Friday, April 25, 2008
My Next David Skarbek-esque Post: The Federalist Papers and Legislative Tenure, Part 2
It's Friday morning, that means more Federalist Papers! I'm still on the topic of legislative tenure, so today's post supplements the last time I blogged on the idea.
Onwards! Scroll past the quotes if you just want to read what I have to say.
- Federalist 62 (Madison):
"The mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members, however qualified they may be, points out, in the strongest manner, the necessity of some stable institution in the government...From this change of men must proceed a change of opinions; and from a change of opinions, a change of measures. But a continual change even of good measures is inconsistent with every rule of prudence and every prospect of success. The remark is verified in private life, and becomes more just, as well as more important, in national transactions."
"To trace the mischievous effects of a mutable government would fill a volume."
"In the first place, it forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations, and all the advantages connected with national character. An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once, by all prudent people, as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly. His more friendly neighbors may pity him, but all will decline to connect their fortunes with his; and not a few will seize the opportunity of making their fortunes out of his...Every nation, consequently, whose affairs betray a want of wisdom and stability, may calculate on every loss which can be sustained from the more systematic policy of their wiser neighbors. But the best instruction on this subject is unhappily conveyed to America by the example of her own situation. She finds that she is held in no respect by her friends; that she is the derision of her enemies; and that she is a prey to every nation which has an interest in speculating on her fluctuating councils and embarrassed affairs."
"The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?"
"Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the FEW, not for the MANY."
"In another point of view, great injury results from an unstable government. The want of confidence in the public councils damps every useful undertaking, the success and profit of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements. What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed? What farmer or manufacturer will lay himself out for the encouragement given to any particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not render him a victim to an inconstant government? In a word, no great improvement or laudable enterprise can go forward which requires the auspices of a steady system of national policy."
Note, again, the line Madison has to walk in the first part. He feels stability is good-- and has to argue as such, because a six-year appointment of a Senator is an eternity in Revolutionary America. But underlying all of this is the fact that, in part, the stability of the British monarchy was something they didn't like. It's funny to see the ebbs and flows throughout the papers.
The second part is currently a favorite quote...with or without 'mutable.'
It's very interesting the connection between stability in the political sphere and vitality in the economic sphere in the third part. I suppose it's all a matter of degree; having just overthrown their colonial government ten years prior, stability and international recognition might have been exactly what the country needed most. But lack of national character comes from mutability? Aren't some countries known for nothing but mutability? It's hard to imagine what level of turnover they speak of, but even in the worst, most severe cases...are neighboring countries left imagine their unrealized gains from trade? Is Iran bemoaning the potential gains from trade they aren't realizing from Iraq? Perhaps. I do like how political instability is pinned to international economic shortcomings.
Implicit in the fourth part is that more laws come from higher turnover. I'm not certain there's any reason to believe that's true. Poisons the blessings of liberty? That's a bit much. Undermine long-term confidence in the stability of law in the most extreme case, perhaps.
Part five is public choice Publius! I love these parts. Another testable hypothesis...more turnover, more rent seeking?
Part six talks more about the shortcomings, again, of an unstable political climate and it's skewing of investment away from long term projects.
Ultimately, I think the impact on the economy of a presidential change in the late 1700s is far, far greater than a change in more recent days, and it's important to remember that grain of salt when going through the quotes.