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I Love Taxes

By       Message Neal Herrick     Permalink
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'Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society'

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1904) This quote appears on the headquarters building of the IRS at 1111 Constitution Ave., Wash. DC


Taxes are also manifestations of both human rationality and human virtue. I agree with Holmes. I love taxes in prrinciple. But taxation without representation is a different thing entirely. I resent it and would like to see it banished from the face of the earth.

To be taxed unfairly is painful. To be taxed unfairly without being represented in the taxing body is so painful that people do not ordinarily accept it without complaint. When we are taxed unfairly without representation, we Americans have a long history of both complaining and taking action to remedy matters. Yet, despite our forefathers' willingness to "stand up and be counted,"   we present-day ordinary Amerians allow ourselves to be taxed unfairly without representation -- and without taking action to remedy matters.

US Taxation without representationj did not end with King George III  

Prior to our revolution, we Americans were being used by England as a convenient source of income. We were a convenient source largely because we were not represented in Parliament. Our forefathers resented this taxation without representation. They petitioned King George III for relief - but their peitions were ignored. Eventually, their patience wore thin and they rebelled. Their rebellion resulted in our 1776 Declaration of Independence. Then, after five years of hard fighting, we drove the British from our shores.

The government of the state of Massachusetts, however, had learned little from King George III's mistakes. It used the farmers of western Massachsetts as a convenient source of income. The farmers petitioned the state government for relief on the grounds that the state legislature was largely made up of wealthy businessmen.   The farmers believed they   were being taxed without representation. They petitioned the government,   but their petitions were ignored. Their patience wore thin and eventually, under the leadership of revolutionary war veteran Capt. Danial Shays, they rebelled. They were succesful in preventing some foreclosures by "ocupying" county court houses and puting them temporarily out of business. Their rebellion, however, "failed" when they occupied the Springfield Armory in early 1787 and were routed by the Massachusetts militia. While Jefferson believed Shays' Rebellion to have been consistent with the principles of the Revolution, many of his colleagues disagreed.   Shays was pardoned, but two of the rebeling farmers were hanged. [1]

Taxation without representation -- then and now

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Shays' Rebellion illustrates one of the most virulent form of taxation without representation. People of moderate means (the farmers of western Massachusetts) were being taxed by a legislature made up of people of wealth and high incomes. Americans of moderate means today are in the same boat. We are being unfairly taxed by a legislature (Congress) made up of people of wealth and high incomes. The result, of course, is heavy taxation for us and light   taxation for Americans of wealth and high incomes.

The causes of our representational discrimination

Tax discrimination against people with low and middle incomes is blatant in the US today. [2] It is assured by the ability of corporations and the wealthy to make disproportionate campaign contributions. [3] It is exacerbated by the fact that the Members of our Congress themselves are wealthy and have high incomes. [4]

Until recently, our major representational problem in Congress was that there were very few members who understood at first hand the needs, wishes, problems and aspirations of our various minority groups. We have made some progress toward solving this problem. However, we have made no progress at all toward providing representaion for the majority of Americans. Like Shays and his army of farmers and artesians, our middle and lower income and wealth groups are not represented in the body that determines their taxes. 

It is in the economic interest of the Members of Congress to tax ordinary Americans heavily and wealthy and high income Americans lightly. One-half of the Members of Congress are millionaires. Their congressional pay alone puts the remaining half in the upper 10% of Americans. We accept this over- representation of the upper ten percent with hardly a murmur. Yet there can be little doubt but what it contributes heavily to the US having the most extreme income gap in the developed world. See Chap. 7 of my recent book Reversing America's Decline: Jefferson's Remedy for tables showing US world rankings in the quality of life.

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This lack of representation, when considered along with the ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to make disproportionate campaign contributions, presents our democracy with a serious problem.   We can resolve this two-pronged problem only by altering our Constitution so as to make our government more responsive to the needs of the lower ninety percent of Americans. This means   petitioning our state legislatures to apply for a 2nd constitutional convention made up of delegates elected without the benefit of private campaign contributions. This could lead to a number of key reforms, including term limits and the exclusion of private money from all federal election campaigns.

[1]I am indebted to "Shays' Rebellion" in West's Encyclopedia of American Law for much of this factual information .

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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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