Liberty for Puerto Rico

‘Puerto Pobre’ would be nearer the mark. The island could be wealthy, but on the Fourth of July, several of the complaints of the Thirteen Colonies against Britain could be made by Puerto Rico against the United States, and they have bankrupted it.

It is not out of malice and not irremediable, but is damning, and of the same origin as the thoughtless errors which sundered the Thirteen Colonies in the 177os.

Today, Puerto Rico is thoroughly American, washed in American culture and expectations, with local quirks and customs and language, but as American as anywhere can be. It is not about to rebel, and unlike the Thirteen Colonies it cannot stand alone if it did, but those causes which drove the American Revolution in 1776 must be dealt with as they are beggaring the island.

It is relative, it must be said: Puerto Rico is wealthier than many of its neighbours, but only because they are likewise impoverished. Puerto Rico has the capability to live up to its over-optimistic name, with sunshine, resources and access to a culture which has hitherto been a byword for enterprise.

In the 1770s as the crisis with America rose, British ministers believed that they were treating the colonies properly, but they were not there to see and feel. The story is well known – colonists had liberty in their home colonies, more indeed than the average Briton had at home, but there is more to liberty than paper laws, the King’s ministers in London could not see it from three thousand miles away.  The colonies’ populations were swelling and yearned to spread west over the empty continent, to turn fresh, untilled land into farms and homes, but were forbidden from stepping beyond a line. They were treated as British subjects, but forbidden from trade abroad: these are crucial constraints Adam Smith observed in that fateful year of 1776. There was taxation, with no opportunity to be heard, nor any opportunity to be heard when the ‘Intolerable Acts’ were passed in response to disquiet.

Nearly a quarter of a millennium later, the United States have their own colonies, and of these Puerto Rico is suffering and bankrupt. Its bankruptcy is the result of its own elected misgovernment following American norms, and impositions by the American federal government:

  • It has heavy taxation, and taxation without representation;
  • Its trade is strangled by the Jones Act just as the colonies were stifled by the Navigation Acts
  • It has had imposed on it a stifling excess of federal laws, imposed on the mainland for an urban culture which does not apply on the island. In Texas  and the prairie states they can get by though ignoring the  worst of the laws, but that does not work on a tight little island.

This is much the situation the colonies found themselves in when they burst forth with resentment against thoughtless impositions.  Puerto Rico in contrast has drink it up and imposed their own, by all I read. They cannot now even take a begging bowl to Uncle Sam for relief from their crushing debt, as the USA is itself on the brink of debt default.

Free trade is the first key to prosperity in any state or island. In the Georgian Age, the Navigation Acts forbade any foreign ships from trading with the colonies, and American merchants suffered.  Today, the Jones Act forbids any ships from plying between Puerto Rico and the United States unless they are American-owned, American-flagged and even American-built: even the Navigations acts did not go as far as regulating the shipyard. This makes for a cosy monopoly and for higher prices on the island, which the mainland does not suffer. Puerto Rico imports most if its food and supplies, at monopoly freight prices.

Those celebrating the Revolution today should take a lesson and repeal the Act or be accused as hypocrites.

In the Colonies, a monopoly imposition led to the Boston Tea Party.  What today could be hurled into the harbour of San Juan?

Laws too which were designed to employ armies of public servants and create local cabals are unaffordable in a territory which does not have the billionaires that the states have.  That bankruptcy should be no shock.

Taxation, without representation, designed by a distant government for a society with millionaires to pay it, grinds a struggling economy onto the dirt. Is there no memory of the fate of the Stamp Act?

‘I rejoice that America has resisted’, said William Pitt the Elder; ‘Three million of people so dead to all feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.’ It is good for Americans to celebrate that resistance. It was  hurtful cleaving of the British nation, regrettable but necessary given the abuse they had suffered, and a great nation arose from it. They should not be so great nor so confident in the virtue of their origin that they commit the same abuse of their own colony.

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Author: AlexanderTheHog

A humble scribbler who out of my lean and low ability will lend something to Master Hobbes