A constitution defines the architecture of a society. In the American case, the constitution is over 200 years old, the oldest constitution of any advanced nation. Nations much older than the US have newer constitutions. Why? Because they have rewritten their constitutions - some of them multiple times. Yet in the US the Constitution is taken as something written in stone; it's considered to be irrevocable, eternal, irreproachable, unchangeable. It is given the status of a divine oracle. It is nothing of the sort. It is a remarkable document taking into account the best thinking of the Enlightenment which took place hundreds of years ago. But to assert that it couldn't be rewritten to come up with improvements based on the fact that the world is a much different place today than it was 200 years ago is a form of lunacy and intellectual backwardness.
What should be happening is that the US Constitution should be gone over line by line with the intent to come up with a document far better suited to the 21st century than the present document is, and this should be done by people far more knowledgable and far better suited to the task than I am, people who have studied the constitutions of other countries, people who are well versed in the law, people who have original ideas, people who have taken into account criticism of the US Constitution as it is written now. Even though there is a provision for amending the present constitution, it might be better to scrap it and start over with a whole new document. Alternative constitutions should be written even without the notion that they might ever be implemented just for the exercise of proposing something better than what we have today. This would be a good project for graduate students or even high school seniors. To many people the idea of an alternative constitution may be heresy just as the idea that every word of the Bible may not have been dictated by God is heresy or treason. Rather than view the US Constitution or any constitution as a document revealed from on high or set in stone, it should be viewed as a working document intended to bring about the best results based on philosophical principles and practical results.
It is not hard to see that our present political system is not working for the following reasons: 1) Money is corrupting politics both in terms of campaign financing and in terms of lobbying activities. The Supreme Court Citizens United decision puts money in politics on steroids. 2) The electoral college and winner take all system prevent politicians from being elected on the principle of one person, one vote. 3) The first past the post voting system is antiquated compared with proportional representation and range voting. 4) Divided government does not work; the filibuster can kill any legislative proposal. 5) The majority of the Supreme Court can strike down any legislation it doesn't agree with based on their personal political belief system. In short the bicameral legislature, the executive branch and the judicial branch are all in need of major rethinking and revising. The current system produces nothing but gridlock unless one party controls all three branches of government. The Affordable Care Act popularly known as Obamacare barely escaped the filibuster to pass both Houses of Congress and to be signed into law by Obama. However, now it looks like it will not escape the Supreme Court which will most likely overrule it. Some of the conservative members of the Court like Scalia and Thomas look like political hacks who will vote their conservatives biases without any pretense of being impartial interpreters of the Constitution and without any respect for historical precedent.
I am no expert. Neither have I studied line by line our current constitution or the constitutions of other countries. Nor am I a legal scholar. This blog is a call for those who are so inclined to contribute the benefits of their thinking in this regard and their work will be published here if it is deemed to be in a constructive vein and appropriate. However, off the top of my head here are some of the things I would change. The First Amendment - Free Speech - needs to be changed to not allow lying to the public either in terms of political ads and TV and radio talk shows in which lies are protected by the First Amendment or in terms of commercial ads in which lying is protected by the First Amendment. Lying should not be protected speech. Neither should money be considered protected free speech. There is no level playing field when those with money can get their viewpoints across and those without money have no voice in the political arena. Negative attack ads have degraded the political process and have little if any redeeming social value. Hucksterism runs rampant with little if any protection of the consuming public except caveat emptor or buyer beware.
The first past the post, winner take all voting system which makes anything other than a two party political system unworkable and unfeasible, should be scrapped in favor of range voting or proportional representation which would lead to a multi-party system in which minority viewpoints would be better represented. Economic rights as well as political rights should be spelled out as they were in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The present US constitution has nothing to say about economic rights at all. As it is in most countries, health care as well as public education should be a right. There should be a right to minimal levels of food and shelter for those who for whatever reason are unable to provide a minimally decent level of economic well-being for themselves.
Here are Articles 26 and 27:
- (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
- (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
- (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Any constitution incorporates the philosophical principles of freedom and equality in various degrees since total freedom and total equality are antithetical and cannot be incorporated in the same constitution. The exact blend of these two principles should be fashioned in such a way as to give each citizen as much freedom as possible consistent with the principle that "we are all in this together." The social Darwinism of the present day Republican party should be repudiated.
It should be mandatory to study the constitutions of the major countries in the world today. For instance take China. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China contains a lot of very interesting and informative stuff. People should read it. It deserves much study. A cursory reading which is all I have time for right now reveals much which contradicts the prevailing ignorant notions about China which American politicians bandy about. For one thing China has a combination of collectivist or state run enterprises and individually oriented or private enterprise. They seemed to have tweaked this arrangement to maximize the best results from each sector as is evidenced by their rapid economic growth and their being on track to becoming the world's largest economy very soon. China also has the traditional three branches of government - executive, legislative and judicial - although the power distribution among these three branches probably favors the executive over the other two branches with the result that they don't experience the gridlock that the current US system produces.
China guarantees more individual rights, including economic rights, in their constitution than the US does although there probably is a gap between the ideal and the real on many levels just as there is in every other country. In other words what is specified on paper does not always represent the reality as practiced, but rather an ideal to be striven for. The Preamble is a bunch of claptrap about socialism and communism that is much outdated compared to the reality on the ground in China today. In fact the first amendment to the Chinese constitution softens the emphasis on collectivist enterprise considerably:
(Approved on April 12, 1988, by the 7th NPC at its 1st Session)
1. Article 11 of the Constitution shall include a new paragraph which reads: "The State permits the private sector of the economy to exist and develop within the limits prescribed by law. The private sector of the economy is a complement to the socialist public economy. The State protects the lawful rights and interests of the private sector of the economy, and exercises guidance, supervision and control over the private sector of the economy."
2. The fourth paragraph of Article 10 of the Constitution, which provides that "no organization or individual may appropriate, buy, sell or lease land or otherwise engage in the transfer of land by unlawful means," shall be amended as: "no organization or individual may appropriate, buy, sell or otherwise engage in the transfer of land by unlawful means. The right to the use of land may be transferred according to law."
Here is Article 11:
Article 11. The individual economy of urban and rural working people, operated within the limits prescribed by law, is a complement to the socialist public economy. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the individual economy. The state guides, helps and supervises the individual economy by exercising administrative control.
One thing I noticed in the Chinese Constitution is that the word "love" was mentioned: "The state advocates the civic virtues of love for the motherland, for the people [!], for labour, for science and for socialism;" I doubt if this word has been much used in any other constitution surely not in the US one. Perhaps verbiage such as "Fellow citizens should strive to love one another in the spirit that we are all in this together" should be added to any new constitution to ameleriorate the selfish sentiment that "the pursuit of [individual] happiness" (which comes from the Declaration of Independence) connotes. I would like to follow up this blog with a much more detailed analysis of the Chinese constitution as well as of other constitrutions. The German and French constitutions should also be very interesting to study. I invite other independent scholars to do the same and to submit their writings to this blog. The internet makes this kind of research possible. Thank God!
Finally, as an initial step to define a society which actually works on behalf of its people instead of one that only works for the upper 1%, I would suggest the following. I envision a three tier economic system. First, the minimal commanding heights of the economy, namely, the energy and banking sectors should be publicly owned. This would eliminate the scams, the financialization, the speculation, the boom and bust cycles, the financial meltdowns and the exploitation of consumers which the current system has amply and recently demonstrated. It would eliminate speculation in oil and other commodities which has driven up gas prices and threatens to drive the whole economy into another recession or worse. The current high gas prices are caused to a large extent by speculation in the commodities markets. According to Senator Bernie Sanders, 80% of the futures contracts for oil are owned by Wall Street banks. The solution is to get out of the "world oil market" to the greatest extent possible as China is evidently doing by making country to country deals which bypass the market. China's oil-for-loan deals with Venezuela and other countries effectively bypass the world oil market entirely and they also control prices at the pump.
In the US on the other hand, US taxpayers practically give away a resource they technically own (oil) to the big oil companies who then price the oil sold back to consumers on the world oil market which allows a "speculation" tax to be added to each gallon at the pump as Senator Bernie Sanders has pointed out. Norway charges oil companies a 50% royalty on oil extracted from its country which goes into a fund that provides pensions for old people. Still Norway relinquishes control over the price of oil once the royalty has been paid letting the price at the pump be set by the world oil market. This in my opinion is a big mistake. They should reserve enough oil for domestic consumption at a reduced price and then let the excess be sold abroad on the oil market thus reducing prices at the Norwegian pump. The US taxpayers/citizens neither receive much of a royalty for oil extraction nor do they control the price at the pump for domestic production/consumption making up the difference with purchases on the world oil market over which, of course, they have no control.
Secondly, the middle tier would consist of an entrepreneurial sector in which entrepreneurs are given free rein to innovate and develop new products and procedures and to accelerate technological progress. This sector would be supported by venture capital provided by the state as well as private capital. By encouraging this sector the best aspects of the free enterprise system are actually incorporated into the overall system and entrepreneurs are amply rewarded within limits. It is anticipated that individual ownership of patents, and other intellectual property such as trademarks and trade secrets will cease at some point just as they do in present day America. When production has reached the stage of commodification, when innovation has ceased, the production process should be turned over to the third tier, worker/consumer owned enterprises in which workers, not investors, are the primary stakeholders who democratically determine how the enterprises are to be run. In other words they sit on the Board of Directors as workers, consumers and owners. The transfer of property from the entrepreneur owned free market which might be set up much as corporate enterprises are set up today, in other words a top down distatorship, to worker/consumer owned enterprises should be overseen by the government to insure an orderly transition. Shareholders and stakeholders in the original company could be bought out (compensated) by government.
The first tier is somewhat similar but obviously not identical to the Chinese system. The second tier is somewhat similar but not identical to the American capitalist system. The third tier would be the enterprise level in which mature industries would be cooperatively run in accordance with the principles of economic democracy. In other words the workers would own and benefit from the products and services they produce, and enterprises would not be owned by shareholders who are mererly investors with no day to day role in production. These enterprises would be similar to Mondragon, a Spanish cooperatively owned and run enterprise. According to Wikipedia: "Currently it is the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of asset turnover and the leading business group in the Basque Country. At the end of 2010 it was providing employment for 83,859 people working in 256 companies in four areas of activity: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge. The MONDRAGON Co-operatives operate in accordance with a business model based on People and the Sovereignty of Labour, which has made it possible to develop highly participative companies rooted in solidarity, with a strong social dimension but without neglecting business excellence. The Co-operatives are owned by their worker-members and power is based on the principle of one person, one vote."
As envisioned, these enterprises would eliminate exploitation of workers, and workers could look forward to control over their own time and energy using a system such as Preferensism that I have developed. Workers could set up their own time schedules and pay preferences within reason and considering the demands of co-workers. A safety net would protect workers at this level in case of illness, disability and old age. The resulting wealth coming from the advancement of technology is, therefore, effectively shared. This third tier concept is significantly different from what exists in China at the present time since they allow child labor and all sorts of workplace exploitation as has been reported at Foxconn which produces Apple ipods and other tech devices. China has allowed their free enterprise or entrepreneurial sector to run rough shod over their sector of production workers and their socialist principles which preclude exploitation of workers. This has also produced many Chinese billionaires and has done a lot to grow economic development and GNP at the expense of run of the mill production workers.
What I am proposing is a free wheeling entrepreneurial sector combined with a worker owned, cooperative production sector combined with public control of the minimal commanding heights of the economy including the banking and energy sectors. This is an initial top of my head approach to defining part of what should be included in the economic aspects of a new constitution. It is by no means a definitive or final version nor have I gone into detail here regarding the definition of the political system or individual rights. These have only been hinted at at best in this initial article on societal architecture.
California Free Press