The Economic Significance of the Commerce Clause

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” The way in which this clause is interpreted can have drastic consequences regarding which powers belong to the state and which powers the federal government might be permitted to exercise in overturning decisions of the state. The economic ramifications of this clause are equally widespread. Because of the broad definition of the term ‘commerce’ throughout history, the definition of the term ‘economic’ has also been muddied. Any attempt to determine the economic significance of the Commerce Clause must first consider the nature of the clause, the way in which the term ‘commerce’ has been defined throughout history and the resulting effect this has had on the definition of the term ‘economic.’

In working to ensure the prosperity of the nation and the furtherance of equitable trade efforts between states, the term ‘commerce’ has often been interpreted to refer to a wide variety of activities, some involving an exchange of funds and some not. The founding fathers, reasonably presumed to have been referring merely to the trade of goods and services based upon a strictly monetary front, nevertheless did not spell out exactly what they meant when using the word ‘commerce’ within this portion of the Constitution. Changing definitions and comparison with other contemporary documents have brought about a blurring of the lines between economics and other elements of human interaction such that the meaning of the word ‘commerce’ has been expanded to include just about anything the government wishes it to include. “All human activity goes on in a seamless web of giving and take, sometimes with money, sometimes without. Today we understand that ‘commerce’ is not so much a separate sphere of human activity as it is a way of thinking about our actions.