The Tea Party Revolution Continues

It comes again to that time of year when individual citizens feel the chafe of their wallets emptying on tax day, April 15th.  In response, many will assemble peaceably at Tea Parties across the country in protest of this perennial redistribution of their wealth, as the worth of the money they have left is debased through intentional acts of national policy.

Taxation has been a prime focus of the Tea Party, but what is their real agenda?  By what standard do they judge our society?  How do they propose to fix the challenges we face?

There is a great deal of variation between groups, but on the whole their common core values are fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government, as originally defined in the US Constitution.  A recent Gallup Poll cited Tea Party demographics as "generally representative of the public at large," including 7 percent describing themselves as liberal and 8 percent as Democrat.  A remarkable change since 2009 -- from crazy racists to a mainstream plurality.

More precisely, they are individualists, of every race and creed, who go by many names and labels.  Though there are variations on the theme, they believe in the fundamental idea of our country's founding; individualism -- the idea that each individual has the inalienable right to their own life, liberty, and property, to use in pursuing their own happiness.  Contrast this view to the sacrificial nature of collectivism, where group rights trump individual rights -- the foul wind that has been blowing our national sails off course for over a century, now at a gale force.  This creates a people scorned by that "long train of abuses and usurpations."  As the first Tea Party was ignited by the tax policies of arrogant elite, it is fitting that the modern Tea Party sees taxation by a new aristocracy as their call to arms.

In the early days of America, sales taxes on specific items, such as tobacco and distilled spirits funded our government, which was increased in scope in order to bankroll the war of 1812.  In 1817, all internal taxation was eliminated by Congress in favor of tariffs on foreign goods to provide for the cost of government.  Those were the days.  Wouldn't it be something if every purchase of Chinese made goods today helped our troops get the best gear possible (instead of theirs)?  What if an American aid shipment sent across the world was in part funded by German, French, and Swedish corporations?  We could have been enjoying that world today, had we kept to this nation's original social contract; history tells otherwise. 

Enter the "emergency" of the Civil War, where the sovereignty of the several states, and the property of the individual were decisively sacrificed to the prerogatives of that time.  One might argue the best solution to that complex problem, but one concrete result was the creation of a progressive income tax in 1862 to help fund the war costs for the federal government.  Soon inheritance, sales, and excise taxes were added.  Sanity returned in 1872, where the federal income tax was again abolished.  Reinstitution of the tax was tried, but in 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional as the tax was not apportioned among the several states.  The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913, allowing direct income taxation by the federal government without apportionment to the states.  Some have asserted that the 16th Amendment was not properly ratified, making Federal direct taxation unlawful.  Others quote a 1916 decision written by Chief Justice Edward White, noting that "the 16th Amendment did not authorize any new type of tax, nor did it repeal or revoke the tax clauses of Article I of the Constitution." 

These arguments have been taken to court repeatedly, only to be thrown down.

It is futile to debate the legality of our current tax scheme, however unjust or incongruent to our founding values.  Our time as citizens would be better spent returning it into a system that respects state sovereignty, and the individual's right of property, while still funding that minimum amount of government that keeps us most free. 

Let us use the constitutional methods our founders bequeathed to us to lead our appointed representatives in Congress to the practical conclusion of reducing federal expenditures through definitive, self-imposed limitation by repealing the 16th Amendment, and restoring import tariffs to help with the obvious shortfall.  Many nations have enjoyed the affluence of American consumers (especially when there were free markets).  Should they not be taxed for admission, instead of our citizens, releasing that wealth to American entrepreneurs who are ready and willing to create a deeper, richer market for everyone? 

Inconceivable, I know -- at least in the Overton window we look out of at the moment.  Right now, we cannot get from here to there, politically.  It would require a massive downsizing of the government, and garner the ire of foreign nations.  I concede that repealing federal income tax may have seemed reasonable to Americans after the civil war, but those living today have been trained to accept this tax all of their adult lives.  These solutions, while admittedly off the reservation, are emblematic of the difficult choices we no longer have the luxury of avoiding.

We must face the fact that our country has stage IV politico-economic cancer.  Politically poisonous therapies may be our only chance for a real cure.  You must forgive me, kind readers, I'm at the "bargaining stage" at the moment.  I'll support the strongest medicine available to save our great lady -- no trials refused, politics be damned.  If her passing is inevitable, and there is no acceptable cure, kindly allow me the decency of a period of depression before I come to acceptance.  If, in the end, it must be hospice and no cure, please hold her gently in her passing, and protect her children that they may one day return.

The virtues of American freedom and entrepreneurship have long been the restoration of nations, and the healing of peoples.  Individual freedom and free markets require no absolution, as they always have and always will provide every virtuous benefit to human kind, if only released from the bondage of impractical ideologies.  The collectivist system of looting can create nothing.  It can only scream "capitalism is dead" while it steadily taxes, controls, and bleeds our ability to create prosperity and freedom for all Americans.  

It is critical that we now fulfill our duty as citizens, considering the juxtaposition of three wars, astonishing debt, a comatose economy, widespread joblessness, looming inflation, an apathetic, entitled population, and the steady devaluation of American credibility on the world stage. 

We must gird our intellectual fortitude and look to any possible remedy for this scourge of liberty.  We must correctly weigh the spirit and substance of each candidate in the field, at every level, as we need more than world class statesmen; we need statesmen of the ages.  We must find the men and women who can keep Americanism alive, against implacable foes that are driven to cremate and scatter all that has ever been great about this land, in order to replace it with collectivist hegemony.

Jon Watts is the founder of