Government control at the price of, well pretty much anything

A few years ago at our family get-together for Christmas, my aunt suggested that we go around the table and share a memory from holiday seasons past. We took turns sharing fond memories of time spent with loved ones and funny stories about how cousin so-and-so wanted a pony and didn’t get one. The last person to take his turn was my grandfather, a World War II vet who at 75 years old was frail but still worked his precious ‘mater plants everyday in the hot Georgia summers.

He shared that his memories of Christmas were not always so fond when he and my deceased grandmother lived in Alabama with their kids. A glance at my mother’s face told me this tale was going to be a stark contrast to the others. His story was simple yet poignant; the man didn’t learn to read until his late adult years, and to this day I’ve never seen him write. Granddad said that he remembered the Christmas Eve where he went into town and bought an apple for each of the four children as a gift. It would be their only gift that year because the cotton crop hadn’t turned out well and they were struggling to make ends meet. It was also a colorful, sweet treat because they had been living off cornbread and biscuits for weeks. Everyone in the room was misty by the end of the anecdote.

Now Granddad was a farmer, so it always confused me why he couldn’t just grow his own food for himself and his young family. Now I know. If you haven’t read Wickard v. Filburn, do yourself a favor and peruse it one day when you’re tired of work. The background of the case describes a farmer who wanted to do just what I had envisioned Granddad doing: growing a little more on his plot of land so that his family would be guaranteed sustenance in a time of need. However, as a result of the Depression and the resulting price controls set in place, this was not allowed excepting that a penalty be paid by the farmer for any excess over his allotted quota. So there was my answer. My Mom was thrilled with an apple for Christmas because 1) Granddad could only plant so much cotton without risking a penalty and 2) he couldn’t grow other staple food items without approval from the government.

Wickard confirmed and expanded the power of the Federal Government to tell Granddad he couldn’t grow more or different crops. In the unanimous opinion written by Justice Jackson in the shadow of a freshly-failed court packing scheme by FDR, the Commerce Clause was used as the basis to allow this type of Federal intervention into the private lives and private property of individuals. The farmer in the case lost his appeal to avoid a penalty for “wheat not intended in any part for commerce but wholly for consumption on the farm” in excess of his quota. In other words, even if the subject at hand has no direct effect on commerce, the Federal Government can still regulate it under this interpretation of the Constitution.

This decision can be described as nothing less than economic tyranny. When Mr. Erickson suggests that we use this case as a measuring stick on where our candidates stand on big government vs. limited government this Fall , he is correct. God only knows what other rights we will lose if we do not stop this current administration.

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