Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Environmental Stewardship

If there is one viewpoint missing from discussions on the environment these days, it is that of effective stewardship. The term is so little used (or so rarely used properly) that it is a bit difficult for us to immediately come to terms with its implications.

The word "steward" is derived from two words in Old English. The first meant "hall" and the second meant "ward". To delve a bit deeper into semantics, the first word also evolved to mean "sty" as in "pig-sty". "Ward" in this case is used as a synonym of "guard". So, the literal meaning of the word is to denote someone who is in charge of guarding either the home or pig pens (I'll stretch to include other forms of livestock, as well).

It is the English equivalent of the French word, much better understood by Americans (pehaps thanks to Batman), "butler".

The job of the steward, or butler, was not to prevent the house or barn from being used, but to keep it from being used improperly. The purpose of having a single person in charge of the house is to ensure that someone is accountable for maintaining it. If it is to be used for a dinner party - presumably to impress business and governmental interests - then the very best the house has to offer is utilized in such a manner as to maximize that impression. If the barn (or other business) is left in the hands of a surrogate, the understanding is that the steward will work dilligently in the best interest of the business - not just to keep it safe, but to maximize it.

You could liken the position of the steward to that of the modern CEO in business.

The problem with that, of course, is that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the modern CEO has forgotten that he (or she, but normally he) is responsible for the long-term vision of the company and not just the short term usurous pursuit of profits. Hopefully, the recent spate of scandals will refocus some attention on corporate responsibility - which begins with personal responsibility and accountability with the people in the top seats.

Ok, ok, how does this relate to the environment?

Well, let's look at the environmentalist side first by examining the Sierra Club's view of environmentalism:

Their official mission statement sounds wonderful - especially the second part that states "To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources"

After all, the whole point of having resources is not to simply hoard them, but to use them judiciously - to maximize both the short-term and long-term benefits.

However, one of the national issues they have chosen to focu on is "an end to commercial logging in national and other public forests".

There is a big difference between ending logging and restricting it to areas where it is sustainable and ensures the health of the forest. In the Western States, one of the primary causes for wildfires is lightning strikes after drying winds. A total ban on logging only ensures that there is an over-abundance of fuel.

It is also against the very nature of some sub-ecosystems to not allow fires.

From living in Florida, I can attest to the severity of the fires in 1998. One of the big problems encountered during those fires were the natural adaptations the flora had made to periodic naturally occuring wildfires.

Most pine trees in Florida are either long-leaf pines or scrub pines. As they grow, both species shed the limbs closest to the ground. The reason is to allow low-burning fires to sweep through the forest without destroying the elder trees.

Of course, if the scrub is allowed to grow too thickly or too tall, such adaptations are self-destructive. The over-abundance of palmettos - which literally turn into fire-balls when they burn - sent flames shooting higher than the lowest limbs of the pines. The drying pines had concentrated pine oil close to the surface in their needles, cones, and bark. Once the flames reached the canopy, they jumped over eighty feet of clearing to cross over I-95.

We cannot act as if mankind has never existed and has not assumed stewardship of our environment. To do so is simply to deny reality and to promote unsafe conditions.

However, the vision of the environment embodied in the new Energy Bill is just as much a violation of stewardship principles as the total "hands-off" approach. To simply give public funds to companies who are already turning record-breaking profits is an incredible violation of public trust.

Jesus gives an account of what he expects of a steward in Sixteenth Chapter of Luke. It's an odd story for a culture consumed with the production of wealth. The steward is not rewarded for exceeding earnings - or even breaking even on his debts - but for making the most of the debts that were owed in a (fairly) just manner.

This is also the chapter that speaks of Lazarus and the rich man (read the text linked above for the whole story). The connection of the two stories is clear - we are not called to pursue profits to the forfeiture of all else. We are entitled to earn a fair living, but we are not entitled to deprive others of the method for doing so.

Clear cutting a forest deprives the next generation of any ability to use that resource - as a carbon sink or as a source of potential precious woods. However, leaving "nothing but footprints" can also be damaging.

It's fairly clear that a good steward is expected to be involved in the affairs of his or her master. It's also clear that we are expected to steer a middle course where we take advantage of the good things we are given but ensure that enough is there for those who come after us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Equality and Inclusiveness

The foundation of the Enlightenment was the concept of equality. It was the revolutionary idea that ordinary men were as able to make decisions for themselves as priests and kings. The "divine right of kings" became the "inalienable rights of man".

Yet, the simplistic idea of equality has ever been difficult to make a reality. In America, the Constitution intentionally disenfranchised all blacks, Indians, and women. It upheld the elitist idea enshrined by the constitutions of the various states that only men of a certain wealth should have any say in politics.

We have made steady progress towards the goal - forging a national consensus on the right of women and racial minorities to vote, striking down laws that witheld equal protections, waging righteous civil opposition to usurous wealth and oppression in the name of general prosperity, equality, and inclusiveness.

There is no mistake, an equality that excludes certain groups is a false equality. It is a not-so-comic attempt to implement the Animal Farm concept of "some people are more equal than others". It is non-sense. Among attempts at this are the claims, in some quarters, that the US Constitution does not guarantee protections for non-citizens. In fact, the only protection citizenship offers through the Constitution is the right to vote. All other constraints are upon the government, regardless of whether or not the object of their action is a citizen or not.

The United States, under President Lyndon Johnson, even became the first to tackle head-on the reality of exclusion through poverty. Johnson's "War on Poverty" is often derided as irrelevant and unsuccessful - but such claims are often made by the same people who now claim there is no need for anti-poverty programs. Such groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Republican National Committee, want to have it both ways. If there is no need, and the efforts were unsuccessful, then what they are really saying is that poverty never existed in America. That, my friends, is patently false.

Economic inequality is perhaps the most insidious of all forms of exclusion. This is because it is the easiest to see, yet the most difficult to reveal. The exclusion of Blacks, Indians, and women all had economic and non-economic factors. It was, eventually, the economic factors that forced everyone to see the wrongness of the situation. The best, most ambitious and brightest woman should not be condemned to earn less than a man who is obviously her inferior - nor should she see her property taken from her because she enters into marriage.

Ah, but this is the way things always have been - and that easily convinces people that it is the way it should be.

Of course, it is a lie to say that an injustice should be perpetuated based on heritage. It is doubly false when the reference to heritage is false.

The single best way to move towards greater equality is to move towards a more progressive tax system. A system where a $20,000 a year household pays as great a percentage of their income in taxation as does a $5,000,000 a year household is forgetting an important lesson in equality: that there are two ways to create inequality.

The first is to treat people different when no difference exists - such as denying Blacks the right to vote or paying women less money than men. The second is to treat people the same despite significant differences - such as requiring low wage earners to pay high tax rates or building a public courthouse with lots of stairs but no wheelchair ramps or elevators.

When the French Revolution found its feet, it was due, in part, to the example of the American Revolution. It is no coincidence that the French rallying cry Liberte', Egalite', Fraternite' is built around the central concept of equality.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Who are "the Least of These"?

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me... Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25: 34-40)

Last week, when I was talking about justice I referenced a paper published by the Heritage Foundation. My purpose in doing so was to show that even the poor in this country tend to have a better life than the truly impoverished in most of the world. I stand by that statement, as there is an obvious reason why the heart-jerking commercials on TV show kids from Africa (usually) rather than kids from New Jersey or Texas.

However, like many things that come from our conservative friends, the Heritage Foundation goes on to obfuscate the real need their report should point out.

For example, they don't point out a prime reason why the poor in America fare so well - the extensive social safety net that has been woven by the threads of Food Stamps, school lunch and breakfast programs, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, Temporary Aid to Need Families, federal housing assistance, and federal health insurance programs. If these programs are taken away - and that does seem like the very real goal of many conservatives - the outlook for the poor of America worsens quickly.

But we have a very real obligation to more than just the poor. For starters, we can look at the debt we owe our military veterans who have service connected disabilities and problems. If we are to put any truth to the commandment to "honor thy father and they mother" then we have to add our elderly to the list.

Shouldn't any list of unfortunates also include the homeless? What about abused and neglected children? Those who are incarcerated - rightly or wrongly?

It's a very long list - and it could get much longer with very little effort.

All of these groups receive some level of support from the federal government - which means that they receive assistance from our tax dollars. And that, in turn, means that any attempt at tax reform and balancing the budget MUST take into consideration the fact that, for a large number of people, this assistance is the only way they are able to have a life of simple dignity.

And President Bush made a point of telling everyone that his budget priorities would do so. Unfortunately, like so much else this President has said - it simply wasn't true.

Meanwhile, wealthy Americans are called "over-taxed". Yet, this year, a record 7.5 million households will be classified as millionaires and control a combined $11 trillion in assets. How is it possible to over-tax our wealthy citizens and then have more of them after taxes than we had before taxes?

Here's an answer:

"One of the major contributors to the upper echelon of investors restoring their bank accounts has been the series of tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration since 2001, with the backing of Congressional Democrats. Besides cuts in income taxes skewed to the rich, taxes on dividends and investment gains have been slashed.

According to a New York Times analysis published on June 5, over 15 percent of the Bush-era tax breaks will go to the top one thousandth of total taxpayers. These 145,000 highest earners have incomes that start at $1.6 million apiece, and go to the sky from there.

The share of the national income allocated to this tiny elite has more than doubled in the last three decades. It has reached a level not seen since the 1920’s. No doubt their share has risen significantly since the year 2000, the latest that such figures were available."

In the next few years, real steps will have to be taken to bring the federal budget back into balance. It seems clear that any just tax system, any system supported by Christians, would have to be skewed heavily to recoup the gains made by the uber-wealthy during the first few years of this century. It also seems clear that expanding the security net should be a priority.

I honestly don't know how to state it any differently.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Responsibility in Governance

Authority can be delegated; responsibility cannot. That was a lesson I learned early in my time in the US Navy. As a supervisor, I could authorize someone to be in charge of a work detail. However, it remained my responsibility to make sure it got done. The assumption of that attitude is necessary for a large organization to function effectively.

Unfortunately, in the modern world, our leaders crave authority, but duck responsibility. They want the power to do things, to accomplish their agenda. They do not want to be called to account for their failures, either personally, individually, or collectively.

It isn't a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it's a bipartisan problem. It's a societal problem. It's systemic.

Historically, JFK reached his moment of his highest popularity (while still living) when he publically accepted responsibility for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. As I look back over the Presidents that I clearly remember - George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, I can't think of a single time when a President actually faced the country and said, "I was wrong. You selected me to make decisions and I thought I was doing the right thing. Evidence proves me wrong. I failed myself and I failed you. Forgive me. I will do better."

Instead, we are stuck in a rut where Republicans blame Democrats and Democrats blame Republicans and the minority blames the majority and the majority blames the minority and nothing really gets done about anything. Yet time and again, across the country, voters return the same people to office. Like a plane on auto-pilot, we simply do what we are told. "Vote for me!"

But it extends beyond the Beltway. It extends into every neighborhood of every city in the country. We demand greater benefits - more spending on schools, highways, and homeland security - while screaming for lower taxes. This did not happen by chance, it is the necessary result of two sides neglecting half of the equation for responsible society.

Democrats tend to call for greater benefits - more Social Security, medical coverage, etc. They stress the social responsibility we bear towards each other. We must have better health coverage because it is our responsibility as citizens to render aid to those unable to help themselves - a secular version of the Good Samaritan parable.

We are right to do so. Society is more than a collection of individuals. It is an interdependent brotherhood. Because it is so large, we have reached a point where some can be untouchable, unseeable, unworthy of respect or care. They CAN be, but they should not be. The unfortunate truth is that we all really do sink or swim together, but by the time it becomes clear that everyone is sinking, it will be too late to help many people and families. In domestic terms, one person who goes hungry is too much, one person who lives on the streets because they cannot find a job to pay for a home is too much, one person who is victimized by those who should be providing care is too much, one person who suffers when we have the means to alleviate their pain is too much.

That is, after all, the meaning of the Good Samaritan tale.

Yet it is only half of the equation. Focusing only on social fixes does lead to dependence and strips people of their dignity by turning them into professional beggars who must whore themselves to any rule attached to welfare funds. That is not the interdependent and loving picture of society urged by Jesus. It is not the goal of our social reformers, secular or religiously based.

For social justice to be just, individuals must be responsible for taking advantage of opportunities that come their way. Yes, social conditions make it easy to see criminal activity as an easy road to wealth, but there are individuals who face horrible social conditions who still somehow choose not to be criminals. There are still individuals who use their natural talents and devote time to honing their hard-won skills to claw their way ahead in life. We cannot make a mockery of their efforts by excusing those who exert themselves to a lesser extent.

The long march to responsibility begins with a painful analysis of personal failings. We must each understand how far we fall short of our own values, how badly we violate our own principles. By understanding our own humanity, we will be better able to determine how we can re-create a society where social justice and responsibility is balanced by individual responsibility. That will return America to its standing as the "Land of Opportunity" where there is truly "liberty and justice for all".

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Continuing Problems

My wife says that she can't access any of the comments on the blog. However, I can, I just have to open a new window to do so (I have no idea why).

I'm working on some issues with Haloscan. Maybe as frogsdong says, I should upgrade.

But that would cost money.

Anyway, I'm working on the problem. If you're having trouble - and can get the comments to work - let me know.


How Conservative is Mainstream?

While George W. Bush may or may not have picked a "mainstream" judge - after all, "mainstream" is a pretty ambiguous term - it is unclear to what extent John Roberts is a Conservative.

It bears re-stating that not all Conservatives are created equal - or perhaps, developed equal.

Sandra Day O'Connor is what could be called a Goldwater Republican - she believed in a firm wall of separation between church and state ("Tying secular and religious authority together poses risks to both,"), she respected the rights of individual women over some amorphous right of government to regulate health issues (authoring the "undue burden" test, which says in part "Only where state regulation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to make this decision does the power of the State reach into the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.", and she was a champion of the rights of the accused (ruling that the reading of Miranda rights was Constitutionally mandated.

The early indication is that - well, we don't know anything about how John Roberts views these issues. At least, we don't know directly.

Roberts has a history of not making his views public. He's a member of the Federalist Society, which is not a horrible thing. However, there is this short quote that worries me:

"The conventional wisdom is that this is a conservative court," he said. "We have to take that more skeptically. On the three issues the public was most interested in — school prayer, abortion and Miranda rights — the conservatives lost on all."

His very thin resume as an appeals judge doesn't give much indication of how steep his inclination is to bend the law to his ideology (and, let's be honest, everyone does that). This blurb bothers me a bit:

"... he voted to throw out a nearly $1-billion legal verdict won by 17 former American prisoners of war who said they were tortured and abused by Iraq after their capture during the 1991 Persian Gulf War."

Without looking at the opinion and seeing what points of law he ruled on, it is impossible to get a feel for his jurisprudence. It galls me, however, to see our government stand in the way of our POW's being compensated for the pain and suffering they took on our behalf.

He does seem to be no friend of the accused - being one of three judges that ruled short military tribunals were good enough of a guarnatee of rights for Gitmo detainees.

His comments also seem to indicate that his religious views very strongly effect his conception of seperation of church and state:

"I don't know how you can call a court conservative when it upholds the Playboy Channel's right to broadcast its kind of programs."

While I'm not a Playboy subscriber, I think they are perfectly within their rights to broadcast their programming.

So, while there isn't enough to declare Roberts a rapid Republi-vangelical, there is enough to be cautious. After all, if confirmed, this man can be expected to remain on the highest court in our land for at least three decades - and will be a leading candidate for Chief Justice for at least the last two decades of that time.

Once again, Democrats appear to have stepped on themselves. By rushing to cannonize Sandra Day O'Connor as a moderate, Democrats not only made it easier for President to look further to the right for his decision, they almost forced him to do so or appear weak. And Sandra Day O'Connor was no liberal, and her credentials as a moderate exist only on a slender thread:

"In tie-breaking votes (5-4 or 4-3 majorities), she went with the conservative majority (Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy) 187 times, dissenting on only 29 occasions. Liberal majorities, however, only got the pleasure of her cooperative company 40 times. She dissented from them 78 times (to get an idea of the general tilt of the court, of the 334 cases decided by one-vote majorities during the Rehnquist Court, 216 of them went to the conservatives)."

There are all stripes of Conservatives, and laying claim to that ideology does not, and should not, automatically disqualify anyone from any position (except "Grand Poobah of Liberalism"). However, Liberals have to get smarter about how what they say impacts what Republicans do. There is no way to compromise with an extremist - the result of trying is nothing less than incrementalism. It is the selling out of principles in an attempt to maintain public dignity and a peaceful co-existence.

Perhaps, what Democrats need most, is to rediscover that some things are worth fighting for.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pursuing Economic Justice

Your anger sits so deep within your belly that it feels like your entire body will explode. You want to hurt someone or something - even though you aren't typically a violent person. The protest in your throat is choked off by your clenched teeth and your rage boils past the level of simply being impotent. Below it all, there is the humbling, humiliating, devastating knowledge that there is absolutely nothing you can do.

There is something deep within the human spirit that cries out for justice. We've all had the experience of being unfairly accused or denied. We've all known what it means to find out that the American credo - if you work hard you'll get ahead - is built more on blind faith than solid fact. It hurts. It is a physical attack on the deepest nougat of human spirit.

If you are robbed on the street, you have a logical recourse - call the police. Hopefully, the robber will be tracked down and punished. If you are assaulted in front of your house, you have the same avenue of recourse. If you are injured at work through official neglect or disregard for common safety practices, you have the courts and the much vilified trial lawyers to fight for you.

But not all injustice is so blatant, and violence is not always needed.

During this year, some 45 million Americans will likely go without health insurance. While it may not be an immediate necessity of life to have such coverage, is there anyone who doubts that having access to modern medicine is necessary for sustaing life? If we truly desire a "culture of life", if we truly believe in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", how can we not see that the first step to ensuring these liberties, the first building-block of this culture, is the guarantee for any who are ill to seek treatment?

Forty years after we declared "War on Poverty" we still have one in four children who live in an officially poor family.

Yet, to be perfectly honest, to be poor in America is very much a boon when compared to the rest of the world. The Heritage Foundation correctly notes:

"In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year--the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year--nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty."

The answer, then, is simple, from that perspective - make fathers care for the children and make parents work full-time.

But reality, unlike the rarified air in think-tanks (right or left), is never simple.

The reality is that Welfare-to-Work has had mixed results. Every single success story needs to be glorified and honored - as it represents a true commitment by the state, the employers, and the family to move ahead. However, this does not mean that less successful people should necessarily be vilified for their failure.

And those who are not successful - those 50% that the State of Massachusetts found were in economically weaker condition after leaving welfare - cry out for justice. Tell me, if you work full time, and your child rarely sees you, and your body throbs in pain at night when you lay down and in the morning when you raise up, and you barely pay the bils because there is too much month at the end of the money, and you find that the plant where you sweep the floors, wash the windows and toilets, and pick up the trash is being moved to China because you make too much money - do you need anyone to tell you that you've been robbed?

Se la vie, the free marketers reply. In a changing and dynamic economy, some people win and some lose.

But is it just that the winners win so much and leave the losers losing even what little they clung to in desperation?

Then you drag your weary body to church on Sunday and you hear: "There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief." (Proverbs 12:21)

It's as if King James were a founding member of the Heritage Foundation.

No evil? Are you kidding me? Good people are killed all the time! They are robbed and raped and shot and beaten and we are left standing holding our hands up helplessly searching the sky for compassion and crying "DO NOT FORSAKE ME!"

And God hears those cries for justice. He hears them, and, I believe, He answers them - just not with the sudden miraculous power to which we pin our hopes.

Instead, God sends prophets, judges, and social instigators to remind leaders of their calling:

"The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." (2 Samuel 23:3)

"He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD." (Proverbs 17:15)

In Phillipians, we are told:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Nine times in the New Testament, Jesus is described as being "just". So is Joseph, his earthly father, and Simon, the prophet whose death proclaimed the divinity of Christ, as was Joseph of Arimathaea.

Justice is important to God - and not just for murderers and thieves.

"Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy." (Psalm 82:3)

"For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right." (Amos 5:12)

"Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven." (Colossians 4:1)

The entire purpose of the King of Israel was:

" therefore made [the LORD] thee king, to do judgment and justice." (1 Kings 10:9 and 2 Chronicles 9:8)

"a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth." (Jeremiah 23:5)

It is not justice for a CEO like Lew Frankfurt of Coach, Inc to pocket just under $65 million last year when he could have easily lived on half of that and still provided health insurance for over 15,000 workers. It is not justice for Paul Evanson of Allegheny Energy to pocket $40.5 million last year when he could have easily given half of it back to his company and provided day care for one full year for almost ten thousand working parents.

It isn't justice. It isn't hatred for the rich to say that one percent of the population doesn't deserve and hasn't earned almost 40% of all assets in the country. Not when the bottom 40% own about one-half of one percent and the bottom eighty percent own a combined 15.6%.

I'll stop short of saying it's hatred of the poor to let things continue in this way. Instead, I'll say it's apathy. There's no reasonable way to claim that it's justice.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Catching Up, Looking Around

Since it took me so long to deal with the taxation issue, I have not mentioned several things that happened over the last week or so.

One thing is that I officially accepted the position of state organizer for the Christian Alliance for Progress. Unfortunately, the job does not come with a paycheck. Maybe some day.

In a related matter, the Reverend Jerry Falwell warned his followers against the "hardly Christian" Alliance. This prompted a response by Father Jake - and also quite a number of other people responding to him. Read the letter, then send the Christian Alliance your response to Rev. Falwell.

On that note - any readers in New Jersey that are interested in helping to build a liberal left through the Christian Alliance should contact me via email at xpatriated_texan@yahoo.com.

Another thing that happened is that I was able to participate in a conference call with Senator Jon Corzine. Professor Kim gives a wonderful wrap-up here. No sooner did she speak (blog), than Enlighten NJ and Dynamobuzz began to question it. Professor Kim answered them. Jorgey put in his opinions on the matter. Mr. Snitch, of course, has to weigh-in as well and cast a stone my way while doing it. I doubt Snitch will ever stop. He thinks I'm naive and misguided. I think he is cynical, condescending, and misguided. Several times, I've offered to meet him and allow him to school me - so far he's never taken me up on it.

Snitch, of course, regularly supports political views and sometimes people. That's his right and I don't sling arrows at him for doing so. I may disagree as to the person or cause, but I still defend his right to do so. Apparently, this offends him.

Or maybe it is the Pay-to-Play issue here in New Jersey that bothers him. As you can see there is a lot of need for such efforts in New Jersey.

Anyway, those are the two big brouhahas in my life at the current time.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

How should a Christian Democrat Tax?

I spent this last week talking a bit about taxation and money. Basically, I find myself in total agreement with both Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, "Taxation is the price paid for civilization," as well as with John Marshall who said, "The power to tax is the power to destroy." That puts me in a bit of a pickle for any extremist view on taxation. Rather, it puts me on a crash-course with moderation. Of course, one of my most favorite things to say is, "I started out a political moderate and, with no movement on my part, I seem to have become a part of the far left."

So, you've been warned.

I do believe the idea of taxing business rather than individuals is a good one. There is simply no way to gather enough data to know what people at any given income level can withstand as far as taxation goes. I think it's pretty obvious that people who make less than $20,000 a year are not going to be a good cash cow for taxation. It's equally apparent that people who make $1,000,000 a year probably are going to be able to withstand considerable taxation. Beyond that rather simplistic ideation, it gets rather prickly on specifics. What is the exactly proper tax rates that someone should face if their family income is $55,642 per year? How is that different from someone who makes $5 more or less? Plus or minus $100? $1,000? $10,000?

I know that every business owner out there is going to protest that they are going to be hurt by being taxed. This is simply preposterous. Are we to believe that they will not pass along the tax to their consumers? Obviously they will, as that is the next argument that will be thrown out. They will simply pass along the tax to their customers and thus it will make no difference whatsoever.

Complete and utter hogwash.

If a business is taxed 10% on $1,000,000 of income, then they have to pay $10,000 of tax. However, which items they choose to tax more or less is completely up to them. A convenience store could choose to tax candy at 30% and sodas not at all, or vice versa, or any combination between the two extremes. They could even choose to tax more than 30% on some items. The competing store across the street (and there's always a competing store across the street, isn't there?) could vary the taxes assessed on items there to implement a bit of true competition based on price.

Think of the combinations. A movie theater taxes soda but not popcorn. Automobile producers tax gas guzzlers but not gas sippers. Wal-Mart taxes everything made in China, but nothing made in America (an idea that Sam Waltom may have approved of).

Nor would it depress the economy. How could it? The amount of tax taken is exactly the same, regardless of whether it comes from business or from individuals. The boom generated abolishing personal income tax would exactly offset the drag created by taxing business. There is, however, one area where taxes would not be assessed and a boom could be expected.

Personal savings.

Yes, it benefits those people who can save over those who can't. Honestly, now. I challenge anyone to create a system that does not do so. The truth is that luxury goods would automatically face a stiff tax penalty due to their high cost. As well, taxing businesses on their income provides an incentive to fight inflation by keeping prices low. That would cause a long-term trend in business growth that would be hard to match.

However, I don't think domestic businesses should face taxation alone. Rather, I favor the use of both import and export taxes. The trouble with import taxes arose when export taxes were cut and domestic taxes were eliminated. That put import taxes in the position of being purely protective. While I do favor a mild protective function from import taxes, I don't think they should be used SOLELY to give American businesses a bonus.

I don't hold the naive idea that this would lead to a simplification of tax laws. In fact, don't think simplification of tax laws is necessarily a good thing. The world is a complex place and taxes have to be complex to deal with it. The benefits of a complex system are numerous.

For example, if all businesses are taxed, then of course farm income will be taxed. However, family farms can be singled out for lower tax rates than farms owned by international agribusinesses. Family run mom-and-pop convenience stores could face a lower tax rate than Circle K and Seven-Eleven. Alcohol sold in package stores, where it will be taken home (though not always, I confess) to be consumed can be taxed at a lower rate than the same product sold in clubs and bars where people are then going to have to drive to get home (some places don't have all night taxis or mass transit).

In short, I think a Christian Democrat would tax in such a way to minimize the destructive power of taxes, to maximize the ability of people to provide for themselves and their famlies, and would provide a stong foundation for economic growth from the bottom up. A Christian Democrat, I believe, would tax in such a way as to provide the greatest opportunity for "the least among us" without being overly punishing on those who are fortunate enough to never know want.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Shifting the Burden

The taxing power of the government was, as I have shown in previous posts, a serious bone of contention during the foundation of our country. Yet some very real points of agreements were found on all sides. A short summary of those points would include: 1) Taxation is necessary; 2) Taxation can be destructive if overdone; 3) Those most vulnerable to the destructive power of taxation should be shielded from its effects as much as possible; and 4) taxation should be distributed as fairly as possible, with all of the prior considerations in mind.

So the country started off dependent fully upon taxing its internal businesses, its imports, and its exports to provide funding for itself. Since there was very little that government actually did at the time, it didn't take a great deal of money. The real concern foremost in everyone's mind was paying back the money borrowed from France and Spain to finance the War of Independence.

The subject of internal taxation was primarily tobacco products and whiskey, carriages (a luxury item), and estates. Estates were taxed in two ways - first with a direct tax through a stamp requirement that every estate being auctioned be inspected and approved by the tax agent, and then again by a tax on the items bought at auction themselves. Isn't it odd that the some of the very first laws of taxation was on some of the things that are so vigorously opposed today? Luxury taxes, estate taxes, and excise taxes on sin - modern tax opponents hate them all. Who is really unAmerican here?

It wasn't long, though, before the new powers of taxation began to chafe some of the country's citizens. General unhappiness with the whiskey tax in Pennsylvania turned into outright rebellion. Angry mobs attacked federal tax agents and even fired on law officers trying to protect them (hmmm, this sounds vaguely familiar). Eventually, state militias in other states had to be federalized and almost 13,000 used to put down the insurrection.

However, peace and prosperity are always twins, and soon enough revenues had paid off debts to the point where Thomas Jefferson was able to have wave after wave of tax cuts approved by Congress. Setting the precedent, he aimed at internal taxes in the name of rescuing American people and businesses from the destructive power of taxation (although that destructive level of taxes had actually seen an incredible growth in GDP).

A problem soon became apparent, however. When peace and prosperity were not to be found - as during the War of 1812 - trade was interupted, which mean that revenues from trade based on import and export taxes fell. This necessitated heavy borrowing to finance the war, which then led to higher taxes being levied when the war was over - which tended to hurt trade as well.

Then, as now, there were some who believed that America's great interest lay in promoting its big businesses above all else. Thus, export taxes were cut while import taxes were raised - which is a type of corporate protectionism. With American markets protected from cheap imports, and domestic markets completely untaxed, manufacturers could slowly raise the prices of domestic goods to usurous levels. One such person was Henry Clay, whose tax politicies caused South Carolina to threaten secession in 1832 (a bit over thirty years before the Civil War). His "American Plan" sought to turn the American government into a support system for American business, rather than business supporting government. Manipulation of taxes and governmental control of currency were primary parts of this plan.

Fortunately, Henry Clay was enough of a statesman to know when to compromise. Just as he had led the nation to the Missouri Compromise, Clay led a coalition to an agreement to cut tariffs. The Nullification Crisis was thus averted by Clay's ad hoc coalition and leadership in forging the Compromise of 1833.

By 1860, however, the Federalists/Whigs had collapsed and the Republican Party pushed its platform backing the American Plan by marrying it to abolition. Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Tariff Act, which doubled the tariff rates to pay for such projects as the Erie Canal and national subsidies for building railroads. Against the possibility of a second Nullification Crisis, Lincoln stocked Fort Sumter with fresh troops and supplies to ensure that revenues were collected from the unruly southern state. While the cause of slavery would be used by both sides to gain popular support, it was taxation that caused the initial friction and resulted in the injury that no amount of talk could resolve.

The inability to collect taxes from the South, however, put the Union is a perilous condition. There was no real standing army ready to take the field. Thus, Lincoln instituted both a draft (which caused riots in places like New York City) as well as the first income tax. It was progressive in nature, true to the roots of our country. Income of less than $600 a year was not taxed and income above that level was taxed at a rate of only three percent until income reached $10,000. At that point, it rose to five percent. The same limits, adjusted for inflation, in 2005, would be $12,325 and $205,462. I have no idea how those levels were fixed, as they seem to be fairly arbitrary at this point in time.

An estate tax was also implemented at this time, as were additional sales and excise taxes. The result was a stunning one year revenue of $310 million in 1866 (the first full year after the end of the war). That level would not be reached again until 1911. Shortly after the end of the war, income taxes were abolished as were estate taxes. The country returned to its reliance on business taxes.

However, the tax rates were still high - partly out of necessity to fund the government and partly out of greed. In an effort to maintain funding while cutting tariffs, Grover Cleveland watched the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act become law in 1894. The following year, the Supreme Court ruled the direct taxation was a violation of the Constitution and the tax was repealed.

Teddy Roosevelt and his side-kick turned competitor, William Howard Taft, dedicated their efforts towards reducing tariffs by initiating an estate tax, rather than a personal income tax. However, in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified, and the federal income tax became law. The initial tax rate was 1% on incomes over $3000 ($4000 for a married couple). It rose progressively to a 7% tax on incomes over $500,000. If you're interested, those numbers, when adjusted for inflation become $57,329 ($76,439) and $95,549,543.

During WWI, the top rate rose as high as 77%, but that rate dropped back to 25% after the war. During World War II, the tax rate rose to 91% and remained there until Kennedy's tax cuts took effect in 1964. Ronald Reagan then cut the top rate to 50% in 1981. In 1986, the tax system was bifurcated - cutting the upper tax rate to only 28% while raising taxes in the lower bracket from 11% to 15%. Under President Clinton in the 1990s, the top tax bracket was raised to 39.6%, which was cut by President George W. Bush to 35%.

Rates are only part of the story - though it can be seen that the rates faced by the richest Americans have progressively decreased. Deductions, exemptions, and credits makes it difficult to get an exact reading on how much any given income range is being taxed. However, some trends are easily identifiable.

In 1913, personal income taxes accounted for less than 5% of governmental revenues. In 1940, it was still less than 20%. Now, personal income taxes account for about half of all government revenues. That figure is distorted, however, by including Social Security and Medicare (which are payroll taxes, not income taxes - the difference is that rich people do not get taxed on all of their income for payroll taxes while those who work do, hence the name "payroll" taxes).

If social insurance taxes are taken out of the picture, and they should be because they are not used for the yearly operations of the government, then personal income taxes actually account for almost three-fourths of governmental revenues. To look at it another way, personal income taxes (including social insurance for this figure) account for almost ten percent of US GDP (a measure of the size of the economy). Meanwhile, corporate taxes have fallen to only two percent of GDP.

Whoa! Talk about tax shifts! From supplying 100% of our government's operating revenue, business now accounts for only 25% of it. To do this, is moves aside two percent of its productive capacity. Meanwhile, individuals, who were not taxed at all in early America, now bear 75% of the burden of government and set aside almost a tenth of their cumulative productive ability to do so.

There was, however, an earlier shift. It was a shift from a balanced taxation on domestic business, imports, and exports, to a tax on imports only. That shift was started by none other than Thomas Jefferson in order to allow business to thrive, although it already was.

There is also a shift that is masked by the focus on the aggregate income tax paid by Americans. What is telling is the trends of how much is paid by the very wealthy and the very poor. As part of the plan to keep the deficit low, social programs that provide aid to the poor have been slashed repeatedly. Thus, there is less aid, more tax, and less money to stretch to the end of the month for the poor. Yes, Virginia, the rich do get richer, and it is at the expense of "the least among you".

I'll wrap up this short series tomorrow (hopefully) when I try to answer the question: How Should Democrats Tax?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Anti-Federalist Taxation through the States

The Constitution of the United States did not achieve ratification without squabble. As much as the Federalists believed that a strong central government was vital to survival, the anti-Federalists believed it was the surest way to erode the liberty they had fought Englad so hard to obtain. Chief among these threats to liberty was the power of taxation.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government had to requisition tax revenues from the states. My previous post indicates that this caused problems with some states dragging their heels to provide needed revenues. The effect was that the federal government ground to a halt and was unable to function. This led the Federalists to support a power of direct taxation.

Patrick Henry was outraged at the suggestion:

"... the absolute control over the commerce of the United States and all external objects of revenue, such as unlimited imposts upon imports, etc. --- they are to be vested with every species of internal taxation; --- whatever taxes, duties and excises that they may deem requisite for the general welfare, may be imposed on the citizens of these states, levied by the officers of Congress, distributed through every district in America; and the collection would be enforced by the standing army, however grievous or improper they may be. The Congress may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes, to be for the general welfare, and thereby seize upon every object of revenue."

They were ultimately realists, though. They realized that the Confederal government had failed because it could not support itself. This is made clear by the "Anti-Federalist #21":

"The wheels of the general government having been thus clogged, and the arrearages of taxes still accumulating, it may be asked what prospect is there of the government resuming its proper tone, -unless more compulsory powers are granted? To this it may be answered, that the produce of imposts on commerce, which all agree to vest in Congress, together with the immense tracts of land at their disposal, will rapidly lessen and eventually discharge the present encumbrances. When this takes place, the mode by requisition will be found perfectly adequate to the extraordinary exigencies of the union. Congress have lately sold land to the amount of eight millions of dollars, which is a considerable portion of the whole debt."

In this passage, the author foresees no power is necessary to give to the Congress except the power to tax and regulate commerce, along with the power to sell, rent, or lease the land it owns. The meaning of this is made perfectly clear a few paragraphs later:

"A transfer to Congress of the power of imposing imposts on commerce, the unlimited regulation of trade, and to make treaties, I believe is all that is wanting to render America as prosperous as it is in the power of any form of government to render her; this properly understood would meet the views of all the honest and well meaning."

The "Anti-Federalist #32" deals with the power of taxation in detail. I'll summarize the arguments of "Brutus":

The Preamble states the purpose is to "Provide for the general welfare", which is a very broad phrase. The Constitution gives no hint as to the boundaries of "general welfare". This grants an expansive power to the federal government from the outset.

Congress is then given power to lay taxes. Those powers are not limited. Perhaps the only limitation is the length to which the definition of "general welfare" can be stretched.

Congress is also given powers to pass all laws "necessary and proper" to achieve its taxation goals. This is the final nail in the coffin of liberty as the federal government can now do whatever is necessary to force compliance with its tax laws.

Brutus makes clear what his concern is:

"...with regard to direct taxes; these include poll taxes, land taxes, excises, duties on written instruments, on everything we eat, drink, or wear; they take hold of every species of property, and come home to every man's house and pocket. These are often so oppressive, as to grind the face of the poor, and render the lives of the common people a burden to them. The great and only security the people can have against oppression from this kind of taxes, must rest in their representatives."

The Anti-Federalist position, then, was that Congress needed expanded powers of taxation, but that power must be limited. Otherwise, it would be the poor and common people (what we would call "middle class") who would bear the brunt of taxation. The only way they could possibly protect themselves was through the benificence of their representatives.

The Anti-Federalists came up with several creative solutions to this. Consider this proposed amendment by the Virginia Delegation:

"... no aid, charge, tax or fee, can be set, rated, or levied upon the people without their own consent, or that of their representatives, so elected; nor can they be bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented for, the public good."

They wish to give power to Congress to set tax laws, but reserve the power of the states by requiring the consent of the people through their state legislature for taxes and laws.

The Massachusetts Delegation proposed:

"That Congress do not lay direct Taxes but when the Monies arising from the Impost and Excise are insufficient for the publick exigencies nor then until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the States to assess levy and pay their respective proportions of such Requisition agreeably to the Census fixed in the said Constitution; in such way and manner as the Legislature of the States shall think best, and in such case if any State shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion pursuant to such requisition then Congress may assess and levy such State's proportion together with interest thereon at the rate of Six per cent per annum from the time of payment prescribed in such requisition "

Congress could tax the state legislatures, and if the state leges were slow to pay, they would be charged six percent interest per year.

Rhode Island tried to have the best of both methods. After first reserving the right of negation to the states, it then proposed that the six percent interest be levied if they failed to pay.

Whatever else can be said about the intentions of our forefathers, it is clear that they intended for direct taxation of citizens not to take place. Rather, they believed that regulation of industry and commerce would provide enough opportunity for taxation that it would simply be redundant for citizens to be taxed directly. Further, it would be a great imposition and subversion of their liberty to do so. They were particularly concerned about the poor and middle classes being stripped of their small acculations through taxation.

My next post will examine how this general agreement on taxing commerce became a reliance on personal income taxes, and how that violates the principles upon which our country was founded.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Federalist Views on Taxation

The Federalists were actually the first group to truly pick a name for political action. It would be improper to actually call them a political party - they would be more akin to modern 501 groups than anything else. They were ideologically driven towards a strong federal government and goal-oriented towards the adoption of the Constitution.

The Federalists favored a strong federal government because it was the only way to make the states work together. Basically, the states had to give up enough power to the federal government to make federal law mandatory (hence, the Civil War as a result of states leaving the Union). Primary among powers necessary to do this was the power of the purse-strings. As long as states could determine how to send and when to send taxes to the federal government, the federal government was effectively at the mercy of the most obstructionist state in the union - whatever that happened to be this month. Thus, the federal government had to have a basic power of taxation, and it had to have the power necessary to enforce that taxation just to ensure its survival.

This is not to say that the Federalists were blaise about taxation. Chief Justice John Marshall thought it was the most dangerous power of government, implying a power to destroy. If it was an evil power, it was a necessary evil. A greater evil was not exercising the power to tax and allowing everyone's freedoms to be destroyed.

As to WHAT to tax, the answers are found in the Federalist Papers:

From #21
"Imposts, excises, and, in general, all duties on articles of consumption may be compared to a fluid that will, in time, find its level with the means of paying them."

It seems simple enough, but let's be clear about what the sentence means.

An "impost" is a general term, but in context it refers to goods being exported.

An "excise" is 1) an internal tax levied on the manufacture, sale, or consumption of a commodity; or 2) any of various taxes on privileges often assessed in the form of a license or fee.

In other words, an excise is an internal tax on manufactured goods or on privileges.

The only other thing is to understand the 18th century usage of "consumption". Today, economists consider all goods to be consumed if they are used up and must be bought again. Thus, food is an article of consumption. In the 18th century, it was used to denote excessive usage or luxuries.

A "duty" is: a tax on imports.

That's fairly self-explanatory.

So, the author of Federalist #21 sees the ability to tax trade as being entirely sufficient to supporting the government - trade leaving the country, entering the country, or taking place entirely within the country. Is there any other kind?

In modern terms, the Federalists wanted to fund the government by imposing a tax on businesses. This, according to Republicans, would totally destroy the economy by applying a horrible brake on commerce. This is taken from the theory "if you tax something, you decrease the amount of times that thing occurs". Of course, this has an ounce of truth, as even the Federalists recognized.

Federalist #21 addresses it this way:

"It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they contain in their own nature a security against excess. They prescribe their own limit; which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end proposed, that is, an extension of the revenue. When applied to this object, the saying is as just as it is witty, that, "in political arithmetic, two and two do not always make four .'' If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them."

Taxing business transactions contains an inherent limit in that if you tax an item too much, the price will rise so high as to be actually decrease tax revenues from it. High business taxes (primarily sales taxes) also make black market economies more likely to occur. This is yet another reason often given by Republicans for cutting taxes.

Any form of taxation increases the chance someone will use an illegal means to avoid paying it. It is not a legitimate argument any more than saying that making murder illegal will make it more likely for murderers to cover up their crime.

And, as Federalist # 36 points out:

"The quantity of taxes to be paid by the community must be the same in either case; with this advantage, if the provision is to be made by the Union that the capital resource of commercial imposts, which is the most convenient branch of revenue, can be prudently improved to a much greater extent under federal than under State regulation, and of course will render it less necessary to recur to more inconvenient methods; and with this further advantage, that as far as there may be any real difficulty in the exercise of the power of internal taxation, it will impose a disposition to greater care in the choice and arrangement of the means; and must naturally tend to make it a fixed point of policy in the national administration to go as far as may be practicable in making the luxury of the rich tributary to the public treasury, in order to diminish the necessity of those impositions which might create dissatisfaction in the poorer and most numerous classes of the society. Happy it is when the interest which the government has in the preservation of its own power, coincides with a proper distribution of the public burdens, and tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from oppression!"

Of course, the writer was talking about whether state or federal government should tax, not what kind of tax to use, but the logic remains solid. The amount of taxes needed to support the government remain the same no matter what form of taxation is used. Thus, the only real concern is that the tax is collected in such a way as to make it the most inconvenient manner (such as automatically with-holding it) and in the manner that makes the collections the fairest among all people (not favoring small businesses or big businesses, or incomes).

It is vital to understand that the last clause was a true heartfelt sentiment. The Federalists obviously favored a progressive taxation scheme. Isn't it wonderful when doing the right thing also helps solve everyone's problems?

It can easily be seen that the current state of taxation in America is far from this idea. Businesses are paying less and less taxes, inport and export taxes are being abolished, and income taxes for people are becoming less progressive. Oddly enough, it is usually the party that claims to want to defend the letter of the Constitution that pushes the agenda to make it even more so.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Funding a Confederation - or why voluntary taxes don't work

I know everyone likes to think that the United States has been in existence since the moment the the Declaration of Independence was written. We haven't. We had a little war of independence and in 1871 we first joined as a single political unit under the name of the United States of America. The government under which we were joined was created by the Articles of Confederation, and it would be very short-lived.

Article 8 of the Articles deals with taxation powers. It reads:

"All charges of war, and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several States in proportion to the value of all land within each State, granted or surveyed for any person, as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated according to such mode as the United States in Congress assembled, shall from time to time direct and appoint.

The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several States within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled."

So, taxation in the Confederation worked something like this. Congress would decide how much money was needed in the common treasury. It would then assess each state a portion of that amount based on the total value of all land (and improvements to the land) within that state. This assessment would be sent to the individual State Legislatures, who would then obtain the money from its citizens however it decided would be best.

If you consider the difference in land mass between, say, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, you can see that this puts large states at a severe disadvantage. This is especially true as many of the middle states - Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas - didn't have a fixed western border. It would then be somewhat disadvantageous to be in a large and sparsely settled state as your share of taxes would necessarily be much higher than if you had the same property in a small, densely settled state.

The Confederation also had the problem that it had no means of directly collecting revenues. It was totally dependent on the individual states to act through their legislature to appropriate funds for its use. Imagine if Washington, D.C. could not send our military into action because it was waiting for Iowa, Wyoming, Texas, and Hawaii to enact legislation to send this year's taxes to the federal government!

The Articles gave one more power necessary to government - "The United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective States"

This was not to facilitate trade - trade was already thriving between the states and even with overseas powers. Giving Congress the power to regulate the value of coinage ensured Congress that the revenues they received through the tax procedure would be of some worth by the time they got to the federal treasury. Otherwise, Georgia could have simply printed up a ton of worthless money and sent it to the feds. The United States of America granted itself power to regulate currency as a means of ensuring its existence. In return for this power, it assumed the responsibility for public debts and claims against their currency and coinage.

It took less than three years for this arrangement to prove unworkable. State legislatures proved to be rather stingy with their funds and they constantly challenged the assessment of their land values. Since the Articles mentioned only coinage, some began to print paper money, or to license banks to do so. They would then send this "private money" to the federal government, which ensured that the money had to be spent back in the state from which it originated.

The group that arose to throw out the Articles in write a new Constitution - the side that eventually won - was called the Federalists. Their spokesmen were primarily John Jay and Alexander Hamilton and they wrote the eighteenth century equivalent of blogs - pamplets - that came to be called "The Federalist Papers". In a stroke of political genius, they invented political spin on this continent by calling their opponents "Anti-Federalists" - which hinted that they were not really FOR anything, they only want to be OBSTRUCTIONISTS (which should sound a bit familiar).

It was largely the efforts of the Federalists that was responsible for making the most significant change to government in the new Constitution:

"To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."

They did this, they argued, so that the government would have maximum flexibility to meet changing demands without having to constantly try to amend and update the Constitution. This "necessary and proper" clause is the single best argument against the theory that the Constitution was meant to be enforced strictly to the letter of which it was written. However, that argument will lead me way off of the topic of taxation and money.

In my next post, I'll deal a bit stronger with the Federalist views on taxation. After that, I'll look at their opposition's view of taxation, and why they feared the power-hungry Federalists and especially the power of taxation.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Generally, it can be said that America was founded upon the principle of freedom to pursue money. Look quickly at the Bill of Rights.

Of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, the Nineth and Tenth simply state what is already implied - that the Constitution is not meant to say what either the states or the people can do. It only says what the federal government can and cannot do.

The EIghth Amendment reads, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." That this deals primarily with monetary matters should be apparent on its face.

The Seventh Amendment reads: "In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." Twenty dollars? The government cannot deprive you of more than twenty dollars without using a jury of your peers - which should (theoretically) be sympathetic to you keeping your money.

The Sixth Amendment reads: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense." Although this is not about money on its face, it was in fact put in place precisely because of the monetary expense suffered by colonials who were tried by the Crown. A speedy and public trial? Well, you can't very well make any money while in prison - which means you can lose your house, your car, your business - everything (okay, they didn't have cars back then - substitute "horse and carriage"). In colonial America, some cases had to be tried in England - and the defense had to pay for its witnesses to make the long journey across the ocean. The prosecution, in order to spare itself the expense of transporting witnesses, would often substitute a written deposition - sometimes without identifying who had given that statement. The defense could not compel a witness to leave home and hearth for England, but only entice them with promises of rich accomodations. This Amendment, you see, defends your possession of money in legal defense.

The Fifth Amendment reads: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Requiring a grand jury to stand trial for an "infamous crime", i.e. a felony, means that defense costs were cut by throwing out frivolous suits early. Likewise with the double-jeopardy clause. It is telling that "property" is included as a right in this Amendment (thank you, Alexander Hamilton) and it is mentioned directly in relation to compensation. Again, this is clearly about money.

The Fourth Amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Obviously, this prevents valuables from being light-fingered by policemen.

The Third Amendment reads: "No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." Again, this spares individuals (particularly the wealthy) from paying for the "privelege" of having the Army occupy your house.

The Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." What better way to keep your money than ensure every household has a gun and knows how to use it?

The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Make no mistake here - the biggest reason our wealthy founders did not want an established religion is that they didn't want their money going to support a religion they didn't believe in. Guaranteeing freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and petition are merely a means of guaranteeing that they did not see this primary freedom become eroded by organized religions railing their faithful against the government for lack of favoritism (sound familiar?).

So, with the emphasis on protecting the right of people to hold onto money, it should come as no surprise that exactly how much of that money someone keeps and how much they surrender back to the government through taxation should be such a divisive issue for our country.

Yes, I said "surrender back to the government". Money isn't just magically made to appear. It is created by government action, regulated by government rules, and backed by government policy, treasury, and faith.

I'll spend a few days on taxation - when, why, how much, etc. I'm sure it will cause all sorts of excitement, and I hope to hear some of it back.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day

Most people in America will spend the day celebrating, in some way, the "birth" of our country. 229 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was unanimously approved by the Second Continental Congress. This is, erroneously, seen as the day our country began.

The Declaration itself was not even signed until August 2. You see, most of the delegates at the Continental Congress did not believe they had authority to sign until directed by their colonial legislatures.

This did not, however, stop the British from acting. Hostilities actually broke out on July 12, when a British frigate sailed up the Hudson, firing its guns. Several attempts were made over the next few weeks to get the Declaration revoked and avoid a war. These attempts failed.

Victories for the Continental Army are few in the next year. The loss of Fort Ticonderoga almost cripples them with badly needed guns and munitions being seized - a fact that leads directly to the Second Amendment once the new country is formed. In February of 1778, France signs a Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a Treaty of Alliance with the United States. France will now supply such items as guns and bullets and gunpowder to the Continental Army. Britain retaliates by declaring war on France and firing on her ships on the high seas. Spain evokes its treaty with France and declares war against Britain and the War of Independence becomes a World War - although no one calls it that at the time and the contributions of European powers are generally forgotten in this country. Within a year, Britain will declare war on the Dutch as well, citing their flourishing trade with the French as a violation of maritime agreements.

By 1780, the British and Americans were negotiating for peace. Hostilities continued, however. The British capture Charleston and the entire southern contingent of the Continental Army. A few weeks later, some of General Washington's troops mutiny, demanding full rations and the five-weeks back-pay that is due them. Pennsylvanian troops are used to put down the mutiny and two of the leaders of the mutiny are hanged as an example. In July, 6000 troops arrive from France - though they will not see action for almost a year. Gen. Horatio Gates (what? you never heard of Gen. Gates?) puts together a second army to defend the Southern Colonies. In response, Gen. Cornwallis invades North Carolina. However, the invasion is called off when Gen. Gates captures the 1000 reinforcements that Cornwallis was expecting.

Nathanael Greene replaces Gates as commander of the southern army and instigates a guerilla warfare on British troops that gains popular support and wears down British morale.

The following year, Washington faced several mutinies within his troops, with more hangings needed to restore order. A combined French-American force is formed with American soldiers under foreign command. The war effort in the South proves too costly for Cornwallis and he pulls out of the Carolinas in favor of subduing Virginia. French Admiral de Grasse spanks the British sea forces and joins Washington's forces at Yorktown to set a seige on the British command. October 19, 1781 is the day of formal surrender of British forces. Only five days later, 7000 British troops arrive to reinforce Cornwallis, only to be returned to Britain without firing a shot.

August 27, 1782 marks the last hostilities between British and American forces in South Carolina. The British finally evacuate Charleston in December. In March of the next year, General Washington has to work feverishly to prevent his officers from rising in rebellion against the Continental Congress. By June, Washington has disbanded his army and Congress has secretly moved from Philadelphia to Princeton, New Jersey to avoid protests from war veterans who have still not been paid.

On September 3, 1783 the Treaty of Paris is signed - which finally grants full independence to the American colonies (who still have not taken up the name "United States of America"). The new country is not truly formed until the Constitution is ratified - which will happen when New Hampshire becomes the nineth state to ratify the Constitution on June 21, 1787.

Why bring all of this up? Because, with all the chest-beating patriotism that this day celebrates, someone needs to point out that there is always unfinished work to be done. We are not free because the Declaration of Independence was written and signed, but because thousands of good men fought and died for an idea - that common farmers and laborers were as worthy of freedom as bankers, merchants, and kings. Until that day comes when we have fully realized that idea, there is work to do.

So, enjoy the fireworks, munch a hotdog for George, and show up tomorrow with your sleeves rolled up, because there's still a lot of work to do in the Land of the Free.

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