Sunday, February 07, 2010

Anyone for a nice cup of tea?

The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets. From the Tea Party Patriots
Mission Statement and Core Values

Who would argue with curbing excessive spending, whether in the household, or in the state legislature, or in the Congress of the United States? And who isn't in favor of curbing excessive taxation? Being against excessive spending and taxation is like being against unreasonable force. The devil, as they say, is in the details, or in the definition of such key words as “excessive” and “unreasonable.” As for the three core values, they also sound like something pretty much everyone would be in favor of, depending, of course, on how those values are spelled out. So let's look into this matter a little further.

Fiscal Responsibility by government honors and respects the freedom of the individual to spend the money that is the fruit of their own labor. A constitutionally limited government, designed to protect the blessings of liberty, must be fiscally responsible or it must subject it's citizenry to high levels of taxation that unjustly restrict the liberty our Constitution was designed to protect. Such runaway deficit spending as we now see in Washington D.C. compels us to take action as the increasing national debt is a grave threat to our national sovereignty and the personal and economic liberty of future generations.

Having the freedom to spend the money that one has earned is a fine ideal to strive for. It is very difficult to exercise that freedom unless a good banking system is in place, preferably a banking system regulated in ways that ensure fiscal fairness. Probably the best way to achieve that is to have a government that both devises those regulations and implements them. Paying for such a government will require raising funds somehow. Taxation seems a good way to raise those funds. So the real question is how those taxes are to be raised. If the Tea Party Movement favors individuals keeping as much of the money they earn through the fruit of their labor, then the main tax burden should be borne by those who earn money through investments. This means that corporations and capitalist investors should be taxed, and so should those who inherit money from their relatives. So the Tea Party Movement appears to be in favor of what conservatives inaccurately call the death tax and what everyone else correctly calls estate taxes. So a system in which capitalists are taxed rather heavily, while laborers are not taxed very much at all, sounds very good to my ears.

Taxing major corporations would go some distance to reducing the amount of money that funds lobbyists; as Tea Party fans love to point out, government of the people by the wealthy and for the corporations is not exactly what is meant by the phrase “government of the people, by the people and for the people”—a phrase coined by Abraham Lincoln (who was not a founding father, and who advocated federal laws abolishing slavery in all states, even in those states that wanted to retain slavery, and whose words should therefore be quoted with care by Tea Party Movers).

On the matter of wasteful government spending, I have been advocating for a very long time for a reduced military. The United States maintains military bases in 130 foreign countries. (See Konrad Roeder's blog.) About 42% of every federal tax dollar is spent on the bloated and unnecessary military, which arguably does far more to make enemies and provoke them into hostility than to keep them at bay. The United States spends 37% of all the money spent on military in the world. (So says That, by my lights, is excessive. If the world wants so much military running around, let other countries pay for it. It is time from the United States to cut its military budget to about 10% of what it now is. That would lead to a dramatic reduction in taxes and government spending and would leave just enough military to deploy to clean up after natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and all the other things God inflicts upon us when we forget that in God we trust. So far, I am liking the kind of tea these folks are brewing. What more do they have to say for themselves?

We, the members of The Tea Party Patriots, are inspired by our founding documents and regard the Constitution of the United States to be the supreme law of the land. We believe that it is possible to know the original intent of the government our founders set forth, and stand in support of that intent. Like the founders, we support states' rights for those powers not expressly stated in the Constitution. As the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, in all other matters we support the personal liberty of the individual, within the rule of law.

Who could possibly argue that the Constitution of the United States is the law of the land? It is somewhat questionable, of course, whether what the original founders believed is what should guide us. After all, most of the original founders believed that only male property-owners should be entitled to vote. Quite a few of them also believed it was morally acceptable to own slaves. The abolition of slavery, and suffrage for women (such as Sarah Palin) and former slaves, were achieved by amendments to the Constitution and were not thoughts of the original authors. So if the doctrine of original intent means the Constitution cannot be amended, then we might have to do away with all the amendments including the Bill of Rights. Eliminating the Bill of Rights, of course, would wipe out most of the freedoms that the Tea Party Movement folks would like to preserve, so some method of allowing some deviations from the original intent of the male property-owners who wrote the Constitution may have to be found. Perhaps something like having a Senate and House of Representatives empowered with making new laws, even laws that deviate from the beliefs and practices of the original authors of the Constitution, could be put into place. Wait a minute. Those mechanisms are within the Constitution already, so I guess we can conclude that the original intent of the authors of the Constitution was to create a nation in which people were free, even encouraged, to move on in ways that do not reflect all the original intent of the founding fathers. So it looks as though what the Tea Party Movement favors is something like the status quo, that is, a government that changes its own laws and guidelines as a result of learning from the collective experiences of the citizens of the country.

Somewhat more promising is the principle that the federal government should not interfere in state laws. It would be a relief to see states able to pass laws allowing same-sex marriage without fear of having those laws overturned by the federal government, which has no constitutional power at all concerning marriage laws. It would also be a relief to see states given free reign in determining whether their own citizens can produce, sell and use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, LSD, heroin, cocaine and other medical and recreational products. There is no point in having federal agencies controlling drugs and alcohol and firearms. Perhaps even states should not have jurisdiction over such things. Those are clearly local matters, best left to counties, municipalities and neighborhood associations.

A free market is the economic consequence of personal liberty. The founders believed that personal and economic freedom were indivisible, as do we. Our current government's interference distorts the free market and inhibits the pursuit of individual and economic liberty. Therefore, we support a return to the free market principles on which this nation was founded and oppose government intervention into the operations of private business.

From what I have been able to read, the founders had quite a diversity of opinion on the extent to which markets should be free. So if we are going to adhere to the principle of original intent of the founders, we should be prepared to continue having healthy debate on how much markets should be free. So once again, it looks as though the Tea Party Movement advocates something very much like the status quo.

This issue of learning the intent of the founding fathers bears just a little more investigation. It would be difficult to understand what their intentions were if we did not read what they read. I am very much in favor of this aspect of the Tea Party Movement. We should encourage reading Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, John Locke, David Hume and many of the other great thinkers whose writings shaped the thinking of Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Hamilton. Reading those classical authors and all the figures of the European enlightenment (Bacon, Voltaire, Rousseau) would do us all good (not to mention keeping philosophy departments in business)—arguably reading the classics would be almost as edifying as listening to speeches by Sarah Palin. And like the founding fathers, we would want to enourage a healthy skepticism about religion. Perhaps having every American read Thomas Jefferson's version of the Bible would be a good first step toward understanding more about the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.

All things considered, if the Tea Party is for dramatic reduction in wasteful and unnecessary military spending by closing foreign bases; and if they are for heavily taxing corporations and investors and those who inherit money rather by earning their money through honest labor; and if they are for ensuring the individuals are free from predatory lending practices that lead to massive credit card debt and mortgage foreclosures; and if they favor liberating people from onerous medical expenses by implementing a single-payer universal health-insurance plan; and if they favor a return to classical education and an education based on a thorough familiarity with the authors of the European enlightenment, an education tht enables people to write and read very long sentences such as those found in David Hume and other authors whose ideas shaped the original intent of the founding fathers—then I am all for the Tea Party Movement.

As the Canadians say “It's tea time. Put on the kettle!”