By Locke's reckoning, the fateful shift came with the second bill signed into law by the nation's first president. The Tariff Act of 1789, in addition to raising revenue, something certainly sanctioned by the Constitution, authorized Congress to "encourage domestic manufactures." It could impose a "protective" tariff, raising the price of goods coming from Europe, inviting retaliatory measures and curtailing the trans-Atlantic trade, but not without raising consumer prices for farmers and planters and depriving many of those who made their living in the seafaring trades of their livelihoods...While there were abuses of citizen's property rights to be sure, and dubious actions and miscalculations were made by Presidents and Congresses throughout the 19th Century, my own fateful moment of change occurred in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th and 17th Amendments.
The 16th Amendment allowed the Congress to lay taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, and without apportionment among the several states, without regard to census or enumeration. It gave access to a huge pool of money that could be taxed, enabling not only the large standing military we carry today, but the social welfare and entitlement programs that are today overwhelming our system as Francis Fox Piven envisioned. It allowed the Congress to create a "progressive" income tax system. We have been fighting about how much income should be taken in taxes, how much is enough and how much is too much ever since. Obama, who probably sees all income as essentially his, talks endlessly about a rich person's "fair share." But people as diverse as Sean Hannity and Bill Mahr point out that they earned this money, and that they are being taxed enough already.
What nobody notices, or what no one will openly say, is that the rich are getting ripped off. The rich and the poor alike share equally in the legitimate powers exercised by government. If government confined itself to its legitimate powers, a flat tax would be enough except in time of war. But in the illegitimate powers, the rich get very little, and the poor get most of it. (Corporate welfare is as bad as welfare for the poor, and even less justified, but it is also much less that welfare programs for the poor.) If one takes all the fancy words and justifications for having a progressive income tax out of the argument, it comes down to the fact that the government is stealing some peoples property, and giving it to others in return for votes. Income no less than real estate and personal property, is the most fundamental property of all. You trade your time and skills to others in return for money that presumably you and your employer have agreed on. The rarer your skill, the fewer people who can do what you do, the more you can command for your time. Thus, sports figures can make fabulous sums, at least for the few years they are at the top of their game. You then trade the money earned for goods and services including shelter, food and water, and so forth. You should be able to dispose of the excess you have earned to your heirs or whomever you see fit.
We can probably never get rid of the income tax entirely, but by going to a flat tax, where everyone must declare their entire earnings, and pay a flat amount, we would come closer to true fairness. If we eliminate the social engineering involved in the various deductions and entitlements, we eliminate the shenanigans that have plagued the IRS of late, and a lot of the fraud that is found usually not by the IRS. When everyone has to pay a portion, and nobody is getting benefits, then we may find the people want government out of their lives.
The other change that occurred in 1913 was the ratification of the 17th Amendment that made Senators popularly elected. Previously, the House was elected every two years by popular elections. Indeed, that is the purpose of the census, to apportion the House members to each state, and for the states to draw up the new voting districts, ensuring an equal vote to every person entitled to vote. The Senate, by contrast, was appointed to six year terms by the state legislature, and served at their pleasure. Thus, the sovereign states had a voice in the Federal government, as did the people. Under the old system, programs like Medicade and Medicare would likely not have been signed into law because the Senate would have wisely blocked them. Indeed, many "progressive" programs would have likely been squashed because the Senate would have reckoned the cost to the states to be too high. Once the Senators became popularly elected, the states lost their voice in the Federal government, and the Senators now had an incentive to push for giving entitlements to the people in exchange for their votes.
With the ratification of these two amendments to our Constitution, the self correcting nature of our Republic was destroyed. Government now had the means to take everything we have, and the body that was supposed to stop such bad ideas became an accessory to them.
Happy Independence Day!