Democracy or Republic?

The title of this blog is also the title of an essay by Walter E. Williams that was published in the June 2007 edition of magazine The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty.

I am about a third of the way through a book by Walter Williams entitled American Contempt for Liberty. It is a compilation of many of his essays. Each essay is only about a couple of pages long. The book is hard to put down. I find myself underlining something on almost every page.

Separately, while organizing my office today I found about 10 photocopies of the essay referred to in the first paragraph. I just reread the essay and understand why I made copies to give out to people who I thought might be interested. It is a concise essay that explains the difference between a democracy and a republic and how clearly our founding fathers wanted to establish a republic and not a democracy. So, below is a link to the relatively short essay. I expect that you will enjoy reading it.

https://fee.org/articles/democracy-or-republic/

Can’t our federal government spend money on anything that promotes the general welfare of citizens?

Here is what one of our founding fathers, James Madison, said about our Constitution and the ‘general welfare’ clause:

“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare’, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected to them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”

We have gone far outside the Constitution with respect to both corporate/business welfare and social welfare.

As Walter Williams might say, most Americans and politicians have contempt for our Constitution. They very much have violated its clearly written provisions and think that is best. They think we should have a pure democracy where the majority gets whatever they want. (We have a republic with a constitution that protects the rights of minorities.)

If they really think the Constitution is wrong, the proper way to amend it is by getting three-fourths of the State Legislatures to agree. That may be hard. It is intended to limit the power of the federal government and leave other powers to the states or the people. As it should be.

Our republic is not a pure democracy!

I disagree with the letter to the editor in The Des Moines Register written by Ivan T. Webber that, “The United States Senate is an outdated relic that can no longer be justified in the modern world.”  He noted that none of the upper houses of the other G-7  nations can block ordinary legislation.   (“The US Senate is unacceptably undemocratic” published 11/11/2021)


We elect our representatives democratically, but our founding fathers and our Constitution created a Republic that protects certain fundamental rights of minorities against the will of majorities.  The Senate was specifically designed to protect smaller states from being abused by larger states.  If a minority in the Senate blocks the majority from achieving their goals, it is a feature, not a bug.

  
Important decisions made by our government that affect the lives of everyone should require more than a simple majority vote.  As we’ve seen, when the party in power has passed laws by a slim majority, whether Democrat or Republican, it has created a very divided populace.  We have an increasingly diverse population in the U.S., so our laws should, as much as possible, allow people to pursue happiness in their own way, not forced by government policy, if we want to maintain a civil society.

Supreme Court correct to protect religion

Contrary to the letter from Donnabelle Richtsmeier, our Supreme Court was correct to overturn New York’s restriction on the size of religious gatherings.  (See copy of letter below.)

The 1st Amendment to the Constitution reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”     The 14th Amendment reads in part, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”  So, states cannot violate our federal constitutional rights.

No exception is made to allow our governments to violate our constitutional rights because of a pandemic. If that were true, what limit would there be on our government’s response to a pandemic?

The statement in the preamble of the Constitution, “promote the general welfare“ does not grant any specific power to our government.  If we gave our government the power to do anything that would promote the general welfare, there would be no limit on our government.  Our Constitution establishes a government with limited, enumerated powers. Restricting the exercise of religion is strictly prohibited.

Donnabelle Richtsmeier’s letter to the Des Moines Register:

I was astonished to learn that the Supreme Court ruled against the lower courts and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 restrictions that included limits on religious gatherings in places of worship. The justices certainly did not take into account current scientific evidence and advice from public health authorities that such measures could help stop the spread of the virus.

The Supreme Court is no longer a bipartisan group of judges whose job it is to interpret the Constitution in a fair and just way. It is a group bent on promoting their own philosophies and politics. In their ruling, they forgot the phrase in the preamble to the Constitution that states “promote the general welfare.” Certainly, efforts to protect citizens from COVID-19 is promoting the general welfare of the citizens of not only New York but the entire United States.

The framers of the Constitution wanted to guarantee religious freedom giving citizens the right to worship in ways suited to them, free from harassment or harm. The Supreme Court really took this out of context. Limiting the size of religious gatherings during this severe pandemic is in no way an attack on the freedom of religion. It is a way to protect the health of citizens and to save lives. The justices must put aside their individual prejudices and become a bipartisan group working together to uphold the Constitution in order to “form a more perfect union.” If they can’t do this, maybe it is time for some changes.

— Donnabelle Richtsmeier, Des Moines

Trump is wrong on his nationalist, anti-international trade policy

Below is the link to an excellent article by Eric Boehm from Reason magazine’s August/September issue.  It gives specific evidence that shows how international trade makes us safer in a world-wide pandemic rather than the opposite.  There is a knee-jerk reaction when we have shortages to assume that we would be better off if we did not depend on other countries for our various needed products.  This essay shows that the facts indicate otherwise.

link to Reason essay by Eric Boehm:  https://reason.com/2020/07/11/trumps-trade-war-made-the-pandemic-worse-and-nationalism-will-slow-the-recovery/

Science recommends, individuals or politics decide.

The editorial team at The Des Moines Register, (as well as many liberals), seem to think that anyone who does not follow the recommendations of our government’s scientists is a “science denier.”    That’s not true.  People can believe the science but disagree about how to respond politically.  Science can give us a pretty good idea of what will happen when we take certain actions, but science does not tell us what risks are acceptable or what trade-offs we are willing to make to achieve any specific level of safety.  Those are either individual or political decisions.  We could stop COVID-19 completely if everyone was required to stay in their home for the next 30 days.   But even then, some would die in their homes. There is no perfect answer.  It is a proper role of government to use its force to stop or slow the spread of a communicable disease.   But as we can clearly see there are wide differences of opinion regarding what trade-offs we are willing to make and what level of safety should be our goal.  To the extent that those who are not willing to take a risk can protect themselves, others should be free to take risks.

“Bending the curve” may only lengthen the time we are suffering.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of our government leaders, including elected officials and public health regulators, as they tighten restrictions on our freedom of movement..  We are “bending the curve” and easing the pressure on our health care system.  But unless an effective anti-virus drug is found and administered to everyone very quickly, bending the curve will only delay the time before most of us will become infected, and will lengthen the time that we all suffer emotionally and economically.
Why is our response to this situation so dramatically different than our response to the flu or automobile accidents?  Both the flu and auto accidents kill tens of thousands of Americans each year and are preventable.  We could dramatically reduce those deaths if we used the same extreme measures that we are using against COVID-19.  But what is the point of living if we have to stay away from our family and friends?  For a few weeks, fine.  For several months or more, not acceptable.  Life has risks.  We need to balance the costs and the benefits of our efforts.  Soon, we need to once again let people decide for themselves how much risk they are willing to take.

Right-to-work laws need a change.

Laws and regulations should not require a person to join a union in order to work for a unionized employer, including the government.  But for privately owned businesses, the owners should be able to work exclusively with a union, and require employees to join the union, if that is what the owners want.  Most if not all right-to-work laws do not give owners that right.  Those laws should be changed.

Don’t add long-term care coverage under Medicare

Contrary to the Register Editorial on 12/1/2019, we should not add long-term care as a new benefit under Medicare.  (See link below to The Register’s Editorial urging Medicare coverage of long-term care.)  If we want to solve problems using the force of government, we should do the minimum needed to solve the problem.  In this case, the problem is making sure that people receive medically necessary long-term care, not making sure that money is left to people’s heirs.
We currently have a pretty good situation: Many people voluntarily purchase private long-term care insurance.  Many others who could afford insurance choose to take a risk and not buy it.  Taxpayer-funded Medicaid covers the cost of long-term care for those who are unable to pay.  For those in the middle – not on Medicaid, but who would struggle to pay for private long-term care insurance – Medicaid already goes a long way to help them qualify for long-term care coverage.   For example, if one spouse of a married couple needs long-term care, the other spouse gets to keep a house and a car and some income, even though Medicaid pays for the long-term care of the first spouse.
The best long-term, sustainable solutions to our problems is to give voluntary, free choice to people and then expect them to be responsible for their decisions.  To the extent that we allow our government to force everyone into one-size-fits-all welfare programs, there will be ongoing, unsustainable frustrations, disagreements, and dependency problems.

Our federal legislators should oppose reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank

I urge our elected federal representatives to oppose the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.  (The Ex-Im Bank provides taxpayer guarantees to U.S. companies that export and sell products to international customers.  Authorization is set to expire on 9/30.)  This has been and continues to be a quintessential example of crony capitalism.  If a U.S. exporter has customers who find it difficult to find financing, the seller can always guarantee a loan and get a security position to get the asset back in a worst case.  If they still cannot get financing, the seller could provide direct financing.  In any case, our government should not guarantee such loan private companies.

I’m sure that small and large Iowa export companies are heavily lobbying for reauthorize the Bank.  I hope our representatives resist the pressure and vote against this bad policy where taxpayers are asked to take the risk and private companies reap the profits.