Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

July 4, 2004

Tyranny of taxes limits our freedom

This long weekend we celebrate Independence Day. Hawaii’s beaches are full of families at play, the hot dogs and hamburgers are on the broiler and the drinks are flowing — all in “the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Little thought will be given to the reason for the celebration — independence — which is to say, our freedom and independence as individual Americans.

It would be preferable if our citizens on this day were to give just a little thought to what we Americans have gained — and what we have lost — since the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence as representatives of the thirteen “Free and Independent States.”

Certainly we have to celebrate a complete revolution in race relations. The abolition of slavery has been the pre-eminent gain. Here in Hawaii it is difficult to imagine that 40 years ago, haoles excluded Asians from their clubs, classified ads for “help wanted” routinely listed “AJA only need apply” and it was unacceptable to have a Filipino supervisor over Japanese employees. Those are real changes.

The Fathers had a different opinion of the meaning of independence than the generality of Americans have today. Ask the average American for the meaning of freedom and independence and they will tell you that it is about freedom of speech. The Fathers were more concerned that we should have freedom from the tyranny of government. “ The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground,” as Thomas Jefferson put it.

The sadness of it is that few of today’s celebrants even know that to gain our independence the Founding Fathers fought the British over a tax burden that was a tiny fraction of what it is today. In fact, since customs duty was the only tax in those days, if you did not buy any imports, you paid no tax at all. Today, we have so many taxes, many of them hidden, that the U.S. Tax Foundation estimates that we work the first four months of the year just to pay taxes. [1] That is tyranny.

The historian A. J. P. Taylor, a socialist, [2] wrote that, “If we were offered the freedom which our grandfathers enjoyed before the First World War we should not know what to do with it. We should be like men released after a long prison sentence, overwhelmed by our unaccustomed liberty.” [3]

For example, in 1900 there was no income tax, Bayer Heroin could be bought over the counter, and no one needed passports, let alone drivers’ licenses. And the endless federal regulations that ensnare us today were then so few that there was not even a Federal Register.

So as you bite into your hot dog, contemplate this: A much quoted remark by a political leader is that we should not ask what the state can do for us but rather what we can do for the state. Who said that? Soviet Russia’s Lenin, Italy’s Mussolini or our President Kennedy? Are you sure?

The price of our independence is eternal vigilance. As we celebrate Independence Day are you being eternally vigilant? How?

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater


[1] http://www.taxfoundation.org/pdf/TaxFeatures48-2.pdf

[2] He also said, “ "I have tried to be a Marxist but common sense kept breaking in." Taylor, A.J.P. From Napoleon to the Second International: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Europe. 1995. p. 5.

[3] Taylor, A.J.P. Revolutions and Revolutionaries. Atheneum New York. 1980. p. 136.