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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Many years ago I read a copy (my father's - he was a prominent member of the Liberal Party back when liberals were still allowed in) of Milton Friedman's book Free to Choose & though not a Thatcherite I did recognise that he was making many valid points about the inherent inefficiencies that entrenched government bureaucracies lead to. I still think anybody interested in traditional liberal values should read it.

His solution to overgovernment was a set of constitutional amendments limiting the power of government. The best known of them was the balanced budget amendment. I must admit to being astonished that I could find only 1 link on the net which gives it. It certainly still deserves far wider consideration. You can skip everything about the highlighted bit - the rest is just to stop the lawyers weaseling around it.

A PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO LIMIT FEDERAL SPENDING 3┬▒Prepared by the Federal Amendment Drafting CommitteeW. C. Stubblebine, ChairmanConvened by The National Tax Limitation CommitteeWm. F. Rickenbacker, Chairman; Lewis K. Uhler, President

Section 1. To protect the people against excessive governmental burdens and to promote sound fiscal and monetary policies, total outlays of the Government of the United States shall be limited.

(a) Total outlays in any fiscal year shall not increase by a percentage greater than the percentage increase in nominal gross national product in the last calendar year ending prior to the beginning of said fiscal year. Total outlays shall include budget and off-budget outlays, and exclude redemptions of the public debt and emergency outlays.

(b) If inflation for the last calendar year ending prior to the beginning of any fiscal year is more than three per cent, the permissible percentage increase in total outlays for that fiscal year shall be reduced by one-fourth of the excess of inflation over three per cent. Inflation shall be measured by the difference between the percentage increase in nominal gross national product and the percentage increase in real gross national product.

Section 2. When, for any fiscal year, total revenues received by the Government of the United States exceed total outlays, the surplus shall be used to reduce the public debt of the United States until such debt is eliminated.

Section 3. Following declaration of an emergency by the President, Congress may author-ize, by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, a specified amount of emergency outlays in excess of the limit for the current fiscal year.

Section 4. The limit on total outlays may be changed by a specified amount by a three-fourths vote of both Houses of Congress when approved by the Legislatures of a majority of the several States. The change shall become effective for the fiscal year following approval.

Section 5. For each of the first six fiscal years after ratification of this article, total grants to States and local governments shall not be a smaller fraction of total outlays than in the three fiscal years prior to the ratification of this article. Thereafter, if grants are less than that fraction of total outlays, the limit on total outlays shall be decreased by an equivalent amount.

Section 6. The Government of the United States shall not require, directly or indirectly,that States or local governments engage in additional or expanded activities without compensation equal to the necessary additional costs.

Section 7. This article may be enforced by one or more members of the Congress in an action brought in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and by no other persons. The action shall name as defendant the Treasurer of the United States, who shall have authority over outlays by any unit or agency of the Government of the United States when required by a court order enforcing the provisions of this article. The order of the court shall not specify the particular outlays to be made or reduced. Changes in outlays necessary to comply with the order of the court shall be made no later than the end of the third full fiscal year following the court order.


That both prevents monetary inflation & also prevents the expansion of government. In a growing economy that thereby means government would become a declining proportion of total GNP.

It would not prevent President & Congress overturning it by Bush/Obama declaring that there is an emergency requiring a government bailout of banks or whatever if the majority in favour was sufficient, in the end no constitution can be foolproof, but even then the need to declare a state of emergency would slow it down & give heads a chance to cool.

Britain has no written constitution except as provided by the EU. Instead we rely on centuries of precedent. I think that is a very serious weakness & we should provide ourselves with a Basic Law or Constitution. The most important part of such a document is not about the power of government but about what it is not allowed to do. Again this doesn't always prevent government doing it. The US one prevents making war without Congressional approval & subsequent law prevents him undertaking "police actions" for longer than 3 months but got broken to let Clinton bomb Yugoslavia. Nonetheless written laws do provide brakes on government authoritarianism & lines in the sand that let the people be sure when their rights are being infringed.

I would like to see a British Basic Law & would incorporate this.

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