Published: April 6, 2014
America has flourished with free markets and liberty. The more the courts have deregulated people, by limiting government authority, the better Americans have lived. When government freed slaves, we became better. When courts struck down Jim Crow laws and segregation, they deregulated individuals to compete on an equal basis to pursue personal and social progress.
Just as government has made life better by protecting and empowering individuals - with everything from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 - it has eroded liberty with new agendas of expansion and control.
Anyone who wants clear insight into government's modern wayward momentum, and its toll on society, should hear Peter Schuck. An emeritus professor of law at Yale, with a juris doctor and master's from Harvard, Schuck authored the intense new book "Why Government Fails So Often, And How It Can Do Better" (Princeton University Press). He will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs University Center 303 as part of the Program for Preserving a Free and Prosperous Society.
Schuck, brother of Colorado Springs businessman Steve Schuck, contrasts an old system of governance with a new system that fails to perpetuate the country's moral, cultural and economic progress.
Under the old system, politicians tried to expand government's role within constitutionally defined limitations. The new system, by contrast, assumes government has nearly unlimited power to do what politicians and bureaucrats deem in society's best interests. The old system viewed government as a force for protecting liberty; the new system is driven by an overarching philosophy that says government should improve the collective quality of life. Under the new paradigm, politicians, bureaucrats, agencies and laws often cause more harm than good.
Schuck explains a new-system phenomenon that may seem obvious to fiscal conservatives: To survive politically, politicians offer favors to special interests without concern for legacy costs. Benefits of government programs are concentrated on a chosen few; costs are spread so far and wide the people who pay don't notice incremental erosion of capital they earn and need to survive. Visualize that parable about boiling a frog so slowly it doesn't notice in time to jump from the pot.
Though some of Schuck's observations may sound familiar among free-market junkies, don't expect a curmudgeonly conservative who repeats tired talking points. Schuck, who served as deputy dean of Yale Law School, focused his curriculum on immigration and citizenship, diversity, groups and refugee law. He's not one to embrace zero-sum ideologies that hold "welfare moms" and "anchor babies" as the source of American decline.
Schuck "highlights government successes, and the list is impressive: In the New System era, these include Social Security; the GI Bill; the interstate highway system; food stamps; the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; the earned income tax credit of 1975; the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978; and the National Institutes of Health," wrote the Hoover Institute's Peter Berkowitz in a glowing review of "Why Government Fails So Often."
Schuck praises the United States for more than two centuries of improved opportunity, tolerance, immigration and pluralism. Each has helped Americans achieve the world's highest standard of living through growing production, innovation and competition.
His recommendations for change are refreshing. He wants a legal requirement for governments to prove they can provide a service better and more efficiently than the private sector before launching it. Vouchers, to foster competition and choice, should replace a slate of government services. Trade restrictions must go.
Schuck's philosophy resides in a context that challenges conventional assumptions of the left and right.
"Both will be discomfited by aspects of his argument. Both stand to profit handsomely from studying it," Berkowitz wrote.
That's good news in a country that needs more solutions and fewer proprietary battles for the sake of political gain.
What: Peter Schuck lecture
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, University Center 303, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway