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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6540/no-representation-for-taxation/

No Representation for Taxation

April 20, 2007 by

A bill has passed the House of Representatives giving a seat in Congress to the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia.

According to The New York Times,

For supporters, the House vote was a victory for democracy, potentially righting a historical wrong and ending a situation of “taxation without representation” for 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia.

“This vote fulfills a promise of our democracy,” Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, said in her floor speech. “It reflects what we stand for at home and preach around the world.”

Opposition to the bill appears to be based merely on the fact that the US Constitution says that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.” (Italics added.) Thus, it is argued, since Washington, D. C. is not a state, it should have no representative. Fears are also expressed that enactment of the bill into law would open the way for the various federal territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, to seek representation.

According to The Times, opponents of the bill say that a better solution “would be a constitutional amendment or for Washington to be ceded back to Maryland, so residents could vote for representatives and senators.”

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our Republic that no one seems to be pointing out that what is involved here is the nature of the proper relationship between the citizens of a country and its government. The United States was founded on the principle that individuals possess unalienable rights that governments are instituted to protect, and that among these rights is the right to keep the property one has earned.
The principle of “no taxation without representation” applies to the context in which those who have earned property strive to keep it by means of securing the subsidiary right to elect, and thus control, the members of the legislature that can impose taxes on them.

The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Washington, D. C. are employees of the federal government or their family members, or are otherwise supported by the federal government. As such, they are not taxpayers, but rather the recipients of taxes paid by other people. Whatever taxes they nominally pay are merely a deduction from the tax proceeds they have received. All of the income they obtain and keep is from the proceeds of taxation.

Denial of the right to vote to citizens of Washington, D. C., serves in some measure to protect the taxpaying citizens of the United States from the depredations of those who live off their taxes and who would like to tax them still more.

Of course, the historical reason that Washington, D. C. does not have representation in Congress was not in order to deprive government employees of the right to vote. Such protection was not deemed necessary in an environment in which the only sources of federal revenue were tariffs and the sale of land. The historical reason was that the federal government was viewed in important respects as subsidiary to the states and not as their equal.

Nevertheless, it is certainly a good thing for the rest of the country that the citizens of Washington, D. C. do not have the vote. It implicitly serves to support the fundamental principle that the disposition of an individual’s property should be decided by him, not jointly by him and thieves who want to rob him.

The possession of the right to vote by government employees and by anyone else who receives a substantial portion of his wealth or income from the government is in fact giving legal power to those who receive the wealth of others to proceed to take that wealth. It is literally giving the vote to thieves.

That may be Nancy Pelosi’s conception of democracy and of what the United States stands for. But it is the kind of democracy that is present in a lynch mob. And what the United States actually stands for, and should stand for, is the rights of the individual against the mob—against the entire rest of the world if need be.

Hopefully, the Senate will prevent the House’s bill from becoming law. Representation in the House of Representatives for Washington, D. C. and its mass of tax recipients would not end a situation of “taxation without representation.” This is because, as we’ve seen, the citizens of Washington, D. C., do not pay taxes; they receive them. All that giving them representation would do would be to provide additional representation for advocates of additional taxation and thus further weaken the power of taxpayers to defend their right to keep their own property. As such, it would be directly contrary to the principle of no taxation without representation—that is, of course, representation for those who have earned the wealth being taxed, not those who want to tax it.

This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


david martin April 20, 2007 at 5:50 pm

what about the service sector that works in washington. restaurants, bars, grocery stores, etc… they are just feeding off taxes, of course, but they are creating value with their actions, instead of leeching it.

Hascat April 20, 2007 at 5:51 pm

The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Washington, D. C. are employees of the federal government.

Nope. Census says 67000 workers in a population of 515000.

If you’re concerned about tax-earners having government representation, D.C. is only a drop in the bucket. Federal employees are all over the place, all manner of schools and businesses receive federal funding, tons of people get federal loans and grants, etc.

Marginalizing the minority of D.C. residents who don’t live off the government dole is completely unfair. I do think that merging D.C. into Maryland would be a better choice, however.

Brent April 20, 2007 at 6:52 pm

Next they’ll want senators. Who cares what percentage are government employees? The only thing that matters is that this bill makes one more politician… by itself, this should serve to increase the amount of taxing/borrowing and spending.

Black Bloke April 20, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Abolish taxation for the residents of Washington DC, so they’ll have no further complaint, and then extend that to the rest of the country.

Mark Brabson April 20, 2007 at 8:53 pm

The pending bill, even if it passes and is signed into law, will likely quickly bite the dust on judicial appeal. That will return the district to the status quo.

They then have two options.

Option 1. Seek admission to the union as the State of Columbia.

Option 2. Seek a constitutional amendment granting them the same representation as a state.

Well, option 2 has already been tried. Congress actually managed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment, but it died having gained only 16 of the 38 required ratifications. Today there is no hope of gaining the two-thirds majority necessary in either house to pass a constitutional amendment and they would be lucky to get 16 states even if the amendment did pass Congress.

Option 1, on the other hand, is actually possible, although a remote possibility. To pull it off, the Democrats would need to gain the Presidency, pick up probably on the scale of 30 to 40 more seats in the House of Representatives and at least 10 more seats in the Senate. The Presidency might happen in 2008, but the latter condition would take at least 2 and probably 3 more election cycles. The supermajorities would be needed to overcome blue dog opposition in their own party.

To anybody who thinks D.C. statehood would be a good thing. Picture Senator Marion Berry.

billwald April 20, 2007 at 10:27 pm

The district could be renamed, “District of Welfare.”

P.M.Lawrence April 21, 2007 at 4:23 am

“…among these rights is the right to keep the property one has earned.”

Reisman made that last bit up, ignoring (say) property that was inherited or otherwise acquired by means that socialists (say) might not construe as “earned”.

I’ve been following Reisman’s stuff for a while and I’m still not sure whether he is a knave or a fool. This seems more like foolishness.

Jim Morse April 21, 2007 at 6:38 am

No representation without taxation!

This idea could be extended for example to tame the progressive income tax. Let only the folks in the top bracket vote on what the tax rate should be on the top bracket. Why should the rest of us have a say in it?

Keith April 21, 2007 at 7:30 am

The Constitution says what it says, fair or not, but its the rules on which the government is supposed to work. If you can ignore or interpret away one part of it, then you can ignore and interpret away all of it. It either means something or it doesn’t.

FBC3 April 21, 2007 at 10:49 am

“Opposition to the bill appears to be based merely on the fact that the US Constitution says that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.””

I wonder how many opponents consider this argument when voting “yea.”

david st. hubbins April 21, 2007 at 1:32 pm

It’s important to remember that nobody involved in this debate cares one way or another about any sort of principle. The dems are for this because they want more dem congressmen. The republicans are against it because they don’t want more dem congressmen.

Given that well over 90% of DC is either federal workers or people who are net receivers of government largesse, I don’t mind that they don’t vote. I don’t think anyone who is a net receiver of government money should vote.

That being said, if it is decided to give these people congressmen, the best way to do it is to give the land back to Maryland.

Sag April 23, 2007 at 12:23 pm


You’re reading the numbers wrongly. The 67K is out of 255K “civilian employed labour force”. Not included are armed forces (1K), unemployed (25K), and 131K who are “not in labour force”. In short, apart from “self-employed workers in own not incorporated business” (15K) and “unpaid family workers” (218 total), you have 172K to work with on top of the 67K government workers.

The next step then is are these 172K genuine “private wage and salary workers” or do they work for government contractors, government funded non-profits etc.? Naturally, the government does not keep such statistics but it’s obvious to anyone who lives in DC what the facts are.

Of course there are a few people who don’t live off the government dole and of course there are other people (all over the world actually) who live off the federal government. But that wasn’t in dispute. Basically, George Reisman is right…

Reactionary April 23, 2007 at 10:13 pm

Black Bloke, I like your style.

D.C., to the extent it is even allowed to exist, should be the offices of the federal government and nothing more.

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