Busting Through Our Dysfunctional Political Consensus With the Wisdom of Alexander Hamilton

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For six-plus months, Greve, you’ve been yapping and yammering about the institutional causes of our political and economic malaise. Let’s say you’re right: what’s your solution?

I’m deeply suspicious of anyone bearing solutions (including myself), but here’s an idea:

Amendment XXVIII. For any fiscal year in which federal outlays exceed federal revenues, the IRS shall assess and collect a national head tax sufficient to cover the shortfall unless two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to suspend the tax for that fiscal year.

You can noodle with the language (e.g., call the tax an “individual responsibility mandate”) so long as you remain true to the basic idea. Our supposedly polarized politics actually rests on a firm, near-universal consensus: let’s have a gargantuan transfer state, and not pay for it. Neither presidential aspirant nor any other public official or soi disant intellectual has the nerve to challenge that consensus. Unless we break it, though, our politics and our economic fortunes will go from bad to worse.

Harsh though it sounds, the idea has a respectable political-intellectual ancestry. We have, a famous American wrote long ago in a similar predicament, just about hit bottom: we can’t pay our bills, and nobody trusts or respects us. Our politics is petty and dispiriting; even dogs can’t breathe in this atmosphere. The principal solution is to enhance the tax capacity of the national government—to create a responsible government that can tax anyone and anything (except state exports), at any rate and for any purpose. That’s what this Constitution does. You can favor it, or you can be against it. But don’t tell me about piecemeal “reform”: it’s delusional.  If you want a respectable government, you’ll have to pay for it. Signed, Alexander Hamilton.

At variance with the great Mr. Hamilton, Amendment XXVIII doesn’t mean (and I’m not suggesting) that we should pay back the national debt, let alone assume the states’ debts. The sums are too large; we’re not that honorable; and we have a luxury Hamilton & Co. didn’t have: we can (and will) print our own money and inflate the debt away. The Amendment would simply guard against future deficits, and against the clear and present danger that we will run out of idiots who will lend us yet more money.

For the current Fiscal Year, the tax would work out to $4,250 for each man, woman, and child in the country. We voted for that government; now, send us the bill.