is our principles of economics course.  I usually have 30 or so students each semester in my class and have been teaching this course every term for the past 5 years.  My economics preparation is in Public Choice economic theory so I use a textbook that expresses economics in those terms.  The approach is down to earth and fully demystifies economics for the student.  Every term, we begin our studies from a consumer perspective then transition to a study of the larger economy of the country.  We take on what happens when government begins to creep into the activities of the market.  What has been the most fascinating aspect of seeing students transition from indifferent observers to active citizens is the recognition of what government should--and should not--do in supporting capitalism in this country and around the globe.

On their own, and without fail, each class has arrived at the same five necessary activities of government needed to support capitalism.  Those actions are:

  1. Provide for the commonweal.  This means that government, based on the preferences of the citizens, will provide common public goods.  Examples of these public goods and services would be national defense, the interstate highway system, public education, public safety services, etc.  These are goods and services that are available to everyone regardless of ability to pay for or contribute to the provision of the good or service. 
  2. Mitigate negative externalities.  A negative externality is a cost assigned in an exchange that is outside the exchange.  One might call this spillover.  In the public domain, we might want government to deal with, and we are willing to pay for, such things as the reduction of pollution, the elimination of striped mussels in the Great Lakes, and influencing a neighbor that can't seem to control the volume on his or her stereo.
  3. Provide a secure and stable financial system.  As far back as 1913, with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act and the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, the citizens of the United States have empowered the national government to establish and control currency and banking in the nation.  Further, the people that supported a national income tax allowed the national government to fund itself--a decision that certainly has led to some very negative unintended consequences.
  4. Provide for fair and free markets.  Here Congress, through the enumerated powers of the Constitution, should ensure that suppliers cannot collude to control prices or pursue unfair trade or labor practices.  Markets cannot be fair if those that want to be in the market are not allowed to compete on an even playing field.  Likewise, government action is often needed to ensure that markets remain competitive by ensuring that barriers to entry into the market are mitigated.  Pernicious regulatory regimes, often intended to make markets more "competitive" actually have exactly the opposite effect.  Regulations tend to increase costs of operations and thus force smaller, less viable competitors out of the market.
  5. Correct market failures.  In economics, market failures are defined as goods and services demanded by the public that private enterprise cannot or will not provide.  Examples might be means tested public assistance programs such as food stamps, income security, etc.

    Read more: The Government and Economics in America


It's Really About the Constitution

One of the most interesting aspects of the evolving political environment found in America today is the primacy the Constitution is gaining in the discourse.  In a perfect world, and Conservatives know there is no such thing, the Constitution would be as revered today as it was when it was first ratified.  Unfortunately, for many fellow citizens, they have never read the Constitution, never had a class on the Constitution and really have no historical context for the liberties and freedoms they enjoy that are guaranteed by the Constitution.  This pausity of civics knowleged is the product of two generations of educators and administrators in public education that have systematically diminished or dismantled civics education as part of the curricular offerings of their respective districts.  The residents of this nation have been educated in such a way as to indoctrinate the children of the country with the wholly damaging notion that government is the answer to all questions, when in fact, government is the reason we have a lot of questions in the first place.  Government as it has evolved in this country has power more and more concentrated at the national level.  From the founding, our Forefathers warned of this concentration of power in the hands of "imprudent magistrates."  The concentration of power in the hands of a few--a ruling elite--is the very definition of tyranny.

To reverse this erosion of civics knowledge and to restore a sense of civic responsibility in the residents of this great nation, citizens must begin at the local level and build upon small successes in getting our schools to teach civics, state history and American history that is objective and not an apology for life as it really was.  This approach is already starting, perhaps without anyone noticing.

The Tea Party movement professes values that include a belief in 1) a Constitutionally limited government, 2) Fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, 3) Free markets, and 4) Strong national security.  This grassroots movement that has swept the country is currently focusing in on finding candidates that share Tea Party values and using the political process to regain control of government.  Of course, this approach is exactly right, but there is so much more the Tea Partiers can do to change the political landscape.  When the dust settles and heat abates after the November elections, the Tea Partiers need to turn directly to public education and use that same energy that will change government to change the curricular offerings found in the public schools.  The fundamental way to reshape the country is to recapture control of our public schools.

Many of those that are most involved in conservative programs may not have children in schools or have made the sacrifices to put their children through private schools.  Some have taken the responsibility to teach their children at home.  The country cannot change unless our children are educated to be independent, responsible and accountable.  Similarly, our schools are there to educate our children, not raise them.  However, to change the nation a culture change will have to take place.  No matter how hard it gets, the nation can only change if those that believe in the Constitution turn their energies rebuilding the country from the bottom up.  That means taking back our schools the same way we are going to take back our government.


The Ethics of Healthcare Reform

Today the President of the United States announced yet another version of his vision for the nationalization of the healthcare industry in this country.  He and his loyal supporters have long been enamored with a European model of socialized medicine.  Why intelligent people from this country would embrace a program that systematically destroys the best healthcare system in the world is beyond understanding.  I have thought about this particular public policy matter from a number of angles, but the one I hear discussed the least is from an ethical perspective.

In business school, we offer students several templates within which individuals might find direction in making ethical decisions.  Those templates are aligned with the Categorical Imperative or Universal Law, Utilitarianism and a Social Justice template most often associated with the philosopher John Rawls.

The legislations being offered by Congress and the President may be evaluated by using these three templates.  First, do the programs offered in the legislation apply to all.  Right now, even with full implementation, tens of millions of residents in this country will still be without health coverage.  Similarly, the mechanisms of the legislation will eventually lead to those with good, satisfactory private insurance coverage having to go to a public option.  Private insurance companies, based on the soundest of economic influences, will opt out of most insurance markets leaving on the single payer system left.  Of course, a single payer system then is shaped around a one size fits all approach and will necessarily lead to rationing at every level of care.  Rationing is typically done based on price, then first come first served then lottery.  Only government can coerce behaviors that either deny service or force service on individuals.  Thus the universal law template does not apply.

The utilitarian argument fails at the outset.  By forcing individuals to have insurance and then forcing those with insurance to move to a less satisfactory position cannot possible be considered doing the most good for the most number.  If 260million people are already happy with their insurance, making those same people unhappy to cover another five percent of the population seems hardly a good decision.

Finally, the best ethical argument can be made for reform based on a social justice model.  In this case, we follow Rawls suggestion that we seek equal outcomes for equal circumstances.  After we peel away the numbers associated with those that have coverage, refuse coverage and are covered by some form of government insurance, we have around 10-12 million people that truly could use support.  Covering these people Cadillac programs could hardly cost the taxpayers of the country the 4-6 trillion dollars this current monstrosity will cost over the next 10 years.

Read more: The Ethics of Healthcare Reform


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