Henry Kissinger has drawn on his experience of statecraft to explore the contradictions of world order, and elucidate how statesmen keep international relations from becoming an anarchic struggle. Pithy observations punctuate his latest analysis, World Order, an engaging book informed by a wide appreciation of history and culture.
Archives for October 2015
The friends of liberty appear to be in danger of suffering two defeats— first, a budget deal that rolls back the sequester without reforms to the core of entitlements and, second, the resurrection of Eximbank. The second defeat would be more devastating than the first, because the procedural advantages are all with liberty in the case of Eximbank.
Although the Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, they confront substantial obstacles to working their will on the budget. The President can veto (without fear of override) any appropriation bill they send up. Even worse, the Democrats can filibuster any bill in the Senate. As a result, the Republicans cannot even send a continuing resolution funding the government to the President’s desk without substantial Democratic support.
Without that resolution, the government will shut down. In the past, government shutdowns have been blamed on Republicans when in control of Congress. People are rationally ignorant of politics and will not follow the various machinations to understand that Republicans are not to blame. Moreover, the Republicans are the party favoring smaller government and thus seem in some sense the logical party at fault. Because of the likely landscape of public opinion, Republicans have little leverage in spending battles when the government is divided as now.
Mike Rappaport and I have suggested that when Republicans gain control of the entire government, they could create a default appropriation rule that keeps the government running but with a lower level of spending.
Michael Dorf recently argued that originalism cannot justify Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and any constitutional interpretive theory that fails to justify Brown should be rejected. His argument has provoked many responses.
One response has been to question the claim that any single result should determine the acceptability of a constitutional theory. Any constitutional interpretive theory that limits interpreters will some of the time lead to bad results. Moreover, virtually all constitutional theories recognize that the original Constitution allowed (and to some extent protected) slavery, and that certainly was a bad result.
Another response is to question the claim that originalism cannot justify Brown. In my view, there are strong (although not conclusive) originalist arguments in favor of Brown made by Michael McConnell and others. I would add that McConnell and others often treat Congress’s passage or at least allowance of segregated schools in the District of Columbia as strong evidence against the originalist case for Brown. But that is not true. As I argue in this paper, the equality requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the federal government and therefore actions by the federal government do not reflect anyone’s view of the Fourteenth Amendment’s content.
In 1944, the Hungarian moral and political philosopher Aurel Kolnai (1900-1973) wrote an essay that is indispensable reading for anyone wishing to understand today’s culture. Whether you are pondering the Left/Right split in our politics, the riddle that is Pope Francis, or the peculiar character of Western civilization and its ability to forestall its latest enemies, Kolnai’s “The Humanitarian Versus the Religious Attitude” will help.
The next two Republican presidential debates, including this evening’s, will focus on the economy, a testimony to the weakness of our recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the continued relevance of James Carville’s campaign advice to Bill Clinton over 20 years ago (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), and the all-but-universal assumption that American Presidents can, should, and must create the conditions for widespread prosperity.
In a previous post, I discussed the view of Barry Weingast and his coauthors as to what makes for the stability of a constitution. Weingast argued that there are three basic conditions needed for constitutional stability. First, the Limit Condition: having a constitution that imposes significant limitations on what the government may do, so that people do not have strong incentives to take extraconstitutional action to prevent the other party from securing power. Second, the Consensus Condition: having a constitution that makes clear what are constitutional violations, so that the people can unite together to stop the government from taking such unconstitutional actions. Third, the Adaptation Condition: having a constitution that allows for adaptation so that when social or other changes occur, the constitution can be modified to continue to satisfy these three conditions.
I want to argue that these conditions are much better satisfied when the constitution is interpreted in an originalist way. Here I will be talking about the U.S. Constitution.
The Limit Condition is better satisfied by following the original meaning of the Constitution. If the original meaning is not followed, then it becomes unclear what limits the Constitution actually imposes. Interpreters can modify its meaning to a significant degree. Thus, people may fear the exercise of power by a government because that government may exercise dangerous powers that are currently not allowed, but will be permitted when the Supreme Court (or other actor) reinterprets the Constitution.
A veritable avalanche of writings by libertarians I know and respect offer claims about libertarianism, immigration, and open borders. Apparently as a libertarian, I believe that countries should not limit entrance and exit across geographic boundaries. Alex Tabarrok says the argument is economic and “moral” because “law makers and heads of state,” and presumably misinformed citizens, prevent someone from immigrating in pursuit of work. According to Bryan Caplan, we could double our economic productivity with open borders and address concerns by limiting access to welfare until a threshold of tax payment is reached (a la Milton Friedman). Michael Huemer believes we are not entitled to limit access to valuable resources or to act on the aggregate preferences of citizens, since such policies may harm potential immigrants.
It looks as if the Republicans are stuck with the strange truth that, now more than ever, their leading candidates are Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
The perception of the members of a key focus group was that Carson is “wise” and a “gentleman.” He might be more immune than Jeb to the Trump allegation that he’s “low energy.” While he did seem nervously lacking in assertiveness during the first two debates, his tone is inspirational on the stump and at times on the talk shows. He excels at quietly but firmly articulating American exceptionalism as a mixture of economic liberty and Biblical faith. For better and worse, Ben Carson isn’t much like Jeb Bush.
One of the most telling debates of the twentieth century was the socialist calculation controversy. The question, broadly speaking, was whether the government could figure out how to set prices for goods without the market. Frederich von Hayek told socialists that such a feat was impossible, because the market provided information that no centralized authority could replicate. The fall of the Soviet Union provided a real world confirmation of Hayek’s academic insight.
Nevertheless, today much of our debate about growth and inequality still depends on our confidence in government calculations. In a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, claimed that productivity and economic growth were severely understated, because government statistics are not capturing many of gains in the information economy. One problem is that government only measures something as part of GNP when people pay for it. But much of what Silicon Valley produces is free or nearly so. Google’s search engine puts the information of the world at our fingertips. Yet this value is not fully captured.
Government measurements of productivity and growth were designed for the industrial age, not the information age, where the dematerialization of the world created by information technology helps create more and more free goods.