Friday, July 3, 2009

Boston or Madhatter's Tea Party

I happened to catch part of an interview with an historian who was talking about what led to the Americans' Declaration of Independence, when the interviewer asked him about the Boston Tea Party. The historian described what occurred to motivate the colonists to destroy the shipload of tea and, although I had heard it all before I hadn't made the connection, that the Republican Tea Parties have gotten it all wrong. If you haven't heard about the GOP tea parties (lucky you), they were designed to be rallies against the tax increases under the current administration and trying to harken back to our founding fathers' protests against unfair taxation.

I always thought that these obviously contrived parties masquerading as a grass roots movement were pretty silly since 90% of taxpayers were receiving tax cuts at the time and the only tax increases were actually roll-backs of G. W. Bush's tax cuts for the richest 10% of taxpayers. I sort of imagined corporate boards of directors wearing slogan adorned T-shirts over their power suits while waving tea bags in the air.

What I realized after listening to the historian is, the Republicans who came up with the tea party idea got it all wrong. The Boston Tea Party wasn't about taxes. What happened was that the East India Company had a huge surplus of tea warehoused in England that was killing the old quarterly earnings. The British government had a cunning plan. They loaded the tea on ships and sent them to the American colonies where they would sell all the tea cheaply. The surplus turns to ready cash, the colonists save lots of money on discount tea and everyone goes away happy, right? Wrong; a lot of colonists were involved in smuggling tea into America and selling it. They saw the situation as a big company coming in, selling tea at artificially low prices to put all the colonial entrepreneurs out of business. Therefore, the Boston Tea Party was a protest against business monopolies by big companies and not about taxes.

So, as I said, the GOP got it all wrong because they thought they were protesting taxes like the patriots at the birth of our republic. Actually many of the wealthiest 10% represent businesses that are much more like the East India Company in the way they eliminate their competitors and try to monopolize the market than they are like their forefathers struggling to stay in business, so the modern tea party attendees not only are protesting the wrong thing, they are more likely to represent the side whose tea got thrown over the side.

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