This is a particularly poignant 4th of July, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court’s unprecedented decision to find the Affordable Care Act constitutional and grant the federal government unlimited power to tax Americans for existing.
In 1776, the American colonists had grown increasingly irritated with the arbitrary dictates flowing from Parliament in Great Britain. These dictates affected colonial life with taxes on goods where none had previously existed, restrictions on assembly, and requirements that colonists provide quarters for British troops at their convenience. Colonial America had existed as a tax-free trade zone much like today’s Internet, where goods and capital flowed without the hindrance of taxes. The colonists had grown quite fond of this arrangement and resented the upsetting of this arrangement by a distant political body which the colonists felt did not understand colonial life. After all, the colonists had given up the comforts of Great Britain to forge an existence in the remote American colonies, and they believed that Britain should allow them greater leeway for their sacrifice. The truth was that the colonists had grown used to running their own affairs, a luxury which being distant from Great Britain afforded. When it became obvious that Britain would not leave the colonists to their own affairs, colonial resistance to British rule finally shifted from rebellion into revolution. The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 marked the colonists’ determination to separate themselves from what they considered to be the tyrannical rule of Great Britain.
Contrast that time to today. America has become intoxicated with the spirit of entitlement as many of her citizens depend upon the federal government for benefits. The concept of limited federal government has become an anachronism relegated to nostalgia. Our Supreme Court, charged with determining the constitutionality of the laws governing us, found that the federal government has the power to compel Americans to engage in commerce that it deems necessary to preserve the common good. Combined local, state, and federal taxes consume more than half of the earnings of the average American. The top 50% of taxpayers pay 96% of federal taxes while the bottom 50% of taxpayers pay about 4% of federal taxes. Entitlement spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security consume 60% of the federal budget. These are payments from the government directly to Americans. Our government has grown into a gargantuan beast that controls our lives and dwarfs anything the colonists faced from Britain. We escaped a small but growing tyranny in 1776 only to perpetuate a much larger and more pernicious tyranny upon ourselves today.
Despite what the naysayers proclaim, America is the embodiment of a noble idea whereby personal liberty, tempered by personal responsibility, allows for limited government and the expression of individual freedom to pursue one’s happiness to the freest extent possible. That noble idea has come under increasing attack as the federal government has expanded past the Founders’ intent and even past the limits of our Constitution. As we celebrate Independence Day, it is incumbent upon us to reflect on just how much our freedom has been eroded since those original patriots took to the field to win American independence. Tyranny from one’s own government is still tyranny. Remember, the colonists were British subjects tyrannized by British rule until they revolted to form their own government. That government has grown into a massive behemoth without limits.
The colonists poured their dissatisfaction with British mandates and taxes into the formation of militias and the exercise of civil disobedience such as the Boston Tea Party. They refused to abide by various taxes by designing clever ways to avoid their incursion. They switched from drinking tea to coffee to avoid the tea tax. Each British tax generated far less revenue than projected because the colonists refused to voluntarily participate in the taxing schemes. Americans have a long tradition of tax avoidance that continues to this day as each federal tax continues to generate far less revenue than projected, just like always. The difference now is that taxes are not only used to generate revenue, but to influence behavior through various credits. With the Supreme Court affirmation of the Affordable Care Act, taxes have now become an overt tool to compel behavior.
When our government can force us to engage in commerce against our will, then we are no longer free. We are minions awaiting our orders. During the Cold War, we shuddered at the thought of a communist government dictating every choice in the lives of its citizens and pressed on to avoid the possibility that the Soviet Union might come to have dominion over us. However, it has become our own government which is rapidly establishing dominion over us. The Soviet Union collapsed in debt as its economic model was not able to keep pace with its spending needs. America is threatened by collapse from crushing debt because its spending is outpacing the ability of its economic model to fund its government expansion. Americans are turning inward to protect what little they have instead of investing for the future. Our outlook has turned from cheery optimism to gloomy despair as uncertainty about the future has descended over the nation.
America thrived and expanded during her first century despite the absence of government entitlement programs. Her wealth and standard of living increased as her government remained small and manageable. There were hardships and poverty, but there was also a sense of rugged individualism which tamed the frontier and allowed for westward expansion. America grew into the arsenal of democracy which won two world wars and propelled her into the world’s lone superpower. Along the way, the progressive element agitated for social programs which seemed innocent enough, but have grown into substantial drags on our economy and resulted in massive debt loads. Senior Americans live well at the expense of future generations who graduate from college with worthless degrees, massive student loan debts, and few employment prospects. We have to ask ourselves if these social programs have truly made our lives better and are they worth the cost.
We have much to be thankful for as we celebrate American independence, but we also have much to contemplate. We owe it to those ragtag patriots who sacrificed everything to win American independence not to squander their sacrifice by allowing our own government to become oppressive and domineering in our lives. It may be too late to effect change at the ballot box as those who enjoy the benefits wrested from the productive class have become a majority and show no inclination to deviate from the present arrangement. We may very well have to take a page from history to reclaim our independence from oppressive government by taking up arms and revolting from our own government. The colonists were hopeful that Britain would realize their folly and relent, but that was not to be for Britain was loath to surrender their hold over such a profitable enterprise such as the American colonies. Likewise, our government leaders see their actions as perfectly reasonable and cannot understand why their supposed benevolence to us is resisted. Their elitist backgrounds and privileged lifestyles have insulated them from the pernicious assault on liberty that their progressive schemes have become to the ordinary American. It’s Independence Day America! Celebrate and remember.