George Will has written an article decrying the bureaucratic abuses of government officials in Pinal County, AZ. It appears that grasping county supervisors want to fine the owner of a Western themed steakhouse and saloon $5,000 every day that anyone dances in the saloon’s outside dance area. Apparently there is a statute that requires dancing to be done in an enclosed structure.

The aforementioned fine, as well as other nitpicking harassments from the county supervisors, has drawn Mr. Will’s ire. I agree with Mr. Will that the government officials in question appear to have acted in a harassing manner. I will even go so far as say that in this case the law is an ass. However, I can’t go along with Mr. Will in his broad indictment of local government and promotion of judicial activism. Since Ed Whelan over at National Review online has adequately addressed Mr. Will’s comments on judicial activism I will address his indictment of local government.

Mr. Will states that “governments closest to the people are — never mind what sentimentalists say — often the worst. This is because elected tyrants can most easily become entrenched where rival factions are few.” Whereas there is some truth in these statements they are only half truths and, therefore, not complete. The other side of the argument is that governments closest to the people are, due to their proximity, easier to petition than governments situated in distant capitals. It is also easier to participate in such governments. If the local politicians are tyrants then it is easier to leave and relocate because such jurisdictions are local and smaller in size.

As a conservative I understand that, human nature being what it is, man cannot create a perfect system of government. There is always be grasping politicians that seek to abuse their power for all sorts of illegitimate reasons. Since we can’t create heaven on earth we must be guided by sound principles that will help us make the best arrangement possible. One of those principles is that political power should be situated as close as possible to the people upon which it will be exercised. Under such an arrangement it is, as stated above, easier to petition and participate in government affairs. Furthermore, it is easier to escape the tyrants of small local governments than it is to escape tyrants at the state or national levels. Relocating to another county is far easier than relocating to another state, let alone another country.

By separating and diffusing power between the local, state, and national government you prevent the centralization of power. It is precisely the centralization of power at the larger ends of the jurisdictional spectrum (state and national) that creates the greatest risk of abuse by the sort of petty bureaucrats Mr. Will describes.

It is true that local governments are just as able to produce bureaucratic bullies as the national government. However, there is nothing magical that occurs to politicians when they achieve federal office that makes them more high minded or more concerned about individual citizens. To the contrary, the further a politician is removed from his constituents and the larger his jurisdiction the less inclined he or she is concerned with the mundane everyday issues of individual citizens. Whereas the Washington based Senator or Representative may only make infrequent visits back to his home state or district the local politician is just as likely to be your neighbor or someone you see at the store. Consequently, if I have to deal with a politician I would rather deal with one that might have to face me at my kid’s little league games. Hat tip to Southern Appeal.

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