If at First You Don’t Secede

September 14, 2010

by L. Neil Smith

You cannot force me to agree with you. You can force me to act as though I agreed with you…but then you’ll have to watch your back. All the time.
—L. Neil Smith

I heard an idiot on the radio this morning proclaiming grandly that the sovereign remedy for all the nation’s problems is to impose a heavy tariff on all imported products, so that people are economically compelled to buy only those things that are produced in America, by Americans.

A log-jam immediately began to pile up in my mind, consisting of all of the many things that are not only wrong, but wrong-headed about this silly-assed notion, the first being, by what right does this guy think he can steal from me or tell me with whom I will be allowed to do business?

Right behind it, came the realization that it has all been tried before, time and time again, and has, virtually without fail, almost invariably generated nothing but disasters of historically heroic proportions.

I confess that I have only included the weasel-words “virtually” and “almost” so you’ll think I’m more reasonable than I really am. The fact is, this is one of the worst ideas ever generated by a power- hungry human brain, nakedly greedy for the fruits of somebody else’s labor.

But, as usual, I digress.

A tariff, in case you’re feeling shy about asking, is a special tax levied on merchandise or materials imported from other countries. Back in the 1960s, for example, American automobile companies and the automobile workers’ unions were unwilling to compete with the cheaper, higher-quality products being shipped here, mostly by Japan. Instead of trying to make better, cheaper products themselves, they leaned on their bought and paid-for politicians, who obligingly added about four thousand dollars (in 1960s money) to the price of the average Japanese import.

Sounds like a good deal all around, doesn’t it? The car companies get to stay in business. The workers get to keep their jobs. The government gets a lot of extra moolah. The only ones who get screwed are the Productive Class who have a crappy choice between driving a pile of Detroit road-garbage or paying four grand extra for a decent car.

Four grand they might have spent on a better home (that was a lot of money in those days), a better bathroom, modern appliances, their childrens’ dental bills, their college educations, or several hundred pairs of shoes. Four grand savagely ripped out of their pockets by corrupt politicians, lazy and obsolescent manufacturers, and union drones whose products—if they came out of the factory on a hangover Monday or a Friday being celebrated early—consumers were wise to avoid.

There are many historians and economists who will claim that one of those disasters was World War II that, if not directly caused by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which raised the import taxes on over 20,000 items to record levels (and without a doubt lengthened the Depression by at least five years) was certainly made unavoidable by it. I cannot attest to this myself because it is not within my area of expertise. I do know for sure that the American conflict erroneously known as the “Civil War” was the direct and inevitable result of tariffs.

Prior to 1860, although Southerners amounted to only a minor fraction of the American population, they were paying 80% of the national government’s bills, through the taxes extorted from them because they concentrated on producing crops, rather than finished goods they needed that were cheaper to obtain from Europe which was also willing to pay more for Southern cotton and sugar than the North was.

Already restive about this inequity, Southerners became incensed—and rightfully so—when the newly-elected Lincoln government made moves to double or quadruple the tariffs, which would have reduced every member of the Productive Class below the Mason-Dixon line to peonage.

It is by no means any accident of history that the first shot of the resulting unpleasantness—a war of secession, exactly like the American Revolution, fought for almost identical reasons (a civil war is one in which two sides struggle for control of the same government, something that does not describe the War Between the States at all)—was fired symbolically at a federal customs collecting establishment known as Fort Sumter, located in the harbor mouth of Charleston, South Carolina.

The War Between the States happened because the politicians and mercantilist lords of the industrial North didn’t give a damn—any more than they appear to do today—that they were making life impossible for those who labored to pay the bills. They had the brass gall to criticize the “peculiar institution” of black chattel slavery, while often keeping slaves, themselves, and seeking to make slaves out of everybody—black and white alike—who lived in the agricultural South.

Which brings us to today.

A teacher of mine once told me that there are more than fifteen million federal laws. You can get arrested, fined, even imprisoned for exercising many—if not most—of the rights once guaranteed to Americans by their Constitution. While the average federal employee receives twice the salary that his private sector equivalent does, and politicians fly across the country and around the world in luxurious jets or ride with their mistresses or trophy wives to their mansions in limousines, taxes, and the burden of regulation, deprive the Productive Class of at least seven eighths of what we work so hard to earn.

That’s right, I said seven eighths. Taxes consume half of what we earn. Taxes double the price of everything we buy. And regulations double the price all over again. We all live on on eighth of what we earn. A once-free people have been reduced to the status of medieval serfs.

Tax slaves.

Repeating all of the mistakes made by antebellum Washington, the most recent couple of regimes have seemed intent on making it too expensive once again—and too humiliating—to remain an American citizen.

They have increased taxes and regulations to the breaking-point and made it virtually impossible for ordinary individuals to do business.

They have created and unleashed on Americans one brutal, intrusive, dangerously armed, unconstitutional bureaucracy after another. You can be arrested, fined, and jailed for filling in a mud puddle on your own property. Or shooting a thief driving off in your car.

They have forced massive alterations to the nation’s architecture for the sake of handicapped individuals, which would have paid for medical research into growing new limbs and curing degenerative diseases. They even tell you what kind of toilet you can have in your home.

They have imposed a “healthcare” system on us—against our clearly-expressed will—which is actually a gigantic tax hike and an endless supply of excuses to peer into every intimate crevice of our lives. And for the sake of your health you can be jailed for not complying.

They have repeatedly accused anyone who disagrees with them about virtually anything at all, anyone who reads the wrong books written by the wrong authors, anyone who upholds and defends the Bill of Rights, anyone who practices a religion that embarrasses them or of which they disapprove, anyone who owns firearms, anyone who votes for politically incorrect candidates—or anyone who happens to be one of those politically incorrect candidates themselves—of being potential terrorists.

In so doing, they have provided local and state police officers with a license to kill—at the sight of an unapproved bumper sticker.

Refusing, for the lowest, dirtiest, most political of reasons—they burn to give non-citizens the power to vote for them—to control the nation’s borders from armies of kidnappers and murderers, they have attempted to prevent states like Arizona from protecting themselves.

Maybe our glorious leaders are simply jealous of the Russia’s Putin because they don’t have Chechans of their own to slaughter and oppress. Maybe they’re anxious to show the United Nations gangsters they look up to how eager they are to impose Agenda 21—the 2ist century equivalent of the Highland Clearances—on an unwilling populace.

Whatever their reasons—it may be that they crave an excuse to use troops, tanks, and perhaps even neutron bombs to control an unruly population—they are making it more and more likely that large areas of the United States of America where people value what the Founding Fathers carved out for us, will decide to go their own, independent way.

When the country was born, and a central government was formed by the original thirteen colonies, it was assumed that any of those colonies—independent republics—was free to make that choice. On more than one occasion, the threat of secession—by New England, for example—was sufficient to correct the policies of that central government. The possibility of secession became one of the “checks and balances”.

However when the Southern states attempted to exercise their legal right to withdraw their sanction from the central government, Abraham Lincoln’s Administration knew it could never survive the loss of revenue it needed to convert the country into a firmly knit-together fascist state. It illegally crushed the South in a war that took 620,000 lives, injured many more, and destroyed billions of dollars of accumulated assets that it took more than a century to rebuild. Today, “Honest Abe” would be arrested, tried, convicted and hanged for war crimes.

As a science fiction writer, I’ve made many accurate predictions about future events. I predicted the laptop computer (although it looked more like an iPad) and the Internet (I called it the Telecom system). I predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, a world trend against Marxism. I predicted that the United States would run against that trend, embrace Marxism, and start a long, agonizing slide into ruin.

At this point, I believe that the right of states to secede from the federal union is about to be tested again. Many state legislatures have passed resolutions underlining the Tenth Amendment which ignores the coercive “resolution” forced on them by Lincoln’s war and reserves the unenumerated powers to the states. Others have asserted a right to ignore federal gun laws. Arizona is being pressed to the limit, and the governor of Texas has openly discussed the possible necessity of secession.

It will start with federal thugs and bureaucrats being thrown in jail by local peace officers when they attempt to interfere with people’s rights by enforcing unconstitutional laws. Where it will end—given a national government absolutely bereft of anything even remotely resembling moral scruples—nobody can predict, although I don’t believe this government or these politicians would hesitate to reduce a rebellious city to glowing radioactive slag as an example to others.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that there are still individuals within the U.S. military—possibly a majority—who take their oath seriously, would resist unlawful orders, and would never permit the civilian government to commit such a muderous atrocity.

One thing is absolutely certain: even with all of the attendant inconveniences and perils of independent nationhood, a free Texas, or Arizona, or Montana would be better off than they are now, sucked dry by the gaping and insatiable maw of government run amok, crushed under the thumb of the left-wing socialist Obama Administration—or than they were, crushed under the thumb of the right-wing socialist Bush Administration.

Shall we let Texas go? If we do, given decent constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and property, how many of us would move there? I’ve told correspondents I would head for the border myself so quickly I would leave bright blue streaks of Cherenkov radiation in my wake. A Texas republic that genuinely and enthusiastically enforced individual rights—particularly rights of property and the freedom to do business—would quickly become the wealthiest nation in the world.

On the other hand, should the United States of America secede from New York, Massachussetts, Illinois, and the People’s Republic of California?

That might be an even better idea.

Courtesy The Libertarian Enterprise

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world’s foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website “The Webley Page” at lneilsmith.org.