Reinventing the US Government
Would the Founding Fathers have been proud of their accomplishments in creating a form of government widely recognized as highly effective in providing for the well-being of its citizens? Or would they have been appalled at the inefficient partisan ineffectivity and the gargantuanousity of the resulting government. No doubt they would have been quite surprised at some of today’s functions of government. No doubt they would also have been pleased at the far-sightedness they exhibited in their structuring of the government.
Suspending disbelief, this article imagines the Founding Fathers brought forward to today and given full understanding of today’s society, technology and government. It then asks them to revise the US Constitution to reflect their original intent for the nation. Most of the article is discussion or insights that many of the original drafters of the Constitution might have today. The last section will be the revised draft Constitution that they would propose.
Is this an article of total fiction? Certainly the idea of the long-dead Founding Fathers being reincarnated and transported forward over 200 years in time is science fiction. The discussions and comments of the Founding Fathers, while based in fact, are also fiction. All cited statistics are from published reputable sources and are as accurate as those sources, mostly the US Government. Analysis and opinions are the author’s based on many years of being part of and observing the government. While there might not be something in this article for everyone to love, there is most certainly something for any individual to hate. Consider this an attempt at equal pain for all, consistent with the views of our Founding Fathers.
For awhile we will focus on one Founding Father at a time and view the situation through his eyes. As he was in many ways, George Washington will be first.
George Washington Speaks
Speaking to the assembled group of Founding Fathers today, George Washington says, “When we last met as a group in Philadelphia in 1787, we created a document that we believed could provide a solid foundation for our new nation. I’m proud to have presided over that convention and of the work we did, and I’m especially proud that you gentlemen with broadly differing views unanimously elected me chairman. We defined a stronger central authority than provided for in the Articles of Confederation; yet we limited this new entity so that individual and State freedom could flourish and lead to a politically and economically strong country. We achieved difficult compromises because we all worked toward a common goal, the birth of a viable nation.
“Incredible as it seems, we have been given the opportunity to reconsider our past actions. Many things have changed that we had no concept of when we undertook to write a lasting Constitution for these United States. Had we anticipated some of the changes in society and in technology, perhaps we would have done things differently. Now is our opportunity to accomplish just that. The changes in broad education, numbers of people in the US, ease of transportation, the lethality of warfare, distribution of wealth, and access to information lead me to believe that there are many things we would reconsider. Many of you led teams to investigate various areas and make recommendations. We will get to those investigations and recommendations soon. I for one wish to return to my home as soon as possible so let us get down to business,” said George Washington, the presiding officer. “As a first order of business I propose that we settle on the functions of the federal government. In the original Constitution we identified the functions as:
…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common
defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…
perhaps we were not explicit enough because apparently almost everything being done today has been lumped into one or more of these categories. While a Federalist myself, I am amazed at amount of control the Federal Government has taken from the states. Whether this is to the good or not we will determine, but first let us clearly delineate the functions we expect the Federal Government to assume.”
Rising from his seat Alexander Hamilton says, “Clearly the function of enforcing and interpreting the Constitution itself cannot be left to the devices of any constituent entity. This must be a primary function of the Federal Government. Yet, as we agreed when we met in 1787, this function must be divided among the branches of government in such a way to balance the power.”
“Defense of the nation was of great importance at our last meeting. Despite our hope for a continuing peace, there is apparently no evidence that peace has, or will soon, occur. Thus I propose that the defense of the United States continues as a primary purpose of the Federal Government,” said Thomas Mifflin.
“Relations with foreign nations must be consistent, and cannot therefore be settled by individual states. This too needs to be a function of the Federal Government,” proclaimed Pierce Butler.
With great gravity Robert Yates proclaimed: “It was always our intent to have individuals and states make their decisions consistent with the direction of the nation as a whole. Yet we agreed that the Federal Government should not capriciously coerce individuals and states to act in a manner contrary to their own self interest. The Federal Government must provide accurate and convincing information that allows informed decision in these respects.”
Nicholas Gilman chimed in: “That argument implies that, where the Federal Government does not dictate particular actions, it must assemble and provide information, standards, and guidelines for each of the alternatives. It must also publish the results of individual and state decisions and approaches in a manner that allows all to see the results of the various courses of actions and make intelligent decisions based on these data.”
The rotund Gunning Bedford uncharacteristically shouted: “Gentlemen are we not neglecting the obligation of the Federal Government to increase the prosperity of its citizens? My belief has always been that growing the wealth in these States was a great goal of establishing our government.”
“Of course the enforcement of laws established by Congress must perforce be a role of the Federal Government,” said William Few.
“In order to perform these functions and any others the Central Government must be able to create revenue by taxes and duties. Such revenue generation must be approved by the peoples and States impacted said Daniel Jenifer of St. Thomas.
Following a period of quiet discussion, President Washington spoke. “Much of what has been proposed for the role of the Federal Government is entirely consistent with the existing document. You will recall that our intent was to ensure that the Federal Government did not have any responsibilities that could be effectively carried out by individual States. I think functions we discussed all fall into this area. At this time …”
Thomas Fitzsimmons stood and said, “Excuse me Mister President, but I believe we missed one function of the Federal Government that we also missed the last time we met. That function, consistent with ‘promote the general welfare’ is to act as an insurer for the States and citizens against natural and man-made disasters of a scale that the entire nation is adversely affected — a disaster of such scope that no individual State could fully recover without Federal Assistance. Such an insurance-like capability should be funded by contributions from the States but administered by the Federal Government.”
After discussion and eventual agreement on this point, President Washington again called the meeting to order. “Gentlemen,” he said, “having general agreement on the functions of the Federal Government, our next action is to address specific issues and how to assure that the Federal Government performs the above functions and no others (except after amending the Constitution.)
David Brearly Speaks
“I spent much of my time at our Constitutional Convention reflecting on the events that led us to adopting a Constitution that tried to balance the need for: a central organization that could overcome the disorganization and chaos that resulted from totally independent States trying to act in concert, with appropriate constitutional limitations on the central government that would prevent erosion of individual and State liberties. As New Jersey Supreme Court Justice, I was the first to overturn a conviction due to the unconstitutionality of a law under the Constitution of New Jersey. No one believes more in the importance of a strong and well defined Constitution than I. As I traveled and observed the United States of today, it seems that there is much confusion about the roles that we intended for various governments .
It would seem to me that it is important to make it clear what we envision that the Federal Government should not do,” said Brearly. “For example, it seems that today the states are given little choice about a number of matters, ranging from schools to roads, which should be left to the states’ decisions rather than the Federal Government. Most of these are presently accomplished through a process of coercion that denies states (that do not follow the dictates of the Federal Government) some portion of Federal aid. I question whether the Federal government should be funding such items at all if there are disagreements between the states, and legislation to require a particular solution cannot be passed. I ask, ‘Is it right for the Federal Government to dictate rules via subsidizing particular behaviors that they are unable or unwilling to make law — and provide commensurate funding?’ Clearly it is in the interest of the nation to incentivize some behaviors and discourage others, however there must be some boundaries. What are they?”
“Similarly, there are numerous instances where the Federal Government dictates, through legislation, certain behaviors by States that result in costs which are not paid for the Federal Government. It was never our intention that the Federal Government has such control over the State’s priorities.”
“While noble in motive, there are a number of other items in which the Federal Government has become involved that clearly should be left to the private community. Examples are protection of endangered species, sponsoring of the arts, charities, and similar endeavors if they have no proven impact on the nation as a whole. Such efforts, with the information technology of today, can be easily advertised and, it there are enough interested constituents, they can be funded by those interested parties. The Federal Government does have a responsibility to provide accurate and unbiased information to all citizens which helps them to make intelligent choices about which of many organizations they wish to support.”
“Much of this behavior by the Federal Government has come about as a result of Members of Congress attempting to ingratiate themselves to some portion of their constituents so as to get reelected — a situation we never foresaw. When we previously met, we believed that serving the nation would be such a burden that few would be able to devote the time and energy and that most of those would, like our first president, take the opportunity to return to their true profession as soon as possible. I propose that we discuss this in more detail as we progress with our deliberations. In any case, we need to make it clear that our intention was, and is, to limit the actions of the Federal Government to the absolute minimum necessary to achieve the functions we discussed.”
“As a general rule of thumb, individual freedom should take precedence over any government action not specifically laid out in the State or Federal Constitution or laws, and State freedom should take precedence in any case not specifically delineated in the US Constitution or laws.”
Thomas Fitzsimmons Speaks
“I have argued before you that it is necessary for the Federal Government to tax (and to raise revenue in other ways) as well as to regulate commerce appropriately. While many of my views were rejected in our past deliberations, they have more than been adopted in the present government. Having served for years as an elected representative on the House Ways and Means Committee, I think I understand the difficulty in obtaining adequate revenue for the operation of the government. However we must never lose sight of the underlying principles that must govern government economics.
“It is important that we consider not only what the functions of the central government are, but also how it should accomplish these functions. A heavy handed approach is totally inappropriate within a voluntary union. Rather, information and incentives should be the means of achieving the desired goals. In general, individuals and States should be able to make their own decisions on matters of their own interest and the results of those actions and decisions should be widely available for others to learn from and take, or avoid, similar actions.”
“The current government has strayed far from these principles. In particular, there has developed a greater focus on “fairness” than on liberty. The resulting emphasis is on the redistribution of wealth within the country. This is not an appropriate function of the central government except in the direst of circumstances. Redistribution of wealth should be avoided as a rule. Rather, the central government must focus on actions that create more wealth within the country and rely on natural processes to appropriately distribute that wealth.”
“This brings us to the issue of ‘What is wealth?’ This nation has taken a turn toward an economic environment that spends most all its effort in manipulating rather than creating wealth. The only true wealth creation occurs when a product that has continuing tangible value is made. The best test of this is whether the product can be legitimately sold and resold multiple times. Examples are automobiles, music, books, software applications, etc. Products that are not wealth creating are generally classed as services. While services are valuable and necessary, they are not, in themselves, wealth creating. Examples are banking, haircuts, oil changes for the automobile, medical care, etc. The economic policy of the nation must focus on incentivizing wealth creation, even at the expense of services if necessary. It is disturbing, and threatening to the national security, that businesses are incentivized to move many wealth creating activities to other countries. I fear that these policies are driving the country into poverty because the demand for these items is mostly discretionary and, in hard times, can be curtailed with drastic impact on the economy. Tangible products, unless they become obsolete, will always be in demand somewhere. ”
“The government has evolved into a huge entity that has the unshakable belief that it knows best what is good for all, rather than simply a manifestation of the will of the people. We never intended that the central government evolve into this God-like entity. We also intended that the States are the primary governmental entities and decision making bodies. Little real authority rests in the States today and the result is a stifling of the natural diversity and differences that leads to creativity. I maintain that a variety of approaches taken by member states of the union will provide better decisions for one of the two following reasons. First, there are legitimate differences among the states in terms of geography, natural resources, moral beliefs, education, and others. These differences lead to legitimately different solutions to the same issues. Second, a variety of approaches lead to data which can be used to refine or consolidate the approaches based on facts rather than opinions. This implies the need for a trusted keeper of the factual data rather than a central decision maker.”
“Vast amounts of time and energy are spent by today’s politicians arguing ideas and concepts for which there is no way to determine the correct answer. (Not that we ourselves were immune to this particular vice, but we generally tabled such matters.) In particular, moral issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, consume so much of the politicians’ time that one cannot help but think that they are simply ways to avoid addressing issues for which there might be a solution. Just as we did not dictate that everyone who does not attend church on Sunday is breaking the law, so too should these issues, however repugnant to some, be left to individual choice. The Federal Government has no place in getting involved with such issues which are fundamentally religious in nature. The politicians of today appear to use these sorts of issues as a means of making slanderous attacks on their political adversaries to divide every issue. This is completely counter to the approach we took, which was to recognize that a large percentage of our objectives were common across all parties and we worked to implement these first.”
There is also the case of the marriage benefit or penalty. Marriage is a social and religious issue and the government has no business in advocating, rewarding or penalizing marriage in any way. There should be no tax, legal, or other benefits or penalties to any union of individuals be it marriage or civil union or partnership. No government entity should even be allowed to ask whether or not a citizen is married for any reason other than national security issues.
“Lastly we looked at the individuals. Personal responsibility and willingness to follow through on commitments has eroded alarmingly. Pockets of these virtues are alive but large portions of the population feel entitled to being taken care of by the government. We purposely left social support as an option in the Constitution, but it was our intent that any such choices were made by the States, neither directed nor funded by the central government. It’s alarming how individual responsibility has eroded to the point where people are unwilling to fulfill commitments freely made. For example, many people made bad decisions about mortgaging their homes in the early 21st Century and a rash of foreclosures resulted. The government has no responsibility to protect people from making such bad decisions or in ameliorating the results. Similarly, during the same time, financial and other corporate entities were salvaged by the government. Bad decisions by these business leaders were their responsibilities rather than the government’s and the leaders and their corporations should have suffered from them. I know that the argument was made that the nation would suffer because of the adverse impact on the economy, but the solution should not have been to salvage the businesses or individuals but rather to provide incentives and information to assure that it did not happen again. In the most drastic of circumstances the government could replace the function of critical businesses on a temporary basis but must not protect the livelihood, or even existence, of the offending individuals or businesses beyond what it does for every other individual or business.
Nathaniel Gorham Speaks
“No one is more surprised than I that our efforts in creating a Constitution were so successful. As I expressed many times, I believed that the United States would divide into many nations within 150 years. I am pleased that I was wrong about this. While I pushed for a strong central government throughout our convention, I think that it has grown beyond any bounds I envisioned.
“After exploring data on the relative size of the State Governments and the Federal Government I found that the 50 state governments total to roughly the same size as the Federal Government (not counting the military.) This is certainly not what we envisioned when we created the Constitution. I venture to say that, without counting the military forces, we expected that the Federal Government would be roughly the size of one state government. Let me discuss the reasons for this growth of the Federal Government to well beyond what we had envisaged.
Obviously, new functions have arisen as technology and society have changed. The Federal Government has also taken over functions we envisioned for the States. Neglecting, for now, the original functions of Commerce. Defense (or War), and State, I will explore findings about these new roles and their consistency with our goals for the Nation.
First let us look at Agriculture. Abraham Lincoln created Agriculture as a non-cabinet department in 1862 and Grover Cleveland raised it to cabinet status in 1889. During our times (1789) and through the 19th Century the US was largely an agrarian country and the fostering of agriculture was a natural function of the government that led to increased wealth and prosperity for the citizens of the country. During the 20th and 21st Centuries, agriculture has become a relatively small portion of the wealth of the country, yet the Federal Government Agriculture workforce has remained relatively constant during the latter half of that period.
Second, let us explore the social functions. Although President Harding proposed a Department of Education and Welfare in 1923, such a function was not actually established until Dwight Eisenhower, in 1953, using presidential reorganization authority, created it. In 1979, the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was split from the Department of Education. Later, in 1995, the Social Security Administration was split from HHS and became a separate agency of the Executive Branch. There was huge growth in these functions during the 1950s to 1970s with some decline during the 1980s to a relatively steady level roughly comparable to the mid-70s.
Third, Homeland Security has evolved significantly and we need to address that function. These functions grew slowly throughout the 20th Century and then more than doubled from 2001 to 2003 as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Homeland Security continues to grow since the big step up in 2003.
Fourth, we had considered a domestic department from the 1st Congress, but these issues were handled by the State Department. The Department of the Interior was created as a separate department in 1849.
Fifth, there is now a whole arm of the Government addressing transportation. Until 1966, this was a function of the Department of Commerce.
Sixth, we have always had a Treasury, however its role has evolved significantly. In particular, taxes and various enforcement roles have grown greatly.
Seventh, there is now a Cabinet Department devoted to Veterans. We provided pensions for disabled veterans from the earliest days, and in 1989 veterans were recognized at the highest level of the Executive Branch by being included in the President’s Cabinet. While veterans deserve respect, admiration, and preferential treatment, I cannot understand the establishment of a Cabinet position to advise the President on the impact to veterans on day-to-day issues. The Department of Defense should provide adequate guidance in these matters.
And, finally, there are literally hundreds of smaller agencies, commissions, and groups that total to more than any single one of the departments above.
Abraham Baldwin Speaks
“My experiences as a Chaplain during the War, as Yale’s Professor of Divinity, as a lawyer in Connecticut, and as a state legislator and as Representative and Senator from Georgia have given me a unique perspective. I considered the Constitution the most important public service I performed during my career and I believe it is important that we got it right and acceptable. As one of the authors of the Great Compromise, and throughout my political career, I have attempted to establish positions that benefit all parties. I am disappointed that today’s political situation seems to be comprised of a vast series of taxes each of which benefits some particular special interest and few of which benefit the nation as a whole.
“Taxes have become so pervasive and complex that an entire profession has arisen to provide citizens tax advice. We believe that taxation without representation is unfair, yet can an individual even understand how his taxes are being collected and used in such a complex environment? Many features in the tax code are designed to provide incentives for desired behaviors, yet every one of these have unintended consequences (loopholes) that result. If the government wants to incentivize certain behavior, why not do so directly rather than a convoluted approach that modifies taxes. For example, home ownership is incentivized by making mortgage interest tax deductible. As a result, banks benefit by increased interest payments to them, home ownership without a mortgage provides no benefit, and the richest portion of the population (which presumably has the largest mortgages) is rewarded more than the poorer home owners. If the objective is to incentivize home ownership, why not make a fixed direct payment to home owners annually and avoid complex tax changes?
Numerous articles have estimated that the majority of taxpayers, either intentionally or unintentionally, file inaccurate tax returns. As a result the Internal Revenue Service has grown from 15,000 employees (for 2,000,000 taxpayers) in 1920 to 90,000 employees in 2008 (for 140,000,000 taxpayers) despite extensive investment in automation. Numerous solutions to the tax code’s complexity have been proposed, but so many special interests benefit from today’s code that change has become virtually impossible.
If we were to propose an income tax code, it would be simple, require little enforcement, and be ‘fair.’ Income gets touched in two places, the employer and the employee. Of these, there are many times fewer employers than employees (approximately 8+ million employers and 125 million employees). If all the taxes were collected from employers rather than employees, the enforcement and auditing functions could be reduced at least five-fold. Taxes are withheld today by many employers at various rates which may or may not be consistent with the actual tax due. If the tax were well defined, say a fixed percentage, it would be simple for employers to pay the correct tax and individuals would have no reason to even file a tax return. Due to the regressive nature of such taxes, a fixed amount could be paid by the government to all wage-earning citizens. The net effect of this would be to make the first increment of income (say income up to the ‘poverty level’) untaxed and all other income taxed at a fixed rate. This rebate to all wage-earners (or even all citizens) could then be increased for items like Social Security or homeowner incentives and reduced for things like health insurance. In any case there would be a single payment from the government to every taxpayer or citizen. Another resulting benefit would be that wages of illegal immigrants would be more likely to be taxed because the employer becomes responsible for the tax; and illegals would have an incentive to become citizens so they could collect the rebate given to all tax-paying citizens.
But, what about unearned income, such as that derived from investments? Consider what it means to invest. A person provides another person, or business, with funds to produce a product. Typically one or more persons are involved in the production of the product. Each of these persons are paid from the investment funds and whatever they are paid is taxed. Thus the investments are taxed. The earnings from the investments are derived from some entity purchasing the product at a price higher than the cost incurred in producing it. The funds used to purchase the product are also taxed because they represent someone’s or something’s compensation from some source. Thus there are taxing mechanisms in place to capture a share of the unearned income without actually taxing it directly. To some extent this is a regressive form of taxation because most investors are from the upper income brackets and most workers are from the lower income brackets. However, I believe that the tax reforms proposed here compensate for that by eliminating many of the deductions that also tend to favor the upper income brackets, and the further benefit of reducing the number of taxpayers by employers rather than individuals paying the taxes justifies this approach.
Corporate taxes are the next issue. As discussed earlier, businesses which create wealth should pay no taxes. Those that simply transfer monies or generate no new wealth directly should be taxed at a fixed rate based on their earnings. The tax rate should be the same as the payroll tax rate. This removes incentives for transferring of earnings to employees to avoid the taxes.
Rufus King Speaks
“My transitions from New Englander to nationalist, and from soldier to lawyer, and from Senator to Ambassador (to Great Britain), and from Presidential candidate to abolitionist gave me both hope for the success of our nation and concern that the government have the integrity to do the right things in the right way. I am concerned that the politicians of today seem to spend as much time trying to hoodwink their compatriots and other citizens as they do in representing their constituents. In many ways the structure of the system seems to have led to this situation.
“Overruns on government programs have been a way of life for many decades. Numerous reasons for these overruns exist and have been explored extensively. Solutions have been recommended, but the problem continues and continues to grow. All parties involved contribute to these problems because the fundamental structure of the system incentivizes bad behavior. Let me explore the parties involved and explain the incentives.
The Congress approves programs and appropriates the monies to complete them. Their incentive is to get the best possible deal for the public. Of course, they have little in-depth understanding of many of the complex systems they authorize and they insist on details that give them more control over where (which Congressional district) the monies are spent. As a result when budget cuts occur they often cut areas that result in increased risk for the program. They also insist on oversight of cost, schedule and performance of the program and sometimes penalize the program when all of these factors are not on track. A well known saying in the world of program management is: ‘Cost, schedule, performance — pick two.’ Because of uncertainties in complex programs, it is usually not possible to get all three items predefined unless the program is over-funded (which is the same as cost being unconstrained) or the program has very modest performance goals (which is the same as performance being unconstrained.) Further, there is little discipline in the budgeting process for future years so programs that might require substantial commitments 10 or more years after the initial funding are not adequately funded in those future years.
The using agency is the second party. They have the responsibility to define the required performance and when they need it. Unfortunately, world events that unfold during the course of the program often lead to changing requirements and timelines. As a result, program changes are often made that result in cost and schedule increases. Not all of these changes are essential and frequently a combination of minor tweaks lead to significant cost and schedule impacts. The using agency is incentivized to get the most performance possible without killing the program, thus they tend to continuously grow performance requirements because the initial program was probably funded at a bare-bones level.
The third party involved is the acquisition agency. Their incentive is to deliver an acceptable product within the given cost, schedule, and performance parameters. They have to deal with both technological uncertainty and incompetence in the contractors actually performing the work.
The fourth party is the performing contractor who is incentivized to win the contract and make money on it. Presently decisions about whether or not to bid and how much to bid can be influenced by the likelihood of contract changes after initial award — such changes are no longer competitive and can be viewed as an opportunity for the contractor to ‘get well’. The likelihood of such changes must be driven to a very small probability if the contractor is to be incentivized to make a bid that captures the true cost of the procurement.
Robert Morris Speaks
“While I spoke only once during the first Constitutional Convention, it was not because of a dearth of ideas but rather because, as a merchant, I felt uncomfortable making law. My work in assuring efficiency in the government and in establishing the first government incorporated bank speaks to my capability in finances. And, my subsequent experience with moving from being one of the richest men in the colonies to being cast into debtor’s prison (1798) gives me, I think, some credibility in addressing the topic of debt.
“Alexander Hamilton spent a great deal of time discussing the notion of a National Debt with many of us. I think there was pretty general agreement that debt is a necessity for the Nation to function in a reasonable manner. Yet we also agree that large debt is an evil in the long term. Hamilton’s solution was to establish an objective for the debt to be discharged in 30 years. This seems pretty reasonable, most home mortgages today have a thirty year term and economic cycles generally seem to be over in less than 30 years. Wars today seem to be considerably shorter than 30 years, thus the reasons for a nation to incur debt (i.e. extraordinary expenses) do not justify a constantly increasing debt.
Looking at the debt of the United States, we see an exponential growth in the dollar amount and a steady rise in debt as a percent of the Gross Domestic Product with the percentage doubling during the period 1981 until today. Even the most optimistic among us must see that this trend will lead to the collapse of the US as we know it.
Debt itself is equivalent to an extremely regressive form of taxation because it moves funds primarily from the middle class (who pays most of the taxes) to the wealthy (who own most of the debt and thereby get most of the interest on the debt.) This situation is highly undesirable and an unfair burden on the citizens who can least afford it.
As I touched upon, there are only a few reasons that justify the nation incurring debt, and none of these relate to the normal operation of the government. National level catastrophes, wars, and abnormal economic downturns are examples (and possibly the only examples) of when incurring debt is justified. This does not seem to be a particularly difficult concept for the majority to accept, thus it seems that something in the system is broken and therefore causes the situation we have today, namely runaway debt.
It is interesting that few of today’s politicians ever discuss debt, but rather brag about their reduction of the deficit (i.e. the increase of the debt.) One of the first things that needs to happen is for people to insist that the debt is the subject of discussion rather than the political slight-of-hand practiced today.
The fundamental cause of the debt is, of course, the fact that the nation spends more than it takes in. The current system rewards politicians that get programs and projects passed for their constituents. Unfortunately, many of these programs are either underfunded or funded only for the current budget period, leaving a stream of future commitments. There are two issues that need to be addressed to fix this problem: legislation for future years does not immediately impact the budget in those future years, and most legislation lasts forever unless there is a specific bill to stop it.
If a bill is proposed, it must have a specific end (sunset) date. If the legislators want it to continue beyond that date, they can adopt new legislation at that time. This is particularly important for government agencies and departments, which seem to not only take on life but often, when supposedly killed, rise like zombies from the grave. With a sunset clause in every bill, the time period of the bill is known and the budget implications also can be reasonably estimated. At the time the bill is adopted, the entire impact to future budgets should be identified and funded. If, over time, revisions of the budgetary impacts arise, the future budgetary implications should become commitments. The second part of making this work is that every piece of routine legislation must identify a funding source for the entire life of the legislation. Thus, for all ordinary government actions, the revenues and expenses must match. No normal government action should occur without costs and the funds to pay those costs included.
In addition, additional revenue will likely be required to service the debt. These revenues should be specifically tagged to pay off the debt in some reasonable period, say Hamilton’s 30 years.
Any such system as proposed here will inevitably have years of surplus and a key issue we argued over in the early days of the nation was what to do with budget surpluses if there was no debt. Government budget surpluses do not move us in the direction of wealth creation unless they are immediately put to use. But, putting them to use has historically meant the Federal government getting into actions which we have said should not be within its purview. The government entities which we envisaged having responsibility for things which are typically accomplished with surpluses, infrastructure improvements, etc. are the States. So a logical thing to do with surpluses, after the debt is repaid, is to return the surplus to the State in proportion to the States population. The States should be free to spend these monies as they wish, flow them to local governments, or return them to their citizens.
Alexander Martin Speaks
“My experience as a politician, as State senator from North Carolina, governor and US senator from that state makes me familiar with the ways of politics. And I overcame many setbacks, including that unfortunate incident during the War when I was courts martialed for cowardice and acquitted, through my political acumen. I fully support politicians doing their all to support their constituents. However, I do not support the concept of my State paying many times over for other’s pet projects just so we can have a few of our own.
“Many important bills in the early Congresses were only a few pages long, today important legislation often runs into the thousands of pages. Why is this? If we were to let today’s Congress assemble the Constitution, rather than the ~7500 words in the amended document, or the ~4500 words in the document we prepared, we would likely see thousands of pages designed to cover and protect every interest in the US.
When we originally framed the Constitution we spent a lot of effort to distill the Constitution to the essence of what we believed was needed. No such effort is made in legislation today. Rather, important legislation is loaded with (often unrelated) items considered important to only small minorities of the Congress because this is the only opportunity to get those items funded. The added costs of these items, while small individually, is a substantial portion of legislation, totaling over $15B in 2010.
“In the past a ‘line item veto’ has been proposed to deal with some of this problem. With a ‘line item veto’ the President would be able to individually veto any item within a piece of legislation. Giving the President such power not only fails to solve the problem but also assures an unbalance of power toward the President’s party since items favored by that party would not be vetoed while those opposed would be vetoed.
“Members of Congress can currently claim that while they opposed some line items in a Bill, they voted for the package as a whole because it was important to their constituents. Thus they abrogate any responsibility for unnecessary components of legislation with their constituents. As a result, each citizen pays for many items which probably should have been funded by someone else’s State or Local government. We did not intend for the Federal government to become the funding source for such items.
“This seems to be one of those areas where the incentives in the system lead to undesirable behavior. First, members of Congress are incentivized to tack items important to their constituents onto any Bill they believe will likely pass and will obscure their item with the many other and costlier items included. Second, members of Congress are incentivized to allow other members to include such items because they thus garner support for their similar items and can still deny responsibility for the items not desired by their constituents. The proper incentive would be for every member of Congress to ruthlessly seek out and destroy every item which is not essential to the Bill.
“One way to achieve such an incentive is to make each member of Congress personally responsible for his/her vote on each and every item in the legislation. This could be achieved by allowing any member to call for a separate vote on any individual line item. Opponents of this approach would argue that it would slow the passage of legislation tremendously (although some would argue that this is good.) But, consider the second order effects. Unrelated and local items would likely not ever make it into the Bill because the advocates could not stand the visibility they might get. Bills would likely have many fewer line items thus reducing Congressional micromanagement and increasing the latitude of the executing agencies. Congressional staffs could be reduced or focused on more important items because there would be fewer obscure items to investigate.”
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Speaks
“I always will consider myself a close personal friend of President Washington and believe he set an excellent example in limiting himself in the number of terms served. My own history of service as a Major General in the militia and the US Army, as ambassador to France, as a State senator, and as a candidate for Vice President and President twice was motivated by a strong desire to shape this nation as I believed few others could.
“When I first traveled to the Constitutional convention, it took 23 days to get from my home in South Carolina to Philadelphia. Today people routinely travel anywhere in the United States in less than half a day and can perform work during the trip. We never conceived of the convenience of travel when establishing the terms of members of Congress. We viewed the ardors and time of travel as a reason why few citizens would be able to serve in Congress.
We also assumed that a limited number of citizens would have the interest and intellect to take on the challenge of serving as a Congressman or Senator. Looking at today’s population, it is clear that there are millions of citizens who would be qualified to serve in one of these positions — more than the entire population of the United States in our time.
Because of the rules of Congress, today members who serve more terms have more power in terms of committee chairmanship and other positions within Congress. This implies that some States and Districts have more power and influence than others. This situation is completely counter to our intent to assure that each State is represented equally in the Senate and each individual is represented equally in the House. In fact it is amazing to me that no one has challenged the Constitutionality of the current system in terms of equal representation.
The value of being reelected has become so large that a significant portion of the members’ time is spent on getting reelected and the associated fund raising. It was not our intent that any significant time be spent on such activities. In fact President Washington is a model of what we desired, a reluctant server to his constituents.
The combination of these factors leads me to the conclusion that all members of Congress could and should be limited to a single term. This would eliminate the focus on reelection, provide truly equal representation, provide more diversity, and better represent the contemporary views of the constituency.
Similar proposals have been made in the past and an argument has been that single terms would result in more power for Congressional staffs since they typically have more longevity than their principals. There are several fallacies in this argument, first the staffs spend much of their time dealing with matters that would become irrelevant when reelection is not an option — thus either fewer staff members would be required or their duties could change to ones more consistent with good representation. Second, there would likely be much greater turnover in the staffs because of changes in party and individuals in each election. Third, there is nothing wrong with our elected representatives having the best advisers possible and it would be one of their responsibilities to assure that that is the case.
James Madison Speaks
“It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that I believed that we had provided for every contingency when writing the Constitution. Yet I freely admit that in my wildest imaginings I never foresaw the importance, proliferation, and accessibility of information in our society. Information brings with it two issues with which we need concern ourselves. The first is that of the government to assure citizens the best possible bases for making decisions. The second is assurance of the privacy of individuals.
“A principle that we, the Founding fathers, all agree on is that this Country is based on freedom to make decisions that do not harm others. We never meant that such decisions would not impact others; in fact every decision increasingly impacts others due to how society has become more connected over time. We meant that the decisions made by citizens or States should be allowed unless they materially harm other citizens or States beyond reason. I would like to discuss the responsibility of individuals and States to make informed and transparent decisions — and to take responsibility for those decisions.
For some reason, individuals and States have become accepting of the Federal government making decisions for them. The ability of a free society to remain free is dependent on the citizens refusing to accept that the government makes any decisions that they are capable of making independently. In fact that is the very definition of freedom. Closely related to this concept is the concept of taking personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s words and actions. For some reason US citizens often seem to be looking for someone to blame when things do not go as planned. Perhaps this is related to the litigious nature of today’s society but that is discussed in another chapter. In any case, personal responsibility and personal freedom, cornerstones of the American society we envisioned, have both eroded over time.
We lived in times that were in some ways far simpler than today. We had fewer choices to make about what to do, where to live, what to buy, where to go for entertainment, with whom to interact, how to achieve objectives, what investments to make, where to shop, which doctor to use, when to retire, etc. On the other hand, our choices could often have much more serious consequences, like survival. We became tight knit communities that advised and helped each other. People made decisions using the best advice available at the time and place. Today information exists about virtually any topic of interest. The internet provides access to information for almost every citizen. The issues are sorting good information from bad, actually making the effort to get the information before making a decision, and accepting the consequences of our and our neighbors’ decisions. While the government should not make most decisions for us, it could be its duty to provide guidelines and quality information that aids our decision making.
For example, if an individual chooses to not invest in a way that provides at least a survival level retirement in his/her future, should the government have any responsibility to support that person in retirement? And does the government have the right to force a person to make investments for retirement so that they can live in an acceptable manner? I say no to both. The government does not have any responsibility to assure a comfortable living for its citizens either during their productive years or after retirement. It is the citizens’ right and duty to provide for themselves.
So what about the concept of “social justice”? This is a valid concept, yet it is an individually defined concept — not one appropriately defined by the government. Each individual has different ideas about what is right and just in this respect. Some take the position that all should share the wealth equally, others believe ‘to each his own’. Some believe the indigent should be provided for while others believe they should be offered work, and still others believe they should be left to fend for themselves in a survival-of-the-fittest sort of way. Some believe that everyone should have equal access to services like health care while others believe that a person should get whatever they can afford. Some believe in inheritance while others believe that a person should only have what they earn themselves. All of these (and many more) positions are individual preference and the government should not advocate any particular position because it decreases personal freedom unnecessarily.
How then should the Federal government play in the issues of social justice? Without any impact on personal freedom the government could provide information on agencies and companies providing such services to people. This information could be used by citizens to make informed decisions about where they could voluntarily donate money, goods, or services to best achieve their desired benefits. If no such non-government agencies exist, the government could establish such an agency that took voluntary contributions. The important distinction is that no one is forced to contribute to any “social justice” concept that they don’t believe in and there is information available for all to see the impact of their individual decisions. It is not the government’s role to force citizens to adopt any particular belief system, but it is a valid function of our government to provide the best available unbiased assessment of the alternatives available.
Few citizens would turn down requests for help from another citizen if they believed that they had good information about the need and the recipient was known to be deserving. Two-hundred years ago we knew our neighbors well enough to have a pretty good idea about such things. Today the sense of community and neighborhood has eroded enough that these things are largely unknown. The government can vet and provide data about individuals, at their request, that could be used for others to make informed decisions about helping the individual in need. Some would argue that there would be a social stigma on the needy individual that would arise from this approach. I agree and believe this to be a good thing because it increases the peer pressure that helps ensure that citizens make every effort to assure they have taken every possible step before seeking such help.
Hugh Williamson Speaks
“As you know from my “Letters of Sylvius” I have always been a strong supporter of the Federal system. But there needs to be a balance between the central government and the economic benefits of free enterprise. We saw this conflict in my native North Carolina when the farmers and the merchants disagreed about the amount of government control of commerce that was necessary. While I am an unabashed advocate of Federalism, even I am amazed and appalled at the large numbers of people in and working full-time for the Federal government. In my wildest imagination, I never envisaged that more than one in a thousand citizens would be employed full-time by the government except as soldiers during a war.
“How many people does it take to provide the services that the Federal government should provide? When we started the Federal government there were fewer than one in ten thousand citizens employed in any capacity by the Federal government. Today about one in a hundred (not counting the uniformed military) are Federal government employees, and many more are indirectly employed by the government as contractors performing government duties.
A substantial portion (over one-third) of government employment is the military. The size of the military should be thought of in two parts, the first is the infrastructure required to support the operations and training. The second is the actual combat force required to execute operations. Both need to be sized appropriately to achieve the National objectives, whatever they currently are. But the actual executing force is ideally called upon only when a crisis requires it. Our model for this was the militia and today the National Guard and Reserve perform this function to some extent.
Interestingly, a far greater portion of the US population today is in the active part of the military than we envisioned. Simultaneously a smaller portion is in the Guard and Reserve portions (comparable to the militia.) We envisioned that the majority of able bodied citizens would be subject to call up and trained for such duty. The Swiss are a closer example of the model we had in mind, i.e. all able bodied citizens have been trained and equipped and are prepared for being called up to defend the nation. This reflects a personal commitment to assuring the fundamental priorities of the nation.
William Livingston Speaks
“Perhaps the year I spent living among the Iroquois at the age of 14 has influenced my thinking on the importance of decentralizing the functions of government. Just as when I argued for the State militias at our previous convention, I continue to believe in balance between State and Federal governments. Remember the compromise we made on the subject of slavery when my personal beliefs about the need to abolish slavery were subordinated to the need to establish a federal government that did not dictate to the States but rather established a framework of law that provided a legal mechanism for future emancipation of the slaves. Today we need to be similarly concerned for the rights of the States to take different approaches to solving their problems.
“Many of the current functions of the Federal Government were undertaken based on the argument that efficiency can be gained by a single entity performing tasks rather than each State independently doing these functions. There is validity to this argument and, should all the States agree, the Federal government should be able to perform such functions — even if they are appropriately State functions.
An issue arises when one or more of the States disagree. If the majority of States wish the Federal government to perform a State function in order to achieve efficiency, consistency, or other benefits, the Federal government should perform that function for those States. However the entire cost of the effort should be borne by the States that agreed to the support and no cost should go to other States regardless of whether or not they benefit from the function.
The Executive Branch of each State should make the determination of whether they wish the Federal Government to perform functions on their behalf, and in no case should the Federal government take any such action unless the action is requested and funded by a majority of States. Examples of possible cooperative efforts are welfare programs, unemployment programs, standardized testing for students, etc.
George Read Speaks
“You all know me as a defender of the rights of the small against the large as demonstrated by my insistence of the rights of my home State, Delaware. My record as Chief Justice of that State also shows me to be one who believes in equal justice under law. However, I am appalled at the greedy nature of many citizens, businesses, and litigators today in bringing what I consider unreasonable, if not frivolous, lawsuits.
“The litigious nature of today’s society results in unwillingness by individuals and corporations to take risks however prudent those risks may be. As a result, the rewards which might be commensurate to the risks are often foregone. While judges are empowered to declare lawsuits frivolous, they are seldom inclined to do so because few lawsuits meet the legal definition of frivolous. Many instances occur of lawyers encouraging clients to bring suit simply to get a settlement which can be substantial but less than the cost (to the defense) of winning a suit. Sometimes such settlements include clauses restricting the plaintiffs from divulging the terms. Other times the defendant is allowed to settle without admitting guilt. A series of reforms is needed to make our civil suits less ‘frivolous’, more efficient and less stifling to creativity.
“Unfortunate accidents can and will occur. If any party is employing generally accepted practices in their community, they should not be subjected to a lawsuit as a result of any accident. People with money, large corporations, doctors, and many others are at risk today for what we might consider reasonable and prudent actions. Hence they carry large amounts of insurance, or worse avoid risks where the potential benefit outweighs the risk. For example, the idea that doctors would choose to not prescribe what they believe is the best medication for an ailment because it could make them susceptible to a lawsuit is appalling, yet reportedly 40% of physicians have done just that. Following this principle it can’t be long before those same doctors are sued for prescribing inferior medications.
“Lawyers are a key to making certain that there is merit in any suit that is brought. If any civil suit is lost, the plaintiffs’ lawyer(s) should pay all costs incurred by the defense and the courts unless specifically exempted (rarely) by the judge when the judge believes that the plaintiffs’ case had substantial merit despite the decision. This would assure that the plaintiffs’ lawyers believed that the case had substantial merit before undertaking it. Some States have similar laws already although the data on effectiveness of such laws is not readily available.
“All details of settlements of any kind should become public record, and a settlement should require a statement of guilt acceptable to both parties. The idea that a wealthy entity could pay to avoid bad publicity is fundamentally unfair because it denies the same right to poorer parties and it also denies legitimate information to other entities who may have been similarly injured or who are involved in similar settlements.
John Dickenson Speaks
“I observed a curious phenomena as I traveled the United States of today. Most people believe the “government” owes them something. The idea that the people themselves are the government has been largely lost. Both rich and poor often adopt the attitude that they should get as much as possible from the government. In our day, if we wanted something from the government we felt the responsibility to make it happen. I myself, although born rich and a lawyer by profession, volunteered for the militia and raised troops for the Revolution. Despite my refusal to sign the Declaration of Independence (because I wanted to make another appeal to King George), bowing to the inevitable, I became a private in the Delaware militia and served during the war. I wish I could have been well enough to sign the Constitution that I helped to author, but I am proud that one of my cohorts signed for me. To me the notion of a commitment by every citizen to some form of national service is essential to our democratic form of government. It is we who owe the government a personal commitment, not the other way around.
“Some believe that the taxes we pay are our contribution to government, and perhaps there is some merit in this argument since taxes have become so high. But the kind of commitment needed from citizens is to bring their talents to serve the needs of the nation, not just their pocketbooks. Every citizen shares this obligation to personally make the country better. I would argue that a period of service, in some capacity, should be an obligation of every citizen. Such service could be in the military, as a Peace Corps volunteer, as a government employee, as a Congressman, etc. In any case citizens would have the opportunity to make some part of the government or the country better. I believe this service should start prior to each citizen’s 40th birthday and, if not started by then, the individual should be drafted into an appropriate form of service that takes advantage of his/her skills and education. Satisfactory completion of this service would be a requirement for continued citizenship.
“Notice that one such form of government service proposed is as a civilian government employee. The implication here is that during the required period of service, the policy of paying market value for the employee should be suspended and the pay should be comparable to military or Peace Corps service, regardless of the position the individual is in. This would engender the proper spirit of sacrifice and service, and at the same time reduce the cost to the government. Immigrants to the US could also be required to perform this service as a condition of citizenship.
“The United States cannot remain a great democracy without the active participation of all of its citizens in their government.”
Benjamin Franklin Speaks
“Having represented, at various times, the States of Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, as well as the United States in several European countries, I have a fair understanding of the different ways of thinking in other countries. People do not, and given their circumstances should not, think or act the same way. You will remember when, during our last Convention, I counseled that every member should “doubt a little of his own infallibility…” This would appear to me to be good advice for the United States today. We should not advocate that every country change to our form of government. We should provide factual information to all on what works for us and what doesn’t work for us — and why if we know why.
“If there were only one answer, then we should not be the United States of America, but simply combine all State governments into one Federal government and call ourselves Columbia (if that weren’t already taken), or maybe Turkey (if that weren’t already taken.) We agreed before, and it is still true, that there is strength and power in the diversity of governments within the nation. And, as long as we learn from our differences, we have an opportunity to continually get better as a Nation. Similarly, there is value in the diversity of the world’s nations and our purpose should not be to make all the same but to help each to learn from all others and make good decisions about the course of their own nation.
“As a general principle we should support our friends, in every way, against external threats but not interfere with strictly internal threats. After all, our country was born out of an internal threat. The difficult issue that arises today is that of non-state threats, those that cross geographical boundaries. Many of these fulfill the definition of a “country” in every respect except for possessing a defined territory. They have armies; they have treasuries; they have diplomats; they have citizens. We should treat such threats just as we would a country that threatens us. There should be no sanctuary for them just because they are within a country, if that country is not at war with them then they are allied with them and they too are our enemy.”
George Mason Speaks
“As a professional politician from Virginia, the largest State in my time, I have an appreciation for the value of Gerrymandering and might have wished to employ it during my tenure. However, I believe my record of having refused to sign the Constitution because it did not include a Bill of Rights makes it clear that fairness and justice are clear values of mine.
I was amazed at the extent to which the boundaries of Congressional districts are manipulated to assure a particular party can win the district. For example, North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina%27s_12th_congressional_district
has the characteristics of extreme gerrymandering. But not as extreme as Illinois’ 4th Congressional district https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illinois%27s_4th_congressional_district
which is so severely gerrymandered that it almost appears to be two districts rather than one. Such manipulation of the populace is contrary to all the principles upon which this Nation was founded.
Since allowing arbitrary selection of Congressional districts obviously results in manipulation by the group in power to remain in power, and since this practice results in perversion of the objectives in the founding of the nation, a solution must be found.
A formula for drawing district boundaries that would provide appropriate representation would have been difficult if not impossible until the advent of computers. Today it is quite simple to define such a formula and an appropriate one is to choose the districts so each contains equal population and so that the sum of the perimeter of all the districts is a minimum.
Amending the Constitution
A series of Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, hopefully reflecting the intent of the Founding Fathers, are proposed in this section. The rationale behind these proposed amendments is included in the previous discussions by some of the Founding Fathers. Note that many of these amendments are not meant to stand alone but rather to work in conjunction with each other. Also note that many items suggested in the previous discussions are not reflected because they do not require amending the Constitution.
The first ten amendments, The Bill of Rights, provide for rights of liberty and property for the people and the States. James Madison introduced these ten amendments (and two others) at the 1st Congress. They were meant to correct deficiencies in the original Constitution. The proposed ten amendments described in following sections are meant to correct operational deficiencies in the way the Federal Government operates by establishing an incentive structure that will lead to Government behavior more consistent with the intent of the Founding Fathers.
Proposed 28th Amendment — Legislation
Each law passed by the Congress shall have the following characteristics:
1. An expiration date of not more than ten years in the future shall be included in the legislation
2. Regardless of the expiration date, at time of passage the anticipated lifetime financial impact of the law shall become a firm budget commitment for future budgets unless or until the legislation and associated financial commitments are subsequently repealed
3. All costs associated with the law shall be borne by the nation rather than States, local governments, or individuals
Proposed 29th Amendment — Line Items
Prior to passage of legislation, any member of the House of Representatives may demand a separate vote by that body on any separable (line item) portion of the proposed legislation. If such vote results in the item in question receiving less than a majority of a quorum it shall be stricken from the Bill.
Proposed 30th Amendment — Debt
Every budget passed by Congress shall include a plan to eliminate the debt within twenty years and shall reflect the implementation of that plan during the budget period. Congress shall insure that, at least one time during every thirty year period, the Nation has no debt. Should the Nation fail to achieve debt free status for thirty consecutive years, Congress is prohibited from creating any new budget item and every existing budget item shall be reduced by at least 5% annually until the debt is zero.
Proposed 31st Amendment — Responsible Contracts
Government entities contracting with other government or non-government entities shall be responsible for assuring timely and financially sound execution of such contracts. Should, during the period of the contract, the cost estimate for completion of the contract ever exceed the originally agreed upon price by more than 15%, the contract shall be immediately terminated and the original performing entity shall deliver all completed work and shall not be allowed to provide any additional item(s) included in the contract at time of termination.
Proposed 32nd Amendment — Information
The Executive shall gather and provide to all Citizens all available information to inform their decisions about their lives, businesses, and other interests. Personally identifiable and national security information is excepted but these exceptions should only be used with great care.
Proposed 33rd Amendment — Service
Every citizen shall complete two years of National service between the ages of 18 and 50. Such service may consist of working for any Federal government entity or any State or Local government entity approved by Congress. Full-time uncompensated volunteer work for a qualified non-profit organization will also qualify. This service is a condition of citizenship and will result in loss of citizenship if not completed by the age of 50. This Amendment applies to anyone who has not reached the age of fifteen at the time of ratification. The Congress shall assure that opportunities for such service are available to all citizens.
Proposed 34th Amendment — Constitutional Convention
During the course of the calendar year of each one-hundred year anniversary of the original ratification of this Constitution, a Constitutional Convention shall be convened. Members of the Constitutional Convention shall consist of the senior sitting Senators of each State, the Supreme Court Justices, and the Vice President of the United States who will act as Chairperson of the Convention. No other person shall be privy to or present at the Convention. The Constitutional Convention shall propose any amendments approved by two-thirds of Convention members for ratification by a normal ratification process. During the course of the Convention, all members will be sequestered and have no outside contact with any person, entity, or external information source. Votes taken at the Convention shall only be subsequently reported as passing or failing without identifying individual votes.
Proposed 35th Amendment — District Boundaries
Congressional district boundaries are to be chosen so that States are divided into the appropriate number of districts, each with the same population, minimizing the sum of the perimeter of all the districts.
Proposed 36th Amendment — Term Limits
No person may serve more than a single term in any elected office within the Federal government. Persons may serve in multiple elected offices such as one term as Representative and one term as Vice-President.
Representatives shall be elected for a term of four years with one-fourth of the representatives elected each year.
Proposed 37th Amendment — Support for States
Any majority of States may direct the Federal government to perform any function deemed desirable by those states, provided:
1) the function is not precluded by the US Constitution
2) the entire cost of the function (for all States) is borne by the States directing the Federal government to perform the function
3) the State Executives, with approval of their legislatures, will be the deciding authorities for requesting such functions.
Summary of Tax Plan
Abraham Baldwin’s discussion of taxes and how they should be implemented does not require a Constitutional amendment but represents an important change to the current system. Given the changes over the last 200+ years it is likely that Baldwin would recognize the need for taxes other than import and export duties, but it is also likely that the complexity and inherently bureaucratic structure of today’s tax system would be appalling to him. The tax plan below is a summary of what he might have proposed if he was willing to accept the notion of taxes at all.
INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAXES
1) Income taxes are paid by employers on their employees at a flat rate with no deductions. No individual is required to file an income tax return.
2) Citizen employees, regardless of income level, are returned a single payment monthly including the following: a) a sum equal to the flat tax rate applied to the current poverty level, plus b) other government payments to individuals such as social security, disability, unemployment, etc., plus c) any incentives the Congress deems desirable, for example, a homeowner incentive, a child care incentive, or other.
3) No government payments or incentives are paid to non-citizens whether or not taxes have been collected on their earnings.
4) Unearned income of individuals is not taxed.
5) The flat tax rate may be changed by Congress but changes do not take effect for four years from the date the new rate is established
CORPORATE INCOME TAXES
1) U.S. industries producing tangible products (i.e. those that have a continuing market after first sale) pay no income taxes on the portion of the earnings derived from such products produced in the U.S.
2) Industries, such as service industries, producing other than tangible products (as described above) pay taxes on earnings at a flat rate equal to the flat rate on individuals
3) Industries headquartered or based outside the U.S. are taxed at the flat rate regardless of the type of product they produce
The Founders did a superb job of creating a document which has served for over two centuries to define the roles and responsibilities of the Federal government. Unfortunately, the Constitution’s efficacy has eroded as government has evolved and grown and the Constitution has remained relatively static. This article tries to apply the philosophy of the Founders to today’s situation. If the suggested changes to the Constitution were made we could, perhaps, expect another two centuries of continued growth. If not, who knows how long the U.S. will survive current issues similar to issues which destroyed other great nations in history.