Sunday, December 15, 2013

Town Hall Author Jack Kerwick Is Still Wrong [UPDATED]


Jack Kerwick, a columnist for Town Hall, has argued that reducing income inequality would necessarily enlarge the federal government and lead to the demise of liberty. I countered his argument by noting that states deal with these matters on their own and through partnerships with the federal government. Thus, social welfare policies, economic rights or positive rights do not inherently transfer all power from the states to the federal government, thus obliterating our constitutional system.

Kerwick has responded to my critique. But, rather than addressing my arguments Kerwick instead devotes attention primarily to issues that are immaterial to my post. Accordingly, his second essay is just as unconvincing as the first.

The only point of substance that Kerwick attempts to address in his second essay is the fact that states and the federal government partner to ameliorate the conditions of inequality. Kerwick says that this is untrue -- not by challenging the claim factually, but by rephrasing the argument using loaded terms. He says that the federal government "bribes and coerces the states to do its bidding." Well, this is preposterous. Perhaps because Kerwick is not a lawyer (I find it amusing that Kerwick tries to malign my argument by stating that it comes from "a professor, mine you, of Constitutional law") he believes that tossing around such legally coded terms as bribery and coercion in an argument regarding law and politics is acceptable. It is not.

Even conservatives on the Supreme Court have not embraced the argument that the Congress's use of the Spending Power is inherently and inevitably coercive upon states. And, clearly, federal spending programs do not constitute bribery -- in the same way that taxing cigarettes does not coerce people to stop the habit and giving mortgage interest deductions does not bribe people into purchasing homes. These programs incentivize certain behaviors and policies, but states do not have to pursue them (just as people do not have to purchase homes or stop smoking as a result of tax policy). The Court has held that Congress cannot conscript state legislatures, but funding a national program -- often demanded by the states themselves -- and allowing state participation and collaboration is neither bribery nor coercion. Just ask Justice Scalia.

Kerwick does not even type one word regarding my discussion of states taking the initiative to reduce income inequality. Historically, states have done so through a number of programs, like funding (even mandating) public education, public higher education, social welfare subsidies, unemployment insurance, old age insurance, police and fire protection, and a numerous other services that only the wealthiest individuals could afford on their own. It is obvious why Kerwick omits this discussion -- because it negates his own uninformed (and ahistorical) position.

The rest of Kerwick's essay focuses on nonsubstantive issues. He quibbles with terminology that is, frankly, irrelevant to my discussion (federal v. nation, inequity v. inequality). If our positions departed on grounds of terminology, then this issue would be pertinent. But since we disagree on larger issues, he wastes time by addressing these concerns. He also wastes time avoiding the substance of my article and instead writing a dissertation against a parade of evils, like the left, redistribution, socialism, "you didn't build that," Obama, and even Elizabeth Warren! Surprisingly, Kerwick doesn't include Pelosi, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and other conventional rightwing conversation-stoppers on his list. Because Kerwick fails to reconcile his argument with a robust history of state involvement in the reduction of economic inequality, he remains wrong.

UPDATE: This article sarcastically expresses my surprise that Kerwick does not include "Pelosi, Marx, Lenin [and] Stalin" on his list of horribles. Perhaps he did not want to preempt Bob Rucho, the North Carolina Republican State Senator who headlines many blogs 12/16/2013. Rucho recently tweeted that "Justice Robert's pen & Obamacare has [sic] done more damage to the USA then [sic] the swords of the Nazis, Soviets & terrorists combined."

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