Natelson Eats Seidman For Lunch
Constitutional scholar Rob Natelson, in responding to the dangerously naive and very wrong Louis Michael Seidman (a constitutional law professor who thinks the Constitution is largely to blame for the fiscal crisis), writes:
Did the Constitution cause our present “fiscal chaos?” Quite the contrary. The crisis has arisen not because we followed the Constitution, but because we have allowed federal officials to ignore it. In the 1930s, the Supreme Court announced that it would stop enforcing the Constitution’s limits on federal spending programs. Without meaningful spending restraint, Congress became an auction house where lobbyists could acquire new money streams for almost anything–a redundant health care program; a subsidy for an uneconomic product; or a modern art museum in Indiana.
It is hard to believe there would be a fiscal crisis today if federal spending had remained within the Constitution’s generous but limited boundaries.
Consider, by contrast, the record of the United States during the 140 years in which the Constitution’s limits on federal power were usually respected. During this period of limited government and great personal freedom, the United States became the most successful nation in the history of the planet. Inflation was low. The budget was usually balanced. The foundation of the modern economy was laid. It was a period of unprecedented innovation and unprecedented advances in health, life expectancy, and living standards. It saw the end of slavery and astounding progress for women and even for the most disadvantaged minorities. In other words, it was adherence to the Constitution, not disregard for it, that enabled America (in Professor Seidman’s words) to “grow and prosper.”
Professor Seidman seems to assume that politicians can be trusted to make “considered judgments” and act “on the merits,” and that the public does not need to impose outside constitutional restraints on their power (except, perhaps, through elections). The Founders were wiser. They knew that the entire history of humankind suggests the opposite–as, in fact, does the current fiscal crisis. If Mr. Seidman thinks the United Kingdom is a stronger, freer, less dysfunctional, and more prosperous country because of its unwritten constitution, he should live there for a while, as I have. Britain’s relative decline has been precipitous over the past century. Without the support of America, it is doubtful Britain would have survived as a free country.