Congress Owns Us
by Michael S. Rozeff
by Michael S. Rozeff
The U.S. Constitution is that great deceit by which Congress and the Executive are enabled to extend their powers without any evident end. Acts of Congress habitually violate natural rights and individual rights. In this sense, Congressional Acts are illegitimate. For those readers who believe that the Constitution's language constrains such across-the-board power, let us put it this way: The U.S. Constitution is that deception by which Congress and the Executive are enabled to act unconstitutionally with impunity. In this sense, Congressional Acts are unlawful.
The U.S. Constitution is far more of a carte blanche than libertarians who want to "go back to the Constitution" may realize. The American majority approves a law, the majority being an ever-changing subset of voters and elected and appointed officials. It grants to itself an almost unlimited scope of imposing its illegitimate and unlawful will upon the minority of those other Americans obliged to submit. By what means? By using the open-ended language of the Constitution and the open-ended interpretations thereof to tyrannize an ever-changing minority. The result is before us: a pastiche of illegitimate and unlawful laws, passed and executed under an abstraction that we are supposed to bow down to called the rule of law. This motley mess, this crazy quilt has no grounding except the continual effort and success of majorities to impose themselves upon and gain from minorities. If it were not for the fact that the American pie has been kept growing by the efforts and successes of many of its people, this confused game of I take thou belongings as mine would have long ago ended.
Ridiculous Acts of Congress constantly intrude, and hardly ever are they justified by any sensible theory of right and wrong, much less the Constitution. Congress tells doctors how much they will be paid under Medicare, and it tells Americans they must overpay for cotton by subsidizing domestic cotton production and shutting out foreign producers. Any decent theory of law that does not contradict itself has to conclude that we are being ruled by a tyranny. There is no way around this conclusion. The idiocy of Congressional Acts only rubs salt into the wounds. Congress habitually tampers with things that it knows nothing about and continually throws monkey wrenches into matters that are none of its business. This naturally accompanies the real goals of Congress which are to line the pockets of select groups.
The American people have every right to declare a new declaration of independence from the illegitimate, unlawful, unconstitutional, and burdensome acts of their rulers under this Constitution. A critical mass with the intent to do so is not yet in sight.
Tyranny for tyranny
From our human capital, we produce income. Congress takes as much of that income as it can in taxes. Owning the income stream is tantamount to owning the person. From this standpoint, it is clear that Congress owns us. But let us examine a few of the myriad other ways in which Congress asserts its ownership of us.
The 109th Congress illegitimately and unlawfully renewed sanctions against Burma (or Myanmar) (passed in 2003). The original Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act condemns the ruling junta (SPDC) of Burma for heinous actions within Burma such as seizing control of the state, killings, rapes, child-conscripts, and displacing ethnic minorities, in short, for instituting a brutal dictatorship. It condemns the SPDC for its lack of cooperation with the U.S. in "stopping the flood of heroin and methamphetamines..." Congress presumes to replace the clergy and the moral consciences of its citizens, and it presumes to act for us upon that basis. We no longer as individuals own our own consciences or decide how to deal with evils. Congress does this for us. In essence, it owns us. In addition, it presumes to judge unfit all those involved in the drug trade and usurps our freedom to decide these matters for ourselves.
The Act records the condemnation of the International Labor Organization against Burmese compulsory labor. It says that trade and investment with Burmese companies help to finance the SPDC. Let those who condemn Burma's ways boycott those whom they deem responsible. What gives Congress this right? The Act adds that the American Apparel and Footware Association expressed its "‘strong support for a full and immediate ban on U.S. textiles, apparel and footware imports from Burma...'" What gives Congress the right to cater to special interest groups, in direct violation of the Constitution, by imposing trade restrictions that benefit them?
Massachusetts officials, attempting to act upon this law and determined to drive companies out of Burma, discovered that it conflicted with looser and applicable World Trade Organization law that forbids such political qualifications. Congress passes one unjust and unconstitutional law that conflicts with another.
Tyranny of regulation
The Act bans all sorts of trade with certain Burmese companies, freezes Burmese assets in the U.S., and authorizes the President "to use all available resources to assist Burmese democracy advocates dedicated to nonviolent opposition to the regime..."
Through the trade ban, the U.S. government openly destroys commerce. Do the constitutional powers to "regulate Commerce" or "regulate commerce with foreign nations" entail the complete destruction or prohibition of commerce? It seems they now do. But if a man cannot control whom he trades with, what does he control? It appears that the Congress controls commerce and therefore the man. The power to regulate, like the power to tax, is the power to destroy. Regulation is a form of ownership just as taxation is.
If this logic is correct, and I think it is, then the U.S. Constitution is a document that openly creates a tyranny. If it does not create a tyranny, then what are the limits to these regulatory powers? There don't seem to be any. There aren't any written expressly into the Constitution itself. Suppose that the General Welfare is construed as providing a criterion of the limits of regulatory power. Then who is to be the judge of what regulatory measures provide for the General Welfare? Is the government itself to be the judge? It can't be without being a tyranny. The "people" (by which is meant a subset of those who have the most votes) are supposed to maintain this power. But where then are the limits to what the people may impose? They are nowhere written out or defined. If the people decide these matters through their government, then we (meaning those who submit to the people's rules) live under a complicated system of indirect, open-ended, ill-defined, and arbitrary tyranny. Tyranny is tyranny.
Where does our government get the legitimate authority to support nonviolent rebels in Burma? Where does it get the authority to support or even instigate violent revolutions as it has in other lands? Not from the Constitution. Whoever thinks the Constitution is such a wonderful document, a guiding light to which the country should head in order to remedy its many problems, had better think twice. The Constitution is virtually a dead letter. Our government is going through the motions. We can keep this up for some years more, I do not know how long, but the system is doomed to collapse. This is inevitable because it is merely a continuation of what has already happened. The rules by which we live together politically have already been so deformed, stretched, expanded, distorted, and destroyed that very little more will produce some sort of general recognition that America's government has transformed into a new form. The time will arrive when people en masse will clearly recognize that we are no longer living under a recognizable Constitution. They will declare the patient dead. Perhaps they will shout: "Long live the new savior and the new illusion." Perhaps they will decide to bury the child and become adult.
Other tyrannies of the 109th Congress
What else has the 109th Congress enacted? Choosing a few Acts at random, it passed the Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2005. In 1934, Congress declared, in essence, that it owned all the migrating ducks that fly over the U.S. It did this by levying a tax on the killing of ducks, a duck stamp permit that cost $1. Today's price is $15. If growing wheat in the back yard qualifies as interstate commerce, I am sure that shooting a duck also qualifies whether on a marsh or one's own property.
Congress amended the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 1998 which revamped earlier laws. These laws provide money to states by arcane and Byzantine formulas. They in turn use their bureaucracies to spread the money around for vocational and technical education, that is, if any is left for instruction after paying the salaries of the bureaucrats. Congress, in essence, acts as if it owns America's workforce and oversees its care, training, and feeding.
Congress passed the Pension Protection Act of 2006. I am comforted to learn this was "An Act to provide economic security for all Americans." Maybe this will enable me to sleep to 5 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. This Act amended ERISA (of 1974). Private pension plans are not private at all. They are heavily regulated. There is, I suppose, some indirect connection to interstate commerce. There always is. Congress is the Great Father. It, in essence, looks after its progeny, and its offspring include every business with a pension plan (probably above some small size) and every worker who might work for a company with such a plan. They are viewed as part of the "workforce" of Congress, a cog in the machine of progress and prosperity. This is what is meant by freedom.
In a family, the child typically leaves the control of the parents, gradually attaining self-sufficiency and independence. In the national family, Americans belong to the Congress forever, from birth to the grave. Congress is in loco parentis. Congress regulates (dictates) more and more facets of our lives. Congress owns us, pure and simple, as long as we live, breathe, and work in the above-ground economy.
Congress passed the Milk Regulatory Equity Act of 2005, amending laws that go back to 1937 at least. This Act includes minimum prices for raw milk, a great inflation-fighting device if I ever heard of one. In the great American tradition of freedom, free markets, and the freedom America promises for the entire world, a milk-handler has to pay milk producers at least a certain price. Congress, in essence, owns the milk, the milk-producers, and the milk-handlers, inasmuch as it dictates how they shall transact.
In the Broadcast Indecency Enforcement Act of 2005, Congress increased the penalties for "obscene, indecent, and profane broadcasts." If someone can define "obscene" or even "indecent" for purposes of constitutional law and demonstrate where it is in the Constitution, he deserves a prize for lawyerly legerdemain. Possibly this topic is covered in the Federalist Papers and I missed it. This sort of legislation almost invariably discriminates against the non-commercial, the smaller, and the more independent ventures, against specific minorities or cultures, and against specific performers. There will no doubt be fines for reading some portions of the Holy Bible, Chaucer, Rabelais, Balzac, Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Faulkner, and of course Henry Miller. Congress does not want its "children" watching or hearing certain speech. Acts like this or those that regulate political campaigns, contributions, and ads make free speech and freedom a charade. Congress acts like a father and mother who try to control the speech of their children "in our house." Congress owns the house and everything in it, including us; otherwise it could not enact such laws. We the People needs to be replaced by We the Children.
The House horses around with horsemeat
A Bill banning horse slaughter for human consumption passed the House 263-146 on Sept. 7, 2006. By this legislation, the House declared, in essence, that it owns "old" horses or those that once were destined to be killed and eaten, whether by humans, cats, dogs, or whatever. The horse owners just lost rights.
Permit me to reminisce. Shortly after World War II, my region featured a chain of equine markets. The meat was less expensive than beef. I ran errands for a few neighbors and earned the princely sum of 25 cents per trip to the grocery store and back. Some of this I deposited in the 2½% Savings Bank. Some I spent. Steak was not an everyday occurrence in our household, so one day I went into the equine market and saw that the tenderloin was a lot cheaper than beef. I bought some, enough for the family. My mother wasn't too happy, but she prepared it and we ate it. And it was quite good, more tender than beef and sweeter.
It is hard for me to believe that what was once an entirely natural thing now becomes illegal by a vote of the House of Representatives (and perhaps the Senate). Because of this episode in my life, the whole idea of banning horsemeat seems especially absurd and surreal. Perhaps this is how people felt when Prohibition came in. I do not know. How can something that was natural and lawful suddenly become heinous and unlawful? How can one become a criminal for producing or eating horsemeat? How is it that a lion now has more rights than a human being? Under this law, the horse can be fed to zoo animals but not to humans. These laws can't occur except in a system where the owners (Congress) do as they wish with their property (us).
To which I fully expect this rejoinder: Sure, horsemeat was legal then, and so was segregation. Do you approve of that too? Logicians of the world, unite against such argumentation! Or else I will reply just as speciously. But sir, we had no segregation in my neck of the woods.
Democracy is an ugly, vicious, and evil form of government, especially when the power to enact any law becomes unlimited. And democracy by definition has to run in that direction because it is simply majority rule, and majority rule can break down any constraint. In this instance, hundreds of interest groups line up right and left, dominate the airwaves with polluted and twisted logic, and demonstrate in the streets to get their pet legislation passed. Congress is besieged with thousands of phone calls. How many will go against such idols as Willie Nelson and Clint Eastwood? Is this any way to run a country?
This episode is not atypical of what happens in Congress on the days when we aren't tuned in. In particular, members of Congress are prone to write material that rivals Henny Youngman on a bad day. "They are as close to humans as any animal can get," asserted Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.). "When you see a horse galloping gracefully across the plains, that's not a commodity. That's an inspiration," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) (in support of horse slaughtering): "These horses are eating our cellulose and costing us ethanol." What else would my Iowan neighbors for 15 years think of except corn and ethanol? Well, maybe wrestling. "The horses are part of the history of this nation, and the West would never have been settled if it weren't for the horses," declared Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) in support of the horsemeat ban. Quite often, titans of business reduce themselves to the idiotic level of members of Congress. "Thank you for standing up for America, for our ideals, and for our horses," said T. Boone Pickens.
Not wanting to be insensitive to horse-lovers, I queried a friend of mine who owns a race horse and knows horses. With his permission, I quote his response: "It seems like an advantage of horses over cars — you can eat your horse. Actually never had horse meat, but I don't see what the problem is. I grew up on a farm and we ate animals so it is just common sense."
It would not be difficult to spend a page or two explaining the many ways in which this legislation harms many people and harms horses. No one knows what will become of the 90,000 aging horses each year who are destined for the slaughterhouse. Who will take care of them in their old age? The owners who cannot sell their horses for meat will have an incentive to neglect them. Is this what horse-lovers want? The additional money spent on caring for old horses might well have been spent caring for old human beings. Does Congress wish to see people worse off and horses supposedly better off while achieving neither? Congress habitually lowers the general welfare. This Act is no exception.
I personally like cows and many other animals as much as I do horses. In Faulkner's The Hamlet, one character even falls in love with a cow. Seriously. If Congress passes a horse law, then it can pass any other sort of animal law. Maybe it already has. This would not surprise me. If Congress owns us and we own animals, houses, pension plans, and income, then Congress owns them too. The only law Congress will never pass is a law outlawing itself. We the people will have to see to that, because one thing Congress can never own is our will although it does its best to weaken it.
No matter how we analyze the situation, there is only one conclusion. The American system of state and government, even under a Constitution, is a tyranny. The legal claptrap of Constitution, rule of law, and divided government is a formality, a cover-story, a diversion, and a sop for an unpleasant truth that is becoming ever more true: Congress owns us.
September 11, 2006
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.
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