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Samuel Gregg: Constitutions, Culture, and the Economy

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Writing in Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg notes that while Constitutional law has often been used to shape economies, there are limits to the law’s ability to influence economic culture:

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare sharply reminds us of constitutional law’s significance for economic life. NFIB v. Sebelius, however, is not the first or even the most controversial effort to use constitutional law to shape economies. Both America and European countries have a decades-long history of doing so.

Throughout America, for instance, amendments to state constitutions have been used to cement right-to-work laws in place. Across the Atlantic, European nations such as Germany and Spain have written public debt limits into their constitutions. In 2010, the Nobel Prize economist James Buchanan called for what he described as the “constitutionalization” of money. Ongoing failures to prevent the politicization of monetary policy meant, Buchanan argued, that America’s constitution required amending to bestow genuine independence upon a monetary authority. In Buchanan’s words: “Something analogous to the independent judiciary, under the Supreme Court, seems required—a monetary authority that is independent of politics, but which remains itself bound by the parameters set out in the constitution itself.”

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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