Tuesday, March 19, 2013 • What is the proper role of government in creating a viable economy?

Publisher’s note: This story, written by former Lassen County Supervisor Jim Chapman, appeared in the Tuesday, March 19, 2013 edition of the Lassen County Times.

Our founding fathers in writing the preamble to the U.S. Constitution state, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure the domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In broad terms, the “promote the general welfare” clause would indicate the importance of supporting a vibrant economy, for how else would we secure the blessings of liberty? But does it give the mandate to the government to create that economy? That debate is as old as our republic itself. In the first administration, the Founding Fathers divided into two camps. The federalists (led by Alexander Hamilton) believed it was the role of the government, especially the national government, to promote the general welfare by an expanded role of government in business and commerce. The anti-federalist or the Democratic-Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson) believed the opposite. They believed less government was preferred when it came to business and commerce.

That debate continues to this day and will extend into the years to come. It is at the heart of what is going on today in Washington and Sacramento, and even here at the local level. Is our economy to be based on government spending or should it be truly a free market enterprise?

A recent article in the Redding Record-Searchlight (March 14, 2013), reports one in three counties in the U.S. are now dying.

Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire professor, says, “The number of dying counties is rising not only because of fewer births but also increasing mortality as 70 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 move into their older years. He expects natural decrease to remain high in the future. This trend is already apparent in Japan and many European nations, and census data is now increasingly evident in large, mostly rural, swaths of the U.S.

The Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is quoted as saying, “Immigrants are innovators, entrepreneurs (and) they’re making things happen. They create jobs.” And he wants legal immigrants to come boost Detroit and other struggling areas. As a nation of immigrants, the American dream was built by those who took the risk and came to America like my maternal grandfather did 100 years ago this month.

The local strategies since the late 1950s have relied on creating a base of public sector jobs with federal and state agencies. The current negative attitudes toward public employees, along with the effects of the federal budget sequesters and the recent shortfalls in the state budget, have drastically affected our local economy.

The strategy the businesses and people of Susanville and Lassen County create for our local economy in the world emerging from the great recession is probably one of the most important decisions before us. Ultimately, of the 3,143 counties in the U.S., do we want to be one of the 1,135 counties that experience a natural decrease?