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Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn:  “paid foot the bill”
On November 30, 2011, Sally Kohn (CNN) wrote:  “Consider, for instance, that the Republican austerity plan for the United States economy, advanced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee.  About two thirds of the ‘savings’ he outlines comes from proposals to slash food stamps, Medicare and Social Security. But three fourths of that money would go not to paying down our government’s deficit but to giving bigger and bigger tax breaks to the rich.”

First, allow me to repeat the end of my quotation:

[b]ut three fourths of that money would go not to paying down our government’s deficit but to giving bigger and bigger tax breaks to the rich.

In other words, the United States

  • accrued an enormous debt under a Republican administration, and
  • supporters of the Republican Party would gain from an austerity plan.  Furthermore,
  • the debt incurred under a Republican administration would not be paid (the deficit would not be lowered).

Such a scenario is not only unacceptable, it is patently absurd, and matters could lead to civil disorder.

* * *

France in the seventeenth century

I may have written in a previous blog that in seventeenth-century France, the Sun-King’s century, aristocrats were exempt from paying taxes.  The peasants paid the bulk of taxes and also paid for the nation’s warsMoreover, when the tax-farmers came around to collect, they (the tax-farmers) often stole from the poor or were otherwise obnoxious.  In seventeenth-century France, it was possible to purchase a position and one of the more lucrative of these positions was that of the tax-farmer, or tax collector.

Line engraving by Louis Jean Desire Delaistre, after a design by Julien Leopold Boilly

Line engraving byLouis-Jean Désiré Delaistre, after a design by Julien-Léopold Boilly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Victims

There were good tax-farmers and not-so-good tax-farmers, but the French revolted in 1789, and, on 8 May 1794, French scientist Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (b. 26 August 1743) was guillotined.  Jean-Paul Marat had “accused him of selling watered-down tobacco, and of other crimes” (Wikipedia).  I suspect, however, that watered-down tobacco had little to with Lavoisier’s execution.

Lavoisier came from a rich family, but, more importantly, he had married the daughter of the co-owner of the ferme générale or tax-farmers.  Twenty-eight former tax-farmers were guillotined on 8 May 1794.  Ironically, a few years after he was guillotined, Lavoisier was pardoned.  But he was no guiltier than Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.  All three were victims.

France’s peasants

But the peasants had long been victims themselves.  According to French essayist and moralist Jean de La Bruyère (16 August 1645 – 10 May 1696), the peasants did not even look human.  In his Caractères (1688), he writes that “[o]ne sees some timid animals, males and females, scattered about the countryside, black, pallid and burned by the sun…”

 L’on voit certains animaux farouches, des mâles et des femelles, répandus par la campagne, noirs, livides, et tout brûlés du soleil …


Murray N. Rothbard: “Rise Up! The ‘Croquants’ of the 17th Century”

In an excerpt from Murray N. Rothbard’s An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, entitled “Rise Up! The ‘Croquants’ of the 17th Century” (published by The Ludwig von Mises Institute, on Thursday, 22 July 2010), one can read that in seventeenth-century France, “[t]here were repeated rebellions by groups of peasants and nobles […] from the 1630s to the 1670s.  Generally, the focus of discontent and uprising was rising taxes, as well as the losses of rights and privileges.”

One rebellion, the Croquant‘s rebellion of 1636, in south-western France, “was precipitated by a sudden near-doubling of direct taxes upon the peasantry to raise funds for the war against Spain.”  French peasants protested not only about the taxes imposed upon them, but they “also protested that the royal tax-collectors carried off their cattle, clothes and tools, merely to cover the costs of enforcement, so that the principal of the tax debt could never be reduced. The result was ruin.”   The matter was investigated by un intendant.  In a letter to his superior, La Force, the intendant, wrote that he felt compelled to endorse their complaints: “It is not, Monseigneur, that I am not, by natural feeling, touched with very great compassion when I see the extraordinary poverty in which these people live.”

Fast forward: the US

Well, currently, matters do not seem much better in the United States.  As was the case in seventeenth-century France, aristocrats, i.e. the rich, want privileges exempting them from the taxes the poor and the middle class have to pay.  So four hundred years later, in the US, he poor and the middle-classes are also the ones to pay taxes and it seems they will continue to do so, while the deficit remains.

US citizens have lost fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, fiancé(e)s in wars that could have been avoided and now they pay taxes that do not even cover the unpaid cost of unnecessary wars.  It does not seem right, and, if Sally Kohn’s analysis is accurate, which it is, there will be no redress.

The time has come to put an end to the US Civil War and realize that the nation needs a government, a government the people elect.  We know from history that there can be corruption in high places, but not every president is a Richard Nixon.  Besides, Nixon was impeached.  The United States is a republic and a democracy.  It is not an absolute monarchy.

The Need for a government and regulations: self-evident, but…

Nations need a government and the government needs money because people require well-managed services: health-care, money for the elderly, money for the disabled, money for the unemployed, money to educate children, money to look after the roads, the trains, the airlines.  The government also requires funds to maintain forests and good farming land; funds to protect the environment; funds to protect the country from a would-be aggressor and, most importantly, funds to make sure everyone has a job and can afford nutritious food, clothing and an acceptable roof.

Exporting jobs: think of the consequences

Exporting jobs is one of the current ills.  Too many jobs are exported and that may have dire consequences.  Consider that if jobs are exported, the result is unemployment. Therefore having goods manufactured abroad may in fact be very costly.  If the government has to provide adequate and perhaps permanent unemployment benefits, it will levy more taxes on its citizens.  So, financially and in the long term, there may well be little to gain by exporting too many jobs.

There is considerable truth to the fable about the “Fox and the Goat” (La Fontaine (One.I.v).  Before jumping into the well, make sure you know how to get out.

Fortunately, one Republican, Senator Coburn of Oklahoma, recently stood up and said that tax deductions for the mortgage on mansions, all mansions if one owns more than one, was “welfare for the wealthy.”

Civil disorder: take a look at the US Congress

As for civil disorder, it may already be a fact.  There is a subversive element in Congress itself: the robotic naysayers.  An American President can declare war on another country, but Congress barks when he attempts to help the needy by creating jobs.

I am truly saddened by the attitude so many Republicans have adopted regarding taxes.  It is not for the poor to foot the bill.  Even the affluent have to contribute their share.  We are no longer in seventeenth-century France, where peasants supported the affluent, i.e. the aristocracy.

Could it be that the “American dream” is turning into a nighmare?

* * *

During the French Revolution, the means in no way justified the end.  But, as a musician, I enjoy Berlioz’s arrangement of Rouget de Lisle’s “Marseillaise.”  Not the words, the music.

Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869)
“La Marseillaise”
La Liberté guidant le people, Eugène Delacroix

La Liberté guidant le peuple, by Eugène Delacroix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacquou le croquant (2007)

© Micheline Walker
December 10, 2011