We are taught in school that the founding fathers believed that, like fire, government was, “a dangerous servant, and a fearful master.” It was their underlying belief in the dangers that government represented that led them to build a form of government rife with self regulation. We are taught that the inclusion of “checks and balances” in our government system prevents government from becoming overly large, intrusive, or powerful.
But what are these checks and balances? Think back, you were taught that the government is divided into three basic branches. Executive, which deals with law enforcement. Legislative, which deals with the creation of law. And Judicial, which deals with disputes over law. So, in theory, the Executive branch couldn't do anything not specifically allowed by the Legislative, and if they tried, it could be appealed to the Judicial branch, who would moderate the dispute.
Now, because we are told at a young age that this is just and in our interest, many people hold up this system as a prime example of why our form of government is safer than others. And they are right. It is safer than totalitarianism, or communism, or monarchism. It is not however, safe.
All three branches of government receive their money from the same place. The taxpayer. All three branches of government rely on the same mechanism to enforce their position, violence. All three branches of government have a vested interest in increasing government power and expanding government authority. What vested interest do they have in preventing the other branches from doing anything they want?
I suppose you could argue that there is a competitive factor. No legislator wants to be upstaged by any executive. I suppose you could argue that there is an economic factor, money diverted to the executive branch won't go to the judicial. I suppose you could argue that there is a territorial factor, no member of the judiciary wants legislators to usurp their authority. I suppose you could argue that people are just inherently good and would never do anything bad.
But competition doesn't interfere with them any more than it keeps teammates on sports teams from stealing the ball from each other. It would put their common goal out of reach. The economic factor doesn't hedge their behavior, because there is always more money which can be seized from the people. When you are holding the gun the only answer to “how much to take” is “as much as I want.” The territorial factor doesn't work, because, for example, judges make law all the time through legal precedent. And if there is any truth to the argument that people are inherently good and would never harm each other, than the argument in favor of the state has lost, and we can now do away with it forever. If we are too corrupt to self govern, how can we be pure enough to govern others?
Think. Either checks and balances work because people are inherently selfish and evil, in which case we certainly can't give them a gun and put them in charge of others, or they work because people are inherently giving and pure, in which case we don't need to give them a gun and put them in charge of others.
So then the argument becomes that some people are good, some evil, and we must put the good ones in charge of the bad ones. But clearly half the country think certain people are good, and the other half think they are bad. So is fifty percent of the country evil? How could we have decayed to a point where half of the country is so vile? And if that's your position, then you must recognize that under the current system, we allow for evil to triumph every two years.
What kind of system, which we are taught is the fairest, most just of them all, would allow for evil to control everyone and everything based on a popularity vote? Are we then to believe that the majority of people would get it right? But the majority of people supported slavery, segregation, the Japanese internment, vice laws, poll taxes and denying the right to vote to women. Now, in some areas, the majority of people are supporting the decriminalization of certain drugs, and allowing non-citizens to vote. What if the majority of people supported rape, or murder, or theft through violence? Does just being supported by the majority make it ok?
It does in a system where the majority is holding the gun on everyone who disagrees with them. If you are a conservative, do you want Barack Obama to have the right to pick up any person, anywhere on earth, accuse them of a thought crime and detain them without notification, cause, a trial, or any hope of release? If you are a liberal, do you want John McCain to have the right to take away everything you own, give it to someone else, and then force you to do labor for others for the rest of your life or face poverty and possible imprisonment?
The government will never self-regulate to any long lasting degree. Yes, in some cases, legislators will be tried by the judiciary for corruption. In some cases, judges will be denied the bench for past decisions which are deemed unjust. But in some cases the power of the executive will be increased, in contradiction to existing law, by the legislative branch. And in the long run government grows, and grows, and grows.
Imagine three thieves who agreed to share everything they acquired equally and took a vote before stealing anything. If the profit is shared equally amongst the three, why would any of them vote against another committing a crime? Each one stands only to gain from the avarice of the others, and so would encourage his actions, not deter them. Yes, there is a check, and he could stop the actions of his brother, but why would he? It isn't that their aren't checks and balances, it is that they are a ruse to disguise what is really going on.
Because what is really going on isn't pretty.