Along with Michael Rappaport, I participated in Michael McConnell’s “Big Fix” conference, held at Stanford Law School this past week. “Should We Amend the Constitution?” was the subtitle of the fun event. You can talk me into that, provided law profs don’t get to vote. A dismaying number of amendment proposals aimed to Europeanize the U.S. Constitution (for example, by importing the European and Canadian courts’ “proportionality” tests into our ConLaw, which I had thought could not get any worse). Others sought to make the republic yet more “democratic”—an endeavor that for n reasons, some ably stated by Brother Rappaport, merits firm resistance and, in the event of success, a bulk purchase of OxyContin.
In politics, there are no final victories and no lessons that are learned for good: error, like hope, springs eternal. Moreover, what counts as error for some may be wisdom, or at least temporary advantage, for others. There is no catastrophe, political or economic, from which someone does not benefit.
In modern democracies, promises to tax-and-spend are like sin, a permanent temptation: only that they are worse, in so far as they are an instrument for some to gain and (as they hope) to keep power. And so the pendulum swings, seemingly for ever, between extravagance and retrenchment, the former always being more popular than the latter.
In Britain, Mrs. May has overthrown the legacy of Mrs. Thatcher, though nominally she is of the same political party.
How can we ensure that government officials use their powers in the public interest?
A recent article in the French newspaper Le Monde drew attention to an important difference between the French and the Germans. The French, said the author, think that the government spends other people’s money; the Germans think that the government spends their own money. This, if true, is important because each attitude must affect the politics as well as the economic policy of its respective country.
‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ asked Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, expecting no proper answer. In another context, that of economics, he might have asked ‘Why can’t one country be like another?’
I thought of Henry Higgins as I read a letter recently in the Financial Times. It was written by an Irish civil servant in praise of German efforts to save their weaker brethren of the European Union.
The expansion of the state and the services it provides, well or badly as the case may be, inevitably changes the relations between citizen and state. Among other effects, it corrodes the idea of privacy and even the very possibility of privacy: for the more the state does for citizens, the wider its locus standi to interfere in their lives. It becomes, in the wonderful phrase of the Marquis de Custine about Nicholas I in his great book, Russia in 1839, eagle and insect: eagle because it soars above society, taking its capacity for an overview as an entitlement to direct everything, and insect because it bores into the smallest crevices of what lies below, though perhaps nowadays vulture and termite might be a better zoological metaphor.
From afar, the defeat of the Republicans in Congress on the matter of the debt ceiling seemed fore-ordained and the inevitable consequence of political ineptitude on an almost heroic scale. Perhaps (and this is the best that might be said) they were staking their future claim to be able to say ‘I told you so’ when the financial catastrophe wrought by the western world’s addiction to spending money it has neither saved nor earns nor strikes not in the comparatively muted fashion that we have experienced hitherto, but in its full and terrible force.
This next Liberty Law Talk is with John Mueller, author of Redeeming Economics. Modern economic thought focuses on production, exchange, and consumption. Much of Mueller's focus, however, is on final distribution, or the notion that a great deal of our economic activity is really about providing benefits or gifts to those we love. Mueller returns to Aristotle to articulate why this missing element is so important for understanding economics. In his Politics, Aristotle described the economy by using a household model oikos, the root of our word economics, where agents distribute goods to increase the flourishing of family members and…
In his new book, Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons from America’s Most Underrated President, Charles C. Johnson claims that ‘Silent Cal’ wasn’t so much silent as he was silenced. But today, thirty years since Tom Silver’s underrated book about America’s underrated thirtieth president, Coolidge and the Historians, that is changing. In addition to Johnson’s book, we also have Amity Shlaes’s new biography, Coolidge, a prequel of sorts to her bestseller, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Undoubtedly, there is growing interest in Coolidge that, although somewhat delayed, is especially timely for the present. Here are six lessons for President Obama from the not-so-silent Cal Coolidge.
This Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with Samuel Gregg about his most recent book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. Recent events in Cyprus, to say nothing of the economic stasis that envelopes much of Europe, highlight America's need to think deeply about the current trajectory of our fiscal and entitlements policies, among other weighty matters. Gregg's book, however, is not merely a rehashing of dire spending problems and bankrupting entitlements and the predictably poorer future this promises, but is a discussion of the social and cultural commitments that are required to…