La Republique Constitutionelle, C’est Moi

In addition to being popular with the poorly educated, our President-elect also has a committed corps of  highly educated, scholarly supporters. One of the more notable of these is a scholarly type who, writing under the somewhat pretentious pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus” (hereinafter PDM), described the 2016 election as the Flight 93 Election, which seems an odd way to encourage voting for someone, inasmuch as the passengers on flight 93 could not have expected to survive their attack on their hijackers. By implication, a vote for PDM’s choice for President was a vote for national suicide. The suicide committed by the passengers on Flight 93 averted an even greater catastrophe, but what is the larger catastrophe averted by this act of national suicide? But I digress.

Without exactly addressing the peculiarity of the metaphor he used to frame the choice facing voters in 2016, PDM, in a subsequent response to critics, explained that his point was that, although the United States of America might continue to exist if Hillary Clinton were elected President, it would no longer be a Constitutional Republic. A Clinton election, PDM argued, would mean that the country would inevitably continue on its current irreversible path toward an Administrative State ruled by a cadre of faceless bureaucrats and experts unaccountable to the people or their elected representatives.

Thus, in PDM’s view, the outcome of the election has preserved the future of the US as a Constitutional Republic, though, as already noted, that interpretation seems to be belied by the metaphor with which PDM chose to frame the choice presented to voters. At any rate, PDM, while acknowledging that his chosen candidate was an imperfect standard bearer for the cause of Constitutional Republicanism, argued that, by speaking out against the policies of unrestricted immigration, free trade, and military interventionism pursued by all recent administrations, his preferred candidate was the last, best — indeed the only — hope for the preservation of our Constitutional Republic.

The transfer of power to the new administration has not yet taken place, but we have already seen evidence of the commitment of PEOTUS to Constitutional Republicanism. Of course to gauge the commitment, it may help to first have a general idea of the main characteristics of a Constitutional Republic, which we may summarize as follows:

  • The people are sovereign and exercise their sovereignty through a government of elected representatives.
  • The powers exercised by these representatives are limited by a basic law (the Constitution) defining the lawful powers that these representative may exercise.
  • The rights of the people are protected by a rule of law that allows the government to restrict or abridge the rights of citizens only by enacting laws consistent with the Constitution.

But before discussing the attachment of the PEOTUS to Constitutional Republicanism, I want to refer to a post I wrote about six months ago in which I discussed an extraordinary 20th century British politician whose influence, for better or worse, is still felt in Britain, a politician who, in opposing immigration by non-whites, including those already legally residing in Britain, and, in arguing for preserving England/Britain as a legally homogeneous ethnic nation, expressed almost 50 years ago many of the feelings and resentments now animating supporters of PDM’s preferred candidate for President in 2016. That politician was Enoch Powell.

Whatever one might think of Powell — and my own feelings about him are a mixture of admiration and revulsion — he had a genuine commitment to the ideals of personal liberty and the rule of law, though those ideals, as he himself acknowledged, did not rank at the top of his scale of values. I mention Powell in this context because, in criticizing the concept of “voluntary” wage-and-price guidelines to combat inflation – a popular idea in the 1960s and 1970s —  Powell brilliantly described these guidelines as the “rule of the threat of law,” meaning that the government forced coerced businesses and unions to comply with its wishes, not by enacting legislation, thereby requiring compliance by the force of law, but by making it understood, either by explicit statement or by implication, that failure to comply with the guidelines would result in the enactment of legislation requiring compliance under even more onerous terms. This method of achieving policy objectives, by coercing members of the public, not by law, but through open or veiled threats, is the antithesis of the rule of law; it aims at coercing members of the public – businesses and workers – to take actions against their best interests by threatening them with even more unpleasant consequences if they fail to comply with requests or demands of government officials that have no legal standing.

Interestingly, when queried about not having paid taxes in past years, and about having sold products in the US produced overseas, and about having employed foreign workers in domestic construction projects, the PEOTUS pointed out that, in not paying taxes, in selling products in the US produced overseas, and in employing foreign workers on domestic construction projects, he had been in full compliance with the laws of the United States, so that he was only pursuing his own economic self-interest as he, a US citizen, had every right to do. However, the PEOTUS apparently now finds it intolerable that private business firms should make economic decisions in the interests of their owners in the way that he, by his own admission, had done when he ran his own business.

Unless Carrier, GM, and Ford and other businesses do what the PEOTUS wants them to do, they will suffer retribution; non-compliant companies are threatened with a 35% tariff applied on products they manufacture abroad. It is one thing to impose a tariff on imported goods in general; it is quite another to impose a tariff selectively to punish companies for taking actions in the economic interests of their owners of which the PEOTUS disapproves. That is precisely the rule of the threat of law against which Enoch Powell eloquently and rightly warned.

This kind of trampling on the rule of law is not what one would expect to occur in a Constitutional Republic. And remember, that according to PDM, it was with a view to preserving our Constitution Republic that he decided whom to support for President in 2016. So one can’t help wondering if PDM now feels that he has now been vindicated. Perhaps . . . if his idea of a Constitutional Republic approximates the idea of the state held by King Louis XIV.

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4 Responses to “La Republique Constitutionelle, C’est Moi”


  1. 1 Frank Restly January 12, 2017 at 9:51 am

    David,

    “This method of achieving policy objectives, by coercing members of the public, not by law, but through open or veiled threats, is the antithesis of the rule of law; it aims at coercing members of the public – businesses and workers – to take actions against their best interests by threatening them with even more unpleasant consequences if they fail to comply with requests or demands of government officials that have no legal standing.”

    I believe the term is “jaw boning”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawboning

    Jawboning has a place and time to be used. Successful jawboning requires two things:

    1. Credibility
    2. Absence of a viable alternative

    Obviously, if Trump threatened tariffs and subsequently backed off or was countervened by Congress / The Supreme Court, then his threats become idle hot air.

    It’s kind of surprising that his economics team (Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, CEA chair – ???) have not offered viable alternatives that avoid the “trampling on the rule of law in a Constitutional Republic.”

  2. 2 TravisV January 16, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Empirical question: for as long as TIPS have existed (since 1997), has there ever been a period where interest rates increased significantly but TIPS spreads did not?

  3. 3 laeeth January 18, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Travis – in 2013 real yields went up, breakevens not so much. I was short eurodollars and breakevens in my fund.


    Unless Carrier, GM, and Ford and other businesses do what the PEOTUS wants them to do, they will suffer retribution; non-compliant companies are threatened with a 35% tariff applied on products they manufacture abroad. It is one thing to impose a tariff on imported goods in general; it is quite another to impose a tariff selectively to punish companies for taking actions in the economic interests of their owners of which the PEOTUS disapproves. That is precisely the rule of the threat of law against which Enoch Powell eloquently and rightly warned.

    But is it? Is he really threatening to impose a tariff selectively? Is he even threatening to impose a tariff at all?

    He isn’t somebody who communicates in technical language, but as best I can tell it’s not really tariffs but border adjustments and a whole change in the basis of US corporate taxation policy (as described in the House GOP plan) that’s on the table. Sure, might be some tariffs here and there in the beginning because they don’t require legislation. But it’s been a mistake to take Trump literally.

  4. 4 David Glasner January 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Frank, Jawboning can cover a multitude of sins, sometimes it is no more than relatively innocuous exhortations to conserve energy and the like, but when it involves a threat of legislation or regulation or withdrawal of benefits, it takes on a sinister aspect.

    Travis, Changes in real interest rates are very small relative to changes in inflation expectations, so it would be hard to find cases in which changes in real interest rates are large relative to changes in inflation expectations.

    Laeeth, It’s actually not clear what he is saying, but one can hardly ignore the statements of the PEOTUS even if, or perhaps especially if, they have no clear meaning, but suggest that something unpleasant happens if those to whom the statements are directed do not do what they are told to do.


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About Me

David Glasner
Washington, DC

I am an economist in the Washington DC area. My research and writing has been mostly on monetary economics and policy and the history of economics. In my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I argued for a non-Monetarist non-Keynesian approach to monetary policy, based on a theory of a competitive supply of money. Over the years, I have become increasingly impressed by the similarities between my approach and that of R. G. Hawtrey and hope to bring Hawtrey's unduly neglected contributions to the attention of a wider audience.

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