Saturday, March 28, 2009


Is the term Catholic theologians coined for the common sense understanding that all situations should be managed by the most local authority possible. For example an individual decides what kind of toothpaste to use, but the federal government defends a nation; a city determines zoning for business and residences, but the state decides on the number and boundaries of counties; and a city issues business licenses, but the federal government rules on interstate commerce issues.

The US Founders carefully applied this same principle, calling it federalism by establishing a union of independent states that united only in common concerns such as defense and currency. They insured it with the ratification of the Tenth Amendment.

Although lip service has been paid to the concept by many countries, the 20th century is full of examples that illustrate the point that as more and more power flows to a central government, the wealth of the nation and the well being of individual citizens decline. Most notable is USSR. At its demise, people readily admitted, “They pretended to take care of us and we pretended to work for them.” At the other end of the spectrum was the explosion of the wealth, power, and status of the United States.

When solutions are left to individuals or local authorities, results sometimes appear to be uneven, which often encourages larger government entities to assume control “for the good of the people.” However, as central government takes over more and more functions formerly left to individuals and local authorities, the services provided decline in real terms. At first the situation improves, then costs increase and new guidelines are imposed in an attempt to eliminate waste, but eventually service declines even while costs and regulations continually rise.

For proof, look at any country that has adopted any form of universal health care. It has never worked well because the very premise defies common sense, subsidiarity, federalism or whatever name you choose to assign.

Or consider the recent law that forces all Americans to use fluorescent bulbs by 2012, taking control from the individual and giving it to the federal government, a huge violation of the subsidiarity concept. Since that law passed, more and more deficiencies in fluorescent bulbs have appeared, from transportation issues, timing, toxic mercury, to contamination of landfills. Mandating CFL bulbs also tends to squash entrepreneurial ingenuity that would probably find a better, cheaper solution if the marketplace were allowed to remain neutral, instead of controlled by Congress.

Will our choice of toothpaste become the next federal law?

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