Why I’m Such a Big Fan of the Constitution

by pjamesbeardsley

I’m a libertarian.  Very much so.  I border on minarchist.  Yet I’m a very big fan of the U.S. Constitution, which isn’t all that libertarian.  So what gives?

Sure there are some very libertarian elements to the Constitution.  The Bill of Rights, for example.  But there are some parts of it that aren’t so libertarian: the power of Congress to socialize the currency,  the power given to the government to establish Post Offices and postal roads, etc.  These things are not libertarian.  Libertarians prefer free market money, roads, and shipping, and know that any effort of the government to engage in such things almost certainly distorts the market and makes people less free and prosperous.  I would be the first to support amendments to such things.

Yet I’m still overall a big fan.  Why? Because it protects my tastes from yours and vice versa.  I’ll explain with an anecdote.

So I’m taking a bath last evening after hitting the gym.  I put on some Chopin on the iPad to play while I soaked, a change from my favorite, Beethoven. I thought to myself, “Some people couldn’t tell the difference between the two.  Many of those people could tell the difference between Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.  Those people are what’s wrong with music.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that just isn’t true.  The existence of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga don’t alter my enjoyment of Chopin or Beethoven one bit.  They don’t limit the availability of Chopin.  I can think such people’s knowledge of music and beauty is shallow and/or limited, and I do, but those people aren’t what’s wrong with music, and neither is the fact that their tastes create a market for such music.  There’s not much wrong with music at all.

Where that notion could come into play, however, is at the ballot box.  People who couldn’t tell the difference between Hobbes and Locke, Marx and Von Mises, or Keynes and Hayek vote.  I would wager such people are the vast majority of voters.  Among those who actually can tell the difference, I get no assurance that they agree with my views on them or their ideas.

What’s more, even if I can convince those in my locale to adopt my thoughts on those thinkers, that doesn’t mean that voters hundreds of miles away won’t have a different opinion and try to force it on me.  California could try to govern Ohio; Mississippi could try to govern Massachusetts.

And even if I could convince every single person of the intellectual and moral superiority of my thoughts on the ideas of those people, that still doesn’t mean they’d vote the same way, and even if they did, that those elected wouldn’t change their minds.  People aren’t perfect; people have different tastes and interests.

So why am I such a big fan of the Constitution? Because it protects that very thing from mattering too much.  If California or Vermont wants socialized medicine, fine.  If Maryland or Illinois wants take money from its people and use it to subsidize abortions, fine.  If Indiana or Kansas wants to take money from its people to pay farmers to do nothing, fine.  If Michigan or New York wants to take money from its people to save rich, irresponsible automakers or bankers from their bad decisions, fine.

Of course it’s not really fine. All of those are very stupid things to do and will, in the long run, make them poorer.  As an Ohioan, they are all trading partners, and their being less wealthy decreases my opportunities to engage in mutually beneficial exchanges with them, potentially making me poorer.  It is fine by the U.S. Constitution, however.

The U.S. Constitution does prevent those things, short of an amendment, from happening on a national level.  None of those things are expressly granted powers of the federal government, and the 9th and 10th amendments make it clear that unless something is an expressly granted power of the federal government, or both necessary and proper for the maintenance of the Constitution, the federal government does not have those powers.  Alabama would be poorer due to a poorer New Hampshire, but Alabama isn’t forced to adopt a bad policy just because New Hampshire does.

Even better than that, it’s easy to see how the prevention of those things on a national level aids in the prevention of them on a state level.  It certainly, at a minimum, hinders them.  Maine may want each of its lobster exports to be subsidized by $2, but Mainers would be far less friendly to the subsidy if it cost every Mainer $1000 per year than if it cost every Mainer, Ohioan, Minnesotan, and Californian $1 per year.  It is in this indirect fashion that the Constitution, while in no way prohibiting Maine from enacting such a policy on its own, discourages such fiscal and property rights imprudence from happening on a state level as well.

Is it any wonder that in spite of the fact the states are completely free to institute completely socialized medicine, and some are in favor of it, that very few have socialized medicine at all, and those that have done so have only done so in a very limited capacity?  It shouldn’t be.

Also, the Constitution is clear, written, available, and able to be changed.  We can plainly see what it says and what it does not say.  Don’t like something?  There’s a few processes for that.  This keeps the law clear, making it easy for markets to adjust to even those provisions that aren’t purely libertarian.

The Constitution protects my tastes from yours; Oregon’s from West Virginia’s, and vice versa.  Or at least it would if we obeyed it.  That’s why I’m such a big fan.