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Proportions for Public Policy – the Normal Curve4 min read

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The following is an excerpt from my Research Paper, A Framework for Preparing A Christian-Center Call to Unity & Action: THE MENLO DECLARATION

Regarding public policy, I propose that a method is needed to quantitatively balance and proportion the various types of public policy actions. With that in mind, the following spectrum of public policy types are proposed, and superimposed over them is a normal curve which, it is argued, reflects the most effective relative emphasis, which should be pursued by Christians.

Figure: The Functions of Government Over a Normal Curve

Briefly, the five types of public policy efforts, listed from most negative to most positive are:

  1. Prohibition, legislation prohibiting various actions, such as murder or theft
  2. Prescription, legislation regulating various actions, such as alcohol or product labeling
  3. Permission, no legislation proffered, government remains neutral
  4. Promotion, legislation incentivizing various actions, such as home ownership or savings through tax incentives or low cost loans
  5. Provision, legislation redistributing money to provide services

Now, given these , I want to suggest the following important claim.

Guiding Principle: A distribution of legislation across a normal curve represents an effective, if not optimal balance of legislation types.

My justification and explanation for this approach is as follows.

1. Reducing Coercive Legislation

By reducing the more coercive forms of governmental control (Prohibition and Provision), we  reduce the negative social repercussions of ‘legislative strong-arming.’

We must focus less on the tail-end public policy actions (prohibition and provision) and more on the ‘softer’ policies of prescription and promotion. The simple evidence of the public’s distaste for the strong-arm  legislative tactics and rhetoric of the ‘culture wars,’ quite visible in the growing ranks of newly minted  Independents leaving both the Left and the Right, tells us that such intrusive government policies create ill will.

2. Increasing Governmental Neutrality

By increasing the number of topics that Government remains neutral on, we reduce government control and expense, and increase freedom.

How much of life do we want government to manage for us? I suggest that the MAJORITY of the control of public life should be guided by individual freedom and virtue, not by an oppressive, always present state system that requires conformity.

3. The Constitutional Emphasis on Limited Government

Many people do not realize that the Bill of Rights, the first 10 clarifications of the Constitution, are aimed at LIMITING the power of government, and ensuring the Rights, the freedoms, of the populace. With that in mind, I think that the most coercive public policy should be limited, as should all legislation in general, as emphasized in points 1 and 2 above.

4. Strong-arm tactics violate the spirit of Christ

Christ asks us to serve in meekness rather than by using the coercive power of the state. This latter approach demonstrates what James Hunter calls the basic intent and desire to dominate, control, or rule.

He decries this approach, writing:

Our times amply demonstrate that it is far easier to force one’s will on others through legal and political means or to threaten to do so than it is to persuade them or negotiate compromise with them. 1

In Part 2, I want to discuss some specific public policy issues that both right and left ought to abandon in order to treat the members of society with respect, rather than with commands.


  1. Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010., p. 106-7.