“There is a lot of ruin in a nation,” wrote Adam Smith. His point was that it takes a long time for nations to fall, even when they’re dead on their feet. And he was certainly right.
America took its fatal blow in 1913, one hundred years ago; it just hasn’t hit the ground yet. This is a slow process, but it’s actually fast compared to the Romans. It took them several centuries to collapse.
The confusing thing about our current situation is that America – and by that I mean the noble America that so many of us grew up believing was real – has long been poisoned. Its liver, kidneys, and spleen have all stopped functioning. Its heart beats slowly and irregularly. But it still stands on its feet and presents itself as alive to all those who would let their eyes fool them.
And I’m not without sympathy for those who want to believe. They find themselves in a world where politics is almighty, and where their comfort, prosperity, and perhaps their survival all hang in a delicate balance. They don’t want to upset anything, and questioning the bosses is a good way to get yelled at.
But just because someone wants to believe doesn’t make it so. We are not children and we are not powerless. We Producers should never be intimidated by those who live at our expense. So let’s start looking at the facts.
1913: The Horrible Year
For all the problems America had prior to 1913 (including the unnecessary and horrifying Civil War), nothing spelled the death of the nation like the horrors of 1913.
Here are the key dates:
The 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, authorizing the Federal government to impose income taxes on individuals. An amendment to a tariff act in 1894 had attempted to do this, but since it was clearly unconstitutional, the Supreme Court struck it down. As a result – and mostly under the banner of bleeding the rich – the 16th amendment was promoted and passed.
As a result, the Revenue Act of 1913 was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in October. Income taxes began in 1914, with the government swearing (as in, “only a crazy person would say otherwise!”) that the rate would never, ever go higher than one or two percent.
And, by the way, the amendment was introduced by Senator Aldrich of Rhode Island, to whom we’ll come again shortly.
The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, taking the powers of the states and transferring them to Washington, by mandating the popular election of senators.
Previously, senators were appointed by state legislatures, restraining the power of the national government. This change gave political parties immediate and massive power, nearly all of which was consolidated in the city of Washington.
The amendment was ratified in the name of restraining the rich and making government into a force for good. It was true that state governments were often corrupt, but the implied idea that Washington was pristine was and remains a bad joke. A structure featuring small, separate pockets of corruption is far less dangerous than one featuring a single, large seat of corruption, to which oceans of money are gathered. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:
It is not by the consolidation or concentration of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected.