The attempt to limit government that almost succeeded
King John was in turmoil. England was under interdict from the Pope, and he himself had been excommunicated. There were threats to the realm from home and abroad. The new century was not particularly working out for him. By 1213, however, he had been absolved from excommunication, the clergy reinstated to their churches. But now a group of barons was breathing down his neck. They demanded his affirmation that he would continue “to maintain the ancient laws of the realm.” His track record on that score was not encouraging.
It is every Englishman’s heritage that Magna Carta established the rights and freedoms of Englishmen. But Magna Carta became the document that kings would use to destroy its very principles. Three months after the signing of the Great Charter civil war was still evident, over the principles in the Charter. In other words, the Magna Carta was never really implemented in its original form.
The years prior to 1215 were of great disturbance in England. The disturbance was over the extent of the power of the king. And there were nobles to the north of London who favored no increase in the monarch’s powers. Naturally, the king disagreed with this, and was willing to use whatever force was necessary to have his way. The issue was money—taxation.
The barons, however, were united in their views and willingness to do whatever was necessary to limit the king’s powers. They saw any increase as a denial of their freedom.
To understand this background, step back to Alfred the Great and his willingness to apply Old Testament legal requirements as the laws of England. Among these were a strong sense of property ownership, found in Exodus chapters 21-23.
In his book, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State, Joseph Strayer outlines the formation of the nation-state. Most of the ingredients were in place by the 14th century, he says. It took another three centuries or more to become recognizable as the modern state, but its principles were in place that early. In understanding the purpose of the formation of national boundaries, eventually becoming boundaries of sovereignty, we find the key to understanding the contemporary problems of politics. Outlining the slow development of the process to the modern state, Strayer observes,
[T]he purpose of the political game was not to create a new government, but rather to get control of some part of the existing government and use that control for selfish purposes. . . . The basic structure of government had to be preserved in order to generate the revenues sought by the upper classes.
This point is often lost in contemporary debate. The taxing system of government is not to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor; it is to redistribute wealth from the poor and middle classes to the upper classes.
This is hidden by progressive tax scales. But it helps explain why the lowest portion of taxes is paid by the upper classes. Government is in place to protect and preserve their interests.
Somewhere there is a Parliament or Congress about to vote on their national debt. Usually, the limit has been reached and the government must either extend the limit or stop spending. It takes no genius to figure out the course of action that will buy the most votes next election.
Every age has its myths. Our age is no different. One of the myths today is the idea that we can all get richer by spending, especially if we spend other people’s money.
It takes only a few seconds of careful thought to realize that such a notion is silly.
There are a couple of fallacies behind this idea. One of the fallacies is that money is the only form of wealth, and so long as we have more money we have thereby become richer. That such an idea is given credibility highlights a problem of our education system: its failure to teach people to think. And if you can’t think, said the Ford founder, you’re not educated.
The second fallacy attached to the idea of spending ourselves rich is the notion that of all the kinds of spending, government spending are more likely to make us richer. Somehow, bureaucrats and politicians know better than anyone else how to spend money so everyone becomes wealthier.