Sunday, July 5, 2015

Tim Holcombe: "Why The American Revolution Was A Mistake"

Food for thought, here. A taste:
If an American could compare the liberties he enjoys with those of a pre-Revolutionary War colonist, he might well wish to find the nearest time machine and switch shoes. And wearing those shoes, perhaps he would have opportunity to read the words of Thomas Jefferson, with the ink barely dry on the Declaration of Independence:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.

In penning these words, Jefferson became the liar of the century. His assessment was verifiably false, yet his words have had resounding historical impact.

The colonists actually had a sweet deal, particularly with taxation. The total burden of British imperial taxation was about 1% of national income, and no higher than 2.5% in the southern colonies.

How’d ya like rates like that now, American?


Tom Van Dyke said...

Where do you find these people, Jon? ;-P

The Revolution isn't to blame, it's the Democrats.

If liberty is what the American values, consider:

We are not free to travel.
We are not free to have a private conversation on our cell phones.
We are not free to do as we wish on property we say we own.
We are not free to drink raw milk.
We are not free to do as we wish with regards to health care.
We are not free to fish or hunt.
We are not free to take money out of a bank.
We are not free to carry firearms.
We are not free to start a business without permission.
We are not free to rent a home we own to whomever we wish.
We are not free to travel with cash.
We are not free to fly the flag of our choosing.
We are not free to speak our mind about sexual deviancy.
We are not free to sell lemonade in our front yard.
We are not free to collect rainwater.
We are not free to have yard sales.
We are not free to buy a Big Gulp.

JMS said...

I’ll refrain from any ad hominem attacks on Holcombe other than to say that his neo-Confederate blather about the “War of Northern Aggression” and “Lincoln’s brazen power grab” undermines claims he makes to knowledgeable historical analysis (e.g., calling Jefferson “the liar of the century,” when Bernstein (see #2 below) citing John Philip Reid’s insight that, “the important part of the Declaration was not its preamble, but rather its body of charges against George III”).

I do give him credit for citing Alvin Rabushka’s Taxation in Colonial America (a massive tome I have perused in libraries), and correctly stating that colonial American tax burdens were typically a very small fraction of what English taxpayers endured. But unfortunately that key point seems to escape Holcombe’s attention when he starts his analysis by buying into and repeating the false but widely propagated myth that the American Revolution was just an anti-tax revolt against high taxes.

For two much better analyses, I urge AC readers to check out:

1) a counter economic argument from Steven Pincus entitled, 1776: The Revolt Against Austerity in the May 2015 NYRB at There is also a Daily Kos hat-tip to Pincus’ article (which is how I found it) by someone with the pseudonym of Dartagnan at

2) the “classic” analysis of the American Revolution as a constitutional conflict by R.B. Bernstein, entitled, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS A CONSTITUTIONAL CONTROVERSY at where he refutes “the most popular and most pervasive myth is that the American Revolution was a simple tax revolt launched by people who were tired of the burdens of paying for "big government."