Direct Taxation and Virtual Representation


Everyone knows that “taxation without representation” is bad.  It prompted a shower of pamphlets, tea bags, and cannonballs across Colonial America.  But why is it bad?

The colonists insisted that America should hold seats in the British Parliament, in return for paying taxes to the Crown.  They felt that taxes can only be morally and ethically justified if the people who pay them have representation in the government, giving them effective votes over how the government collects and spends money.

The British had a different idea.  They thought the colonists should be satisfied by virtual representation, which means every Member of Parliament represents the entire population.  It would not be necessary to haul a bunch of chaps from the Colonies across the Atlantic to sit in Parliament, in order to give the interests of the colonies proper consideration.  At the time, given the distance involved, such direct representation was rather impractical.

The colonists had a terrific idea for making it practical, by demanding their own assembly on local soil.  The intensity of this argument escalated considerably, until its exciting conclusion at Yorktown in 1781.

In essence, by saying that taxation was immoral without direct representation, the colonists denied the very legitimacy of British rule.  If they couldn’t have direct political representation in the government, it had no moral right to impose its demands upon them.  Seizing money from people, without giving them a meaningful and direct say over how much would be taxed, or how it would be spent, was theft and tyranny.

That probably sounds like common sense to most Americans today.  Unfortunately, they have become quite comfortable with “virtual representation.”

The immense size of our government means that huge amounts of tax and regulatory authority, with a very direct impact on minute details of your life, are under the control of powerful congressmen and senators from other states.  The lack of congressional term limits means that some of those holding “safe seats” in other states amass great personal power, becoming the royalty of Capitol Hill.  You will never have a chance to vote against them, because you live in a different state.

If you were to raise such provincial concerns with a decades-old sultan of the subcommittees, they would give you essentially the same answer the British gave their American colonists.  The federal government must be immense and powerful to address our social needs, and you must be satisfied with “virtual representation”… which boils down to endless faith in the people who have wiped out entire industries, devalued our currency, and nearly crashed the planetary financial system by imposing their ideology on the mortgage industry.  You would be told not to worry that some of the individuals with vast power over your life are elected and re-elected by a few hundred thousand voters, organized into permanent blocs in faraway districts.

Your virtual representatives will frequently inform you that many of the reforms you desire are literally impossible to achieve.  Meaningful spending cuts, the elimination of ruinous government agencies, terminating failed programs that waste billions of dollars, reduced and simplified taxes… all of these things have been ruled “off the table.”  If you strongly dispute this judgment, you risk being identified as a “traitor” or “terrorist.”  It’s remarkable how many things the great majority of voters desire, but their “representatives” have declared unthinkable.

Every four years, you’ll be one of several million people who chooses between a handful of viable candidates for the Presidency, which has become such a powerful office that describing the President as an “executive” no longer seems quite right.  Many of those presidential votes will come from cast-iron voting blocs whose allegiance was determined before the candidates were named… or, not to put too fine a point on it, before they were born.

These virtual representatives will virtually represent your interests in a gigantic system of entrenched lifetime bureaucrats, who are nearly impossible to fire from their jobs.  Their departments win larger budgets by conspicuously failing at their nominal missions.  With these larger budgets, they adopt new missions to fail at.  They generate a mountain of regulations, which consume your economic liberty.  You may rest assured your virtual representatives read virtually none of these regulations, and are personally exempted from most of them.

Should you make a wrong turn in the regulatory maze, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of an incredibly powerful federal court system.  The really important cases crawl up to the nine Ents planted at the Supreme Court, whose ancient and inscrutable personal and political struggles are studied by media oracles anxious to predict how they will alter history.  Over the last few decades, the Supreme Court has become fond of “activist” rulings which essentially transform them into a little band of eternal legislators. 

Your only “representation” at the Court consists of the chance that someone you may have voted for as President years ago might have an opportunity to replace a couple of the justices… triggering a complex political struggle, in which the interests of ordinary people in flyover country who just want to live their lives in peace and liberty are not considered very important.

Among the infractions most likely to drag you into the court system are violations of an arcane tax code that no single living person fully understands.  The agency charged with enforcing this code, the Internal Revenue Service, routinely comes up with incorrect answers to citizen tax questions.  The vast bulk of this code is designed to reward or punish behavior of interest to the government.  Sometimes a big program like ObamaCare adds thousands of pages, which your virtual legislators have openly admitted they do not read. 

The ruling class and its favored allies are largely exempted from this tax code.  Crimes that would result in fines and imprisonment for citizens are waved aside as inconsequential mistakes when committed by congressmen, senators, and Cabinet officials.  You are expected to trust the wisdom of your virtual representatives when they issue priceless waivers to disastrous national programs like ObamaCare.

The votes you are allowed to cast are based on fraudulent information, including absurdly flawed analytical models from the Congressional Budget Office.  The government does not audit itself, or predict the consequences of its actions with the slightest degree of accuracy.  The sheer scale of federal programs means that few voters are qualified to judge them… something you will be explicitly told if you challenge your virtual representatives at a public forum.  You are therefore asked to vote based on promises so huge that no one can evaluate them.

Even given all of this insulation and confusion, the ruling class still thinks there is too much direct representation in America.  They are eager to pass authority upward, to international organizations that no American voter will ever be able to influence in the slightest.  The laws of other nations are cited in American court decisions. 

A sustained effort to import a more pliable electorate from across the border has been under way for decades.  Programs like the DREAM Act are proposed to finance a new electorate at the expense of the old one.  Illegal aliens were routinely counted in the bogus number of “uninsured Americans” cited to justify the passage of ObamaCare.  What impact does the growing importance of non-citizens have on the right of citizens, including legal immigrants, to “representation” in the national government they lavishly finance?

There is only one answer to all of this, and it is the same answer the Founding Fathers gave the British.  There is no such thing as “representation” in a huge, distant government.  Only when power devolves to local governments, with the tax and regulatory authority of the central government sharply limited, can meaningful direct representation exist at all.  We must now win that debate with a capital city named after the great general and statesman who decisively won it against King George.