What Oil and Wind Should Be Teaching Us

The Gulf oil spill and hurricane Katrina have an important message. Is anyone listening?

That pesky hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico puts an exclamation point to a truth Washington politicians fail to understand and refuse to acknowledge. The powers of the Federal Government is limited, not only by the Constitution, but by the limitations of human capabilities as well. A person can become competent in a small number of subjects over a lifetime of experience and study.  However, very few can become experts in more than one or two. Being elected to public office does not change that basic truth. Washington simply does not have the expertise or competency necessary to solve every natural or man made problem the American people encounter.

It is not just the incompetence of the current Obama Administration. The size and reach of the federal government makes it incapable of solving or even controlling most of the major domestic issues facing America today, no matter who sits in the White House or serves in Congress; having the most incompetent administration and possibly the most incompetent Congress in our history only makes matters worse.

The Founders, whether by experience, knowledge, or intuition, understood this imperfection in human government when they laid out the plan for our own in the Constitution. They understood that a republican form of government, in order to be effective must be limited in the area and population governed. Thomas Jefferson mused to a friend, John Taylor, in an 1816 letter, “Such a government [pure republicanism] is evidently restrained to very narrow limits of space and population. I doubt if it would be practicable beyond the extent of a New England township”.

The larger the area and population governed, the more autocratic the government must be in order to maintain stability. The thirteen states that ratified the Constitution in 1788 had a population of less than 3 million people and covered less than 1 million sq. mi. Realizing that a nation that large could not be sufficiently governed by a central government while still protecting the liberties of its people, the Founders devised a plan limiting the national government to those issues that could only be adequately handled at the national level, leaving all others to the states. Today the United States has an estimated population of 309,000,000 people and covers an area of 3,537,455 square miles, making it the third largest nation on earth.

223 years of world history has demonstrated the wisdom of the Founders in designing a decentralized but cooperative government with an upside down power pyramid going from the people to the state to the federal. That is not to say that the Federal Government should have no role in dealing with catastrophes like the Gulf oil spill or hurricane Katrina but its role should be subordinate to the states involved. The huge overwhelming bureaucracies of the Federal Government with their cross currents of political intrigue and jurisdictional rivalry inhibit the rapid development and implementation of the solutions necessary to limit the damage and eventually stop the flow of oil into the Gulf, for example.

As our population continues to amass in ever-growing population centers, the potential for devastating natural or man made disasters increase. We will continue to have hurricanes, forest fires, floods, tornadoes, oil spills, and possibly terrorist attacks in the future. In these instances the role of the Federal government should be a role of assisting not directing. State and local authorities must have the primary responsibility and authority to implement an emergency response when necessary with the Federal Government supplying resources and manpower as needed and requested.

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One response to “What Oil and Wind Should Be Teaching Us

  1. steve youhanaie


    I’m glad that I took your advice to read this article (facebook – the socialist billboard comment started by w.t.huston).

    There is no question that the state/local governments should be at the forefront of disaster relief. I believe that Theodore Roosevelt (as progressive as he was for his time) pretty much kept the Federal Government away from screwing up the recovery efforts brought on by the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.

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