Negative Rights, Liberties and Power

There is a singular and motivating concept shared by Obama and his fellow “progressives” that animates them to action. That is the concept of “positive” rights, liberty and powers, this meaning that these rights, liberties and powers require (or demand) action from the government, a thought process that is a basic denial that there are such things as natural rights or natural law.

This concept states that the Constitution is incomplete, that it states what the state may not do (the negative) but since it does not explicitly define what the state can do on your behalf, it is therefore not restrictive in areas where the state chooses to act (positive). The history of our Constitution, the philosophers who inspired it and the men who wrote it indicate that these positive rights were the responsibility of the people, not the government, and that is the very reason that they spend time defining exactly what the federal state cannot do.

This concept flies directly in the face of the 10th Amendment, which states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Seems pretty clear to me. There are few declarative statements in politics and government that are as clear as this one. The Constitution rests on the negative, constraining the government while providing for the maximum in individual liberty. We have examined this paradox here at TRNL many times and it always comes out the same – in an absolutely natural state, man has the maximum in freedom. The increase in government produces less freedom; therefore governments by definition are subtractive of freedom, not additive. The production of laws and regulation do not serve to increase freedom any more than they can increase individual rights and the Founders were clear in stating that what was not specifically delegated to the federal government is the province of the states and the people and the federal government shall not interfere. Period.

We choose to relegate some of our natural freedom as we seek to live in harmony with each other, to create societies and cultures. That is a conscious choice we make to provide stability and consistency for the conduct of commerce and order our societies.

Which brings me to my proposition: I think the same can thought process can be applied to those we elect to public office, that they also share similarities to the argument that the Constitution puts forth negative, rather than positive, rights, liberties and powers.

With respect to the presidency, I have been pondering this – can a president really be expected to create growth in an economy?

There are many calls for Obama to create jobs and to right the economy but regardless of which party holds the presidency (or Congress for that matter), does the office of the president really have that level of control? Similarly, the Republican opposition seems to claim to be able to generate growth that will raise the economy out of the doldrums and back to prosperity. Can they do it?

I would argue that none of our elected officials can create growth via positive actions. There are no programs, no giveaways, and no tax incentives that can truly spur long term growth. If you look at the areas where there have been huge paradigm shifts in true growth over the past 100 years, they have been in areas where there is little government intervention or understanding. Think about the development of e-commerce – it is the latest growth model and only started to slow when the government sought to tax and control it.

I think that the responsibility of our elected officials and government is to stay out of the way of growth, that they share a charter of negative power with the Constitution. It seems to me that the most activist governments produce the least growth and the ones that can restrain themselves from intervention, the most.

The Republicans (even though the “establishment” Republicans are mostly “progressive” themselves) seem to be less inclined to flip switches and twist knobs that they don’t know what they are connected to. Democrats will start cranking everything because they think that they are in control of the uncontrollable (or at least the not-needed-to-be-controlled) and if they just keep tweaking, eventually they will run across a combination that works – never mind the destruction left in their wake.

That essentially describes the last three years of Obama’s economic policies, such as they were.

America needs an administration that flips fewer switches and twists fewer knobs.

Again, the Founders said it best:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Same goes for the economy. Free enterprise is exactly that – free. There is a reason that it isn’t called “managed enterprise”.

3 thoughts on “Negative Rights, Liberties and Power

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