Does America need the Constitution?

The First Page of the Constitution of the United States

The First Page of the Constitution of the United States
Source: Wikimedia Commons

No, according to Louis Michael Seidman. He wants to keep the government but toss the Constitution, arguing that it was written by a very specific set of people from a very different time period. So, rather than debate the merits of an issue, we debate what people who died a long time ago would’ve thought about it. He also makes the very good point that we shouldn’t depend on the Constitution to secure our natural rights like freedom of speech.

The issue with the U.S. Constitution (and really any written document) is that it can be tortured to mean just about anything. And since government has a natural tendency to grab power, politicians can easily interpret the Constitution in order to do so (case examples: the Commerce and the Necessary and Proper Clauses).

As a restraint on government, the Constitution has proven remarkably ineffective. Then again, it’s not clear to me that a U.S. government without the Constitution would be much better. Here’s more from an interview with Seidman, conducted by Amy Crawford at Smithsonian Magazine:

What would we gain by giving up constitutional obligations?

It would improve deliberation and rhetoric about issues that divide us—gun control, for example. Now, to the horror of most of my friends, I am actually quite skeptical about gun control. But that’s a subject on which reasonable people can disagree. But what happens when you start thinking about constitutional obligations? All of the sudden the argument is not, “How are you going to enforce this? Would it actually prevent violence? Would it cause more violence?” The argument is about, “What exactly did the word ‘militia’ mean 200 years ago? What is the relationship between the ‘bear arms’ clause in the English Bill of Rights and the American Bill of Rights?”

Those are questions that historians ought to have some interest in, but they’re completely irrelevant to the issue of gun control in 21st century America. Without enlightening us, arguments of constitutionalism unnecessarily divide us. Now, all of the sudden, instead of talking about a policy decision that reasonable people could disagree about, we’re talking about whether one’s opponent is really an American, whether they are violating the document that defines us and creates us as a nation.

(See the rest at Smithsonian Magazine:

How well does Congress reflect the People it “serves”?

Federal Hall, where the First Congress met in 1789

Description: Federal Hall, where the First Congress met in 1789
Attribution: Steel engraving by Robert Hinshelwood (1855-1859)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

How well does Congress reflect the people it “serves” (“rules” might be a better word)? Not very well, it turns out. How else could lawyers make up 37% of the U.S. Congress, both now and in 1789? Not to pick on lawyers either…out of the 209 “businesspeople” in Congress, how many do you think are clerks, bakers, entrepreneurs, electricians, etc.? I’m guessing the answer is a big fat zero. So much for James Madison’s dream of the House of Representatives being a lower house for “the people.” Here’s more from Constitution Daily:

With that in mind, the staff of Constitution Daily compiled a comparison between the First U.S. Congress and the current one, looking at the occupational breakdown between their members. The results were, in some ways, predictable, but there were still a few surprises. (Who knew there was a comedian among their ranks?)…

Although the First Congress had a limited variety of professions, the general make up of both are relatively similar. As you can see, from the time the First Congress met, law has been a top profession; in both bodies, about 37 percent of the members are lawyers. It makes sense–the people writing the laws need to have a deep understanding of how the legal system works. But do lawyers make the best politicians?

(See the rest including the breakdown at Constitution Daily)

Happy Birthday Income Tax (Now, go away already!)

A political cartoon about the 1933 debate to introduce a sales tax in the United States while ending the income tax.

Description: A political cartoon about the 1933 debate to introduce a sales tax in the United States while ending the income tax.
Attribution: Clifford K. Berryman (June 3, 1933)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been one hundred years since the modern income tax was created, via the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Back then income tax rates ran from 1% for annual incomes over $3, 000 to 7% for annual incomes over $500,000 (that’s $11.6 million in today’s dollars!). Current tax rates run from 10% to 39.6%. Meanwhile, the income tax code has gone from a hefty 400 pages to a whopping 44,000 pages. My how times have changed. Here’s more from Delaware Online:

Pop Quiz: What book has more than 7 million words in multiple chapters, attempts to influence our behavior toward good ends, is complex and often contradictory, and requires interpretation by learned studiers of its texts to distill its basic principles for the masses of us for who this tome is supposed to provide benefit? It’s not the King James version of the Bible. It’s the current United States Tax Code.

The giveaway: While the U.S. Tax Code has more than 7 million words, The Bible is a relatively slim pamphlet at only 774,746 words. It wasn’t always this way. In 1913, the year the personal incomewe now labor under was instituted, the number of pages contained in the entire Tax Code stood at 400 (most of those dealing with tariffs). The Bible actually was longer at 1,291 pages.

As of 2010, the United States Tax Code stands at a whopping 71,684 pages (according to CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, though in fairness, that includes repealed or modified portions of earlier versions of the tax code. The current, live portion runs a mere 44,000 pages.) The original 1913 Tax Form 1040 blissfully topped out at a rate of 7 percent – the “fair share” due of the uber rich in the eyes of then President Woodrow Wilson who obviously never had been a community organizer at any point in his career…

(See the rest at Delaware Online)