Arnold Kling  

An Economic Bill of Rights

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What should be in it? I think of it as something less than an abstract principle ("everyone has the right to undertake any transaction that does not involve fraud") and something more than a policy proposal. My thinking is that if something were debated and passed through the arduous Constitutional process, it might stick for a while.

Of course, folks on the left could come up with their sort of rights: a right to free health care, a right for everyone to go to college, a right to able to fly by flapping your arms, etc. Fine, let them try to pass those rights.

I am thinking of a bill of rights that would free us from government credentialing systems, unwanted government services, and government price controls. So, some possibilities:

1. A right for a landlord and tenant to agree to a price without government interference.

2. A right for a consumer and a provider to agree on the qualifications of the provider to offer the serviced without government interference.

3. A right for a worker and an employer to agree on wages and benefits without government interference.

4. A right for people to opt out of government programs wherever feasible. It is not feasible to opt out of national defense or the court system, but it is feasible to opt out of government schools and government retirement systems. Governments at all levels must establish reasonable terms that allow people to opt out.

Comments?


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COMMENTS (23 to date)
Keith writes:

How about:

1. The people retain the right to determine the value of all goods and services in United States Dollars.

2. The 16th Amendment is hereby limited. Congress shall tax no more than ten percent of an individual's income or of a firm, business or coporation's profit.

3. Congress shall spend no more than ten percent of the nation's income.

4. Congress shall appropriate no funds to acquire full or partial ownership of a private or public firm, business or corporation. Congress shall appropriate no funds for loans to private or public firms, businesses, or corporations. Congress shall not obligate the United States to gurantee the debts of any private or public firm, business or corporation. Congress shall appropriate no funds to any private or public firm, business or corporation other than for the acquisition of goods and services required for the operation of government.

Darf Ferrara writes:

In terms of judicial rulings it might look something like Lochner vs New York

M.R. Orlowski writes:

I think that opting out of the court system and even national defense is quite feasible for many aspects of those functions of government. In fact, it is already occurring to a large extent. But either way, I might add a few:

The right to trade freely with people of another political jurisdiction as freely as one can trade with members of his own political jurisdiction.

The right to travel anywhere withing the country, without any need for permission from the state. ( In the U.S. we already have this, but for a place like China, they could use it.

Matt writes:

My wording is probably terrible, but...

A right to exchange information by any agreed upon values, regardless of perceived value, through any private media without government interference.

Congress shall make no law pertaining to more than one economic issue. Every economic law shall recieve it's own vote in Congress. Furthermore, no law shall be exceed one hundred pages in length. Every law must be subjected to testing for understanding by median public consumption. (I'm not sure this last part is possible - I haven't really thought it through).

Alan Crowe writes:

Here are four linked principles that are perhaps too abstract:

1)The right of a consumer to "vote with his feet" and take his custom to a different shop or order from a different factory.

2)The right of a worker to "vote with his feet" and go and work for a different employer.

3)The right of a consumer to switch to the other side of the market and open his own shop or factory and try to produce the goods himself.

4)The right of a worker to switch to the other side of the market opening a shop or factory, becoming an employer and taking on employees.

Call these the four limbs of economic freedom. 1&2 are the two foot rights, while 3&4, which require more economic dexterity to exercise, are the two hand rights.

Alex J. writes:

Freedom of association in general (including commercial relations) to be as free as the freedom to choose one's own spouse.

Marriage-state separation: Right to agree on the terms of ones own marriage including committing to binding arbitration instead of family law. Right to make marriage-like contracts even if the parties do not fit the governments standards for what counts as marriage. Right to not recognize a marriage of others, even if declared as such by the government.

Freedom of contract, including freedom to agree not to sue for product liability, discrimination, medical malpractice etc.

Freedom to use the currency of ones own choice.

End civil asset forfeiture.

Right to compensation for regulatory takings, including partial takings and zoning.

Right of the victim to direct the prosecution of criminal cases, if capable, even minors.

If one is legally able to accept a government service en toto (e.g. public schooling), right to accept the service a la carte (e.g. sports, library).

Right of children to choose their own custodian.

Freedom to do anything that a public police officer is free to do, without need of permit or license.

Freedom of ingestion, including recreational drugs and prescription drugs.

Freedom of speech to be extended to include commercial speech. (And political speech for that matter.)

I realize most of those are particularly "economic", but they'd all be steps in the right direction.

Mike writes:

I would add onto number 3 by saying: A right for a worker, regardless of nationality or citizenship, and an employer to agree on wages and benefits without government interference.

I would also add a right to trade freely with all peoples in all nations without government interference (It would be hard to get other governments to stop meddling, but at least ours wouldn't be allowed to).

Also, what about a right to sound money? Any thoughts on that?

Daublin writes:

Neat. Quite a lot that we take for granted would not be the case except for constitutional challenges.

Your first three items have a similar theme that might be possible to combine into a single ammendment. Something like, two parties can contract to any agreement once they have full disclosure of information.

It would have to be fuzzy enough that there is room for courts to work out the fine details. It should be specific enough, though, that any idiot can get the idea of it.

A specific example I'd want on the list is that anyone can buy an appliance or a car no matter the energy efficiency, so long as they are sure they know what they are getting.

MikeP writes:

Congress shall make no law favoring an industry or occupation, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of trade, or of migration; or the right of the people peaceably to incorporate, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Arthur_500 writes:

A Bill of Rights entitles everyone to have opportunity. That opportunity does not guarantee successful outcomes. Any equitable Bill of Rights must recognize the possibility of failure. No Bill of Rights has value without responsibility.

An economic Bill of Rights might allow for the free negotiation between parties. However, when the agreement fails because one party cannot pay then those parties must suffer the consequences. What good is an agreement if the lessee decides they won't move out or the government bails out the lessor? Where is the responsibility?

I should have equal opportunity in this Bill of Rights to capitalize on the failure of this transaction. I might be able to purchase the Lessor. I might be able to lease the property formerly agreed upon by the lessee. I am responsible so why should I be hindered by those who are not?

Alfred Centauri writes:

"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade"

Judge Narragansett

bob writes:

"...a right to free health care, a right for everyone to go to college, a right to able to fly by flapping your arms, etc."

Sorry to bring up a tired cliche, but can we really dismiss the idea that many people will make less than ideal (ie irrational) decisions when given economic freedom? I would gain utility from knowing that health care is provided universally, and I do not think it is stretch to believe that social utility is greater with universal healthcare than without (or am I wrong?).

My point is this: by limiting some economic freedoms it is possible that social welfare increases. Therefore an economic -- or any other -- bill of rights must necessarily limit some economic freedom.

It strikes me that universal health care is completely incompatible with many of the suggestions here. Is any paternalism allowed in an economically free society?

PrometheeFeu writes:

Honestly, I would very much like a freedom of contract constitutional right in exchange for a right to healthcare. The primary problems with right to healthcare is that it is used as justifications for all sorts of interventions. Most notably things such as a fat-tax and heavy regulation of the provision of healthcare. However, if we had a freedom of contract amendment, most of those "problems" go away.

Randy writes:

I like most of the list, but I would not exempt the military or the police/courts. I don't see that either is providing a service that I can afford. For me, paying off the house earlier would be a far better method of obtaining security than is the method of investing in police and military. Political protection, like all other political services, is a luxury to me. I am forced to pay for it instead of paying for my priorities because the powerful want it and because they don't want to pay the full cost of having it.

JoeFromSidney writes:

I would prefer the wording to be more consistent with the existing Bill of Rights: "The government shall make no law interfering with . . ." I don't like the idea of the government"granting" rights. If it comes from the government, it's a privilege (from the Latin for "private law"), not a right.

Pandaemoni writes:

I'm curious, would the economic bill of rights include the right of a consumer to sue a business and its officers/owners (who either caused the consumer injury or failed to perform as agreed) *without* the government imposing "limited liability" in favor of the managers and equity holders?

I could imagine both libertarians and liberals backing that idea, and my initial reaction to it is curiously negative.

Becky Hargrove writes:

The right to economic access through the course of our lifetimes, in which we validate our own skills and abilities, and the skills and abilities of others.

The right to structure our educations based on what we would willingly provide for one another.

The right to individually determine multiple perimeters of economic production and consumption, in which we structure our economic environments based both upon our access to money and the degree to which we can utilize our own skills.

James C writes:

im disappointed no one has mentioned protections against eminent domain. i consider it the second most important economic right after voluntary exchange of goods and services. one of the most repulsive actions that governments at all levels repeatedly take. bureaucrats driving people out of their homes, then having them demolished with condos being rebuilt on top of them for the profit of real estate developers who are coincidentally also part of their political contributors. its one of the most blatant attacks on the poor and middle class, yet it hardly ever gets press coverage, although Susette Kelo is having a Lifetime movie being made about her.

ZG writes:

How about the right not to be effect by externalities imposed by third parties?

Ignacio writes:

In Chile we have (some of) those rights enshrined in our constitution. There is an explicit right to engage in any legal activity (and if it is illegal, it is illegal for everyone, including the government); there is a right to work that prevents regulation from requiring unnecessary licensing (doctors, lawyers, etc. are allowed, but not for activities that do not pose threat to third parties) or membership in a union; protection of property rights prevent the government from setting prices (it is considered "taking"); and the government may only engage in a business activity with congressional authorization that must pass with a high margin, and then it must be subject to the same laws as everyone else, unless expressly authorized by another law passed by a hgh margin. Foreigneirs receive national treatment (with very minor exceptions).

In general, it works well, although it is not perfect. There is still room for improvement.

Ignacio writes:

Continuing my previous post, I think I should refer to certain provisions in our constitution that greatly reduce the influence of businesses and unions in the government, which -in turn- reduces government intervention in the economy.

In Chile, in addition to line-item-veto, the President is the only one who can initiate a bill that involves spending or taxes. This means that neither senators nor congresspeople may introduce bills ordering "bridges to nowhere", mandating the armed forces to commission weapons they do not need or propose tax breaks for their donors.
Also, we have a "long term balance budget" rule that prevents excessive government spending that will lead to future taxes.

The fact that the president is the one that gets credit or blame for the economic conditions of the country, plus the constrains described in my previous post, we find that in Chile the government intervention in the economy is much lower than the US and other countries with mixed economies.

Roger writes:

The original four Arnold suggests are a great start. I especially like the dynamic that number 4 will create. The right of opt outs will lead to subsidiarity and options within programs and will quickly reveal unsustainable shell games.

Lori writes:

In abstract principle, I agree with your non-interference doctrine. In practice, my allegiance is with tenants/consumers/workers, if nothing else, because they're more likely than landlords/providers/employers to be individuals. Well, tenants are probably equally likely to be institutions, maybe more likely given the tax breaks for homeowners, so I'll qualify that category as "residential tenants." Individualism as I understand it has as much to do with siding with individuals vs. institutions as with siding with the private sector as a whole.

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