56 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 4 (1987-1988)
The Constitution as an Economic Document

handle is hein.journals/gwlr56 and id is 12 raw text is: The Constitution as an
Economic Document
Richard A. Posner*
There was a time when an economic theory of the Constitution
meant the theory, expounded years ago by Charles Beard, that the
purpose of the Constitution was to redistribute wealth from the
poorer segments of society to the upper class, to which the Framers
belonged.' This was an extremely narrow view, both of economics
(implicitly viewed by Beard as the unmasking of exploitation) and of
the Constitution, and is now discredited.2 Today when one thinks
of how economics might be used to study the Constitution, no fewer
than eight distinct (though overlapping) topics come to mind:
(1) The economic theory of constitutionalism; that is, the eco-
nomic properties, and likely consequences, of requiring a
supermajority for some kinds of political change.
(2) The economics of constitutional design - of the constitutive
rules of a political system - and thus (a) of the separation of pow-
ers within the federal government and (b) of federalism (i.e., the
overlapping sovereignty of the federal government and the
states).
(3) The economic effects (broadly defined) of specific constitu-
tional doctrines, such as the exclusionary rule or the limitations
* Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; Senior Lecturer,
University of Chicago Law School. The research assistance of Nir Yarden and John
Muller, and the exceptionally helpful comments of Gary Becker, Edward DuMont, Frank
Easterbrook, David Friedman, Sanford Levinson, Fred McChesney, Charles Silver,
George Stigler, and Cass Sunstein, are gratefully acknowledged.
1. See C. BEARD, AN ECONOMIC INTERPRETATION OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE
UNITED STATES (1913).
2. See, e.g., F. McDONALD, WE THE PEOPLE: THE ECONOMIC ORIGINS OF THE CONSTI-
TUTION (1958).
November 1987 VoL 56 No. I

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