Dr. Robert Higgs, senior fellow at the Oakland-based Independent Institute, penned an article in The Christian Science Monitor (2/9/2009) that suggests the most intelligent recommendation that I've read to fix our current economic mess. The title of his article gives his recommendation away: "Instead of stimulus, do nothing -- seriously."
Stimulus package debate is over how much money should be spent, whether some should given to the National Endowment for the Arts, research sexually transmitted diseases or bail out Amtrak, our failing railroad system. Dr. Higgs says, "Hardly anyone, however, is asking the most important question: Should the federal government be doing any of this?" He adds, "Until the 1930s, the Constitution served as a major constraint on federal economic interventionism. The government's powers were understood to be just as the framers intended: few and explicitly enumerated in our founding document and its amendments. Search the Constitution as long as you like, and you will find no specific authority conveyed for the government to spend money on global-warming research, urban mass transit, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, or countless other items in the stimulus package and, even without it, in the regular federal budget."
By bringing up the idea of constitutional restraints on Washington, I'd say Dr. Higgs is whistling Dixie. Americans have long ago abandoned respect for the constitutional limitations placed on the federal government. Our elected representatives represent that disrespect. After all I'd ask Higgs: Isn't it unreasonable to expect a politician to do what he considers to be political suicide, namely conduct himself according to the letter and spirit of the Constitution?
Roosevelt didn't have an easy time with his agenda; he had to first emasculate the U.S. Supreme Court. Higgs points out that federal courts had respect for the Constitution as late as the 1930s. They issued some 1,600 injunctions to restrain officials from carrying out acts of Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned as unconstitutional the New Deal's centerpieces such as the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act and other parts of Roosevelt's "stimulus package." An outraged Roosevelt threatened to pack the Court, and the Court capitulated to where it is today giving Congress virtually unlimited powers to tax, spend and regulate. My question to my fellow Americans is: Do we want a repeat of measures that failed dismally during the 1930s?