In this essay, we will look at two ideas which effect nullification and Tenth Amendment efforts in America today. One of these ideas, the idea of incentives, is familiar to all of us. Another idea, the Overton window, may be less familiar.
People are influenced by incentives. As Dr. Perry often writes at the Carpe Diem blog, “if you tax something, you get less of it”. This is the driving theory behind today’s Nanny State. Want less obesity? Tax fast food and sugary drinks. Want to eliminate smoking? Tax cigarettes. Want more marriage? Give a tax break to married couples. This is the gentle way that government “nudges” us, trying to get the behavior it wants; ostensibly without forcing anyone to do anything… except, of course, for forcing whoever pays for it to part with their money.
Similarly, with the large numbers of people in our federal, state and local governments, we need to think about the tendencies which are created by the incentives acting on these groups of people. Some of these individuals might act in opposition to their incentives, but as a whole, these groups of people, like any other, are largely going to follow their incentives.
How many times has a politician told us he’s going to “clean up Washington”, yet it never happens. Under republican and democrat control, corruption and spending grow incessantly. Although some of these officials are doubtless sincere when they make their promises, the incentives in Washington are upside down, so cleaning Washington from inside Washington is an impossible goal.
Politicians want to win elections. In order to do that in Washington, they need to cultivate their networks. The corruption and spending are self-reinforcing. It is time for us, as voters, to stop searching for the mythical politician who will ignore their own self-interest in order to clean things up. Mr. Smith is not going to Washington. And even if he were, he would be overwhelmed by the system that’s already in place. The problem isn’t that we’re electing the wrong people. The problem is that the system is broken. Specifically, the states have forgotten their proper role in defense of the Constitution.
When they drafted the Constitution, our founders knew that this tendency of people to respond to incentives applies to our government officials too. They designed the Constitution so that the states could “nudge” the Federal officials. To counter central power grabs, they designed a system where the incentives working upon the groups tended to pull power away from the center. Local officials wanted to pull power from the state and state officials wanted to pull power from the federal government.