by das monde
Tue Mar 10th, 2009 at 06:33:38 AM EST
The conservatives like to repeat that "too much government destroying human freedom with excessive activity and taxes".
But what government do they mean? If it is so evil, how it came along and why it is staying?
I wish to suggest a clarification. It does not cover all complexity of human politics, but brings up some distinctions to the face of that impulsive tirade.
Basically, the human history saw two kinds of governments. By far the more historically frequent type is, let's call it, feudal government. It is a government by power elites - kings, dukes, priests, military commanders. There is basically no differentiation between political, military, economic and social powers there. This is a government by a small power circle, focused on preservation of its own power.
The other kind of government is, ideally, of the people, by the people and for the people. This is historically quite a recent phenomenon, up to a few classical antiquity or tribal examples. It assumes, in particular, separation of political and economic powers - but that is not a given. And there lies a problem.
Promoted by Colman, from last Thursday
We associate the people government with democracy. However, by now it is clear that democratic routines do not guarantee independence of political and economic powers. It looks like democratic systems around the world are being hijacked by converging political and economic powers. The people can effectively exercise only electoral powers once a few years, but even that is well manipulated by coordinated media and stagnating patterns. Now the short electoral cycle only facilitates short-sighted and narrow-focused control. As economic power gets concentrated as well, the government acquires more feudal features - in particular, the rentier class is gathering more power and benefits. The ongoing deep economic crisis might complete this shift.
In other words, running a feudal government within a democratic system looks no more inconceivable than running Windows XP on a Mac computer. And the code for this transition is spreading and developing fast, through corporate experience in the US, wild economic reforms in Russia or China, and corruption practices in much of ever developing world. You don't need much more than control of public opinion through concentrated media and economic motivations.
Now we come back to government activity and taxes. In a feudal government, a tax is basically an imposition or levy on the common population to support the ruling elite. It is as if the population is indebted something to the elites, or renting basic living conditions from them.
Vice versa: a deeply indebted and/or predominantly renting population is basically at mercy of the rentier class. Mortgage payments and rents are nothing but additional taxes. They walk like taxes, and they quack like taxes.
For example, the problematic outlook of most East European countries is indebtedness of their productive citizen after busts of their speculative markets. Even if their governments are not necessarily in deep debt, citizen obligations to foreign-controlled banks will impend their economies for years to come. Not only is there monetary outflow adding dreadfully to their appalling trade balances; the people will have to reduce continuously their spending by the amount they can pay back their mortgages. It works precisely as high taxes are said to work. But the people won't even have a chance to see any benefit of their payments.
It does not matter much that we pay taxes to governments, but rents and debts to private rentiers. Especially if governments will fall under full control of the same rentiers.
The people government could be different. One model is the US of the 1960-1970s. Top bracket taxing was high, but the middle class - the deserving people by any account - was expanding and improving its living standards. Fast forward to today: they have to work harder to pay the taxes, plus mortgage and rent payments are 70% higher. (Watch the video here.) The balance of economic power is clearly skewed - and with that comes disparity of political power as well, even if in the same democratic clothes.
The recent history shows that once progressive taxation is compromised, the economy dynamics becomes too similar to a "Monopoly" game - resulting soon in a few big winners and too many good people dropping out.
Once you have a people government, progressive taxation is a good way to keep it. The people government is a problem only to wannabe rentiers. Feudal freedom is a real freedom only for a few.