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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Founders vs. the Progressives

"In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” — James Madison, National Gazette, March 29, 1792.

Today when we look back on the words of our Founders we can find a multitude of their thoughts and writings on our rights to property and taxation and the role of government in protecting those rights.

The thinking of The Founders and of their fellow Americans did not limit the meaning of the word "property" so as to apply merely to things material: physical things. They considered that Man's rights in general—separate and apart from material possessions—were also an extremely important, if not the most valuable, part of his property. This general line of thought—reflecting truly American thinking of that day, of The Founders second to none—was never expressed more soundly and clearly than in the essay on "Property" by Madison published in The National Gazette (one of a series of essays by him on various topics so published) on March 29, 1792. Brief but comprehensive in presenting this characteristically American viewpoint, the full text of the essay deserves consideration. Here are a few of Madison’s thoughts on property rights and the government’s role in securing those rights:

"This term in its particular application means 'that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

"In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.”

"In the former sense, a man's land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.

"In the latter sense, a man has property in his opinions and the free communication of them.”

"He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.”

"He has property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.”

"He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.”

"In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”

"Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties or his possessions.”

"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

"According to this standard of merit, the praise of affording a just security to property, should be sparingly bestowed on a government which, however scrupulously guarding the possessions of individuals, does not protect them in the enjoyment and communication of their opinions, in which they have an equal, and in the estimation of some, a more valuable property.”

"More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man's religious rights are violated by penalties, or lettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and inalienable right. To guard a man's house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man's conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.”

"A just security to property is not afforded by that government under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species: where arbitrary taxes invade the domestic sanctuaries of the rich, and excessive taxes grind the faces of the poor; where the keenness and competitions of want are deemed an insufficient spur to labor, and taxes are again applied by an unfeeling policy, as another spur; in violation of that sacred property, which Heaven, in decreeing man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, kindly reserved to him, in the small repose that could be spared from the supply of his necessities.”

"If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments."

When it comes to taxes our Founders had a great deal to say about the potential of the corrosive nature of taxes and wealth redistribution.

“If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.” — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21 — 1787.

In Federalist No. 21 Alexander Hamilton had this to say about a tax on consumption as opposed to a person’s wealth:

“It is a singular advantage of taxes on articles of consumption that they contain in their own nature a security against excess. They prescribe their own limit, which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end purposed - that is, an extension of the revenue.

In Federalist No. 12 Hamilton said:

“It is evident from the state of the country, from the habits of the people, from the experience we have had on the point itself, that it is impracticable to raise any very considerable sums by direct taxation.”

And finally Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 35 about complicated and burdensome tax laws:

“There is no part of the administration of government that requires extensive information and a thorough knowledge of the principles of political economy, so much as the business of taxation. The man who understands those principles best will be least likely to resort to oppressive expedients, or sacrifice any particular class of citizens to the procurement of revenue. It might be demonstrated that the most productive system of finance will always be the least burdensome.”

In Thomas Jefferson’s 1816 letter to Joseph Milligan he stated this about wealth redistribution through taxation:

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”

In Thomas Jefferson’s 1816 letter to Joseph Milligan he stated:

“For example. If the system be established on basis of Income, and his just proportion on that scale has been already drawn from every one, to step into the field of Consumption, and tax special articles in that, as broadcloth or homespun, wine or whiskey, a coach or a wagon, is doubly taxing the same article. For that portion of Income with which these articles are purchased, having already paid its tax as Income, to pay another tax on the thing it purchased, is paying twice for the same thing; it is an aggrievance on the citizens who use these articles in exoneration of those who do not, contrary to the most sacred of the duties of a government, to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.”

In Federalist No. 10 James Madison stated:

“The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets.”

I could go on and on with more examples of what our Founders thought of individual rights, property and taxation. When the new Constitution was written our Founders, especially Madison, knew that a government needed the power to raise taxes to pay for the things government should do. This power to tax was spelled out in Article I, Section 8.1 where it states:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

But so important was how Congress could spend those taxes our Founders immediately added 7 enumerated powers limiting what the federal government could spend that money on:

  • To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

  • To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;

  • To establish post offices and post roads;

  • To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

  • To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

  • To provide and maintain a navy;

  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

All the other enumerated powers stated in Article I, Section 8 have to do with governance, not spending, although one could make a case that governance would not be possible without money.

It was not until the 16th Amendment, ratified 45 states in 1913 that a progressive income tax was adopted throughout the land:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

It should be noted that Connecticut, Rhode Island and Utah did not ratify this amendment.

The 16 Amendment flew in the face of what our founders believed and opened the door for the progressives—especially Woodrow Wilson who was a staunch advocate of the progressive income tax—to make much mischief by redistribution the wealth from the wealthier to the poorer. It also gave Congress a unending pot of money to tap for any program the progressives could think of. This includes welfare, food stamps, farm subsidies, investments in energy projects, education, school lunches, and providing free birth control to women.

In the coming three weeks you will hear two basic messages emanating from the conventions being held by the two political parties. The Republicans, in Tampa, will talk about reducing the size of the federal government, lowering taxes and regulations, and allowing the private sector to create jobs and grow the economy. They will also talk about entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, keeping more of what you earn, reducing the deficit, paying down the national debt, energy independence, the free market, securing our borders, saving Social Security and Medicare, and the American Dream

In Charlotte the Democrats will talk about taxing the rich, redistribution of wealth, using the power of the government to restrict you freedom, more environmental regulations, spending more money on hand outs to those who would vote for them, reproductive rights (killing babies), free condoms and contraceptives, ObamaCare, fairness, rights for illegal immigrants, how government was (is) responsible for your success, and the American Dream.

You can see the marked difference between the two parties. In 50 years when (if we can) look back on the 2012 presidential election historians will be amazed at what the progressives were offering the American Electorate — free contraception and taxing the rich. What would Madison Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington and Adams have to say about the Democratic Party platform and Obama?

Professors Ken Bickers and Michael Berry, of the University of Colorado, have a system for predicting the Electoral College outcomes of presidential races. Their model has accurately forecast the winner of every presidential race since 1980. According to an article published by UC-Boulder, they even got the Perot-flavored election of 1992, and the Bush-Gore photo finish in 2000, right.

This year, the Bickers-Berry model shows Mitt Romney winning with 320 electoral votes to Obama’s 218, with a 20-vote margin of error. A popular vote margin of 53-47 percent in Romney’s favor is predicted.

The Bickers-Berry model draws upon a wide range of state and national economic data, rather than collating public opinion polls. It anticipates little lasting effect from factors such as the location of the party conventions, the vice-president’s home state, the party affiliation of state governors, or – according to Bickers — “gaffes, political commercials, or day-to-day campaign tactics.” He finds the focus of voters upon big issues “heartening for our democracy.”

The Associated Press notes that “the model does not account for suddenromney-ryan-2012-electoral-college-hayward-23aug2012-620x453 changes in the economy or unexpected developments in states split 50-50.” There appear to be quite a few states fitting that definition at the moment. The Bickers-Berry model has Obama losing almost every swing state, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida.

Interestingly, the model predicts different partisan effects for two key economic factors: “Voters hold Democrats more responsible for unemployment rates while Republicans are held more responsible for per capita income.” That’s obviously not good news for President Obama, who has made double-digit unemployment a permanent feature of the American landscape.

The forecast that has Romney winning with 320 electoral votes is based on five-month-old economic data, with an update planned for September. There are reports today that jobless claims are starting to rise again. Maybe Romney will do even better, when even more dismal Obama economic data is plugged into the Bickers-Berry model.

On the other hand, the professors note that it’s hard to predict if the public will judge the economy in “absolute” or “relative” terms — in other words, will they consider the totality of the Obama record, or will they accept a possible uptick in a few key indicators during October as encouraging signs that the President is turning it around?

This is the first time I have heard of the Bickers-Berry model and It gives me hope. I have seen, however, a marginal uptick in the polls for Romney/Ryan. When reading these national polls you must remember that states like California, New York, and Massachusetts will weigh the national polls heavily toward Obama while States like Texas, Utah, Nebraska, and Oklahoma will weigh in for Romney. Just remember — it’s the Electoral College that matters.

Once the conventions are over and the real hard-nose campaigning begins the people who are on the fence (and there aren’t that many) will begin to make up their minds. The debate is on over the vision the American Voter wants for this Republic — the vision of our Founders or he vision of the progressives.

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