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Balzac On The Tax-Gatherer Mentality

Honore de Balzac writes:

When it beheaded Louis XVI, the Revolution beheaded in his person all fathers of families. The family no longer exists today; there are only individuals. When they wanted to become a nation, Frenchmen gave up the idea of being an empire. By proclaiming the equal division of the father's property, they killed the family spirit and created the tax-gatherer mentality! On the other hand, they paved the way for the weakening of the better elements, and the blind impulses of the masses, the extinction of the arts, the reign of self-interest, and opened up the path to conquest. The family! I repudiate the family in a society which, on the death of the father or mother, divides up the property and tells each member to go his own way. The family is a temporary and fortuitous association, which is dissolved immediately by death. Our laws have broken up our homes, our inheritance, and the perennial value of example and tradition. I see only ruins around us.

There was once a wretched taxman, Giuseppe Prina, a man of liberal principles who worked as a servant to Napoleon Bonaparte, the self-styled Napoleon I, King of Italy. Lombardy had fallen, and in 1797 a constitution was proclaimed for the newly declared Cisalpine Republic. Napoleon said of it:

Many years have passed away since the existence of a republic in Italy. The sacred fire of liberty was extinguished, and the finest part of Europe was subject to a foreign yoke. It belongs to the Cisalpine Republic to show to the world, by its wisdom, its energy, and the good organization of its armies, that modern Italy is not degenerated, that it is still worthy of liberty.

Eight years later, it was to become the "Kingdom of Italy," and liberty did indeed follow.

War must pay for war. Accordingly, half of the state budget was devoted to maintaining Napoleon's Crusaders on Italian soil. In the name of "just equality among taxpayers," Prina had uniform land assessments imposed for the levying of a property tax, which he placed under direct ministerial control. Church estates were expropriated, and clergy were forcefully turned into mouthpieces for conscription. The Napoleonic Code was imposed, along with an administrative system based on departements, wiping out customary law. Civil marriage was introduced and ecclesiastical marriage made legally void. Tax collection authority was removed from local communes and given to the Finance Ministry. Repressive personal income taxation (originally imposed in much lighter form during Austrian rule of Lombardy) was forced on the rural population. A wide variety of duties were imposed on consumer goods (most notably salt), leading to price hikes on staple foods that burdened the peasantry further. License fees imposed on millers sparked an insurrection in July 1809 that left approx. 2000 dead.

The madness ended on April 20, 1814, shortly before the dissolution of the Napoleonic client state. Prina was hounded by a mob who dragged, beat, mutilated and ultimately killed him as he was subjected to a protracted lynching. The afrancesado had met a similar fate to those that Jacobinism had slaughtered before and that made his career possible in the first place.

If only Prina had known Proverbs 30:33: "Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife."

For as Bossuet noted in Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture, Book X, Article I, the first two sources of riches in a kingdom are to be found in:

A) commerce and navigation (1 Kings 10:26-28: "Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price.");

B) from the princely domains (1 Chronicles 27:29-31: "And over the herds that fed in Sharon was Shitrai the Sharonite: and over the herds that were in the valleys was Shaphat the son of Adlai: Over the camels also was Obil the Ishmaelite: and over the asses was Jehdeiah the Meronothite: And over the flocks was Jaziz the Hagerite. All these were the rulers of the substance which was king David's.")

Today, the common wisdom has been inverted. Indecipherable and labyrinthian tax codes are considered the fair and just way of financing a realm - err, a nation, since, as Balzac continues:

Authority can only come from above or from below. To attempt to find it half-way is to want to make nations walk on their belly, to lead them by the lowest interest of all, individualism. There are no more than fifty or sixty dangerous men in a nation, whose minds are on a level with their ambition. The secret of government is to know who these men are, so that they can either be executed or bought. A feudal aristocracy can be subdued by cutting off a few heads, but a hydra with a thousand heads cannot be subdued. No, unimportant people are not crushed; they are too flat under the feet!

The thousand-headred hydra is now a multimillion-headed hydra owing to universal suffrage. And the hydra screeches: "The rich are not paying their fair share!"

To whom, however? Is there a prince that one can pay his "fair share" to? Who are the rulers of that which is ultimately vested in the dominion of an allod-holding person? We do know that there are many floating individuals, each with their own consumption functions and their utility-maximizing welfare that is aggregated into a social welfare function. By tweaking the knobs of fiscal policy, we can fit the curve of this social welfare function into its optimal peak! A tax credit here, an interest rate hike there... hell, why even pay our "fair share" at all? We owe it all to ourselves, anyway. Here's an idea: consolidate the Central Bank and the Treasury into a National Bank that can now just send bytes over a wire and print some greenbacks for paying the wage bill so as to completely autonomously finance government expenditures. We're not far from that, so why not take the next step? Nazis like Gottfried Feder wanted to do this, and liberal progressives like L. Randall Wray and Prof. Bill Mitchell want the same now.

Peasants once revolted against intrusive tax farmers, who had to deal with them personally. Now, the peasants file their tax returns and have their payrolls automatically deducted.

In 1290, Edward I of England passed the Quia Emptores:

Forasmuch as purchasers of lands and tenements of the fees of magnates and others, have many times previously entered into their fees to the prejudice of the same (lords) since to them (the purchasers) the free tenants of these same magnates and others have sold their lands and tenements to be held in fee for themselves and their heirs from the subinfeudators and not from the lords in chief of the fees, whereby the same lords in chief have often lost the escheats, marriages and wardships of lands and tenements belonging to their fees, which thing indeed seemed very hard and extreme to the magnates and other lords, and moreover, in this case, manifest disinheritance; the lord king in his parliament at Westminster after Easter in the 18th year of his reign, viz., in the Quinzime of St. John the Baptist, at the instance of his magnates, did grant, provide and decree that henceforth it shall be lawful for any free man to sell at will his lands or tenements or a part of them; in such manner, however, that the infeudated person shall hold that land or tenement from the same lord in chief and by the same services and customs by which his infeudator previously held them.

No more subinfeudation, no more petty mesne lords! The hierarchy of obligations flattened. Every tenant a freeholder paying cash rents, and every landowner an absolute allod-holder, alienating at his pleasure with no intermediaries. Social economy becomes less familial and more farcical.

Buy cheap, sell dear. This is what liberty means under a regime of contract. To be free is to be prohibited by law from choosing dependence and patronage, unless it's in prison. All are confined to being either sole proprietors, wage-laboring freehold or leasehold tenants, or as actors in a predefined and regulated joint-stock company. A society founded purely on contractual rights quite naturally doesn't require a whole lot of labor to sustain itself when it needs just enough to sustain production on the margin, and unemployment is the outcome for the submarginal population. Economic sophists then come up with explanations like "aggregate demand deficiency" and "supply constraints" to pitch their preferred policies, serving only to obscure the observation that "full employment" is intrinsically wasteful. Yet we are too cowardly to actually open up the workhouses and the slave markets again, as illiberal as they are. Your choices are not between liberty and slavery, but between serfdom to a lord or serfdom to a Napoleonic state, and I'll take His Lordship.

One of the men instrumental in building the modern state that obsessively pursues criteria of social welfare to manipulate, was Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi (1717-1771), who transformed cameralism from a set of methods for princely estate management into a universal science for supposedly bringing happiness to subjects of a prince. Quoting from Albion W. Small's The Cameralists [1909]), on the universities:

It will be enough if we attend to their [the universities] ultimate purpose. This, in so far as they are public foundations of the state, can be no other than that of affording to youth properly prepared in the lower schools adequate instruction in all intelligence and science which will be needful for them, in order that they may some time, as servants of the state and upright citizens, render useful services to the commonwealth, and be in a position fully to discharge their duties. It follows from the foregoing reference to the ultimate purpose of the universities that it should be one of their principal efforts to teach the economic and cameral sciences.

And moreover that: "There are very few positions of responsibility in the state in which expertness in the economic and the cameral sciences would not be the chief matter, if the duties of the position were fulfilled and good service to the state performed."

Justi goes further in describing the penetration that Cameralwissenschaft ought to have: "If these sciences are to be taught completely, fundamentally and to real purpose, each of these professors must have time to treat of this or that portion of his sciences in detail in separate courses of lectures, in order that each may have opportunity to make himself proficient in that branch to which he proposes to devote himself. Some will want to make a career in the manufacturing system, some in the bureaus of taxation and revenue, some in forestry, or the forestry bureau, and all must have opportunity to get detailed instruction in the selected specialty. The traditional professorship of politics in the universities should be so filled that future ambassadors and ministers could profitably hear the occupant discuss statesmanship, and so that the doctrines taught would not seem ridiculous to actual ministers and statesmen."

Justi drove a wedge into the conception of subjects prospering under the rule of a wise stewardly prince and replaced it with that of an activist prince with an army of university professors and civil servants drafting programs and setting targets for social transformation, thus making him a precursor to Wisconsin progressivism. The tax-gatherer mentality had triumphed. The "common good" as an idea went from finding purpose in an ordained hierarchy that built up to a harmonious community of interests, into that of a statistical aggregate to be tweaked by the application of "scientific" public policy.

Perhaps all of this is simply a just and well-deserved punishment for committing patricide.

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