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Changing Government by Stepping, Phasing, or Doing

To conserve all that’s best and to bring more that’s better, immediately remove all that’s second best.

James Anthony
April 23, 2021

Freedom is increased when a local, state, or national government person:

  • Doesn’t execute a statute, order, opinion, or agency dictate that the government person himself interprets to be unconstitutional.
  • Acts to repeal a statute that the person himself interprets to be unconstitutional.
  • Follows a constitutional process that limits government.

Each use of each type of limit will change a government.

Thoughtful people have considered how to accomplish changes in governments and have advocated quite-different approaches.


Most often, a politician accomplishes a change by stepping.

He suggests some small step, testing the water. He might leak an idea to media people. He might mention a possible change on Twitter. He might draft a bill. If the initial reaction is favorable, if it goes viral, he jumps in.

If this small step goes to completion, then most likely the sponsoring politician is done. For the rest of his career he will claim that he solved a problem. He needn’t take even one more risk, especially in the same policy area. The next small step in this policy area, if there is a next step, can be taken by a politician who has a greater need for cred.

Stepping may be what’s happening with many recently-declared sanctuaries that support the Constitution in narrow areas.

Elected politicians have declared sanctuaries for the Second Amendment in 37% of all counties [1], sanctuaries for the unborn [2], and sanctuaries either broadly from COVID restrictions [3] or more narrowly through sanctuaries for the First Amendment [4], for business [5], from health mandates [6], or from vaccine mandates [7].

Many of these sanctuaries are merely declared but aren’t secured by statutes. Most that have statutes create rules that apply to the enacting jurisdiction’s government people but not to other jurisdictions’ government people and not to nongovernment people. For example, some statutes authorize that the enacting jurisdiction’s people arrest other jurisdictions’ people, but don’t enable the enacting jurisdiction’s people to prosecute, convict, and punish the other jurisdictions’ people.

If these sanctuaries are going to become more secure, there’s no public evidence of how. There’s no timetable, planned sequence of actions, or visible ongoing action to bring larger change, by phasing.


Sometimes, an activist or media person advocates change by phasing.

Phasing can be planned but unscheduled:

  • In planned phasing, actions are planned to start immediately and are planned to continue until the overall government action is extensive.
  • One example is the Personhood Alliance’s 3-step approach to protect life from abortion. Each city’s or county’s politicians are advised to declare principles, then build a coalition, then pass laws [8].
  • Another example was Murray Rothbard’s “movement-building” approach for advancing freedom. Activists might advocate an ultimate goal of, say, abolishing taxation. If so, then they should always speak out in favor of that goal. They should never accept an intermediate compromise that, in part, would include moving away from that goal in some way—say, increasing a sales tax. But in Rothbard’s view, the proper solution was that the activists also advocate an intermediate goal—say, an across-the-board 50% cut in taxation [9].

Phasing can be planned and scheduled:

  • Phasing on an explicit schedule, even one that gets revised and revised again, is pragmatic, given politicians’ incentives and behaviors.
  • Advocating an explicit schedule puts a politician on notice that even though he has completed a small step, if he doesn’t advance the next step on an ongoing basis, activists will primary him until he’s no longer blocking further change.

Phasing can be unplanned:

  • Activists may strongly advocate a large change, but at first have only enough power to produce a smaller change. The activists can exhaust all better options at a given time, resume trying and exhaust all better options at this next time, and so on.
  • This was the abolitionists’ approach. Murray Rothbard used this to illustrate the value of always speaking out in favor of the ultimate goal.


Sometimes, an activist, media person, or politician advocates or accomplishes a change by doing.

The change is to be fast and large.

Morally, if the change will secure at least one person’s life, liberty, or property, fast and large change is the only good change. Legally, if the change is legally mandated, fast and large change is the only allowed change. Pragmatically, fast and large change is always best.

If change is for the better, fast and large change brings positive benefits and new winners. This creates a new balance of political power, which settles into a new, better equilibrium state.

For instance after the collapse of the Soviet Union, newly-independent national governments tried changing for the better at different speeds and in different amounts, as shown in the figure.

Figure. After the Berlin Wall was torn down, fast change brought good results fast, and the progress kept up

Figure. After the Berlin Wall was torn down, fast change brought good results fast, and the progress kept up [10], [11].

The figure summarizes the conditions experienced over a duration of 25 years—a generation. In countries where change was fast and large, economic freedom quickly approached 100% and stayed there for a generation, with no end in sight. In countries where change was delayed, economic freedom was lost for years. In countries where change was slow or stopped, economic freedom was lost for a generation, with no end in sight.

Delayed, slow, or stopped change held economic freedom down to significantly below the potential. Fast and large change lifted economic freedom up to reach the full potential.

Fast and large change is also better if change is for the worse initially. Fast and large change creates fast and large harm, which creates fast and large pushback that not only overturns the initial change but also brings change for the better very quickly.

Fast and large change is always the best approach to, in the end, achieve positive change.

So then to conserve all that’s best and to bring more that’s better, what’s needed is to remove all that’s second best, using the approach that’s the best:

  • Stepping, which is most politicians’ default approach, is morally, legally, and pragmatically the worst.
  • Planned phasing that’s unscheduled may be equally the worst or may be slightly better, but has little‑to‑no track record.
  • Planned phasing that’s scheduled would strongly incentivize politicians to keep changing for the better, so it likely would be substantially better.
  • Unplanned phasing—constantly advocating for doing complete change immediately, and getting the changes that politicians claim are the best they can make at every point in time—is the phasing that’s the best.
  • Doing complete change immediately is right and best.


  1. Davis, Noah. “New National Map Shows a Staggering 1,188 2A Sanctuary Counties.” Sanctuary Counties, 24 Mar. 2021, sanctuarycounties.com/2021/03/24/new-national-map-shows-a-staggering-1188-2a-sanctuary-counties/?fbclid=IwAR3jbAcmoMAxZL2NT8ojn1LvzTK67X14WjLEDj4gKylpLip3yUdxTuNw17o. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  2. Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn. sanctuarycitiesfortheunborn.com/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  3. “Monument Becomes Covid-19 Sanctuary City.” The Colorado Herald, 11 Jan. 2021, thecoloradoherald.com/2021/monument-becomes-covid-19-sanctuary-city/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  4. Davis, Noah. “Campbell County, VA Becomes a First Amendment Sanctuary.” Sanctuary Counties, 7 Dec. 2020, sanctuarycounties.com/2020/12/07/campbell-county-va-becomes-a-first-amendment-sanctuary/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  5. Davis, Noah. “Will Stockton, California Become a Sanctuary City for Business?” Sanctuary Counties, 8 Dec. 2020, sanctuarycounties.com/2020/12/08/will-stockton-california-become-a-sanctuary-city-for-business/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  6. Davis, Noah. “Want a Simple Way to Fight Failed Face Mask Policies? Try a Health Mandate Sanctuary Resolution.” Sanctuary Counties, 26 Oct. 2020, sanctuarycounties.com/2020/10/26/want-a-simple-way-to-fight-failed-face-mask-policies-try-a-health-mandate-sanctuary-resolution/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  7. Davis, Noah. “Did Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska Become a Vaccine Mandate Sanctuary?” Sanctuary Counties, 26 Dec. 2020, sanctuarycounties.com/2020/12/26/did-kenai-peninsula-borough-alaska-become-a-vaccine-mandate-sanctuary/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  8. “Safe Cities and Counties: Protecting America’s Children One Local Community at a Time.” Personhood Alliance, personhood.org/safecity/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  9. Rothbard, Murray N. “What Libertarians Should Learn from the Abolitionists.” Libertarian Review, Aug. 1978. Mises Wire, 24 May 2014, mises.org/library/what-libertarians-should-learn-abolitionists. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  10. Anthony, James. The Constitution Needs a Good Party: Good Government Comes from Good Boundaries. Neuwoehner Press, 2018, p. 30.
  11. Havrylyshyn, Oleh, et al. “25 Years of Reforms in Ex-Communist Countries: Fast and Extensive Reforms Led to Higher Growth and More Political Freedom.” Policy Analysis, no. 795, 2016.

James Anthony is the author of The Constitution Needs a Good Party and rConstitution Papers and has written articles in The Federalist, Foundation for Economic Education, American Thinker, American Greatness, and rConstitution.us. Mr. Anthony is an experienced chemical engineer with a master’s in mechanical engineering.


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