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Sponsored By the St.Olaf Political Awareness Committee
Updated: 46 min 58 sec ago
By Griffin Edwards ’17
“The Law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its former purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law became the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!
“If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.”
Thus begins French political philosopher Frederic Bastiat’s The Law. Talk about a hook.
September 15-19 is Constitution Week. It’s a patriotic holiday that, oddly enough, celebrates the signing of the US Constitution on September 17, 1787. It lacks the explosive pomp of Independence Day and the stay-home-and-grill attitude of Labor Day. In fact, unless you’re in especially academic or especially patriotic circles, Constitution Week will probably come and go without so much as a firecracker or barbequed hot dog. Perhaps this lack of attention is fitting; after all, scratching a few words on a hemp-paper document is hardly noteworthy. It is not nearly as earth-shattering as declaring political independence.
But it isn’t the shock and awe of the Constitution that make it worthy of a week. Rather, it is its quiet repercussions that continue to echo into our own lives today, two hundred-some years later.
Now, to return to Bastiat: what exactly is this “law” that he’s so worked up about? Why does he feel a moral imperative to preserve its integrity and alert his peers to its violation?
If one continues reading The Law after the opening apostrophe, which is a hard thing to resist, one finds that “the law” of Bastiat is not something instituted by governments; it’s natural, inherent in human life, and a sacred part of society. “The law” is not a social contract. In a word, “the law” is the unifying moral code of non-aggression and personal liberty particular and universal to mankind, even in the absence of government. This line of thought was common, even popular, to him and his almost-contemporaries, including Thomas Jefferson and John Locke. In contrast, today we often attribute rights to the government, subconsciously considering them something granted us through the good graces of the state. We occasionally rename these as “privileges” as if to excuse their infringement, and we turn a blind eye when, out of convenience (or perhaps laziness), we witness our rights taken away in the name of security or benevolence. We see our rights as things impossible without the state to uphold them, and maintained only through legislation and social norms.
However, if Bastiat is correct, and rights are natural parts of being human, the Constitution and the ideas it upholds are mammoth in scope. The Constitution ceases to become a dusty old document of a failed political system long since run its course; it becomes a sacred work, something, perhaps, transcending any government. It not only provides rules for citizens, but rules for the government; it seeks to prevent the law from being perverted and turning into something hulking, ugly, and oppressive. It is as much, if not more, for the government as for citizens, a proclamation not only for the idealistic state dreamt by the founding fathers, but a manifesto of what they held dear. It is a thing as philosophical, even theological, as it is political.
The relevance of the Constitution has not been lost in recent years; if anything, it retains its importance even as we move into an age quick to abandon our heritage and move into a postmodern world that has so vastly outgrown our adolescent britches. If we as Americans wish to stand the test of time, we must ensure that the law remains unperverted, and government kept at a distance, as embodied by our Constitution.
By: Alec Paulson ’16
The renewal of the Export-Import Bank’s charter continues to stir controversy among House and Senate Republicans in the weeks before its expiration on September 30th. The bank, which grants special finance options to American exporters, has been targeted by conservative think tanks as an unnecessary intervention in international trade. While Democrats support the reauthorization in union, Republicans dissention highlights an interesting political rift among party leaders.
Pro-Business Republicans contend that the measure is necessary to maintain international competitiveness with foreign manufacturers. International trade is never free or fair, which necessitates government assistance for American manufacturers. Cattle-prodded by the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, a handful of Republicans including Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz counter that the Ex-Im Bank is the poster child for corporatism in the United States.
The data show that Cruz and Ryan’s claim is well warranted. The bank is ineffective at spurring export activity. In 2013, the Ex-Im bank financed exports that accounted for just 2% of the $2.2 trillion total export activity in the United States. Of that 2% activity, two-thirds went to Boeing. Three-quarters of the finances went to a total of 10 corporations including Dow Chemical, John Deere, General Electric and Caterpillar. Undoubtedly, the bank’s main purpose is to provide corporate welfare.
Pro-Business Republicans counter that the small firms still benefit from the special financing. Even if the largest beneficiaries are giant corporations, smaller firms necessarily account for smaller finance packages. There is a lot of good that can be done for small exporters with just a quarter of Ex-Im’s total 2013 budget.
Democrats and Pro-Business Republicans must come to terms with the fact that they cannot fiat international competitiveness through accounting tricks and gimmicks. It should be unsurprising that uncompetitive financial practices breed uncompetitive manufactures. If an American corporation or small business is not competitive, the government should not try to pump life into it. Picking winners and losers in the economy is a dangerous game especially when the winner is a large multinational that will survive without special finance.
Despite the undeniable harm the reauthorization inflicts on the American taxpayer, the likelihood for the charter to be renewed is strong. The best hope for ending the charter is our ‘do-nothing’ Congress to do just that. However, with Senate midterm campaigning in full swing, no candidate wants to appear unresolved on their commitment to American jobs and exports. This protectionist sentiment is one that succeeds politics, but very rarely in policy.
By: Nick Stumo-Langer ’15
Iraqi PM Nouri al-Malaki is, seemingly, on his way out of the Iraqi political scene. With damaged credibility and a startlingly stratified country, Maliki’s third bid for Prime Minister was ill-advised at best. Many blame him for the Iraqi army’s dismal response to the enormous threat ISIS has posed to the region, resulting in a vast takeover of land from the Syrian border to past Mosul in the north and as far east as Fallujah.
1 Credit: Outside the Beltway (6/30/14)
Al-Malaki is being replaced by the newly elected President Fuad Masum, however, more than an unfortunate story for Malaki personally; this defeat is a defeat for the entire region.
Nouri al-Malaki, the first nationally elected leader of post-war Iraq, is the leader of the Shia Dawa Party and could have proved to be a uniting figure, flying in the face of Iranian intemperance. Between former Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the modern Middle East has not experienced a moderate, peaceful Shia leader.
What is needed and what Malaki potentially could have been for the world’s population of Shia Muslims, could be a moderate voice in the “perpetual” conflict between Islam’s most populous sects.
Iraqi political leadership is ripe for a moderate voice, post-Saddam Hussein the mosaic population of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias could have produced a successful pluralistic society. For now, the opportunity is lost; Malaki has shored up support from regional leader Iran to the detriment of relations with Saudi Arabia and their allies in the region (including the United States). One side isn’t necessarily better than the other, however, and by steering a middle path Malaki’s Iraq could have been better served.
Now, with the threat of ISIS looming large over the region, the autonomous Kurdish region taking on a bigger role to defend their territory, and the Shia-led government in Baghdad fumbling through a new Prime Minister appointment, the time has passed for a strong national coalition, the fight is at the front door.