"Taxation without representation is tyranny." -- James Otis circa 1760s
Before the United States declared independence from England there was a popular slogan that represented one of the primary complaints of the colonists, "No taxation without representation." I know we have somewhat of an education crisis on our hands, but I'm fairly confident that most Americans are exposed to the slogan in history class. We all know the words. But do we understand the idea?
In the summer of 2011, right after I graduated from college, the government was on the verge of shutdown. I believed the U.S. government was a legitimate entity, so I never imagined it could literally not do its job. I wrote my representatives in both houses to express my outrage, with absolutely no response (which I hear is the outcome for most people who don't have millions of dollars to wave in their faces). As I watched the ridiculousness of that summer unfold, a seed of intense distrust of government was planted in me. Not only did I realize the government is not legitimate, I also realized I have zero say in matters directly affecting my life, which is contrary to the narrative I'd been spoon-fed from birth.
Fast forward three years. At this point in time I think our government is nothing more than a joke, and that seems to be the overarching sentiment from people my age. We do not feel that we have a voice, and at this point we are removed enough from the mobilizations of the 60s and 70s to have never witnessed our government being actively influenced by the people. This is not simply a product of my own observation. Pew released a study that says over half of Millenials believe the U.S. government is wasteful and inefficient. That's right, more than half of an entire generation does not believe in its government.
Taxation - Paying part of your personal income to the government for social services benefitting the common good. This includes schools, roads, transportation, police, etc.
Representation - People are selected (and paid) by a population to vocalize their needs so that the money the government receives is used according to the needs of the people.
Below I've listed a few current examples of blatant taxation without representation. They are only the tip of a very large and overwhelming iceberg:
According to every recent poll, the majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. However, the head of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, says she will "fight harder" than ever to keep weed from becoming legal, even though that is explicitly the wish of most Americans. Where does taxation come in? The DEA has an annual budget of over $2 billion, and that does not include the incalculable amount of money spent enforcing drug laws on the local level. Essentially, Americans are paying to sustain a department whose head has explicitly stated that she will fight to ensure the desires of the majority of Americans are not met.
This is the one that baffles me the most. I remember hearing criticisms of Europe's high gas prices in the early 2000s. The conversation always included the point that many if not most Europeans use public transit regularly, so they are not beholden to gas prices the same way Americans are. Cut to 2014. American gas prices are on par with what we used to call sky-high European prices, but most Americans not only don't use public transit, many don't even have access to it. Not to mention our crown public transit achievement, New York City, has a subway system that rivals subways of other developed nations circa 1990. Most of the manual signal systems in NYC subways were installed between 1930 and 1960, yet prices for riding the subway have only gone up. Governor Cuomo receives praise in subway ads for allocating $4 billion to upgrade the system to "pre-Sandy conditions," which means almost nothing in the context of Japan and China's high speed rail systems. Roads? Bridges? According to Transportation for America, "One out of every nine bridges in the United States -- a grand total of 66,503 bridges altogether -- has been found to have one or more significant defects." In other words, our infrastructure is literally crumbling.
Education is something that touches the majority of people in this country in a way not many other subjects do. If you know any teachers or administrators, you know they are constantly strapped for cash. America has an education gap that is unprecedented in our history, and the cost of higher education has become almost unattainable for people without significant aid. According to McKinsey & Co., "The education achievement gap in the United States imposes the economic equivalent of a permanent recession on the nation." In contrast, many other countries offer very low tuition for higher education, because people pay taxes, and education is one of the things taxes are supposed to pay for. What exactly our taxes are paying for, again, I do not know.
I have never been an anti-tax advocate. I cannot get on the tea party bandwagon because I believe their inherent argument is missing all points. They would cut funding to social programs while we still provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations, the state department casually misplaces billions of dollars, and defense contracts continue to go unaccounted for into the millions or billions of dollars (no one really knows).
The list goes on, yet I have no way to raise my voice to say I've had enough. I have had enough of politicians not listening to me and the rest of us while they continue to act as they please. I am tired of Sheldon Adelson (a man most Americans have never heard of) literally controlling political candidates with his pocket book with no secrecy necessary, thanks to decisions like Citizens United and the recent supreme court decision slapped in our faces last week.
I know it does not bode well that at 24 I am this jaded about the political process. Although I am registered as a Democrat that means next to nothing to me since I am certain both parties are equally useless for problem solving or getting things done. Meanwhile, I pay taxes, yet I see very few ways my tax dollars are being put to good use for my benefit or for the benefit of those around me.
That, my friends, is the definition of Taxation Without Representation. Last time Americans existed in this kind of structure there was a revolution.