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April 23 1999 3:30 AM

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Ask Not What You Can Constitutionally Do ...


I'm not sure I quite see what's odd about accepting a post that, as an abstract legal matter, you think is unconstitutional (see "Chatterbox"). Many people, for instance, believe that all independent agencies (such as the FCC) are unconstitutional, and that the Supreme Court was mistaken in upholding this "fourth branch of government." Does it really follow that a person who believes this can't in good conscience go to work for the FCC?

I don't think that such punctilio is really morally or professionally obligatory. The battle over the constitutionality of independent agencies was fought in the courts; it was won by those who've argued that such agencies are constitutional. For our legal system's purposes, that's that, at least until the court reverses its views. A fair-minded person might say, "Given that the law as interpreted today authorizes such agencies, I feel that I can do good/do my duty to my country by working for this agency."

Same for the independent counsel. Now, if one thought that the office was not just unconstitutional but immoral, that would be a different story; for instance, if one thinks that it violates basic human rights to outlaw drugs, going to work for the DEA would be a bit iffy. But I don't think people really think this (or should think this) about the independent counsel statute.

--Eugene Volokh


UCLA Law School

Los Angeles

Inflated Inflation

After referring to the USA Today report that economists don't expect rising gasoline prices to trigger inflation, "Today's Papers" concludes with the rhetorical flourish, "Huh--isn't inflation primarily measured as a rate of increase in cost?"


Both the economists cited and Scott Shuger seem confused. Inflation is an overall rise in the price of goods and services. The key word is overall. The increase or decrease in any particular item not only does not, but cannot, produce inflation. When the amount of money in circulation is fixed, if expenditures rise in one area, a fortiori, they fall in another. Inflation, by definition, occurs when the government increases the money supply faster than the real growth of the economy, because this increase is the only way more money can become available to chase the same number of goods.

A logical corollary is that inflation cannot be "triggered" by increasing wages, farm prices, or health care costs. If food and medical care tripled in cost, people would of necessity spend less on other things to pay for the increase or cut down on the food and medical care they purchased.

Falling demand for other things would necessarily result in falling prices for those things. Wealth would indeed be moved around, some people enriched, and others would be financial losers. But there would not be, nor could there have been, an overall increase in prices. An overall increase in prices is only possible when there has been an overall increase in the amount of money in circulation.

--Bennett Weinberg




In his "Assessment" lamenting Matt Groening's absence from the Comic Journal's Top 100 list, A.O. Scott claims that "Groening's willing, if somewhat ironic, embrace of the marketing bonanza his creation has unleashed may have cost him his rightful spot in the the Comics Journal's highbrow/subculture pantheon."

Oh, really? Then why is Charles Schulz, surely the all-time top marketing whore, listed in the No. 2 spot? There must be a better explanation for Groening being left off the list, and there is: Life in Hell sucks. It hasn't been funny or insightful for over a decade. True, the same thing can be said for Peanuts, but Peanuts had a solid 25 years of brilliance before burnout. Groening's reputation is entirely dependent on two 12-episode series, Work Is Hell and School Is Hell. The entire decade since then has just been Akbar-and-Jeff minimalist filler. Scott confirms this, by the way, by only talking about the quality of The Simpsons in his article--an undisputed fact, but the Comics Journal wasn't ranking animators.

--Kim Scarborough