Monday, December 05, 2005

Three New Amendments

In an interesting experiment, the CATO Institute has started a new blog that will provide a new essay from a leading intellectual on an Important Topic.  Over the course of the following month, they will post responses, I assume from various points on the political spectrum.  Their first topic is three constitutional amendments as proposed by Nobel laureate James Buchanan.
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In its final budget resolution, Congress should restrict estimated spending to the limits imposed by estimated tax revenues. This requirement should be waived only upon approval separately by three-fourths of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

I certainly would support any attempt to codify fiscal responsibility into government.  Unfortunately such a concept would create an incentive to politicize the estimating process.  Projected spending would always be low and projected incomes would always be high.  It could potentially be salvaged by including the shortfalls in the following year’s budget, but the amendment would have to be very clear on how to deal with the subject.  Leave it to our faithful representatives to drive a tractor trailer through a mouse hole if you gave them the slightest opportunity.

Congress shall make no law authorizing government to take any discriminatory measures of coercion.

Such a concept would be a political non-starter.  Opponents would fabricate elaborate tear-jerking stories that only the hardest, coldest sons of bitches would be able to stomach.  I also shudder to think how egalitarians would manipulate the word discrimination to validate their own wealth transfer programs.  The amendment would have to be worded in such a manner as to be airtight against abuse.  Of course such detailed wording would make it incomprehensible to the general public.

It is a fabulous idea; one that could potentially undo a hundred years of Constitutional abuse, but a fairy tail nonetheless.


The Madisonian construction is flawed by its authorization of government regulation through the much abused Commerce Clause. The authorization should be restricted to the prevention of interferences with voluntary exchanges and should not extend to the prohibition, or the coercive dictation of the terms, of such exchanges. Nor should any differentiation be made between exchanges within the domestic economy and those made with others outside the political jurisdiction.

Perhaps the most revolutionary of the three hypothetical amendments natural rights to enter into contracts would be the most difficult sell of all, especially in these times of anti-Wal-Mart, anti-Big Oil anti-Microsoft, anti-any successful company.  There is a prevalent belief that the only thing that is keeping the US safe from monopolistic oligarchy is that the US government somehow protects competition.  I think that this view is fundamentally flawed in that, historically, the only monopolies have been the ones that were protected by government sanctions.

Beyond the anti-trust angels, citizens are frequently looking at the government to be a nanny service, protecting them from the abuses of business.  Not giving themselves the credit (perhaps rightfully so, who knows) that they are incapable of knowing when they are being swindled.  They see boogiemen in every corner.  Foreigners are trying to take their jobs by coercing business to move overseas or by invading the country with low cost labor.  If government didn’t mandate minimum wage then we would all be making $2.50/hour.  If government didn’t criminalize drugs we would be a nation of herion addicts and meth-heads.  What is frustrating is that no amount of common sense or statistics or showcasing government failure is going to convince 90% of the nation that anything should change.  The assumption has always been, “Well we need a better policy”, I’m skeptical that anyone will ever come around to “Maybe we just need no policy at all.”  The proposed amendments would mandate such an outlook, I just don’t know how we get there from here.

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