National Emergencies Need Less Government, Not More – The Lowdown on Liberty

national emergencies

Donald Trump found himself in hot water this week with critics and supporters alike. His new spending bill didn’t sit well with fiscally concerned republicans, who watched as our annual deficit tops $1 trillion, while his more border-hawkish supporters were disappointed to see only $1.3 billion set aside in funding for the wall. What caused the chaos most though was the “state of emergency” Trump declared as he admittedly decided to seek funding for the wall through alternative means. This left both sides clamoring to sort out a number of issues like whether or not there even is an emergency on our southern border, the constitutionality of the decision and the future precedent set by it. One thing we can see from the evidence is that, when it comes to the crises we’re facing, national emergencies need less government, not more.

Let’s start with the most obvious aspect of this: declaring a national emergency doesn’t magically solve any problems. What’s more, there appears to be a direct correlation that these situations deteriorate further once an emergency is declared. There are currently thirty national emergencies declared, with Trump’s latest making it thirty-one. These range from the proliferation of WMDs back in the 90’s, seizing Colombian assets in the War on Drugs, responses to human rights violations in Venezuela, to sanctions on countries like Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan. As you can see, two things immediately stick out from that list. National emergencies seem to focus on things happening in other countries, not particularly our own. And almost every single issue was made worse upon it being seen as a national emergency. The nuclear proliferation treaty with Russia has since expired; Venezuela has become a socialist’s nightmare; the War on Drugs has created a heroin epidemic that’s led to overdoses becoming the number one cause of death in Americans under 50; there is a genocide going on in Yemen; Libya has open slave trades after our toppling of Gaddafi; while Sudan and Syria have undergone brutal civil wars. This is not to claim the emergency declaration is directly responsible for these problems, but to say they’ve been anything but complete failures is utterly untrue. In fact, almost every one of these emergencies would be better off had the government not set its eyes on trying to fix it.

Which brings us to the current emergency on the border, where again we see some telling problems. Donald Trump, in his entertaining yet sloppy, off-the-cuff style, begins by contradicting himself almost immediately after declaring the emergency, saying that he “didn’t really need to do it.” Which, even by those in favor of the move, undermines the idea of its necessity and, therefore, of it being an emergency. Leading directly to the precedent set here. Sure, you could say Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc. all did it, too. What’s the big deal? Unfortunately, policies have a rather steady track record of coming around and being used against those who once favored them (anyone old enough to remember Harry Reid using the nuclear option on Supreme Court votes? I’m sure Brett Kavanaugh does). And while past presidents may have declared their fair share of emergencies, none on that list are such a blatant response to the inability to get legislation through Congress (as if Obama’s “I’ve got a pen and a phone” executive orders weren’t bad enough?). Only making the idea of executive overreach that much more acceptable in political life; something both Republicans and Democrats should recognize the danger of.

Even without the absurd precedent and executive overreach though, the argument is still yet to be made as to why more government involvement will solve this so-called emergency. Granting that it is an emergency only seems to damn the case further, too. Which reason should we cite? Drugs crossing over from more than half a century of perverse incentives and failed policies from the War on Drugs? We can’t even keep drugs out of prisons today (I think they even have walls, too). Perhaps it’s the immigrants we fear will come here and abuse our welfare system. Except government runs those programs, too. Maybe they should just end the incentive to come here by getting rid of them, but I wouldn’t hold your breathe; seeing as how American citizens use more welfare than immigrants. In reality, there isn’t a single argument for why this issue constitutes a crisis that cannot be traced right back to one government policy or another.

Still, the debate about borders and how we should “solve” immigration has been a tireless and emotional argument, and often argued in poor judgement. The only thing anyone seems to agree on is just how arduous a process it is. With what we know of the slow and often unscrupulous nature of government policy, the best conclusion we could come to is that national emergencies need less government, not more.

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Thomas J. Eckert

Thomas J. Eckert is the Managing Editor of Think Liberty and Copy Editor for Being Libertarian. With a passion for politics, he studies economics and history and writes in his spare time on political and economic current events. He is a self-described voluntarist.