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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FT124: “Liberals use the courts to give them what the people won’t.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Magna Carta led to Constitutional Monarchy and Representative Government

Medieval kings liked doing as they pleased.  From living well.  To expanding their kingdoms by force.  Or trying to.  As kingdoms got larger, though, this was more difficult to do.  Because the larger the kingdom got the more food they had to produce.  And kings didn’t feed their kingdoms from their castle vegetable gardens.  They needed the wealthy and powerful landowners.  Who owned the land.  Grew the food.  And provided the kingdom’s wealth.

These landowners made land valuable.  By growing food on it.  As famine was no stranger during the Middle Ages there was nothing more important than growing food.  Those who did became wealthy.  And their estates became mini kingdoms.  With lots of peasants working the fields.  And lots of soldiers to defend their land.  And to fight for their king in times of war.  Kings needed to maintain good relationships with these wealthy landowners.  To keep them supporting their kingdoms.  And to prevent any one of them from rising up and challenging the king for his throne.

King John of England was hurting his relationships with the wealthy landowners.  He fought a lot of expensive wars across the English Channel in France.  Which required high taxes on the English landowners.  The barons.  Worse, King John lost a lot of his battles in France.  Losing the barons some of their Normandy lands.  So the barons were becoming a little disgruntled with their king.  And they rebelled.  Eventually forcing the king to place his Great Seal on Magna Carta.  Limiting his powers.  It didn’t change things much at the time.  But it would lead to constitutional monarchy.  And representative government.

The Patriots of 1776 were none too keen on Creating a New Central Power

Kings don’t like limits on their power.  King John would go on to renounce Magna Carta.  And got the Pope’s approval to not honor the promises he made with the barons.  But these barons sowed the seeds of representative government in England.  And the Western World.  Greatly influencing the Founding Fathers in America.  Whose Constitution placed great limits on the government’s power.

The Americans were having some problems with their Articles of Confederation.  The sovereign states were taking care of themselves.  Sometimes at the expense of the other states.  Or the new nation.  And the new nation wasn’t making much progress in the international community.  A bit of a laughing stock to other nations.  Who were all sure it was only a matter of time before the American colonies would be British again.  For once the war was over there was little united about the states anymore.  So James Madison urged a meeting of the several states to revise the Articles of Confederation.  To help make a more perfect union.  And to move the new nation forward.  They met in Philadelphia in 1787.  And caused a firestorm.  For they didn’t revise the Articles.  They threw them away.  And wrote a brand new Constitution.

This inflamed a lot of the Patriots of 1776.  Who had voted to sever the bonds from a distant central power about a decade earlier.  And they were none too keen on creating a new central power to replace the one they just banished.  It took awhile but with the presence of George Washington and some words from Benjamin Franklin, two of the most trusted and experienced Americans who sacrificed a lot in securing their independence, they completed their task.  It wasn’t a perfect document.  But it was the best they were ever going to produce considering the sectional differences in the country.  And they sent it to the states for ratification.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay helped to secure ratification by writing a series of articles that we know today as the Federalist Papers.  Some of the finest Constitutional scholarship ever written.

As Few as Five People in Black Robes can Fundamentally Change the Nation

Key to the Constitution was the separation of powers that restricted the power of the new federal government that no one trusted.  There was a legislature to write law.  An executive branch to enforce law.  And a judicial branch to interpret law.  To make sure that the other two branches did not violate the Constitution.  Such a system would have really crimped King John’s style.  For the law was above all the people.  Including the executive.  He could only do the things the laws allowed him to do.  And the things the laws allowed him to do he could only do if the legislature agreed to pay for them.  It was a system of checks and balances that helped the nation to grow while maintaining personal liberty.

King John would have been particularly irked by the legislature.  Made up by representatives of the people.  Who enacted legislation that was in the best interest of the people.  Not him.  Fast forward to modern times and you find history littered with people who wanted to expand their power only to have that representative body of the people foil them.  Ruling elites.  Modern aristocrats.  Those who feel an entitlement due to a superior education.  A superior bloodline.  Or simply like-minded people who would rather have the days of unlimited power like they had in Medieval Europe.  Before the barons had to muck up the works with Magna Carta.

Over time they learned how to bring back some of the old ways.  The easiest way was just to get people to vote for them.  And they did this by giving them a lot of free stuff.  But there were some things that they just couldn’t bribe out of the people.  So they turned to the courts.  And did a little legislating with activist judges.  Sometimes bringing a suit all the way to the Supreme Court to create a law where there was no law.  Abortion is now legal even though there was never any federal legislation addressing it.  While there was plenty of state legislation forbidding it.  Until seven men in black robes overruled the will of the people in those states.

The Supreme Court is powerful.  For as few as five people in black robes can fundamentally change the nation.  Which is why presidential elections are so important.  Because presidents nominate judges to the Supreme Court.  And those on the Left depend on the timely deaths and/or retirements of Supreme Court judges so they can nominate activist judges.  To get a majority on the high court to rule in their favor on bad law.  Such as Obamacare.  An unpopular law.  A law the majority of the people want repealed.  A law that became law only with subterfuge (the mandate is not a tax).  A law that clearly violated the Constitution (forcing people to buy something).  Yet five people in black robes just fundamentally changed the nation by voting that Obamacare was Constitutional (the mandate is a tax).  Which just goes to show you that where there is a will there is a way.  A way to rule like a king.  Against the will of the people.

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Magna Carta, Provisions of Oxford, House of Lords, House of Commons, Houses of Parliament and Constitutional Monarchy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2012

Politics 101

King John renounced, and Pope Innocent III annulled, Magna Carta

England had been more French than English following the Norman Conquest.  The ruling class spoke French.  And had stronger connections to France than they did to England.  The Kingdom of England did, after all, extend across the English Channel into France.  The English nobility, on the other hand, were more English than French.  This caused friction between the land owners (the barons) and the king.  Because even though the king had official power the barons paid the taxes.  Which meant the king could do anything he wanted with his power as long as the barons agreed to pay for it.  And provided his armies.  For the king had no standing armies.  Which proved to be a bit of a restraint on being king.

The barons, though, felt the king was abusing them.  The king was spending a lot of money on many losing military campaigns and stepping on the barons’ privileges.   They presented Magna Carta to King John.  Which put in writing limitations on the king’s powers.  And the requirement that the king shall consult Parliament (common counsel of the realm including the clergy higher-ups and the more powerful barons) before raising new taxes.  Something no king would willingly submit to.  Unless it was a way to stall for time.  So King John applied his Great Seal to Magna Carta.  Making it the law of the land.  But with his fingers crossed behind his back.  Figuratively, of course.

Well, King John renounced the Great Charter once the barons had left London.  And Pope Innocent III annulled it.  Because of that divine rights of kings thing.  Kings could do whatever they wanted because God gave them that right.  While the Church made sure he didn’t abuse this power.  Anyway, long story short, the king refused to honor his agreement.  Which resulted in the First Barons’ War.  It lasted a couple of years.  The barons invited Prince Louis, son and heir apparent of the French king, to join them in their fight against King John.  Something any French Royal would be glad to do.  Then King John died and the barons became worried about Prince Louis.  Some fighting and sieges later, Louis got some money and went back to France.  King John’s son Henry was then crowned King Henry III.  He was 9 years old.  Until he came of age his royal keepers ruled in his stead.  And brought back Magna Carta.  With some changes.

The House of Lords and the House of Commons formed the Houses of Parliament

Well, all’s well that ends well, yes?  No.  For when the new king came of age he wanted to restore absolute monarchy.  Like they had (and he admired) in France.  He married a French woman.  And brought a lot of his French relatives into high positions in his realm.  Highly religious, he supported the papal invasion of Sicily.  Which was a disaster.  Well, you can guess where this led to.  More fighting with the barons over Magna Carta.  To remind him there were limits on his powers.  Which the barons hammered home in the Provisions of Oxford.

The Provisions of Oxford is considered England’s first written constitution.  The barons wrote it.  In English.  The new language of the ruling class.  No more of that French nonsense.  And presented it to King Henry III.  Placing power into the hands of a council.  Not the king.  There would be 24 members in this council.  Half chosen by the king.  Half chosen by the barons.  Parliament would oversee the council.  And meet 3 times a year.  Power was now with Parliament.  Not the king.  Which was huge for its day.

The king summoned the nobility and senior clergy to advise him.  When he needed money he summoned knights and burgesses, too.  Representatives of the common people.  These common people met alone in 1341.  And the upper and lower houses of Parliament were born.  The House of Lords (nobility and clergy).  And the House of Commons (knights and burgesses).  Together they were the Houses of Parliament.

The Many, the Few and the One

Governing by the consent of the governed was here.  But the journey wasn’t over yet.  There would be many more bumps in the road ahead.  Including the English Civil War.  With lots of English-French issues to resolve.  And a lot of Catholic-Protestant issues, too.  Not to mention the Welsh, Scottish and Irish issues.  But the general shape of things to come was here.  For England.  Great Britain.  And the United Kingdom.  Absolute monarchy was out.  Constitutional monarchy was in.  Representative government.  Where all had a say.  The commons.  The nobility.  And the king.  The many, the few and the one.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #83: “Those who don’t pay taxes will always approve higher tax rates on those who do.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2011

The Allies were Commanded by an American because they had the Greatest Skin in the Game

During World War II, SHAEF stood for the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. This was the top command of the Allies fighting on the Western Front during World War II. In the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The Soviet Union fought on the Eastern Front. Neither front was subordinate to the other in the command structure.

The supreme allied commander of SHAEF was General Eisenhower. An American. Why? Well the Nazis conquered France early in the war. Thanks to blitzkrieg. Which the Allies weren’t ready yet to battle. So the SHAEF commander wasn’t French. But the British were in the war from the beginning. They and their commonwealth put some 11 million into the field of battle. And suffered about a million killed and wounded. But the SHAEF commander wasn’t British either. Even though we couldn’t have defeated Nazi Germany without the British.

No, the SHAEF commander was an American because they put some 16 million into the field of battle. So excluding the Soviets, the Americans had the greatest skin in the game. Literally. And figuratively. It was the American Arsenal of Democracy that furnished the implements of war. Financed by the American taxpayer. Via bonds. Rationing. And inflation.

Those who Risk their Wealth should have a Say in How it is Risked

There were a lot of service flags hanging in American windows during World War II. And far too many of them had gold stars on them. One gold star represented the loss of a son or daughter in the war. There were about 417,000 gold stars in American windows. Not quite as many as the approximately 580,000 British dead. And a long way from the approximately 8,600,000 Soviet dead. But as America entered the war, the sheer numbers of man and material America provided made it America’s war. Which is why there was an American commanding SHAEF. Because even though Nazi Germany didn’t attack America, it was her blood and treasure leading the war against Nazi Germany.

So an American general would lead the Allies. Because the Americans had the most skin in the game. They were now bearing the greatest costs for the war. So they had the ultimate say in how the Allies waged war. I mean, no one would expect a Belgian general to command those 16 million Americans. No offense to the Belgians. I mean, I like their waffles and all. It’s just that Belgium wasn’t America. They didn’t have the resources. Nor the distance from the Third Reich.

Risk and wealth. Those who risk their wealth should have a say in how it is risked. Because it takes wealth (blood and treasure) to wage war. And this goes back to the birth of limited government. The Magna Carta. When the feudal barons of England met King John on the fields of Runnymede. And said, “Look, yeah you’re king and all but that doesn’t give you the right to do as you bloody well please.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. You see, the king was being rather oppressive. And fighting a lot of wars. Costly wars. And the funny thing about kings? They don’t have wealth. They get it from the landowners. The landed aristocracy. Those feudal barons. The men and material to fight wars, and the money to pay for them, came from them. So these barons were saying, “In the future, you clear things with us first, okay?” And constitutional monarchy was born.

Thanks to the Magna Carta those Paying the Taxes would have a Say in How the King Spent those Taxes

In the days of feudalism we defined wealth by land holdings. Because back then the most important industry was growing food. To prevent famine. And you needed land to grow food. So wealth concentrated to the land owners. The landed aristocracy. Who provided the food for the realm. Soldiers. And taxes.

Thanks to the Magna Carta, things changed. Those paying the taxes would have a say in how the king spent those taxes. He couldn’t wage endless war anymore. Or spend it all on royal accouterments. No. From then on, spending would have to be responsible. We take it for granted in the West today. And call it taxation with representation. But it was a BIG deal back then. And mostly only in England. France had an absolute monarchy. And the king did whatever he bloody well pleased. And you see how well that turned out for King Louis XVI. Ask Marie Antoinette. Of course you can’t. Because they were both executed by the people during the French Revolution.

The British took their representative government to the New World. And after the American Revolution, that was one of the British things the Americans kept. At the heart of the American populace was a hatred of taxation. And arbitrary rule. So they kept a tight grip on the government. And their wealth. There were no kings in the new United States of America. But there was still government. And a strong distrust of government power. So they were going to write their constitutions very carefully. And restrict the vote only to those who had skin in the game. Land owners. Who were paying the taxes.

Figuring out how to Amass Power despite the Inconvenience of Elections

Of course this changed over time. Nowadays, people who pay no taxes whatsoever can vote. We’ve come a long way from Runnymede. And returned a lot of power to government. In America, about half of all people pay no federal income tax. Yet they can vote. And they do. For the party that promises them more free stuff. By taxing ‘the rich’ to pay for it. And you know what these non-taxpayers say? “Raise tax rates? Absolutely. I mean, what do I care? It’s not like I’m paying them.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can see the problem.

They have no skin in the game. And the only reason they don’t is because ‘the rich’ have been keeping them down. At least that’s what they believe. Because those in power told them this. So they can keep raising taxes. And keep increasing the power of government.

It’s nothing new. There are those who just want power. Kings often took power by force. When it was clear that the rich barons were more important to the king than the king was to them, though, things changed. There were limits on absolute power. So those who coveted power had to be creative. And figure out how to amass power despite the inconvenience of elections.

Politics Today: Buy Votes with State Benefits and scare the Bejesus out of Old People

The answer was the welfare state. And class warfare. Buy votes. And demonize ‘the rich’. Get the people dependent on government. And anytime there is political opposition, tell the people that the opposition wants to cut your state benefits. To scare the people into voting for you.

We call Social Security and Medicare third-rail issues in America. Because if you threaten to cut them (i.e., touch them), you will die politically. As you would die if you touched the electrified third rail in the subway. Because the recipients of those programs live in fear of losing their benefits. And will always vote for the candidate who promises not to cut them.

And this is how you amass power when saddled with the inconvenience of elections. Buy votes with state benefits. And scare the bejesus out of old people. Telling them the political opposition wants to take your benefits away. Attack the rich. And tax them. To pay for the ever bloating welfare state.

And if at least half of the people pay no taxes, you’re golden. Because when that many people have no skin in the game, you can get away with just about anything you want.

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