Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Worst Attack?

What was the worst attack on America? There are many potential answers to this question: the British treatment of Boston during the American Revolution; the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Part of answering the question would be defining the word 'worst'.

Perhaps the most devastating attack on the United States was the ratification of the sixteenth amendment in 1913. The allowed the government, for the first time in the nation's history, to levy income taxes. After 137 years, the government was now able to directly confiscate earnings of ordinary citizens.

Naturally, in order to be politically viable, the amendment had been introduced as something which wouldn't be used much or often, and which would only apply to a selected few of the "ultra-wealthy": as a Yale alumnus noted:

The tax code that started in 1913 as fourteen pages now exceeds sixty-seven thousand. An income tax that was promised to only apply to the wealthiest 1 percent in 1913 quickly grew to 5% in 1939 and then, following World War II, to almost 75% of all Americans. To soften the tax blow, the government did what it always does: it reframed the argument. When "War on Terror" was considered to be too aggressive it was changed to "overseas contingency operations," which is supposed to sound much friendlier. The same idea applied to our tax agency. The "Bureau of Internal Revenue" was renamed the "Internal Revenue Service" to, as the government puts it, "stress the service aspect of its work."
In a little over a century, the nation had left the vision of John Locke, who wrote that the government's responsibility to protect the property rights of citizens was second only to the government's task of protecting the lives of its citizens, and the nation had been subjected to a government which believed that its main mission was to confiscate the property of citizens and use it, not according to the will of the citizens, but the will of the government.