October 8th, 2007

General Welfare

photo credit: melissanikol

One of the most misunderstood and misapplied clauses in the Constitution is found in the preamble, which states that the Constitution was ordained and established “in Order to … promote the general Welfare”.

What is general welfare? What does this phrase empower the government to do? Has the interpretation of this phrase changed since the era of the Founders?

The phrase, proposed by Benjamin Franklin to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, was originally implemented in the Articles of Confederation, as follows:

The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare…

While such a stipulation was provided, the government was not given power to raise funds to actually secure the general welfare, and thus the provision lacked power and funding. And so, when the Constitution was created, Congress was given power in Article I Section 8 to raise funds for such a purpose:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to … provide for the … general Welfare of the United States.

To understand the phrase better, it is also important to define the word using the vernacular of the time. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary lists two definitions for welfare: one to be applied to persons, and one to states (political bodies). As the Constitution was written to list the government’s powers and restrictions, the definition for states must be used, which reads:

Exemption from any unusual evil or calamity; the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, or the ordinary blessings of society and civil government.

Note that the definition closely links welfare to protection (from unusual evil or calamity) and security (peace and prosperity). This stands in contrast with the current definition according to Webster’s dictionary:

Aid in the form of money or necessities for those in need; an agency or program through which such aid is distributed.

The difference between the two definitions is striking; indeed, they are wholly disparate. This etymological evolution was commented on by Noah Webster himself (the man responsible for the 1828 dictionary):

In the lapse of two or three centuries, changes have taken place which, in particular passages, … obscure the sense of the original languages…. The effect of these changes is that some words are not understood … and being now used in a sense different from that which they had … present wrong signification of the false ideas. Whenever words are understood in a sense different from that which they had when introduced… mistakes may be very injurious. (Noah Webster, via Quoty)

Once the original intent and definition of the “general welfare” clause is understood, it is important to observe how the phrase can be Constitutionally implemented. James Madison commented on this as follows:

Money cannot be applied to the General Welfare, otherwise than by an application of it to some particular measure conducive to the General Welfare. Whenever, therefore, money has been raised by the General Authority, and is to be applied to a particular measure, a question arises whether the particular measure be within the enumerated authorities vested in Congress. If it be, the money requisite for it may be applied to it; if it be not, no such application can be made. (James Madison, via Quoty)

Madison here refers to the enumeration of powers, the specific list of items stated in the Constitution for which the government is given authority. All other powers not mentioned are denied to the government, as the tenth amendment declares:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

And so, Madison here clarifies that the “general welfare” clause holds no power outside of the specific items government is given power, in the Constitution, to control and regulate. Thomas Jefferson likewise agreed:

[O]ur tenet ever was, and, indeed, it is almost the only landmark which now divides the federalists from the republicans, that Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were to those specifically enumerated; and that, as it was never meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money. (Thomas Jefferson, via Quoty)

The government, then, is not authorized to collect taxes nor enforce the redistribution of wealth (when applied to the modern definition of “welfare”) unless the object of their desire is found in the powers enumerated unto them. Such limited powers is a hallmark of a Republican government, as Madison stated:

If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions. (James Madison, Letter to Edmund Pendleton, January 21, 1792 Madison 1865, I, page 546)

One must always remember that the Constitution was written for our government, and therefore the “general welfare” it refers to is that of the government itself, not of individual citizens. The Founders of this nation never intended for Uncle Sam to become a dole-dishing agent of wealth redistribution, and the fact that our government serves this role today shows how far we have strayed from the object and design of the Constitution.

51 Responses to “General Welfare”

  1. Jay
    October 8, 2007 at 5:37 pm #

    My understanding is that general welfare benefits everyone, equally. That’s why it says, the common defense and general welfare. Food stamps, Medicare, and other similar entitlements are not general welfare, but specific or special welfare. That is not what I believe was the intent of the preamble.

    Since you mentioned the preamble, I believe that what is even more misunderstood, and worse yet, deleted from most texts, is the preamble to the Bill of Rights. None of my children’s school books have had it. Private schools don’t usually teach it. I don’t think that most home schools teach it. More people need to be aware of it and its intent.


  2. Carissa
    October 9, 2007 at 8:37 am #

    Davy Crockett served for nine years in Congress before he was killed at the Alamo in 1836. During the time of his congressional service, there was a fire in Georgetown, which he and many other Congressmen helped to put out. The next day, Congress voted to appropriate $20,000 for the victims who had their homes destroyed. Crockett voted for it but was soon afterward scolded by one of his constituents (Horatio Bunce) for using other people’s money as charity. He challenged Crockett to find where in the constitution Congress was allowed to do this and Crockett admitted he could not find it. He returned to Congress and was faced with another similar situation of giving a substantial sum of money to a widow of a distinguished naval officer who had just died. Crockett took the floor with these remarks:

    “Mr. Speaker, I have as much…sympathy as…any man in the House, but Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money….Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.” Edward S. Ellis, The life of Colonel David Crockett…(Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1884), pp. 138-39.

    The bill was defeated, but none of the Congressmen took Crockett up on his offer. This story reminds me so much of this incident.

  3. Connor
    October 9, 2007 at 8:41 am #


    That’s a great story I love to read repeatedly. The longer version can be found here.

  4. Jay
    October 9, 2007 at 1:24 pm #

    Hi Carissa,

    I’ve been a follower of Ron Paul since 1988 but I had never heard that story about him. Thank you so much! It was great and it reinforces to me what a principled man he is.


  5. Josh Williams
    October 10, 2007 at 1:06 pm #

    I think that “USA” ought to stand for “United Socialist America,” just so there’s no confusion……;-)

  6. Aaron
    November 1, 2007 at 3:26 pm #

    Maybe we can think this way. If today’s Governments have so many problems, maybe it would be best if we just had individual self governance. Meaning with no central government and the only government that is, is yourself. Or, the Common Man helping the Common Man. Think about it , do you really need someone else, other than your concience telling you what to do, when, where and how? Why can’t we ALL live as common human beings that get along with each other. Bam! no boarders, nationalities, flags, nor one being better than the other. I kind of see that concept as the political Kingdom of God on Earth. Isn’t the Kingdom of God a Government? Does this Kingdom have boarders or anything else that separates each other from another? If not, what in the world is the Kingdom of God? Or is it a Kingdom that everyone judges everyone and strict laws are enforced, like going to jail because one drank coffee or got a tatoo? Please someone explain to me how the Kingdom of God is going to be, compared to any Government or Institution that we have upon this Earth.

  7. Ool
    November 2, 2008 at 9:20 am #

    Actually the Kingdom of God is a totalitarian dictatorship, in which the vote of one singular being overrules the vote of all others. Abrahamic mythologies aren’t exactly democratic or based on the idea of balance and limitations of powers of government. Have you ever taken a look at the forms of government in ancient Israel, the late Roman Empire, or Europe during the Dark Ages…?

    > Why can’t we ALL live as common human beings that get along with each other.

    Now that sounds communist…

  8. Connor
    August 11, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    Here’s another congressional ignoramus claiming that the mention of general welfare in the Preamble (of all places!) gives him the authority to do, well, anything that he thinks is for peoples’ welfare…

    AP story here, and personal account of the question here.

    Absolutely ridiculous (though not a surprise).

  9. Carborendum
    August 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    I love how he can’t even remember the words of the Preamble.

    I mean, come on. I may not remember every chapter & verse (excuse me, Article & Section) but at least I remember the words of the Preamble.

    I find it disappointing, absurd, & downright (let me check my thesaurus) perverse that those who have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution should have this much difficulty with what should be known to grammar school children.

    And we’re supposed to accept that not only do they represent us, but the intent of the Constitution?

  10. bbart76
    September 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    Under your argument then it would be necessary to outlaw all guns that were not around when the constitution was signed. If you go back and look at what the authors of the constitution meant when they wrote it, you would see that they didn’t intend that everyone carry a gun with them everywhere they went and that they were referring to muskets. Also, they clearly state that it is for the forming of a militia as a necessity for the security of a free state.

  11. Connor
    September 3, 2009 at 2:51 pm #

    Under your argument then it would be necessary to outlaw all guns that were not around when the constitution was signed.

    That’s a stretch. The Constitution is based on principles, not specific practicalities that only existed at the time it was signed. For example, the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations includes all nations, not just those that existed in 1789.

    …they didn’t intend that everyone carry a gun with them everywhere they went and that they were referring to muskets.

    They were referring to the weapons they had at that time. Muskets was one such option. However, the reference to arms was not further restricted by any other clause as was the general welfare clause, which is constrained by Article I Section 8.

    And yes, people could carry their guns where they pleased; after all, the militia was not an organized force of well-trained soldiers, but a ragtag group of citizens banded together (with their personal weapons as arms) under a common cause.

    Also, they clearly state that it is for the forming of a militia as a necessity for the security of a free state.

    The militia at the time was every able-bodied man, not a government-regulated military force.

  12. Connor
    September 12, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    Another example. Gahh! How ignorant such talking heads are.

    Now the general welfare clause is being used to completely emasculate (or, well, nullify) the tenth amendment? MSNBC is the new Fox News, people (and has been for a long time, of course).

  13. Ool
    September 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm #

    Actually I am with MSNBC guy who is not Keith Olbermann here. The Tenth Amendment does not contradict or cancel out the rights given to Congress by Article One. The Tenth just doesn’t apply to issues such as healthcare if you consider them general welfare, which I think is reasonable to do, considering you don’t generally fare well when you’re gravely ill.

    From what went before what is clear to me that he meant when he said “the Tenth is a bunch of baloney” is that the “Tenthers’” interpretation of it to justify making the government go social Darwinist on people’s butts and ignore their general welfare is baloney.

    Actually that was very considerate to provide the context in which it was said, because on its own and misinterpreted it could have been a rather disagreeable statement…

    Also if “general welfare” applies only to the government, not to the people, as per your interpretation, does that go for the common defense as well, mentioned in the same article? Would it not matter if individual Americans were killed, and enslaved by invaders if only the government itself is safe and sound…?

    Sounds very Vichy France to me, if you ask me…

  14. Connor
    September 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm #

    The Tenth just doesn’t apply to issues such as healthcare if you consider them general welfare, which I think is reasonable to do, considering you don’t generally fare well when you’re gravely ill.

    Try reading the post again; general welfare is only general in the sense that the actions must to go benefit the country at large, and not individual citizens within that country. Also, it is bound down by the enumerated powers.

    It would have been pointless to even enumerate and identify specific powers, if the Founders had instead intended to give a blank check for anything and everything that could be branded as being for the “general welfare”. Under this loose definition, everything would apply, thus invalidating any type of restraint, which is exactly what the Constitution was created for.

    Read the quotes by Madison and Jefferson in the post again — they address this exact issue. (Did you even read the post..?)

    You talk about the general welfare of specific individuals, but I challenge you to find any (any) quote from an individual involved in creating the Constitution that argued that the federal government was being created to benefit people’s individual lives through monetary redistribution and government intervention. Good luck.

    Also if “general welfare” applies only to the government, not to the people, as per your interpretation, does that go for the common defense as well, mentioned in the same article?

    General welfare applies not to the government, but to the nation it governs. It would help to get your terms straight before accusing others of misrepresentation. Just as general welfare (bound down by the enumerated items) was inserted to imply having the federal government pass laws that treated all states equally (i.e. they wouldn’t favor one state, or one company, etc.), so too does the common defense imply protecting the nation as a whole, and not specific or limited parts of it.

  15. Ool
    September 12, 2009 at 11:56 pm #

    General welfare applies not to the government, but to the nation it governs.

    Isn’t that a bit “the collective is everything, the individual is nothing” communist-like? By which standards would you gauge whether the nation is faring well even though its individual citizens may suffer?

    But be that as it may, I think you can make an argument for healthcare and social programs even if you take only the general state of the union into account. All the other developed countries have better systems of providing for their citizens in that manner, and they’re not ailing because of it but prosper rather well, actually, and have done so for decades.

    I mean, I’m German and we have a trade surplus over here, meaning me make more stuff than we consume, even though we have insanely generous labor laws, social laws, and healthcare provisions by your standards. We haven’t been going bankrupt because of them yet and we certainly wouldn’t want to switch with you.

    So even from the “general welfare is for the faceless, abstract nation as a whole only” point of view it would make sense for the government to become more empathetic and giving. It seems to pay off. I mean, the New Deal resulted in decades of unprecedented prosperity for you. Then you got Reaganomics and Bushonomics and conservatism light under Clinton and Neoconservatism, and look where you are today…!

  16. Wesley
    October 25, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    Great post. I’d like to link to this from my own blog. Conservatives need to be well-versed in what the founders actually said and why. We can win on the basis of reason

  17. UtahRattler
    October 26, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Excellent post on the oft misunderstood and very misapplied “general welfare clause”.

    I wish they would still teach Constitutional history in high school. As a society, we have forgotten the our nation’s founding document and the provisions (and founders’ intents) thereof. This blind spot in our national education has led us into many of the problems we face today, including the harm to individual rights and freedoms. We have naively watched as government continues to stray further and further from constitutional constraints.

  18. Alan D. Price, Ph.D.
    November 15, 2009 at 5:58 pm #

    Nice post. I ran across it while researching “general welfare” for my blog. You may be interested since I have linked it to yours.

  19. glenna
    December 18, 2009 at 12:45 am #

    I realize that the constitution establishes that the federal government pays the salaries of the senators and representatives; however a change to the constitution could shift this to the states. Health care and retirement could also shift to the states. I think it something the voters across the nation would support and once and for all they would know who they really work for!

  20. Alan D. Price, Ph.D.
    December 19, 2009 at 1:22 am #

    #19 Glenna, I am for anything that cuts back on the amount of money that we have to cough up into the federal coffers. While we are amending the Constitution, I suggest that we also repeal the amendment that changed selection of senators to a popular vote. Originally, senators were chosen by state governments, a process that prevented the federal legislature from being the product totally of the “dictatorship of the majority.”

    You might be interested in my recent post, “The Folly of Political Myopia,” which appears on my blog, and which you can access by clicking on my name.

  21. CaliforniaGuy
    December 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    Liberal’s strategy: Universal healthcare is a 10-step process. The passing of this bill is the first step. Thus, I don’t care if this bill is acceptable because it is “watered-down.” Don’t give those liberals one inch. They think they are helping the poor, but they’re just stroking their own ego with this bill.

    Those liberals will never understand this truth by Thomas Jefferson:

    “To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”
    – By Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

  22. California Mama Bear
    December 22, 2009 at 8:57 pm #

    In reply to bbart76 #10,

    “We established however some, although not all its [self-government] important principles. The constitutions of most of our States assert, that ALL POWER IS INHERENT IN THE PEOPLE; THAT THEY MAY EXERCISE IT BY THEMSELVES, IN ALL CASES to which they think themselves competent, (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; THAT IT IS THEIR RIGHT AND DUTY TO BE AT ALL TIMES ARMED.” –Thomas Jefferson

  23. Richard Blackmore
    February 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    hello? Article one, section eight. Congress was not only given the power to secure funds for this purpose, but such power for “the general welfare of the united states” is specified in… Artile one, section eight. If one is going to blog about the constiution, please… at least READ it.

  24. Jeffrey T
    February 21, 2010 at 1:31 am #


    Did you read the post, before accusing the author of having not read the Constitution?

  25. Ool
    February 21, 2010 at 4:41 am #

    Yes, actually the whole blog entry is about the article you claim it ignores. That is not its weakness and perversion. Its problem lies in the attempt of loftily, philosophically redefining “general welfare” in a social Darwinist and collectivist manner, ignoring pragmatism and historical evidence that a country tends not to do well unless its people do well, because desperate, destitute people, who feel things are not going their way at all based on established rules and values, tend to try anything new, including rather destructive, cultist forms of government.

    It’s the same kind of blog entry that would have found a way of explaining how equality under the law does not apply to slaves, back in the day, and accusing Abolitionists as being horribly misguided forces of evil.

  26. Jan
    March 11, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Thanks Connor for dissecting the founders’ intentions concerning the “General Welfare” provision in the Constitution.

    Our forefathers didn’t want the United States to become a Nanny state, which it now is and may become even more entrenched if this healthcare bill passes.

    Our forefathers referred to the “general welfare” of the United States as a nation, not for individuals.

    That is why they changed the “Life, liberty and happiness” clause to “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” They felt they cannot nor would they guarantee happiness, only that America provided the opportunity to pursue happiness. It was left up to the individual to obtain happiness.

    This nation is the land of opportunity to people of ambition and industriousness.

    Americans are a charitable people and have always privately taken care of those in need.

  27. Ool
    March 12, 2010 at 3:37 am #

    You are aware, I hope, that it would have been impossible for a gigantic, underpopulated colony such as the ones in America to ever be a nanny state — particularly with the technology available in the late Eighteenth century.

    Giving people enormous freedom to acquire property and fend for themselves reflected the physical reality at the time. Taking possession of something didn’t necessarily mean that you had to take it away from someone — at least once the natives were declared eminent domain on.

    But the more the continent fills up, the more resources are depleted, and the more population levels are reached resembling those of fertile areas of other parts of the world, the more the people who used to be pioneers in the olden days become thieves in today’s conditions.

    So whatever the Founding Fathers may or may not have intended, you can’t seriously expect them to have foreseen what their country would look like over 200 years in the future, in which someone down on his luck can’t just move to another plot of land and start over. Heck, even the Industrial Revolution of a hundred years later changed conditions dramatically.

    There is a reason why Europe and other developed countries, while adopting many American principles of freedom and democracy, never abandoned responsibility for people’s welfare completely. And there’s a reason why, now that the US has become a net importer of many vital resources, they’re doing better today.

    Ideological purity may have great power of persuasion, but ultimately it is fitness that determines survival, and it isn’t just many American individuals who choose to live unhealthy and wasteful out of a feeling of exceptionalist entitlement. It’s also the nation as a whole not taking care of itself by not taking care of its people.

    You’re no longer a young nation, and you can’t just shrug off as trivial those economic heart attacks that you’re getting by trying to live the same way that you did in your country’s youth…

  28. republic
    March 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    Ool if you are from Germany than why don’t you keep your nose out of our buisness and shut your mouth. Freedom works and the economic heart attacks are not derived from austrian economic ideals but from the marxists takeover of the markets. Quit comparing us to europe also, we dont want to be like them anyway. I think the problem came from letting immigrants maybe some ignorant ones like yourself into this country to ruin it for the rest of us. My lineage has been in America since the 1760’s before this country was founded. You would perform better on a blog of why communism is good, so get out of here pinco.

  29. Ool
    March 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm #

    Europe isn’t what happens because you want to be like Europe. Europe happens once you reach a stage of population density and resource depletion/division comparable to Europe.

    The only choice you have is, do you want to become like modern Europe the hard way, with fascist movements and world wars? Or do you want to go there the easy way, skip over the death and destruction, and introduce a social market economy right away?

  30. John C.
    March 22, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    I’m fairly certain that you can disagree without falling into xenophobia. Do you have a point?

  31. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Yes I do have a point, but that would require me to repeat exactly what Ron Paul writes in his book “Freedom Under Siege: The US Constitution After 200 Years.” The book is free online if you would care to read it and it exposes all the flaws of government that got the US in the situation it is in currently. Best book I ever read. Sorry for the angry post earlier, just reflecting on one of the worst days this country has seen for about 60 or so years.

  32. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Democracy is the worst form of government it is simply the dictatorship of the majority. And the dictatorship of the majority is every bit as oppressive as the dictatorship of the few. It is also more difficult to attack, since so many accept the notion that the majority has the authority to redefine rights. (Ron Paul)

  33. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    There is a serious lack of concern for individual rights today. The concept of rights has been distorted to such a degree that the authors of the constitution would not recognize what is today referred to as a “right”. Demands for unearned wealth, based on needs and desires are now casually accepted as rights. We see little value placed on the traditional concept of equal rights. After 200 years the constitutional protection of the rights of the individual to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness is virtually gone. ONLY individuals can have rights, therefore things like Hispanic Rights, handicap rights, employee rights, student rights, minority rights, womens rights, gay rights, childrens rights, Asian American rights, Jewish rights, AIDS victim rights, poverty rights and homeless rights among the many should not even exist. The longer we lack a definition of rights the worse the economic and social problems will become ( no arguing here). No longer are rights individual but they are based on demands, needs and greed. Government by the majority rule has replaced strict protection of the individual from government abuse. Right of property ownership has been replaced with the forced redistribution of wealth and property, without concern for the individual producing the wealth. Once the dictatorial power of a majority is accepted as legitimate the days for the republic are numbered. #taken from Freedom Under Siege by Ron Paul

  34. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    The individual who dares to demand to be left alone and to assume responsibility for himself has become a criminal. Amish farmers have been arrested for not paying Social Security taxes though they sought no aid from the government. And any independence from government welfare programs is deeply frowned upon. Those failing to keep financial records for the IRS are promptly imprisoned.

    AS I said earlier this book alone has changed my entire outlook on politics and if you have not read it in entirety I highly recommend reading it here. http://mises.org/books/freedomsiege.pdf

  35. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Socialism will never work because people lose all incentive to be successful. Only individuals can ever truly own anything, the misconception of ownership is the flaw with socialism. The government is not supposed to be owning 61% of GM and operating health care as if it were there business and competing against the private sector. The federal government was created by our founders with the intention of being a body that would unite the states together under common principles present in the constitution and Bill of rights. It was the federal governments job to protect the individual from being denied these explicit rights as well as to provide for the national defense. All things not stated in these documents were powers reserved to the states and to the people. And I am pretty sure the clause that states the federal government is responsible to socialize the economy is not in either documents.

    If the federal government continues to grow more powerful I would not be surprised if a few states considered seceding from the union. After all their promises stated in the constitution have not been upheld.

    Government works best on the local level, which is what the founders envisioned. The founders also envisioned that the government over time would morph into something unrecognizable. They realized it was the nature of government to get big and powerful looking into every nook and cranny of an individuals life. They did their best to try to slow this process so freedom would ring as long as possible. Sadly the tides have grown too strong and it gets to a point where the federal government needs to be told where to shove it.

  36. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    If the republic is not restored than we are all slaves to the welfare state. The marxists will not succeed however and freedom will prevail.

  37. Ool
    March 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    From what I see your socializing of the economy happened not when government took over business but when you let business buy politicians through legalized bribery called campaign funding. That’s when established business and its lobbyists took over government and legislating.

    The problem is, you got only half of socialism that way — the worse half of two bad halves. Profits remained privatized, losses were socialized, meaning if a company was doing well it got to keep its money, if it was doing badly it made sure it got subsidies and bailouts.

    Is this something you should fight? Of course it is. The problem is, you’re fighting it at the wrong end because you have a blind spot in the private business direction. You can see the possibility of government taking over businesses, but you can’t see the reverse danger of business taking over and essentially becoming the government.

    Of course ideally business wants cheap labor in the form of indentured servants, which are harder to get if people have a social safety net to fall back on, and so therefore they have the perfect unwitting allies in you guys, who try to keep contributions to the general welfare by the government from happening, meaning many people have to take corporate jobs just to get health insurance or go deeply into debt in order to get a decent college education.

    In the short run this is very profitable for some people, in the long run it’s going to ruin your country, no matter how you define “general welfare.”

    If a social market economy didn’t work Germany would have gone broke a long time ago with its generous welfare policies and weeks of mandated paid vacation. Instead we are the economic powerhouse of Europe with a huge trade surplus. If that ever changes I might listen to your philosophies of how to best define “general welfare” to not have anything to do with actual people’s welfare. But until then I look at your attempts to dismantle the New Deal with great bemusement.

  38. republic
    March 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    Your right the corporations are in on it as well, but even more corrupt then some corporations is the Federal Reserve, here is a Henry Ford quote, “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
    Free market economies will not be perfect in fact no economy will be perfect. I am sure there are many flaws with Germans economy as well although overall according to you it works fine. But the things true free market economies will do is give everyone a chance to succeed. The economy over here you can not call a true free market as it is constantly bombarded with socialist and marxists ideas. (such as the housing crisis- everybody should own a house). The problems over here are a result of a federal reserve not being audited, a weakening fiat dollar no longer backed by gold and socialist policies at work, the free market is not to blame. There will always be ignorance poverty and disease but in a free society there will be less because everyone will have the opportunity to succeed and if they work hard enough and want it bad enough they will fall nothing short.

  39. Jeff
    March 23, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    “You can see the possibility of government taking over businesses, but you can’t see the reverse danger of business taking over and essentially becoming the government.”

    You lack the sight to see that government is still the problem. If the government had limited powers, like the constitution intended, it wouldn’t matter much now would it?

  40. republic
    March 24, 2010 at 10:43 am #

    Jeff is right.

  41. Graig
    April 18, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    A lot of these posts are missing the point.

    As the blog points out, those powers, ceded to the government are enumerated. They are specific, easy to understand, written in English.

    If it is NOT listed there in plain English, Congress my not assume that it is there and take the liberty that seems to run through parts [ you know who you are] of this thread.

    Those enumerated powers tell Congress ONLY what they can do. They do not tell Congress what they can’t do, leaving open to interpretation something else they might dream up.

    Were confusion seems to exist, take it back to the founders.

    “On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” — Thomas Jefferson

    And Jefferson again…When asked to read between the lines [of the Constitution] to find implied powers , he remarked he had and that he “only found blank spaces.”

    The Tenth Amendment added by some concerned ratifiers, states in part if it isn’t there in the enumerated powers, it can’t be assumed.

    Rights are retained by the people who created the States and the Federal Government.

  42. Chris
    April 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Connor, your comparison of the definitions of welfare is terrible. You only listed the definition that suits your purpose. “Aid to those in need” is the second definition in the modern dictionary. The first is “the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” That’s not nearly such a huge disparity as you claimed.

    Also, you have no sources to back up the claim that “general welfare” applies only to the government. That was your own conclusion. The quotes are all about enumeration of powers.

  43. Maurice de Sordone
    June 16, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    You might have seen the film “Silence of the Lambs”, believe me, real psychopaths and real sociopaths are not entertainment. Alan D Price is poison.

  44. Clumpy
    June 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    @Jeff and @republic

    I don’t think that’s the point – private organizations may not have their own armies, but they can coerce people in just as real ways. Any unproportional power, private or public, strikes at the roots of populism.

  45. Jeffrey T
    June 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm #


    That’s right. Private organizations can have power and exercise coercion in their own unique ways, independent of government. However, that wasn’t the fear I was addressing. The fear was that businesses will use the legislative forces of government to increase their power. However, if the federal government were limited solely to its Constitutional jurisdiction, then businesses would be on their own, and if they do exercise coercion it will be without the government’s help.

  46. Tom Hoefling
    June 27, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    An excellent piece of writing. Pretty much definitive.

    I’ve shared it with a few tens of thousands of people I know.

    Thank you!

    Drop me a note, sir. I’d like to get to know you better and see if there aren’t ways to work together to put this republic back on its proper course.


  47. Mike Holler
    October 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    What is “via Quoty”? I would like to find this source, but was not able. Thank you. Mike

  48. Gilbert Palmer
    January 4, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    In oder to promote anything funding must be approved! The preamble to the constitution stipulates promoting the general welfare, whereas section eight article one is merely allowing the congress to allocate funds for the promotion of the General welfare. GAP

  49. RubeMagnet
    July 3, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    “As the Constitution was written to list the government’s powers and restrictions, the definition for states must be used…”

    The above is a horrible logic fallacy. There is no connection obligation to use the states definition, as you call it, over the more general definition, particularly since the

    “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Reread the first line. It starts with “We the people”. There is no limitation to a states only definition of general welfare anywhere to be found in the Constitution. Sorry, but that’s just the fact.

    I can see why you chose not to include the same definition of general welfare applied to the people:

    exemption from misfortune, sickness, calamity or evil; the enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life; prosperity; happiness

    In fact, all one has to do to debunk the ‘states-only’ agenda is to read Article 1, Section 8: The Congress shall have power To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

    Now, IF the Constitution was intended to apply ONLY to the States, then Article 1 Section 8 would limit Congress’s ability to tax to only the States and not to tax individuals. So, obviously, the Framers were NOT thinking only of states in Article 1 Section 8. If they were thinking of only states, they would have included a clause to indicate that the taxation portion of that section applied to persons, to differentiate the money collection clause from the ‘general welfare’ clause.

    General welfare means general welfare; the betterment of the Republic, NOT limited to states.


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