The REAL Reason Why the Tea Parties Were Stupid

You thought that the Tea Partiers couldn’t get any dumber? Guess again.

Yes, I know. The Tea Partiers didn’t know what they stood for. They complained about spending without saying what they wanted to cut. They were all supporters of George W. Bush and never complained when spending in his administration went through the roof. They protested taxation without representation when in fact they have representation. I know. But that’s not it.

No–as I recently learned from William Bernstein’s marvelous new history of international trade, the real reason is that the Boston Tea Party was a protest against a tax cut.

The Tea Act did not put a tax on tea: instead, it allowed the British East India Company to import tea into the colonies without having to pay a tariff and avoiding local middlemen. It thus represented a tax cut because the colonists could drink the stuff without having to pay the duties. Many of the biggest protestors were local merchants who made quite a handy profit out of being the middlemen and not coincidentally, smuggling illegal tea into the colonies. The smugglers were put out of business by the reduced tariffs.

Yes, the colonists were still upset that the old Townshend duties still applied to imports to the colonies. But it was quite irrational to destroy East India Company products, which avoided those taxes. Put another way, the Boston Tea Party is best understood as an early anti-globalization movement.

Come to think of it, though, it makes perfect historical sense.

Tea Partiers irrational? Check.

Tea Partiers protesting a tax cut (i.e. Obama’s tax cut to working Americans)? Check.

Tea Partiers doing crazy things in the service of wealthier vested interests? Check.

Some things never change.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.