Russ Roberts: this particular day is July 27, 2016 and my guest is terrycloth Moe, the wilhelm Bennett Munro Professor that Political science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He has actually written generally on public bureaucracy and the presidency and also his latest book is Relic: exactly how Our constitution Undermines effective Government and also Why We need a more Powerful Presidency.

You are watching: Everything you know about the constitution is wrong

Listen to the Conversation:

So, stop talk about what’s wrong through the Constitution. A the majority of us — myself, I’d have to say I would certainly be in this group — think it’s a pretty an excellent thing. You’re kind of treading on sacred ground here with a pitchfork — i don’t recognize what you want to contact it.

Terry Moe: Well, in a way, it is the point. That is spiritual ground. And also it do not do it be. Ns think there’s a lot in the structure to be admired and also protected. And continued. Wilhelm Howell and also I are large supporters of the Constitution.

But us think it’s very important for world to look in ~ the constitution objectively and also ask: exactly how does it affect governance today? the was composed a little over 225 years earlier by founders who had no idea around the difficulties we would be encountering today and the sort of government that us would have to be responsive in an effective method to those problems. And so they designed a federal government for their times — because that the so late 1700s. For a country of 4 million people, 700,000 of whom to be slaves. Of the free people, 95% to be farmers.

This was a time when government wasn’t meant to do much. And also the founders designed a federal government of separation the powers v a parochial conference at its center that couldn’t do much. And, girlfriend know, that may have been fine because that the so late 1700s, yet it’s not fine for today, as soon as we’re simply awash in problems that must be dealt with.

Russ Roberts: You’re additionally very an important of the founders’ attitudes, and also you suggest, together others have, that perhaps the Constitution no a enjoy on what would make the ideal government, but rather what would make the finest government for world like them — aristocratic, slave-holder, wealthy, upstream folk. Carry out you want to push on that a small bit?

Terry Moe: plenty of different forces entered the design of the Constitution. But I think component of it was their fear of tyranny that the majority. These were essentially aristocrats. They were propertied world who had actually a lot to protect. And they walk not believe that all guys are produced equal.

This to be a country that had many hundreds of thousands of slaves. Ladies couldn’t vote. Lock didn’t think that everyone was same in any sense. They thought that they and people favor them should proceed to control their government. And so what they expected by democracy is really different from what we average by it today, and also how responsive we expect federal government to it is in to the needs and concerned of simple people.

Russ Roberts: ns a tiny ashamed to recognize that, when I read your book, among the points I learned from it — not that ns didn’t literally know, yet didn’t think about it enough — is the the Founders were so passionate to tension the separation of powers that also the legislative branch has actually two pieces. I know there’s a Senate and also House (House of Representatives) — i knew that prior to I review your book. But I constantly just think, ‘Well, we have a Senate and also House.’ I never ever thought about that because that them that was also a method to undermine the strength of the legislature branch also though the was a bulwark against the judiciary and the Presidency.

Terry Moe: having a two-house Congress to be a large part that the separation the powers. The whole allude was to have a number of different veto points the made it an overwhelming for government to act. And also the residence was the home of the people, essentially — the closest come the people. The Senate was fully expected come be dominated by aristocrats — world like them. And also they were favored by state legislatures, no by straight election. And also it was totally expected the they would be a check on the House. And that both the them, of course, would examine the President.

Russ Roberts: and also of food the electoral college was an intermediary between the voice of the people and the election of the President. Again, we simply sort of take that for granted. I’ve frequently thought about the virtues the the electoral college, since in today’s world people space so horrified by it. Yet whether it’s a an excellent thing or not and how it gives incentives come candidates to campaign and acquire paid fist to and also all the — it absolutely was seen by the Founders, you space saying, as a distancing from straight democracy.

Terry Moe: That’s exactly right. It’s a buffer in between the Presidency and also the people.

Russ Roberts: (5:56) What perform you watch as specifically troubling about that? Most world think the those are great things — separation the powers. You are specifically eager come indict in your book the incentives that Congress faces, offered that system.

…the love of their system is Congress. Conference is the lawmaker: Congress makes the laws. But Congress is design by the constitution in such a way that the members of Congress space rooted in your districts and also in your states. And also therefore, they are extremely responsive to the small constituencies and special interest groups that populate those districts and states.

Terry Moe: ns think the heart of their mechanism is Congress. Conference is the lawmaker: Congress renders the laws. Yet Congress is draft by the structure in such a method that the members of Congress are rooted in your districts and in their states. And also therefore, lock are extremely responsive come the narrow constituencies and also special interest groups that populate those districts and states.

And therefore, they are pulled in all these different direction, every of them type of a politics entrepreneur in his or her very own right. And the an outcome is that we have actually this college that is just not designed come think in national terms around national problems and also pursuing nationwide solutions. What they are doing when they space able to make regulation is designing legislation in together a way that the members that the coalition that space going to acquire on board have to be provided something. Right? distinct provisions. For this reason you have all species of distinct interest provisions that pack up all piece of regulation like a Christmas tree through extraneous items the please unique interest groups.

And the an outcome is no actually crafted as the most effective method of addressing social problems, like globalization or persistent poor or health treatment or every little thing the trouble may be. Right? It was true 50 year ago; it was true 100 year ago; the true today: This legislation that we gain is really law that’s weak, larded up through special interest team provisions in stimulate to carry out political reasons for congress to get on board and also not intellectually justifiable content that will provide an effective attack on social problems.

It yes, really goes earlier to the Constitution’s style that renders Congress a parochial body through members rooted in districts and states, that offer them political incentives to design legislation in a method that is not reliable at fixing the nation’s social problems.

Russ Roberts: so if we had actually gone back in time to the moment of the Founders and also said come them, ‘You know, friend are kind of skeptical about the value of direct democracy, however you placed in your system a desire because that members of congress to be responsive to their constituents; and also that’s simply going to bring about trouble,’ what would they have actually said? (I think ns know; i’m curious what girlfriend think.)

Terry Moe: ns think in your view, number one, federal government just wasn’t meant to do really much. This to be a very rural nation of just 4 million people. And also so castle felt that through the separation of powers design in i beg your pardon aristocrats played a major role —

Russ Roberts: We must probably speak to them ‘elites,’ by the way. ‘Aristocrats’ connotes some type of nobility — the Earl that —

Terry Moe: ns don’t think so, actually. I think we did have an aristocracy. These were like huge plantation owners. A an excellent many of the Founders owned slaves. Ten of the very first 12 Presidents were servant owners. We have to remember these things.

So i think they felt the in constructing a separation of strength system, as they had, and also protecting their very own positions, as they had, that any kind of threat of the world rising up and also really dramatically transforming things and also expressing needs for redistribution and the favor — these had been decreased through your design.

Russ Roberts: wouldn’t you speak they would have actually relied ~ above the Constitution itself to restrain some of those urges of the populace — since those would have actually been unconstitutional? If you showed the Founders now what is thought about acceptable legislation, ns think they’d be shocked.

See more: One Of These Is Not Like The Other S Hardcover, One Of These Is Not Like The Others Hardcover

People like me who want a smaller sized government, who want the federal government to be much less involved, we tend to argue for a much more constructionist strategy to the Constitution. I’m willing come concede that that’s a naive form of reform, the idea that we can put the genie back in the bottle I think is a kind of — somewhat akin come what Yuval Levin talks about in The fractured Republic — around misplaced nostalgia that might not use to today’s world.