Thursday, March 3, 2011

Discussion on the Constitution at ThinkMarkets

Troy Camplin and I have been discussing more of the Constitution this morning at ThinkMarkets, and rather than continue to clog up that venue, I thought I'd move the most recent comments over here for thoughts.

Troy blogs here and here (take a look at Troy's recent post on the General Theory at the second link I provided and see if you can catch his mistake on Keynes's use of the savings identity).

Troy Camplin Says: ...Sorry, but the 9th and 10th amendments make it clear that any powers not explicitly given to the federal government are not to be held by the federal government at all, but by the people (note that “people” is first in the 10th amendment) and the states, respectively.

Words mean things. It’s not a postmodernist free-for-all.


Daniel Kuehn Says: Troy – traditionally the disputes are over interpretations of Article 1, not the eighth and ninth amendment. I don’t know anyone that disputes the idea that rights not stated are reserved to the people and the states (the 14th clouds the picture a little of course).

I’ve seen this “words mean things” line come up several times now, and I’m not sure why you (and Daniel and others) act like this is some sort of point in your favor. The alternative argument is not that we get to make up what’s in the Constitution – it’s that word’s mean something and originalists ignore the plain meaning of the words. Why do you take “disagreeing with Troy” to mean “postmodernist free for all”?


Troy Camplin Says: That’s your interpretation, Daniel, and not a very mature one, at that. Try reading in context.

There are plenty of things in the Constitution I disagree with, but that I’m not going to bend with a postmodernist reading that allows words to mean “exactly what I want it to mean, no more, no less,” as the postmodernists insist. Words DO mean things. They don’t get to mean whatever you want them to so that you can get whatever reading you want. Which is clearly what you want. It is of course easier than actually following the law of the land and making changes according to the way the Constitution allows.

On the other hand, your argument seems to be that whatever you happen to disagree with is unconstitutional, but all the rest our government does is clearly constitutional. Project much?

But you are right — nobody debates the 9th and 10th (the two I was talking about) amendments. They just ignore them completely, pretending they are not there.


Daniel Kuehn Says: Troy - It’s fine that you and I disagree on the plain meaning, and I’m not immature for it. I don’t think you’re a postmodernist because you’re wrong – I just think you’re wrong. I find it odd that so many on your side think that because we’re wrong we’re also loosey-goosey with language.

re: “They don’t get to mean whatever you want them to so that you can get whatever reading you want. Which is clearly what you want.”

That’s the last thing I want. The Constitution provides no constraint on federal power and no structure to American governance if you can get whatever reading you want out of it.


Troy Camplin Says: Your last statement is immature. That’s what I was refering to. I did not say you said I was a postmodernist. I said that those who essentially argue that words can mean whatever they want them to mean, so the Constitution means whatever they want it to mean are postmodernists. They do violence to all sorts of texts, not just law.

The ones who are wrong have typically used loosy-goosy language. Thus the accusation.

You can make no argument from the Constitution that allows for government bailouts for companies any more than it allows for farm subsidies
[I had earlier argued that farm subsidies probably don't pass constitutional muster].

Daniel Kuehn Says: Troy – you suggested that I interpret the Constitution to mean whatever I want to mean, and since I clearly don’t all I can conclude is that you just don’t like how I (and most others) have interpreted the plain words. There’s nothing immature about how I connected the dots there. I know better than to call you a post-modernist, but given the standards that you’ve set up for it you seem as much a post-modernist as I do.

On bailouts – it’s hard to get enthusiastic about them, but certainly the systemic benefits of the bailout qualify it as a potential promotion of the general welfare in a way that farm subsidies simply aren’t. Moreover, regulation of commerce between the states has long been interpreted to encompasses the ensuring the regularity of the channels of commerce, and attempts to maintain credit markets certainly seems to fall under this. In light of these obviously constitutional reasons for bank bailouts, and the limited time with which to respond, direct provision of funds could easily be justified as a necessary and a proper action for implementing policy. None of these elements are present with agricultural subsidies (although perhaps these were more systemic and plausibly Constitutional in the 20s and 30s).

It doesn’t mean bailouts are wise policy (that which is permissible is not always advisable), and it doesn’t mean we won’t deliberate over whether the methods are actually necessary and proper (that’s what legislatures and courts are for – to deliberate these disagreements), but it seems obvious that there’s Constitutional justification.

I don’t want to continue to crowd this blog – feel free to respond if you want, but I’m moving these last comments over to my blog so we don’t choke the discussion going on here.

13 comments:

  1. "I don’t know anyone that disputes the idea that rights not stated are reserved to the people and the states..."

    Quite famously Robert Bork argued that the 9th amendment was an "inkblot." Many legal scholars of varying ideological stripes agreed with him. The comment spawned an entire generation of 9th amendment scholarship to undermine this rather vapid idea.

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  2. Daniel,

    Feel free to point out and explain where I was wrong. I admitted that I was not entirely certain of some of my comments on Ch. 6. If I'm wrong you should be able to prove it.

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  3. I see no obvious constitutional justification for the bailouts. If it's obvious, it shold be easy to point out. Please show the constitutional justification for them.

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  4. I have to agree with Daniel on this. The general welfare and commerce clauses are more than enough to make bank bailouts pass Constitutional muster.

    I still think it's a bad idea, and the Constitution a bad piece of paper. But it does fit.

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  5. General welfare would actually prohibit it, since, such bailouts benefit a few at the expense of the many, and thus do not contribute to the general welfare. And if you look at the intent behind the commerce clause, it was intended to create a free trade zone among the states, to prevent trade barriers. It is rather unfortunate that it was worded as it was, because it really is the chink in the Constitution's armor, allowing all of the worst things that have ever happened in this country economically.

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  6. Troy - you miss the entire point when you write this:

    "Certainly one cannot invest what one has not saved, but what one has saved is not necessarily invested. So the final equation isn't necessarily true, even if it can be true. It's possible to just sit on one's money and not invest it."

    His whole point is that when people sit on savings, investment demand is reduced to bring the national income identity into alignment.

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  7. Troy -
    This is precisely why we have elections and Congress, rather than robots or dictators running the country.

    You are now predicating a constitutional argument on your own assessment of a law. That's not the purpose of the Constitution. The Constitution defines and limits the powers of the federal government vis a vis the people. Your basis for constitutionality can't be dependent on your own evaluation of the value of any given law.

    For example, I don't personally think it serves the general welfare to have a mortgage interest deduction or an exemption for employer provided health benefits. That evaluation on my part, though, doesn't give me grounds to rule these things unconstitutional. It isn't unconstitutional for the Congress to be wrong - it is unconstitutional for the Congress to assert authority over decisions that the Constitution gives it no latitude to make decisions on.

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  8. You're right. It is unconstitutional for the Congress to assert authority over decisions that the Constitution gives it no latitude to make decisions on. Which includes almost everything it does. Anything that is clearly to a certain group's benefit is not for the general welfare. A defensive military is for the general welfare. Everyone is protected equally and thus the general welfare is protected.

    Each law is able to come under judicial review, so yes, judging each and every law does matter. Nor do I think we should just throw up our hands and declare that the experts should be the only ones to handle it, as you seem to imply.

    Now, as for National Income Identity -- that involves that entirely bogus equation Keynes invented. Without savings, there can be no investments, there will be no protection against future problems, and those without savings will find themselves in deep financial trouble. The future is something real one has to plan for. And what do you think people are doing with their savings? Stuffing it under a mattress? At the least, it's put in a savings account, where it's available for loans and is drawing interest. Overall, the fact that Keynes had a low time preference doesn't mean that it's good economics.

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  9. "Nor do I think we should just throw up our hands and declare that the experts should be the only ones to handle it, as you seem to imply."

    You infer - I never implied this nor have I ever thought this, Troy. You seem to infer quite liberally, I've noticed.

    "Now, as for National Income Identity -- that involves that entirely bogus equation Keynes invented."

    First, Keynes didn't invent this. Second, if you think it's "bogus" there's absolutely no point in talking to you about economics. There's only so far we can go if you're really going to be this obtuse. Of course without savings there can be no investment. Who ever challenged that??

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  10. Look, I'm glad you're reading the General Theory but I can't do this if I'm alternately going to be asked to defend a caricature and argue with someone that thinks things like the national income equation are bogus.

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  11. Of course one has to have saving to invest. But the two are not the same thing. Investments are risky, savings -- except in an inflationary regime -- are not. Huge difference between the two. If Keynes' couldn't figure that much out, so much the worse for him.

    Go read the article I link to on that, yes, entirely bogus equation. Just because you can make an equation, that doesn't mean it represents reality. That equation is responsible for most of the stupid things out of government I have heard in the aftermath of this recession. "Jobs saved" is such a ridiculous concept that it indeed deserves little more than ridicule. It is an example of hos that equation is nothing more than a boon for self-serving politicians. Beyond that, it means nothing, and represents nothing in reality.

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  12. re: ""Jobs saved" is such a ridiculous concept that it indeed deserves little more than ridicule."


    I'm guessing you are currently employed.

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  13. where is this link? i'll take a look.

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