Perpetual Motion and Government

WHERE  HAS  COMMON  SENSE  GONE ? No. 12 Thomas Paine – November  2010

Does perpetual motion exist?  Knowledgeable people have told us perpetual motion is a technical impossibility. Anyone making the “outlandish claim” perpetual motion is an impossibility has obviously never watched the political process very closely.

While it is true the political process does not meet the true standard of perpetual motion, a standard which requires no new energy being supplied to the process, the political process all too frequently continues indefinitely with no positive result. I am willing to discount hot air as an energy source and thus defend my analogy of the political process being strikingly like perpetual motion.

A mere one day after the recent election results were in, the perpetual motion machine was off and running. How can this be?

Did not the voters demand government to shrink in size and start managing the federal budget in a responsible manner? I believe the recent election results should have made this sentiment crystal clear.

How are the elected officials responding?  In a typically governmental way, the elected officials both current and soon to be installed have for the most part already reached bipartisan agreement conceptually when they say the only way to effectively reduce long term budget deficit implications is to fix the entitlement morass.  Fixing lesser items will do nothing to help. Even conservative news programs are parroting this statement and their expert guests are doing likewise.

This is a half-truth and a very devious spin. It appears to be an obvious statement, but those elected officials touting it already know that agreement in principle does not mean agreement in methodology. Lack of progress on entitlement issues will be blamed on the other political party having unwillingness to abandon their view of the way to go about cleaning up the budget entitlement mess. But this is not the only problem with lack of progress on the budget issues.

Another significant problem is the way the premise with respect to entitlements has been stated by the news media, a way completely discounting those budget issues on which immediate progress could be made. Potential budget progress that could be insisted upon if the voters realized politicians on both sides are conducting a stealth maneuver. There are plenty of wasteful programs and subsidies that could be eliminated tomorrow if politicians did not have a vested interest in preserving them in order to be able to claim largess for their constituents…..the rest of the country be damned. These politicians are almost certainly going to insist on looking at long term solutions to big problems rather than starting the process on what can be done now and growing the process into bigger and weightier things. Success by the politicians in diverting attention from that which they actually could immediately do will in effect be a moratorium on any constructive action at all. Unfortunately, even after an election in which the voters demonstrated recognition of the need for a more responsible government, it appears probable that the majority of voters still do not know how to tell the difference between a wish-bone and a back-bone. Do not expect the majority of our elected officials to do very much to improve understanding of the difference.


Only the voters can ensure politicians will direct sufficient attention to those things that can be done to start budget reductions while continuing work on entitlements with the expectation that even larger reductions will be made possible in the future. Voters must insist on some immediate and quantifiable results through the elimination of narrowly focused government programs that benefit only a select few while ignoring any adverse impact on the nation at large. Voters must insist that the federal government stop spending money on activity that benefits some special segment of the population rather than the population at large. The states are the entity that should consider any special interest group within their jurisdiction.  States can spend their own money on whatever their respective citizens wish. Spending special interest money closer to home provides much easier tracing of expenditures, and the state voters will have no trouble punishing those representatives who behave badly when spending tax dollars. Bringing federal tax revenue home to state level is a process practically designed for abuse and corruption.

It is long past time for the voters to insist the federal government stop doing what it is not constitutionally authorized to do and time for the voters to insist the states stand up for their rights with respect to what the states alone have the responsibility to do or not do as they individually see fit.

The voters must begin by arming themselves with the knowledge of what the constitution actually says. Article 1, Section 8 is a good place to start. This section of the constitution lists activities for which the congress has authorization to tax and spend. National defense and general welfare are included. The constitution also makes clear the federal government cannot expand the list without following a specific amendment path, as referenced in Article 5, which requires a substantial majority of the states to approve the change.  There are a number of activities in which the federal government has engaged that are not provided for by the list or subsequent constitutional amendments. Some examples are:

prescription drugs

social security

public education

farm subsidies

bank and business bailouts


and many of the other activities that collectively represent nearly two-thirds of the federal budget.

Likewise there is no congressional mandate and authority for the federal government to tell the states how they may use their land, the speed at which their citizens can drive, the type and mixture of gasoline they must use while driving, the need for all public buildings to have wheelchair access ramps and the gallons of water used to flush a toilet. Nor is there any federal authority allowing the government to tell you what you can and cannot eat. The overworked commerce clause is akin to black magic when one starts to realize how far its originally intended reach has been extended by liberal politicians and a derelict judiciary.

Do I believe all of the foregoing should be stopped in entirety? Of course not; however, I firmly believe much waste and abuse can be eliminated if these functions are handled by the states, as originally intended, not to mention downsizing a sorely bloated and increasingly irresponsible national government.  What if a state invokes some unreasonable activity? Hard as it may be, the voter has the right to reject it at the next opportunity and, failing that, move to a state with which they feel more aligned. A move between states is certainly more agreeable than leaving one’s national identity entirely. Most of us would suffer on before even daring to contemplate abandoning our country. Such an extreme thought will never even arise if appropriate authority is regained by the states and eliminated at national level.

There will still be plenty of things for the federal government to do under the general welfare clause and as provided for elsewhere in the constitution. Some examples are:

The National Weather Service

The Air Traffic Control System

The United States Patent Office

The National Bureau of Standards

The United States Postal Service

Regulation of the Military

The reader should note these particular things all have one common and striking feature. They generally do not provide the federal government a significant means to manipulate its financial activity in order to provide for special interests at the expense of all other citizens being taxed. This is why Social Security should not be considered under a general welfare clause. The social security system has provided the government a massive cookie jar that the government is incapable of keeping its fingers away from. The social security code has been manipulated nearly as much as the general tax code. It is difficult to understand and it is replete with nuances designed to trap the unwary. The system does not even come close to treating all citizens equally.

The first step for voters is simple. Start now to relentlessly pressure federal representatives to stop the federal government from doing those things the government is not authorized to do. The voters should equally pressure their state representatives to insist the states handle those activities protected to them by the constitution.

And last but not least is the hardest part. The voters must set an example their elected officials cannot ignore. We the voters must be willing to apply the same standards to ourselves that we seek for our government. We must be willing to shift the special benefits we enjoy from federal to state jurisdiction. Only when this is done will the federal government be dramatically reduced in size and cost. Resources will be shifted much closer to their point of application, substantial waste and extravagance reduced, and presently unproductive resources redirected to more efficient utilization.

Individual voters at the state level will be immeasurably more able to have meaningful input to and impact on the political process. Special deals favoring one segment of the population and ignoring or even harming other segments will be largely eliminated. An irresponsible federal administration will not be able to engage in class warfare and state representatives will no longer be able to avoid acting in a positive fashion favorable to all state citizens and excluding none.

All of this can be done if the voter has enough courage and conviction to set aside their wishbone in favor of a backbone and insist their representatives do the same. We must start now with the items most easily addressed to demonstrate early progress and to strengthen the resolve of the voters when more difficult tasks are then next addressed. Perpetual political motion need not exist unless the voters allow it to be so.

T.P. 2010

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