Ten Principles to Guide Public Policy

Ten Principles to Guide Public Policy

Changing the course of human history, this idea – that freedom is a natural right – inspired Americans to want to live their lives in liberty, while at the same time respecting the rights and property of others. Then in 1787, the Second Continental Congress further guaranteed these rights by adopting The Constitution of the United States of America, clearly differentiating the rights and obligations of both Government and its Citizens.

Under the guidance and direction of these two documents, America has become the model of prosperity for the world. It has fed, clothed and housed more people at higher standards of living than any society the world has ever known. All other forms of government have fallen by the wayside and America has become the destination of choice for the world’s citizens.

At the Montana Policy Institute, we use these two “settled truths,” our Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, as the basis for researching and recommending prescriptions for today’s policy questions.

When we study an issue, we begin with the core assumption that private property and free market economies are superior to state ownership and central planning. This is not simply a superficial opinion; rather, it is now the standard-bearer among people who have their eyes and ears open and for whom reason, logic, facts, evidence, economics and experience mean something.

The “Ten Principles to Guide Public Policy” that follow are pillars in a growing movement among state-based think tanks to reinforce and reinvigorate the application of these two “settled truths” toward defining sound public policy. They are not the only pillars of a free economy, but they do comprise a pretty powerful package. If every cornerstone of every state building were emblazoned with these principles – and more importantly, if every legislator understood and attempted to be faithful to them – we’d be much stronger, much freer, more prosperous, and far better governed.

1. The legitimate power of government begins and ends with the people.

Government exists to serve the people, not vice versa. When government no longer serves the people, but rather becomes self perpetuating or only responsive to certain interests, then it has lost its legitimacy.

2. Government exists to protect rights, not to create them.

We should all be free to live our lives as we choose, so long as we respect others’ right to do the same. Government exists to ensure that we respect each others’ rights, not to create (or destroy) privileges that favor one interest group over another.

3. Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.

Whether through nature or nurture, we all bring different skills, ambitions, ethics, even luck to the table. People who are free to use or ignore their individual strengths and weaknesses will inevitably see different individual results. Since we are all provided different strengths and weaknesses, we can only be made equal by forcefully holding some people back and artificially pushing others forward. Unequal outcomes, because they reward positive behaviors, are an essential feature of freedom, not a shortcoming.

4. Long term and cumulative consequences should be considered more carefully than short term benefits.

Too often we try to fix a current problem with long term solutions that inevitably hold long term or unintended negative consequences. We need to consider all times and all costs when debating public policy, not just immediate gratification.

5. Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody else.

Government does not create things, which is different than saying it does no good. The resources it uses, even for good, must be taken from the productive sector of our economy, and from people’s wallets. We should consider the fundamental fairness of taking from one person and giving to another when looking at policies that use the political process to create winners and losers.

6. A government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got.

7. Nobody spend somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

8. One cannot claim as a right that which someone else must provide.

A true Right does not impose a duty on another person. Your right to life and property, for example, does not require anyone else to do anything except respect that right and not cause you harm. A “Right” that imposes a duty on another is actually a privilege granted either by force through government action or by charity through the person providing it.

9. What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one (or everyone) tends to fall into disrepair (nobody washes a rental car).

10. Free people engaging in free enterprise, not the political allocation of wealth and opportunity, are the engines of economic prosperity.