"It is my goal to make the London Center, the premier foreign policy institute in the country, one that is shaping
the debate on international affairs and influencing decisions emerging from the Congress."
There is an argument going around these days that the system of government that we have is deeply flawed. Is that so, or is it that that argument is deeply flawed? Perhaps the real problem folks are pointing at is a tad older than the US Constitution.
Perhaps it surfaced shortly after Pharaoh Zoser ordered his first pyramid: government agencies don’t ever close. They don’t ever close no matter how well or how poorly they perform. And those in government agencies support and defend those agencies as if national survival depended on them.
There are hundreds of examples in the US alone, though every government suffers from the problem. Consider just a few:
The Federal Reserve, created in 1913 to provide monetary control (manage the supply of money, thereby preserving the value of the dollar) and reduce the impact of financial crises. According to the Federal Reserve’s home page, it was: “created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system."Since 1913 the US has had recessions at a slightly lower rate than it had in the previous century, but the recessions have been longer, and in several cases quite a bit worse.
In addition, there is the question of debt and the value of the dollar.
In 1913 the US had a GDP of about $39 billion and the cumulative national debt was a tad over $1.5 billion after 137 years; the dollar was backed by gold - it was a hard currency. The world no longer has hard currencies, all the economists at the central banks decided long ago that hard currency was a bad thing. Meanwhile, we will hit a total debt of $30 trillion before the year is out, on a GDP of perhaps 26 trillion. For those who like numbers, that works out to US GDP expanding by a factor of 650 over the last 108 years, while debt increased by a factor of 20,000. And the dollar since 1913 has lost 96.2% of its value due to inflation of the money supply.
The Department of Education, pulled out from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Carter administration. The Department of Education was formed to do two things: raise the scores of US high school students AND to place a break on the rising costs of education. Since then there has been no improvement in US education scores relative to the rest of the world, and in fact our standing has probably fallen, and meanwhile the US now spends more on education in total and per capita than any other country on planet earth.
The Department of Energy - The Department of Energy was also created to do two things: maintain the security and integrity of US nuclear weapons AND make the US independent of foreign energy sources. The first goal is a bit of a mixed result; the US has eliminated well more than 2/3rds of it’s nuclear force since the 1970s, vastly simplifying the problem, yet administration after administration has had a very difficult time coming up with a plan to sustain the weapons that survives contact with Congress.
As for energy independence, this occurred a few years ago as a direct result of private energy companies acting in direct opposition to plans from the Department. So, not because of, but rather than in spite of the Department’s worst efforts, the US finally achieved energy independence. That has now been undone by the current administration.
The Post Office… Technically, no longer a US Government agency but… We all have our tales of Postal performance, but I will offer this one simple example: I mailed some material to an accountant the other day - between two fairly large urban centers less than 200 miles apart. The charge for mailing was $7.95 for 2 day Priority delivery. It arrived in 4 days. At the same time one of my brothers - living in the woods of northern New England, ordered a tool from some on-line company. The tool was delivered the next day, cost for the tool AND delivery was less than the cost of mailing my package.
None of this, however, is an indictment of the Constitution or the Founding Fathers. In fact, they repeatedly warned - in a host of writings - that governments must be kept limited in scope and power. Our current troubles illuminate the issue of Congressmen creating an office, at the behest of this or that President, and in doing so stepping well outside the boundaries as defined by the Constitution. The Constitution specifically says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
If Congress wants to add a new power, let the people - the real authority - decide; get an amendment passed. But that is never the option. Instead, the rule, particularly in the last 50 or 60 years, has been to either find a court to “find” some authority previously hidden inside the Constitution, or some creative Congressmen and Senators will, for example, find a new way to interpret the Commerce Clause (To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States) to allow Congress to do anything - like regulate water flow on a cattleman’s ranch.
Perhaps what we have here isn’t so much a flawed government system but flawed humanity. We have quite mortal men who have come to believe that they can sit in a large, imposing building, hundreds if not thousands of miles from where real people are doing real work, and that they can control them, and produce wonderful results and that everyone will be happy and that the citizens will call it Justice and Freedom.
But the real flaw is even older than Pharoah Zoser; the flaw isn’t in the Presidency as discussed in the Constitution, the flaw is in the men who have been President; it’s not Congress, it’s the Congressmen, it’s not the Courts, it’s the Judges and Lawyers. And all the bureaucrats who operate the machinery of government.
This idea was grasped by the Founders, men are flawed. That’s why they wanted to limit the reach of government, that is why government was only to exercise those powers specifically delegated to it by the people. But all that seems alien to any discussion today as to the role of government. We need to bring back this topic, we need to insist on following the Constitution, we need to climb onto the rooftops and shout for limited government. And we might also want to start calling for the closure of some of these agencies that have failed to achieve their mission goals.
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...