I just recently wrote a post about the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax taking effect. I pointed out what a disastrous year 1913 was for liberty. Aside from the institution of the income tax, we also saw the formation of the Federal Reserve and passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
If you ask the average person on the street, they probably will have no clue what the 17th Amendment is about. If you explained that it changed the way that U.S. senators were elected, then most people would probably admit that they didn’t know there had ever been another method of electing senators.
Unfortunately, this amendment did a lot of damage to the preservation of liberty under the disguise of democracy. Of course, students of liberty understand that democracy and liberty are not the same thing and they don’t go hand-in-hand. In fact, they can often be opposites, as democracy is quite anti-liberty for those who are in the minority.
I have my criticisms of the U.S. Constitution. At the time, it overtook the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution centralized power and in many ways led to the behemoth central state that we have today. But at the same time, the Constitution did have some semblance of logic and rationale to it and there are some mechanisms that at least seemed to attempt to preserve some liberty.
We all know about checks and balances. But this isn’t just the three branches of government keeping tabs on each other. This is the federalist system of having a confederation of states. At one time, it was common to use “United States of America” as plural instead of singular. For example, someone might say that “the United States of America are south of Canada”, instead of “the United States of America is south of Canada”.
Part of the overall system meant having states keep a check on federal power. The Constitution permitted the federal government to collect taxes by apportioning it to the states. In other words, states could be taxed in proportion to their population. This is why an amendment had to be passed to allow for a direct income tax.
The U.S. senators were also a vital part of this system in keeping the federal government in check. Senators were elected by the state legislatures. Therefore, senators served the interests of their own state and their state legislature. It had much less to do with serving their party and serving special interest groups.
If the 17th Amendment had never passed and senators were still chosen by the state legislatures, it is hard to say what things would look like. I don’t pretend that we would have anything close to a perfect world, but perhaps the federal government would have been more limited in its overall growth. It is unlikely that something like Obamacare would have passed if senators were serving the interests of their home state.
Ironically, proponents of the 17th Amendment will say that it is more democratic and that the people have more of a say. But in reality, it is actually almost the opposite. Was a majority clamoring for Obamacare? While I am no fan of democracy, I oftentimes think we would be better off if things actually were more democratic. The politicians only listen to their constituents if the calls are for bigger government. Occasionally they will listen due to overwhelming public pressure, but even that isn’t always the case.
Instead, politicians are listening to the lobbyists and special interest groups. They are usually passing laws that people aren’t clamoring for. Worse, they are passing laws that many people, sometimes even a majority, are firmly against. They are not serving the interests of the people at all.
At this point, I don’t think we should worry about repealing the 17th Amendment. If enough people understood the importance of it, then it wouldn’t need to be done at that point anyway. At this point, we just need more people to withdraw their consent from an overbearing federal government that resembles nothing like it did 100 years ago, at least in terms of size and power.