The American Revolution started over the idea of No Taxation Without Representation. Today, nearly 240 years after the Revolution, America faces a new problem in regards to taxation and representation. Only now, many people are represented in the government but not taxed. At first read, this may seem insignificant and even reasonable, but left unchecked this will lead to the bankruptcy of our country, a trend that has already begun.
The Constitutional Background:
The 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee universal suffrage, or the right to vote, for American citizens. Race, gender, and age are protected by these Constitutional amendments, respectively, and therefore, may not be used as a basis for denying suffrage.
The 16th amendment allows for the federal government to collect taxes based on incomes, from whatever source derived. The conglomeration of these amendments creates the framework for the rules that we use to operate in both suffrage and taxation. However, as currently implemented, we have a system that is simply not sustainable.
An Unsustainable 45% of American Households Pay No Federal Income Tax:
According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center about 45% of American households pay no federal income tax. This accounts for both those that do not have any taxable income and for those that have tax breaks outweighing the amount they owe.
However, those 45% still get to vote (often and understandably- they’re won over by politicians promising to redistribute more tax dollars their way in various formats if elected) but they do not have to share in any of the financial burden, which their vote creates. This insidious problem has been on the rise since the implementation of the progressive income tax in the early 1900s.
So What Can We Do to Fix This Problem?
100% of American citizens must be invested in the system. There are many policy options that could help the situation, but the big picture is we need people that are bought-in to our nation making the decisions. This will have the long-term effect of less people being dependent upon it.
One possible solution: link the suffrage amendments and the taxation amendment. If you don’t pay taxes, you can’t vote. That is not to say you have to start paying taxes if you do not currently pay, you just can’t vote if that is the choice you make. If you want to vote then you have to send a minimum amount to Uncle Sam—your contribution as a citizen. Even if it is only $5, the psychological effect of writing a check and sending it to the IRS makes the financial burden real.
We must have compassion for those among us that are struggling at or below the poverty line. However, those people must become vested in the system that they rely on for the lifestyle they have. Only then will they be inspired to think past what they can get and instead think how to help others in their communities to better their collective lives so they can pay less of their money toward to government in the future. This will have a compounding affect as more people need less help.
All citizens should feel like the valued members of society they are. We must not allow people to spend more time gaming the system, maximizing their benefits than they do looking for work or working. As it is now we cannot even have a productive conversation about this problem in the public domain without name-calling. Those “leaches” in the 45% that take and take but never give verses the greedy rich guys that only care for themselves and have it so easy at the top. Sound familiar?
Empowering the people in the 45% by ensuring they are invested in the system in some way will help all of us. The people will feel more valued instead of like “leaches” and the higher earners will find it much more palatable that theirs is not the only money in the pot for our social welfare programs.
Humans care for something much more if they have a stake in it. This is why companies pay employees with stock. We need more people to care about the health of the long-term future of our country. That is the only way to reign in national spending in the long run and to instill a feeling of ownership for 45% of our countrymen that (through no fault of their own) see the government as something that gives them money but that they owe nothing to in return. Research has shown that when people have their own money on the line they will spend much more carefully than when spending others’ money.
Though surely not the only way to tackle this tough problem, this poses one possible New Third Way to a flawed system. Use the vote and taxation to empower those that currently pay no income tax. People not vested in the system should not be able to vote for further benefit from that system. There are hundreds of great ideas that might similarly result in making people buy in to our system. We should listen to them all because buying-in is the really important part.
No representation, without taxation! Thanks for reading.