Saturday, April 24, 2021

"In the Beginning, There Were Taxes"

What with the "leak" of the capital gains tax story last week the commentariat are all atwitter.

Assume all leaks from the Harris - Biden administration are deliberate.Unlike the situation in the prior admin., the current attitude is that if you leak something that was not meant to be public you will be prosecuted. This is a throwback to 2008 - 2016 when there were more leak prosecutions than in all the previous administrations combined. (eight out of the thirteen total)

So proceeding on the assumption the people advising the titular officeholder wanted this out in public, the question is why? What is being communicated?

You don't have to hang around Wall Street for very long to figure that one out:

We'll see if we can put something together on who the proposals actually benefit and how they steer economic/industrial policy. In the meantime, a couple quotes from the only politician smart enough to scare the other master U.S. politician, FDR, enough to be thought worthy of insulting, Louisiana's Huey Long:

"Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. 
They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. 
But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."
—Huey Long (citation)

Mr. Long was Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and U.S. Senator from Louisiana from 1933 to 1935.
Long was called "The most dangerous man in America" (though in private FDR said the MDMIA wasn't Long but rather General MacArthur)

He had astounding political insight.
Mr. Long was assassinated on September 10, 1935.

Another quote ascribed to Senator Long:

"Sure, We’ll Have Fascism in This Country, and We’ll Call It Anti-Fascism"

And the headline story from Lapham's Quarterly:

On the historical inevitability of paying the government.

In Scoop, Evelyn Waugh drew on his experiences in 1930s Abyssinia to imagine tax collection in fictional Ishmaelia:

It had been found expedient to merge the functions of national defense and inland revenue in an office then held in the capable hands of General Gollancz Jackson; his forces were in two main companies, the Ishmaelite Mule Tax-gathering Force and the Rifle Excisemen with a small Artillery Death Duties Corps for use against the heirs of powerful noblemen…Towards the end of each financial year the general’s flying columns would lumber out into the surrounding country on the heels of the fugitive population and return in time for budget day laden with the spoils of the less nimble; coffee and hides, silver coinage, slaves, livestock, and firearms.

It was from simple plundering of much this kind that today’s often mind-numbingly complicated tax systems evolved. Taxation may be one of the few things in our lives that our ancestors would recognize from theirs.

Something recognizable as taxation doubtless began as simple plunder in the mold of General Jackson, long before Ptolemaic Egypt or even ancient Sumer. Elements of plunder continued over the centuries. In the Roman Empire, victories were sometimes spectacular enough to allow remission of all other taxes for that year. In England, a primary function of the Domesday Book of 1087 was to provide the newly installed Norman conquerors with a record of exactly how much they had acquired. Plunder continued through the conquest of resource-rich South America, though the plunderers themselves were occasionally plundered: Francis Drake’s capture of the Spanish treasure ships (and other piracy against the Spanish in 1577–80) brought Queen Elizabeth I the equivalent of about one year of her ordinary income.

The more sophisticated plunderers have recognized that leaving those plundered just enough of their capital (and human) resources to rebuild their productive capacity can provide a basis for further happy plundering in the future. Herodotus tells of King Alyattes of Lydia, who, when attacking the ancient Greek city of Miletus, “refrained from tearing down their houses so that the Milesians could set forth from them to sow and work the fields, and through their work he would have something to plunder.” From this it was a short step to seeing that the hard work of actual plundering itself might not be needed, the threat of plundering being enough. Tribute—such as the danegeld paid by the English and the Franks to keep the Vikings from raiding—became a more elegant way to achieve, by blackmail, the same effect.

Plundering and extracting tribute from foreigners—or, more generally, from those regarded for some reason as outsiders—has always been a popular form of taxation. Rulers prefer to extract their resources from people on whom their popular support does not depend. The Athenians levied a poll tax on foreign residents; Elizabethan England simply charged them double. Machiavelli advised his prince that “of that which is neither yours nor your subjects’ you can be a ready giver, as were Cyrus, Caesar, and Alexander; because it does not take away your reputation if you squander that of others, but adds to it,” advice which many seeking to tax foreign multinationals continue to follow to this day. But taxing foreigners can be risky. And it has rarely provided enough to satisfy rulers’ needs.

As societies became more settled, so too taxation took more settled forms. In preindustrial times, it was focused on the only two things in reasonably abundant supply: agricultural land and labor....


 If interested in Waugh see "Evelyn Waugh's 'Scoop': Journalism Is A Duplicitous Business"