U.S. faces ‘crisis in governance’
Let’s begin by saying that the United States is still the best place in the world to live: We have more freedom, more prosperity, more of everything that people value than any other country. Droves of people in other countries want to move here.
And the reason is not our abundant natural resources. It is not our sheer size. It is not even the quality and diversity of the people who live here. It is one thing and one thing only – it is our political system that makes us different.
That said, I find this country imperiled by some very long-standing trends that are now reaching their apogee and may ultimately destroy the dream. For the greater part of our history, the U.S. political system was unique in its construction, having been founded as a constitutional republic. The concept was to create a document outlining the framework that allowed for governance but built in numerous restraints and limitations on the governing bodies; the powers were specified and enumerated, various political and civil rights were explicitly defined and others, not explicitly defined, reserved to the people.
The concept that made America unique was not democracy, it was constitutionalism – the concept of severely limited government. And for the first 150 years or so, the concept was maintained in a reasonable semblance of its original form and spirit.
Now, however, due to decisions made over generations beginning roughly in the last half of the 19th century, the U.S, is at risk of losing that which makes it unique – the climate of freedom and protection for the individual which allows us to function at such an elevated level in comparison to other countries.
From roughly the Civil War to the present day, executive and legislative actions and judicial decisions have eroded the basis of the Constitution and created a crisis in governance.
Some of these events are minor, but there are three principal concepts that run in such opposition to both the letter and spirit of our Constitution that their continued existence will, I believe, have tragic consequences.
The first of these is the graduated income tax, and the monstrous tax code which has grown up around it. That such a tax system is contrary to the original spirit of the Constitution is evident from the explicit prohibition against it, which required an amendment (the 16th) to change it.
It started as a 1 percent levy against the incomes of very few. The Republicans, to their everlasting shame, were instrumental in bringing this about. In a country that is said to value liberty and protect the rights of its citizens, it is tragic to have a tax system functioning in a way that it would be a crime if implemented by a private citizen.
What is worse, and compounds the damage, is the notion that some citizens are compelled to lose from 10 to 100 times more in tax for essentially no change in the benefits provided – they are the targets of this government-sanctioned crime for no reason other than they have more resources.
The alleged justification of this, the so-called “ability to pay,” is a noxious notion which turns any concept of fairness on its head. Fairness normally implies equal treatment: If government provides a service, then the support of government should fall equally on all the beneficiaries. If we had a budget of $100 billion and 100 million taxpayers, then the appropriate amount of tax would be $1,000 a head, not zero tax for some and $100,000 for others. Today, the top 20 percent of taxpayers pay 70 to 80 percent of the income taxes and 40 percent of us pay no income tax at all. If you think this exemplifies fairness, then you have a warped sense of values, my friend.
We need to abolish the income tax and, with it, the IRS Code. We need to replace it with a system that relies less on coercion and relates the tax paid to one’s economic activity, i.e. consumption, not income. This would be some form of sales tax.
It need not and should not be revenue neutral. Programs that do not pass constitutional muster should be abolished, forthwith.
Read more on these American tragedies and the excesses of government in Part Two of this series. Rob Chrisman lives in Nevada City.
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