Friday, June 19, 2009

Proposal: A Limited Government Amendment

The Constitution of the United States, along with the Bill of Rights, is the contract between the US Government and We the People. Today, the US Government is in serious breach of contract. It has assumed powers, rights and responsibilities not granted by The Constitution, thus eroding the liberty of We the People. Given enough time, no law goes un-passed, no program goes un-created, no bureaucracy goes un-commissioned and no regulation goes un-imposed, and our liberty goes to zero.

Although this country's founders created one of the most brilliant governments in the history of mankind, they did not take steps to prevent the inexorable, monotonic expansion of our government that we experienced in the 20th century, and which continues to this day. Indeed, in the beginning, the US Government probably seemed a bit underpowered for the task at hand. It probably needed some healthy growth back then. I believe that growth has eclipsed their wildest dreams. We have reached a situation where we now need to put an upper limit on the size and scope of government while we still can. We need a Limited Government Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The basic concept of the Limited Government Amendment is quite simple, really:

  • Congress shall pass no new law without repealing an existing one.
  • Congress shall create no new tax without deleting an existing one.
  • Congress shall create no new government program without deleting an existing one.
  • Congress shall commission no new bureaucracy without de-commissioning an existing one.
  • A bureaucracy shall create no new regulation without deleting an existing one (Congress shall delete from existing bureaucracies, the number of new regulations as required by any new bureaucracy).
  • All new laws, taxes, programs, bureaucracies and regulations shall have a sunset provision of seven years. If not renewed within that time, the law, tax, program, bureaucracy or regulation shall lapse. This sunset provision will force a periodic review and a national dialogue to determine if it is having the desired effect, or if it is obsolete.
That's it! Government growth should stop on the day that the Limited Government Amendment takes effect. Note that this amendment makes no prescription as to which law, tax, program, bureaucracy, or regulation to delete. Congress or bureaucrats get to decide that. Given the number of stupid, frivolous and obsolete laws, taxes, programs, bureaucracies and regulations we now have, finding things to cut should be extremely painless, especially in the early going. Eventually though, most of the low-hanging fruit will be gone, and then government officials will find themselves having to prioritize. They will have to decide what is more important -- the new thing or the existing thing. I believe this is a good thing.

I said at the beginning of this article that the US Government is already in serious breach of contract. I think we need to make the Limited Government Amendment retroactive to some earlier time in our history. The question is, when would most people agree that we had the "right" amount of government? We've had two major inflection points during the 20th century: FDR's New Deal, and LBJs Great Society. There was considerable growth during the 1800s, but we were still settling the West. Therefore, I propose that we cap government at the level it was in 1930.

The Limited Government Amendment does not prescribe that we cut any particular part of the New Deal or the Great Society. It simply mandates that the size of government be limited to the number of laws, taxes, programs, bureaucracies and regulations that we had in 1930. It took 78 years for the US Government to reach its present size and scope, so I propose that this amendment should allow 78 years to return to the 1930s size and scope.

Therefore, in the beginning, congress will be required to delete the number of laws, taxes, programs, bureaucracies or regulations for each new one that it creates, that allows us to reach the target 1930 size and scope in 78 years. When we reach the target, then the number shall equal one, to maintain the steady state.

An attempt to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment failed in the 1980s. If passed, it might have slowed government growth slightly, but it did not address the real problem. The Limited Government Amendment would limit the size and scope of government. This should naturally reduce the cost of government. It might even create a surplus in the long run, which, under the terms of this amendment, Congress would have to return to We the People in the form of lower taxes.

The language of the Limited Government Amendment must be phrased in such a way as to circumvent the inevitable attempts by politicians to find loopholes and new ways to grow government. Finally, to prevent misinterpretation by any future activist Supreme Court, we must include in the Limited Government Amendment, a specification that the articles of the amendment say what they mean, and mean what they say, and that they are specifically written in Standard English. They are to be taken literally. They are not to be deconstructed, and there is no hidden agenda or penumbra.


  1. Karl,
    Regarding the reduction mandate; "to reach the target 1930 size and scope in 78 years."
    Would there be a need for a minimum number of yearly deletions in each of the indentified areas? In order to prevent a stalling 'grip' on the status-quo.

    Additionally, would it be smart to limit any bill/law to under 100 pages of language or even 50?

    And by the way sir, this LGA is one outstanding piece of work. I've read it thru several times and then I decided to try and tear it apart in my head and see if I could find a fatal flaw or fly in the ointment.
    It's a beautiful thing you engineered.....a common sense slow down and gently make a u turn and start going back in the correct direction formula. I also suggest that the day the US reaches the goal of the circa 1930 size of government we celebrate another holiday, "Freedom From Dependence Day".

    So this would be the 28th Amendment. I don't see any other plan out there as simple and easy to understand as this LGA. Where do we go with this to get someone to propose this for real. Americans love it when a single individual outsmarts all the brains up there in one shot.
    It's the stuff right out of a movie about a true story.
    This LGA of yours is something that I think could fly at some point as the direction of attention to our founding principles intensifies.

    It turns the American bus around without a drastic accident and points us in the correct direction to where we took the wrong fork in the freedom trail of limiting government.

    At your service with this plan.


    Yes, I think there would be a "schedule" for deletions for each year leading up to the target size and scope. Once we reach the target size and scope, then the deletions would be one-for-one, that is, steady-state.

    We need to be on the lookout for crafty politicians finding ways to circumvent the intent of the LGA and to continue to grow government. For example, building enormous omnibus bills that they would attempt to count as a single bill. This is consistent with keeping the bills limited in size. I would be open to either or both mechanisms.

    One of the things about the Constitution, and most of the amendments is that they are not 1000-page documents. They are very concise and to the point. I think every bill should be thus. I think the founders would be offended by the complexity of the monstrosities coming out of the legislature today.

  3. The founders also focused on the matter of debt.
    China holding 1.3 trillion of US debt.
    The founders would as Frank Zappa said: Freak out.
    2000 page 'bills' and 107 trillion in unpaid for promises.
    They would absolutely,'freak compleeeeeetly out'.

  4. Karl your LGA is right on.

    Might I also suggest as a matter of simplisity that we look at the ratio of public to private sector in the 1930's. (Since I don't know that that is I am going to substitute with a guess of 30/70.) Rather than taking 78 years to peel back this rotten onion, because I don't believe it should take that much time or that they wouldn't monkey with it along the way, lets give them 20 years. Between now and then, based on today's ratio of public to private sector, they would need to average the difference per annum and reduce the size and scope of public sector by that much each year for 20 years. After returning our Country back to the 1930's level, we put into place your LGA to maintain that balance.

    Every year after that there should be a Commission of 'Volunteers' to look over the remaining laws, regulations and mandates for their Constitutionality. If they are deemed to be UnConstitional, they should be brought up to the Voters at the next election to be repealed, retained or revised to align them to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

  5. Kris, I agree that 78 years might be long enough for politicians to do significant mischief to this amendment. That is why one of my suggestions is to include language that would discourage "postmodern" interpretation of it.

    Having said that, I would also say that this is just a proposal, and I am certainly open to discussion and compromise. It wouldn't hurt my feelings to accelerate the "liberty restoration process".


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