By 1776, the American Revolution was about many things. The list of grievances produced by the Continental Congress in its Declaration of Independence that July 4th — “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” as Jefferson put it — included complaints about quartering of troops, denial of jury trials, obstruction of immigration, and sending “hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”
Those were the complaints of the Revolutionaries at the height of their fervor, a fervor which led to complete independence for 13 of Britain’s North American colonies and the birth of a nation which eventually grew to 50 states and a population of more than 300 million.
There was, however, a single complaint at the taproot of the tree of Revolution: “Taxation without representation.”
That complaint — set forth as early as 1750 by Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in a sermon at Boston’s Old West Church — started the ball of protest rolling slowly down the hill of history toward full-blown insurrection. By 1773 the protest had reached a fever pitch. On December 16th of that year, a group of Bostonians led by Samuel Adams held their famous “Tea Party” over taxes (and special tax breaks given to a company favored by the British monarchy) on the national drink.
As of ten years after that protest, Americans had successfully asserted, by force of arms, their right to taxation with representation.
So, how’s that working out for us?
This April 15th, thousands of Americans intend to gather in cities across the nation for their own “Tea Parties.”
They’re upset over the amount of money their (representative) government takes out of their pockets. That shouldn’t be surprising: Any way you look at it, it comes to a much greater tax burden than that imposed by Great Britain’s monarchy on its (unrepresented in Parliament) American colonists.
They’re upset over their (representative) government’s spending habits — and who wouldn’t be? Even after taking 28.2% of Americans’ income as tax this year, the federal government projects a $1.2 trillion deficit for the coming year, on top of its $11.1 trillion existing debt (a debt which grows by more than $3 billion per day).
They’re upset over their (representative) government’s “bailout” mentality — trillions of taxpayer dollars committed to saving failed enterprises from their own bad decisions — and about the trend toward direct government takeovers of those businesses (as if the federal government had a clue on how to make a profit; see the deficit and debt numbers above).
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be upset about the one thing that matters most: That taxation — with or without representation — has now proven itself, beyond any shadow of a doubt, a failed experiment.
Taxation disconnects the act of spending from the values of the spender. It is a forcible redistribution of wealth from the pockets of those who create that wealth (the “productive class”) to the pet projects accounts of those who didn’t create it, but who delusively fancy themselves more qualified than its creators to dispose of it (the “political class”).
In a market transaction, each party to the transaction receives full expression of his or her values — either all parties believe they benefit, or the transaction doesn’t take place.
In a state transaction, the political class substitutes its own values for the values of those it claims to “represent,” having coercively separated the wealth to be spent from the “represented.” And while it has its powers of coercion handy, it generally makes additional use of them in negotiating the terms of the transaction itself. From front to rear and top to bottom, a state transaction is inherently designed to benefit the political class at the expense of everyone else.
“Representation” is a fiction, or at best a scheme of misdirection. The political class quickly integrates its newest members into this system of privilege, and any benefit those members’ constituents realize amounts to an incidental expense — a “political class membership maintenance fee” from the “representative,” ultimately paid by those constituents themselves in any case.
The problems of taxation and government spending are not problems of representation or lack thereof. They’re problems which inevitably accompany the exercise of coercive power. Until our “Tea Party” participants understand that, they limit themselves to pruning branches on the rotten tree which they’d be better off chopping down entirely.