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To Promote the General Welfare

Perknose

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I just saw this post by Jaskalas in an OT thread about warning lables on peanuts. Apparently, it wasn't about the comic strip at all! ():)

I typed out the following response, then thought better of it, so I'm posting it here, where I hope (against hope and sad experience) that a productive discussion on political philosophy, which would have semi-sidetracked that thread, might here ensue.

Here's to reckless optimism! :D

With fatal consequences, is it not better safe than sorry?
Sorry for the P&N interlude, but your answer necessitates my question. You have described yourself as a radical right Libertarian, saying, just recently, "It's us radical right who are Libertarians that despise Romney."

Fair enough! :thumbsup:

So, how do you reconcile your seeming support of this with your limited government, Libertarian ideals?

Where in the constitution does it specifically enumerate putting warning labels on foodstuffs as a function of government?

I'm really not trying to unfairly yank your chain here, J. We don't often agree politically, but I respect you even when we don't.
To me, putting warning labels on food products is a legitimate function of our government, as described by our Founding Fathers quite explicitly in their detailed explanatory preamble to our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It's also why I believe we need a single payer, national health care system as well, as our current one spends twice as much per capita as any other industrialized nation, with some successes but also measurably worse results across a broad range of metrics, for instance.

But with that example, I don't mean to digress from my basic question, which expressed in one way would be, "How do you interpret "promote the general welfare?"

I am not calling out Jaskalas here. I really do tend to respect him far more than many other posters here, both from the left and the right. But I also really do want to know how a self-professed Libertarian can seem to support food warning labels while also presumably being in favor of radically limited government.
 

xj0hnx

Diamond Member
Dec 18, 2007
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Promote, not provide. That is the crux of my problem with government interfering with people's lives.
 

Throckmorton

Lifer
Aug 23, 2007
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Promote, not provide. That is the crux of my problem with government interfering with people's lives.
So the federal government, instead of building the interstate highway system, should have "promoted" highways? And then the private sector would have built them? Do you know how much the rural interstates would have to charge in tolls to make a profit?
 

MovingTarget

Diamond Member
Jun 22, 2003
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I agree with the OP. Warning labels on food is a good example of promoting the general welfare, but it can also be considered as promoting commerce/trade. Healthcare is one are where the government can promote the general welfare too. A healthy workforce/nation is a more productive one. Whether the government should provide it through a single-payor or NIH-style system I'm still up in the air about. As xj0hnx said, promoting it and providing it are not the same thing. One can be considered a possible subset of the other. For me, it will come down to whether or not providing it directly is the most effective way of promoting it. For many "public goods" such as a military, police/fire protection, education, transportation systems, etc. we vary from the government providing it in its entirety without alternative to running a parallel public/private system.
 

Perknose

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Promote, not provide. That is the crux of my problem with government interfering with people's lives.
The Constitution itself explicitly obliterates your attempted distinction between "promote" and "provide" below:

"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States"
In any event, "provide" is a logical subset of "promote," it does not stand in contradistinction to it. That is to say, you can promote something by providing it.

Put another way, saying the function of government is to promote the general welfare does not in any way exclude providing something that promotes the welfare as a means of promoting it.

It's right in the dictionary definition of "promote":

Definition of PROMOTE

: to cause or contribute to the growth, development, or occurrence of
It's not just the "or contribute to" part that is the full meaning of "promote."
 

alzan

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May 21, 2003
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I don't have a problem with government mandated warnings on food labels, especially when the private sector has given (and continues to give) ample evidence that they have zero intent on doing business in an ethical or moral way. I think it's counter-productive to promoting the general welfare to allow companies to sell food products without testing them and listing warnings.

I interpret "promote the general Welfare" as government creating/fostering an environment in which individuals, organizations, businesses, etc. may flourish; each according to their desires and and within the confines of the law. I also know that there are such things as bad or unnecessary regulations. It's a fine, fuzzy and meandering line we walk; with our politicians paying lip service to their constituents with one mouth and deal-making with lobbyists with the other.

Don't get me wrong, industries do deserve a place at the table when regulations are being proposed; but they should not be receiving "shout down" privileges because of their ability to shower elected officials with gifts or large re-election campaign donations.

And our current two-party system needs change as well. Personally I'd rather that people running for election/re-election should be able to run with chosen party, if any. Once elected however, all party ties are severed. You got elected to do the country's business, not to get involved in petty or partisan "one-upsmanship" or "my party can beat up your party" games.
 

Anarchist420

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Don't forget the necessary and proper clause, which pretty much clarifies "promote". The Supreme Court has ruled that way, and their interpretation of the Constitution is what it means, not whatever you want it to mean.

Those who want liberty need to think outside the box and ditch the statist U.S. Articles of Federal Republic.

As Lysander Spooner said, "The Constitution has either empowered the government to take away our liberty or has been powerless to prevent it from doing so. Either way, it is unfit to exist."... and that's as close to the truth on this matter as possible.
 

Jaskalas

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Jun 23, 2004
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So, how do you reconcile your seeming support of this with your limited government, Libertarian ideals?

Where in the constitution does it specifically enumerate putting warning labels on foodstuffs as a function of government?
I found it outside the scope of my response to mention which portion of our government should have the final say on food warning labels. Best practice of course, is to try and attain a uniform standard across the states. Then again, if you go north to Canada or south to Mexico you won't get the same standard. So is it really a necessity?

Enter my ideal solution to MUCH of our government, states volunteer themselves to a national FDA, which can then place its members under such label requirements.

This is not to squabble over petty issues, the choice would be full membership where your state meets the requirements, supplies funding, and receives program benefits. Your local decision is reinforced by your tax dollars collected by your state and then given to the Feds for such national programs that you choose to participate in. A key difference being bottom up volunteering instead of top down blackmailing.

Currently you must comply to both federal authority, and your own survival through federal funding. They tax your state and then return that money with strings attached. This nation is marred by non-negotiable mandates limiting any potential recourse state governments may have.

If a major controversy occurs, say radical Christians are nationally elected and they use the FDA to ban contraception, the people of your state may elect representatives who oppose this decision. If your state wants to save birth control pills, I want them to have the autonomous authority to withdraw from the FDA or even the Union, if it came to that.

What my ideology essentially amounts to is trying to attain national unity, within reasonable means. While preserving the right of self determination for egregious violations. Our current system does not allow this, we may be violated from a distant government whose elected officials do not represent our local interests.

So I'm not an anarchist, and when I say limited government it's really in reference to limiting the ultimate authority of the federal government in its micromanagement of our daily lives. To decentralize the personal decisions of all 315 million people. I want a voluntary Union, not a compulsory Union making us take part by force.
 
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xj0hnx

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Dec 18, 2007
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Article I Section 8 says provides.

:\
In order for the government to provide for some it has to take from others. The goal of government is not to provide the welfare for the nation. You should read it again, promote, and provide FOR the general welfare. Provide a system in which free people can succeed and fail based on their input, not what it can take from some to give to others.
 

BoberFett

Lifer
Oct 9, 1999
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Many libertarians agree that one of the MOST IMPORTANT functions of government is to ensure a level playing field in a free market. Part of that level playing field is parity of information. Being required to list ingredients is a part of that. In addition, lying about the content of your products is fraud, and it's only the anarchist leaning libertarians who believe that fraud should be legal. You can't sell someone rat meat and tell them it's chicken.
 

lotus503

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Feb 12, 2005
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So the federal government, instead of building the interstate highway system, should have "promoted" highways? And then the private sector would have built them? Do you know how much the rural interstates would have to charge in tolls to make a profit?
That's really the crux of the issue, private sector needs to profit, public sector can provide services with no profit motive.

Healthcare should not be about shareholder value and no the private sector is not the best solution for everything.
 

a777pilot

Diamond Member
Apr 26, 2011
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LOL!

Why was the interstate highway system built?

Hint: It was NOT to provide or promote the general welfare.
 

fskimospy

Elite Member
Mar 10, 2006
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I don't really view food labels as being a 'common welfare' topic, that's more a regulation of interstate commerce. As far as 'providing for the general welfare', if I'm not mistaken that has more to do with what Congress can spend money on. I believe that the scope for what Congress can spend money on is nearly unlimited. In fact offhand I can't think of something outside of obvious graft or fraud that wouldn't qualify. (ie: the 'give eskimospy $1,000,000 act of 2012') There may be things I haven't thought of though.
 

Perknose

Forum Director & Omnipotent Overlord
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In order for the government to provide for some it has to take from others. The goal of government is not to provide the welfare for the nation. You should read it again, promote, and provide FOR the general welfare. Provide a system in which free people can succeed and fail based on their input, not what it can take from some to give to others.
So, when the Constitution says "provide for the common defense," I take it you interpret that to mean that the federal government shouldn't provide our armed forces to us, that they should just provide for the armed forces, maybe with staging areas where citizens can voluntarily congregate, bringing their muskets and back yard nukes and tactical subs with them?

Where, in your words, a "free people can succeed and fail based on their input" perhaps by deciding each battle plan by plebiscite? :hmm:

Sorry to sound so sarcastic, but have you really thought through all the real life ramifications of your philosophical stance, based on your interpretation of the word "for" ?
 

frostedflakes

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Mar 1, 2005
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"Our tenet ever was... that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated, and that, as it was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1817. ME 15:133
It's pretty clear how it was supposed to be interpreted (in Jefferson's opinion, at least) if you read quotes by him on the taxing and spending clause. Of course Jefferson wasn't the only person who contributed to the Constitution, just like today there were different interpretations and opinions on what the scope of the federal government should be, not like it's a new debate. :)

And that's not to say that the government couldn't be involved in things such as food safety, it could just be handled at the state level instead. Or you could amend the Constitution to explicitly give the federal government that authority. That was the whole idea behind the federalist system of government the US was founded on, this was yet another safeguard against tyranny of the majority. If you wanted to pass a law that would affect the entire country, you needed 3/4 of the states to approve a Constitutional amendment granting the federal government the new authority. If you can't get 3/4 of the states to go along with your law, clearly there's a significant minority that does not support the law and you probably shouldn't try to force it on them. In this case it would make more sense to let states or local governments pass the law if they want it. You could still have 51% of the people oppressing the other 49%, that's an inherent flaw of majority rule unfortunately, but by doing it at the state or local level at least fewer would be oppressed than with a national mandate. Plus if you live under a law you don't like, it's easier to move to a different city, county, or state with laws you like better than it is to move to a different country if you don't like the national law.
 

fskimospy

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Mar 10, 2006
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It's pretty clear how it was supposed to be interpreted (in Jefferson's opinion, at least) if you read quotes by him on the taxing and spending clause. Of course Jefferson wasn't the only person who contributed to the Constitution, just like today there were different interpretations and opinions on what the scope of the federal government should be, not like it's a new debate. :)

And that's not to say that the government couldn't be involved in things such as food safety, it could just be handled at the state level instead. Or you could amend the Constitution to explicitly give the federal government that authority. That was the whole idea behind the federalist system of government the US was founded on, this was yet another safeguard against tyranny of the majority. If you wanted to pass a law that would affect the entire country, you needed 3/4 of the states to approve a Constitutional amendment granting the federal government the new authority. If you can't get 3/4 of the states to go along with your law, clearly there's a significant minority that does not support the law and you probably shouldn't try to force it on them. In this case it would make more sense to let states or local governments pass the law if they want it. You could still have 51% of the people oppressing the other 49%, that's an inherent flaw of majority rule unfortunately, but by doing it at the state or local level at least fewer would be oppressed than with a national mandate. Plus if you live under a law you don't like, it's easier to move to a different city, county, or state with laws you like better than it is to move to a different country if you don't like the national law.
I would have to say that it's important to note that Jefferson's views on the Constitution have generally lost over the years, including on this power.
 

Lemon law

Lifer
Nov 6, 2005
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Lets be real here, there is no shortage of people with peanut alleges who have a legitimate right to know what is in their food. I don't care is you use the word provide, protect, or whatever, IMHO its a legitimate function of government.

Then we can take another view, when our government regulates the marketplace, we don't want those regulations being too expensive and burdensome to implement. But by GOD and garhottie, how much does it cost to print that ingredient list on a food label, when the food label will be on the bottle or can anyway?

I may be on of those lucky ones with almost known allergies, but I know quite a few not so lucky, so I don't think its burdensome to print a label. After all its a bit selfish to value my life and not value the lives and safety of my friends, people I never met, and even people I don't like.
 
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Hayabusa Rider

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Jan 26, 2000
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I would have to say that it's important to note that Jefferson's views on the Constitution have generally lost over the years, including on this power.
Considering that outside explicitly defined rights a commonly displayed attitude is that government has the power to do what it wishes regardless of what the people want, this is true. The government retains the effective rights and we become its subjects. That was something Jefferson would not have cared for. Curious that this sentiment of Jefferson is quaint, but the non constitutional seperation of church and state hinges on the same persons opinion.
 

fskimospy

Elite Member
Mar 10, 2006
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Considering that outside explicitly defined rights a commonly displayed attitude is that government has the power to do what it wishes regardless of what the people want. The government retains the effective rights and we become its subjects. That was something Jefferson would not have cared for. Curious that this sentiment of Jefferson is quaint, but the non constitutional seperation of church and state hinges on the same persons opinion.
It doesn't have to do with the source, it has to do with how society has come to view these subjects. Society has come to agree with Jefferson on the issue of separation of church and state but his views of federal power have not been met with such agreement.

As for the whole rights/subjects thing, I think that is histrionics. This clause simply means that the government can spend tax revenues on things it views to contribute to the general welfare, which is a pretty uncontroversial idea.
 

BoberFett

Lifer
Oct 9, 1999
37,563
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Considering that outside explicitly defined rights a commonly displayed attitude is that government has the power to do what it wishes regardless of what the people want, this is true. The government retains the effective rights and we become its subjects. That was something Jefferson would not have cared for. Curious that this sentiment of Jefferson is quaint, but the non constitutional seperation of church and state hinges on the same persons opinion.
To a statist, anything can mean anything, depending on the intended goals.
 

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