Two recent cases show the Supreme Court's limits and the Left's lack thereof. Decided as the Court's session closed, the cases struck at the bases of the Voting Rights Act in Texas and affirmative action in New Haven, Connecticut. They also laid bare the foundation of all the Left's programs: a lack of limits. This pervasive absence in the Left's agenda is more disturbing than any particular program: a willingness, if not eagerness, for unchecked government.
In the Texas Voting Rights case, the Supreme Court stopped just short of overturning the entire underlying statute. In the New Haven firefighters' complaint of reverse discrimination, the Court ruled for the plaintiffs and against the city, which had thrown out the results of an exam inconveniently failing to deliver the diversity it sought.
Interesting on their own, the cases are even more revealing of the Left's broader lack of limits to its actions. This broader trait is most often overlooked because our gaze is focused on particular programs. Yet the Left is as much defined by its lack of limits as it is by its taxing and spending. In the end, its policies become truly egregious precisely because it sets no limits to its goals.
In many of the Left's programs, the lack of their limits -- an end date, the total cost, the number of people qualifying, even the actual goals to be achieved -- are all explicit. Take funding for the arts. Despite the arts existing without public funding, the Left deems forced funding necessary, with no mention made that a time will come when it is not. However, there are many areas in which the public feels uneasy about government intrusion. Here, the lack of limits on such intrusion is implicit.
In both cases, the Left's programs are intended to go on forever -- like the dangling carrot leading a mule, the goal is forever seen, but never attained. Once they have intruded in an area, programs will not only continue, but continue to expand.
This lack of limits is endemic to the Left, because it eschews market solutions. As a result, there is no external regulator to government in its paradigm. In contrast, conservatives believe in markets -- that private citizens, free to pursue their own solutions, are the best regulator of their own conduct, affairs, and resources. Within a market, the interplay between the public's demand and a good's supply governs the extent any activity is pursued. Where markets already prevail, the goal is minimum interference. Where markets could exist, they are to be encouraged.
The Left dismisses the validity of such outcomes -- ultimately dismissing the public's values themselves. However, the question remains: If not the markets, what? What are the boundaries on the Left and its actions, other than the Left itself and its opinions?
The Left's opinion on limits is like Justice Potter Stewart's on pornography: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material but I know it when I see it." The problem is that the Left forever fails to see them. When it comes to taxing, to spending, to redistributing wealth, the Left cannot and will not say when is enough or where to end.
The Left is forever focused on the failings of the free market. Unfortunately, we tend to allow the markets to be put on the defensive -- despite the obvious benefits they provide throughout society -- without questioning the alternative. What is the Left's external regulator to government power? Its own good intentions should not be a comforting answer.
However one feels about markets, it is inescapable that they offer the Right something that the Left's paradigm does not: an external check on government's power. This is not an argument on market's economic efficiency, which is already proven by simply looking at where markets do not exist. It is an argument for markets' political and governing importance as well.
This argument is not new. It was propounded decades ago by Nobel economist F.A. Hayek. In his 1944 classic work, The Road to Serfdom, he argued: "…the 'substitution of political for economic power' now so often demanded means necessarily the substitution of power from which there is no escape for a power which is always limited."
It is not enough to say we will limit government -- even if the saying is codified in the Constitution -- without actually having a mechanism for limiting it. The continual confrontation between government and markets goes well beyond economic and social issues. It goes to the very basis of government and liberty itself.
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