No Better Way To Celebrate Our '4th'

Published 2:52 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Editor, The Herald:

Americans could hardly do better in celebration of the Fourth of July than to reflect upon its founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Democracies around the world continue to be inspired and shaped by its prefatory truths, that we all are created equal, that we share certain unalienable rights, and that to secure these rights is the purpose of government. In the Arab Spring, brave citizens in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria have been actively protesting the injuries and usurpations of their respective tyrants in the hope of achieving more democratic states.

Meanwhile in Washington, no-tax Republicans advocate only spending cuts to help reduce the national debt, playing to a Tea Party movement whose very name evokes irate Bostonians pitching English tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxation. But while the great bulk of our Declaration is a list of grievances against King George III, running to over two dozen examples, only one brief line deals with taxation: “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.” Note the line doesn't read, “For imposing Taxes on us,” taxation being a means of sustaining government in its role as a securer of the rights of citizens. What bothered these patriots was tyranny and being shut out of the political process. They objected to taxation without representation, and the Tea Party was more guerilla theatre aimed at advancing political equality (and eventually liberty) than a protest against taxation. Indeed, the first power of Congress these patriots penned into the Constitution was “to lay and collect Taxes.”

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As even David Stockman, Ronald Regan's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, feels we can no longer cut our way to prosperity, but will also have to increase revenue through taxation if we are ever to significantly reduce the national debt, the task is to find the most reasonable means, for unlike Americans, not all taxes are created equal. Some, such as sales tax and user fees, have a set rate; others, such as the graduated income tax, are intended to fall lightly on those least able to pay, but may be a disincentive to work. Thomas Jefferson was critical of the latter, saying it threatened, “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” But Jefferson also feared the dynastic effect of free enterprise, “an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents.” Theodore Roosevelt (a former Republican president) similarly warned of “this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess,” and insisted, 'No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned.”

There is a tax that robs no one of the fruits acquired by the free exercise of his industry, a tax Winston Churchill called “a certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich,” a tax that underscores America's fundamental belief in democracy: the estate tax. The very argument that innovators and the industrious should be allowed to profit by their prowess is an argument against bequeathing fortunes to subsequent generations; indeed, there could hardly be a bigger disincentive to work than inheritance. Yet for reasons they can never logically or honestly articulate, Republican politicians reject this most equitable and victimless of taxes.

It is difficult to support the ambitions of those in the Middle East who fight regimes in which wealth and power are dynastic, but oppose efforts at fiscal responsibility in an America that, in some ways, looks more and more like George III's Britain.

David Lewis