The "L Word" (NOT THAT ONE!): Legitimacy

On December 26th, Dr. Michael Vlahos, best known as the author of Terror’s Mask: Insurgency Within Islam (http://www.jhuapl.edu/POW/library/_derived/terrormask.htm_cmp_journal2010_bnr.gif), appeared on the John Batchelor Program (http://johnbatchelorshow.com/) on WABC and the ABC Radio Network.  Dr. Vlahos’s comments dealt with resiliency and the ability of certain governments, notably China’s and Iran’s, to adopt to systemic shocks.

My thought is that all of the issues that Dr. Vlahos raised are rooted in legitimacy.  Governments like Iran’s, which are supported by force and the previous generation’s religious or political fever, or like China’s, which are supported by force and (possibly passing or tenuous) economic advantage, lack the necessary legitimacy to endure substantial change.

Ultimately, all governments really are predicated on the consent of the governed.  That consent is the ultimate source of legitimacy and that consent is usually predicated on the sense that the government is both effective and (at the very least) benignly intended towards the majority of the people.

Earlier, during the Christmas Holiday, friends and family, many of them highly compensated professionals, lamented that Federal Tax rates were likely once more going to exceed 50%.  (Obviously, in states like NY, NJ and California, combined Federal, state and property taxes for the highly compensated often do exceed 50%.)  My thought is that this is unlikely, as changes in the economy and the performance of the Federal government recently have made such a policy illegitimate.

Fifty Percent (and higher) Federal tax rates were somewhat acceptable prior to 1981, when the majority of the working population were W2 employees of large companies.  In those days, even highly compensated executives had the sense that the money paid in taxes was other people’s money in a sense, that they worked for an impersonal something that would not miss this money.

Now however, when many more people are independent contractors, who receive 1099s and pay self-employment tax, or small business owners who receive K-1s, and where the majority of us work for small businesses, our views have changed.  We see how hard the owners of the businesses that employ us work and it is not impersonal.  We know that every dollar taken in taxes is a dollar that can’t hire an employee, can’t buy equipment or pay a lease or can’t be used by a worker to buy a gift for a beloved spouse or child.  We have a sense that the Death Tax is not economic justice but rather is a vulture feeding on the carcass of someone’s life work.

In the same way, after Katrina and the pre-Surge debacle in Iraq that cost many brave men and women life and limb, does the government have the temerity to ask us for more of our hard-earned money?  Can any Government where one such as Secretary Napolitano can remark that the system worked after what Wellington might have called that “near run thing” in the skies over Detroit on Christmas Day really dare tell us that we have to forfeit half our income to it?

This is the prescient view of the Tea Party movement, who saw all of this coming.  If they can galvanize the support of the majority of Americans that do not want half of their income taken to be misused far from them, for projects not of their choosing and of little utility, then there is a prospect for real change in 2010.

Legitimacy comes from financially responsible government.  Legitimacy comes from government closer to the people and responsive to the people’s will.  Legitimacy comes from government cognizant of the facts on the ground.  The races this year, for the statehouses, the state legislatures and the House, are the pivotal races, because these are the positions closest to the people.

If these races can be won by people of either party (or in states like NY that foster them, third parties) who respect the integrity of the public fisc, who believe in limited government and who understand that it is the private sector that creates wealth and fosters innovation, then there is hope that legitimacy will not be lost here, as it is in being lost in Iran today and possibly China tomorrow.

Franklin said, “A Republic if you can keep it.”  If we remember we are citizens and not subjects, I believe we can keep it.  If we remember that our nation was born from a tax revolt and that people fought and bleed to foster a responsive government that we must maintain by voting and speaking out, I believe we can keep it.

It is our Republic’s democratic traditions and its Federal structure that fosters limited government that gives me hope, for these things are legitimate.