Monday, July 1, 2013

Meta-EE and the Constitution Part 16: Twentieth Amendment

Rules of order are partially a function of the importance of management. The 20th Amendment is an acknowledgement of the rising influence of the Federal government.

Before 1933, there was a notable interregnum in the US. The lame duck session was longer, travel was slower, and Diebold had yet to invent their fancy countin' machine. Recall that as of '33, the galaxy of DC agencies had a lot fewer stars. There was War, Post Office, Commerce and Labor, State, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, and Labor. Most of the items found on this list did not exist.

With heavier centralized government, flaccid periods work against the interests of rentiers. The decadeuce at least partway throttles that gimp poultry, gamely preserving Capitol Hill elites' grasp on affairs, domestic and foreign.
Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d [sic] day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin. 
Section 2. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d [sic] day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day. 
Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified. 
Section 4. The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them. 
Section 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article. 
Section 6. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
The question then... what effect this language on commerce? There's not that much that's procedural in the Public Choice sense that 'tis the agenda setter upon whom rests the burden of policy choice. Rather, these are more political meta-rules that govern succession. Viewed as a barometer, this amendment suggests a beefier political presence, which careful readers will contrast with the early amendments. The Bill of Rights was meant to constrain abuses that might be wrought by an overactive Crown et Parliament, whereas the second section herein outright requires that Congress meet at least once a year.

Can you imagine a year in which Congress doesn't meet at least once? What would that even look like? More to the point, what would market participants think it would look like?

Pipe dreams aside, pondering this amendment is akin to pondering the role of government at all. Government is coercion, for good, for ill, or for other. This amendment simply tightens down a loose deckplate: it's the rest of the ship that determines whether or not the fleet is used to support the merchant armada. The 20th is meta-euvoluntary insofar as the Legislative and Executive branches so remain.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?