Rule of Law and Prosperity

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R, VA) has issued a report that discusses, among other things, the relationship between rule of law and national prosperity and freedom.  Some excerpts follow.


Less noticed, but perhaps even more important—especially to the over 20 million Americans currently out of work or underemployed—is the link between a breakdown in the rule of law and reduced economic growth and individual prosperity.

Property rights and rule of law are essential for the proper and efficient functioning of society and the economy.  Unambiguous laws and procedures provide a framework by which free people agree on the scope and reach of their government’s actions, whereas unclear laws or arbitrary enforcement undermine individual liberty and the notion of popular sovereignty.  Clear, transparent, predictable rules that are applied without preference or prejudice allow individuals to invest, build businesses, and create jobs.  When there is a breakdown in the rule of law, increased uncertainty leads to reduced investment and less growth.

Numerous economic studies have documented the relationship between a strong rule of law and economic growth. In 2008, The Economist published the following chart alongside a story entitled “Order in the Jungle.”

The chart aptly illustrates the strong relationship between adherence to the rule of law and economic growth.  As economist Hernando de Soto—a leader in the field of the impact of property rights and rule of law on economic growth succinctly stated: “So the origin of the rule of law— which will allow a modern nation to grow and so bring peace, stability, and prosperity to the world—is property rights.  And the rule of law will actually generate prosperity.”


In the United States, the ultimate law is the Constitution, which specifically provides how laws are to be enacted and requires the President to take care that the laws that are enacted are faithfully executed.  The laws of the United States establish the process whereby individuals can enforce their property rights and private contracts and provide the framework by which executive agencies are to conduct rulemakings and the other regulatory activities.

When “laws” are created without going through Congress; when laws are selectively executed; when an administration intervenes into the normal judicial process and diminishes an individual’s property rights; and when the normal regulatory process is circumvented, the rule of law is eroded.

All of this increases uncertainty.  Individuals, families, and businesses now not only face uncertainty with respect to the policy decisions made by government, but they face uncertainty as to how those decisions will even be made.  Numerous economic studies and surveys indicate that uncertainty itself (which is certainly increased with the breakdown in the rule of law) also hinders economic growth.

While Administrations of both political parties have been known to test the bounds of the limits of their power, the breadth of the breakdown in the rule of law in recent years has reached new levels.  In the Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal‘s annual Index of Economic Freedom, the United States scores lower today on the rule of law than it did in 2008.  As the 2012 report notes, “Corruption is a growing concern as the cronyism and economic rent-seeking associated with the growth of government have undermined institutional integrity.”  Individuals and businesses are increasingly forced to rely on the courts to enforce their most basic substantive and procedural rights.


There is no excuse for this continuous disregard of legislative authority and the Constitutionally-required separation of powers.  In some instances, President Obama attempted to garner legislative authority, failed and then acted unilaterally in defiance.  In other instances, the President never even sought to find consensus and instead ignored Congress and its authority from the outset.  In speeches, the President has proudly acknowledged that he has acted without Congress, contending that he has no other alternative.

This is no way to govern.  The President has set a precedent that even his supporters should find troubling.  After all, what would now prevent a subsequent President, with opposite policy predilections, from bypassing the checks on his own authority and enacting his own policies in this same manner?  The Founding Fathers wisely gave the President many powers, but making law was not one of them.  They understood that laws should not be made by one individual acting alone, but rather through elected representatives working to achieve consensus.

House Republicans have acted to prevent and overturn the President’s harmful actions in order to return economic growth, opportunity and certainty to the American people and American job creators.  However, the majority of the bills the House has passed are sitting idly in the Democrat-led Senate, without any action on the part of Democratic Leader Harry Reid or President Obama.

Throughout our nation’s history, presidents have sought common ground and achieved legislative success with opposing party leaders.  Many of the laws circumvented in this report were achieved in that manner.  Congressional authority must not be disregarded to suit political interests, create unpopular regulations and to avoid the hard work of bipartisan negotiation that has been a hallmark of our Republic since its inception.

Note that such measures as are required by the erosion/breakdown of the rule of law as bringing legal cases to court only adds to business’ and individual’s current costs and increases their uncertainty, since court outcomes are largely unpredictable.

RTWT.  It’s a long-ish read, but it also includes a list of current examples.


h/t Grim’s Hall

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