Local issues should not be outsourced

Subsidiarity is the principle that encourages problems to be solved at the lowest possible level competent to provide the solution.

To illustrate, if the Federal Government and a state can solve a problem, the state should do it.

If a state and a locality can equally tackle an issue, the default should be to the locality.

People ranging from church authorities to the Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman have endorsed this principle.

It makes sense. The lower level is usually the less costly alternative. In addition, those responsible for the solution are closer to the voters and thus more easily held accountable.

I may feel powerless in dealing with Congress, but I am more likely to have my voice heard at my city council meeting.

Since the New Deal, however, the trend has been to pursue the opposite path.

Rather than trying to solve the problems of homelessness, hunger and other assorted social ills by searching for the lowest level of competent capability, the nation has been going in the other direction.

There has been an increasing reliance on Washington to solve all sorts of social problems.

This has also spawned an entrenched group with a vested personal and professional interest in keeping Washington the focus of funding and approval for all sorts of social policies.

It’s easy to be lulled into the pleasant complacency of letting the government do all the work.

We don’t have to deal with the difficult task of donating our time or energy to become part of the solution. Just pay our taxes and let Uncle Sam take care of it.

But, there are several problems with the “let Uncle Sam do it” approach.

First, it absolves one of personal involvement and responsibility.

Second, there is no virtue in paying taxes. Paying taxes is an act of obedience, rather than one of engaged charity and concern for our fellow human beings.

Third, the higher the level of government, the greater the level of inefficiency in providing care and concern for our fellow humans.

Fourth, with reference to the Federal Government, it may well be illegal or unconstitutional.

The Founders saw first-hand what an unbridled central government is capable of doing. So, they deliberately institutionalized subsidiarity.

Power was delegated to the Federal Government in certain specified areas (so-called enumerated powers). Furthermore, the functions of the Federal Government were split into three different areas – Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

All power not specifically delegated to the Federal Government was reserved to the states or to the people.

With the limited exception of feeding, clothing and housing federal prisoners and the military, nowhere in the Constitution is the Federal Government given the specific authority to practice what are known as the corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, etc.

And yet we know that the Federal Government is knee-deep in these areas, and not doing a very good job at it.

The amount of Federal funds spent on poverty programs could have been given directly to the poor and poverty would have been greatly reduced.

The vast sums of Federal money spent on education have not produced a more educated group of students in our high schools and colleges.

The trend of ACT and SAT scores testifies to that.

To be sure, there are areas where the Federal Government has a legitimate interest in, such as national defense, regulation of interstate commerce, printing of money, negotiating with foreign nations, etc.

In addition, certain areas in which there is an overriding national interest and where only the Federal Government has the resources to fund it could be considered a legitimate Federal area.

The NASA program is such an example.

However, any decision in this area should take into account the Tenth Amendment: any power not delegated to the Federal Government is reserved to the states or to the people. This amendment enshrines subsidiarity.

It’s an idea well worth remembering.

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