The Whiskey Rebellion more or less blew up in Alexander Hamilton’s face. The tax he pushed through congress on whiskey that triggered the entire affair was shortly thereafter repealed and it was a while before the federal government tried to impose internal taxes. One of the stated goals of the revolution was to end taxation without representation, but in practical terms this meant an end to taxation, period.
The federal government used tariffs and land sales to pay off the debt incurred by the revolutionary war. Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana was still done by a combination of the two plus borrowing. Generally, tariffs were kept low, to encourage volume of trade. Some high tariffs were employed in the 1820s and 1830s as protectionist measures to level the field with Britain, which was in the midst of its “workshop of the world” period. The South hated these tariffs because it raised the price of manufactures and shipping, which impacted on their trade which was almost entirely agricultural.
It was different in the states. Property taxes early became a source of state revenue. The definition of “property” for the purposes of such taxes stretched far beyond the bounds we would recognize or accept today and under Jackson came to include just about anything a person owned. Local reaction to such impositions varied by city and state, but rarely rose to the level of rebellion.
Federal internal taxes did not come into play until the Civil War. The need to raise revenue in huge amounts and quickly necessitated the creation of the first income tax, among others, including a vast array of excise taxes and licensing. There were special corporate taxes, stamp taxes for legal documents, and inheritance taxes.
Most of these were phased out after the Civil War. Interestingly, the Republicans—a new party formed just before the Civil War which became the second national party, supplanting the archaic Whigs—kept two elements of the new tax system: high tariffs and taxes on liquor and tobacco. High tariffs were protectionist measures. The excises on liquor and tobacco were not greatly challenged because they coincided with the growing Temperance Movement, which was becoming politically significant.
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This will be a rather lengthy piece. It is my intention here to examine the historical underpinnings of what is happening today in the fight between the Right and everyone else. This will be part one of a two-part essay. Bear with me, it all does lead somewhere.
The talking heads have been bloviating for decades now about the function of government vis a vis a so-called Welfare State. The Right claims that having the government “take care of” people is a violation of the American tradition of independence and self-reliance and will sap our resources, both fiscal and moral. The Left has argued that such government programs are there to protect people who have few resources from the depredations of the wealthy and an economy that fluctuates as a normal element of its functioning and that it is the responsibility of the better-off to aid those who are left without recourse in such a system.
That’s the basics of the debate. The Right says no, people should look out for themselves. The Left says many people can’t and it isn’t right to let them starve in the streets. The Right says it has no desire to see anyone starve in the streets but rejects the idea that others are responsible for the perhaps bad choices of individuals who have been unable to take advantage of an open system. The Left counters by pointing out the system is not as open as the Right believes and built in to its workings is the inevitability that a certain number of people simply won’t be able to participate. Even if the Right then agrees, they assert that it is not the job of the State, using tax payer money, to off-set this imbalance. The Left says it is if people vote for it and even if they don’t there’s a moral imperative involved. The Right counters that the State is not the instrument for pursuing moral imperatives.
Let me be up front here—I think the Right has it wrong. They base their philosophy, if that’s what it is, on an idea of equality that is unsupportable. In the narrowest sense, they argue that our system is open to the extent that everyone has an equal shot at some measure of success and if they fail it is either because they were lazy, foolish, or unlucky. The government can functionally do nothing about any of that.
The argument falls apart on its face. Equality in this country is a principle concerning representation before the State. The State in this sense is the community as a whole, both public and private. The ideas that we are not born to a Station in life which determines at the outset how far an individual might go through his or her own efforts. It was never intended as an assessment of talent or a measure of will or a guarantee of achievement. It is only a promise of access. Because people are not equal as individuals.
They aren’t and there’s not much point in arguing about it. Intelligence, physical attributes, proclivities, all these things vary widely throughout any population group and to argue that, if somehow we could take away all social obstacles, everyone would be exactly the same is absurd.
The Right seems to argue that because this is true, the rest of us have no responsibility for the fundamentally unequal achievements of any one, or group of, individual. They discount social obstacles. Not completely, because when an individual rises above a certain level, reaches the precincts of success, and has done so from straitened beginnings, many on the Right like to point to that individual as an exemplar of succeeding in spite of the circumstances of his or her life. So there is a tacit recognition that social conditions matter, but only as an ennobling aspect to a Horatio Alger story. The question really is why those conditions keep so many others down, but that, as much as the successful individual’s achievement is credited to personal qualities, is a matter of personal failure, not attributable to anyone else.
Which seems to make success and failure a matter of choice. Exclusively. Ergo, the tax payer, through the medium of the State, has no responsibility for such failures.
This can only be true if the assertion of equality is true as an innate quality.
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Check out this quote and this link to ThinkProgress:
“I have one dollar in my wallet. That’s more than the combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of America. That means somebody is gaming the system.”
Since when is it against the law to help anyone–ANYONE–afford their legal bills? Well, PayPal has decided that it has an “internal policy” that justifies shutting down the account of a group that is attempting to help Bradley Manning pay his legal bills. This shutdown is despicable. With this logic, we should also shut down all public defender offices and thus require all poor people accused of crimes to fend for themselves. If you would like to write to PayPal to express your opinion on this matter, follow this link provided by Firedoglake.
Here’s FDL’s suggested template:
According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, PayPal has frozen the account of the group that supports Pfc. Bradley Manning’s legal defense.
Citizens around the world have donated to the Bradley Manning Support Network to fund the legal defense of Pfc. Manning. This grassroots activism is now hindered because of a political policy decision by PayPal to block these funds.
The Bradley Manning Support Network has not been accused of any impropriety. Your company has essentially admitted that there is no legal reason to shut down account access, and that it is simply an internal policy decision. Additionally, the organization has complied with every reasonable demand from PayPal to restore access to its account – short of the extraordinary and unnecessary step of providing PayPal direct access to its checking account.
PayPal should drop its unreasonable demands of the Bradley Manning Support Network and restore access to the group’s PayPal account.
I am not a political analyst. Nor am I a games theorist, although I come from a family full of them. But there seems to be a pattern in the odd funding battles currently being fought by Federal House Republicans.
Defunding Planned Parenthood is a high profile battle that seems pretty silly. For 1/6 the price of a single stealth bomber, Planned Parenthood provides birth control, pap smears, breast exams, STD treatments and other health services to millions of the poor and unenfranchised for a year. No tax money has gone for abortions since the 1970’s, so this service is not actually the issue.
Well, unwanted children help keep prisons full. Or become likely infantry assets (cannon fodder). They also keep the crime rate up, allowing the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt crowd a tighter control over individual rights.
Also, knowledge is power. Planned Parenthood works hard to try to educate young people on how to get out of the young-breeder cycle and build more fulfilling lives. If conservatives could just get this unregulated source of pure information away from the young, then church indoctrination would provide the Quiverfull of Christian soldiers at the voting booths.
Defunding Public Broadcasting is a less publicized issue. They argue that NPR and PBS may have been a necessary part of the dial back when there were three networks. But now there are hundreds! So who needs just one more paid for by taxes?
Well, in the old days, there was one non-commercial educational network on the dial: PBS. Now, with hundreds of stations to choose from, there is one non-commercial educational network on the dial: PBS. Why is this a problem to conservatives?
Well, the cities are a lost cause. With inescapable multiculturalism, a high rate of college education, and exposure to a wide variety of influences and media, cities tend toward a liberal bias. Knowledge does that. But out in the boondocks, the only fly in the otherwise completely conservative Christian ointment is the centrist (“bleeding heart liberal”) influence of Public Broadcasting. If they could only get rid of that, they’d control all the channels.
Conclusion: Republican Policy is Ignorance is Bliss: Cut programs accordingly.
ZeroHedge has earned a spot in my RSS feed. A diverse group of mostly pseudonymous bloggers who consistently produce excellent financial reporting, many times breaking scandals and should-be scandals before the mainstream media. They focus on the themes of intrigue in the world of high finance, corruption, politics, and the nexus where those areas intersect.
Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of visual propaganda coming from ZeroHedge, and some of it is quite amusing. For the latest entry, they lampoon the news that Angelo Mozilo (the bankster behind the collapse of Countrywide financial) is going scott-free. Here’s some background on Mozilo, from the New York Times:
The conclusion by prosecutors that Mr. Mozilo, 72, did not engage in criminal conduct while directing Countrywide will likely fuel broad concerns that few high-level executives of financial companies are being held accountable for the actions that led to the financial crisis of 2008.
I’ll admit up front that I’m shooting from the hip here. There are many aspects to what is happening in Wisconsin right now with parallels to several past instances in the country in the fight over workers’ rights, unions, and moneyed interests, but I frankly don’t have the time to research them all right now and get something up before it all comes to a head.
Isn’t it interesting, though, that we are collectively cheering what is happening in the Middle East right now and something similar is happening right here and people don’t seem to be paying attention to what’s at stake?
I grant you, it’s a stretch. But on principles, not so much. We’re talking about who has the right to speak to power and over what. The protesters in Madison aren’t having their internet access and phone service pulled and it’s doubtful the military will be called in, but on the other hand the Wisconsin state police are being asked to go get the now-labeled Wisconsin 14 and bring them back to the state capitol to vote on something that is clearly a stripping of the right of petition and assembly. So this can become very quickly a constitutional issue and that’s scary, because right now the Supreme Court has been decidedly against workers’ rights.
Governor Scott is at least being clear. I’ll give him credit, he’s not ducking questions about what he’s trying to do. Wisconsin, like many states, has a budget crisis. He’s already gotten concessions from the unions, a lot of money. The unions have not balked at doing their civic duty in terms of agreeing to pay cuts, freezes on raises, and some concessions on benefits to help the state meet its budgetary responsibilities. But he’s going further and asking that all these unions be stripped of their collective bargaining abilities in order to make sure they never again demand something from the state that the legislature or the governor believes they don’t deserve. In other words, Governor Scott doesn’t ever want to have to sit down and ask them for concessions ever again—he wants to be able to just take what he wants.
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Former Senator Russ Feingold has taken on Citizen’s United by founding Progressives United:
Launching on Wednesday, Progressives United is an attempt to to build a grassroots effort aimed at mitigating the effects of, and eventually overturning, the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to corporate spending in the U.S. electoral system. In addition to online mobilization, the political action committee (PAC) will support progressive candidates at the local, state and national levels, as well as holding the media and elected officials accountable on the group’s key priorities.
Here’s more on Feingold and his new organization from Huffpo.
This is a completely personal anecdote, so take it for what it’s worth. This is about a defining moment for me in my education as an egalitarian.
Equality is something we talk about, we assume to be the case for everyone, and never really question. Here, it’s the air we breathe. It’s not true. We are not all equal. And in spite of our all our lip service to the idea of equality under the law or the equality of opportunity, we all know, if we’re honest, that we’re still trying to get to that level. Probably it’s a function of how well we think our lives are at any given moment. “If I’m doing all right, there’s no problem. What are those people over there complaining about? I don’t see anything wrong with my life.”
This is about gender equality. It’s one of the most under-considered things in our present world. I saw a PBS special last week about early television and on it Angie Dickinson was talking about her series Police Woman. Breakthrough television. It had been the first dramatic tv show since the mid-60s to be headed by a female in prime time. It was shortly before Charlie’s Angels and a decade after both Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. During the interview, Dickinson commented that the feminists had been angry with her because she hadn’t used the show as a statement for the cause. She defended herself by declaring that she was feminine not a feminist—as if being a feminist were somehow a bad thing, a dirty word, a slur.
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