Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Loved that piece of music you just heard? Support the programming you enjoy by becoming a WWFM member with your financial contribution today. Thank you!

Does Our Constitution Hold Up Today?

'The Signing of the Constitution' by Howard Chandler Christy 1787. (Camelia TWU/Creative Commons)
'The Signing of the Constitution' by Howard Chandler Christy 1787. (Camelia TWU/Creative Commons)

Was our Constitution made for this much economic inequality? One big thinker says no.

It’s easy to forget just what a radical document the US Constitution was when it rolled out 230 years ago this week. Nothing like it in the world. Flawed, yes, with slavery enshrined. But far-sighted in many ways. One thing the framers of the constitution did not foresee, says my guest today, is radical economic inequality in the USA. They didn’t have a House of Lords and another for commoners. But here we are. This hour, On Point: the US Constitution and America’s now radical inequality. –Tom Ashbrook.


Ganesh Sitaraman, professor of law at Vanderbilt University. Author of “The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution.” (@GaneshSitaraman)

Michael Greve, professor of law, Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. Author of, “The Upside-Down Constitution.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: Our Constitution Wasn’t Built for This — “Exactly 230 years ago, on Sept. 17, 1787, a group of men in Philadelphia concluded a summer of sophisticated, impassioned debates about the fate of their fledgling nation. The document that emerged, our Constitution, is often thought of as part of an aristocratic counterrevolution that stands in contrast to the democratic revolution of 1776. But our Constitution has at least one radical feature: It isn’t designed for a society with economic inequality.”

The Washington Post: Can The American Republic Survive Extreme Economic Inequality? — “Sitaraman goes deeper to show how inequality is dividing Americans on the level of psychology and culture. Surrounded by the evidence of their success, the wealthy come to believe that they are fundamentally better than other Americans and that working people deserve their declining fortunes. They trumpet meritocracy while ensuring that their children enjoy crushing advantages from birth. They have unprecedented access to politicians and use it to push policies that swell their wealth while defunding institutions, such as public education, that sustain opportunities for less-fortunate Americans.”

The Wall Street Journal: The Casualties of Class Warfare — “Mr. Sitaraman is onto an important insight, or at least a pressing question. Evidence from around the world strongly suggests that liberal constitutions do not fare well in countries with oligarchic social structures. Today, America’s middle class is indeed beleaguered. Constitutional forms have given way to congressional polarization, executive imperialism and judicial improvisation, and voters left and right have concluded that “the system is rigged.” Mr. Sitaraman plausibly insists that these phenomena are connected. Unfortunately, he fails to pursue the thought with the rigor it deserves.”

From the book THE CRISIS OF THE MIDDLE-CLASS CONSTITUTION by Ganesh Sitaraman, copyright 2017 by Ganesh Sitaraman. Published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit