The 17th Amendment: Destroyer of States’ Rights

Article originally written by Ben Hobbs and published in the February 2012 issue of Tea Party Review magazine.
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Since 1913, the United States Constitution has been destroying states’ rights.  While this was not always the case, nor the original intention and text, the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment fundamentally changed the Constitution by removing the states’ ability to protect their rights and privileges at the national level.

At the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, PA, our founders understood that in order to defray government overreach, they must limit and divide power between the national government, the states, and the people.  As noted in the Tenth Amendment:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” – 10th Amendment, United States Constitution

The Tenth Amendment thereby embodies the founders’ intention to ensure that those governments that are closest to the people – the states – would place a check on the power of the national government and promote individual liberty.  If we are to restore our republic and protect the tenth amendment, as the founders intended, the Seventeenth Amendment must be repealed.

Running counter to these intentions, the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 has eroded state power and led, as anticipated at the constitutional convention, to an unchecked national government that threatens our uniquely American way of life.

The framers’ original design for our national legislature was ingenious.  We would have two legislative bodies; the House of Representatives, representing the popular will of the people; and the Senate, representing the interests of state governments.

While the House would strive to consolidate power at the national level by way of simple popular vote, the Senate would strive to decentralize power between the states.  The Senate was thus formed in our national legislature to protect the people of one state against the will of the people in another.  This structure of representation created the constant struggle necessary in government to enumerate the “separation of powers” principle we hold dear.

At the constitutional convention, George Mason declared, “The State Legislatures also ought to have some means of defending themselves against encroachments of the National Government.”[i]

The formation of the Senate is discussed in article 1, section 3 of the Constitution, and reads: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislature thereof….”

The Seventeenth Amendment altered this language to read: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof….” In substituting the words “elected” and “people” for “chosen” and “legislature,” the Seventeenth Amendment threw off the delicate balance of power between the states and the national government.

For the first 125 years of our republic, United States Senators were elected by the state legislatures of their respective states.  Every six years state legislatures would gather and select their envoys to the national government.  This provided the state legislatures with the ability to directly influence the laws, treaties, and judges of the national government.

At the forefront of any state legislator’s concern would be the protection of the powers and self determination of the people in their state.  Because the job of a Senator depended on the election by the state legislature he or she would have the incentive to protect the power of the state legislature.

In the framers design, consider for a moment what may happen if a Senator were to cast a vote in Washington that would increase the power of the federal government at the expense of the state.

A fine example would be the federal government’s takeover of our education system.  It is very unlikely that this Senator would be able to go back to his or her home state and be successfully re-elected after stripping the power of education away from the very state legislature that is charged with electing him.  You could be sure under our framer’s original design of our constitution that the national government would not overstep its bounds of power.

The ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment under the Wilson administration fundamentally altered this relationship between the states and Washington.  When the election of Senators was stripped from state legislators and turned over to the people, state governments lost all ability to protect their local interests from encroachment by the federal government.

Because a Senator’s election no longer depends on state legislatures, Senators need not concern themselves with protecting the laws and powers of their respective state legislatures.  Since passage of the Seventeenth Amendment a Senator’s election merely depends on their ability to meet the whims of public opinion, in much the same manner as any member of the House of Representatives.

Today, under the Seventeenth Amendment, when a Senator casts a vote in Washington that would increase the power of the federal government at the expense of state legislatures, that Senator faces no repercussions.  The state legislature that has been weakened by the Senator’s federal vote has no ability to unseat the Senator.  The protection of states’ rights no longer comes into the consideration of a Senatorial campaign.

As a direct result of the Seventeenth Amendment, states no longer have any ability to participate in the national legislative process and protect state rights.  If Congress proposes a bill that would effectively strip a state of one of its constitutionally reserved powers under the Tenth Amendment, how can a state counteract this?  It cannot.

All fifty states currently claim responsibility and ownership over the issues of education, public safety, employment, healthcare, environmental policy, taxation, marriage, and property.  Yet all of these issues are now increasingly directed and debated out of Washington, DC, not your state capitol.  It is no coincidence that Washington, DC began its exponential growth and indifference to states’ rights following the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.

If the election of senators were once again returned to state legislatures, the longevity of Senate careers would be tethered to their vigilant defense of their state’s interest – rather than to the interest of Washington.

The Seventeenth Amendment’s origin makes it imperative that support for its repeal must come from the grassroots.  Now that the people have the power to elect their Senators, it will require a significant amount of education for people to realize that it is in their best interest to return this power to their state legislatures.  For this reason, the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment and protection of states’ rights deserves the Tea Party’s full attention.

Countless members of the Tea Party have already realized this and have championed the virtues of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.  Some of the most famous champions have included presidential candidate, Ron Paul; Governor Rick Perry; television host, Glen Beck; Alaska senate candidate Joe Miller; Fox news commentator, Judge Napolitano, and Idaho representative Raul Labrador.  As the list of supporters continues to grow these leaders ought to be commended for their public devotion to states’ rights.

When Benjamin Franklin was asked after the constitution convention if a republic or monarchy had been formed, Franklin responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”  Repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment must come to pass in order to restore power to the states and keep our republic.  Though opposition will be obvious, and at times fierce, a grassroots battle for repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment must be waged.


[i] James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1966; reprint ed., U.S., Congress, House, Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States, ed. C.C. Tansill, H. Doc. 398, 69th Cong., 1st sess., [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927]), p. 87.

Go Ahead, "Waste Your Vote!"

“You will be wasting your vote, if you vote for [insert lesser known candidate or third-party]”

You have heard this statement like a broken record every time somebody brings up their support for a lesser known candidate, third-party, or chooses not to vote in an election – but what is the grounding for this statement?

You cannot make a claim that a vote is wasted without first determining the ‘value’ of a vote and the ways in which that value may or may not be ‘wasted’ in the perspective of the holder.  To determine the value of a vote in the eyes of the holder, let us consider all the ways in which it could be used to bring you personal satisfaction.  Quite simply, there are only two options:

Option #1 – You cast your vote and it directly affected the outcome of the election.  Meaning candidate A beat candidate B by one vote (yours).  Having your preferred candidate win the election then gives you personal satisfaction and your vote has value.

Option #2 – You cast your vote and it does not directly affect the outcome of the election but your use of it on a given candidate (or none) simply provides you with the self-satisfaction that you voiced your principles and understanding in the public sphere towards what you think is best for you, your family, community, and country.

In Option #1 it is clear that the chances of you gaining satisfaction through actually determining an election’s outcome is extremely unlikely.  As the saying goes, I’m more likely to be struck by lightning than [fill in the blank].  Option #2, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to provide you with some sort of satisfaction and, in turn, value from your vote.  Considering this, and the need not to ‘waste’ your vote, it seems that Option #2 is the only rational means at achieving any value from your vote.

When you step into any polling place the rational thing to do, if you want to have any sort of value from your vote, is to think and cast your ballot for the candidate (or none) who you believe most aligns with your principles.  In a democracy we ought to celebrate our differences and take pride in expressing them through ballots.

The irony – Those who ‘waste’ their votes by supporting lesser known candidates, third-parties, and nobody, are probably the most likely to gain any sort of personal satisfaction and value from their votes.  Many people have died for your right to vote, so go ahead, “Waste Your Vote!”

Go Ahead, “Waste Your Vote!”

“You will be wasting your vote, if you vote for [insert lesser known candidate or third-party]”

You have heard this statement like a broken record every time somebody brings up their support for a lesser known candidate, third-party, or chooses not to vote in an election – but what is the grounding for this statement?

You cannot make a claim that a vote is wasted without first determining the ‘value’ of a vote and the ways in which that value may or may not be ‘wasted’ in the perspective of the holder.  To determine the value of a vote in the eyes of the holder, let us consider all the ways in which it could be used to bring you personal satisfaction.  Quite simply, there are only two options:

Option #1 – You cast your vote and it directly affected the outcome of the election.  Meaning candidate A beat candidate B by one vote (yours).  Having your preferred candidate win the election then gives you personal satisfaction and your vote has value.

Option #2 – You cast your vote and it does not directly affect the outcome of the election but your use of it on a given candidate (or none) simply provides you with the self-satisfaction that you voiced your principles and understanding in the public sphere towards what you think is best for you, your family, community, and country.

In Option #1 it is clear that the chances of you gaining satisfaction through actually determining an election’s outcome is extremely unlikely.  As the saying goes, I’m more likely to be struck by lightning than [fill in the blank].  Option #2, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to provide you with some sort of satisfaction and, in turn, value from your vote.  Considering this, and the need not to ‘waste’ your vote, it seems that Option #2 is the only rational means at achieving any value from your vote.

When you step into any polling place the rational thing to do, if you want to have any sort of value from your vote, is to think and cast your ballot for the candidate (or none) who you believe most aligns with your principles.  In a democracy we ought to celebrate our differences and take pride in expressing them through ballots.

The irony – Those who ‘waste’ their votes by supporting lesser known candidates, third-parties, and nobody, are probably the most likely to gain any sort of personal satisfaction and value from their votes.  Many people have died for your right to vote, so go ahead, “Waste Your Vote!”

Jay Leno > Fox, CNN, CBS, NBC, and MSN

“Newt wants to bomb Iran and hates puppies” is the type of information and sound bite we hear today from just about every news media outlet. From just this sentence, and other such sin-pits of entertaining political spin, most Americans will base their ballot.

Despite the norm, just the other night I happened across one of the most informative interviews I have seen conducted during this primary cycle. As I have not written and offered up my “Freedom Perspective” in quite a while, due to the holiday festivities and some new projects I have undertaken, I thought this a good time to commend another for some excellent journalism.

Just the other night on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno held an quality, informative, and of course entertaining interview with presidential candidate Ron Paul. Aside from some very curt professional interviews and his own short media ads, Ron Paul and the other candidates rarely get the opportunity to fully explain their positions to voters. We hear it said all the time, “nobody wants to hear a quality unbiased interview, they want to be entertained!” There is no time for long interviews – ratings will plummet!

Well, if the news networks want to entertain us, at least we have the entertainers to inform us. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the presidential candidates and all politicos seeking our votes received an interview like this one?

Thankfully there are glimmers of hope in journalism today, albeit from the traditional entertainers and not the news reporters.

The Super Committee: Failure is an Option

In less than a week, the United States will undergo “draconian” cuts to the federal budget if congress does not act.  On November 23, the so-called super committee must reach a grand compromise finding $1.5 Trillion in deficit reduction.  If they fail to find common ground by the deadline, which is becoming increasingly likely, a default ‘sequester’ will kick in and subject the federal budget to devastating cuts – or so we are told.

The political establishment and media, depicts the default sequester option as ‘horrific’ and ‘savage.’  We are told that the only reasonable thing to do is go along with some sort of tax increase so as to avoid this terrifying spending sequester.  Would a sequester really be as horrific and devastating to our national budget as the media and establishment claim?  Do we have to agree to tax increases this fall in order to save our way of life?

Digging into the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates of the automatic spending reductions that would incur on account of a super committee failure, unveils some very telling numbers.  The CBO estimates that the default sequesters would produce about $1.1 trillion in total budgetary savings between 2013 and 2021.  At the same time, however, our annual budget is estimated to increase by 51%, or $1.9 trillion, between 2013 and 2021.[i]  Additional spending is clearly going to out do any savings over the next ten years from a super committee failure.  Let’s put these numbers in a chart:

Given the spending increases and projected budget outlays over the next ten years, the cuts imposed by a super committee failure hardly deserve the name, draconian.  To the contrary, these cuts represent a negligible start to some much-needed deficit reduction.

Aside from just general cuts to the budget, the main concern for those fearing sequester is its across the board indiscriminate cuts.  True, the default spending cuts that would result from a super committee failure would impose blanket budget cuts on our bureaucracies, entitlement programs, and military – irrespective of programs.  This is an understandable concern, but does not take into consideration the power congress has to change budget outlays.

Blanket 2013 budgeting cuts to bureaucracies, entitlement programs, and the military would merely require congress to sit down and re-evaluate their priorities.  Congress has the ability to re-direct funds from one program to another, if they feel the default cuts were unfair to a specific program.  Would it be such a bad thing to force congress to sort out its priorities, with a little less change in its pockets?

Next week, as we all gather with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday, we can be rest assured that even if the super committee fails to reach compromise, the United States congress will still be spending plenty of money.


[i] Congressional Budget Office, The Budget & Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2013-2021, p15.

Campaign Spending and Lobbying: Treat the Cause, not the Symptom

There is a difference between treating a symptom and treating the cause of an ailment.  It is rather counter-productive to take cold medications but continue to leave your coat in the closet during January.  If one is obese and undergoes liposuction but does not thereafter change their diet, liposuction becomes a rather expensive and ineffective solution to obesity.  The same principle applies to dealing with the issue of runaway campaign spending and lobbying expenditures.  To curtail these practices we must not waste time on their symptoms but address their cause, the size and growth of government.

By all observations the amount of money spent on elections in the United States is skyrocketing.  The upcoming 2012 election cycle is predicted to break all former records and reach a spending level of $6 billion.  In addition there is also the egregious growth in campaign spending by unaffiliated outside organizations that reached $290 million in 2010.

Beyond the enormous amount of cash and resources spent on political campaigns there is also the backdoor flow of money through political lobbying.  Between 1998 and 2010, special interests in Washington, DC increased lobbying expenditures by a shocking 144%.  In 2010 a full $3.5 billion, more than half the amount spent on elections, was spent to directly influence government through lobbying.

The organization Economy In Crisis is not alone claiming that the growth in campaign spending and lobbying efforts is our undermining our democracy.  Politicians’ need to raise vast sums of money and thus appease the requests of their donors is eroding the power of the individual citizen in our legislative, and even regulatory, process.

The common and misguided reaction to this growth of campaign expenditures and lobbying practices is that we need more laws, rules, and regulations to curb these practices.  The problem is that these calls for ‘reform’ confuse and attempt to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of growing campaign spending and lobbying.

The direct cause for the observed growth in campaign spending and lobbying is the growth of government.  Taxes, subsidies, and regulations have increased the ambit of government at all levels of society and the economy.  When government activity expands to new areas, corporations, unions, organizations, and individuals all attempt to influence government to both advance their cause and protect their interests.

When the United States government spends nearly $31,000 per household per year, 40% of GDP, it is no wonder that organizations will want to find every means possible to help influence where and how this money is being spent.  On the flip side, since 1965 we have seen more than a 100% increase in the amount of money the government takes from its citizens through taxes.  In regards to the regulatory state, as I mentioned in “Permission to Work, Please?,” one fifth of jobs in the United States now require a government issued license.

Is it any surprise that special interests are spending billions of dollars each year to affect the functioning of our government?  The business stakes are just too high for organizations not to protect themselves from the tax code, gain access to subsidies, and have an arm in the regulatory functions of government.

Limits on campaign spending and lobbying regulations will be futile in the end if we do not treat the cause of these practices, the growing size and scope of our government.

We hear it told that the increase in campaign spending and lobbying is destroying and undermining our democracy.  If we look a little closer, however, we see that it is actually the growth of government that is driving the erosion of our sacred democracy.

For more information on this topic, and some professional scholarship, I invite you to read “A Simple Explanation for Why Campaign Expenditures are Increasing: The Government is Getting Bigger” by John R. Lott Jr. (Yale University) in the Journal of Law and Economics.

Economic Hip-hop

John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek, are probably two names that do not immediately jump to mind when thinking of the top hip-hop music videos today.  The discussion of Keynesian economic policy and its Austrian Economic critique is often relegated to the halls of academia and perhaps a brief word from the political stump.

No more! In 2010, economist Russ Roberts of George Mason University and former MTV producer, John Papola, filmed and produced the hip-hop video “Fear the Boom & Bust” starring John Maynard Keynes and FA Hayek.  In just over one year this video has blown up on YouTube with over 2,800,000 views.  Struck by the overwhelming success of Mr. Keynes and Mr. Hayek rapping about the causes of the financial meltdown, Roberts and Papola have released a ‘sequel’ video “Fight of the Century.”  The sequel video features the two economists testifying in congress (a boxing ring) on the current government bailout and stimulus packages.  See what happens in the two videos:

Fear the Boom and Bust:

Fight of the Century:

Now, while these videos certainly cannot compare with the many insightful videos coming out of studios today, they certainly do combine some witty lyrics, a ‘dope’ beat, and some catchy cinematography to illustrate the differences between Keynesian & Austrian economic theories. Did you ever think terms such as liquidity trap, interest rates, inflation, bailouts, multiplier effect, or market coordination of time preferences could sound so catchy that your eyes didn’t glaze over like in Econ 101?  Perhaps it is Keynes’ repeated references to animal spirits that makes this video a bit more “main stream” with today’s hip-hop content.

For those of you who don’t appreciate a good dose of hip-hop in economics or some economics infiltrating your YouTube channel, a new book outlining the personal and professional clash between Keynes and Hayek has just hit store shelves.  Keynes & Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott.