Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Can the South Dakota Constitution check the Tyranny of the Majority?

South Dakotan voters, in their infinitesimal wisdom, have in recent years passed laws that prevent poor people from working unless they can convince employers that their labor is worth at least some minimum wage per hour and from borrowing small sums for short terms unless they can convince lenders that their credit is good enough to merit a negative interest rate (the interest rate cap recently established is so low that lenders will actually lose money by lending no matter how punctual borrowers are about repaying).

Here is what I had to say about the matter on KCPO's "The Facts" on 27 November 2016:

In other words, the tyranny of the majority is in full force thanks to South Dakota's carefree system of ballot measures. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, the "tyranny of the majority" refers to two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner! The term is generally attributed to Alexis DeToqueville, who wrote over a dozen pages about it in his masterful tome Democracy in America:

If you accept that one man vested with omnipotence can abuse it against his adversaries, why not accept the same thing for a majority? ... What is most repugnant to me in America is not the extreme freedom that reigns there, it is the lack of a guarantee against tyranny.

Well, South Dakotans, ALL South Dakotans whether in a majority of all or a minority of one, are supposed to be protected from tyranny by the state constitution, particularly its bill of rights (Article 6), and especially Sections 1 and 27. They read:

§ 1.   Inherent rights. All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring and protecting property and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

§ 27.   Maintenance of free government--Fundamental principles. The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

How can either of those constitutional rights be reconciled with laws that force people, against their will, from entering into contracts (employment, credit) that they feel to be in their own best interests? I do not think they can, so the minimum wage and usury laws need to be struck down, now, and as harshly as possible. And in the future, measures that are patently unconstitutional should not even be allowed on the ballot. As a general rule, ballot measures should deal with the government's powers, politics, etc. NOT with the regulation of individuals, especially in matters economic. That is clearly a "fundamental principle" as the only early ballot measures that dealt with socioeconomic matters was Prohibition and it was an even bigger disaster at the state level than at the national one.

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