I usually don’t get energetically involved in advocacy efforts of any kind, but there’s an effort just announced in Florida that deserves my support and your support as well. I am referring to a group calling themselvesBan Assault Weapons NOW, which announced a petition drive to get an initiative on the 2020 Florida ballot that would amend the state Constitution and ultimately make Florida assault weapon rein.
The effort has sparked the usual media coverage, some
of which is inaccurate, some of which is simply dead wrong. So before I talk
about whether getting rid of assault weapons will make a difference, let me
just clarify what the proposed amendment would and wouldn’t do. It doesn’t ban the ownership of assault
weapons already in the Gunshine State. It does prohibit the sale or transfer of
assault rifles into the state. And while Gun-nut Nation will no doubt do
whatever it can do to prevent the initiative from getting on the ballot and/or
becoming law, early polls indicate
that, in fact, such a measure when put directly to the voters, might actually
The problem with this effort is, first of all, that
collecting the required 766,000 signatures (the group has collected just short
of 90,000) requires lots of cash, perhaps $5 million or more. That’s serious
money, even considering that the group has access to some deep pockets,
including Al Hoffman and several other real-estate biggies who announced their
own gun-control effort last year.
The other problem facing our friends pushing this Florida
effort is the degree to which the whole issue of assault rifles has become
something surrounded by more falsehoods than facts. Here’s a couple of the so-called
facts about assault rifles which are nothing more than whole cloth:
The AR-15 isn’t an assault rifle because an assault rifle is a
full-automatic weapon and the AR-15 only fired in semi-automatic mode. In fact, the current battle weapon
carried by U.S. troops, the M4, can be set to fire in semi-automatic mode.
An assault rifle is no different from any other semi-automatic rifle, a
design which hunters have been using for nearly a century in guns manufactured
by Remington, Winchester, Browning, et. al. In fact, an assault rifle loads from a magazine
inserted underneath the gun, which allows for magazine that hold upwards of 30-40
rounds. Traditional, semi-auto hunting rifles load from above the gun, which
means their effective capacity is limited to 5 or 6 rounds.
The number of people killed and wounded by assault rifles each year adds
a statistically-insignificant number to the 125,000+ Americans who shoot
themselves or others with guns. Why prohibit law-abiding folks from owning a
gun which has little or any responsibility for gun injuries that occur every
This last bubbe-mynsa deserves a paragraph all its own.The issue of assault weapons should never be considered in numeric terms – it goes far beyond that. After the massacre at Sandy Hook, the school building had to be torn down because its presence generated such terrible feelings of loss and anger for all town residents who drove or walked by. I understand that similar feelings exist amongst residents of Parkland and surrounding towns.
The point is that all gun violence
creates both physical and psychic damage, but the latter injuries often go far
beyond the families of gun-violence victims themselves. Newtown will never
recover its sense of well-being and security following the terrible events at
Sandy Hook. And the courts have long affirmed the notion that government has a ‘compelling
interest’ in community safety precisely because we all want the place we live
to be safe.
What the Florida initiative
fundamentally represents is a community-wide effort to confront the gun
industry over the lethality of its products, as well as to take issue with the
nonsense promoted by Gun-nut Nation that we can all be secure and safe by just
walking around with a gun.
I sent Ban Assault Weapons NOW a
donation yesterday, they get another one today. And everyone who reads this
column should chip in as well. Here’s
“Politically, financially and legally,
the gun-rights cause and, more specifically, the lobbying juggernaut that is
the National Rifle Association have not fared well in the Trump era.”
speaketh this morning’s New York Times, and if The Times says it, then it
must be true. Except, it happens not to be true. Or it’s certainly not as true
as The New York Times Editorial Board would like you to believe.
And the reason it happens not to be
true is because the gun-control community, of which The New York Times
considers itself to be a leading media voice, knows as much about the gun
industry as I know about the structure of the atom. And I didn’t take physics
or nuclear physics in college, so I don’t know anything about the structure of
the atom, okay?
The reason I can’t get on board
with the judgement of the gun industry’s impending doom is because the
gun-control community invariably defines the ‘power’ and ‘influence’ of the ‘gun
lobby’ as based on the activities of America’s ‘first civil rights organization,’
a.k.a., the NRA. And anyone who believes
that the health and welfare of the gun ‘lobby’ should be measured simply by the
bottom line of the NRA’s balance sheet, doesn’t know anything about the gun
lobby or anything else connected to guns.
The NYT editorial board cites as
its proof that the NRA is on the ropes the fact that, for the first time,
election spending by gun-control groups (read: Bloomberg) was higher
than the dough spent by the pro-gun gang. But before our friends in Gun-control
Nation jump for joy over this unique turn of events, the reportage by our
friends at The Gray Lady needs to be nuanced a bit.
To begin, even when the NRA was
priming the electoral pump by giving pro-gun candidates as much campaign money
as they could, the average federal office-holder, at best, could only count on
the boys from Fairfax to provide 6% of what the candidate had to spend. So for
all the talk about the financial ‘power’ of the NRA, after a candidate picked
up the check from Wayne-o or Chris Cox, he still had to raise almost all the
dough necessary to fund his campaign. What does an average House
campaign cost today? Try around $1.5 million or more. How much money did
the average pro-gun House member receive in each of the last two Congressional
campaigns? Try less than $5,000 bucks.
Where the financial imbalance
between the NRA and its competitors really shows up, however, is in the amount
spent on lobbying activities once a candidate takes his or her Congressional
seat. Except the imbalance is so much in favor of the NRA that the notion that
Gun-control Nation is beginning to pull abreast of Gun-nut Nation in the halls
of Congress is a joke.
During the 115th
Congress, 2017 – 2018, Bloomberg’s Everytown PAC spent
just short of $2.5 million on lobbying activities. In those same two years, the NRA spent more
than $9.5 million bucks. In the 8 previous years when Obama was in office, the
lobbying amount spent by the NRA was $3.5 million. And The New York Times
is telling us that the fortunes of Gun-nut Nation have suffered under Trump?
Finally, when we look at FBI-NICS
background checks on gun transfers to gauge how gun sales stack up, the news
isn’t all that bad. Handgun-long gun transfers for December, 2007 were 925,000,
for December, 2016 they were 1,700,00, for December, 2017 they were just under
a million and a half. That’s a month-to-month drop of slightly more than 10%
from the last year of Obama to the first year of Trump, but it’s still nearly a
40% increase over the final month’s figure for another pro-gun President named
I’m not saying that it’s been smooth sailing for my friends in Fairfax this past year. But if anyone is thinking that the Gun-nut patient is on its way to life-support, think again.
Stephen Boss teaches environment courses at the
University of Arkansas, a lifelong interest that started when, as a kid, he
rode his bike to Martinez, CA where he visited the home once occupied by John
Muir. I always thought the most famous person to live in Martinez was Reggie
Jackson, but you learn something new all the time. In any case, there’s
actually a connection between environmentalism and keeping guns away from
college campuses, which is what Stephen’s book is all about. Because as he goes
on to explain, a college campus should be regarded as a ‘sanctuary,’ and guns
have no place in sanctuaries, something we have always understood.
Except we don’t understand the connection between
sanctuaries and non-violence any more. It used to be the case, for example,
that houses of worship, which have been sanctuaries since medieval times, were
locations which didn’t welcome guns. The Virginia State Senate just passed
a bill which repeals a law dating from Colonial times that makes it a
misdemeanor to bring a gun or any other kind of weapon into a ‘place of worship,’
and several other states grant legal sanction
to concealed-carry inside a synagogue or a church.
It would be easy blame the rupture between non-violence
and sanctuary on the NRA’s efforts to spread the gospel of armed, self-defense.
Unfortunately, this is not the whole story by any means. Several of the worst,
mass shootings over the last several years occurred in religious facilities –
first in Charleston, SC then Sutherland Springs, TX and most recently in
Pittsburgh, PA. And even though as many as 100 million Americans attend
a peaceful religious service every weekend, when it comes to fears about gun
violence, it’s never the numbers that count.
What Stephen has done is take the data which is
generated each year by the Clery Act, a federal law which requires that every
college and university receiving any kind of federal aid, including federal
loan monies received by students, report campus crime every year. He has
examined this data covering college homicides from 2001 to 2016, and lo and
behold, it turns out that colleges happen to be very peaceful places. In fact,
over the period 2001 to 2016, there was an aggregate total of just slightly
less than 370 million people (faculty, students, staff) on college campuses, of
whom 279 were criminally killed. Which
means that the college homicide rate is somewhere around 76 times lower than
the national homicide rate overall.
Realistically, the number is lower than that. Because
of the 219 incidents which resulted in 279 deaths, 40 of these homicides were
the result of two mass shootings at Umpqua Community College and Virginia
Tech. Pull these events out of the
overall numbers, precisely because they were so different from what usually
occurs, and the degree to which college campuses are possibly the safest
environments where large numbers of people gather is much greater still.
Where I think Stephen’s book needs a somewhat wider
perspective is understanding why Gun-nut Nation has been making such a big push
to break down colleges as sanctuaries and give all those young kids the right
to walk around their alma mater with a gun.
To begin with, the Guns on Campus movement is part of
the effort to eliminate all gun-free zones. And the reason that gun-free zones
are so anathema to the gun industry is because a prohibition on firearms in a
public space creates the impression that guns aren’t safe. And that’s the last
thing that gun makers would want you to believe.
But there’s a somewhat more nuanced issue about gun-free campuses, which is the fact that college-educated kids, for the most part, won’t become adults who end up owning or using guns. Try as they might, the attempt by conservatives to rid college campuses of the noxious weeds of liberalism hasn’t worked. And generally speaking, liberals don’t particularly like guns. If they did, the extremely scant numbers produced by Stephen Boss on college homicides would probably go way up.
Last week the Transportation Safety Administration celebrated its return to normalcy with the publication of an annual report on how many guns were picked up at the airports where TSA staff monitor security check-ins prior to flights. The report was issued the day after a Republican member of Congress, Matt Gaetz, may have made the single, dumbest, brain-dead comment ever made by anyone who has ever held a Congressional seat, when he told the parents of two children killed at Parkland that their concerns about protecting the country from gun violence didn’t come close to his concern about protecting the country from all those terrorists and criminals who come from Mexico because we don’t have a wall.
The TSA report, on the other hand, doesn’t represent a loony opinion on threats to public safety, rather, it’s a compilation of hard data on how many guns were taken from passengers who were in the process of boarding commercial flights anywhere within the United States. Next time you go through a TSA security checkpoint, count the number of times you see a sign telling you not to be in possession of a gun. Maybe three times? Maybe four? And yet in 2018, more than 4,200 passengers attempted to board aircraft holding carry-on bags that contained guns, of which 80% of the guns were loaded as well.
You have to be as dumb as a rock, maybe even as dumb as Matt Gaetz, to bring a gun onto a plane in a carry-on bag. Want to have a gun with you when you fly to Florida to visit Grandma in a nursing home? Pay the extra bucks, check a piece of luggage, declare that your suitcase contains a gun and you’re good to go. When you land in Miami or wherever the old lady has been stashed, an airline employee will even come up to you and hand-deliver your suitcase.
Of course the whole point of carrying a gun is to be ready, at an instant’s notice, to defend yourself and everyone else from one of those ‘street thugs’ who endlessly prowl around. There’s always a member of MS-13 just about to steal your car or break into your home. You can never tell when ISIS may choose to land an invasion force on the streets of your suburban town. The threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of a gallon of gasoline which costs less than two bucks are all around.
On a plane? Remember back in 2008 when David Sedaris had to choose between chicken versus dog-shit with cut glass as the entree for his in-flight meal? I’m sure our friend David ended up with the chicken, but what if the cabin attendant had screwed up and handed him the dog-shit with cut glass? Wouldn’t that have represented a clear threat to David’s life and limb which could only have been thwarted by the use of a gun?
Now let’s not go overboard about this problem, because the same group of TSA inspectors who found 4,239 guns at airport check-in lines also waved through more than 800 million passengers and crew who weren’t carrying guns. That’s an awful lot of people flying the friendly skies who didn’t need to have a gun in their carry-on bags.
The question I have, however, is this: If I have a gun in my carry-on and the gun is discovered and taken away prior to my flight, isn’t this a violation of my 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ After all, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about my gun-rights being abridged just because airplanes didn’t exist in 1788. So why should I ever find myself in a life-threatening circumstance just because some noodle-head bureaucrat in some federal agency thinks that I shouldn’t be able to protect myself on a flight?
Know what? I’m going to write a letter to Matt Gaetz and tell him to put together legislation, get it co-sponsored by the Freedom Caucus, that will definitively extend my Constitutional ‘right’ to protect myself with a gun to any and all commercial flights. And if he wants, I’ll go to the trouble of putting up a Facebook group which we’ll call ‘Americans for Freedom in the Skies.’
I mean, what else should I be doing since right now it’s too cold and wet to play golf?
In 1978 my sister Wendy died, as we say, by her own hand,
which had a revolver in it, which was pointed at her heart when she squeezed
the trigger. (Women tend to go for the heart; men the head.) She purchased her
gun at a pawn shop the day before her death – an unfortunate impulse shopping
decision that would be just as easy today, in many states, as it was in Nashua,
New Hampshire in 1978. Most people who survive a suicide attempt never try
again. If she’d decided instead to hang herself she would have had only a 60%
chance of success. Poison, 40%. Cutting, 2%. With a gun the chances of success rise
to 90%. Though it’s not success, is it?
Fourteen years later, in December 1992, my
eighteen-year-old son Galen was killed in a school shooting at Simon’s Rock
College in western Massachusetts. He was the random victim of a disturbed
fellow student who’d bought a used semi-automatic rifle at a local gun shop the
afternoon of the shootings. The killer modified his gun to accept thirty-round
magazines, which he’d ordered, using his mother’s credit card, along with 180
rounds of ammunition, from a mail order company in South Carolina. Purchases of
the gun, the ammunition, and the aftermarket accessories were perfectly legal,
and they’d be be just as legal now, in many states, as they were in 1992.
These events have given me the unusual perspective of
having spent forty years closely watching nothing happen. Or, watching a lot
happen, most of which involves people getting killed by guns and politicians
doing nothing about it. Let us observe a moment of silence. Let us attend to
the buzzing of flies.
If there was one moment in the last few years which
reminded me of how fuck*d up this country has become over guns, it was when
Sleazy Don introduced one of his guests at last night’s SOTU address, an
81-year old from Pittsburgh, Judah Samet, who just missed
being inside the Tree of Life synagogue last year, but also just missed being
incinerated in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945.
Now the idea that Sleazy Don, who somehow couldn’t
distinguish between some college kids running around a Confederate statute and
a bunch of Nazis yelling anti-Semitic slogans at Charlottesville, would cynically
use this man’s life to promote his warped views of American values isn’t bad
enough. What’s worse is the fact that this schmuck New York landlord has gone
out of his way again and again to push messages supporting the idea that
walking around with an assault rifle is a good thing.
If it were the case that a gun will really protect you
from being the victim of a violent crime, then go ahead, buy your gun, go to
the range, practice shooting it all the time and just make sure that the target
you are using actually moves – do all those things in a regular (let’s say
weekly) way and maybe, just maybe you’re ready to defend yourself with a Glock
or an AR-15.
But the truth is, you’re not going to do all those things
and sooner or later, usually sooner, the gun will wind up in a drawer, or under
the mattress or somewhere else where it shouldn’t be found. And then what do
you do when the gun is found
by your four-year old who then shoots you in face?
My point is that the gun industry exists to fulfill the
fantasies of lots of grown men who grew up watching Dirty Harry or Bruce Willis
movies, and the gun makers, knowing they are selling a product which nobody
except cops really need, is very adept at catching and channeling the feelings
created by cultural motifs that celebrate the positive role of guns. Is there
any guy who doesn’t feel an emotional surge every time Old Glory is hoisted at
the top of Mt. Suribachi or as Virgil, Morgan, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday walk
towards the OK Corral?
Two weeks ago the gun industry
held its annual trade fest, the SHOT Show, at Las Vegas, with the theme of this
year’s show being ‘Gear Up.’ What kind
of gear are they talking about? What this
means is any product connected in any way to military-style weapons, in
particular assault rifles which used to be known as ‘modern sporting rifles,’
but since Trump came along, sporting guns are out and tactical guns are in.
One of the featured items at the FN booth was the
assault rifle pictured above. It’s a civilian version (meaning it shoots in
semi-auto mode) of a design model known as a SCAR, which stands for Special
Operations Combat Assault Rifle, which is carried by combat units just about
everywhere, particularly special ‘ops’ units whose job is to get in quickly,
kill as many as they can, and get out again. Now if this gun doesn’t evoke the
greatest fantasies of all, I don’t know what does. Think about how we got our
hands on Osama bin Laden, okay?
You can own one of these pieces for the paltry sum of
$4,500 bucks. And what you get for that mere bag of shells is a gun that is
considered – ready? – the non plus ultra
sniper gun. Now why in God’s name does anyone need a sniper gun?
The shooter who walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue didn’t
have an FN SCAR, but he did have an AR-15, which does exactly what the SCAR does
except at a much more reasonable price. And the fact that Trump continues to
promote the violence caused by such weapons while telling us that surviving a
mass shooting is what makes America ‘great,’ has to rank as about the sickest
commentary on gun violence that has ever been made.
Yesterday I attended a jam-packed meeting of the MOMs
group and listened to speakers who delivered moving testimonies about how their
lives were affected by the violence caused by guns. Along with those presentations, the Chapter
leader also spoke about achievements of the past year as well as what lies
ahead. And this part of the meeting was quite upbeat, particularly when the
audience was reminded about the new #gunsense majority which now controls the
But before my friends in Gun-control Nation decide that
the tide has finally turned, I think they need to step back a bit and consider
the possibility that their new-found success might turn out to be less than
what it appears. I’m not saying that because I want my gun-control friends to
fail. To the contrary, we must find a way to stop suffering from behaviors
which result in more than 125,000 deaths and serious injuries every year. We must. But it’s not going to happen until
and unless Gun-control Nation truly understands what they are up against, and
I’m not sure they do.
Ask the average gun-sense advocate why it’s so
difficult to pass laws whose purpose is to control gun violence while still
allowing Americans to own guns, and the answer you’ll get every time is one
variation or another on those ‘bad people’ who run the NRA. I heard this again and again at the MOMS meeting and I see it
on every #gunsense website – among Gun-control Nation it is simply assumed
without question that the NRA is the
‘enemy’ and that the NRA’s power and
financial influence needs to be stopped or at least curtailed.
There’s only one little problem. The NRA operates very much like the AAA; the latter provides services for
people who own cars, the former provides services for people who own guns. You
might think the NRA spends its time
and money lambasting tree-huggers and gun-control liberals in the public
square, but a quick glance at how the boys in Fairfax spend their money shows
this not to be true. For every buck the NRA dishes out to its legislative
allies in Congress, it spends two bucks on the care and feeding of its own
close to $200 million a year.
The NRA claims
around 5 million dues-paying members, maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But the
organization’s real strength is that they speak not just for their membership,
but for everyone who owns a gun. Yea, yea, I know the gun-control groups claim
to be enrolling all those ‘reasonable’ gun owners to support their ‘sensible’
demands. I also claim to have stayed on
my diet during the Super Bowl.
Want to know what’s really going on in Gun-nut Nation? Take a look at NICS-FBI background check numbers which have just been compiled for 2018. I not only looked at those numbers but I compared 2018 to every year back to 2001, and this is what I found. In 2001, the number of new and used guns that were transferred across the counter of guns shops was 7.1 million, in 2018 it was 11.5 million, an increase of more than 50 percent. How much has the U.S. population increased over that same period of time? 16 percent. Here’s a little graph which shows the per-capita trend of background checks over the last twenty years:
The great jump occurred in 2013, the year after Sandy
Hook, when Obama tried, without success, to push through a gun-control bill.
And while the background check numbers have fallen off over the last several
years, they are still running nearly 60% higher than during the mid-years of
Bush #43. And remember who’s sitting in the Oval Office – the gun owner’s best
My friends in Gun-control Nation are certainly entitled to celebrate their growing effectiveness and strength; I saw it first-hand at the meeting of MOMS. But don’t forget – there are still plenty of Americans who believe in the importance and value of their guns.
The American Revolution was sparked in part by unjust taxation. After all, the colonists in Boston rebelled against Britain for imposing “taxation without representation,” and summarily tossed English tea into the harbor in protest in 1773.
Nowadays Americans collectively spend more than 6 billion hours each year filling out tax forms, keeping records, and learning new tax rules according to the Office of Management and Budget. Complying with the byzantine U.S. tax code is estimated to cost the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually – time and money that could otherwise be used for more productive activities like entrepreneurship and investment, or just more family and leisure time.
The majority of these six billion hours sacrificed by Americans to Washington each year goes to complying with a tax that didn’t even exist until 100 years ago – the federal income tax.
Worse still, this tax has become a political weapon for Washington to incentivize certain activities (home ownership, charitable giving, etc.) and to punish others. It’s a tax that follows Americans wherever they go in the world, and it’s one that was originally sold to the American people by President Woodrow Wilson as a means of “soaking the rich” during the so-called Gilded Age.
How did a country that was founded on the concept of limited government come to embrace such a draconian policy? And what does it say about Washington that tax reform has become synonymous with class warfare and corporate lobbyists?
Read on to learn the history of the 16th Amendment – which authorized the federal collection of an income tax – and how that power has ultimately meant the growth of Washington at the expense of just about everyone else.
Could you imagine a time in the U.S. when roads were being paved, there was zero national debt, and the federal government was completely operational – all without income taxes? This may sound like a Libertarian fantasy, but it’s actually an image of the America of yesteryear. Before the advent of the income tax, the U.S. government relied exclusively on tariffs and user fees to finance operations.
Unsurprisingly, operations were much smaller compared with today’s extravagant government programs like welfare, social security, and subsidies. But even though spending was more conservative during the Republic’s early years, certain political events motivated the government to consider more direct ways of reaching into the pockets of its citizens.
One of these political events was the War of 1812. This war may have inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” as he famously watched the rockets red glare over Fort McHenry, but it was also straining our fiscal resources and the war effort needed to be financed.
Enter the idea of a progressive income tax – based on the British Tax Act of 1798 (which should have been our first warning). Fortunately for the time, the War of 1812 came to a close in 1815, and the discussion of enacting an income tax was tabled for the next few decades.
Ever so stubborn, progressive individuals were hell-bent on enacting income taxes, and they eventually found a way to do this at a local and state level. In time, they would reignite a new movement for the adoption of the federal income tax.
State Versions of the Income Tax
With state governments increasingly embarking on public infrastructure projects and introducing compulsory public education, the money for these programs had to come from somewhere. For the income tax advocates whose hopes were dashed during the War of 1812, state income taxes served as a consolation prize. In turn, income tax supporters immediately got to work and started to chip away at state legislatures.
In the mid-19th century, the fruits of the income tax crowd’s labor began to pay off as several states got the ball rolling. Some of these states included:
Pennsylvania: 1840 to 1871
Maryland: 1841 to 1850
Alabama: 1843 to 1884
Virginia: 1843 to 1926 (later replaced with a modern individual income tax)
Florida: 1845 to 1855
North Carolina: 1849 to 1921 (later replaced with a modern individual income tax)
Slow but sure, income taxes started to make their way from one state legislature to the next. But once the 1860s arrived, income taxes got a tremendous push from one of the most destructive and pivotal events in U.S. history.
Did the income tax supporters finally get their wish?
The Civil War’s Boost for a Federal Income Tax
To say the U.S. was divided during the 1860s would be an understatement.
Ripped apart at the seams by a bloody Civil War (1861-1865), the Union government was desperate for funds to finance its ambitious quest to restore order to the beleaguered nation. Like the War of 1812, proposals for income tax were on the menu. Unlike the preceding war period, however, the U.S. was able to successfully enact an income tax.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Revenue Act of 1861 as a means to finance the expensive war effort. This was followed up with other measures like the Revenue Act of 1862 and Revenue Act of 1864, which created the nation’s first progressive income tax system and the precursor to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
What seemed like a monumental victory for income tax supporters who hoped for a long-lasting income tax system would vanish into the ether once the Civil War ended. No longer needing a massive army to put down rebels and stitch the country back together, the U.S. government let Civil War era income taxes expire once Reconstruction was in full swing. The pro-income tax crowd would have to reassess its tactics and look at other avenues for political change.The American People Push Back
How did the U.S. government go from embracing massive government expansions during the Civil War to later reverting back to its Constitutional roots of limited government during the next decade? Was it benevolent politicians who, in an act of political kindness, decided to hit the reset button and give Americans their cherished rights back? Or was there something else at play?
Upon further inspection, there is reason to believe that taxes in the 19th century tended to be temporary in nature given the American people’s ideological propensities. Most people were still skeptical of government overreach, especially during the Civil War – a time where habeas corpus was suspended, and the first income tax was implemented. Shell-shocked from a horrific experience that laid waste to countless urban centers and left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead, the American populace wanted a return to normalcy. And that meant scaling back government as much as possible.
Even Henry Ward Beecher, the brother of the famous author Harriet Beecher Stowe, was skeptical of the Radical Republicans’ zealous plans to grow government during the Reconstruction period. Historian Tom Woods in The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History exposed Beecher’s thoughts on the matter:
“The federal government is unfit to exercise minor police and local government, and will inevitably blunder when it attempts it…To oblige the central authority to govern half the territory of the Union by federal civil officers and by the army, is a policy not only uncongenial to our ideas and principles, but pre-eminently dangerous to the spirit of our government.”
Many Americans would agree with Stowe’s assessment – above all, members of Congress who sought to reassert Congressional dominance throughout the rest of the 19th century. But with the arrival of the Progressive Era, the rules of the political game began to change. Soon, ideas of expansive government, which were routinely scoffed at by intellectuals, politicians, and the American population at large throughout the first half of the 19th century, made a fierce comeback during the latter half of the 19th century.
This time around, these ideas began to have considerable staying power.
The Income Tax: A Child of the Progressive Era
Decades of legislative pressure and constant hand-wringing finally began to pay off for income tax supporters.The arrival of the Progressive Era was like Christmas for political figures in favor of an activist state. This was a time when reformers actively pushed for an energetic government to solve all of society’s ills, most notably poverty and income inequality.
Although they were shut out from the federal government throughout the Gilded Age, Progressives focused their attention on local and state races. Additionally, academia became more receptive to the technocratic message of Progressivism, as numerous academics like John Dewey gained prominence during this period and made progressive ideas popular in the Ivory Tower circles.
Many will scoff and think that Ivory Tower ideas have no impact in changing, that these ideas are simply too dense and inaccessible to the masses. However, free market economists like Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek understood the indispensable role ideas play in politics. In his work, The Intellectuals and Socialism, Hayek argued that when certain ideas promoting activist government become prominent among the academia and general culture, they eventually consume the political class whole.
The idea of an income tax would have been laughed out the venue in previous decades. But in the 1890s, it was all the rage at universities throughout the U.S. Soon, political winds started to blow in a more favorable direction.
For a brief moment, Progressives got their wish when the Congress introduced an income tax during the mid-1890s. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which had an income tax provision attached to it, gained the ire of then President Grover Cleveland for its last-minute amendments. Nevertheless, the Wilson-Gorman Act became law without Cleveland’s signature. The Supreme Court would later strike down the income tax provisions of the Wilson-Gorman Act in 1895’s Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan Trust Co. case.
The Supreme Court’s rejection of the income tax was no trivial failure. It was the first step in starting the conversation on the need for an income tax. Progressives now smelled blood in the water and would come back with a vengeance in less than two decades.
Enter the Wilson Presidency
Not letting the temporary setback of the Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan Trust Co. deter their activism, Progressives continued plowing ahead and making their ideas more palatable to the political class and the masses. Progressivism reached its zenith during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, when progressive reformers finally got their wish as the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913. This ratification settled any constitutional questions about the legality of this controversial tax. It started out as a relatively limited tax, with individuals making below $20,000 paying a rate of one percent, and the rich – those making making more than $500,000 – paying a seven-percent tax.
Supporters of the income tax sold it as a tax that would only target the filthy rich. But as history has shown, government encroachments have a tendency of growing over time. In 1917, the lowest tax bracket paid two percent, although the highest income earners saw their taxes skyrocket to 67 percent.
At the time, politicians reassured their constituents that those rates would not be permanent and they would eventually be scaled back. Little did taxpayers know what the 1930s and 1940s had in store for them.
The Income Tax: A Normal Part of Public Policy
Since its ratification, the income tax has been a calling card for politicians keen on growing the size of the State. By soaking the rich and redistributing their wealth, politicians can claim to be champions of the common man, all while consolidating their power in D.C. However, economic realities and political backlash have constrained politicians’ abilities to indefinitely raise taxes.
Power-hungry politicians needed a little bit of outside help to make their wildest fantasies become reality. That help usually comes in the form of political crisis, which politicians exploited in its fullest.
The New Deal was the first era that witnessed income taxes rise at astronomical rates. On the eve of the 1929 stock market crash, the highest income earners paid a marginal tax rate of 25 percent. But once the Great Depression was well underway in the mid-1930s, the top tax bracket was paying 63 percent, and the United States’ entrance into World War II catapulted these rates toward 94 percent.
Certain political practices, such as the abandonment of the use of war bonds – debt securities the government issued to finance war efforts – changed certain political realities for the political class. The discontinued use of war bonds made using the income tax and deficit spending a necessity. This was the result of the populace starting to grow skeptical of military action abroad. With war bonds out of the picture, the U.S. relied more on income taxation and central banking to finance military actions and domestic programs after World War II.
Like an annoying chore, the income tax soon became a part of the average American’s life, whether they liked it or not. For some Americans, the rabbit hole of inconveniences and frustration goes even deeper.
Extraterritorial Taxation: The Income Tax’s Worst Kept Secret
Living in foreign lands is one of the most tantalizing experiences for people all over the globe. And after decades of hard work and meticulous saving, many Americans dream of living abroad.
Often times, unsavory political situations like economic collapses, heavy taxation, and even war compel people to search for greener pastures. For many, settling in new lands is a form of wiping the slate clean – disassociating with a tyrannical homeland and starting a new life in a land of opportunities.
But for Americans abroad, the U.S. government still finds a way of sneaking back into their lives. Like an unwanted guest, the income tax has latches on to Americans and follows them all the way to their new place of residency. Thinking that their foreign villa by the beach is a refuge from potential U.S. government meddling, many Americans are caught by surprise when the tax bill comes at their U.S. embassy.
A particularly unique feature of America’s income tax system is its power to tax extraterritorial income. In other words, Americans living abroad are subject to a worldwide tax on their income. One caveat is that American taxpayers enjoy a foreign earned income exclusion that reduces their overall tax burden. As of 2018, the maximum exclusion for taxpayers is $103,900. Nevertheless, the U.S. and Eritrea are unique in their extraterritorial taxation models. Eritrea, however, taxes its citizens living overseas at a flat rate of two percent.
The extraterritorial nature of U.S. taxes has not been without its fair share of legal controversies. George Cook, an American living in Mexico for 20 years, was perturbed by the fact that he had to pay an income tax on his foreign earnings despite no longer having ties with his country of origin. George’s dispute eventually made its way to the Supreme Court in 1924, and the issue was resolved in the Supreme Court case Cook v. Tait.
The Supreme Court ended up ruling that international taxation of foreign income was constitutional because the U.S. government “benefits its citizens and their property” wherever they live. In essence, Americans are double taxed – they must pay both the taxes in their new country of residence and American income taxes.
Still not satisfied, D.C. has made sure to extend its international taxation reach by passing the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010. FATCA essentially turns banks and financial institutions into de facto enforcement branches of the IRS.
Although FATCA is an American law, foreign countries must comply with its ordinances. FATCA initially requires that all foreign financial institutions register with the IRS. In the case that foreign financial institutions don’t follow through with FATCA standards, the U.S. government can levy a withholding tax of 30 percent on the foreign bank’s earnings.
The Sneakiness of Income Tax Withholding
One of the sneakiest aspects of the income tax is the practice of withholding. Instead of paying a lump sum on April 15th, most taxpayers have their income taxes deducted from their paycheck. Their employer essentially becomes an unpaid tax collector that gradually extracts their income in relative silence.
Come Tax Day, many Americans receive money back after paying excess taxes all year, so they’re left feeling like they’ve been given the gift of free money. Sounds too good to be true, right? Skeptics have every reason to question the euphoria certain Americans display on April 15th. In reality, the government is actually forcing taxpayers to loan it money to finance lavish programs, with zero interest.
Ironically enough, withholding wasn’t an original feature of the income tax. It wasn’t until World War II that the practice of tax withholding was standardized through the Current Tax Payment Act of 1943. Withholding would later become a permanent feature of the current tax code, despite its original intentions of being a temporary wartime measure.
Sales Tax Deductions vs. Income Tax Deductions
Though the income tax is a convoluted maze that creates headaches for business owners and individual taxpayers alike, there are certain features in the current tax code that can be used to help taxpayers reduce their overall tax burden and make their tax filing experience more comfortable. Tax deductions are just one of these features.
Taxpayers have the choice of opting for a standard deduction or they can itemize their deductions. If an individual decides to itemize, one of the deductions they’re allowed to take is on various taxes at the state and local level. These deductions are called SALT deductions. Taking a sales tax deduction is a legitimate way to recoup an individual’s local and state sales tax obligations
For 2018, the standard tax deduction was $12,000 for individuals, $18,000 for heads of household, and $24,000 for married couples filing together. Itemizing is a reasonable route to go if an individual’s itemized deductions are larger than the allowed standard deduction. Individuals can’t deduct all state and local taxes, however. They have to choose between deducting state sales taxes or state income taxes, but they can’t deduct both. That being said, taxpayers can deduct state and local property taxes irrespective of the options they choose.
It should be noted that this deduction strategy is not necessarily a one-way ticket to lower taxes. In the case that itemizing deductions gives an individual a lower income tax burden than a standard deduction, the sales tax deduction is worth looking into. It makes sense for individuals who have realized major purchases, thus paying a considerable amount in sales taxes, or for those living in states with no income tax, to include the sales tax in their list of itemized deductions.
Bear in mind that certain things have changed since the 2017 tax reforms. The Trump administration’s tax reforms have capped how much individuals can deduct from federal income taxes for state and local income, property, and sales taxes. Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers can only deduct a maximum of $10,000 in state income taxes and property taxes combined.
The IRS Sales Tax Deduction Calculator
For those who proceed to file a Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A, they have the option of choosing between claiming state and local income taxes or state and local sales taxes.
If an individual is planning to claim sales taxes paid in order to lower their federal income tax burden, they should first go to the IRS’ Sales Tax Deduction Calculator page. This way they can better estimate their itemized SALT tax savings versus taking the standard deduction.
The IRS’ Sales Tax Deduction Calculator is a handy tool for helping individuals figure out the amount of state and local sales tax one can claim. This is true even if the individual’s state and local sales tax rates changed during the year (e.g., because the rates changed or because you moved your personal residence). Be sure and have your Form 1040 draft in-hand when you are ready to calculate.
GILTI: The Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income Provision
Apart from lowering certain taxes, the 2017 Trump tax reforms came with a series of changes with global implications to the U.S. tax code. One that stands out in particular is the introduction of “The Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income” (which is subversively-nicknamed “GILTI”). GILTI is a new tax provision that specifically targets U.S. corporations that own Controlled Foreign Companies (CFCs) for U.S. tax purposes.
Prior to GILTI, U.S. corporations with a CFC could defer U.S. taxes on the earnings of their CFCs until the CFC distributed those earnings to the parent U.S. corporation. (This is how a U.S.-based multinational like Apple Inc. came to have close to a quarter trillion dollars of foreign cash on-hand, and subsequently had to explain American tax law to U.S. Senators who couldn’t understand what Apple was in fact legally doing.) Post-GILTI, U.S. corporations are taxed at a rate of 10.5% on the earnings of their CFCs regardless of whether the earnings are distributed or not.
To address this transition, the U.S. made two important changes. First, the law authorized the IRS to impose a Section 965 transition tax (also called “The Mandatory Repatriation Tax”) on the accumulated earnings of CFCs through the end of 2017. And second, the law authorized the IRS to impose on CFCs the aforementioned GILTI tax on all future (i.e., post-2017) foreign earnings.
In practice, here’s how the GILTI tax works: Assume you have a CFC owned by a U.S. C corporation (like Apple Inc.) with $1,000 in earnings for 2019. Also assume it has tangible assets with a tax basis of $2,000. You would subtract $200 (10% of $2,000 tangible assets) from the $1,000 in earnings, leaving you with $800 to which a 10.5% tax rate is applied – and you’d get a GILTI tax due of $84.
Amongst Constitutional scholars, the Section 965 transition tax has raised 5th Amendment due process concerns because it authorizes the IRS to impose a retroactive tax on foreign earnings nearly three decades after the fact. To comply with this change, companies have the option to pay in installments over eight years – but they still owe back taxes worth 15.5% on overseas profits computed under U.S. tax principles represented by cash and liquid assets, and 8% on profits represented by illiquid assets.
It is this illiquid asset provision which is ensnaring some expected U.S. companies like Kansas City Southern and Tupperware (hardly Silicon Valley darlings like Apple Inc.), and causing them to pay taxes above the new statutory corporate rate of 21%. And in other cases, business owners must resort to becoming residents of the foreign country their multinational is operating in as a means of lowering their tax burden. This is on display when people consider establishing their residency in Puerto Rico, as will be discussed below.
Tax Reformers Still Have Work to Do
Despite the marketing campaign that initially sold the income tax as a straightforward measure to finance government, it has morphed into a legal maze that keeps tax lawyers gainfully employed. After more than a century in existence, the income tax may no longer be worth the headache that millions of Americans must cope with every year on April 15th.
Although the last few decades have witnessed politicians reducing income taxes at reasonable rates, fiscal irresponsibility and a lopsided tax burden remain lingering problems.
As of 2018, the U.S. has been running a fiscal deficit of $778 billion, in a year when unemployment has reached historical lows. One can only imagine how deep those deficits will go under less favorable economic circumstances. A report from the Wall Street Journal also indicates that the U.S. income tax system remains very progressive, with the top 20 percent of taxpayers paying 87 percent of total income tax revenue.
Tax cuts are not bad in of themselves. The great Libertarian economist Milton Friedman was in “favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.” The real problem at hand is the political class’s insistence on maintaining unsustainable levels of spending
In a tragic twist of fate, these deficits will negate all of the positive effects of the original tax cuts. As debt accumulates, future generations will be stuck with a hefty tax bill. Not only that, but big spending crowds out private-sector investment, thus creating a capital-starved future economy. History has shown, in such cases of fiscal irresponsibility, that governments will either raise taxes exorbitantly or turn to the printing presses to debase the currency.
Alternative Tax Models to Consider
For many Americans today, the idea of a world without income taxes seems almost absurd. Income tax has become a presence like furniture in the living room – a baseline they’ve been so used to that they no longer even notice it. But for many business owners, the income tax is a very real part of everyday life that must be dealt with, lest they want to suffer legal penalties.
In the frustrated business owner’s eyes, any type of reform to simplify the tax code would be a release from the current income tax quagmire. The good news is that business owners no longer have to figure out alternatives to the present tax code. There are numerous individuals who have stepped up to plate and put forward reasonable alternatives to the current system.
Several proposals to reform the income tax have come in the form of a national sales tax or a flat tax. Both of these taxes are preferable to the income tax status quo. A flat tax entails having a single tax that taxes every American at one rate. Additionally, the flat tax treats all taxpayers and income equally, in stark contrast to the current tax model.
On the other hand, the national sales tax would repeal the current income tax code and replace it with a tax on the final sale of all goods and services to consumers. Although the most notable difference between the national sales and flat tax is the collection point, they are actually quite similar when it comes to how income is treated.
“A single flat rate. Under both plans, income is taxed at one low rate. This would ensure that the government treated taxpayers equally and would address the problem of high marginal tax rates. The single low rate also would promote faster economic growth by minimizing tax penalties on work, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship.”
“No bias against savings and investment. Implementing either the flat tax or a national sales tax would eliminate the current tax code’s bias against capital formation by ensuring that no income is taxed more than one time. Because double taxation of capital income is a pervasive problem in the current law, going to the flat tax or a national sales tax would stimulate higher incomes and faster growth by minimizing the tax penalties on savings and investment.”
“Equality. Adoption of the flat tax or a national sales tax also would end the discriminatory treatment caused by a tax code that grants preferences or imposes penalties on certain behaviors and activities. Either reform would change the code so that all taxpayers – and all income – are treated the same under the law.”
Mitchell is correct in his assessment that the current progressive system punishes success and discourages saving and investment – two of the pillars of capital accumulation. In addition, risk-taking and entrepreneurship are crucial in a market economy. Progressive income taxes impede this process through its arbitrary redistributions on income.
In the same token, income taxes do have a social engineering function that encourages certain types of behavior and favors certain interest groups over others. For example, on the class warrior side of the aisle, the earned-income tax credit effectively subsidizes low-income tax filers. Other uses of the tax code to socially engineer desired results include sweetheart tax breaks for the solar industry or making childcare costs deductible.
All in all, a switch to either a national sales tax or a flat tax would lead to a simpler tax system that no longer incentivizes interest group politicking or places a disproportionate tax burden on a certain class of taxpayers. Instead, they would encourage productive activities like entrepreneurship, saving, and investment.
Puerto Rico: Tax Incentives For Americans
Due to GILTI and other questionable features of the U.S. tax code, Americans have looked for ways to move abroad so as to lighten their tax burden. The U.S. is unique in its approach to taxing worldwide income, which makes it very difficult for Americans to substantially reduce the amount of taxes they are paying to the U.S. government, even if they live abroad.
With the recent Trump tax reforms, it has become more difficult for U.S. citizens to lower their global tax burden, however, there are still ways around this. One of these strategies has been to move to U.S. territories, which are not subject to the U.S. income tax.
One of the more popular destinations for Americans looking for favorable tax advantages is Puerto Rico. Provided that they they do their homework, Americans could potentially enjoy federal income tax exemptions and see their taxes drop by 90%.
Two programs that the Puerto Rican government offers are Act 20 and Act 22, which are the island’s two major tax incentives.
Here is a brief summary of what these programs entail:
Act 20: The Export Services Act
Act 20 targets certain types of qualifying businesses, like consulting or financial services, by offering incentives such as 4% corporate income tax rates. This is available to corporations who relocate to Puerto Rico and meet the following requirements:
Become a bona fide resident. In other words, an individual must relocate their center of life to the island and spend at least half the year (183 days) in Puerto Rico.
Set up a Puerto Rican company.
Establish an office in the country.
For Americans, GILTI has changed the tax outlook in Puerto Rico. Now that corporate tax policy has been streamlined for all CFCs, U.S persons will have to pay another 6.5% in corporate taxes to meet the GILTI minimum of 10.5%. The best way for Americans who have a CFC to deal with this provision is by becoming official residents of Puerto Rico.
Act 22: Individual Investor Act
Act 22, the Individual Investors Act, gives investors the ability to pay 0% tax on interest, dividends, and capital gains while living in Puerto Rico as a certified resident. Like Act 20, the taxpayer must be a bona fide resident who has relocated their life to Puerto Rico and must spend at least half the year (183 days) on the island.
This program is especially attractive to traders and crypto-investors, or any individual with a large amount of passive income or capital gains from any source.
A Cause for Hope
The tedious process of filing tax returns is a common pain point for millions of Americans on April 15th. After more than a century’s existence, the income tax has become a political baseline, which many Americans take as a given.
Make no mistake about it, the income tax is no mundane feature of the American political economy. In fact, it’s one of the largest enablers of government growth. To genuinely reduce the size of the American state in economic affairs, the abolition of the income tax – or at the very least, a gradual phase-out – would be solid steps in bringing fiscal sanity.
Thanks to a few high-profile political campaigns over the last decade, the desire to get rid of the income tax is no fringe idea, and is starting to gain momentum in Conservative and Libertarian circles.
Since 2008, each presidential cycle has featured candidates on the Republican side of the aisle with campaigns to abolish the IRS. Ron Paul did so in 2008 and 2012, whereas candidates like Paul’s son Rand Paul and Senator Ted Cruz followed in the retired Congressman’s footsteps during the 2016 Republican primaries.
Should the Overton window of public opinion shift toward limited government, the days of Americans having to deal with the IRS may soon come to an end.
After all, tax rebellions are in the American people’s DNA. And with the U.S.’s fiscal situation deteriorating annually, bold measures will need to be taken.
Until yesterday, I took all the prognostications about
the demise of the NRA with several
grains of salt. Believe me, as a Patriot Life Benefactor member, I know better
than anyone who reads this column about the organization’s current
woes – revenue shortfalls, staff layoffs, investigations into the
Russian connection, loss of commercial partnerships – that made 2018 a pretty
tough year. But I also thought that many of those problems were being overblown
by the liberal media which would like nothing better than to see America’s
‘first civil rights organization’ go right down the tubes.
An email I received from the boys in Fairfax, however,
may actually prove that the prophets of NRA
doom will turn out to be correct. Because the email linked to a new video on
the NRA-TV channel which, if nothing
else, indicates that the organization’s attempts to renew its strength are, to
all intents and purposes, either dying or dead.
The video is a 30-second fundraising effort by the
chief NRA-TV clown, Grant
Stinchfield, warning the
faithful that Hillary Clinton may run for President again. And the
proof that ‘crooked Hillary’ is considering yet another attempt at the brass
ring was a comment from a CNN
noisemaker, Jeff Zeleny, that Hillary ‘told’ a couple of her friends that the
indictment of Roger Stone would prove that Trump’s victory was a sham, and
since she won the popular vote, why not try again?
Now the fact that Hillary and Bill couldn’t get their
national tour off a dime; the fact that there are now at least three formidable
women (Harris, Warren, Gillibrand) out there raising money for their 2020
campaigns; the fact that Hillary has about a good chance of being elected
dog-catcher after the way she screwed up the 2016 campaign; oh well, oh well,
oh well. But here’s the bottom line: the dopes who run the NRA marketing effort can’t come up with anything better to bolster
their image than yet another riff on the ‘crooked Hillary’ line. Which is
exactly what the NRA-TV email subject
line read: “Crooked Hillary Hints at a Third Run for the White House.”
Have the boys in Fairfax heard of H. R. 8? It happens to be a piece of legislation introduced
two days after the 116th Congress was convened which has already
gained enough co-sponsors – 229 – to move towards committee hearings and then
to a certain majority vote. If you want to see the NRA’s official position on H.R. 8, just go to the NRA-ILA website where you’ll find this description
of the bill: “Would make it a crime, subject to certain exceptions, to simply hand a
firearm to another person. Anytime gun owners carry out this simple act, they
would potentially be exposing themselves to criminal penalties.”
of course this statement is a typical piece of pro-gun hyperbole, taking some
language from the legislation and twisting it beyond repair, but at least the
editorial staff which creates content for the NRA-ILA website is keeping their collective eyes on the ball. This
is certainly not what’s going on when we look at NRA-TV. How can you compare
the potential threat to gun-owning ‘rights’ of the resurrection of ‘crooked
Hillary’ to a major piece of gun-control legislation that will float through
the House and may even have a chance of Senate approval if Trump’s 2020
political fortunes continue to fade?
fact that the NRA continues to invoke
the Clinton bugaboo when everyone else has forgotten that she exists, tells me
that things at the home office in Fairfax are becoming unglued. Does Wayne-o
really believe that I’m going to increase my annual endowment gift because I’m worried
that Hillary might run?
A long time ago there was a company called GE. They employed a guy named Ronald Reagan to hawk household appliances on television, and now that company doesn’t exist. That’s exactly what’s going to happen to the NRA if they don’t come up with some better messaging about why gun-nuts like me love our guns.