Friday, December 07, 2012

Romanticizing Taxation

My latest at the Project to Restore America website is titled "Romanticizing Taxation." It addresses the annoying attempt during the "fiscal cliff" controversy to portray taxation as something benign, you know, "the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society," as FDR put it.  My take:
Far from some enlightened institution, taxation began when conquerors realized that formal and continuing appropriation of a subject population's wealth was preferable to hit-and-run pillaging. For this to work, however, the rulers needed to convince the peasants that the regime would protect them from predators in return for their regular remittances. That's right: It was a protection racket, from which the racketeers and their cronies profited handsomely. For the taxpayers, there was little choice in the matter. They weren't buying protection as people buy insurance in the market, and they weren't paying dues as they would later pay dues to mutual-aid societies. They paid or they were punished. The ideology of benevolent state protection reduced enforcement costs because the ruled outnumbered the rulers and widespread tax resistance would have doomed the regime. Things have changed little in our time.
Read it all.


dennis said...

This romanticization of taxes really irks me. If someone thinks we need a state, fine, but even then it strikes me as morally reprehensible to view taxes as anything better than a necessary evil. As an anarchist I obviously view them as an unnecessary evil, but I think it goes even deeper than that. While it's true that a state needs revenue to function, there is another more sinister aspect to taxation (and much of what the state does generally.) Often the state wields power for no other end than to wield power and taxes are often levied or adjusted for this reason. Whether the state gains new revenues with which to murder people abroad (and at home), or imprison peaceful people, or throw gobs of cash at beholden business interests to assure that the political class maintains a sort of indirect control over the economy is largely irrelevant. If the "rich" see their taxes increase they will find ways to avoid taxation and the state is fine with that, the fact that others are forced to adjust to the state's machinations is proof enough of its power and might well be satisfied with the same amount or less revenue to enjoy the spectacle of others being touched by its power.

Chris Sullivan said...

"In his autobiography, The Life of Flavius Josephus, Josephus provides a concrete example of the criminality of the state. St. Augustine's comment in The City of God regarding states without justice being great robber bands might have been prompted by reading Josephus.

Josephus describes an incident where he was trying to disarm a band of robbers that were too powerful to be disarmed, so he devised an expedient that sounds quite a bit like a government or protection racket:

"... and when I had sent for the most hardy among the robbers, I saw that it was not in my power to take their arms from them; but I persuaded the multitude to allow them money as pay, and told them it was better for them to give them a little willingly rather than to [be forced to] overlook them when they plundered their goods from them. And when I had obliged them to take an oath not to come into that country, unless they were invited to come, or else when they had not their pay given them, I dismissed them, and charged them neither to make an expedition against the Romans, nor against their neighbors that lay round about them; for my first care was to keep Galilee in peace....Accordingly, I made them my friends and companions as I journeyed, and set them to judge causes; and with their approbation it was that I gave my sentences, while I endeavored not to mistake what justice required, and to keep my hands clear of all bribery in those determinations."

This sounds a lot like an early example of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" or at least make it appear that you have forced them to join you..."

Nothing new under the sun.