LESSONS LEARNED #73: “Politics is about overspending and vote-buying while getting some poor dumb bastard to pay for it.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 7th, 2011

Great Britain’s Costly World Wars

The 18th century was a time for adventure.  Exploring brave new worlds.  Discovering new species of plant and animal.  And new peoples.  But most of all it was a time for war.  World war.  As the great mercantilist empires raced to establish colonies in those brave new worlds.  And bumped into each other in the process.  Great Britain, Prussia and Portugal fought against against France, Spain, Austria, Russia and Sweden in the Seven Years’ War.  They fought for control of trade routes.  And each other’s colonies.  They fought from 1756 to 1763.  In Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and on the high seas.

Great Britain’s secretary of state, William Pitt, committed to total war.  He went all in.  Thanks to his allies fighting in Europe on land he had armies available for the colonial theaters.  And he had the Royal Navy.  That ruled the seas.  It was a formidable force.  And the British Empire grew.  From Gibraltar to the Indian subcontinent to the Philippines to the Caribbean.  And, of course, Canada.  It was a great victory.  But a costly one.  As total war tends to be.  And with more empire to manage and protect, Britain needed a larger standing army.  And a larger Royal Navy.  Costing even more money.  Especially in North America.  Where there was a lot of Indian activity on the frontier.  It only seemed fair to King and Parliament that their American colonists paid their fair share.  And the taxation started coming. 

The king needed money.  And the landowners in England were already overtaxed from years of war.  Taxing them further could cause problems in Parliament.  Because they had representation with their taxation.  But there was a lot of untapped wealth across the Atlantic Ocean.  The American colonies.  And they had no representation in Parliament.  So they would tax them to replenish the royal coffers.  And to help maintain the sprawling empire.  So they taxed.  And the Americans balked.  Then Parliament passed some acts to punish the colonists.  One thing led to another that led to a shot at Lexington that was heard ’round the world.  The American Revolution for independence from the British Empire was on.  And it, too, would be costly for Great Britain.  Eight more years of war.  And it would end with the loss of the American colonies.  Worse, it gave the French some ideas that led to the French Revolution.  And, ultimately, Napoleon.  That would plunge Great Britain back into another costly world war. 

Rhode Island:  Smallest State but Biggest Pain in the Ass

But Great Britain wasn’t the only nation with a large war debt.  The new United States of America also had a huge war debt.  And her finances were a mess.  People had debts.  States had debts.  And the Confederation Congress had debt.  Millions borrowed from Holland and France to fight the war.  And money was owed from before the war.  Including to British merchants that had to be honored for America needed trade with the British Empire.  And the protection of that trade provided by the Royal Navy.  So a lot of money was owed to a lot of people.  Which a lot of people didn’t have.  State legislations passed debtors’ laws that provided some relief to debtors by making it okay for them not to repay their loans.  Of course, this destroyed the credit markets.  Because people won’t loan money if the law says no one has to pay it back.  Worse, states were printing their own currencies.  And forcing people to accept it as legal tender.  Even though it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.  States were charging import duties on interstate trade.  Other states were charging some states more for their goods.  The love was gone.  States circled the wagons.  The war was over so they said screw the confederation .  It was a mess.  And soon after the war the economy was collapsing.

The United States was the Rodney Dangerfield of the international community.  It got no respect.  And most thought it was only a matter of time before they fell on their face and rejoined the British Empire.  The new nation needed legitimacy.  Which is hard to do when you’re broke.  You have no army or navy.  And the individual states were making their own treaties.  Making their own currency.  Collecting their own tariffs.  Life was simpler for the rest of the world when the Americans were British Americans.  For then she had a single seat of government to treat with.  A single currency.  A uniform tariff.  The Articles of Confederation just wasn’t getting it done.  So there was a drive to revise them to address some of these shortcomings.  Such as a national tariff to help pay down the national debt.  But one of the shortcomings was the revision process itself.  Any change required unanimous consent.  Which was a problem when it came to tariffs.

You see, tariffs are a source of revenue.  Imported goods come in on ships.  That have to dock.  In a port.  Before they offload a customs official reviews the manifest.  And verifies the cargo.  It’s simple math.  You have a list of what’s on a ship.  You apply a tariff.  Get your money.  Then you let the ships unload their cargo.  It’s very straight forward.  All you need is a port.  Which Rhode Island had.  And she refused to give up her right to collect those tariffs.  Because they collected a lot of revenue.  From her merchants.  And from all the merchants in the land-locked states that used her port.  It was very lucrative.  Her taxpayers loved it.  Because someone else was paying their taxes.  They were getting a free ride.  Thanks to those tariffs.  Which was great for them.  But it almost doomed the fledgling new nation.  Because whenever the Confederation Congress tried to amend the Articles of Confederation to include a national tariff, Rhode Island always voted “no.”  She refused to give up her cash cow.  Even if it meant the collapse of the new nation.  (Eventually delegates would meet in Philadelphia in 1787 and write a new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation.  And some 100 years later America became a superpower.  No thanks to Rhode Island, of course.)

The EU and their Mercantile Emissions Trading Scheme

A clever government is always trying to think of ways to get other people to pay for their excessive spending.  And by ‘clever’ I mean devious.  To find some dumb bastard to pick up their tab.  Preferably not their own taxpayers.  Especially taxpayers who vote.  Because that’s the funny thing about taxpayers.  They don’t like paying taxes.  They will because they understand certain public goods require public funding.  Like an army and a navy to protect their nation from foreign enemies.  They’ll pay for these because they don’t want to be invaded or have their cargo ships boarded by pirates on the open seas.  But they’re not going to willingly pay for a big fat welfare state.  Not if they have to make sacrifices in their own lives so others don’t.  That’s just slavery by another name.  People just don’t like oppressive governments that take their money.  Or their liberty.  But if they could get some nice government benefits without having to pay for them, why, that’s a different story.

This is a lesson governments have learned well.  This is the basis for socialism (from those according to ability to those according to need).  And the progressive income tax (the more you earn the more you pay).  You get the smaller group of rich people to pay more than their fair share.  Then you take their money and spend it on the larger group of poor people who will forever love you.  And vote for you.  It’s a sound theory.  Until you can’t raise taxes anymore without throwing the economy into recession.  Or causing a taxpayer revolt.  So advanced nations that can’t tax anymore have found other sources of revenue.  Thanks to global warming.

Global warming is a hoax created to impose more government control over our lives.  To create more fees.  And a font of new taxation.  The University in East Anglia led the charge in this false science.  Leaked emails have since proven that they did play with the numbers to advance their agenda.  Though debunked it still has deep roots in the UK.  And Europe.  They refuse to let it go because of the riches it promises to deliver.  And with the UK and Europe suffering debt crises, they need those riches.  And the European Union is acting bold.  And extralegal.  They created an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  Anyone that produces carbon dioxide has to pay for that privilege.  And that ‘anyone’ is pretty much everyone in industry and transportation.  By buying permits that ‘allow’ you to emit this product of combustion.  Including all international flights flying into EU airspace.  Which the non-EU airlines have a problem with.  Who are already struggling under the high cost of fuel.  But the EU is standing firm.  To save the planet.  And coincidentally pouring vast sums of money into their coffers.  So they can transfer the cost of their irresponsible government spending to non-Europeans buying tickets to travel to Europe.  But this can’t end well.  Other nations will respond with some measures of their own to ‘tax’ EU planes coming into their airspace.  Worse, when they can no longer sell the fraud of global warming to a gullible people, the nations who bought those permits may want their money back.  To help with their own irresponsible spending.  And with the sums involved, they will no doubt exhaust no legal avenues.  Perhaps even exploring other avenues.  Something extralegal.  Just like they did in the EU when they set up their ETS.

Spend First, Pay Later, then Suffer the Consequences

That’s the problem with spending first then trying to figure out clever ways to get someone to pay for that spending later.  Politicians tend to look at short-term benefits.  Not long-term consequences.  Had Great Britain known what the ultimate price would be for their tax policies they no doubt would have pursued a different course.  And avoided the 8 years of the American Revolutionary War.  And the subsequent Napoleonic Wars.  Which all added up to quite the pretty farthing.

Of course, Great Britain’s woes go back to the costly Seven Years’ War.  Which grew out of a trade war.  Resulting from the mercantile policies of competing empires for overseas colonies.  And trade.  The EU’s ETS is sort of a throwback to those mercantile policies.  That may very well result in a trade war itself.

Funny how history repeats.

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