15 April 2010

Ye Olde Tea Party

(tote bag available thru gemmabear, on Etsy)

I never expect to learn much out of the Chronicle, but here's an item they pulled off something called the History News Service, that gave a little bit of context I hadn't heard before, about the Boston Tea Party:

The original Boston Tea Party was also partly a reaction to a government corporate bailout. Britain's huge East India Company was in big financial trouble, and English policymakers feared the impact failure would have on the economy. So in May 1773 Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea directly to American colonists. The additional business would help the company stay afloat, the empire would get its taxes, and, because middlemen would no longer be taking a cut, colonists would be paying less for their tea.
Bostonians had no stake in the London-based East India Company, just as most Americans today see little benefit from the large Wall Street financial firms. Bostonians resented the tax, even though they paid much less in taxes than British people did, just as many contemporary Americans resent today's federal taxes, notwithstanding that Americans have a lower overall tax burden than any other developed nation...

Also, Bostonians who made a living selling smuggled Dutch tea (does the name John Hancock ring a bell?) stood to lose a lot of money should the Tea Act be implemented. Most of all, Bostonians objected to the fact that they had had no say in Parliament.
On the night of Dec. 16, 1773, somewhere between 50 and 100 men boarded East India Company ships in Boston harbor and threw the tea overboard. Colonists used the event as a symbol of citizen protest against "taxation without representation."
But the essence of that complaint is the big difference between the Boston Tea Party's participants and today's Tea Party activists. Like it or not, the policies enacted by the federal government were passed by elected representatives, and signed by presidents voted into office.
Assuming that's all true, that "colonists would be paying less for their tea", what I get out of that is that the American Revolution, which was a perfectly good thing, got its kick start when a bunch of yokels who couldn't parse economics, were sold a bill of goods by a cabal of smugglers... There are a few parallels, and as usual, figuring out the precise analogues is the point of division in today's political climate. I'd say, "Choose your metaphors wisely, gentlemen, then pick up your arms!", but I'm not entirely sure I buy the premise... I mean, same as ever, the more money-grubbing among us spin the greater economic wheels, to be sure. Thus, my neighbor, John Hancock, having made the best economic use of his alliances, holds more sway than me, and, being my neighbor, exerts that sway over me, more adeptly than the distant king. If I help him out a little with this vandalism jag he's cooking up, he might even find a job for me in his organization--a perfectly valid venture, mind you, in this scarcely regulated climate...

No, it's starting to make sense. The 'scarcely regulated climate' thing, fits right in with the libertarian longing for some mythological lost golden age of untrammeled liberty. The urge, undiminished throughout history, to stake a claim on the frontier, is twisted now, in the lack of apparent physical frontiers, into an urge to bash civilization back into a lawless frontier. Turn back the page!

Well, the part of me that likes to play with clay can get behind that! But the part of me that likes my leisure time, and relying on the fruits of the first world, says "NO"! Can't we maybe... not turn back quite so many pages? What are the Choose Your Adventure options on this page?

The Boston Tea Party wiki seems well footnoted with academic references, and backs up the cheaper-albeit-taxed tea story. It paints the issues as having more to do with a government backed monopoly, squeezing out the local smugglers' business, and that the taxes were being used to pay the colonial governors, thereby keeping them beholden to Parliamentary interests more so than colonists' interests.

Again, we can play with how the referents match up to the roles available in today's pol-scape. How does "taxation without representation" play out, when we're electing the reps who are legislating our taxes? If I'm not happy with how taxes are being apportioned, and I don't feel like my vote has any capacity for reflecting my interests... shall I strive to burn the country down?

More likely, I'll take my typically passive role, and watch. But I should prob'ly get a shotgun, just in case...

In the meantime, a lot of how I feel about the latter day tea party's role in the recent health care reform carnival is well summarized by the slacktivist, while David Swanson distills the deadlock between people who were upset about their government 2 years ago, and people who are upset about it now, down to the question, "if the two tribes of party loyalists are done exposing each other's hypocrisy, can we get on to some independent activism?".

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