Eloquent Pointers from “Silent” Cal


Ulysses S. Grant and Calvin Coolidge are two U.S. presidents known for their taciturnity. They also happen to be the two who left the best memoirs. Grant’s having been brought out as a Library of America edition is a sign of its status as an acknowledged classic. The same treatment ought to be accorded the Chief Executive known as “Silent Cal.” His Autobiography, published in 1929, has many virtues, as did the man, and one of its greatest is what it says about its author’s education, and education in general.

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Towards a Global Dystopia

Global community

There is a great and dangerous Trust seeking to form globally. Like any monopoly in days past, or OPEC now, its aim is profit. But its means are far more sinister, and potentially far more effective, than anything ever investigated by the Pujo Committee.

Rather than merely raising revenues on some good or service, this Trust will follow you wherever you might run. Nothing like it has been seen since the days of the fugitive slave acts. It is more controlling than when medieval lords bound their serfs to their estates, or the Roman latifundia forced Romans back to the land. The idea: To attach a uniform worldwide rate upon the surplus of your productive endeavors for the benefit of its members.

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Originalism and Big Data

Big Data makes the past more present. Recently, a website provided a virtual tour of a picture exhibition that Jane Austen saw in 1813. This site demonstrates how information technology, including big data, can make us closer to the past than ever before. Indeed, we are becoming in some sense closer to past than the denizens of the past themselves. Few people in 1813 attended this famous exhibition, but everyone today is only a click away from a virtual tour. This increasing capacity has large implications in subjects as diverse as literary criticism and constitutional interpretation.

For instance, another example of our capacity to get closer to the past would be our ability to map all the uses of a word (like commerce) at the time that word was used in a document (like the Constitution). Few people could attend the 1813 art exhibition but no one in 1789 could systematically catalog all the uses of a word.

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Arbitrator of the World

I’ve long wanted to understand and maybe write about international commercial arbitration. It’s of enormous economic importance and hugely interesting as a matter of legal theory—especially if you’re skeptical of legal positivism (as I am) and fond of contractual arrangements and competition among legal systems (ditto). The American system, post-New Deal, traps commercial actors in multiple hostile legal forums: that’s Erie Railroad, which is organized hell. The international commercial system seems to be that parties choose an impartial, exclusive forum by contract, which sounds heavenly by comparison. How exactly does that work? Unfortunately I’m no expert, and unlikely to become one.

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The Modern Commerce Power

One of the fixtures of modern constitutional law is an extremely broad commerce power (founded on both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause).  Prior to US v. Lopez in 1995, this commerce power seemed to be essentially unlimited.  After Lopez, the commerce power is now only largely unlimited.  While Lopez placed limits on the power, Gonzales v. Raich may have a put a stake in the heart of Lopez (but perhaps the Court will treat Raich with the same respect it gave to Lopez).  The 2012 Obamacare case of NFIB v. Sebelius did seem to hold that Congress could not mandate commerce, but that power is unlikely to arise often (after all, Congress had never used it before).

The extremely broad commerce power seems obviously to be inconsistent with the original meaning.  Why?  Besides arguments based on the meaning of the terms of the relevant clauses, it is inconsistent with the structure of the Constitution – that is, with other constitutional clauses.

The most common criticism of the modern commerce power is that it is unlimited and therefore inconsistent with the enumeration of the federal powers.  Why, after all, list all of the powers if one has conferred unlimited authority on the federal government.  This is a strong argument, but it is limited – it can be answered so long as one admits that there are areas where the federal government lacks power.  It is a testament to how extreme the nationalist vision of the modern commerce power is – as articulated, for example, by Justice Breyer – that it is unwilling to acknowledge that there is any area that the commerce power cannot reach.  But a less extreme Justice could presumably answer the criticism by admitting areas where the commerce power does not extend.

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The Path Not Taken

F-18 Fighter Jet

Books reviewed in this essay:

Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, by Barry R. Posen. Cornell University Press 2014

America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, by Bret Stephens. Sentinel 2014


This generation’s U.S. foreign policy, resulting as it has in lost wars and almost universal disrespect for Americans, does not have many defenders.

Politicians and pundits of the Establishment Left, who made socioeconomic reform the hallmark of their foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s, stopped advocating it in the 1980s—or any other means of supporting their remaining pretenses of global leadership. Whether they call themselves “internationalists” or “realists,” they are about reducing America’s power, and cover impotence with terms such as “multilateralism” and “leading from behind.”

Neoconservatives continue to support America’s primacy, as well as traditional geopolitical commitments including victory in the “war on terror.” They led the Bush administration into picking up “nation-building” as the Left was dropping it, became its last defenders, and were dragged into sharing the American people’s disdain for it. Now, neoconservatives are at a loss about how to square such means as they are willing to use with the grandiose ends they still advocate.

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The Economic Crash that Cured Itself: A Conversation with James Grant


What if a profound economic downturn occurred and the federal government basically ignored it? Couldn't happen, right? In his latest book, The Forgotten Depression, James Grant details for us the depression of 1921 and how it was permitted to cure itself. We discuss in this podcast how the Wilson* and Harding administrations let prices and wages fall, balanced the budget, and raised interest rates through the Federal Reserve. The result was a painful and, more importantly, quick depression that righted itself by late 1921, setting the stage for the economic growth of the 1920s. The comparisons are easy and telling. The…

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College Payouts to Politicians

Hillary Clinton has received substantial criticism because of the large fees she has gotten to speak on college campuses. But the universities are also worthy of criticism. What possible justification is there for universities to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to any politician for a speech?  Universities aim to advance knowledge; politicians aim to advance themselves. Universities should value truth. Politicians are known for spin.

There is nothing wrong with welcoming politicians to campus. Students must use what they learn at college to critique the world, and politics is a worthy subject for interrogation. But the question remains why pay politicians to do it, when other aspects of college life in need of funds, such as instruction, facilities, and financial aid, are closer to the core mission of the university.

Such payments reveal two troubling aspects of the modern university.

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The Death of Paralyzed Veterans

This past Monday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in (yet) another important AdLaw case, Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association. At issue: the D.C. Circuit’s “Paralyzed Veterans doctrine,” a set of cases holding that under some circumstances, agencies seeking to change their interpretation of a regulation or law must go through notice-and-comment rulemaking even when the original interpretation was adopted informally.

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