Enlightenment Economics and the Framing of the U.S. Constitution

11 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2013

See all articles by Renee Lettow Lerner

Renee Lettow Lerner

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: 2012


Some scholars have argued that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution did not have a common set of views on economics, or that the Constitution, except perhaps in isolated clauses, does not reflect any specific economic views. The principal Framers did, in fact, share a basic set of economic views, though of course they did not agree on all economic questions. Their shared economic views were common to enlightenment thinkers: promoting free trade, curtailing rent-seeking (the transfer of wealth from producers to non-producers through political power), and, in most instances, eliminating monopolies.

These economic views permeate the Constitution and are not manifest only in odd clauses. The Framers designed many features of the Constitution to further these economic ends. I discuss four of them here: (1) the Commerce Clause; (2) the interstate and alien diversity clauses; (3) the elaborate procedures of bicameralism and presentment for enacting bills (and the provision allowing the Senate to amend financial bills); and (4) the enumerated constitutional limitations on legislative power.

Keywords: enlightenment economics, commerce clause, diversity clause, legislative process, bicameralism, presentment, enumerated powers, free trade, rent seeking, monopolies, James Madison, framing of the U.S. Constitution

JEL Classification: B10, B12, B15, B30, B31, D72, D70, D60, D78, F11, F10, H10, H11, K00, K10, N40, N41, P00, P10

Suggested Citation

Lerner, Renee Lettow, Enlightenment Economics and the Framing of the U.S. Constitution (2012). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 35, 2012, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-2, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2013-2, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2220816

Renee Lettow Lerner (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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