The following was written by Convention of States co-founder Michael Farris, and is the seventh in his recent series on constitutional philosophy. Click here for Part I, here for Part II, here for Part III, here for Part IV, here for Part V, and here for Part VI.
In one of the best known scenes in all of literature, Juliette cries out, “Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
Romeo was hiding in the bushes. Why didn’t he answer? His love was asking where he was. If he had spoken up, he would have talked to Juliette and they would have worked everything out. Better for them. But a boring story.
But in reality Juliette was not saying “Where are you, dude?” In Shakespeare’s day, “wherefore” meant “why”. She was asking, “Why did I fall in love with Romeo?” Out of all the guys in town, she fell for the enemy of her family and she was in anguish over the conflict.
Romeo wisely stayed hidden in the bushes.
Your understanding of this scene changes completely when you know the original meaning of the word “wherefore.”
The same thing is true of the Commerce Clause. Today “Commerce” means “economic activity.” In 1789, “Commerce” meant “shipping stuff.”
Congress was not given the power to regulate banking, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, or any other kind of economic activity. Congress has the power to regulate shipping stuff.
The goal of the Commerce Clause was to give Congress the exclusive power to regulate shipping so that the states would not erect trade barriers between the states.
But Congress has taken this power to impose minimum wages for babysitters. They’ve banned cheap light bulbs and made us buy these horrible new ones. In short, every congressional economic regulation in this country—except for actual shipping—is unconstitutional.
All of these things can be regulated by the states. And the states have no power to regulate interstate commerce.
Basic banking law is all state law. And decades ago, the states decided it would be good to have a uniform national system. So the states got together and drafted the Uniform Commercial Code—which was then passed by all 50 States.
Banking cannot be interstate commerce because the states can and do regulate it. Since banking CAN be regulated by the states it CANNOT be regulated by Congress.
The banking example reveals that when we need national solutions for economic activity, the states can do it well. It is 50 state laws that make your ATM card work anywhere you go.
If Congress had made the law, the machines wouldn’t work and there would be a withdrawal tax for each transaction.
If states want to encourage jobs, they can do so. If states want to depress the economy with excessive regulation, they can do so.
But the overlay of bad and excessive federal regulation on the economy would totally disappear if we followed the Constitution.
If we want to drain the swamp, the number one place to start is to return to the original meaning of Commerce.
State lawmakers are closer to the people and less dependent on improper incentives from unions and corporations. Many federal regulations are not designed to help the people but are in place to help company A beat company B in some activity.
Winners and losers are chosen daily by the Federal government. Freedom and the people lose when this happens.
The original meaning leads to a more robust economy and less favoritism. And less improper union and corporate investments in federal elections.
Commerce means shipping. That’s it.
There’s only one way to restore the original meaning of the Commerce Clause: a constitutional amendment proposed by a Convention of States.
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