During this awful week when hardworking American taxpayers struggle to comply with a burdensome, oppressive, and indecipherable U.S. tax code, it’s worth examining the root of their fiscal pain: the fact that the majority keeps voting for a government whose size and scope are far beyond all rational (and Constitutional) limits. Our government should only pursue its – the protection of our right to life, liberty, and property - through its (police, courts, and military), but instead it now routinely violates each right, at nearly every turn. These violations are fueled by a now-widespread mentality that derides individualism and claims that we’re duty-bound to help strangers, that we’re “our brother’s keeper,” and that those with less are “entitled” to free goods legally and electorally fenced by corrupt politicians.
Tragically, both abject dependency and a general collectivist-statist trend have been building in America for most of the past century, after corrosive ideological premises were imported from Europe starting in the 1880s. At this time a century ago there was no federal income tax, no Federal Reserve, and no huge regulatory bureaucracy; government spending in America (at all levels) was a mere 5% of total GDP. Precisely because American government a century ago was restricted to its one proper purpose and three functions, America’s productive prowess was unmatched, and living standards sky-rocketed during the laissez-faire half-century known as the “Gilded Age” (1865-1915).
Today government spending (at all levels) is seven times what it was a century ago – 35% of GDP, versus 5% – but what’s been gained by it? Are government goods and services seven times better than a century ago? No. In fact, government service today is worse, since much of it entails an unjust taking of wealth from earners for receipt by the undeserving, even as government bureaucrats rake off perhaps a quarter or more of the transferred loot.
The American revolutionaries of 1763-1776 were officially British citizens and didn’t revolt against taxes per se. They knew that even a limited government required some revenue if it was to effectively perform its (limited) tasks. What they rebelled against was “taxation without representation.” Only later did (male) colonists enjoy local representation, in the Congress (1774-1789), which levied some taxes; but no colonists ever enjoyed direct representation in Britain’s Parliament, which began to impose harsh taxes in the mid-1700s, in order to pay for the French and Indian war (1754-1763).
America today is in the opposite position from the mid-1700s, for instead of a populace that wants a fairly limited, laissez-faire government, most Americans today prefer a bigger, ever-more invasive government (as evidenced by election results) and don’t want to pay for it. Instead of a fair system of taxation with representation, Americans increasingly endorse greater representation without taxation. This evil and ominous trend – troubling at least for those who are wealthier, hence most prone to the legalized looting has spread since the 1960s, when the American welfare state began its most explicit expansion.
In 1960 only 15% of federal income tax returns had a zero tax liability, due mostly to low taxable income, a standard deduction, the personal exemption, the dependent exemption, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (a direct subsidy to people for being poor). But recent data reveal that nearly 50% of Americans now pay no federal income taxes. These people are getting representation without taxation; many of them probably feel righteous in their power to vote away the rights and property of others.
Ben Franklin is reported to have said: “When the people find they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic.” Democracy is a vicious political scheme that tends to institutionalize robbery. We’ve already lost much of the original American republic, but things can get worse still.