Wealth and Want
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Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

What is the slave-trade but piracy of the worst kind? Yet it is not long since the slave-trade was looked upon as a perfectly respectable business, affording as legitimate an opening for the investment of capital and the display of enterprise as any other. The proposition to prohibit it was first looked upon as ridiculous, then as fanatical, then as wicked. It was only slowly and by hard fighting that the truth in regard to it gained ground. Does not our very Constitution bear witness to what I say? Does not the fundamental law of the nation, adopted twelve years after the enunciation of the Declaration of Independence, declare that for twenty years the slave-trade shall not be prohibited nor restricted? Such dominion had the idea of vested interests over the minds of those who had already proclaimed the inalienable right of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! ... read the whole article


Nic Tideman: The Constitutional Conflict Between Protecting Expectations and Moral Evolution

Constitutions must be amendable, to allow for the possibility of incorporating new moral insights into them. This impinges on the protection of expectations, including those regarded as property. Protection of property rights is achieved by constitutional restrictions on the ability of voters and legislators to reduce the value of property by regulation, taxation or expropriation. But such restrictions also prevent voters and legislatures from reflecting new moral insights in legislation, if those insights would reduce the value of property. There have been times in the past when moral development has compelled societies to change laws in ways that reduced the value of property (e.g., elimination of slavery). We cannot guarantee that there will be no future advances in our moral evolution that would require similar changes in laws, reducing or eliminating the value of what we now consider property. Looking forward to the possibility of such moral advances, we should design constitutions that permit amendments to reflect new moral insights, while prohibiting legislators (or voters in referenda) from passing laws that redistribute in ways not explicitly sanctioned by the constitution.

1. The Possibility of New Moral Insights that Necessitate Redistribution
2. Assigning the Costs of Moral Accidents
3. The Possibility of a Right of Secession
4. The Complementary Right of Equal Access to Natural Opportunities
5. Power, Population and Process ...  Read the whole article

Nic Tideman: The Political Economy of Moral Evolution

A very significant step in the incorporation of a newly discovered moral truth into our social order is its embodiment into our constitution. Mere legislation does not suffice to certify a moral truth, for a reason articulated by Bruce Ackerman in an exegesis of the views expressed by James Madison in Federalist 103. We understand that citizens have too many other interests in life to attend to all the political issues that arise. Therefore everyday politics is bound to be dominated by a few people pursuing narrow interests. In the constitution-writing process, on the other hand, the level of involvement is sufficiently extensive and the level of consensus required sufficiently great to permit those who succeed in having their views incorporated into the constitution to say that they speak for the whole nation. What is crucial, according to Madison, is not that the letter of established constitutional procedures be followed, but rather that the society be widely involved in discussions about what is done. This was Madison's reason for arguing that the constitution written in 1787 could be valid despite the fact that the group who wrote it was not supposed to be writing a constitution. Ackerman argues that the same reasoning applies to the seemingly defective procedures by which the post-Civil War constitutional amendments were forced through, and to the revision of the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution in the 1930's, under Franklin Roosevelt's threat of court-packing. The standard constitutional amendment process, of course, is designed to entail the levels of involvement and consensus that permit the advocates of a successful amendment to speak for the nation.

While the constitutional process succeeds in achieving a substantial consensus about moral truths, it is not a perfect process. Our constitutional reversal with respect to the prohibition of alcohol is proof, if one were needed, that not every idea incorporated into the constitution is an advance. The real truth of any idea comes not from the fact that it is incorporated into a constitution, but rather from the consensus that supports it. And in the process by which a constitution evolves, there are often substantial groups that feel extremely ill-treated. These groups can attack the justice of any constitutional outcome on the ground that those who favor the successful outcome are judging their own cause. ... read the whole article


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper