December 23, 2010
"This business of centralization"
Hundreds of years of arguing, and it strikes me that the key philosophical/political difference is devilishly simple. I think I can describe it fairly and succinctly:
Progressives envision the good that government can do, and see no reason to limit its effectiveness. ThreeSourcers see the evil that government can do and see no reason to allow it to encroach unless necessary.
Two hundred twenty four years, billions of dollars and shed blood for elections -- is it really more than that? This not particularly original insight was focused by Damon Root's piece in Reason: "The Never-Ending 'Business of Centralization.'"
Root opens with Schechter Poultry Corp v United States, the "sick chicken case" Amity Schlaes discusses in "The Forgotten Man."
But the Supreme Court wasn't having it. The NIRA must fall, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote for the majority, otherwise there would "be virtually no limit to the federal power, and, for all practical purposes, we should have a completely centralized government." Progressive Justice Louis Brandeis, usually a hero to the New Deal set, was equally blunt, informing White House lawyers Tommy Corcoran and Ben Cohen, "This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we're not going to let this government centralize everything."
The Four Horsemen fell to the Three Musketeers, Hughes was replaced by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, and the absolute brake on centralization fell to Wickard v Filburn...and y'all know the rest.
But there is a chance in the ObamaCare fight that the raw question will come out and that there might be a discussion of limiting federal power. Maybe.
Posted by John Kranz at December 23, 2010 11:07 AM