Center for Limited Government Newsletter – November 11, 2010


The Center for Limited Government announces the appointment of Ed Robinson, J.D., as the center’s new director.

Ed has been a financial adviser to corporations, a senior executive, and a management consultant. Prior to retiring in 2006, he operated Robinson Partners, consulting CEOs on corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions. Before that, he was an executive vice president of Texas Commerce Bank (later Chase Bank of Texas and now JPMorgan Chase), where he ran the investment banking business, and then created and ran The Private Bank; was an executive director at Azurix, an international water utility business, responsible for corporate strategy and M&A; and was a managing director at First Boston (now Credit Suisse), running the firm’s Los Angeles office and the regional M&A practice. Ed has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.



by Ed Robinson

Ask most Americans of any political persuasion how much they like dealing with government offices, and they’ll say “not much.” Why is there this consensus among people who might otherwise have few shared views?

It is likely because the typical government office takes the worst characteristics of many big businesses (bureaucratic, unresponsive, slow to move, etc.) and adds to them the equally negative characteristics of having both absolute power and no competition, which means they have very little incentive to be responsive to citizens or to change for the better. It is noteworthy that this list of characteristics is nonpartisan: It will hold true whether Democrats or Republicans are in power.

This is not to say that all government offices are run poorly, or that government employees are bad people – but rather that the dynamics of such institutions tend to push them in the direction of being ineffective and inefficient. Postal workers are generally nice people who take their jobs seriously. But they are paid far more than people in similar jobs in the private sector and have better job security, while their employer competes unfairly with the private sector. Not surprisingly, the postal service’s costs overshoot its revenues every year, and it compensates partially for those losses by raising stamp prices even as demand for its services declines. No private business could (or should) survive in such a situation.

This set of facts and observations suggests some operational principles for government that have a little to do with politics, and a lot to do with how things actually function in the real world. A government should do only those things which: (1) are permitted by its charter (such as a federal or state constitution); (2) must be done by someone (in other words, aren’t optional or in any way a matter of choice); and (3) can only be done by government (for example, passing and enforcing criminal or environmental laws). Requiring these three standards to be met before a new law is passed, or maybe even before an old one is allowed to stay on the books, would be a very common-sense way for citizens to organize those whom we elect to govern us.

These standards do not guarantee that legislators will do a good job; only responsible citizens can guarantee that, with letters, meetings and votes. The standards only guarantee that legislators are doing exclusively what they truly have to do, and are allowed to do. We are the ones who have to remind them (sometimes forcefully) that they must be sure that what they put in place can be effectuated effectively and efficiently.

Efficacy and efficiency are goals that suggest a corollary to the above three principles: Virtually all legislation should have a periodic review provision or a “sunset provision,” like much (but not all) of Utah law currently does. Such provisions require legislators to examine at regular intervals whether a law is addressing a problem that still exists, and whether it is doing more good than harm in how it presumes to solve that problem.

Such provisions may not be necessary for a law against murder, for example, since that is probably as close as we get to a universal and shared truth. But Utahns benefit greatly from sunset provisions for environmental mandates or bans on certain substances. These provisions allow policymakers periodically to test whether a need is real, and whether the current approach is effective, without too many negative consequences.

As responsible citizens, we should start convincing our legislators to follow the operational principles discussed above.

Ed Robinson is the director of The Center for Limited Government.



New research from Sutherland Institute’s Center for Limited Government suggests that responsible citizens can find it difficult to obtain accurate information about their local government boards, and that more transparency and accountability are required to prevent an environment that allows board members to seek their own interests rather than the benefit of Utahns as a whole.

Matthew Piccolo, Sutherland policy analyst and author of Utah’s Government Boards: A Case for Transparency and Accountability, notes that Utah’s 1,600 state and local government boards influence the lives of Utahns directly and indirectly, often without those citizens’ knowledge.

Researchers with The Center for Limited Government spent weeks compiling the data presented in the publication. Sutherland Institute today launched a website,, which will give Utahns easy access to information regarding their local boards.

Mr. Piccolo said this work shines a light on Utah’s myriad state and local boards in an effort to promote good governance and preserve liberty.

“At The Center for Limited Government, we think it is worth asking whether some government board activities fall within the proper role of government,” he said. “Citizens also might ask the same question. And they might be curious to know what Utah’s 1,600 state and local boards do that influence their lives directly and indirectly, often without their knowledge.”

In his paper, Mr. Piccolo outlines four recommendations to help increase transparency and accountability within Utah’s government boards: (1) provide more accurate and up-to-date information about boards, (2) consolidate similar boards and eliminate unnecessary boards, (3) enact legislation to address conflicts of interest, and (4) review boards regularly to make them more transparent and more accountable to elected officials and citizens.

Sutherland Institute’s Center for Limited Government urges Utah elected officials to consider the four recommendations and encourages responsible citizens to pay closer attention to the activities and impacts of their local boards.