Founders sought to limit the power of government
Observing the signs of these political times, it seems an opportune moment to suggest three principles relating to the business of American government at all levels.
Government should not act unless there is a realistic and definite public good to be achieved or harm to be relieved. Having a good/utopian idea or intention is not enough. As one of our country’s founders, James Madison, cautioned, “Theoretical reasoning must be qualified by the lessons of practice.” In many cultures, this kind of practical knowledge is referred to as wisdom.
It should be an achievable good or relievable harm that government is in the best position to manage in behalf of and for the betterment of its citizens. Although government can and should operate in accord with many best business practices, government should never simply “be in the business of …” In fact, the dominant wisdom of our nation’s founders was that government should stay out of our business. “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation” (President James Madison).
Unless there are exigent circumstances, there should be a scrutinizing and public discussion of any new or change in government action, especially when it involves taxes, laws or other guidelines that regulate and impact our lives. As another founder of our country, Patrick Henry, affirmed, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”