Tag: shut down

The States Should Control National Parks

Jack Shields | United States

The federal government has been shut down since December 22nd. I am a huge fan of government shutdowns, as I believe they disprove a popular illusion about the importance of government. The illusion, of course, is that we need government to shield us from the dangers of freedom and without the government being involved in every part of our lives, we’d fall apart in violent anarchy. But it’s been weeks since the shutdown. I’m not dead. No one else is dead. People are still getting their Social Security checks. The military is still out there protecting us, fully funded. Everything is okay. And the fact there are parts of the federal government that can be labeled as ‘non-mandatory’ and not be funded during this shutdown ought to prove the government has grown way too large and we should rid ourselves of these self-acclaimed unnecessary programs. You’d be hard pressed to find a private company that could survive long while paying non-mandatory employees. Many of these non-mandatory programs should just be defunded and forgotten about forever (the study which analyzed the effects of cocaine on a bird’s sexuality comes to mind). However, many are extremely popular and aren’t going anywhere, with national parks being perhaps the biggest example. These types of programs should be devolved back to the state level. This will restore federalism and actually improve the state of the parks.

The idea of national parks was conceived in the mid nineteenth century, with advocates such as John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Stephen Mather claiming the federal government should ensure that some land is kept natural and preserved so that all generations may experience their beauty. And they were incredibly successful. The first of such came about when President Lincoln required California to preserve Yosemite. Then, President Grant made Yellowstone the first official national park. More were gradually added but the number of national parks skyrocketed under President Theodore Roosevelt, as he added national parks, national monuments, national game refuges, bird sanctuaries, and millions of acres of national forests. Under President Wilson, the National Park Service was created in 1916, and today there are 392 national parks along with millions and millions of acres of other federally protected lands and areas.

National parks in and of themselves may not be such a bad idea. I, for one, am certainly sympathetic to the idea we should preserve some of nature for the generations to come. Even one of the greatest Libertarian thinkers of all time, Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec, seemed to give exception to the national parks when it came to his philosophy of an almost nonexistent government. But just because something is a good idea does not mean the federal government should be the one doing it. If this was true, then we should immediately give the federal government complete control over the economy, violent crime, schools, and every single issue that has ever existed. Because, after all, if it’s a good idea, why shouldn’t everyone do it? This logic is in complete contradiction of federalism, localism, and most importantly the Constitution.

The United States was designed to allow most decisions to be decided at a local level. This was because it holds the representatives more accountable, ensures there are more similarly held beliefs, prevents tyranny, and actually makes more people happy with their government. When it comes to the national parks, there isn’t too much concern that tyranny will arise from them, so making the people happy is the most important issue, and localization ensures the highest success rate. Say for example there are 100 people living in Texas and 80 living in New Mexico. In Texas, 80 people want to increase the budget for the parks. In New Mexico, only 30 want to increase the budget. Under a federalized park system, the budget is increased, with 110 citizens being left pleased with the turnout, and 70 citizens being left disappointed. But under true federalism, the budget is increased in Texas but left the same in New Mexico. This leaves 130 citizens being left pleased with their respective states’ decisions, and only 50 being left disappointed. If Americans want more funding for parks, more protections, or perhaps they’d rather sell the land, all that is well and good. But it should be decided at the state level, leaving more people happy.

Even more important than ensuring the happiness of the citizenry, national parks should be devolved to the states according to the Constitution. There’s really nothing wrong with the idea of parks, and National Parks aren’t really a tyrannical threat to liberty, so most people are probably fine with them being run by the federal government. But we are either a nation of men or a nation of laws. And seeing as because of the principles it is built on, a nation of men turning tyrannical is almost certain, I’d much rather live in a nation of laws. That means strictly upholding the Constitution. Even when it comes to the fun stuff like parks that almost no one has a problem with. Nowhere in the Constitution is the power to run national parks granted to the federal government. This fact requires two parts of the Constitution to be evaluated. First, Article I Section 8 Clause 18, known as the Elastic Clause. This clause states that any law may be passed to execute an enumerated power, and this has been interpreted to allow the federal government to have powers not specifically listed in the Constitution if they are necessary to execute an enumerated power. For example, requiring men to sign up for the draft is considered an implied power which is necessary in executing the power to raise and support armies granted by Article I Section 8 Clause 12. However, it is clear that having national parks isn’t necessary in order to coin money, regulate commerce, or any of the other powers granted to the federal government. Which leads to the 10th Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution says quite clearly what should be done when it comes to parks. 

This devolution of the parks to the states will not only be in line with the Constitution and make more people happy but will also ensure the parks are run more efficiently. Right now the federal government is shut down, which means the national parks are shut down. This means there is no tourism which is causing lots of money to be lost, no one is cleaning the parks (except a few cases of private, charitable parties doing it), and many other problems and inconveniences. The shut down is occurring because the Republicans and Democrats cannot come up with a compromise when it comes to immigration reform, more specifically, President Trump’s proposed wall. Which means tourists can’t go to the parks, and the parks are covered in trash that can’t be cleaned, because of immigration laws. It seems silly that immigration policy should determine whether or not you get to go to Yosemite. With parks in the hands of the states, President Trump and Speaker Pelosi can scream at each other all they want and shut down the government as long as they want, and it won’t effect your trip to the park one bit.

Devolving the national parks to the states would be a simple concept in a time of extreme partisanship and gridlock that would do a little to reign the federal government back into its constitutional boundaries, make citizens a little happier, and prove that not only does the federal government not have to be involved in every little thing, things may actually be better when they aren’t.


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Government Shutdowns and Debt Ceilings

Craig Axford | Canada

Government shutdowns and flirtations with default by putting off raising the federal debt ceiling have become regular occurrences in Washington, D.C. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised given the number of representatives and senators regularly expressing disdain for the very institution they were elected to run, but still.

Americans like to believe their nation is exceptional, and it is: it’s the only developed nation on the planet that doesn’t guarantee all its citizens healthcare, higher education is more expensive there than just about anywhere else, it has the only government that it’s possible to shut down without having to resort to violence, and it’s the only nation that flirts with suicide by requiring votes on its debt ceiling.

That’s right. No other governments have even one, let alone two, kill switches built into their system. And why would they? What’s the point? Unless the intent is to erode public confidence in government it makes no sense for elected officials to even contemplate closing down popular national parks or giving all the people in charge of enforcing our public health and safety regulations an extended unpaid holiday?

The habit of shutting down the government now and then (as well as the continuing resolutions passed to avoid them) is an unintended bug in the American system rather than a feature of it. So too is the necessity to authorize more borrowing periodically once the national debt has reached a predetermined threshold. Both of these bugs are extremely dangerous but, unfortunately, they are likely to remain unfixed for the foreseeable future.

America’s founding fathers were revolutionaries. As such, they were no fans of the British government, which by the late 18th century was already well established and quite recognizable to any citizen of the 21st century. Though King George III was the titular head of state, like his contemporary successor Queen Elizabeth II, he had very little actual power to match the privileges that came with his hereditary title. Parliament was already very much in charge.

Nothing like what took place in Philadelphia following the American Revolution had ever been seriously considered, let alone attempted, in London. To intentionally sit down and craft rules for a new government quite literally being built from scratch was a radical idea if ever there was one. To call America an experiment is not an exaggeration. As with any experiment, the outcome is unknown until it has come to a close. The American experiment hasn’t ended, but so far it certainly has produced some unanticipated results.

In creating the modern world’s first republic, America’s victorious rebels were faced with the task of establishing rules for a country that no longer had centuries of tradition to fall back on. The norms of the mother country they had just abandoned had evolved over hundreds of years of power struggles between the aristocracy and the crown, with a nascent merchant middle class increasingly making its own demands over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. The newly independent colonies wanted to distinguish themselves from the nation they had just liberated themselves from, but how?

The US Constitution settled for a president instead of a monarch, while the House of Representatives took the place of the House of Commons and the Senate stood in for the House of Lords. Each elected member of these respective branches is subject to regular fixed terms of office, with the power balanced more or less equally between them rather than resting largely in the representative branch (i.e., parliament) alone. With the exception of the extremely rare and difficult case of impeachment, the US Constitution provides no opportunity to hold any single officeholder accountable for failure during the period between elections, let alone the government as a whole. Federal judges receive lifetime appointments, something else not seen in any other developed representative democracy to this day.

In a parliamentary system, the failure to pass something as routine as an annual budget triggers a crisis. Under the Westminster parliamentary model followed in the UK, Canada and several other members of the Commonwealth, this crisis brings down the government and forces the monarch or her designated representative to dissolve the government and call an election. In unstable periods when minority governments are common, elections tend to be relatively more frequent, while in less turbulent political times a majority government can persist for five years or so before facing a vote.

Likewise, when a parliament authorizes spending beyond the government’s anticipated revenues, it is understood they have necessarily approved an increase in the national debt. Therefore, there is no need to consider raising the debt limit independently. From the perspective of citizens living in parliamentary countries, it makes no sense that the same Congress that approved deficit spending one month can spend time the next flirting with a refusal to allow any borrowing. It’s like having a government that doesn’t know its own mind.

Unfortunately, the kind of crises that bring down governments in parliamentary systems has become commonplace in the United States. Budgets go years without being approved, with Congress lurching from one continuing resolution to the next while various factions hold federal employees and the citizens dependent upon their services hostage until some pet project or favorite policy or another is approved in exchange for keeping things running for a while longer. A Prime Minister Donald Trump would either be facing a vote of the people at this point in the budget process or a leadership challenge by members of his own caucus. One year in office would be unlikely, but four would almost certainly be impossible.

I’ve been living in Canada for the better part of a decade now. On most days I find myself feeling pretty ambivalent about the monarchy if I even think about it at all. That’s not because I can see equal merit in both sides of the argument regarding having someone born into the role of head of state. It’s because I recognize all societies require a sense of continuity and for some countries that can take the shape of a monarchy that has existed in one form or another for centuries. A woman that appears on our money while playing an entirely ceremonial role is harmless, if not for the actual person forced into the job by an accident of birth then at least for the rest of us.

I’m not feeling so ambivalent about having a parliament, however. I have strong opinions about the two Canadian prime ministers I’ve lived under so far. But the extent of my approval or disapproval aside, at least I know that the nearby Pacific Rim National Park will, weather permitting, always be open and that with the exception of national holidays at the local Services Canada office the door will never be locked. Even the UK Brexit debacle hasn’t convinced me parliaments are less effective or ultimately less democratic than the divided governments that have become the norm in the US.

If for some reason, it turns out parliament can’t do its job there will be an election lasting a little over a month while the people try to vote one in with a sufficient mandate to do it. In the meantime, things will go on pretty much as before without any nightly news reports about government employees unable to pay the rent because someone got it into their head they wanted to build a wall. I know it’s incredibly unAmerican to say so, but if you were to put me in a time machine and send me back to 1776, I would tell the founding fathers to get rid of the monarchy if they must, but at least keep the parliament.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com


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The Government is Constantly Chopping Off Our Legs

Bu Austin Anderholt | USA

Imagine you go to a hospital because you have some sort of minor infection. Now imagine that your ID is confused for the ID of a patient who needs their leg amputated, and your leg gets cut off.

This is a rare occurrence in the medical field. Why? Because hospitals are forced to check, double check, and triple check patients if they want to keep business. Huge lawsuits and customer losses occur when these accidents happen. But what if I told you that the government cuts of our metaphorical legs all the time and no one bats an eye.

Just two days ago, The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve. What was done about it? They said they “regret their failure.”

Can you unsubscribe from the NSA and hire another company to do its job for you?

Of course not. The government hates competition. Before I continue, remember this The government is a service you cannot refuse. You are forced to use their services. They make it illegal to hire others. They can raise their rates (taxes) whenever they want and you can do nothing about it. They make huge mistakes like this all the time, and no one bats an eye. Why? The American public has Stockholm syndrome.

On Friday, the federal government simply shut down. That’s right. All the government landmarks and services you wanted to see and use? Shut down. The government forced you to pay them money for a service, and their executives just decided “we don’t have the funding to operate the service” and they just stopped it. Remember: You can do nothing about this.

If you paid your Internet Service Provider for a year of internet, and one day they just turned off the internet you paid for because they “couldn’t afford to keep it running” would you be angry? Would you want to stop paying? I’m sure you would. But when the federal government does exactly that no one bats an eye.

The next time you drive down public roads filled with potholes, remember that this is where your tax dollars are going.

The next time you taste disgusting school lunch that doesn’t have to compete with anyone, remember that this is where your tax dollars are going.

The next time you see a headline on the news that says “Innocent Husband and wife killed in a drug raid on wrong house” remember that this is where your tax dollars are going.