Happy Independence Day to all the Americans reading today!
In 1776, a brave new document was executed in order to begin implementation of a new nation with a system of governance that, at the time, was unique to anything else that had been tried before it. It was a grand experiment in human thought and the advancement of individual freedoms that changed the world forever. What is most incredible about it is that it didn’t just pop into existence. It took years of fighting, arguing, brutal disagreement, even wars between parties, and lots of negotiation in order to have something that has ultimately performed so well. Last week, I wrote in my column all about where nearly everyone agrees. There was even a picture of children holding hands in a circle, and the whole thing was, admittedly, annoyingly cumbaya – and “why can’t we just get along.” This week, it’s all about why disagreement is good. That is, particularly disagreement in government and amongst politicians.
Basic intuition tells us that if no one disagrees and an idea is wrong, then everyone is wrong. The necessity of even quiet dissenting voices can not be understated. At one time, the world was considered by the majority of people to be flat (and unfortunately, there are still too many people who believe it). At one time, it was considered by most people that flying was to be kept to the realm of the birds, and humans just have no ability to get to the skies. If it weren’t for forward thinkers around the globe, the world might still be stuck in feudalism everywhere. We need rebels and renegades and people who are outcast thinkers just as much as we need people who pull back the reins on those rebels and outcasts so as to not make radical changes with the ease of the wind.
The vast majority of modern constitutions are written in such a way as to purposefully cause discord – amongst branches of government and amongst individual political leaders. In my humble opinion, the best systems of governance foster disagreements and long, laborious, and tedious delays of gridlock. They also foster many political parties – usually five or more.
People often criticize the US and its long process to get bills passed, along with the court’s ability to re-invent them through reinterpretation. It might take years for disputes on law to make their way through the court system, and it might take years for new law to be passed by the legislature and the executive branch. Europe is often criticized for having so many political parties that it becomes difficult to find enough agreement to build a coalition to get something done. They also have systems of checks and balances that draw out the process and re-invent law.
Gridlock is a very good thing. It should be incredibly hard to change the law of the land. In the US, the average time it takes for a bill to make its way through various committees, then to the floor for a vote in both legislative branches, then to be accepted by the President is about 347 days – basically one year. It is essentially the same amount of time in Canada and the UK. In the rest of Europe, it takes slightly longer, due to the presence of more diversity in political parties. As a consequence, a nation cannot suddenly become a different entity overnight. In most of the world’s republics, an idea can’t suddenly leap through the process without lots of debate and forethought to become law in a matter of a couple of days. It takes a lot of diligence in a real republic to make changes, and we don’t suddenly have pure insanity so quickly.
Please forgive this metaphor, but if government is a necessary evil, then one which is constipated on new law is far superior to one that passes new law as if it’s on laxatives. You get the picture. While I am not happy that the US has chosen to ignore its Constitution and that it has decades of layers of liberty-dousing feces of laws and intrusions, I am thrilled that it has taken decades to ignore the Constitution so much. It may not be a perfect document, but adherence to it would create the most liberty-minded government in existence. The fact that it takes so long get things back to the liberty once fostered is a small concession to the fact that it took so long to destroy those liberties.
So, this Independence Day, I am celebrating the fact that not only was the grand experiment started on this day, but also the fact that it exists through healthy doses of disagreement. And, I am celebrating the existence of glorious gridlock. Individual liberties deserve the careful consideration it takes and the difficulty of gridlock to be reduced. It should be exceptionally difficult to impede on liberty or to consider new law. Rather than complain about the speed of government, I celebrate it. Political gridlock is truly a very good thing. Dissenting voices force such careful consideration, and I am grateful to those voices.
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