30 September 2016

The Constitution as an Economic Document

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles A. Beard, 1913, Edited Excerpts

The primary objective of government is making rules which determine the property relations of members of society. The law is concerned with the property relations of men and the processes by which the ownership of property passes from one person to another. Different degrees and kinds of property inevitably exist in modern society; class and group divisions based on property lie at the basis of modern government; and politics and constitutional law is inevitably a reflex of these contending interests.

The concept of the Constitution as a piece of abstract legislation reflecting no group interests and recognizing no economic antagonisms is entirely false. It was an economic document drawn with superb skill by men whose property interests were immediately at stake. Nationalism was created by a wielding of economic interests that cut through state boundaries. The southern planter was as much concerned in maintaining order against slave revolts as the creditor in putting down desperate debtors.

The Constitution is essentially an economic document based upon the concept that the fundamental rights of property are anterior to government and morally beyond the reach of popular majorities. The Constitution was the work of a consolidated group whose interests knew no state boundaries and were truly national in their scope. The members of the Philadelphia Convention which drafted the Constitution were immediately, directly, and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system.

The opposition to the Constitution almost uniformly came from non-slaveholding farmers and from debtors.  No popular vote was taken directly or indirectly on the proposition to call the Convention which drafted the Constitution. A large property-less mass was, under prevailing suffrage qualifications, excluded at the outset from participation in the work of framing the Constitution. It is pretty conclusive that the Constitution was not the product of “we the people,” but of a group of economic interests which expected beneficial results from its adoption.

 Bush's State of the Union Address January 2008

The strength -- the secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. (Applause.) When the Federal Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, our nation was bound by the Articles of Confederation, which began with the words, "We the undersigned delegates." When Gouverneur Morris was asked to draft a preamble to our new Constitution, he offered an important revision and opened with words that changed the course of our nation and the history of the world: "We the people."

05 September 2016

Franklin D. Roosevelt on Privileged Enterprise

Acceptance Speech for the Re-nomination for the Presidency, Excerpts
27 Jun 1936
The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution—all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization. Out of this modern civilization, economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, of labor and capital—all undreamed of by the fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.

The privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise. The political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor—other people's lives.

Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for.

02 September 2016

Wealth Gap Correction - War

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, 2014, Excerpts

Inequality on the eve of WWI was as great as it had ever been. The two world wars played a central role in reducing inequalities in the twentieth century. It was the chaos of war, with its attendant economic and political shocks, that reduced inequality in the twentieth century. There was no gradual, consensual, conflict free evolution toward greater equality. In the twentieth century it was war, and not harmonious democratic or economic rationality, that erased the past and enabled society begin anew with a clean state.

The reduction of inequality that took place between 1910 and 1950 was above all a consequence of war and of policies adopted to cope with the shocks of war. A great wave of enthusiasm swept over Europe in the period 1945-1975. People felt that inequality and class society had been relegated to the past.

One major lesson is clear: it was the wars of the twentieth century that wiped away and transformed the structure of inequality. Today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, inequalities in wealth that had supposedly disappeared are close to regaining or even surpassing their historical highs. The new global economy has brought immense inequities. Can we imagine a twenty-first century in which capitalism will be transcended in a more peaceful and more lasting way, or must we simply await the next crisis or the next war?