Monday, October 02, 2006

Government Spending

A pretty good discussion was going on over at the Patriot Post Blog, and I thought I'd expand upon my thoughts on the matter here.

There are two very compelling arguments against a strict interpretation of what the Constitution prescribes as the proper domain of the federal government with respect to spending.

The first is that not all Constitutional law is derived from the Constitution, and that indeed one would find that the majority is derived from case law. Without getting into a long dissertation on the value of stare decisis, I think that most spending reform can be accomplished via duly enacted legislation. That's the "democratic process" that constructionists are always referring to when railing against liberal activism in the judiciary, and there's no reasonable basis to suppose that while the genius of our system has been used to lurch ever leftward towards socialism, that the reverse cannot be accomplished using the same mechanisms.

The second argument against a strict interpretation is a little bit harder to refute, but it can be done. It is that where there are powers enumerated, there are also powers implied. There was a great debate early in our founding between Jefferson and Hamilton regarding the constitutionality of a national bank. The Republican didn't want such an institution; the Federalist did. Unless you've been living under a rock your whole life, Hamilton obviously won that debate, and he won it by asserting this same argument. The only problem with this argument - despite its validity - is that it was subsequently used by elected representatives who knew not, or cared not, in what spirit the Constitution was ratified. In other words, sound reasoning was essentially hijacked by inferior minds, or by ill-intentioned characters.

It is evident when we carry ourselves back to the time when the debates on ratification happened that there are clear distinctions between the domains of the federal and the state. I would strongly recommend the Federalist Papers to anyone who is interested in the topic but hasn't read these indispensable essays. Federalist #45 applies in this case, which I quote here:

"The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States. If the new Constitution be examined with accuracy and candor, it will be found that the change which it proposes consists much less in the addition of NEW POWERS to the Union, than in the invigoration of its ORIGINAL POWERS. The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained. The powers relating to war and peace, armies and fleets, treaties and finance, with the other more considerable powers, are all vested in the existing Congress by the articles of Confederation. The proposed change does not enlarge these powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them."

The American Federalist position (if such a term must be used) on government spending, then, is evident in the above guidance. A return to the plain meaning of our Constitution by all branches at the federal and local levels of government would yield the right and proper result.


jwales said...


In the view of the "American Federalist", so called "pork" in national defense appropriations bill would be disallowed, and left up to the individual states?

The Monarchist said...


In a one-word answer, yes. Projects that normally constitute pork (thinking of bridges to nowhere) would be incumbent on the states to "finance" - taxed at the state level. This would, in theory of course, create state-to-state competition for human capital. If Wisconsin was spending taxpayer dollars like a drunken sailor (my apologies to drunken sailors out there who object to the comparison to a congressman), you could up and move to Illinois where the American Federalist Party will surely be a success.

And as an added bonus, you could cheer for the Bears, too. Pretty good deal, ain't it?


JWales said...

Actually, Wisconsin does spend money like a drunken sailor,LOL. Actually I dont live in Wisconsin anymore (tax hell), was born and raised there, lived there 30+ years, just frequent visits now (3-4 times a year). Still follow the Pack though, thanks to DirecTV. Did you see them self destruct last night? Unbelievable! Bears look like they're really clickin on all 8, as much as it pains me to say that! Kinda blasphemic.

Back to the subject, I agree in reorganizing power, spending, programs etc. back to the state and local level, here here! Although, it will be like trying to take a t-bone away from a tiger, or taking a beer from a bear fan, LOL.

sorry to sound like a broken record on the spending deal, thanks for the follow up article.

The Monarchist said...


I didn't see the game, but have lived through that with my guys for a long time. They're looking good through 4 games, but that's nothing... yet.

On spending, it has obviously stuck in your craw, so don't apologize. Would that more people even payed attention to the issue.


P.S. We still vote for 'em, don't we? They haven't declared themselves "Senator for life" or anything like that?