Earlier this week, drawing on a column that explained the roots of their legal reasoning (such as it is), we analyzed what the tea party actually means when they invoke “economic freedom” and curse Progressive Era-regulations. It’s not a pretty sight. From our post:
When Lochner [a Supreme Court decision invalidating workplace safety regulations] died, it died for a reason. For several, in fact. First, because we realized that “economic freedom” — true laissez faire – means freedom for the rich, and crippling abuse for the poor. Left to their own devices, the robber barons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries proved themselves singularly capable of becoming true despots in a way that the federal government never has. Without government intervention, these figures could leverage need and a lack of viable alternatives to create and maintain a permanent underclass, doomed to work late and die young. The law should be addressed to removing those barriers, notstrengthening them. [. . . .]
This is the world to which George Will — and all Republican candidates who speak so boldly about “economic freedom” — yearn to return. A world where children work because they legallycan and practically must, and where having a job matters more than not dying from (or at) it.
And now, lest you think I’m making this all up, per a Center for American Progress Report, extrapolating a legislative and legal agenda from the tea party’s increasingly extremist economic theology (pdf),
Nearly 100 years ago, the Supreme Court declared federal child labor laws unconstitutional in a case called Hammer v. Dagenhart. Twenty-two years later, the Court recognized that Hammer’s holding was “novel when made and unsupported by any provision of the Constitution,” and unanimously overruled this erroneous decision. Sen. [Mike] Lee [R-UT], however, believes that, while Hammer might “sound harsh,” the Constitution “was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh,” and thus we should return to the world where federal child labor laws are unconstitutional.
Perhaps tea party theology sounds fun at the abstract level. Who doesn’t like limited government? What could possibly be more American? But consider what happens when you inflect that theory onto the real world — and consider also that we’ve tried this all before, with unhappy results.