Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Constitutional shocks

Most of what's in the Constitution is either ratification of a broader liberalism (think of things like the first and second amendment - we spoke and worshipped and owned guns before that, we just codified it to keep those liberties safe), or procedural. In the United States at least, even though the institutions are new to a large extent constitutionalism doesn't impose radically new blueprints on society. They're usually ideas that have been floating around for a while.

Other elements of the Constitution are legitimate shocks - radical changes to the system.

These pictures of the Prohibition era made me think in these terms.

From what I can figure the biggest positive constitutional shock to the economy (and society generally) was the 13th amendment.

The biggest negative Constitutional shock may have been Prohibition. Do we have an estimate of the amount of value that was destroyed by Prohibition?

Are there other candidates for biggest positive or negative shock? Keep in mind I'm not thinking of constitutional provisions that are good for the economy. Protections of contract, for example, are very good for the economy but for the most part their inclusion in the constitution wasn't a shock (it may have set the economy on a different trajectory, though).

Of course we can also include Supreme Court rulings in Constitutional shocks... that's probably the next place to look for candidates.

Some of the pictures were starker, but this was the only winery one - which made me sad :(


  1. My candidate for biggest positive shock is the ruling in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co v Sawyer. Very unexpected, and saved the USA from barbarism.

    1. I didn't know about that case, thanks for pointing it out.

      It would be a interesting exercise to find the shocks caused by changes in Britain's constitution. Though, of course, Britain doesn't really have a proper constitution, there have been times when what was accepted as permissible was overturned.

  2. (1) Commerce clause and (2) "free" movement of people between states.

  3. (1) Commerce clause and (2) "free" movement of people between states.


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