Taxation With Representation
Entry for 2017-07-02

It's easy to forget how lucky we are to be Americans. Then you win the Pennsylvania Lottery, and all at once you remember.

I won the lottery last week, for five dollars -- five dollars from the sky, to invest or squander as I please, except for a few dollars in taxes to the federal government and the state government and the city and the school district.

A small triumph, to be sure, but a symbol of the larger triumph on which our system was founded. We won the Revolutionary War inspired by the ringing declaration, Taxation without representation is tyranny!

It certainly is, but we fought it, and we won! We won taxation with representation, and that's much better than tyranny, so it's much more expensive. You get what you pay for.

In ages past, a nation of a million people might expect to support a king. Everyone had to chip in with a millionth or so of the tyrant's keep and that of his court -- his sisters and his cousins and his aunts. By that rule of thumb, 270 million U.S. citizens should expect to pay for the equivalent of 270 kings and their courts -- nine kings for Pennsylvania alone.

If times were good, a court might be fairly lavish, including a poet to write rhyming publicity, a painter to glorify the monarch, and a minstrel to sing of his exploits. At 200 people per court, that would add up to a government of 54,000, and we would have to support them through tyrannical taxes without representation. Add the local gamekeepers and sheriffs and bridgetenders, and the number might double, to 108,000.

With representation, we've managed to amass the services of roughly 19,000,000 more public servants than that -- one out of every six working people in a tax-supported job. No nation has ever been so rich in representation.

Freedom is priceless. Representation isn't priceless, but it's so costly it might as well be. Each representative needs an expense account and one or two salaries and two or three pensions and three or four consulting fees and an administrative staff -- his sisters and his cousins and his aunts -- and he has to do something to justify all this expense, so he passes laws. Each law adds a government department or bureau or agency or committee or commission, and each of those discovers new needs for even more representation.

It's a pyramid scheme -- the first legal pyramid scheme since the time of Cheops. Cheops hired 100,000 Egyptian farmers to drag stones, but they all went back to farming when they were through. Ours don't go back to the farm; they go to the Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency to represent you and me on the farm.

So, when I won the lottery, I got a reminder from the Department of Revenue, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that my five-dollar winnings "constitute taxable income and must be reported on your Federal Income Tax Return," and that additional taxes on the same five dollars (including the part I don't get because the IRS does) are due to the state, the city, and the school district, all of whom are part of the representation I won when we all won the Revolutionary War.

Imagine your 19,000,000 representatives sitting on a fence -- which is what many of them do. It would take a 7,000-mile fence, allowing two feet per bureaucrat, or a longer fence if some of the seats of government are, as rumored, somewhat more ample than that. Come to think of it, some of those government employees actually want to build a fence -- along the U.S. border with Mexico. Instead, we could save a lot of money by putting all the government offices into one 3,000-mile-long building on the border.

It's too vast to contemplate, so picture something smaller: Your bowling league, with 72 members. If one person in six were needed for democratic governance of the bowling league, then 12 of the bowlers would be full-time league employees; and the other 60 bowlers would have to pay their salaries. No doubt it would be a tremendously independent, libertarian, participatory bowling league, but it might cost $90 a game to bowl.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops is said to contain lost secrets of the ancients, one of which may be the method for sending government employees back to the farm. And we know they possessed the secret of building a pyramid right-side-up so that when it came to a point, everyone knew it was finished.

If these secrets are forever lost, we might look to some of the lesser economies that have helped to make tyranny affordable for the common man. Highwaymen, for example. Under the British kings, you ran the risk that bandits would stop you on the road and take your money. These highwaymen were private entrepreneurs. You hated to see them take your money, but at least you didn't have to pay their salaries as government employees -- which you do when the police or IRS agents take your money.

Tyranny also boasts bargain prices on statistical red tape. When Caesar wanted to update his database, he simply ordered all citizens to go to the towns of their birth. There, they were counted and sent home. The federal Office of Management and Budget now admits to 4,987 kinds of forms used by our national government. They claim the American people take 785 million hours a year to fill out these forms, but you can imagine how they figured that out: 40 minutes for an Environmental Impact Statement, 15 minutes for a reply to an OSHA citation, and 20 minutes for a Form 1040. Last spring, I spent 785 million hours erasing on my Form 1040.

To someone suffering under tyranny, all those federal forms plus our thousands of state and local forms might seem to constitute an unthinkable waste of paper compounding an unspeakable waste of time. But I have 19,000,000 government experts working for me, and they say that Taxation With Representation is the best system they can imagine.

(from Pennsylvania Illustrated, 1979)