“545”: an e-mail chain letter

A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail chain letter quoting a 1985 newspaper column by Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinal.  In this column he pointed out that everything the government does is authorized by one of 545 people – 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators, a President or nine Supreme Court justices.

Charley Reese

He went on to point out that they are all employees of we, the people, who have authority to vote them out (well, not the Supreme Court justices, but his basic point still holds).  The e-mail version concludes with a paragraph, which Reese apparently didn’t write, saying “we should vote them all out of office and clean up their mess.”  Tacked on to the end is a poem by an anonymous contributor and a list of all the taxes we pay, with the comment that we didn’t have any of these taxes 100 years ago and everything was just fine.

Here’s my reaction.

One.  Charley Reese was one of my favorite columnists until he retired in 2008, and I agree with the original versions what he wrote.  However, he had too much good sense to think that anything could be accomplished by simply voting out all incumbents.  If I owned a business with 545 employees and wasn’t getting the results I wanted, it would make no sense to simply fire them all and hire 545 others at random. If every single one of the employees performed unsatisfactorily, there must be something wrong with the system of supervision or something else about the way the business in run. What a sensible business owner would do is to figure out what was needed, explain it to the employees, reward those who did what was needed and replace those who couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Two.  The list of taxes we supposedly didn’t pay 100 years ago is historically inaccurate.  Excise taxes on liquor go back to the earliest days of the Republic; they were the reason for the Whiskey Rebellion under President George Washington.  Property taxes are the historic way in which local government was financed.  School taxes have existed as long as public schools.  And so on.

Three.  The United States of the good old days was not a utopia.  We had sweatshops, child labor and lynchings.  People bought contaminated food, unpasteurized milk and dangerous drugs.  Striking workers were shot down by corporate security and National Guard troops.  Government was even more corrupt than it is now.  Progressive reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were just beginning to change things for the better, and the changes required use of, yes, governmental authority.

Four. Blanket objections to taxes are as pointless as blanket objections to business profits.  Government has its proper function, which it may perform well or poorly, just as business has its proper function, which it may perform well or poorly. What’s wanted is to reward what’s done well, fix what’s done poorly and withhold support from what shouldn’t be done at all.  Maybe there are governmental activities that ought to be abolished, maybe there are taxes that shouldn’t be imposed.  But we need some level of governmental activity and some level of taxation.

Click on Original Versions to read the “545” column as Charley Reese originally wrote it and later updated it.

Click on Charley Reese on Lew Rockwell for a collection of Charley Reese columns.

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One Response to ““545”: an e-mail chain letter”

  1. Joyce Ireland Says:

    You make a lot of sense….


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