Originally posted 2009-08-09 22:28:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
by Norbert Sluzewski
August 9, 2009
In the late 18th century a truly unprecedented series of events were occurring on the American continent. A juxtaposition of historical events never aligned as then, presented a unique opportunity for the young American colonies to embark on a new social experiment never heretofore tried on the scale of a nation. The circumstances were unique and the time was right to seed the experiment. And never was the chance of its success greater than at that time.
The young American colonies were determined to create a nation out of the principles which brought their citizens to this continent in the first place. These principles included fundamental rights in which the colonists believed so strongly that they left their ancestral homes, families and countries to support and ultimately defend. Foremost among these rights was the right that citizens should determine the makeup of their government and that no government should place its needs ahead of those of the citizens’.
Most of the colonists were adamantly opposed to a central form of government. Their experiences, after all, vividly recollected the injustice and excesses of the governments which they fled. So afraid were they of recreating another monarchy or oligarchy, that most would choose anarchy over any form of central government. As a result the colonist’s first attempt to create a form of governance was a weak alliance of states codified in the Articles of Confederation, the final draft of which became the de-facto constitution in 1777 (finally ratified in 1781). The Articles placed all governing power in the hands of the individual states, with only specific and very limited provisions delegated to the Confederation. These included, among others, the right to wage wars, negotiate treaties and resolve territorial disputes.
The shortcomings of the Articles (lack of central taxing authority, inequalities between the influence of large and small states, etc.) were soon exposed and an effort to create a federated type of central government was undertaken.
A remarkable group of statesmen (the Federalists) emerged to lay the foundation of this new government structure, one which would preserve the authority of the states, while giving enough power to the central core so that it could effectively act as a national government. These principles were assembled into a document which on June 21, 1788 was signed to become the US Constitution.
But what was most remarkable about the Constitution’s structure was that it created no single source of power. With the distribution of authority among the executive, legislative and judicial branches, this distributed structure of checks and balances recognized an inherent human flaw that:
If given the opportunity to avail himself of excesses,
man inevitably will.
Even the most benevolent monarchy or dictatorship eventually succumbs to this flaw. The Founders uniquely understood this and sought to establish a Republic in which no single man, group, state or other entity could dominate or unduly influence the direction of the nation.
The Constitution survived and remained largely unchanged into the first decade of the 20th century. During this time the American experiment had grown to become hugely successful and the United States of America became the most prosperous nation in the world, envied for the liberty and freedom that its citizens enjoyed. The Federation survived every test of its Founding Principles. Amendments to the Constitution throughout this period were carefully crafted to not upset these Principles. That is, until the 16th Amendment in 1913, which established the central government’s right to tax the income of citizens (previously this right was reserved to the states).
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
While until then various taxes were levied in support of specific government initiatives (e.g. the Revenue Act of 1861 levied a 3% tax on high-wealth citizens to fund the Civil War), these would be repealed upon completion of the initiative. The 16th Amendment for the first time institutionalized the government’s right to collect income taxes. The rate was innocently set at 1% of incomes above $3,000 and 6% surcharge for incomes above $500K.
The federal income tax quickly became eye candy for politicians looking for funding to support their favorite programs. And the government as a whole saw it as a cash machine from which funding for social programs, wars, and other initiates could be secured. To no surprise, by 1918, five years after the 16th Amendment was ratified, the top income tax rate skyrocketed to 77%. During his presidency Franklin D. Roosevelt even tried (but failed) to impose a 100% rate on incomes above $25,000 to fund the war effort. Through the 1960’s the marginal tax bracket stayed at 90% and it wasn’t until the administration of Ronald Reagan which reduced the top rates to 28%.
To no surprise to any free market capitalist, history shows that the performance of the stock markets, the rate of employment, size of the GDP and other measures of national prosperity all positively and directly correlate to the rate of taxation. The wealth of America, its prestige around the world, our ability to extend the experiment in liberty which our Founders blessed us with, all has been affected, and in fact jeopardized by the enactment of the 16th Amendment. I will write about other reforms (e.g. immigration), which have also had significant detrimental impact, in an upcoming new article.
The enactment of the 16th Amendment significantly changed the character of the American experiment. It took a big bite out of the forbidden fruit that is influence over wealth distribution. One of our founding freedoms — that the fruits of our labor should be ours to enjoy and dispense with according to our own conscience and convictions — has been trampled on without recourse and consideration. This is perhaps one of the most fundamental liberties we as Americans have enjoyed and expect it to have been protected by the very Constitution which the 16th Amendment has trampled.
Some argue that the Constitution is an “ancient” document written by men of times long passed; that progress necessitates changes, and that we should no more look to our Constitution for answers as we would to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs for ways to build our skyscrapers. To those I say, give me something better to replace it with. Give me a different anchor to which we can moor our society. And let not that anchor float with the current, but let it stand firm and withstand the storms of progress and uncertainty that is by definition the future. While you ponder this, ponder also where do you get the audacity to think that you have the wisdom and motivation to frame this new society you think you want. While your motivation is political survival, each of our Founding Fathers risked his life and limb to give to us their wisdom and experience.
Until you show me this new anchor, I’ll stick to my Constitution – thank you very much.
And remember also that only a fool accepts change for its novelty.
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Norbert Sluzewski is a columnist and editor of NakedLiberty.com
He lives in Connecticut
Article may be reprinted with attribution.