If limits exist that constrain politicians and the legislation they can enact in the name of crisis, rescue or stimulus, it is unclear what they are.
Coming atop 2020's roughly $4 trillion in rescue, a weekend Senate party-line vote has routed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA, H.R. 1319 ) back to the House, from where it will then proceed to Joe Biden for signature.
Some critics argue that this add-on — returning to Americans $1,400 of their own money, rewarding states that arguably crippled their own economies and schools, and spreading pork — has little to do with crisis recovery.
Meanwhile mainstream coverage is largely favorable while the fact-check organizations defend much of the ARPA in narrative-affirming pieces that chastise critics rather than question the bill's premises or the state of crisis preparedness that leads to these gigantic spending bills in the first place.
Little under the purview of policymakers had been more certain than the arrival of a pandemic. But nothing in the new American Rescue Plan nor the earlier Families First Coronavirus Response Act , CARES Act or (proposed) HEROES Act reflect lessons learned, establish resilience, and assure a non-repeat of crisis-response excesses.
Quite the contrary; the left excels at leveraging crises to expand government, and tell us so; there are numerous examples of progressives' regarding the crisis as an " opportunity for a reset " and rallying point for a separate agenda complete with a " new social contract ."
Central to the modern progressive left's vision is adult dependence on national and international politicians, with a universal basic income (a.k.a. guaranteed minimum income) for the able bodied as the North Star.
Expanded medical care, free college, forgiven loans and other policies, prominent back in Obama State of the Union addresses, are stepping stones toward the UBI when viewed in context with the past year's innovations like additive federal unemployment, repetitive stimulus payments — and the real kickers — rent moratoria, paid family leave and pressure for doubled minimum wages whose consequences for small business would require still further federal support for the individuals whose jobs the policies themselves displace.
One cannot expect future-minded crisis prevention and resilience in such rescue plans, which reveal plainly that tomorrow's crises will be similarly seized upon for new trillion-dollar infusions on behalf of the blanket social regulatory state.
Letting no crisis go to waste has become an unfortunate cliche , and, OK, perhaps misleading if we regard the fact-checkers' framing of the phrase's origin as the valid one. Yet experience with the time preferences of politicians even before the Covid-19 crisis confirms that future generations of them will not preserve limited government unless obliged in the most explicit terms to do so.
At some point, though, it becomes classical liberalism's obligation to leverage crisis to reduce the contours of the largest government on planet earth.
An Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act, and even a constitutional amendment to reaffirm basic principles of the " silken bands of mild government ," are overdue.
So far, nothing like that has emerged. In a March 2 news conference before the American Rescue Plan Act's passage, several Republican senators were obliged to express dismay at the party-line "rescue" bill made inevitable by their own support of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act a year ago.
The Covid family of rescue bills represents the third Republican-supported flash policy response to crisis in the still-young 21 th Century, coming in the wake of 9/11 and its Patriot Act, and the 2008 financial meltdowns . Both of those, like Covid, left major new regulatory structures in place.
Indeed, in late 2020, former president Donald Trump wanted to spend even more in terms of checks issued than what emerged in ARPA, and the Democratic House agreed. Pre-virus, Republicans had already abandoned spending and debt restraint. That makes it difficult for them to plausibly invoke restraint now to rally anyone, particularly as the never-Trumper wing embraces a larger social safety net along with Democrats.
Hyper-spending — pre-ARPA debt is $28 trillion — reshapes the nation. It constitutes economic distortion. The direct and indirect regulatory controls created by transformational spending advance progressive and interventionist ends well before the downstream administrative state careerists issuing thousands of annual rules and regulations ever get involved.
Most unfortunate — but a bonus for the progressive agenda — is that today's hyper-borrowing prevents future generations from managing their own inevitable crises (such are the lot of mankind) by our having preemptively removed their wealth and resources from them.
So it's a big jam we and our descendants are in. It is necessary to the survival of limited government to put a stop to much of the exercise of power politicians presume voters have delegated to them.
Observers often talk of over-delegation by legislators to administrators. But the real overreach is the presumed, here we venture to say invalid, delegation by the public of unbounded powers to coerce their own countrymen.
To replace this state of affairs, a resilience, growth and preparedness agenda is required well before the next crisis. A reaffirmation of normalcy in governance, the legitimate "new social contract," must anticipate the reality and inevitability of unexpected shocks and also prioritize stabilizers to kneecap schemes that exploit those very crises.
Conventional challenges to the administrative state and unbounded congressional power and their eclipsing of constitutional government are necessary, but at this stage insufficient to preserve the founders' republic.
To prevent flash policy , there are at least four areas for which policymakers need to organize major hearings and working groups, and draft reform legislation in preparation for tomorrow's crises — pandemic or any other sort. Combined, these moves and others like them could constitute an Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act.
In the first instance , policymakers need to reexamine the concept of emergency declarations.
There is a tradeoff between shock-readiness and the modern ease of resorting to the emergency declaration default with its attendant problems of moral hazard mirroring that of subsidized flood insurance ("the government will take care of it"). In the pandemic case, these emergency interventions have included the seizure of corporate productive capacity via the Defense Production Act dating from the Korean War on the one hand, and haphazard lockdowns' destruction of the very businesses needed to spawn recovery and preserve employment on the other. Emergency declarations' effect on the vital institution of private property and resilience must be better understood.
Another major objective of this element of an abuse-of-crisis prevention campaign needs to be clarifying distinctions between federal and state strategic stockpiles, and insistence upon their respective maintenance.
Second , rainy-day, rainy-month, and rainy-year resilience funds need to be allowed for and prepped at all levels of society: individual and household, business, state and federal. For households and families, this means policymakers must, with full awareness of the gravity of the task, reject the swelling UBI mindset and enable the pursuit of resilience (and the ability to help one another) on a new level.
That is, one version of the social contract is to increase self-reliance in a nation in which it is far easier to stockpile months of necessities and dense calories than our vulnerable, non-electrified and un-plumbed ancestors could have dreamed. The other, now-dominant, version of the social contract to create a nation of induced dependence and dependents (both words).
Policymakers with a heretofore absence of awareness of the gravity of the task must replace custodial programs that exploit misfortune and bloat government, only to do it all over again when the next rationale for dependence-inducement presents itself. Needed instead are explicit, eyes-wide-open, resilience-expanding policies that increase intergenerational household wealth and self-reliance.
Of dozens of potential angles, here is one. The tax code is man-made. It can be altered to, rather than shuttle trillions to Washington yearly, allow every American to amass months and years of median income that could be accessed in future crises. The funds could convert to retirement when the time comes. This calls for to an explicit starving of federal government in favor of the fattening of the citizen (less of a "problem" since we know now that debt is not a concern to conventional policymakers, nor the Fed , nor former Treasury secretaries). In the ideal, there should be zero tax liability for American households or taxpayer units until they have several years of liquid-but-invested savings that they can certify on tax returns each year and use for emergency, then retire on. One step toward this would be (only for example) the replacement of Social Security for newborns with a parental down payment that starts compounding immediately, but out of the reach of government.
That this all would take time and commitment — far more than available on the flash-policy horizon of a conventional political career or a scheming progressive one — illustrates the problem. Therefore a constitutional amendment fencing politicians is likely necessary in addition to a "mere" Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act. Regardless, the home front needs to get taken care of before federal gobbledegook. And as we shall see in a moment, states have a vested interest in a constitutional convention to reaffirm their rights.
Third , Alongside steps toward getting rid of regulations that were never needed to start with and not overburdening businesses with new mandates as corona legislation has already done, and as minimum-wage escalation would do, businesses and corporations too can be allowed to better establish rain-event funds to withstand trauma.
These tasks could include liberalizing and expanding the role of crisis-insurance instruments in the marketplace to replace the expectation of government bailout, addressing regulatory inconsistency, and allowing for business wealth reserves paralleling that just proposed for individuals and households. Businesses able to survive during Covid (like well-run airlines) often had cash reserves, so fostering the accumulation of resources to withstand shocks makes sense.
This could entail Congress revisiting and appropriately expanding Internal Revenue Service retained earnings policy to allow companies from the mom and pop to the global to expand accumulation of retained earnings beyond current IRS caps and limitations on “reasonable needs.” It is now more than obvious that these needs include anticipating, preparing for, and weathering tomorrow's crises. Congress should explore allowances for set-asides of months or more of a firm's operating expenses as a fund to tap during an emergency or shock.
Whatever is done is superior to sending the money to Washington and then writing coalition letters asking for it back. Resources already come from the business prime-movers in the first place, and so when policymakers dispense funds, they get called "rescue" in a sometimes misleading sense.
Fourth , an obvious starting point in ending the dependence of the states on the federal government during crisis times is to first end that dependence in non-crisis times.
One of the highly controversial moves of the new ARP is its sending of $350 billion to states, where money is fungible and can go to non-pandemic priorities to the consternation of many but to the glee of more. To the reset crowd, that is a feature rather than a bug.
In the 2014 book Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering Their People , former U.S. senator and federal judge James L. Buckley described the vast degree to which federal limits on spending for the “general welfare” have been swept away, and how the important distinction between state and federal roles has been erased via the receipt by state and local governments of hundreds of billions of dollars from Washington. Buckley describes strings-attached, grants-in-aid to states and localities in categories like health, transportation, income payments, education, job training, social services and environmental protection, many of which are the very sort of thing boosted in the various pieces of coronavirus legislation.
Such programs have grown from 100 under President Lyndon Johnson, to over 1,100 now, with spending on them topping $750 billion in 2019 according to the Congressional Research Service. That figure represents a huge proportion of the federal discretionary budget.
Keeping resources localized and Congress out of the picture, and avoiding the make-work waste of an orbit from a state around Washington and back is elemental, and brings us full circle to the respective roles of state and federal government in making more rational emergency declarations, and localized decisions on business and household welfare. States may wish to reclaim these resources and rights for their citizens in a reaffirmation-of-federalism constitutional amendment.
The foregoing represent just some elements for consideration in a discussion aimed at shifting the stance of the federal government toward adult citizens from one of paternalism to one of dignity enabled by a resilience and growth mindset.
The most difficult aspects of an Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act and constitutional amendment will be the imperative of placing philosophically conscious anti-"Progressive" restrictions on recovery and emergency funds and programs.
The primary hurdle here, parallel to that of the mainstream media's near-uniform defense of progressive crisis responses, is that we can expect academics generally and those dominating modern constitutional law specifically (a field preoccupied with loopholes) to echo them in attacking those bent on restoring sound governance. Administrative law departments at major law schools embrace political philosophies at cross-purposes to the Constitution and do not reliably safeguard even the founding document's explicit limitations on federal power, let alone its implied ones.
Safeguarding limited government with programs of resilience and power at the local and individual levels have been eroded by the aforementioned delegation by citizens to Congress of powers to coerce their countrymen; by the demise of compartmentalized governmental powers (or federalism); and by the federal government's erosion of households' self-reliance.
Accordingly, repeated flash policy episodes weaken our nation's resilience for weathering subsequent crises, a circumstance convenient for those whose goals entail expanding government still further, but a vicious cycle for others. Offsetting that by empowering state and local governments but most particularly the public itself instead of Washington is paramount.
Six trillion dollars into the current crisis, the conversation and action necessary to cement readiness for the next wildfire infection or economic shock must begin now. Policymakers need to do a 180 on crisis management, adapting the sketch above and more to re-establish a regime consistent with liberty and the preservation of limited government. The abandonment of these principles is a crisis in and of itself, and a significant source of non-resilience.
Progressivism's regime-change agendas were ascendant well before the coronavirus arrived. It is a question for another day, but one way or another, policymakers who exploit power and undermine constitutional foundations must be checked; therefore research into appropriate discipline of politicians who violate their Oath to uphold the Constitution and exploit crisis instead are also an important part of abuse-of-crisis prevention. This turbulent year has already seen its share of calls for censure of politicians for other reasons.
We sometimes joke regarding bloated government that, "There'll always be an America, it just won't be here." Expansion of centralized bureaucracies is a global phenomenon, however, leaving little territory for rebirth.
So we need to fix things here; alternative resilience innovations would be the true "reset" and comprise the only viable "new social contract." More government is, alas, nothing new.
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