Thursday, March 12, 2015

America’s Kingly Constitution

In January the Heritage Foundation released its annual Index of Economic Freedom. The ranking did not reflect well upon the U.S. government: “The land of the free” once again found itself well down the list in terms of the most basic liberty, the right to earn a living. As Heritage explains, “Policies that promote freedom, whether through improvements in the rule of law, the promotion of competition and openness, or suitable restraints on the size and economic reach of government, turn out in practice to advance practical solutions to a wide range of economic and social challenges.” On the other hand, policies that don’t, don’t.

One might think that freer societies would also suffer from various social pathologies: in the absence of government interventions, surely the poor would suffer and minorities would lag. Yet the 11 countries above the U.S.A on the list include such notably prosperous ones as Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia—none of which has the aforementioned pathologies in notably greater abundance than does America.

In short, freedom works. So why doesn’t the U.S. have more of it?

Comes George Mason School of Law’s F.H. Buckley with an answer: the United States Constitution. The federal charter, he argues in his bracing new book, is the main reason that America is notably less free than the other chief Anglophone former colonies of Britain. It is also the reason, he explains at length, why the trends all point not toward American convergence with freer countries but toward assimilation of the U.S. to the condition of other countries with presidential rather than parliamentary governments.

One might have thought that someone would write such a study sooner. After all, the obvious distinction between the American model of government and the ones further up the Heritage list—as well as other lists ranking governments by various measures of freedom—is that America’s federal Constitution established a presidential government, while freer countries tend to have parliamentary systems. To my knowledge, however, none did.

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