Would James Madison have objected to the structure of modern American labor law? You might think the question is unanswerable without a time machine. The economic foundations of American society went through profound changes between Madison’s death in 1836 and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, in 1935. Even with a time machine, it might take a while to get America’s fourth president up to speed on the way that labor unions and private employers interact with the machinery of the regulatory state.

Attorneys for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, though, seem to have no hesitation in enlisting Madison’s spirit on their side of the argument. In a filing in January, they quoted the Founding Father’s comment in The Federalist Papers about the dangers of concentrating “all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands” to suggest that the National Labor Relations Board encapsulates “the very definition of tyranny.”

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