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Are We Independent?

Today the United States of America celebrates its effective 236th birthday when it declared independence from the British Crown. But how much has changed in the problem that created the need for the Declaration of Independence in the first place? Let’s look at the problem the Colonists faced back then…

Before the Colonies declared Independence from Britain in 1776 a few other events happened. The British faced a massive debt problem incurred from the Seven Years War with France that happened in large part as a result of French competition with British trade in India. To pay that debt the British imposed a tax on paper goods in the Colonies to pay for British military presence. Needless to say that didn’t go over very well and the Colonies opposed it. So the Parliament repealed it. With no new revenue to pay the debt what would the British do?

Meanwhile…

The French were competing with the East India Company which originally was chartered by the Queen to expand British markets. The Company itself had problem competing with not only the French, but with local rivals in India. To do this the company maintained its own private army. They could not sustain land ownership and protect their assets and so, the company was losing money.

The British enjoyed 15% of its trade from the East India Company and the wealthy aristocrats were getting wealthier as a result. There was clear interest in keeping the company afloat. The Parliament stepped in to take over the land assets of the company and offer protection in order to maintain British authority in those regions the company had established markets.

In exchange for that lease the company was eventually allowed to auction its tea in Britain without taxes which merchants would buy and sell to the Colonies more cheaply to undercut smuggled Dutch tea. That deal was part of the Townshend Acts. The plan was to rescue the company from impending failure and for it to maintain British market monopoly in India by taxing tea on the Colonies. This way the government could get revenue to pay off its debt and to save the East India Company from failure and to pay Colonial judges and officials in order to maintain a presence independent of the Colonial authorities. Sweet deal.

However the Colonies were still buying tea off of the Dutch. The British considered that smuggling. Britain enforced the exclusivity of the East India Company tea market by rooting out smuggled Dutch tea with searches and sometimes force. An outcome of this set of actions was the Boston Massacre in 1770. The Townshend Acts didn’t quite work out. So Britain needed another plan to get its revenue, clamp down on the growing unrest in the Colonies, and save the East India Company.

But…the company had more problems to deal with…

Famine and disease in India plus the bi-annual lease to Britain and economic issues in Europe were a money suck and the company could no longer afford it. What were the aristocrats and officials to do? Why not cut out the middle man in the British merchant and allow the East India Company to sell its product directly to the Colonies? Hell, even Ben Franklin thought this was a good idea. But Britain was just getting greedy in order to maintain its growing prosperity as the powerhouse in the West. The answer: tax the tea sold to the Colonies to make up for lost revenue from the repealed Townshend Acts.

We know what happened next. Many of the Colonists opposed the tax because it validated British taxation of a people who had no representation in the Parliament which they believed was unconstitutional. The Colonists did not want to pay for officials of the Crown to rule them since they had no voice in Parliament and refused to accept a product from a company that had been made a monopoly by that same government. The company itself had representation as a powerful lobby in Parliament!

Fast forward to 2012. Today the collusion of big business and the government is clear.

The ironically titled Citizens’ United ruling of the same name as the organization prohibits government limitations on corporate and union campaign contributions.

Massive amounts of money in lobbying on Capitol hill secure corporate interests in legislation.

There is a widening wealth gap between legislators and citizens making them more distant from their constituent economic concerns.

Market concentration in the top industries in the US in groceries, media (on the left), and others continues to prevail.

At some point maybe we need to ask ourselves just how much we have changed since the days of that prompted the Revolutionary War? The Colonies were used to extract value back to the Crown and the aristocracy of Britain. Do we have a similar circumstance on our own soil today? Should we expect a revolution of our own?

About Andrew Tatusko

Secularization, critical pedagogy, sometimes agnostic, politics, and a ton of running. Penn State is definitely not responsible for what I say.

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