Justice Roberts Disses Economists

Josh Wright —  28 June 2012

I’ve got nothing to add on the substantive merits of today’s big decision – but the following line got my attention:

To an economist, perhaps, there is no difference between activity and inactivity; both have measurable economic effects on commerce. But the distinction between doing something and doing nothing would not have been lost on the Framers, who were “practical statesmen,” not meta- physical philosophers.

That is all.

(HT: David Schleicher)

4 responses to Justice Roberts Disses Economists

    Andrew_M_Garland 28 June 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Why can’t the government now enact the “Tax Over All”: Each citizen or resident of the US shall be liable for a tax each year equal to his total income, unless he shall promptly do each and every thing that the Federal Government requires him to do. This is merely a tax, for which the government grants a means for reduction, should the citizen or resident wish to avail himself of the exemption.

    We are now declared serfs under a totalitarian government. It only remains for our government to explore the many areas which it wants to enforce compliance.

    Some argue that the SC merely ruled that a political decision be decided by politics rather than law.

    This is actually a disaster. Deciding “politics by politics” assigns zero relevance to law. People respect “the law” and look to SC decisions for a learned opinion of what is allowed to our government from the start. Now, everything is allowed.

    We are left with the ability to elect the dictators over us, who will have total power until we elect the next dictators. This will go on while elections are permitted.

    Under an all-powerful state you are as secure as the political faction you belong to. The Supreme Court has removed itself from relevence, and politics is now everything. It seems that the Constitution limits government, except in any area which is examined by the SC.

    The “Do the Right Thing” Bill
    Future news:

    “Do The Right Thing” will give us open, consistent, dynamic government. It grants President Michelle Obama (now in her 3rd term in office) all principles and powers to consider all matters and then “Do the right thing”. The Congress retains the important function of advising on the President’s actions should she desire this.

    The Congress is now free to do what it does best, arrange for hospital admissions, allocate liquor licenses, and grant carbohydrate waivers to restaurants.

    Michael Sykuta 28 June 2012 at 10:36 am

    Also from Chief Justice Roberts:

    Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.

    Yet, ruling that Congress has the power to tax people for doing nothing does not open a potentially vast domain of congressional authority? Given our Framer’s plain thinking about the difference between activity and inactivity, how do you think they would react to the notion of taxing people for doing nothing?


      It seems to me like he verified that pigouvian taxes are indeed constitutional. Which, thinking of all the sin taxes, energy star style tax incentives and cap and trade programs for things like sulfur dioxide, that’s neither surprising nor particularly expansive for government power. Admittedly I haven’t read the actual decision, just the syllabus.


    Just out of not entirely idle curiosity, does anyone know of someone who (a) thinks the government should expand its role in health care but that the ACA is unconstitutional, or (b) thinks the government should reduce its role in health care but that the ACA is constitutional? I wonder not just because of what some have called Chief Justice Roberts’s “civics lesson” at the start of his opinion, but from wondering iin general what the role of economics should be if the Supreme Court isn’t supposed to be just Congress 2.0, e.g., a policy making body to take a second crack to change what Congress 1.0 did.

    That question posed, I have wondered whether the “mandate” would’ve been constitutional had Congress 1.0 passed tax-supported single-payer health insurance. If not, would that mean Social Security and Medicare are similarly unconstitutional? I haven’t read the opinion, but I can imagine the Chief Justice having wrestled with that question to have arrived at the “power to tax” rationale even if the ACA is impermissible under the Commerce Clause. I would hope the other justices would have thought about that as well.