My preceding blogpost, the Hour of the Technocrats, was inspired by the recent accession of Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos, both professional economists, to the prime ministerships of Italy and Greece, respectively. Today we turn to the U.S., where the political process seldom views academic credentials benevolently.
In the United States, Senator Richard Shelby scorned President Obama’s 2010 nomination of Peter Diamond, an eminent MIT Professor of Economics, and prevented his confirmation as a governor of the Federal Reserve Board. The Alabama Senator farfetchedly claimed that the nominee was not qualified, and persisted despite the coincidence that Diamond won the Nobel Prize in Economics soon after his nomination (deservedly). But, then, Shelby was holding up an astounding 70 of President Obama’s nominations, just to try to get two pork projects in his home state funded. Diamond finally withdrew in June 2011, because Shelby and other anti-technocratic Senators had blocked the confirmation process for 14 months and were clearly going to continue to do so. Diamond, like Axel Weber in my preceding blogpost, was comfortable foregoing the limelight.
Evidently the four-word slogan “No Taxation Without Representation” is too complicated to fit on some people’s bumper stickers. They have chopped off the last two words. They don’t want taxation period.
The “Tea Partiers” revere the Constitution. But some might lack the knowledge of early American history that they claim. In honor of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, I would like to recall a bit of that history.
The Boston Tea Party is not in fact the most appropriate historical precedent for the grass roots protests that have received so much attention over the last year. The famous slogan motivating the patriots in Boston Harbor in 1773 was “No Taxation Without Representation.” But democratic representation was achieved with the American Revolution. The Whisky Rebellion of 1794 is a much closer parallel for today’s protestors. Or the earlier Shays’ Rebellion of 1787, the episode of anarchy to which many Americans reacted by seeking a federal constitution. The pitchfork-carriers in these rebellions were protesting against taxation with representation. They did not want to pay the taxes necessary to fund the government services they enjoyed — which at that time meant servicing the debt from the Revolutionary War. (Sound familiar?) President George Washington, not the rebels, was defending the Constitution against its first severe test, when he personally put down the Whiskey Rebellion with force.