Every four years, as the November presidential election draws near, I have the same daydream: that I don't know or care who the president of the United States is. More importantly, I don't need to know or care. I don't have to vote or even pay attention to debates. I can ignore all campaign commercials. There are no high stakes for my family or my country. My liberty and property are so secure that, frankly, it doesn't matter who wins. I don't even need to know his name.
In my daydream, the president is mostly a figurehead and a symbol, almost invisible to myself and my community. He has no public wealth at his disposal. He administers no regulatory departments. He cannot tax us, send our children into foreign wars, pass out welfare to the rich or the poor, appoint judges to take away our rights of self government, control a central bank that inflates the money supply and brings on the business cycle, or change the laws willy-nilly according to the special interests he likes or seeks to punish.
The President's Job
His job is simply to oversee a tiny government with virtually no power except to arbitrate disputes among the states, which are the primary governmental units. He is head of state, though never head of government. His position, in fact, is one of constant subordination to the office holders around him and the thousands of statesmen on the state and local level. He adheres to a strict rule of law and is always aware that anytime he transgresses by trying to expand his power, he will be impeached as a criminal.
But impeachment is not likely, because the mere threat reminds him of his place. This president is also a man of outstanding character, well respected by the natural elites in society, a person whose integrity is trusted by all who know him, who represents the best of what an American is.
The president can be a wealthy heir, a successful businessmen, a highly educated intellectual, or a prominent farmer. Regardless, his powers are minimal. He has a tiny staff, which is mostly consumed with ceremonial matters like signing proclamations and scheduling meetings with visiting heads of state.
The presidency is not a position to be avidly sought but almost granted as honorary and temporary. To make sure that is the case, the person chosen as vice president is the president's chief political adversary. The vice president therefore serves as a constant reminder that the president is eminently replaceable. In this way, the vice presidential office is very powerful, not with regard to the people, but in keeping the executive in check.
But as for people like me who have concerns besides politics, it matters little who the president is. He doesn't affect my life one way or the other. Neither does anyone under his control. His authority is mainly social, and derived from how much the natural elites in society respect him. This authority is lost as easily as it is gained, so it is unlikely to be abused.
This man is elected indirectly, with the electors chosen as the states direct, with only one proviso: no elector may be a federal official. In the states that choose their electors by majority vote, not every citizen or resident can participate. The people who do vote, a small percentage of the population, are those who have the best interests of society at heart. They are those who own property, who head households, and have been educated. These voters choose a man whose job it is to think only of the security, stability, and liberty of his country.
The Invisible Government
For those who do not vote and do not care about politics, their liberty is secure. They have no access to special rights, yet their rights to person, property, and self government are never in doubt. For that reason and for all practical purposes, they can forget about the president and, for that matter, the rest of the federal government. It might as well not exist. People do not pay direct taxes to it. It doesn't tell them how to conduct their lives. It doesn't send them to foreign wars, regulate their schools, pay for their retirement, much less employ them to spy on their fellow citizens. The government is almost invisible.
The political controversies that involve me tend to be at the level of the city, town, or state. This is true for all issues, including taxes, education, crime, welfare, and even immigration. The only exception is the general defense of the nation, although the standing military is very small with large state-based militias in case of need. The president is commander-in-chief of the federal armed forces, but this is a minor position absent a congressional declaration of war. It requires no more than insuring the impenetrability of the borders by foreign attackers, a relatively easy task considering our geography and the ocean that separates us from the incessant feuding of the old world.
In my daydream, there are two types of representatives in Washington: members of the House of Representatives, a huge body of statesmen that grows larger as the population does, and a Senate elected by state legislatures. The House works to keep the federal Senate in check, and the Senate works to keep the executive in check.
Legislative power over the public is nearly nonexistent. Congressmen have little incentive to increase that power, because they themselves are real citizens. My House member lives within a square mile of my house. He is my neighbor and my friend. I do not know my federal senator, and do not need to, because he is responsible to the state legislators I do know.
Thus, in my daydream, there is virtually nothing at stake in this coming presidential election. o matter which way it goes, I retain my liberty and my property.
The politics of this country is extremely decentralized, but the community is united by an economy that is perfectly free and a system of trading that allows people to voluntarily associate, innovate, save, and work based on mutual benefit. The economy is not controlled, hindered, or even influenced by any central command.
People are allowed to keep what they earn. The money they use to trade is solid, stable, and backed by gold. Capitalists can start and close businesses at will. Workers are free to take any job they want at any wage or any age. Businesses have only two goals: to serve the consumer and make a profit.
There are no labor controls, mandated benefits, payroll taxes, or other regulations. For this reason, everyone specializes in what he does best, and the peaceful exchanges of voluntary enterprise cause ever-widening waves of prosperity throughout the country.
What shape the economy takes--whether agricultural, industrial, or high-tech--is of no concern to the federal government. Trade is allowed to take place naturally and freely, and everyone understands that it should be managed by property holders, not office holders. The federal government couldn't impose internal taxes if it wanted to, much less taxes on income, and trade with foreign nations is rivalrous and free.
If by chance this system of liberty begins to break down, my own political community--the state in which I live--has an option: to separate from the federal government, form a new government, and join other states in this effort. The law of the land is widely understood as allowing secession. That was part of the guarantee required to make the federation possible to begin with. And from time to time, states threaten to secede, just as a way of showing the federal government who's boss.
This system reinforces the fact that the president is not the president of the American people, much less their commander in chief, but merely the president of the United States . He serves only with their permission and only as the largely symbolic head of this voluntary union of prior political communities. This president could never make light of the rights of the states, much less violate them in practice, because he would be betraying his oath of office and risk being tossed out on his ear.
In this society without central management, a vast network of private associations serves as the dominant social authority. Religious communities wield vast influence over public and private life, as do civic groups and community leaders of all sorts. They create a huge patchwork of associations and a true diversity in which every individual and group finds a place.
This combination of political decentralization, economic liberty, free trade, and self government creates, day by day, the most prosperous, diverse, peaceful, and just society the world has ever known.
Is this a utopia? Actually, it is nothing more than the result of my initial premise: that the president of the United States is so restricted that it is not even important that I know who he is. This means a free society that is not managed by anyone but its members in their capacities as citizens, parents, workers, and entrepreneurs.
As you may have already assumed, my daydream is was what our system was designed to be in every detail. It was created by the U.S. Constitution, or, at least, the system that the vast majority of Americans believed they were getting with the U.S. Constitution. It was the world's great free republic, however unrecognizable it is today.
This was the country where people were to govern themselves and to plan their own economy, not have it planned by Washington, D.C. The president never concerned himself with the welfare of the American people because the federal government had no say over it. That was left to the people's political communities of choice.
Before the Constitution was ratified, there were some doubters called the anti-federalists. They were unhappy with any move away from the extreme decentralism of the Articles of Confederation. To placate their fears, and to ensure that the federal government was held in check, the framers further restricted its powers with the Bill of Rights. This list was not designed to restrict the rights of the states. It did not even apply to them. It confined to the ultimate extent what the central government could do to individuals and to their communities.
As Tocqueville observed about America even as late as the 1830s, "in some countries a power exists which, though it is in a degree foreign to the social body, directs it, and forces it to pursue a certain track. In others the ruling force is divided, being partly within and partly without the ranks of the people. But nothing of the kind is to be seen in the United States; there society governs itself for itself" and "scarcely an individual is to be met with who would venture to conceive or, still less, to express the idea" of any other system.
As for the presidency itself, Tocqueville wrote that, "the power of that office is temporary, limited, and subordinate" and "no candidate has as yet been able to arouse the dangerous enthusiasms or the passionate sympathies of the people in his favor, for the simple reason that when he is at the head of the government, he has but little power, little wealth, and little glory to share among his friends; and his influence in the state is too small for the success or the ruin of a faction to depend upon his elevation to power."
That America would never have tolerated such an atrocity as the Americans With Disabilities Act. Here is a law that governs the way every local public building in America must be structured. It holds a veto power over every employment decision in the country. It mandates that people take no account of other people's abilities in daily economic affairs. All of this is arbitrarily enforced by an army of permanent bureaucrats working with lawyers who get rich quick if they know how to manipulate the system.
The ADA is merely one example among tens of thousands that would have been considered appalling, and, indeed, unimaginable, by the framers. It's not because they didn't like handicapped people or thought that people should be discriminated for or against. It is because they held to a philosophy of government and public life that excluded even the possibility of such a law. That philosophy was called liberalism.