In 1765, nine American colonies met to protest the British insistence on adopting the Stamp Act. The delegates to that meeting, noting that the British government did not allow Americans representation, declared that there could be “no taxation without representation.” That became one of the rallying cries leading up to the American Revolution. That very concept of representation in the acts of government became a basis for the United States Constitution.
Later, in 1964, the United States Supreme Court invalidated the various state constitutional provisions that, like the United States Senate, elected state senators based on their representation of a county rather than the number of people present in the county. In Reynolds vs. Sims, the court ruled that the United States Constitution mandated a standard of one man, one vote.
Alexis Tocqueville, writing in his Democracy in America (1835) noted “A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”
And Alexander Fraser Tytler who regularly noted the inherent weakness of democracy in his lectures, stated:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”
So, with those thoughts in mind, and understanding that they are true as both a matter of fact and logic, where does America stand today?
Last week in my column Dumbest Person in Congress, I noted the increasing penchant for progressive states such as Oregon to regularly increases taxes on a limited number of people and urge people to support the tax increase because they were not going to have to pay it. An article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal titled A Simple Plan to Get New Jersey Back on Track for Growth by Art Laffler and Regina Egea noted:
“As recently as the early 1970s, New Jersey was an economic powerhouse with rising incomes, low unemployment and fountains of tax revenues that kept the budget in balance every year. A state that for more than 150 years prospered without an income or sales tax started implementing ever-more-progressive taxes on businesses and individuals (from zero to more than 10%). This “soak the rich” philosophy triggered a severe out-migration of businesses and people that has lasted four decades and punctured revenue holes in the state budget.
“How bad has it been? Internal Revenue Service data confirm that since 1992 there hasn’t been one year in which adjusted gross income flowed on balance into New Jersey, a stark contrast with the Garden State’s prosperous past. The state is being bled to death as some $47 billion of adjusted gross income has fled over the past three decades.”
Today in America, 42.3 percent of taxes are paid by just 1.0 percent of the population. In Oregon, the top ten percent of income taxpayers pay about one-half of the income taxes. (You might think that is pretty egalitarian until you realize that only 59.9 percent of those filing a return actually paid any taxes at all and that only three-quarters of the adults in Oregon – including spouses filing joint returns – file tax returns.) In California, the top one percent pay almost one-half of all income taxes while 40 percent of Californians paid no income taxes at all.
The point is that states are abusing the essence of representative democracy by voting in favor of higher taxes knowing full well that the burden of paying for them will not fall on them. They are like Messr. Tocqueville warned voting for a tax that they know they will not have to pay. The question then is, are we witnessing the destruction of democracy as Mr. Tytler predicted?
There are at least two factors that suggest that if we are not already there, we are rapidly approaching that point. The first is the growing dependency on the government, in whole or in part, for your income. In January of this year, I wrote:
According to the Census Bureau there are about 4.25 million people in Oregon as of 2022. The civilian workforce in Oregon according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is just under 2,198,000 in November of 2022. But the civilian workforce figure includes not only those working – 2,102,000 – but also those receiving unemployment benefits – 96,700 – a form of welfare. However, the critical number for these purposes is that which describes those “capable of work” – the labor force participation rate, which was 63.5 percent. Based on simple algebra, that means that the total available workforce is not 2,198,000 rather it is 3,461,000. That also means means that of those Oregonians of working age and physically and mentally capable of work (excluding those in the military and those providing care for their children) 36.5 percent, or 1,263,400, were not working and presumably receiving some form of welfare (or living in their mother’s basement). Add to that the 96,700 current receiving government assistance in the form of unemployment insurance payments and you have a grand total of 1,360,000 or 39.3 percent of the 3,461,000 Oregonians not working.
Add to that the number of public employees in Oregon – 299,600 (not including public education) – totaling 48 percent of adult Oregonians. Add to that those in public education and you have over one-half of Oregon’s adult population dependent in whole or in part to the government for their incomes. A population dependent on the government for their incomes is a population dependent on the growth and largess of the government – and are likely a substantial part of the voting population that can vote for tax increases to fund growth without ever worrying about paying for the increases of taxes. That is not a democracy rather it is voting a benefit to a majority at the expense of a minority.
The second element is the rapidly growing lawlessness permeating the country – particularly the large urban areas. In Chicago, over last weekend, their was what can only describe as a mob that took to the streets resulting in personal assaults, burning, looting and armed assaults on the police. The forty-eight hours of rioting left eleven dead, forty-eight wounded by gun fire, ninety police injured and 2,150 people arrested. This was all attributed to youthful violence which in the mainstream media’s apologia for “gang related”. In terms of violence and arrests Chicago’s weekend of lawlessness eclipsed the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, which the same media has labeled an insurrection – go figure. It mirrored the continuous riots in Portland that lasted over 100 nights in 2020, the Seattle occupation by Antifa and other anarchists in Seattle, the riots throughout the major cities following the killing of George Floyd, all of which paled in comparison to the riots, killing, looting, arson and assaults of the Los Angeles riots in the summer of 1992. (I include this latter to remind all of us that urban riots have existed for decades.)
And the worst part of all of this is that those suffering the most continue to send the same caliber of people back to public office – not because they promise to fix the problems but because they promise to make them even more dependent on government outlays. That is not a working democracy; that is a new form of urban slavery.
All of the blame cannot be laid at the feet of the progressives’ insistence on immunizing those who benefit from the burden of paying for taxes and reckless spending. It is just an element of abusing the democratic process and one that will hasten the collapse of democracy in America. Responsibility is a foundational element of a democracy; remove it and democracy and public safety will collapse. We are witnessing the beginnings of it now.