An Existential Crisis
By Steven J. Grisafi, PhD.
On Monday, March 28th, President Biden unveiled his proposal to tax as income unrealized capital gains. While the proposal may seem to be based upon a somewhat murky evaluation of individual wealth, it highlights a peculiar aspect of life in America today. The peculiar aspect is that we live our lives as though the dominant influence comes from the Federal government while the Constitution of the United States clearly indicates that influence to be exerted by the States. So how does one reconcile the reality that the Federal government exerts more control over the lives of the American people than the Constitution intended?
Let us postpone for now a determination of the manner in which the Federal government is to evaluate individual wealth. We are then confronted with the difficulty that the United States Constitution does not provide the yielding from the States to the Federal government of the authority to impose any direct tax upon property owned by the American people. One need not be an attorney to recognize that unrealized capital gains constitute ephemeral wealth attributed solely through the ownership of property. While seeking to respond to the outrage many Americans feel toward the manner in which America’s ultra-wealthy seem not to be contributing to the tax revenues of the nation in a manner consistent with the People’s sense of fairness, President Biden seeks to circumvent the limitations placed upon the Federal government through deployment of devious legal tactics. Perhaps one ought take a step back to recognize why the Constitution does not surrender to the Federal government the authority President Biden seeks.
When the Constitution is at odds with the manner in which the current generations of Americans live their lives, and how they expect the Federal government to operate, what ought be the remedy? The Constitution itself provides the process through which amendments are to be made to it such that no current generations of the American people ought take it as their prerogative to abandon its use. But what is one to do when the Constitution is ignored? This question may seem hypothetical, but it is not, because such circumstances have occurred before. This is where Americans refuse to tread because it is where the Rule of Law lapsed and morality prevailed. We fought a civil war.
No tax issue should have as profound an effect upon the lives of the American People as did Slavery. Yet our approach to the discrepancy of the manner in which we live our lives and the manner intended for our lives to be lived under the framework of the Constitution ought be the same. It is unlikely that any court would allow President Biden to ignore the Constitution. His administration could then begin the lengthy process to amend the Constitution such that the Federal government would have the authority to impose a direct tax upon the property owned by the American People. In my opinion that would be a mistake. It is interesting to note that when the Sixteenth Amendment, granting the Federal government the authority to impose a direct tax on income, was approved it had its greatest support from the Southern and Western States, including my own State of Wyoming. Wyoming does not impose a tax on income. We ought recognize that this limitation placed upon the Federal government had an intended purpose. That purpose was to limit the ability of the Federal government to act on the behalf of, or in the place of, the authority and identity of the States. The intention was for the States to retain sovereignty and only be represented by the Federal government under certain instances of foreign affairs. It was never the intention of the Constitution to enable the Federal government to usurp the authority and, more importantly, the identity of the States.
The trend in American politics since the Civil War has been to strengthen the Federal government at the expense of the authority of the States. While some may argue that this was necessary to a certain degree, as a consequence of the changes made to the United States Constitution resulting from the Civil War, that trend could be leading us toward more civil war. We can either seek to weaken the authority of the Federal government over the lives of the American People. Or we can seek to reorganize the fifty States as a handful of sovereign nations bound together only by treaty. Any such treaty would only entail the original limited authority envisioned for the Federal government by the framers of the Constitution. Such men considered themselves to be not merely residents of their respective States but a citizen of the State. We are now only residents of our respective States and a citizen of the entire United States. I am not suggesting that citizenship ought be limited to each respective State. Unquestionably we would want reciprocity for each State in all of the States. But what we need to re-establish is the primacy of each State relative to the authority of the Federal government. Doing so increases the distinctions between the States such that all Americans can choose the identity of a State most suitable to the life each American chooses to live. I see this as most efficacious in mitigating our serious, and growing worse, demographic anxieties. While we also have the alternative of convening a second constitutional convention for the drafting of the constitutions and treaties necessary to reorganize the fifty States as several sovereign nations, we would want to approach that process gradually through a lessening of the central authority the Federal government exerts upon all of the States.
America desperately needs to apply the principle of subsidiarity. The level of government closest to the people should have the greatest authority over the lives and welfare of the people. What we have now today in America is an inversion of this principle. In my opinion, the inversion is a result of the role America adopted following World War II, that of being the World’s Policeman. Unlike, the People’s Republic of China, America seeks much more than mere commerce with other nations throughout the world. America seeks to export its culture and values along side any trade it conducts with other nations. In a word, America proselytizes. When other nations conduct their affairs in a manner, which the American people view as inconsistent with American Values, our foreign policy seeks to coerce changes within the internal affairs of such nations.
The People’s Republic of China does not seek to modify the internal policies of other nations. By not doing so China has rapidly advanced its influence throughout the world to such an extent that this alarms both European and American policymakers. For some strange reason, such policymakers cannot make the connection that their efforts to impose their values upon the internal affairs of other nations seems not as effective promoting their vision of world harmony as China’s refusal to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. We Americans can do something about this. We can constrain the activities through which the Federal government is obliged to act upon our behalf and on behalf of the States. We can return the Federal government to it is primary intended function, to provide for a common defense, and little or nothing more. Unfortunately, this will also require an attitude change amongst all those personnel currently engaged conducting the business of our Federal government. For example, we would need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that the President of the United States is the Leader of the Free World. Ask yourself, how less free are the citizens of the People’s Republic of China than are American citizens? Is it because they refuse to accept Abrahamic religions? Since such religions are contrary to their several millennia old culture, who are we to suggest that the people of China ought be exposed to our mythology? We ridicule their mythology but expect them to accept ours! Are you going to suggest that their freedoms are in any way diminished by their choice of a single party meritocracy for a government instead of the two party corruption of our oligarchy? Our first step toward redemption needs to be the adoption of some humility! Our arrogance has taken us astray.
We Americans need to draw our union of States closer to the institution of the European Union at the same time as the Europeans need to draw their institution closer to the model we have now for the United States. Neither is satisfactory in its current form. The European Union suffers from a tyranny of the small in which a nation of any size can thwart the unity of the entire block with its objection to policy. No single American State can do this. Our problem is that the elected officials of the Federal government view their role in government service as having seniority and/or primacy over the policies of the individual States. A superb example of this is the recent legislation prohibiting restriction upon the wearing of hairstyles. Inane legislation such as this always comes under the guise of preventing racial discrimination. Too often Federal officials see a need to redouble a crime recognized by State and local governments as also being a Federal (felony, by definition) crime usually only to appease some disaffected segment of society. All such instances reflect the attitude of our Federal officials. They are acting with the “Wrath of God” upon any such activity they themselves hold as abhorrent. This attitude needs to be subdued. It needs to be made subservient to the discretion of the States, and preferably also, local government. It should be the County governments within all fifty states that define and protect the values of the American people. We can do this, America. We need to do this to save our country from itself.