John Hood has a compelling piece in this week’s National Review, arguing that governors should “Say No to Medicaid Expansion.” Even though Obamacare offers states a 100 percent reimbursement rate for newly eligible enrollees, states are rightly nervous about getting stuck with hidden costs:
The irreplaceable George Will has a hilarious column in today’s Washington Post, describing California’s high-speed train foibles. A “bullet train” route is eventually supposed to run from Los Angeles north through the Central Valley and then Bay Area places like Atherton all the way to San Francisco, at a price that’s been estimated as high as $100 billion. For now, they’re trying to build a first segment to connect places like Fresno and Bakersfield, with the help of a $3.3 billion federal grant.
We live under a Constitution of Affluence. Obviously, I don’t mean a constitution that produces affluence. (Prosperity may be right around the corner, but it’s the corner behind us.) I mean a Constitution whose basic institutions presuppose and depend on high levels of affluence and, equally important, public expectations that life will get better and richer.
The United States Constitution—the formal Constitution and its nineteenth-century arrangements—is (or was) not a Constitution of Affluence in the sense just explained. It sought to create conditions that would be conducive to rising prosperity—principally, by way of ensuring political stability, meaning institutional arrangements that would let citizens go about their business without constant fear that somebody, someplace might confiscate the proceeds. But it was supposed to work, and it did work, even in times of prolonged economic stress—in one of those “varying crises of human affairs,” as John Marshall might have said and in fact did say.
The first big step toward a Constitution of Affluence was the New Deal. In ways and for reasons discussed below, the New Deal Constitution’s characteristic arrangements—administrative agencies, “cooperative” federalism, industry cartels, modest social programs, extreme judicial deference to “economic” legislation—all depend on an expectation of sustained economic growth. However, the New Deal Constitution still reflected a recognition that rising affluence required private production. Thus, the New Deal Constitution still embodied limits—not so much formal, judicially enforced limits, but institutionally enforced limits: not everything can be up for grabs.
Our Constitution of Affluence recognizes no such limits. Its central premise is that everything must be up for grabs, and it has built institutions to ensure unceasing progress to that end. Its tragedy is that it will eventually undermine the affluence on which it rests. Our affluence has ended, and so will our present constitutional arrangements. The only question is how.
Very soon, quite probably within a decade, we will confront a constitutional collapse. Unless we revamp the constitutional order in major respects, it will simply seize up or keel over (pick your metaphor)—in what way and with what consequences, no one can say. By “Constitution”, I do not mean the formal, written Constitution, which will survive for the foreseeable future. Rather, I mean what scholars sometimes call the “small-c constitution.” It encompasses, in addition to the formal arrangements, institutional patterns and practices that are (1) longstanding; (2) central to the political system’s operation; and (3) too entrenched to be broken by…