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What is a 'Limited Government'

A limited government is a political system where the legalized force is restricted through delegated and enumerated powers. The United States Constitution, for example, was designed to limit government's role to its core functions: to preserve individual liberty and protect private property. Politicians and economists differ on their concept of a limited government, but a common interpretation is that it is a governmental body that levies just enough taxes to provide for national defense and police protection and otherwise stays out of people's affairs.

BREAKING DOWN 'Limited Government'

The idea of a limited government is one that was pioneered by classic liberalism and free market liberalism. Most limited governments come in the form of a constitutionally limited government much like the United States. This type of government is one that is bound to specific principles and actions by a state or federal constitution. Further, a limited government is one that has a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances to regulate the power of government.

A system of limited government, for example, generally does not concern itself with matters such as employee wages, how individuals invest funds for retirement or how many miles per gallon a vehicle must have. However, there are varying degrees of governments. For example, the opposite of a limited government is an interventionist government.

History of Limited Government

The Magna Carta, drafted in the year 1215, is one of the earliest pieces of evidence of a limited government. The document limited the reach of the King's power in the United Kingdom by giving the country's barons rights that they could exercise over the King. However, the document only protected a small part of the United Kingdom.

From there, the United States Constitution, written and established in 1787, extended the idea of a limited government by requiring the election of legislators by the people. It also segmented the government into three areas: legislative, judicial and executive. Both of these aspects of the U.S. Constitution limit the power of the government.

Federalism as a Form of Limited Government

One of the main elements of a limited government is federalism. In a federal system, specific powers are given to a centralized government while other powers are given to local governments. The United States system of government limits its power through a federal system. There is a central government in Washington, and there are state-run governments established in each of the 50 states. This allows each state to exercise local control while the federal government manages the country as a whole. In addition to the three segments of the government mentioned above, this system of federalism creates additional checks and balances.

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