Saturday, Nov 22, 2014
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Reiniers: Being smaller has its virtues


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It is sometimes said that smaller countries have the advantage of being more nimble, efficient and effective than big countries. Economy of size doesn’t seem to work well with the big boys. The United States is proof of that. Government and business are mutually exclusive entities; so while economy of size or scale translates to greater operational efficiency in manufacturing, it is quite the opposite with government. Historically, a big government becomes a bloated inefficient government. It’s the nature of the beast. Invariably, ‘big’ means layers of bureaucrats.

This topic often comes to mind when reading or writing about Scandinavian or the Low Countries in Europe. With the exception of the Netherlands, all have populations of fewer than 10 million people. Even though these are the quintessential European social democracies, they are quite efficient at redistributing other people’s money. But let us not forget other small countries like Lithuania, Singapore and Iceland – not social democracies – also enjoy successful economies. (Iceland made a stunning reversal from a banking disaster and now is doing better than many EU countries.) Size matters.

You would think that U.S. pundits and economists would segue in their writings from the advantages that small countries have to our “sovereign” states – if they ever became as sovereign again as the Founders intended – making decisions at the local level rather than in Washington where bureaucrats make decisions for all 50 states.

The successful economies in Texas with its oil and natural gas; the spectacular high tech innovation from California’s Silicon Valley, and the reinvention of North Dakota with a stunning unemployment rate of 2.6 percent, to mention but a few examples, all were inspired by entrepreneurs in accommodating individual states — not by any federal bureaucracy.

What prompted this piece was “Welcome to Teatopia,” written by Slate magazine’s Reihan Salam, in which he muses about what “Teatopia” would look like if the Tea Party became a majority. Well, for one thing, it would have a smaller federal government, because it would have more limited functions. The one principle that unites the tea party movement is a “devotion to subsidiarity which holds that power should rest as close to ordinary people as possible.” In essence any smaller government is preferable: “individuals over local government, local government over state government and state government over the federal government.”

This goes to the heart of the belief system of the Founders. Progressive Democrats grimace when they discover Article Four, Section Four of the Constitution – known as the “guarantee” clause – which reads: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” It does not guarantee a Washington centered government. The framers clearly intended to prevent the rise of an overpowering central government such as a monarchy or aristocracy. (We’d been there, done that, fought a war over that.)

This is the direction we are heading now with a president who taunts both the Congress (our elected representatives, for better or worse) and disparages those states – Arizona, for one –which disagree with his ideology. (King George III comes to mind, who also was openly dismissive of the colonies.)

The framers clearly preferred a republican form of government as they believed the states – being smaller than the federal government and closer to the people – would govern more wisely.

Indulge me for a minute. “De minimis” is a legal term taken from the Latin maxim “de minimis non curat lex,” meaning “the law does not care for small things,” which is a common law doctrine by which a court can refuse to consider trifling matters.

To those progressives who believe in a Washington centered culture controlled by a federal bureaucracy, our state governments are nothing more than “trifling” frontier settlements – or more accurately – a nuisance.

“Small” governments can still command respect. The constitutional republic of Iceland, with its population of 325,000 souls, and the island republic of Singapore with all of its 276 square miles of territory are hardly considered de minimis in international circles.

Look at it this way: President Obama nominated, and the Senate confirmed, two United States ambassadors to these sovereign countries. If only our states were held in such high esteem.

Salam’s view is that in Teatopia the states would look pretty much like they do now, only that the “contrasts would be heightened.” Different states would “offer different versions of the good life.” In Teatopia a shrunken federal government would devolve the endless activities of the massive federal bureaucracy to the states whose stature would be elevated to their intended constitutional role as a “sovereign” state.

Federal taxes would plummet. Thus, states would raise their taxes according to the culture of their state. For example: California would welcome illegal immigrants as citizens of its state – not the United States – and raise its taxes accordingly to provide social services.

There would be more comity in Congress because there would be less to bicker about, given that the federal government’s power finally would be limited to Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution (enumerated – not elastic – powers clause).

Comparing Teatopia and its newly enfranchised states with small countries highlights the notion that California – to name one liberal state – still would be a haven for highly taxed liberal progressives. This is their culture. If they prefer to be another Denmark with the highest marginal tax rates – 55 percent – on the globe, followed closely by Sweden, plus both with a stunning additional 25 percent value added tax – fine. These are countries where you are guaranteed not to fail – and guaranteed not to succeed because you’re paying for everyone else. But this is what Danes and Swedes want.

Salam makes out an excellent case for Teatopia by observing: “It is a heck of a lot easier to move from one state to another that better reflects your political beliefs than to move from one country to another.”

John Reiniers is a retired lawyer and regular contributor who lives in Spring Hill.

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