Saturday, March 07, 2009

The New Intolerable Acts

There are qualified parallels between what American colonists protested and rebelled against in 1774-1775, and what modern Americans ought to be rebelling against today. As Congress passes legislation intended to take over the economy, the British Crown passed legislation intended to take over that of the American colonies. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget is specifically worded to accomplish the near total nationalization of the economy. A succession of Acts of Parliament which virtually assured revolution and war were what were called the Intolerable or Coercive Acts.

The TARP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Acts are more massive in scope than any of the Intolerable Acts -- which were mercantilist in nature, not socialist -- but not dissimilar from the British Acts in their specific ends: to achieve a captive economy intended to serve statist purposes.

A letter to the editor of The Tennessean of February 5, in the form of a letter to the IRS advising it that the writer would be late in paying his income tax, lists all the taxes the individual paid in the daily course of his life:

“I have paid these taxes: accounts receivable tax, building permit tax, CDL tax, cigarette tax, corporate income tax, dog license tax, federal income tax, unemployment tax, gasoline tax, hunting license tax, fishing license tax, waterfowl stamp tax, inheritance tax, inventory tax, liquor tax, Medicare tax, city, school and county property taxes (up 33 percent the last four years), real estate tax, Social Security tax, road usage tax, toll road tax, state and city sales taxes, recreational vehicle tax, state franchise tax, state unemployment tax, telephone federal excise tax, telephone federal, state and local surcharge tax, telephone minimum usage surcharge tax, telephone state and local taxes, utility tax, vehicle license registration tax, capital gains tax, lease severance tax, oil and gas assessment tax, Tennessee property tax, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama sales taxes, and many more that I can’t recall but I have run out of space and money.”

The average American citizen could also report an equal or greater number of taxes he pays, regardless of his state of residence.

A host of British and even colonial taxes burdened American colonists (in Virginia, for example, there was a local tax on carriages and their wheels) in the decades leading up to passage of the one that lit the fuse of rebellion, and then of revolution: the Stamp Act, passed by Parliament in March 1765. Its repeal almost exactly a year later by Parliament taught the Crown government nothing. Aside from the Revenue or Sugar Act of 1764, which was intended to reduce smuggling rum and goods from the West Indies and the European continent, the Act of Parliament which first proved “intolerable” was the Stamp Act. It is the Stamp Act which best parallels the situation of Americans today. The Intolerable or Coercive Acts of 1774-1775 were largely punitive in nature and not intended to raise Crown revenue.*

The Stamp Act was chiefly a wholesale levy on the commercial and legal structure of the colonies. Its gross effect was to encompass virtually every action taken by the colonists in their daily lives. An American colonist could not move without encountering a tax. Hardly a commodity -- tea, hats, furs, lumber, and so on -- could be purchased as either a necessity or a luxury that was not directly taxed or whose price reflected a tax paid by another party and passed on to the purchaser; often, both taxes added to the price.

Here is a sampling of some of the Stamp taxes**:

A three-pence tax was imposed on “declarations, pleas, replications, rejoinders, demurrers, or other pleading, or any copy thereof, in any Court.”

A four-pence tax was imposed on “bills of lading, for any kinds of goods for exportation, or any Cockett or Clearance granted within the Colonies and Plantations of America.”

A one-shilling tax was imposed on “monitions, libels, answers, allegations, inventories, or renunciations in ecclesiastical matters in any Court…informations or other Pleading in any Admiralty Court.”

A two-pound (£) tax was imposed on “donations, presentations, collations or institutions to any benefice, or registers, entries, testimonials or certificates of any degree taken in any university, academy, college or seminary of learning.”

A four-pound tax was imposed on “licenses for retailing wine, grants, appointments or admissions to any public beneficial office….” [A three-pound tax was imposed on the renewal of a license to retail wine.]

A one-shilling tax was imposed on “every pack of cards sold or used within the Colonies and Plantations of America.”

A ten-shilling tax was imposed on dice. [Packs of cards and dice were wrapped to accommodate the stamps, which were already affixed to the wrappers. Today, for example, state tax stamps are printed on packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products.]

The taxes which most outraged colonists were the ones imposed on newspapers, almanacs, and calendars, ranging from two to eight pence, depending on the item. Newspapers especially would have been crippled, since all newsprint (the paper on which newspapers were printed) was by law restricted to British-made and imported newsprint, for which a hefty premium was charged. Colonists regarded these taxes as taxes on knowledge. And the catch was that all stamp taxes had to be paid in British sterling or specie only, of which very little circulated in the colonies because most of it remained in Britain under the credit arrangements with British merchants in the mercantilist system. The average colonist handled little more than two or three pounds in one year.

Today, Americans pay a “stamp” sales tax on their newspapers, periodicals, and books, pay the numerous taxes passed on to them by the publishers of these things, in addition to taxes on virtually everything they buy and consume.

Whatever one’s verdict on the Crown’s failed Stamp Act, British politicians were counting on the Americans to keep producing in order to sustain the mercantilist system (chiefly as suppliers of raw materials; other legislation discouraged or prohibited development of manufacturing in the colonies). But one cannot say that about TARP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The ARRA and Obama’s budget proposal are designed to drain all private capital into federal coffers. Obama and his Congressional allies cannot help but realize that this would destroy what capitalism -- or freedom -- is left in the U.S.

The first “bailout” was intended to sustain the creations or beneficiaries of a mixed economy. Ayn Rand pointed out in her 1972 article, “The Establishment of an Establishment,” that:

“In business, the rise of the welfare state froze the status quo, perpetuating the power of big corporations of the pre-income tax era, placing them beyond the competition of the tax-strangled newcomers. A similar process took place in the welfare state of the intellect. The results, in both fields, are the same.”***

Thus General Motors, AIG, Bank of America, and many other older companies which grew to mammoth size not only have benefited from the rise of the welfare state, but are the beneficiaries of federal favors. (AIG, or the American International Group, I should remark here, is especially culpable; together with Armand Hammer and other amoral Western businessmen with connections to government trade officials, it had close dealings with the Soviet Union and helped to sustain that totalitarian regime.)

The Obama regime aims to buy “stakes” in nominally private entities for the purpose of “socializing” them by directing their purposes and revenue. This is what happened in Fascist Italy and in Nazi Germany. Fascism and Nazism are hardly “right wing” political systems, as left-wingers claim; they are left-wing to the core. Presidents Clinton and the two Bushes prepared the way for Obama and Company with their own legislation; Obama and Company are ready to finalize the destruction of this country.

There is another noteworthy parallel. In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, George III issued a proclamation prohibiting colonial settlement in the lands west of the tramontane, or the Allegheny Mountain range, the better to regulate, control and tax the American colonists. A similar move is brewing in Congress to cut off the escape of private capital from federal taxation and confiscation to offshore banking havens, such as the Bahamas and Switzerland.

Captive economies such as that contemplated by Obama, Congress and their supporters outside of the government remain command economies for very brief periods of time -- unless they are buttressed by relatively freer economies. It explains the longevity of such totalitarian regimes as the Soviet Union, Red China, Cuba and North Korea, which for decades benefited from loans, subsidies and “trade” agreements granted by Western governments. Otherwise, such economies, if left to their own devices, simply atrophy and ultimately collapse. They are naturally asphyxiated by the absence of freedom.

The only American colonies to generate revenue for the Crown from the Stamp Act were Georgia, East and West Florida, and the Canadian and West Indian colonies. In all the other colonies Americans rebelled and refused to pay the taxes. Shipments of stamps were burned or were warehoused by distributors until they could be sent back to Britain. Royally appointed governors were impotent to enforce the Act. Every Crown-appointed stamp distributor was compelled to resign his commission. The rebellion was an overture to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and ultimately to Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and to the Declaration of Independence.

Whether or not the recent, numerous “tea parties” held across the country in protest against Obama’s and Congress’s plan to guile Americans into accepting slavery or servitude will have any lasting consequence or effect on Washington, remains to be seen. Whether or not the stock market continues to refuse to “rally” in response to Obama’s economic agenda, also remains to be seen.

But the fact that they have occurred is evidence there are countless Americans who regard recent and proposed legislation as intolerable. At the moment, it is hard to gauge if they possess the moral stamina required to consistently confront the behemoth of federal power. They will need intellectual guidance as well as courage. They will need ideas to let them know they are right. They will need the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

It is not enough for Americans to merely sense that the only moral and practical “stimulus” to economic recovery is freedom. They must know it. Only philosophy can give them that certitude.

And it is hard to judge if Obama, Congress and the collectivists will have the malice and vengeful bottom to call for their own Coercive Acts in answer to such resistance. Having come so close to conquering America, they may be tempted to try it. Just as the Crown, long before the Stamp Act was even enacted, was contemplating turning the American colonies into one huge camp of indentured servants, the “progressives” in this country have for decades plotted and drooled over the chance to achieve the same end.

Americans, beware! Obama, Congress and the collectivists are not the rattlesnakes that appeared on American militia flags, but together one stalking monitor lizard that bites its prey, poisons it with the venom of altruism, and waits for it to die of it before feeding on the carcass.

Long live Lady Liberty!

*Source: English Historical Documents: American Colonial Documents to 1776, ed. Merrill Jensen. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode (1964).
**The 1765 Tax Stamps for America, ed. Adolph Koeppel. American Revenue Association (1962).
***In Philosophy: Who Needs It. New York: Signet softcover (1982), p. 170.


Jeff said...

I believe the snake on the early militia flags has a positive connotation as a guardian of the Goddess Libertas.

Paula Hall said...

You: "Fascism and Nazism are hardly “right wing” political systems, as left-wingers claim; they are left-wing to the core."

I am curious -- what kind of system would you characterize as "right-wing," and why?

For my part, I think it is conceptually dangerous to criticize Fascism and Nazism on the grounds that they are "left-wing" policies, thereby implying that a policy that is the opposite of Fascism/Nazism/Communism ("FNC") should be referred to as "right-wing".

The main philosophy of the Left is nihilism; the main philosophy of the Right is mysticism. Criticizing FNC as "left-wing" implies that policies opposite to FNC are those associated with mysticism.

The similarity between Fascism/Nazism and Communism does not, at root, mean that Fascism and Nazism are "left-wing." It means that Fascism, Nazism and Communism are all *statist*.

Because FNC are all statist, their opposite is Capitalism, the social system of freedom. As an Objectivist blogger, you forcefully -- and correctly! -- argue that freedom is not justified through mysticism, as by William Buckley, but by reason, as by Ayn Rand. Yet to call Facism/Nazism "left-wing" makes it too easy to mischaracterize Capitalism as "right-wing" -- and to imply that the philosophy behind Capitalism is mysticism.

J Jennings said...

Paula Hall,
I believe that Mr. Cline was correct in his identification of Nazis and Fascism as being "left wing." He did not define "left wing" as the contrast or opposite of "right wing," but rather by the openly anti-capitalist positions of such groups, which seek the abolition of the right to property. I think that was correct, and furthermore, necessary. While the "right wing" may not have a coherent defintition (witness the ongoing inner turmoil of the GOP), I do not think it is proper to identify them as being opposites; the old "left/right" dichotomy is not valid; I forget who said it, but it is more correct to say that, politically, there is the "left, the right, and the rational."
I think it is important to identify the "left wing" nature of "FNC." In today's culture, people frequently try to avoid identification of fundamentals; if people were to identify Obama et al's ideas by their essentials instead of the new-age doublespeak names (i.e. "private/government partnership" instead of "nationalization," or more properly, "theft," "government reinvestment," etc), they would clearly see the impropriety of the bailout, massive (or any amount of)government involvement in the economy, etc. as mere repeats of previously failed ideas.
Lastly, allowing the Nazis and Fascists to be characterized as anything but entirely antithetical to capitalism is wrong. Many seek to characterize the Nazis or the Fascists as being "capitalist," nevermind the logic of that position. How many times have you seen WTO protestors carrying signs condemning "fascist" capitalism? This is horribly wrong, and cannot be allowed to stand; you should, whenever possible, correct this mis-identification because it continues to harm actual proponents of capitalism such as yourself and Mr. Cline.

Anonymous said...

And long live Ed Cline, one of the most eloquent of patriot spokesmen! He's proof that heroes like those in the "Sparrowhawk" series do exist today!

Anonymous said...

Paula Hall/Jennings: Right-wing vs. left wing. "Right-wing" political systems are usually based on "tradition," religion and an anti-intellectual worldview.

For example, the makers of "V for Vendetta" got it right concerning what "right-wing" usually stands for (although by the end of the film it offered no alternative to the fascist government V attacks; as Nick Provenzo noted in his review of it: "Now what?"). Left-wing is wholly collectivist and its ethics is a secular altruism.

Still, fascism is just another form of statism, and its followers and proponents are collectivist. Facts of reality contradict the belief that fascism is the progeny of capitalism. Fascism will sooner or later, if allowed to by default, incorporate socialism and/or communism into its establishment. If Obama consistently follows his courses of action re the banks, the auto industry, insurance, etc., for example, he must wind up with communism. This should suprise no one, given his communist family and social background (his mother, William Ayers, and others).

The solution to the confusion -- a confusion propagated and perpetuated by our "left-wing" academia for decades, with help from the traditional-bound conservatives, who never offered a moral defense of the capitalism they claim they value -- is to put all three statist systems -- communism, socialism, fascism -- in the same category. Right- and left-wing are false alternatives.

The only radical political system is capitalism properly based on individual rights and man living for his own sake.

shahnawaz said...

I think that a better way would be to do away with these sobriquets.As Ayn Rand had shown repeatedly how false alternatives and dichotomies,by permeating a given field, have wreked havoc,we should come out openly in favour of laissez faire capitalism.
I second anonymous when he says long live ed cline!

Anonymous said...

WRT the letter to the editor, I think it was a letter to the editor in the February 5th edition of the Wichita Falls, Texas Times Record News, not the Tennessean. See for details.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is a true detective: He is right about the letter I cite in the commentary, which was forwarded to me without a link but signed "Morton Keaton," not by Barnett. And, I've just check the link, and lo and behold, there he is, basking in the sunlight of "fame" (but I wonder how long it will before the IRS hauls him in for interrogation in a bare room and with dim lightbulb).

So, I sit corrected!


Michael Labeit said...

Mr. Cline's claim that fascism and Nazism are left-wing is, I believe, an accurate one. I'm assuming Ed is refering to the "economic" left-right spectrum, not the "political" left-right spectrum. The "economic" LRS, which Ayn Rand affirmed, illustrates how capitalist or anti-capitalist a group or economy is. The further left one moves, the less capitalist one gets. The further right one moves, the more capitalist one gets. See Ayn Rand's lexicon definitions of "leftist" and "rightist". She also claimed (in one of her color youtube videos I can't recall with who) that she was somewhat relieved by the "move to the right" some engaged in during the late 60's and 70's as a reaction to the economic left. Surely by "right" she did not mean the religious conservative right.

Nazism and fascism are clearly economically left wing. While socialism involves government legal possession and physical control over the means of production, fascism only requires government physical control of productive factors, the most important aspect of ownership. The people at "Simply Capitalism" put it best: socialism is de jure nationalization and fascism is de facto nationalization.

The "economic" LRS is not a false dichotomy. A dichotomy refers to the mutual exclusivity between two things. The "economic" LRS recognizes pure socialism, pure capitalism, and everything in between. The essential dichotomy doesn't exist between the economic left (socialism) and the economic right (capitalism). It exists between pure capitalism (the complete absence of initiated force) and everything else (varying degrees of initiated force).

I think its about time it is said that fascism indeed is economically left-wing. Imagine the futility of an economic spectrum with socialism and fascism at opposite extremes. What purpose would such a spectrum serve? To illustrate the all important distinction between de jure and de facto nationalization??? And, for those who believe in the socialism- fascism extremes over the socialism-capitalism extremes, where does the U.S. reside on such a spectrum??? Would you say that the U.S. dwells in the middle, i.e., that the U.S. is a product of socialism and fascism???

It may be asked, why do we need a an economic left-right spectrum? I would say, in order to illustrate the essential relationships among social systems. A social system may assume a specific structure, but what they all have in common are certain prescriptions for the use of force. Socialism, at the far economic left, holds that the government may initiate force to seize all productive factors. Capitalism, at the far economic right, holds that government may never initiate force. Fascism is, as shown above, ominously close to socialism.

Now - in the U.S. the "political" LRS serves the purpose of merely differentiating Democrats and Republicans, contemporary liberals and conservatives. It is this spectrum that suffers from the all the problems that the Randian (as affirmed by Rand, not used pejoratively) "economic" LRS does not. The "economic" LRS recognizes an essential characteristic of groups and social systems: their view on the initiated force. The "political" LRS, by contrast, does not identify such essentials. The primary difference between modern liberals and conservatives - the fact that the former tend to champion "social" freedom and "economic" control while the latter tend to champion "social" control and "economic" freedom - such differences so not constitute an essential distinction. Stalin sported an exquisite head of hair while I prefer to go "screaming eagle" (army for bald). Yet this is not an essential difference between us. I don't fantasize about raping and axe-murdering people.

So, I think we must make a distinction between the "economic" LRS which Ayn Rand positively recognized and the "political" LRS which suffers from focus on non-essentials. Mr. Cline relies upon the "economic" LRS in his piece.

Amy said...

Ed - that was a rousing article. Thanks for your fieriness!

About the left/right distinction. In The Ominous Parallels, I remember Dr. Peikoff describing Hitler's rise to power as a merge of the socialist left and the nationalist right. Basically, the German people voted for the worst of both parties (distribution of wealth and nationalization of business on the left and nationalistic state-worship mixed with the Lutheran religion on the right). Therefore, the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

I agree with Paula's principle that we should not imply in any way that "the right" means freedom or anti-statism. But I don't think Ed intentionally meant this, but was referring to the horrible political continuum diagram taught in schools where the right is on the side of fascism and the left on the side of socialism, and capitalism is somewhere in the middle.

Rational Jenn said...

Very interesting post! Thanks so much for sending it to the Objectivist Round Up this week!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Excellent article.

I think you are right in characterizing the incipient anger of the American taxpayer being that of sensing that the tax burden is becoming intolerable and wanting relief, rather than knowing that freedom is the first principle upon which a sensible economy must be built. This "sensing" must become knowing if we are to put up a stubborn resistance sufficient to save the Republic. This is part of the reason that some of those who stand in opposition to TARP and ARRA still caution that the Tea Parties, rousing as they are, may be premature, that we and our children need to first learn and stand firmly on the principles that founded this nation before we can put forth that determined resistance to the destruction of our liberties.