Liberty, justice, taxes, and the U.S. Constitution

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Article 1 Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution limits the taxation powers of Congress, saying:

“No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

This simply outlaws income taxes.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ends:

“…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This says the government may not deprive the accused of natural rights, and that the government cannot take private property without paying for it.  

Some would argue that the last part does not apply to income or labor, but only to physical property, such as land or belongings.  Let it be recognized, however, that land and belongings are nothing more than tangible storages of income and labor.  Moreover, it would be absurd to suggest that a man’s labor is not his property, and therefore, according to this amendment, the government may not take a person’s labor (income) for public use without just compensation.

The Sixteenth Amendment grants Congress the authority to tax incomes:

“Congress shall have the 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.”

This is a clear contradiction of Article 1 Section 9.

Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This prohibits any entity from forcing any individual to work by force or by state-imposed coercion (or threats thereof), unless as a punishment for a crime.  

The income tax is not technically a form of involuntary servitude to the government, because the government does not force anyone to work.  However, under the income tax, everyone who chooses to work is forced to work for the government, so the spirit of the amendment may very well apply to outlawing the income tax.  

There are certainly those who feel like slaves to the government, because the government takes a great part of the fruits of their labor; but technically, this is not true, because they may always choose not to work, and while this choice may be a threat to their survivals, it is not a direct threat from government.  This unhappy choice, however, contains the implicit threat: “work for the government, or die.”  So it is not completely clear whether the income tax qualifies as universal slavery, which would be prohibited by this amendment.

When this amendment ended slavery, note that it literally scribbled out all other portions of the Constitution that contradicted the new amendment.  Note also that, when the Sixteenth Amendment was written to allow income taxes, none of the previous portions that outlaw such taxes were removed from the Constitution.  

This practical difference, I believe, shows the spirit with which these two amendments passed.  When slavery was ended, the public was quick to remove from the record all evidence of its existence, because slavery was a stain on liberty and justice; it was an embarrassment to an otherwise proud society of free individuals.  But when the income tax was instituted, the amendment allowing it was the embarrassment to freedom, and all else in the Constitution that contradicted it was left to bear, so the people could still call it their own, and perhaps retain some nostalgic feeling of what it was to be free.

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McCain thinks like a dictator

the new Bush

I believe the Supreme Court made a very good decision last week in the case of Boumediene v. Bush. McCain calls the decision to extend the writ of habeas corpus to detainees at Guantanamo “one of the worst decisions in history.” Perhaps he would rank it along the lines of the Court’s support of slavery prior to the Civil War, or even worse, considering his hyperbolic characterization of the dangers the U.S. currently faces. By simply drawing McCain’s words to their logical conclusion, he would treat black people like farm animals before he would treat America’s suspected enemies like humans.

The Senator’s cognitive retardation is highlighted by his own experiences as a prisoner of war. He would do well to remember his own past situation, and then imagine that he had been captured by a foreign army while in his own country, and then transported to a prison in another country, without notice to his family or friends, without rights to counsel or a presentation of evidence, without his home country having the knowledge or ability to even put political pressure on his captors, and without any end to his situation in sight.

Sometimes mistakenly-anointed “experts” who share McCain’s reasoning deficiency argue that the controversial detainments in Guantanamo are perfectly legal and acceptable, because the prison there is a state-of-the-art facility, and that the prisoners are treated well, and allowed a more than reasonable level of comfort. This is no different than the argument that slavery is acceptable, so long as the slaves are treated well, and allowed a reasonable level of comfort.

“My friends, there are some bad people down there. There are some bad people,” McCain tells us of the detainees at Guantanamo. How does he know this? There has been no evidence presented that would tell him this. McCain “reasons,” against every argument history offers humankind, that because they have been arrested, the prisoners must be guilty. The American people cannot allow this mentality to lead our policies against terrorism. This is precisely the allowance the German people gave to Hitler after the Reichstag fire, and it enabled him to detain and kill prisoners without cause.

As for the morally empty argument of precedence in this case, I will only point out that every moment of human history like this one, in which a powerful group decided it safest to detain certain people it considers “dangerous,” has in reflection become a source of embarrassment to the perpetrating nation, whether it be Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or the United States. Just because a mistake has been made before without serious legal ramifications (i.e., encampment of Japanese Americans during WWII), does not mean that mistake should be made again. There is nothing wrong with opposing a precedent, especially when that precedent is clearly unjust.

While they may draw attention, I don’t expect these assertions to draw much argument, as it is difficult to even begin an argument against the truth. When one decides to argue against truth and reason, one cannot win; falsehood wilts, or imposes itself by force, but truth stands with God, on its own clarity and goodness.

Generational slavery

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“Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow.” – Thomas Paine

I remember watching an episode of Oprah (though I should clarify that this is not a habit of mine) a couple of years ago, featuring a woman who had been duped by her fraudulently bankrolled husband–he seemed to have everything (on credit), but actually could not afford any of it, and when the bills came due, he disappeared, and left her holding the yacht payments.  She was bankrupt, and would have been left in a position of pseudo-slavery for the rest of her life had Oprah not stepped in–all because someone who was supposed to care about her abused her trust.

This woman’s financial situation is a microcosm of the generational explosion of debt that will soon torment the United States and much of the world.  The baby boom generation is about to retire and start collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits, the costs of which have traditionally been underestimated.  Current budgeting practices are unsustainable, which of course means they cannot be sustained. 

The problem is not the baby boom generation’s politics but its size–there are 77 million of them, but there’s still only one Oprah, and only one American labor force, which isn’t growing at near the rate of the retirement-benefit force.  The only long-term solutions are massive government cuts or massive tax increases, neither of which are very good campaign platforms.

Boomers did not have as many children as their parents did, so in order to support the boomers the way the boomers have supported the elderly, the new American worker must be prepared to pay a confiscatory income tax rate or go to jail, or leave the country.  Unfortunately, a number of the most talented individuals of my generation (perhaps even I) will choose to abandon ship and keep their finances above water.

The sad thing about this reality is that everyone knows it, and no one will stop it.  Our nation faces a fiscal tsunami of debt that is growing every year, with no end in sight.  When our leaders choose to ignore it, and when we choose to ignore that our leaders ignore it, we are committing a moral crime no less severe than (and almost exactly the same as) the slavery of old, asserting that one group of people (those working in America today) may steal the labor of another (those to work in America in the future) against their will, and for no greater reason than the chance timing of their births.

The only morally just way to handle the debt and obligations of the American government is to stop deficit spending now.  Anything that can be cut must be cut.  Start with the war, which almost everyone now agrees was a mistake to begin with.  Move on to other government boondoggles until we have trimmed them down to an approachable size.  Until we can get the budget under control, we should consider the American government fiscally and morally bankrupt.