FT139: “The political debate has evolved from no taxation without representation to representation without taxation.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 12th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Because the Romans debased their Silver Coin they Required the People to Pay their Taxes in Gold or in Kind

High government spending caused the fall of the Roman Empire.  When the Roman Empire no longer expanded through military conquest it could no longer use the spoils of war to pay for the cost of empire.  Which presented some fiscal problems.  As the empire was never bigger.  Covering most of the civilized world.  Which they needed to protect with a vast army.  And governed through a vast bureaucracy.  Both of which cost lots of money.  Lots and lots of money.

So how did they replace the spoils of war?  Taxes, of course.  Starting small.  And growing lager.  To pay for the cost of the expanding state.  Government bureaucrats.  City improvements.  Food for the poor.  Food for the army.  And, of course, the mighty Roman legions.  Later, as citizens avoided serving in the Roman legions, the Romans turned to hired mercenaries to guard the frontier.  And the problem with sprawling empires?  They have very long borders to protect.  And that ain’t cheap.

To help pay for all of this the Romans turned to some bad monetary policy.  In addition to taxation.  Because their tax revenue just wasn’t enough.  So they started debasing their silver coins.  Putting more and more lead into the coins.  And less and less silver.  But this caused another problem.  Inflation.  As the currency became worth less it took more of it to buy anything.  So prices rose.  Making the silver coin pretty much worthless for taxes.  So the Romans required that people to pay their taxes in gold.  Or in kind.  If you grew wheat you gave a percentage of your harvest to the state.  If you made shoes you gave a percentage of all the shoes you manufactured to the state.

A King ruled over the Landed Aristocracy who Lived the Good Life as long as they were Loyal to their King and paid their Taxes

As the tax burden grew small business declined.  Small farmers and manufacturers said enough was enough.  They were working more for the state than for themselves.  So they quit their businesses and worked for someone else.  Because it was easier.  But this caused another problem for the Romans.  No one was making the stuff the Roman Empire needed anymore.  Food and manufactured goods were becoming scarce.  Which made it difficult to maintain their armies on the frontier.  And to provide the massive welfare state in the cities.  So the Romans addressed this problem with new laws.

If you didn’t like working your farm or your business and giving all the proceeds to the state, tough.  You no longer had a choice.  And neither did your children.  If you made shoes you were going to continue to make shoes.  And when you no longer could make shoes your children would continue in the trade.  Those working on farms became attached to the land.  And could never leave.  Regardless of who owned the farm.  If you farmed you would forever farm.  As would your children born on that land.  Allowing the landowners to raise their crops.  And pay their taxes.

So this led to a few rich landowners.  And impoverished masses working the land.  Sound familiar?  This would evolve into European feudalism.  Medieval manors.  The landed aristocracy (the few).  Peasantry (the many).  And, of course, kings (the one).  The basis of medieval governance.  Lasting thousands of years.  Where a king would rise to rule over the landed aristocracy.  Who he allowed to live the good life as long as they were loyal to their king.  And paid their taxes.  The nobility received certain privileges for this arrangement.  While the peasantry considered themselves lucky if they didn’t die from hunger.  And everyone lived happily ever after.  If you were lucky enough to be the one.  Or the few.

Representation without Taxation allows Government to Spend as Irresponsibly as They Please

Up until the 1200s a lot of France belonged to England.  Or, rather, the English nobility.  The barons.  But King John changed all of that.  For he liked to do what kings are wont to do.  Conquer.  And he tried to conquer a lot.  Only he wasn’t very good at it.  He blew a lot of the nobility’s taxes on failed adventures.  And lost a large chunk of France in the process.  So the taxpayers, the ones bearing the brunt of the king’s follies, reigned in King John’s powers.  The barons made John place his great seal on Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.  Which didn’t do a whole lot at the time.  But it ushered in the era of representative government.  And taxation only with representation.

England would become a constitutional monarchy with Parliament to limit the power of the king.  To sit in Parliament you had to have skin in the game.  That is, you had to be a taxpayer.  For this was taxation with representation.  Where those paying the taxes had a say in how the government spent those taxes.  And only those who paid the taxes.  To keep governments from irresponsibly spending those taxes.  A new system of governance that changed the world.  One that once people experienced they demanded for themselves.  As the American colonists demanded.  When Great Britain wanted to tax the Americans even though they had no say in how the British government spent that money.  Something very un-English.  And something that would become very un-American (which led to American independence).

For awhile, at least.  For soon governments found a way to return to their dictatorial ways.  By getting around that annoying taxation only with representation.  Which governments found insulting to their privileged status.  For it galled them that they had to let these taxpayers limit their powers.  But what choice did they have?  Governments must take money from others to establish their nobility.  As it was no longer their divine right to take what they wanted.  Thanks to those barons in 1215.  And Magna Carta.  Which opened the sluice gates to a lot of limitations on absolute power.  But two can play at that game they found.

Their answer?  Representation without taxation.  Allow people to vote who have no skin in the game.  To help the government take what they want.  And to spend it as they wish.  By simply giving those who don’t pay taxes government benefits.  Who will always vote for those who promise to give them more government benefits.  And if you get enough people on these government benefits you can overcome any limitations the taxpayers try to enforce on you.  Currently in the U.S about half of the population pays no income taxes.  While the top 10% of all earners pay approximately 70% of all federal income taxes.  So you have approximately 50% of the population who pay no taxes voting on tax policy for the 10% who pay most of the taxes.  Allowing government to spend as irresponsibly as they please.  Like in pre-Magna Carta days.  Thanks to representation without taxation.

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