Over 200 years ago, 56 men affixed their names to the Declaration of Independence, thereby declaring themselves free of British rule because… they wanted to be.
These men claimed they were treated badly, but their claims were mostly about economics: taxation without representation, etc. Their main claim was that it’s a matter of natural law that men should be free to associate as they wish.
Any government structured to order the lives of people should exist only as an extension of the will of those people and should reflect their own wants, desires, and social norms.
The argument is that the natural law of respect for human life starts with the notion that it’s unfair to harm another without provocation or in self-defense. Thus, it’s unfair to enslave, burden, or steal from another person… all out of basic respect for human life.
Today, on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we would do well to ask ourselves if we still think we’re adhering to such a basic principle – respect for others – through the actions of our government.
I would argue we’ve drifted away from this notion over the last 100 years as the world became smaller, wars became bigger, our economy became more intertwined among the states, and the nation grew more urban.
Each of these trends led to a consolidation of power and money – sometimes to serve us better, sometimes not – that has left a lack of power and accountability at the local level, where the individuals who are governed actually live.
It’s hard to see how my representatives in Congress (both houses) are doing their best to serve MY interests.
As our nation has grown, we have allowed political offices to gather more perks, while distancing those in office from those who are governed. The Speaker of the House has a private plane. Members of Congress have separate pensions and their own separate health care that no one else can join. The National Security Agency (NSA) specifically doesn’t submit congressional communications to surveillance. And members of Congress are not legally liable for anything they say on the floor of their chamber.
The positions that afford these benefits also pay handsomely: Their pay puts these public servants in the top 10% income bracket.
To get these positions, our national politicians must be elected, a tremendous feat on its own. They must give a lot of speeches. They must travel. They must shake a lot of hands. But most importantly, they must raise a lot of money.
So they spend a lot of time both before and after election making sure they’re listening to those with big pocketbooks. I’ve no doubt that the reason the three largest sugar growers can default on U.S. government loans and keep the hundreds of millions of dollars they borrowed, is because there will be no recourse against them.
Who will demand a change in the law? The politicians who benefit from the campaign checks that these growers write?
The bailout of GM (I know, at this point an old and tired story) was aimed directly at supporting members of the United Automobile Workers union (UAW), whose gold-plated pensions remained intact, even though their employers went bankrupt.
The goal wasn’t to serve the public interest so much as to keep a very large and very politically involved entity happy. Don’t even get me started on Wall Street and the banks…
So we’re left with a group of people that enjoys tremendous benefits and spends significant time and resources ensuring their special interest sponsors get benefits in order to assist with their re-election. Meanwhile, the decisions handed down (and yes, they feel as if they’re handed down from on high) apply to us all, no matter how we view them.
We aren’t completely powerless.
We can start a petition, recall an officeholder, or simply elect someone else next time around. The issue is, of course, entrenchment. The amount of money it takes to fund a campaign is staggering, and unless your last name is Bloomberg, you’ll probably need help with financing. This means that candidates end up catering to people who can support their efforts… and who will want something in return once the candidates are elected.
I’m not calling for a revolution, a sit-in, or a day of anarchy.
What I would like is for communities around the country to ask themselves if they believe they’re fairly represented. If not, what changes might help?
I was recently talking to a smart man who mentioned our lack of representation, by which he meant that our Congressmen and Congresswomen have too many constituents ever to be able to serve them correctly. That’s a good starting point: change the metrics of how many voters are covered by each member of Congress.
Other suggestions are to require members of Congress to subject themselves to every single law that applies to constituents, to implement term limits, and to severely curtail benefits of public office.
Perhaps if our elected officials lived a little bit more like everyday people, they would better understand our daily struggles, which could lead to a little more respect for the average human… and his or her property.
At that point, we might once again pass the litmus test of having a government that adheres to the principles that 56 of our founding fathers put down on paper over two centuries ago.
Ahead of the Curve with Adam O’Dell
With the first half of the year now under our belts, it’s a good time to review which sectors have led the market higher… and which are acting more like dead weight.