Ruth Marcus, Reporter for The Washington Post, is a fairly accurate barometer by which we can estimate how much our elite intelligentsia really understands the nation it condescends to and calls stupid. Cry the beloved country.
Her latest reading shows us the presence of an intellectual low pressure system. Ramesh Ponnuru stands appropriately gobsmacked.
Ruth Marcus writes, “McCain’s angry denunciation of socialist wealth-spreading ignores the fact that the country has always had a progressive tax code.”
Not having vented her spleen enough through her slanders against John McCain’s campaign, Marcus then has to do violence to the history behind taxation in the United States. The United States Constitution had to be amended before everyone was even sure that an income tax would be legal. This occurred on February 3, 1913, with the passage of the 16th Amendment.
Via this amendment, the following verbiage was appended to The Constitution.
The Congress shall have 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.
Previously, the Constitution placed emphatic and safeguarding limits on the powers of the Federal Government to amass revenues. The original Constitutional language regarding taxes aimed to restrict the extent to which the central government could target a taxation regime. Section 2, Clause 3 specifically directs how the House of Representatives are allowed to go about the imposition of taxes.
Originally, the amount of direct taxes that could be collected from any State was tied directly to its share of the national population. On the basis of this requirement, application of the income tax to income derived from real estate and specifically income in the form of dividends from personal property ownership such as stock shares was found to be unconstitutional because it was not apportioned among the states; that is to say, there was no guarantee that a State with 10% of the country’s population paid 10% of those income taxes collected, because Congress had not fixed an amount of money to be raised and apportioned it between the States according to their respective shares of the national population.
In other words, The Framers of The Constitution viewed taxes as an instrument of revenue – not social justice.
Progressive income taxes were not even part of any political party platforms until the later years of the 19th Century. This would be after the American Industrial Revolution. No one cared about spreading the wealth; until J.P. Morgan had enough wealth to justify the effort associated with litigious brigandage.
In 1887, the Socialist Labor Party first proposed the idea in their 1887 platform. It was the 11th plank under the section entitled Social Demands.
11. Progressive income tax and tax on inheritances; but smaller incomes to be exempt.
The first American Federal Income Tax became law in 1894. The legislation came under withering legal fire and was declared unconstitutional before the US Supreme Court as a result of the decision handed down in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.
This then necessitated the 16th Amendment to revitalize the legitimacy of Federal Income Taxes under the aegis of Constitutional Law.
I write all of this stuff I googled off Wikipedia to make several key points.
Americans did not always want the Federal Government to reach into the wallets of individual citizens and redistribute wealth. The Framers of The US Constitution viewed this power as suspect and smacking of too much centralized government power. They established the census clause in Article 2 to limit how much redistribution power the central government would have.
In fact, the original interpretation of the USC banned so-called direct taxes. Taxes levied directly against individuals were seen as athwart the taking clause from the 5th Amendment; assuming the revenues taxed came from assets directly owned by the individual. Opponents of the 16th Amendment attempted to use this gravamen to overturn the income tax in the case Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad.
Americans have not always believed in progressive taxation and many still do not. People who question the expansion of eminent domain, the use of no-knock raids by law enforcement agencies and the speech impediments levied as a result of The McCain-Feingold Law all feel the same way about the impending totalism of a centralized American state that Brushaber felt in 1916.
Wanting equality of legal treatment; not legally enforced equality of outcome is nothing new in America. Ruth Marcus should get out more often and try visiting America more than just once every four years to cover the Yokels at a GOP rally.
Cross-Posted At: THE MINORITY REPORT