Balanced By Design
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
During the first few weeks of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, our collective attention seemed focused on questions of immediate survival. How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones from an unseen enemy? How can we control the spread in a manner that doesn’t overload our health care system? How can critical supplies be obtained and distributed so that all who can be helped are?
As time passed, however, there was a different feel in the air. Focus turned first to the question of economy and livelihoods. Very shortly thereafter, we started questioning the morality and long-term implications that come with ceding our freedom of movement in the name of defeating a public health crisis. We’re Americans. We love freedom, and it should come as no surprise that this became such a central topic so quickly. It’s a difficult question, one we’ve wrestled with time to time throughout the short history of our great nation. In many cases, history shows we’ve got it wrong. The Alien and Sedition Acts and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII come to mind. I don’t know the exact answer to our current situation, but it likely lies in the concept of balance. It’s not an exact A or B answer, but rather a tension we’ll have to live within.
Fortunately, we are set up relatively well to live within that tension. We often immortalize the founding fathers of our nation, but at the end of the day their greatest accomplishment was really one of system design. They left us with a structure that realized the corrupting nature of power. The United States was formed as a relatively loose conglomeration of states that vested certain, specific powers in a central government. This split of power served, among other things, as a check against absolute authority. Within that central government, they split authority among three co-equal branches of government: a legislature to make the laws, the executive to carry them out, and the judiciary to interpret the constitutionality of those laws. Within the legislative branch, they utilized a bicameral model. The members of the house of representatives would be elected directly by the people, while senators would be appointed as representatives of the states themselves. This too served to disperse the power available to any group.
Within the states themselves are a myriad of arrangements for state and local government. Counties, cities, and the states themselves each have distinct powers. Within each of these government entities, power is usually spread out amongst numerous different individuals. Almost all of them, though, ultimately rely on some form of elected officials to provide oversight at some point in the arrangement. The employment of this representative democracy creates the need for officials to care what those they govern think and feel. It’s designed to keep the human appetite toward absolute power at bay.
There is no doubt that this disjointed, multi-leveled system is confusing. In many ways it is also very inefficient. The founders, no doubt, recognized this. Our system of government is one that was a logical embrace of inefficiency. Those that designed it were well aware how efficient a totalitarian government could be, but they were equally aware of what human nature would usually end up doing with that efficiency. They knowingly opted for inefficiency, as they knew it was the price of freedom.
There are many widely varying opinions in the nation right now regarding where we should land on the freedom vs safety scale. It’s a scary, difficult time and the decisions made have far reaching, life and death implications. But the one thing we can take solace in is that the American system is the ideal environment in which to make those decisions. This unprecedented situation calls for balanced solutions, and that’s just what we’re set up for. Our system was designed with balance in mind, and it’s the best environment in the world for these decisions to be made. We can, at least, take solace in that.