Monday Morning Insight: Are You a Friend to Government?

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is John Hancock’s birthday, at least according to the “New Style” calendar — the Gregorian calendar, which became the legal calendar in Britain and the colonies in the mid-1700s. But whether the day he was born is considered the 23rd or the 12th of January 1737, he was certainly a patriot and a statesman, and served as Governor of Massachusetts (twice) and president of the Second Continental Congress.

On the fourth anniversary of the Boston Massacre — on 5 March 1774 — Hancock delivered a speech in Boston in which he said,

Some boast of being friends to government; I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice; but I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.

That quote seems appropriate for our present day and our present government, especially given the inauguration of a new President this past Friday and the widespread protests the day after.

Were you a friend to our government, until this past Friday? Or, conversely, did you only become a friend to our government this past Friday?

In other words, were you consistent in your support of our government until a President of whom you disapproved was elected and inaugurated? Or were you consistent in your opposition to our government until the country elected and inaugurated a President of whom you approved?

How you answer the question may tell us more about you than it does about our government.

Because neither before nor after this past Friday has our government been totalitarian, nor has it disavowed the principles of reason and justice upon which it is founded. Yes, we may support or oppose some policies and programs for which our tax dollars pay, and in turn may wish such policies or programs to continue or to cease. Yes, our government’s standard of justice may shift or be unevenly applied. Yes, government levies some requirements on us, and more or fewer requirements on others. But that is the nature of limited, imperfect governmental action, and it does not make such actions tyrannical.

Broad Stripes & Bright Stars
How well do the lights of our government shine? (Image: “Broad Stripes & Bright Stars,” by Jason Samfield, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

I, for one, agree with Hancock: “I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice,” and so long as our government remains so I will be pleased to support it. With Hancock, however, “I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny,” no matter what political persuasion the President happens to be — but I will not let fears and phantasms of despotism cloud my mind, and cause me to see tyranny where it does not exist.

We are still the land of the free, and I wish you peace in pursuing your freedom.

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Monday Morning Insight: Proclaiming National Thanksgiving

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)


On this date in 1789, President George Washington — based on a resolution passed in the Congress — proclaimed that Thursday, 26 November 1789, would be set aside for the people of the nation to unite in devotion to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” The proclamation began with a statement that seems quite bold today, especially for a public official:

… it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.

Congress had recommended “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Washington’s proclamation enjoined the people to offer “sincere and humble thanks” to God for several things, including:

  • “His providence in the course and conclusion of” the Revolutionary War,
  • “the great degree of tranquillity [sic], union, and plenty” they enjoyed,
  • “their civil and religious liberty,” and
  • “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Gratitude changes the way we look at the world

(Image: “Gratitude changes the way we look at the world,” by BK, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


President Washington also encouraged the people to beseech “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations” to forgive “our national and other trangressions [sic],” and, in particular,

to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.

It seems a shame that we have let our government get so out of control, and that we seem unable to place people in positions of trust who are wise and just, who respect the Constitution, and who are able to “discreetly and faithfully” execute the nation’s laws. Perhaps if we used Thanksgiving for giving thanks, and for reflecting on our freedom and what it takes to maintain it, we might have less trouble in that regard.

P.S. The full proclamation is available here.

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Monday Morning Insight: The Purpose of Our Government

On this date in 1788, my home state of South Carolina became the eighth state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States of America. Given the (perhaps unusually) contentious nature of our political discourse this election year, it seemed like a good idea to use the Preamble as today’s quote to start the week:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, 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, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Break it down with me …

  • We the People of the United States … — Not we the people of one state, nor we the people of the rest of the world, but we the people of the United States.
  • … in Order to form a more perfect Union … — That is, “more perfect” than the previous union under the Articles of Confederation. (Many years ago, my good friend Dr. James Galt-Brown and I discussed writing a book to speculate on what the next more perfect union might be like. Alas, another project that fell by the wayside.)
  • … establish Justice … — Not guarantee justice, because justice can never be guaranteed, but establish it, primarily by establishing a system which, if administered well, might produce it more often than not. Justice as an ideal toward which we should strive is laudable, but a different matter from what the Constitution purposed.
  • … insure domestic Tranquility … — That is, keep the peace internally and, where possible, protect citizens’ lives from disruptions.
  • … provide for the common defence … — Note that this is the only thing the Preamble proposes to provide, and even here the preposition is important because it is less to provide outright than to provide for defense against our enemies. National security remains the paramount responsibility of every national government, but the government relies on the citizens — whether volunteers, as we have in the U.S. today, or conscripts in times of national emergency — to step up and provide it. That seems like a good thing to reflect upon as we approach Memorial Day.
  • … promote the general Welfare … — Not provide it, not guarantee it, but promote it: make the citizens’ welfare possible, and where practical remove obstacles to it.
  • … secure the Blessings of Liberty … — What are the blessings of liberty? What are the benefits of freedom? Are they the same for everyone, everywhere, at every time? No. The blessings may be success, but they may also be failure; potential good results of liberty also have their negations, potential bad outcomes, because exercising liberty means accepting risk.
  • … to ourselves and our Posterity … — Not to the rest of the world, unless they wish to join the union of our several and sovereign states. To ourselves, and the future generations we raise.

The first page of the U.S. Constitution. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)


Our Constitution was not perfect when it was written, but it was not expected to be; it was only meant to be “more perfect.” Its authors were wise enough to include in it the means to change it should future years prove it unequal to its charge. And what was its charge, its mission? It seems to me it’s right there in the Preamble: not to institute a governmental system for its own sake, but to accomplish certain tasks that together would free its people — “We the People of the United States” — to pursue their own aims, their own dreams, their own potential.

As we begin this week, I hope you have success in pursuing your aims, your dreams, and your potential.

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Tax Awareness Day, Spring Edition

It’s the Ides of April! Have you paid your taxes?

I don’t mean filed your taxes for 2015, although you might have done that, too. Maybe you’re expecting a refund; maybe you already got one; maybe you have to pay.

But even though April 15th falls on a Friday this year, which gives you a three-day reprieve on filing your annual taxes, today still represents Tax Day — and the day first-quarter estimated tax payments are due for this tax year.

If you don’t make your own tax payments — for instance, if you have taxes withheld from your paycheck or someone else takes care of your taxes for you — you might not have a good grasp on just how much you’ve paid in 2016. Those of us who pay quarterly estimated tax ourselves know all too well, whether we paid the first of four set payments based on our expected earnings or we paid according to what we actually made so far (projected out through the end of the year).

Tax Day

(Image: “Tax Day,” by Simon Cunningham, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


If you haven’t had the pleasure this year of writing a check — either electronic or paper — to the government for your 2016 taxes, then today is a good day to take a look at the last pay statement you received in March. Check out the “year to date” figures of how much you made and how much was taken out. Depending on whether you think it was too much or too little or just enough, you can either think about all the good things the government is doing with your money … or the things you could’ve done, if you could’ve kept a little more of it.

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In Defense of Slower Government

Are you more likely to make a mistake when you’re being hasty, or being deliberate?

There’s a reason the old saying is, “Haste makes waste.” It’s “measure twice, cut once,” not “cut wherever you want to, who has time to measure?” And speaking of cutting, there’s a reason I have a chunk missing from my right thumb — tip: don’t rush the process of slicing onions with the mandolin, thinking that you have plenty of room before you need to use the little safety attachment.

If your personal experience is anything like mine, then you can point to specific instances when you made a snap decision — or just a swift decision — and had that decision turn out badly. Perhaps not with the bloody results that my kitchen mandolin incident produced, but I’m confident that at least once you’ve looked back at a mistake and thought, “I wish I’d taken more time with that.”

But how about our government? Is it also more likely to make a mistake when it’s being hasty?

We the People

(Image: “We the People,” by Chuck Coker, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Our personal decisions usually affect only a few people: maybe just us, maybe our family or friends, maybe coworkers or even some strangers. So our personal mistakes have limited consequences. But government decisions usually affect a great many people — even all of us — and therefore government mistakes can have far-reaching effects.

Aside from natural disasters and enemy attacks, governments generally do not face emergencies that require immediate or even especially fast action. Particularly where legislative bodies are concerned, urgency is usually contraindicated. Legislatures are built for deliberation — their strength is in studying issues, building consensus, reaching compromise — and they should be loath to abandon careful consideration, reflection, and caution.

You may be able to think of an example or two of a hasty government move. Very recently, for instance, a few miles from where I live, the North Carolina legislature staged a late night raid to combat a Charlotte city ordinance; they seemed to be working against a deadline, but the fact remains that by acting swiftly they perhaps worked less well than they would have if they had taken more time to think through what they were doing. In some instances government leaders act quickly in order to capitalize on perceived crises or fleeting majorities; in at least one prominent case, highly complex legislation was passed before everyone was cognizant of everything in it, exemplified by the enigmatic “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

It is true that Miyamoto Musashi encouraged readers of Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) to train themselves “day and night to make quick decisions,” but he was writing about life-or-death situations in which failing to act would be disastrous. When the clock is not a factor and the decision is less crucial, taking time to deliberate before making a critical choice often results in a better outcome.

And when decisions become more momentous, when they affect more people, and particularly when they entail significant controversy, it seems that longer and longer deliberation might be in order. From that perspective, the government that operates slowest may in the long run be the best.

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Legislating Charity

Squarely in the category of “that government governs best which governs least”: a proposed law (yes, LAW) introduced yesterday that would require (yes, REQUIRE) North Carolina college students to perform specific community service in order to get their diplomas.

According to the News & Observer story, “Tutoring rule proposed,”

Those seeking a bachelor’s degree in the state’s public and private colleges and universities would be required to spend 20 hours a semester tutoring or mentoring students in public elementary, middle or high schools if legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand becomes law.

The proposed legislation is Senate Bill 2079, the “Eve Carson/Abhijit Mahato Community Service Program,” dated May 28, 2008. The text of the bill states,

The Board of Governors shall establish a community service program for baccalaureate degree candidates enrolled in the University System…. Under this program, students shall provide mentoring and tutoring services for a minimum of 20 hours per semester to public school-aged children across the State through school programs, faith-based programs, or other service programs…. Participation in this program shall be a requirement for any baccalaureate degree awarded after January 1, 2012.

So here’s a State Senator, Fayetteville Democrat Rand, who proposes to “honor” two slain students by requiring — in other words, FORCING — every other student in the state to perform community service in their names. And not only that, the law would require them to perform service for which they may or may not have any aptitude or desire: the program gives them no choice in the manner or method of their service, but would force them to work with public school children. The N&O said Rand believes this program will “instill a sense of community and responsibility in college students.”

It should instill a sense of outrage in college students. It’s one thing to encourage students to serve others at a time and place of their own choosing, but to force them into a particular type of community servitude in order to appease the legislature’s sense of what they should be doing? Student organizations across the state should mount rapid and vocal opposition to this proposal.

Furthermore, as if Rand’s proposal isn’t far-reaching enough, it actually goes beyond students in state schools to include every undergraduate: “The state’s private colleges and universities would have to impose the same requirement if they wanted to continue participating in two financial aid programs that the state provides to North Carolinians attending those schools.” Note that the students receiving the aid are not mentioned, but the schools: therefore, students receiving no aid from the state whatsoever would be subject to the same requirement.

This is a bad idea, and should be shouted down from the rooftops of every dormitory to the floor of the legislature. Not because community service is bad, but because lawmakers should not be trying to legislate it. If a college decides to require community service as a graduation requirement, students have the choice to go to another college if they don’t want to meet the requirement. If the state requires community service, students won’t have that same choice.

And since this proposed law mandates — requires — what would normally be acts of charity, what other ramifications does that present?

* First, it means that the community service is no longer voluntary, but compulsory. That may seem a small distinction, but what other compulsory service might the legislature mandate? Would our leaders require community service of all of us, and specify what it must be?

* Second, it means that those who don’t participate are by definition lawbreakers — and that the state would punish them by withholding the degrees they’ve otherwise earned.

* Third, it treats students as pools of free labor available to meet whatever pressing or passing need strikes the legislative fancy, when their primary purpose should be concentrating on their studies and learning the skills that will carry them with confidence into the future.

Good intentions, remember, pave the road to Hell. And politicians are full of good intentions.

The NC General Assembly web site includes this page on Rand, with contact information. Give him a call, send him an e-mail, tell him this is a bad idea.

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