War Debt, Seven Years War, Revolutionary War, Articles of Confederation, U.S. Constitution, Central Government, Federal Spending and Fiscal Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 7th, 2012

History 101

Americans don’t like Paying Taxes

Americans don’t like paying taxes.  A dispute over taxation without representation led to American independence from British rule.  For Britain had been fighting for many years in many wars.  And ran up an enormous war debt.  Which they had to repay.  Because some of that debt was incurred protecting the American colonists from the French and Indians during the Seven Years War, some had a bright idea.  “Here’s a thought,” they said, “Let’s have the Americans pay their fair share.  I mean, fair is fair, right?  Besides, it’ll be a lot easier getting money from the Americans than it will be getting it from Parliament, eh wot?” 

The Seven Years War, though, was a world war.  Fought in many countries and on many seas.  Costing lots of money.  Which Parliament was financing with lots of taxes.  But the British taxpayer had tax fatigue.  And felt they had no more taxes to give.  Or wanted to give.  As they had a say in Parliament raising taxes further was a nonstarter.  But the Americans had no representation in Parliament.  So what could they do?  Turns out they could do a lot.  Now the Americans weren’t unreasonable.  They just didn’t appreciate the, “Oh, by the way, here’s your share of the war debt.  We’ll tax you accordingly.”  Which the British did.  Without so much a by-your-leave.  Rubbed the Americans the wrong way.  If the British had shown them the numbers and gave them a chance to agree on what their ‘fair share’ was they probably would have paid.  And stayed loyal to the Crown.  But the British didn’t.  So the Americans didn’t.

Now fighting wars is expensive.  Especially long ones.  And the Revolutionary War was a long one.  Eight years until they penned their names to the Treaty of Paris (1783) officially ending it.  In these eight years the Americans ran up a great war debt.  And needed to repay it.  Just like the British.  The very thing that started the Revolutionary War.  Now it was the Americans’ turn to raise taxes.  They tried taxing whiskey.  Which led to another tax rebellion.  The Whiskey Rebellion.  For Americans still didn’t like paying taxes.  This time, though, it was a tad different.  Because those they were taxing had representation.  And the new ‘nation’ (a confederation of ‘equal’ states) had the legal authority to impose this tax.  And to put down the rebellion.  Which General Washington did.  To the howls of liberty-loving patriots everywhere.  The tax quietly went away.  But it didn’t solve the nation’s problems.  They were broke.  Needed money.  And they had to get a handle on the massive sums they owed for the world of nations to take them seriously.

Hamilton thought both Jefferson and Burr were Scoundrels but at least Jefferson was a Principled Scoundrel

The new ‘nation’ (that confederation of ‘equal’ states) was the problem.  Just as the world of nations didn’t take the Americans seriously these ‘equal’ states didn’t take the new national government seriously.  There was no taxing authority.  So the federal government could only ask for contributions from the states.  Which often came in late.  And when they did they were often less than they requested.  Some states even refused to pay anything.  Worse, the states were making their own treaties with other nations as well as the Indian Tribes.  Or reneging on the treaties the federal government made with other nations and the Indian Tribes.  The confederation wasn’t working.  They needed something new.  And once George Washington was onboard they called a meeting in Philadelphia (1787) to rework the Articles of Confederation.

Of course they didn’t rework the Articles of Confederation.  They replaced them with a new U.S. Constitution.  And a new nation.  The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution began with “We the people.”  The sovereignty of the new nation wasn’t with the states.  It wasn’t with the new federal government.  It was with the people.  It was a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.  To borrow some words from Abraham Lincoln.  Which meant that although the thing they created had more power than the confederation of states it replaced, its power was limited.  Very limited.  The Framers designed it to do only those things the states could not do well individually.  National defense.  Coin uniform money.  Establish post offices and post roads.  Make national treaties with other nations and Indian Tribes.  Declare war.  Create a standard of weights and measures.  But little more.  In fact, the Constitution listed more things the new government couldn’t do than listed what it could do.  To quell everyone’s fear that they just replaced one far away central power (the British Crown) with another far away central power (the central government of the United States).  Especially when it came to taxes.  Raising taxes required approval by two houses of Congress and by the President.  Making it difficult to raise taxes.  The way Americans liked it.  For Americans didn’t like paying taxes.  And still don’t.

Getting the new Constitution ratified wasn’t a walk in the park.  The size and power of the new central government appalled those Patriots who worked so hard during the Revolution.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, joined forces with Alexander Hamilton and wrote a series of articles arguing for ratification.  The Federalist Papers.  And were successful.  Then when Alexander Hamilton was putting the Constitution into action as Secretary of the Treasury in the Washington administration, Madison didn’t like what he saw.  For Hamilton wanted to use the power of government to make the United States an economic superpower like Britain.  His opponents, though, saw a man who wanted to be king.  So Madison joined the opposition.  Led by Thomas Jefferson.  And the politics got ugly.  Before it was done the Jefferson camp would write about an affair Hamilton had.  And the same muckraker who exposed this affair would later write about a Jefferson affair with a slave.  Sally Hemming.  The people in the different camps hated each other.  Especially Hamilton and Jefferson.  They hated each other with a passion.  But they were principled men.  For when the election of 1800 came down to either Thomas Jefferson or Aaron Burr, Hamilton backed his archenemy.  Thomas Jefferson.  Both Jefferson and Burr were scoundrels as far as Hamilton was concerned.  But at least Jefferson was a principled scoundrel.  Burr took great offense to some things Hamilton said about him around this time.  And challenged him to a duel.  In which Hamilton suffered a mortal wound.  Pity.  For Hamilton was a true Patriot.  And perhaps the greatest treasury secretary the United States ever had.

It’s not the Spirit of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison that lives on in Politics but Aaron Burr

Funny how things change.  The new nation almost didn’t survive because of the opposition towards a strong central government.  And towards federal taxes.  Now federal spending includes just about everything under the sun.  Most of which the Framers excluded from the Constitution.  And the taxes!  They have reached a level none of the Founding Fathers thought would ever be possible.  Even Hamilton.  He was ‘big government’ for his day but he would be disgusted to see what became of his beloved Treasury Department.  And the money they pull out of the private sector economy.  Not to make America an economic superpower.  But to buy votes.  And for personnel gain.  The true underbelly of democracy.  Where people come to public service not to serve.  But to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer.  Like that scoundrel that killed him.  Aaron Burr.

Even worse they use fiscal policy to further their spending ways.  The federal debt grows.  And now whenever a recession rolls around they use Keynesian fiscal policy to ‘lessen’ the affects of the recession.  Which is just a clever way to keep on spending after they’ve run out of money.  Because this spending is now stimulus.  And if the government stops spending it will make the recession worse.  Clever.  And it’s just coincidental that friends of the administration benefit most by this Keynesian stimulus spending.

It would appear it’s not the spirit of Alexander Hamilton that lives on in Washington.  Or Thomas Jefferson.  Or James Madison.  It’s the spirit of Aaron Burr.  Scoundrel extraordinaire.  And role model for the political elite.

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Wisconsin, FDR, Public Sector Workers and Stimulus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 23rd, 2011

FDR Opposed Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Sector Workers

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote a letter to Luther Steward, the president of the National Federation of Public Employees.  The subject was collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  He was opposed to the idea (see FDR vs. Wisconsin Teachers by Quin Hillyer posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Times).

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service…

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees… a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.

FDR, the patron saint of Big Government liberalism, was against the notion of public sector unions.  Funny.  You’d think a guy like FDR would have been in favor of public unions.  He supported other unions.  But not public sector unions.  I wonder why.

Taxpayers don’t make good Bad Guys

Well, FDR was a master of class warfare.  His enemy were the royalists.  That’s what he called the rich fat cats in those days.  Those barons of industry that exploited the working class.  And it was an effective strategy.  Especially during the Great Depression.  People standing in breadlines while the rich were living well as if there was no Great Depression?  That’s polarizing.  So attacking them worked.  Everyone got on board, eager to attack anyone who was living better than they were. 

And here is why FDR was against public sector unions.  The bad guy in the equation.  You see, public sector unions wouldn’t be fighting rich fat cats of industry.  They’d be fighting the taxpayer (see F.D.R. Warned Us by James Sherk posted 2/19/2011 on Heritage’s The Foundry).

The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. FDR considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”

You see, it’s hard to get sympathy when you attack John Q. Public as being greedy.  Especially when those public sector union members are living better lives than those paying them.

Then there is the whole philosophy thing.  Shareholders meet union leaders to collective bargain.  The shareholders have a say in the use of their money.  In the public sector this is not the case.  It’s the taxpayer’s money that the government and unions meet to divvy up.  Without the consent of the taxpayer.  That’s a lot like taxation without representation.  Something that I’m pretty sure this country was against at one time.

Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions. That is not exactly democratic – a fact that unions once recognized.

So FDR opposed collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  And the public sector workers didn’t have these rights for a long time.

Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.

And that’s how things changed.  Money.  Big money.  By creating an aristocracy (public sector workers), the ruling elite has a steadfast constituency.  And the bigger the unions get the more dues they collect.  That dues money than can be used to support political candidates that support this aristocracy.  In exchange for this support the government protects this aristocracy.  Much like unions claim Republicans do with Big Business.  Only worse.  Because Big Business at least creates jobs.  Public sector workers don’t produce anything but deficits.

The Public Sector Exploits the Taxpayer

There’s a good piece in the Wall Street Journal that quotes some Big Government liberals. Two of them, Paul Krugman and Kevin Drum, support the unions in Wisconsin as if they are on the last line of defense.  Before Big Business tramples all of our rights (see The Means of Coercion by James Taranto posted 2/22/2011 The Wall Street Journal).

In any case, it seems to have escaped Krugman’s and Drum’s notice that the Wisconsin dispute has nothing to do with corporations. The unions’ antagonist is the state government. “Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership,” writes Time’s Joe Klein, a liberal who understands the crucial distinction. “Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed . . . of the public?”

The “labor movement” in America has increasingly come to consist of people who work for government, not private companies. As the BLS notes, the union-participation rate for public-sector workers in 2010 was 36.2%, vs. just 6.9% for private-sector workers.

That’s quite a differential between the public and private sector.  And do you know why?  Because that’s all the private sector can support.  Because there is competition in the private sector.  Just look at the automotive industry.  The cost of union labor sent a lot of new auto plants to the right-to-work states in the south.  It ain’t the Seventies anymore in the automotive world.  There’s choice.  But in the public sector it’s still the seventies.  There is no choice.  No competition.  Pay and benefits come from tax dollars.  And they just keep raising our taxes.  By exploiting the taxpayer.

Here is the contradiction of progressivism. Progressives tell us they want the government to do more. But they can’t win elections without public-sector unions. Because they are beholden to those unions, their main priority when in power is to increase the cost, not the scope, of government. Because resources are finite, the result is the worst of both worlds: a government that taxes more without doing more. This is unsustainable economically. Fortunately, as Wisconsin voters showed last November, it’s unsustainable politically as well.

So taxes go up and what do we get?  Only higher paid public sector workers.

Obama’s Stimulus for Public Sector Workers

Let’s go back in time.  To the big stimulus bill to keep unemployment under 8%.  For all of those shovel-ready infrastructure jobs.  Well, the money went out.  And here we are a couple of years later and the economic news is actually worse.  So what happened to that money (see State public-sector jobs benefit most from stimulus by Dave Umhoefer and Patrick Marley posted on 10/13/2009 on Journal Sentinel)?

Three-fourths of 8,284 stimulus-related jobs accounted for so far were public-sector posts protected by the federal infusion into state and local government coffers, Gov. Jim Doyle’s office reported.

That included teachers, police officers and other government workers.

Shovel-ready jobs my Aunt Fanny.  That money went to take care of the aristocracy.  For it was, after all, their union dues and activism that got Obama elected.  So the stimulus was nothing more than back scratching.  As in you scratch mine and I’ll scratch yours.

The main effect of the stimulus money that went to state and local governments was to prop up health care and education spending so the state could balance its budget without huge tax increases, [John] Koskinen [of the state Department of Revenue] said.

Health care and education.  Translation?  Generous health care benefits for public sector workers.  And generous pay and benefits for public school teachers.

The state used $632 million of the federal funds to help fill a giant budget hole. Supporters said that helped the overall economy by keeping people employed and saving essential government services; critics said it allowed the state to avoid making tough spending decisions.

States and cities everywhere are facing huge financial shortfalls.  Their budgets are breaking them.  Specifically, their public sector contracts are breaking them.  Generous health care benefits.  And generous pensions.  So it’s no surprise that the so called stimulus wasn’t stimulus.  It simply subsidized highly paid public sector workers during bad economic times.  

The public would not have supported a bill to reward the generosity of public sector workers for their help in the 2008 election.  So they called it a stimulus bill.  And lied to John Q. Public. 

The Greed of the Public Sector

The crisis in Wisconsin threatens the aristocracy.  There a privileged elite wants to continue to live better than those who pay their salary and benefits.  It’s not about evil corporations.  Or the kids.  It’s about the greed of the public sector.  And a government who needs them (and our tax dollars that are laundered through them) to win elections. 

If they lose their right to collective bargain what happens?  Do they become oppressed workers exploited by the taxpayer?  Or do they become what FDR said they should be?  Good public servants.  Who work for the people.  And not the other way around. 

Let’s hope it turns out the way FDR would have wanted it to in Wisconsin.

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LESSONS LEARNED #36: “Politicians oppose across the board tax cuts because they are not politically expedient.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 21st, 2010

No King Ever Ruled Without the Consent of Money

There were kings.  And there were wealthy landowners.  Kings may have been sovereign.  But the wealth lies with, as you may guess, the wealthy landowners.  Kings needed money.  Because doing king ‘things’ got expensive.  War, armies, navies, festivals, feasts, castles, palaces, churches, etc., were very expensive.  So kings taxed their subjects to raise the money they needed to be king.  And when it came to money, the vast majority (i.e., the peasants) had little.  It was the peasants’ landlords who had the money.  And it was they who paid the bulk of the taxes.

But it was a two-way street.  Because it was their money, they, the wealthy landowners, had a say in how the king spent that money.  This was a restraint on the king’s power.  There were laws to protect the property rights of these landlords.  Now.  And in the future.  Property owners could pass their property on to their heirs.  As well as their political standing with the king.  Thus the rich and landed aristocracy passed on both their property and their nobility through inheritance.  Thus kings and Nobility lived by the consent of the other.  And they each lived by the consent of money.

The Roman emperors spent so much money near the end of the Roman Empire that they brought their advanced civilization to an end.  The landed aristocracy survived, though.  They just served a different sovereign.  The masses (i.e., the poor peasants) still worked the land.  The landlords still held the wealth.  Kings would come and go but this way of life (feudalism) remained.  Kings ruled as long as the landed aristocracy didn’t object too much.  Which they did in England in 1215.  The landed aristocracy met King John on the field of Runnymede.  Seeing his power was not absolute, the king reluctantly set his seal to the Magna Charter.  Constitutional monarchy would reign in England.  And England would reign supreme in the Old World.  And in the New World.

No Taxation Without Representation

The constitutional monarchy that developed consisted of the Crown and a bicameral Parliament.  The two houses of Parliament represented the needs of the few (the House of Lords) and the many (the House of Commons).  Thus the needs of the one (the sovereign), the few (the rich) and the many (the not rich) were balanced against each other.  It was a pretty good system.  The best in its time.  An English citizen had a better and more comfortable life with greater liberty than citizens of most other countries.

This liberalism unleashed a flurry of economic activity.  It created an empire.  International trade exploded.  England became a leader in farming and agriculture.  This knowhow spread throughout her empire.  As did her representative government.  Which they established in their North American colonies.  Perhaps a bit too firmly.  With the costs of world war came the need for higher taxes.  The British had just defeated the French and took possession of all their possessions in North America.  Her English subjects there were now free from French aggression.  And Parliament wanted these subjects to pick up a large part of that war tab.

Well, this didn’t go over well in the colonies.  For they had no representation in Parliament.  They had their own representative governing bodies in the colonies.  But they were subject to royal governors appointed by Parliament.  Without a vote in Parliament, they had no say in matters of taxation.  This was very un-English.  For the English nobility consented to taxation in exchange for having a say in how the king would spend those taxes.  As the landed aristocracy protested in 1215, the Americans protested this taxation without representation.  Eight war years later and America left the mother country.  Another few years later they ratified the Constitution and created the United States of America.  Which came to be because a governing body violated the sacred covenant between a king and his subjects.  A king may only rule as those who pay the kingdom’s taxes approve.

Universal Suffrage Increases Our Suffering

Because the new American government taxed property owners, property ownership was a requirement to vote.  In other words, those with the most to lose (those paying the taxes) had a say in how the government spent their taxes.  It kept the government honest.   By limiting the vote to those who had ‘skin in the game’ it made it hard for government to build palaces for themselves.  Because there was a direct connection between the source of funding and what that funding was used for.  The government may persuade the tax-paying voter for the need for a national postal system.  But a palatial palace was a much harder sell to the one footing the bill.  Especially when that person would never enjoy its benefit.

Such a system led to responsible government.  It minimized political corruption.  And if there is anything a politician doesn’t like it’s this.  They like corruption.  They thrive on it.  It’s their raison d’être.  And this responsibility thing just didn’t cut it.  They need people to vote who have no skin in the game.  People they can buy.  So they can live the good life.  Like in days of old.  Enter universal suffrage.  Where a politician can promise people other people’s money.

Wait a minute, you mean I can have a say in how other people spend their money?  Sweet.  Gimme gimme gimme.  I me mine.  Tax the rich.  Health care is an entitlement.  I mean, as long as someone else is paying, I’m for sale.  Promise me whatever I want and I will vote for you.  And forget what Benjamin Franklin warned us about: 

When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.

Money Talks; Egalitarianism Walks

It probably started with Martin Van Buren.  Creator of the Democrat Party.  He created the party machine.  Patronage.  Payoffs.  And buying votes.  Dirty, filthy politics began with him.  And the Democrat Party.  Beginning with the campaign for Andrew Jackson, politics have gotten worse ever since.

It’s about the money now more than ever.  With the power to tax, government has a near unlimited source of money.  And with it they can get power.  By promising money to people that don’t have money.  Lots of it.  Thanks to universal suffrage, they can bus as many poor, indigent and government-depended people to the polls as possible.  And the more of them the better.  For they will vote for whoever promises to give them the most free stuff.  And why not?  They have no skin in the game.

And by voting themselves a permanent entitlement, they will make themselves a permanent underclass.  Where they will remain poor, indigent and government-depended.  As government spending continues to grow unchecked, it will push people down the economic ladder until the middle class disappears.  There will be only the rich (the government and the government-connected).  And the poor.  Just like in days of old.  Which is the goal of our tax policy.  You see, across the board tax cuts do not enhance the dependency-power relationship.  But targeted tax cuts do.  That’s why Big Government favors a complicated tax code.  It enhances the dependency-power relationship.  That empowers Big Government.  Throws egalitarianism out the window.  And makes life good for the ruling elite.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #32: “America is great but it can’t make bad ideology good.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 21st, 2010

We’ve Always Done Things This Way

The Old World was set in her ways.  Change didn’t come easy.  When it came it often spanned centuries.  But not always.  As the Roman Empire incorporated new territories into the empire, she modernized those new territories.  Roads.  Fresh water.  Sanitation.  Rule of law.  Markets.  The things that made cites better.  Civilizations better.  But as a civilization grows, so does its government.  And as government grows, taxes inevitably become more onerous.

A sprawling empire required a sprawling bureaucracy to control it.  And a huge standing army to protect it from without.  And to police it from within.  When you expand and conquer new territory, the spoils of conquest can fund your empire.  When your borders are relatively static, though, you have to use alternative sources of funding.  Taxation.  As the tax burden grew, dissatisfaction grew.  Fewer citizens volunteered to serve in Rome’s legions.  So Rome relied more and more on hired armies.  This increased the cost of empire.  And it increased taxation.  The tax burden grew so great that people gave up their small farms and worked for the bigger farms.  Worked for the rich landowners.  Some tried to quit farming all together.  This caused problems in trying to feed Rome’s legions.  And her bureaucracy.  The food supply became so critical that the Romans wrote new laws forbidding people to leave their farms.  Farmers were bound to the land.  They could never leave.  If you were born on the land you would farm the land.  Forever.

During the decline of the Western Roman Empire you saw the rise of the economic system that would dominate the Middle Ages.  Feudalism.  As the Western Empire declined, the power began to shift to the rich landowners.  As did loyalties.  As the empire further disintegrated, the power of Rome could no longer protect you.  Or feed you.  And thus food and protection became the foundation of feudalism.  Land owners, the nobles (i.e., lords), would let you work their lands.  The bulk of the proceeds went to the landlord.  But you also had a portion of the manor to farm for yourself.  In exchange for the use of a lord’s land you provided military service to the lord.  When needed to protect the lord and his lands.  Property rights allowed the lord’s sons to inherit the estate upon his death.  So property ownership became hereditary.  As did the nobility.   And so it would be for centuries.

England Leads the Way

From the nobles arose one.  A dominant one.  A ruler of nobles.  A king.  A king consolidated the many nobles’ estates into a kingdom.  A country.  And the king became sovereign.  The supreme authority.  The nobles pledged their loyalty to the king.  Provided for the king.  And fought for him when necessary.  Thus the few, the many and the one.  The masses (the many) served the lords and worked on their estates.  The lords (the few) were the wealthy land owners who served the king.  The king (the one) ruled the kingdom.

Thus the European monarchy was born.  In France it was absolute.  In England, in 1215, the nobles met King John on the meadow at Runnymede.  And the king reluctantly set his seal to the Magna Carta.  In England, there would be limits to the sovereign’s power.  The king may be king, but the nobles held the wealth.  And with it a lot of power.  Sometimes they saw things differently.  And the little people, the masses, often saw things differently than did the king and lords.  These different interests were reconciled, in time, by king and Parliament, a two-house or bicameral legislature (comprised of the House of Commons and the House of Lords). 

England was the place to be.  Rule of law.  Bill of rights.  Commerce.  Banking.  Capitalism.  Liberty.  Food.  Security.  Your common everyday Englishman had a better quality of life than your common everyday [insert any other European national here].  As transoceanic trade took off, the great European powers collided with each other.  Fought for that lucrative trade.  In the Old World.  And in the New World.  These wars became very expensive.  And some lasted for years.  Like the Seven Years War.  Which the British won.  And took many French possessions throughout the world.  But at a huge cost.  She incurred a great debt.  Especially in securing one of her colonies.  British North America.

Tea Anyone?

So England taxed her British American subjects.  Only problem was, these English subjects had no representation in Parliament.  And this was very un-English.  Taxation without representation.  This caused tension.  Also, Great Britain’s mercantilist policies were also rubbing the colonists the wrong way.  America was growing.  And she wanted free trade.  But that was impossible when the home country maintained a favorable balance of trade at your expense.  And had the Royal Navy to enforce it.  As a colony, everything had to ship to/from England ports on English ships so England could accumulate bullion.  The British protected their industries.  Her colonies fed raw materials to these industries.  And that’s all they did.

Trouble brewed for a while.  When Great Britain legislated what type of tea they could drink (only British East Indian tea), the American colonists had had enough.   There was a tea party in Boston, a revolution and formal independence.  And then a new nation.  With a bicameral legislation.  An executive.  And a judiciary.  It wasn’t quite Parliament, but was very similar in function.  The president was the one.  The Senate was the few.  And the House of Representatives were the many.  But there were key differences.  There was no king.  No hereditary nobility.  And there would be no mercantilism.  Despite Alexander Hamilton’s best efforts.

Let’s Just Agree to Disagree

Getting the colonies to come together to declare their independence was not easy.  It helped that there was already a shooting war going on.  Lexington and Concord.  Bunker Hill.  The coastal towns the British burnt and left in ruins.  They were already fighting a rebellion.  The declaration was almost a moot point.  But it was important.  And, after some arm twisting, they voted for independence and posted their Declaration of Independence.  But that was then.  After the Revolutionary War, there was no such unifying force.  Everyone was back to looking out for number one.  Well, most. 

Locked in a Philadelphia hall during a sweltering summer thick with horseflies, a collection of America’s finest worked to create a new government.  George Washington, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, to name just a few, could hardly agree on anything.  The Constitution they created was not great in their eyes.  But it was probably the best that they could do.  So acknowledged, they sent it to the states for ratification.  The odds were against them.  It would take some persuading.  And persuading they did.  Hamilton and Madison (and John Jay) wrote a series of essays appearing in newspapers to make the case for ratification.  They addressed and answered all arguments against ratification.  (You can read these today in the Federalist Papers.)  And this effort was successful.  The states ratified the constitution.  There was now a nation known as the United States of America.

Our first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton.  A capitalist genius.  And a great admirer of the British Empire.  Being a recent transplant to the American Colonies, he had no deep-seated resentment of the former mother country.  In fact, he wanted to emulate her.  She was the greatest empire in the world.  She was obviously doing something right.  But he pushed too far.  His mercantilist plans were a bit much for some.  Especially the ‘simple’ farmers of the South.  The planter elite.  Led by Thomas Jefferson (covertly) and James Madison (overtly), they fought Hamilton tooth and nail and did everything to destroy him.  (After seeing his plans Madison switched to the opposition.)    And ultimately, did.  When Aaron Burr shot him in a duel on the field of honor at Weehawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from New York City.  All because Hamilton tried everything within his power to keep him from becoming president of the United States and governor of New York.  Because he was on unprincipled man.  Burr took offense to that.  And, well, the scoundrel challenged him to a duel and killed him.  But I digress.

The American Ideology

The American ideology is simple.  It includes things that have been proven to work.  And excludes things that have been proven not to.  A large, diverse people make up America.  So at the heart of our ideology is that we agree to disagree. 

We don’t have kings or nobility.  We don’t have an entitled class.  No hereditary rights.  Here, it doesn’t matter who your father was.  Or what group you belong to (religious, societal, etc.).  No one person is better than another. 

We have property rights and live under the rule of law.  We honor legal contracts.  We built our nation on laissez faire capitalism.  Free markets.  With a minimum of government interference.  We do what we want and respect that others do what they want.  And we are free to do this as long as we play by the rule of law.

It was a long road getting here.  We took the best history had to offer.  And rejected the worst that history included.  Nations who did likewise went on to greatness, too (like the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, etc.).  Those who didn’t have been repositories of great suffering and human bondage (North Korea, Cuba, The People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, etc.).  Of the latter nations, please note that life is getting much better in China and the former Soviet Union with the introduction of capitalism and free markets.  And it’s not in North Korea and Cuba where these governments stubbornly cling to failed policies to keep their governments in power.  Whatever the cost is to their people.

It’s the Ideology, Stupid

Good ideology makes good nations.  Bad ideology makes bad nations.  A good nation can NOT take bad ideology and make it good.  A good nation that implements bad ideology will only make that good nation bad.  All people have the capacity for greatness.  And that greatness will shine through if the government doesn’t suppress it.   To see this all we have to do is look to history.  It’s all there.  The good.  The bad.  And the ugly.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUITH #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2010

BONJOUR.  A LITTLE French there.  To go with the use of the French expression ‘raison d’être’.  Which means reason for being.  Sounds better in French, n’est-ce pas?

I like Canada.  Both parts.  The French and the English parts.  I’ve met and become friends with people in Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Corner Brook.  And elsewhere.  I like to talk to my Francophone friends about that day on the Plains of Abraham.  And I like to speak French to my Anglophone friends.  And they both like to point out to me what they believe to be America’s lack of tolerance and compassion.

The Canadians may be a tolerant and friendly people.  Everyone says that about them.  That they’re nice.  And they are.  But they have to work at it at times.  For there ain’t a whole lot of love between the French and English.  Not now.  Or then.  When French Canada became British.

Like it or not, that animosity has been at the van of Western Civilization.  And it would compete in the New World.  Colonize it.  Fight in it.  And give birth to a new nation.  One that would break from the ways of the past.

“WHO’S THAT, THEN?” one filthy peasant asked another.

“I don’t know.  Must be a king. ”

“Why?”

“He hasn’t got shit all over him.”

(From Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975.)

What is a king?  Besides someone who “hasn’t got shit all over him.”  A king is where sovereignty lies.  And sovereignty?  In a word, supremacy.  Supreme authority. 

The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, was an absolute monarch and his word was the absolute law of the land.  And he could do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.  He built his gorgeous palace at Versailles.  Because he could.  Over in England, the king was sovereign, too, but Parliament checked his power.  So the British king wasn’t an absolute monarchy.  In England, the king could do whatever he wanted as long as Parliament agreed to pay for it.  For Parliament controlled the purse strings.  There would be no Versailles in England.

Now France and England were always at war.  Their fighting even spilled over into the New World.  The 7 Years War (as the Europeans called this world war) went by a different name in North America.  The French and Indian War.  The British won.  France lost Canada and other colonial possessions.  Their loss, though, was America’s gain.  The French and Indian attacks on the American Colonists ended, leaving them with peace and prosperity.  But it was costly.  As wars are wont to be.

Over in England, Parliament had to pay that cost.  But taxes were already pretty high at the time in England.  If they raised them further, it could cause trouble.  So what to do?  Well, there were some who pointed out that the American colonists really came out the clear winner in this latest contest.  They got peace and prosperity without really paying anything to get it.  Shouldn’t they pick up part of the tab?  I mean, fair is fair, right?

And they probably would have gladly contributed as good English subjects.  However, and this is a big however, they felt they weren’t treated as good English subjects.  In fact, they felt more like Parliament’s bitch than English subjects.  And to add insult to injury, they had no vote in Parliament.

Parliament passed a series of acts that the Americans would call the Intolerable Acts.  Both sides missed opportunities for compromise and peace.  Instead, tempers festered.  Parliament would bitch-slap the colonists.  And the colonists would bitch-slap Parliament.  Eventually throwing some British East Indian tea into the water.

Now Britain’s king, King George, had a bit of a problem on his hands.  The Americans were challenging his sovereign rule.  There was a name for this.  Kings call it treason.  And they kill people for it.  King George was the supreme authority.  Anyone challenging his authority was challenging his right to rule.  That’s why acts of treason are typically punishable by death.  You don’t stand up to kings.  You grovel.  And these uppity Americans surely weren’t groveling.

And just how does a king get this authority?  Well, you don’t vote for them.  They either inherit power.  Or they kill for it.  It’s a story as old as time.  Patricide.  Matricide.  Fratricide.  And sometimes the killing was by someone outside the family.  But that’s how sovereign power changed.  A king or queen died.  Naturally.  Or with a little help.  And when a new sovereign ascended the throne, he or she usually killed all other possible contenders.

If King George didn’t put down the American rebellion, it could spread.  To Canada.  To other English colonies.  Or give someone ideas back at home that the king was weak.  And challenge him for his throne.

These are things kings think about.  Power can be precarious.  Even when it’s absolute.  As King Louis XVI would learn in France.  During the French Revolution, the people, challenging the king’s sovereignty, sent him to the guillotine.  Chopped his head off.  His wife’s, too.  Marie Antoinette.

ENGLAND GAVE BIRTH to modern, representative government.  It was a balance of power between the many (the common people in the House of Commons), the few (the aristocratic rich in the House of Lords) and the one (the sovereign king).  Each provided a check on the others.  The king was the supreme power but he needed money to wage war and build things.  Parliament collected taxes and paid for things they approved of.  And the House of Lords was to keep that spending from getting out of control as they understood money and costs (that’s what rich people are good at).  They were to protect the nation from the evils of pure democracy where the people, once they realize they can, will vote themselves the treasury.

Most of the American colonists were transplanted Englishmen.  Or came from English stock.  They were English subjects (at least in name if not in practice).  They understood representative government.  Their colonial governments were in fact very British.  The Rule of Law was the rule of the land.  The governed consented to taxation.  And the government collected the taxes they consented to. 

You can probably see where this is going.

Taxation without representation was very un-English.  The fact that it was okay in the American colonies chafed the American English subjects.  I mean, it really frosted their shorts.  It wasn’t right.  By English law.  Or by precedent.  Anger at Parliament turned into anger at the king.  Questions of sovereignty arose.  Should the king be sovereign?  Or should the people?  In 1776, the American colonists stated their opinion in a very treasonous document.  The Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The U.S. Constitution emphasized the sovereignty of the people in the preamble.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Kings were out.  The Rule of Law was in.  No aristocracy.  No hereditary offices.  In America, it would be different.  After the Battle of Gettysburg some 75 years later, Abraham Lincoln would reiterate this at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

THE AMERICAN COLONISTS rebelled and broke away from Great Britain because they were through with being her bitch.  In fact, they weren’t going to be anyone’s bitch.  That’s why there was a lot of opposition to the establishment of a strong, central government.  They didn’t want a national government taking up where Great Britain left off.  And they didn’t want an American president to be just another King George.  The people won their liberty.  And they intended to keep it.  So they could pursue that happiness Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.

Federalism was the solution.  The states’ governments would retain most of their powers.  Only those things they could not do well (regulate ‘free-trade’ interstate commerce, negotiate trade agreements with other nations, wage war, etc.) would be done by the new national government.  The people would remain sovereign.  Strong state governments and a ‘weak’ central government would share power.  In effect, the new central government was to be the people’s bitch.  But you’d never know that by looking at things today.

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LESSONS LEARNED #4 “Wealth ain’t money; money ain’t wealth.” –Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 11th, 2010

WEALTH COMES FROM human capital.  People making things or doing something.  And it’s what they make or do that has value.  They trade these valuable things and services for other valuable things and services.  The more complex and diverse these good and services got, though, the more difficult it got to trade them.  Money came into use.  Instead of trading directly, you could trade for money.  Later, you could take that money and trade (i.e., shop) for what you wanted.  Money was not the end; it was the means to an end.  Trade.

This is important.  It’s the goods and services that are valuable.  Not the money.  We don’t want money; we want the goods and services that money will buy. 

The producers of these things and services are wealth creators.  Those who don’t produce things or services are wealth consumers.  Farmers, craftsmen, truck drivers, entrepreneurs, etc., are wealth producers.  Thieves, the lazy, government, etc., are wealth consumers.

THE DECLINE OF the Roman Empire began in the third century.  With a military flung across the known world and a bloated government bureaucracy, she was engaged in some serious deficit spending.  The government was trying to expand the purchasing power of her money.  They just weren’t collecting enough in taxes.  And the tax rates were pretty close to confiscatory.  I mean, they taxed so much that there just wasn’t anything left to tax.

The silver denarius was the main money used by the Romans.  When first introduced, it was approximately 95% silver.  They kept debasing it until it contained less than 1% silver.  With less precious metal (silver) in each coin, they were able to make more coins.  But this did not create more wealth.  The wealth producers weren’t producing more wealth.  With more money chasing the same amount of goods, prices soared.  And the value of the silver denarius plummeted.

The silver denarius became worthless.  No one wanted to exchange their goods and serviced for it.  The Romans wouldn’t even accept it for tax payments.  And it was their own coin!  If you had gold, you paid with gold, for gold was still gold.  Precious and scarce.  Unlike the silver denarius.  If you didn’t have gold, then you paid ‘in kind’.  You gave the government some of the valuable things you created with your human capital. 

Having destroyed their medium of exchange, they cut out the ‘middleman’.  Instead of collecting tax coins to buy those things of value the empire needed, they collected those things of value directly.  The efficiencies gained by the use of money were lost.  And, well, we see why this Roman period has the word ‘decline’ in its title.

IN THE VERY beginning of the United States, everything was brand new.  The federal government.  The federal budget.  And the federal debt.  Well, the debt itself wasn’t brand new.  It was the states’ Revolutionary War debts assumed by the federal government.  And to help pay off this now federal debt the new nation introduced its first ‘sin’ tax.  On whiskey.  Well, sort of.  It was placed on the producers, not the consumers of whiskey.

This reminded many Americans of Parliament’s taxes on the colonists.  Taxation without representation they had cried then and rebelled.  Americans don’t like taxes.  Who does?  So they would rebel once again.  The only problem was that it was different now.  It was taxation WITH representation.  It was a tax levied by the new American government, not by British Parliament.

But they rebelled despite this difference.  We call it the Whiskey Rebellion.  Because it was, well, I guess that goes without saying.  With memories of Shays’ Rebellion (poor farmers in Massachusetts rebelling against debt they couldn’t pay off and high taxes) still fresh in their memory, government moved swiftly to put this rebellion down.  And they did.

Farmers in Western Pennsylvania said that the tax wasn’t ‘fair’.  But why?  Didn’t it only tax whiskey?  And wasn’t limiting whiskey consumption a good thing?  Well, the problem was the lack of money to facilitate trade.  And the lack of roads.  The farmers in western Pennsylvania (grain farmers) had good farmland.  And good crops.  What they didn’t have was a good way to sell those crops.  Not as grain, at least.

What can you make from grain that is ‘valuable’ and easier to transport than grain?  You guessed it.  Whiskey.   And this is why it was not ‘fair’.  Farmers converted excess grain (something of value) into whiskey (something of greater value).  Whiskey was more portable than grain.  Smaller amounts of it equaled the value of larger amounts of the raw grain.  Whiskey was more durable than grain (it aged, grain rotted).  It took farming PLUS distillation to make whiskey so whiskey was scarcer than grain.  So they used whiskey to trade for things of value they wanted.  It was a medium of exchange.  Because there was little money available, those farmers used whiskey as money. 

It wasn’t a ‘sin’ tax to the famers.  It was a tax on their money.  It was, therefore, a tax on everything they purchased with that money.  It was a national sales tax.  Or a national value-added tax (VAT).  That only they were paying.

ANYTHING THAT HAS the attributes (scarce, divisible, stores value, etc.) of money can be money.  It’s that thing that helps facilitate trade between the wealth producers.  It’s a medium of exchange.  It allows people with human capital to produce more goods and services.   And that’s what it’s all about.  The goods and services.  It’s what we want.  Not the money.  We want the house, car, TVs, cell phones, etc.  We’d rather have those things than the money.  It’s why we trade the money for them.  We trade our human capital for money.  Then trade the money for the stuff we want.  Goods and services created by other wealth-creators using their human capital.

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