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Finally…a post! The fundamental problem with the Federal Government.

October 9, 2013

It’s been a long time since I had much to say here, for a variety of reasons. First, I had some family issues (illness and death of a parent). Then the subsequent disposition of the estate, which is going to take another year, probably.

Also, I was pretty unhappy with the progress of practically everything going on in Washington, and in Springfield, Illinois, since the election of Barak Obama. I never thought George W. Bush was the most brilliant President we’ve ever had, but I do think he was one of the most moral. Because of that I think he and his Administration were completely blindsided by the machinations going on in the fall of 2008 – the manipulation of stocks and currencies than tipped the economy over into recession. I’ll not get into that here, but the evidence is pretty clear now that in September of that year a number of financiers started seriously messing with the economy. It was in tender shape to begin with, but they knew exactly where to push to start the slide. Granted, Dodd-Frank and other incredibly stupid legislation was already setting up a house of cards that only needed a little more stress to completely collapse.

Anyway, that set up the possibility for a first-term senator with meager government experience to win against one of the worst candidates the Republicans had ever fielded. Well, except for Bob Dole, probably.

Since then the Republican Party has failed to do anything to mount a serious challenge. I don’t know why, and that’s a story for another piece.

This piece is about why the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution was a fundamentally bad idea.

Yep, that’s the one that made income tax legal. It was supposed to be a more equitable way of providing the Federal Government with funding than the excise taxes that had been in place. The western and southern states thought it was a good idea because the wealth was still concentrated in the northeast, and it was thought the income tax would be hit them the hardest.

Oh, wait – so even in 1913 it was a class-warfare issue? Or at least one where the the have-nots could outvote the haves? (If anyone has a counterargument, I would be happy to hear it.)

It had been tried before, during and immediately after the Civil War. But it was lifted in 1872 and the government went back to excise taxes.

Then three things happened. Great Britain, Japan, and the major European countries were building up increasingly large militaries. The rapid industrialization of the US created a larger imbalance in wealth. The growth of Socialist-leaning groups that championed the rights of the industrial worker, and the “Progressive” and populist movements caused more people to lean toward a more activist government. All of this set the stage for the passing of the amendment.

In the past hundred years a lot of things really haven’t changed. The same arguments have been made for a larger government ever since the passing of the Amendment: we need a strong military to protect us; we need a strong Federal government to protect the rights or the worker from the big bad corporations, and the government will take care of all sorts of things for us. (The redistribution of wealth, the way we think of it today, really became a big thing after the New Deal.)

It probably helped justify the income tax when the US entered the First World War in 1917. Prior to the beginning of the war the US had a very small army and navy. Semi-isolated as the US was by major oceans and no threats on her borders, it was not seen as a significant need. The military buildup that started slowly while the war raged in Europe could not have been possible without a steady source of revenue for the government.

Anyway, just over a decade later came the Great Depression, and the subsequent New Deal activist initiatives. Then there was the World War 2 mobilization, and the Cold War, and Great Society, and the Vietnam War, and then we were off to the races with things like the EPA, the Department of Education, and so on – an expansion of powers and interference that is reaching its crowning “achievement” in Obamacare.

Here’s why the income tax, no matter how well-intentioned, because a problem: voters received benefits from the Federal Government, and those benefits didn’t have to be apportioned equally. The temptation to redistribute government-acquired tax dollars to buy votes was a temptation Congresscritters have found impossible to resist for generations. It is thoroughly ingrained into the Washington culture – lobbyists have become an institution unto themselves. If there was anything the Framers did not anticipate, it was how much money would be available to members of the government.

Worse, those who should be holding back the growth of government – the Congress – is exactly the group of people who benefit most from greater increase in tax revenues. The checks and balances so carefully built into the Constitution do not work in this instance.

And that’s why the growth of government has been allowed to continue unchecked. How do we stop this? I don’t know how. We’re so far down the path, and sliding faster all the time, I don’t see a way out.

While so many have been complaining about the Congress doing nothing, hopelessly deadlocked, it is perhaps the best thing we can hope for. We have essentially four political parties in Congress right now, all with their own goals and interests. We have the incredibly far-left liberal Democrats, a group of more moderate Democrats who can sometimes be persuaded to vote with the Republicans, the establishment Republicans, who are center-right at best, and the conservative Republicans, some of whom have ties to the Tea Party. There is a belief many folks have that the Congress should just “do something,” despite all the evidence that often a lack of Congressional activism is the best policy.

Alliances in both the House and Senate should be fluid, instead of all members of a party being in lockstep all the time. A Democrat in Washington state could have a completely different view of the world from one from, say, Georgia. That’s what is most important about the Congress – its members were supposed to represent the interests of their constituencies.

But life inside the Beltway was not supposed to separate the representatives of the People from their constituents. In fact, the job of a senator or representative was supposed to be part-time. Back when Washington D.C. was founded it was a miserable location. As I recall it, the location was a source of great chuckles among Southerners – the Northern states were so interested in appeasing the South that they were willing to take low, swampy ground that was virtually uninhabitable in the summer. (I believe the Federal Government started on its long slide when air conditioning was invented, and Congress could remain in the city year-round.)

So give a group of people unlimited funds they can use to make their own lives better, and ensure they can maintain that lifestyle by essentially bribing the voters in their districts, and add the fact that these folks are by nature a bit narcissistic, and you have what we have today…a Congress with the lowest approval rating since such things were recorded, but which spends more money than any in history.

And of course, that also means there is a huge machine for collecting those taxes. It can be used for other purposes, too, like harassment. But that’s for another day.

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