The Oligarchy of the United States of America
One of the foundational causes of the American Revolution centered around the cry, "Taxation without representation is tyranny." The argument, from the viewpoint of the American colonists, was this: As citizens of Great Britain, it was their constitutional right to elect officials to directly represent them in the British Parliament; and, since the American colonists did not have elected officials directly representing them, it was therefore illegal for the British Parliament to levy taxes on them. For this reason and others, the American colonists rebelled against Great Britain, fought a war that cost thousands of lives (American, British, French, German, and others), and after several years of fighting ended in the establishment of a brand new nation with (in theory at least) a more just system of taxation and representation for all of her citizens.
Of course, at the time this new nation was established, there was still a whole lot of "taxation without representation" going on. In fact, since voting was restricted to men of a certain age who also happened to be landowners and/or whose total wealth equaled a specific amount, the voting pool was really pretty small. Younger men couldn't vote; men of whatever age who didn't meet the landowner and/or wealth requirements couldn't vote; men of color, many of whom were slaves, couldn't vote; and, of course, women (no matter their age, wealth, ethnicity, or whatever) couldn't vote - even though all of these groups were required to pay taxes and even though members of all of these groups had fought for, suffered for, and died for the independence of their new nation. Still, even if there was "taxation without representation" going on in the young United States, her foundational documents (her Declaration of Independence and, later, her written Constitution) left room for change, progress, and improvement. And also, from the very start, there were women and men (including men who were amongst the founding fathers, as well as men involved in both state and national government) who argued for and fought for a system of representation and taxation that included an ever growing number and percentage of the nation's citizens.
They knew how vital the link is between taxation and representation. They knew that one without the other is tyranny. They knew that one without the other is unjust because it leaves groups of a nation's citizens without a voice in the governance of their state and nation, which is foundational to the idea of Democracy.
And so we come to today; we come to the year 2011. And today, every American citizen who is eighteen years of age or older, has the right to vote (there are exceptions, of course; convicted felons, for example, lose the right to vote). And, by exercising that right to vote, every qualified citizen chooses the individuals who will represent him or her in the public offices of the state and federal governments. And thus, no major group of American citizens suffers the tyranny of "taxation without representation." And yet, even though our system of government has evolved to this place where each citizen has the right to vote, does it follow that each citizen also has an equal voice?
I say the answer is no.
Special interest groups, lobbyists, and corporations and individuals with the financial means to make big contributions to political campaigns, all have a much greater voice in the governance of our nation (locally and nationally) than does the average American citizen. This inequality in turn creates a system in which the very basic founding principle of our nation - taxation is illegal when citizens are deprived of equal representation - is corrupted. It destroys the United States as a nation that is ruled by the people and for the people, and makes it a nation that is ruled by the elite and for the elite.
And what is a nation that is ruled by the elite and for the elite? Well, my friends, it isn't a democracy. Nope. A nation that is ruled by the elite and for the elite is an oligarchy. And, in a very real sense, the United States has always been one.
Still, as I said earlier in this article, our founding fathers created for us a Constitution that allows for evolution; and, because of the wisdom of our founding fathers and because of the struggles of countless men and women since the founding of our nation, the United States has steadily evolved toward becoming a true democracy, a nation in which each citizen has an equal voice. Unfortunately, because wealth creates power and because power, in some men's hands, generates greed for ever greater wealth and power (something else our founding fathers were well aware of), there have always been men and women who have struggled against the democratic evolution of our nation. And it is our task and responsibility, as it has been the task and responsibility of those countless men and women before us, to ensure that democratic evolution continues, and to ensure that in the United States there truly is equal freedom and justice (consisting of just taxation and equal representaion for a start) for all. As far as accomplishing this goes, I don't claim to have all the answers, or even some of them. But I do think there are two common sense steps that can and must be taken, and that I believe we should insist upon.
First, campaign contributions must be strictly regulated and those regulations enforced. It also only makes sense that the American people be provided with precise and accurate information about which special interest groups, corporations, and individuals are contributing to specific candidates and parties, and precise and accurate information on the amounts contributed. When the courts, congress, or anybody else weaken the regulation and transparency of the sources of campaign funding, it's as if they've sent an engraved invitation to every special interest group or greedy gazillionaire out there, foreign or domestic, asking them to please come and corrupt our political system.
Second, since wealthy corporations and individuals have a greater influence on the political processes of our states and nation than do average citizens, I think it only makes sense that they be taxed accordingly. Because if "taxation without representation is tyranny," it should then follow that greater representation (greater political influence) should carry the responsibility of greater taxation (higher tax rates than average citizens, and WITHOUT loopholes). Higher taxes for the rich isn't as much about "sharing the wealth" as it is about adhering to the principles of our nation's Constitution.
Those would be two good steps toward the advancement of democracy in America. They would be two good steps toward ending the tyranny of American oligarchy.
-Greg, October 2011