“So should we soak the rich? You bet we should.”
With these 10 words, New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof ends his most recent column, one that on many levels — the majority of which we will not address given the space of our, or any, editorial page. But the basic fracture cleaving this country is one that separates Democrats and Republicans and progressives and conservatives almost without resolution.
It comes in the form of a question: Is the government entitled to your money, and, if so, how much? For almost 150 years, or until the first wave of progressives whipsawed an amendment into the Constitution establishing a “graduated” income tax. The same decade also gave us one of the greatest alterations of the idea of checks and balances, and for some reason remains of the most overlooked and misunderstood amendments — that which authorized the direct election of senators.
Since then, senators have been free agents, seemingly pursuing their own goals and those of their parties instead of their states — which is why the Framers did not make the Senate an instrument of the people (as they did the House), but rather of the states (and their elected representatives, who chose the senators). It was the senators’ duty to advance the states’ desires in Washington. No more.
Such amendments shift far more power to the federal government. For one thing, an income tax gives Washington more authority over peoples’ lives — and in the most basic way: It tells folks how much money they can make before the government starts taking ever-increasing chunks of it.
Believe us when we say this is no hosanna to the excesses of the Gilded Age of old or to the conspicuous consumption, through compensation, of the current likes of Jeff Bezos. It’s a fine line, we admit, but no, we are not taking a stand for willy-nilly wage and salary obscenity. Instead, we are simply asking, “Is government entitled to that slice of your daily bread that, say, a Bernie Sanders or even a Nicholas Kristof sanctions?”
For this reason, the current debate on tariffs loses focus when the suggestion is posited that the United States eschewed tariffs. How do you think we started the process of achieving world dominance power but largely through the vehicle of tariffs. And, oddly enough, the champions of such fiscal tools were Republicans more so than Democrats.
Getting back on topic, Americans are not foolish enough to believe that 1) taxes never existed before the second decade of the 20th century when the 16th Amendment implemented the income tax (remember Franklin’s quote about the “only two certainties in life”) and 2) they will never go away if only we elect the right people.
No, the question revolves around the truth about taxes (who pays them and are they “soaked” a little bit already?) and how much is enough before the very fabric of the American Dream is rent beyond repair? Remember, too, as Lady Thatcher said, under such a system, you eventually run out of “other people’s money.” When citizens of this nation are either wards of the government (reliant on Washington almost for their very existence) or the beasts assuring that existence through their hard work, then the Dream equation becomes so skewed that the United States can never achieve the promise the Framers predicted (or at least hoped) for it.