Doesn’t matter who wins or loses in this year’s Presidential elections, taxes are going up. What’s more, Government at all levels, city, county, state or Federal, will become ever more predatory in collecting taxes to alleviate budget troubles. Easy enough prediction to make, but such is modern life.
Here’s the latest nail in the coffin, a random link from CBS News:
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A bill authored by a Southland lawmaker that could potentially allow the federal government to prevent any Americans who owe back taxes from traveling outside the U.S. is one step closer to becoming law….
…In addition to authorizing appropriations for federal transportation and infrastructure programs, the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (**) or “MAP-21″ includes a provision that would allow for the “revocation or denial” of a passport for anyone with “certain unpaid taxes” or “tax delinquencies”. …
The key section of this Senate Bill 1813 decrees that any United States citizen who owes the
vultures fine folks at the Internal Revenue Service more than $50K in back taxes might be subject to “action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport”.
Pundits play a fair game of comparing the supposed decline of the American Empire with the fall of the Roman one.
History may not quite repeat, but it rhymes and echoes.
Some contend that it was during the time of Emperor Diocletian (and later Constantine) from 285 to 305 that the Roman Empire started down the long descent. Some of course say the seeds of descent were started much earlier. For the purpose of this story, let’s stay with Diocletian. From Civilization.org.uk:
Diocletian was in effect the person who introduced centralised management into the Roman Empire. In the great days, the running of the empire had been amateurish, run on an old boys’ network with a minimum of bureaucracy, few controls and low taxes, and as so often, amateurism worked. Diocletian changed all this. The empire was professionalised: it was divided into four, the taxation system was thoroughly overhauled, a census was taken to find out who was who – and all this cost a lot of money. The numbers of bureaucrats rose enormously – there were soon as many bureaucrats as there were soldiers —and thus taxation had to be raised enormously from the previous low levels in order to pay for all the bureaucracy. It was a vicious circle.
The increase in the size of the imperial bureaucracy and in the massive army that went with policing the empire led to naturally higher costs, and to finance this government expansion, higher inflation. Not that this started under Diocletian, previous emperors freely and enthusiastically debased the precious metal content of the imperial coinage. The silver denarius went from a 95% silver coin in the time of Augustus in the first century, to what was eventually only a bronze coin merely dipped in silver in the time just before Diocletian. To offset rising inflation, taxes started being collected not in the imperial currency but “in kind”, that is, produce such as meats and grains. Again from Civilisation.org.uk
“How the Peasants Became Serfs”
In a document from Egypt it is laid down that for the purposes of this census every body must return to their home village. But once the census had established the taxation to be levied, as the produce of so many people, then there was a tendency to insist that once one was recorded on a census, that was one’s legal place of residence. One could not move away from it, and furthermore your children had to continue to cultivate the land and provide the taxes. This completely breaks with the right of migration that had been granted so many years ago by the ius Latinum, the Latin right. This is the classic definition of serfdom.
Polling The Peasants
I asked a few people’s opinions about this new Senate bill.
A select few of a certain political persuasion issued the usual fulminations against that no-good, lower-than-a-snake’s-belly socialist foreign-born impostor, conveniently overlooking the fact that the bill was introduced by a Senator in Congress, not the President… never mind, set that aside…
The general feeling though was akin to “that’s right, you need to pay your taxes, everybody’s got to do their fair share”. Setting aside for now the “fairness” of the US tax regime, more other comments were along the lines of “doesn’t affect me, I don’t have or need a passport.” Indeed, even though the number of passport issued by the State Department has been rising every year, something like two-thirds of all Americans percent of all Americans don’t have a passport, and might never even apply for one.
Words of Martin Niemöller (1892 to 1984) “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
Count me in as a non-affected party, at least in the short term. From a personal finance perspective (my personal finance), I won’t even notice this legislation, even if it passes. I pay my taxes, and I have eight years left on my passport.
The historical parallel is of mild interest only in the sense that large complex bureaucracies, whether ancient or modern, need a constant influx of revenue to function, while producing not much that is of value. Measures to keep and capture revenue sources (or cash cows, or taxpayers) make perfect sense.
Along with stories that some states are aggressively reaching across state lines to pursue back taxes (“The Predatory State of California“), this just reinforces that we all need to be diligent and remain compliant in our tax records. I suspect that dubious deductions and creative accounting will come under increased scrutiny in years to come. Maybe this bill will be expanded in coming years to include more tax infractions and irregularities as reasons to deny passport rights. Owe *any* taxes? No Passport. Under audit? No travel abroad for you.
Furthermore, reducing the overall tax footprint is something that I aspire to do with personal production, as in having a large enough garden. A small measure, but a good start. Let’s just hope that legislation for payment of taxes “in kind” isn’t initiated in Congress anytime soon. I might otherwise be paying income taxes with cucumbers and peppers.
(**) “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act”… sounds a lot like “The Great Leap Forward“. Whoever thinks of these goofy titles?