Dr. Harold Pease
As a nation under the U.S. Constitution we are 224 years old. It may surprise readers to learn that for most of these years, 124 to be exact, we had no established federal income tax and handled our national debt quite well. Today most pay at least a fourth of their income to the federal government. Prior to 1913 you kept for yourself what is now taken from you. And what would you now spend it on were it not taken? Not on the basics such as food, housing, and utilities for they are covered in what you are allowed to take home. You would spend the extra fourth of your salary on thousands of items that are made by others as well as services you might like. This not only would enrich your life but it would provide millions of jobs for others making those items or providing those services as well. Many middle class folks could purchase a new car every year with what they are forced to give to the federal government.
Would you spend it more wisely than the federal government? Certainly! Most of the money taken from you by the federal government is spent on perpetual war, foreign aid, grants to privileged portions of our society, and endless unconstitutional subsidized programs; the last two of which basically take the money of those who produce and redistributing it to those who do not. Even some non-tax payers get income tax refunds—so corrupt is the system. Of course, those receiving and benefiting from these areas will defend them. But the fact remains that tax monies provide largely government jobs, which are almost entirely consumption jobs (jobs that consume the production of society but produce nothing consumable). Such jobs cannot produce for public consumption a potato, a carton of milk, or even a can of hair spray. They bring another guy to the table to eat, but not another to produce something to eat.
What largely brought about the give-away programs of the Twentieth Century was the now 100-year-old 16th Amendment—the federal income tax. All three 1912 presidential candidates Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, and their respective parties, wanted this financial water faucet that they could turn on at will. They could purchase anything—even people. Prior to 1913 the federal government remained mostly faithful to her grants of power in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which left them with only four powers: to tax, pay the debts, provide for the general welfare and provide for the common defense. Because the federal government has the inclination to maximize their authority the last two power grants, general welfare and common defense, each had eight qualifiers to harness them more fully. Out side these four powers the federal government had no power to tax or spend.
General welfare then meant everyone equally and at the same time as opposed to “specific welfare” or “privileged welfare” as it is today, targeting those to forfeit and those to receive monies. The Constitution did not deny states, counties, or cities from having such programs, only the federal government. But politicians soon learned that the more they promised to the people, from the money of others, the easier it was to get elected and stay elected.
The problem with the federal government going off the list and funding things clearly not on it was that each time they did so the stronger the inclination to do so again. One minor departure begets another until one notices that what the federal government does has little or no relationship to the list. I ask my students what would happen if they took one lolly-pop to kindergarten and gave it to one child? What would the others say? Where is mine? Or, I give one student the answers to the next exam and the others find out. What would they say? Try taking away long provided benefits from a privileged group, as for example food stamps, and see how popular you are with that voting group in the next election.
So why does the government now need a fourth of everything you make and it is still not enough? Because we went off the listed powers of the Constitution and every departure required more taxpayer funding, that is why. The answer to less tax is less government. A side benefit is more freedom. The productive classes would not be hurt as might be supposed. Seldom do they qualify for the federally subsidized programs anyway. The fourth taken from the productive classes would be spent by them thus creating a haven of jobs of which those who wished to work could and would have no excuse not to. The cycle of dependency would be drastically reduced. The federal government would no longer be an enabler to those not working. States would decide for themselves what assistance programs they could afford with some states offering more and others less as the Tenth Amendment mandates.
So, how did we cover the expenses of the federal government—even wars—our first 124 years? Products coming into the country were assessed a fee to market in the U.S. called a tariff. Ironically we got product producers in other countries to cover our national expenses and thus we were able to spend, on ourselves, every cent of what the federal government now takes, which inadvertently stimulated the economy. I am certain that there is someone out there that could find a supposition in the above to fault, but no one should be able to argue that our approaching $16.7 trillion national debt is fair, has really worked for any of us, and is a better plan. I personally like the idea of being able to purchase a new car every year.
Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.