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Realigning the power of government

By Henry Lamb
web posted March 13, 2006

The United States of America is founded on the principles that "just government" power arises from "the consent of the governed;" that government is instituted to secure the "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Almost since its inception, government has tried to escape from the limitations of power imposed by the "consent of the governed." In recent years, government has almost succeeded in freeing itself from all limitations. Sadly, few people seem to notice - or care.

The "consent of the governed" is expressed through the officials elected by the people. The people grant, or deny their consent by electing, or un-electing their officials. But when public policy is formulated and imposed by unelected bureaucrats, the people who are governed have neither the opportunity to consent, nor to deny their consent. The people are left to comply, or suffer the consequences.

As recently as the 1970s, in most of the country, local zoning decisions were made by locally elected city councilmen and county commissioners. If the people who were governed by those decisions did not consent, they could easily replace the elected officials with others who reflected the will of the people.

Today, most states require each county to develop a comprehensive plan that must comply with state-imposed mandates. The people who are governed by these plans can no longer hold their locally elected officials accountable. Local officials are compelled to conform to the will of a more powerful government, not to the will of the people.

State governments have enacted comprehensive planning laws, not because the voters have demanded it, but because the federal government requires it. Congress may not have intended to shift the power of government from the consent of the people, but Congress certainly allowed it to happen by acquiescing to the professional bureaucrats in the executive branch.

Typically, Congress enacts laws and appropriates funds to achieve some broad objective to make life better for Americans. Then, the administrative agencies are left to develop the rules and regulations necessary to implement the law. Once the funds are available, and the administrative agency is empowered, woe be unto the poor people whose consent is no longer an issue.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 authorized the administrative agencies to prevent pollution in the "navigable waters of the United States." Now, private landowners can be fined $1000 per day for digging a ditch in their own farm field.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 authorized the administrative agencies to protect the Bald Eagle and a few other species. Now, private landowners can be fined for clearing brush from their own property, if the agencies declare that one of nearly 2,000 species may want to visit the area.

Administrative agencies come to Congress asking for funds to implement policies they think are needed. The vast majority of bills considered by Congress are originated by governmental agencies, rather than by the people, or the Congressmen. It was agency proposals that persuaded Congress to provide the funds that went to the American Planning Association, with which they developed model legislation for state governments to adopt, that imposes planning requirements on local governments.

The federal agencies dangle federal dollars in front of state administrative agencies who go to state legislatures and urge the adoption of laws, recommended by the feds, in order to supplement their budgets with federal dollars. State legislators, eager to get federal dollars, are only too willing to comply. Consequently, the consent of the governed is no longer a consideration. When the people who are governed call on their state representatives for relief, they are often told that they "have to" enact the laws required by the feds.

In this way, the administrative agencies of government, not the elected officials of government, have wrested the power of government from the people who are governed. Elected officials have allowed it. The process has now become so routine that most elected officials assume that the proper function of government is to let the administrative agencies propose the policies, and the job of the elected officials is to tweak the proposals and provide the funding.

Elected officials need to re-read the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution, and realize that their first responsibility is to secure for the people who are governed, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Elected officials have allowed the power of government to shift from the people who are governed, to the administrative agencies of government which are hell-bent to restrict liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with little concern for the impact their policies have on individual lives.

It may be time to ban all administrative agencies from submitting policy proposals for legislative consideration. This might force elected officials to ask their constituents what policies they think are necessary in order to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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