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.

The president has no authority to forgive student loan debt.

By what authority does the President have the power to forgive student loan debt?  Our Constitution grants Congress the power to tax and spend, not the President, and surely the forgiveness of student debt is spending money.  In addition to the President’s action being unconstitutional, forgiving student debt, even for those with incomes below $125,000 per year, will mostly benefit people with above average incomes.  It’s also a slap in the face to those who have already paid off their debt or who saved and never went into debt.  It also sets a terrible precedent.  Students who go into debt in the future will be encouraged to not pay their debt in hopes that it will be forgiven.  Democrats should not feel good about this. At some point in the future there will be a Republican President  who will have the same power. 

Living in a pluralistic country.

The United States of America is a pluralistic, heterogeneous country. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians. Muslims, Christians, atheists. Asians, Blacks, Latinos, Whites. And on and on. It seems that we are getting more tribal – my tribe is good and other tribes are bad. Many media outlets reinforce the idea that those who disagree with us are evil and have bad intentions. We are righteous and our intentions are honorable. We want to save our Country and our opponents want to destroy it. There doesn’t appear to be a path to peace and agreement about how to go forward.

Every group seems to go to our government to lobby for laws and regulations that support their position and/or outlaw contrary positions. Very few seem to care about fundamental, first principles. They just want their side to win. It would be nice if we could agree on fundamental principles and then go forward with laws and regulations that are consistent with those principles.

Living in a free country doesn’t just mean that others should tolerate the things you do that they don’t like. If you truly believe in individual liberty and want to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, then you need to tolerate people who do things you don’t like.

Governor and Legislature wrong to force E15 ethanol-blended gas on Iowans.

The Iowa Legislature has passed, and Governor Reynolds is expected to sign, a bill that will force most gas stations in Iowa to sell E15 – 15% ethanol-blended gasoline. Both Republicans and Democrats should be ashamed of this bill, especially Republicans. Republicans have traditionally said that they support free-market capitalism where consumers and business owners decide what to buy and sell. In addition to being unprincipled, supporters of this bill are wrong on the facts. The Governor said, “It’s a lower cost of fuel.” We know that the price at the pump is lower, but that does not factor in the various subsidies paid by taxpayers to farmers, ethanol producers, and fuel blenders. It also does not factor in the lower miles per gallon that a car gets when ethanol is blended into the gasoline. Taxpayers will also pay for most of the costs to upgrade pumps and other infrastructure needed by the gas stations. I did not read where there is any phase-out of the mandate. The good news is that those who supported the bill can rest assured that they will continue to get financial support from corn farmers and ethanol producers.

We don’t “follow the science”, science informs politics.

Science does not tell us what we should do. Science can tell us what the consequences will be if we do or do not do some particular thing. Science informs us and our elected representatives, but science does not dictate what the political policy should be.

Almost every decision involves some kind of trade-off. Often, the trade-off is between safety and liberty. For example, most driving and traffic regulations involve giving up some amount of liberty in return for greater safety.

In the case of Covid-19, the use of vaccines, masks, business closings, etc. is a trade-off between safety and liberty. If you say that a Covid-19 related policy is justified if it saves even one life, then you would have a problem. The vaccine has clearly saved many lives, but some people have died from the vaccine as well. It is not as simple as choosing the one that saves the most lives. Almost everyone who wants to take the vaccine can take it. The majority of adults have already chosen to get the vaccine. The relatively few who are compromised in some way and, therefore, are advised against getting the vaccine can do a lot to protect themselves against those who might be contagious.

As a libertarian, I believe that private business owners, just like homeowners and individuals, should be free to choose whether or not to associate with those who are not vaccinated. Government, on the other hand, should really not be able to discriminate based on vaccine status in most situations because we citizens don’t really have the option to “opt-out” of dealing with the government. There may be some situations or circumstances where a vaccine mandate by the government might be appropriate, but the default position should be liberty, with the burden on the government to show why the mandate outweighs the loss of freedom. Ultimately, the decisions will be made by our elected representatives. And as we all know, there is a wide difference of opinion about vaccine mandates among our elected representatives as well as among we citizens.

Don’t exempt retirement income from Iowa Income Tax.

Iowa Governor Reynolds made some bold tax proposals in her State of the State address. In addition to a flat tax of 4% on all taxable income, she has proposed that retirement income such as pensions, IRAs, and 401ks be exempt from income tax. She also proposes to exempt cash rent payments received by farmers who are retired.

Social Security income is already exempt in Iowa even though many retired Iowans have higher than average wealth and income. Also, the average farmer is significantly more wealthy than the average Iowan. Farmers also have social security and can have IRAs and/or other retirement income just like everyone else. For some farmers, their cash rent received during retirement could exceed $100,000 per year, just like non-farmer wealthy retired people can have high incomes. There is no good reason why everyone’s retirement income should be tax-exempt.

If any group should have part of their income be exempt from tax, it is those Iowans who have the lowest incomes. It would be better to increase the standard exemption for everyone than to exempt retirement income. That way, the tax relief would go to those who need it most, regardless of age.

1/6/21 Insurrection was not a real attempt to take over the government.

By the definition of the word,  the event that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection.  The participants are properly being treated as criminals under federal law.  At the same time, it’s hard to imagine that any participant really thought they would actually overthrow our government.  It appeared to be more like a political demonstration that turned into a riot and ended with a lot of people following a herd mentality and things got out of control.  Nevertheless, it is appropriate to take steps to see that it never happens again and to punish those who were involved.

How to reduce U.S. overdose deaths.

It has been widely reported that more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the 12 months ended April 30, 2021, a record high. A large and increasing portion of overdose deaths is attributable to illicitly obtained drugs, especially fentanyl. Many addicts have no choice but to buy their drugs on the black market, so they can’t be assured of the strength or purity of the drug, or what other drugs might have been added to what they think they are buying. As a result, many overdose deaths are accidental.

Imagine if we treated drug addiction using a medical model rather than a criminal model? If addictive drugs could be purchased legally and were regulated as to strength and purity, many overdose deaths would be avoided. Additionally, people who become addicted might be more likely to ask for help to kick the habit if they weren’t afraid of getting arrested and put in jail. Finally, much of the crime and violence associated with the illegal drug trade would go away if our policy of prohibition were ended.

As I’ve written before, if a new pharmacy opens in your neighborhood, the existing pharmacies don’t start a shooting war to protect their turf. And if someone breaks into or otherwise trys to rob a pharmacy, the pharmacy calls the police. It is the prohibition that causes most of the violence.

Under a legal drug regime, it would still be illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, and children would be prohibited from buying drugs. But a person who minds their own business would not be a criminal for using drugs in a peaceful manner.

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.