Volatility

January 9, 2011

Stamps and Poll Taxes (Stamp Mandate, Conclusion)

 

Margaret Thatcher, like her counterpart in the US, spent the 80s enshrining the neoliberal assault as the new standard for all political and economic policy. It has dominated all government policy since.
 
But toward the end of her reign Thatcher overreached, and this overreach helped bring on her downfall. This was her attempt to impose a Thatcher poll tax, what their euphemism called a “Community Charge”*, on the people of the UK. Since both Reagan and Thatcher agreed that government could borrow all the money it desires, and since they experienced few barriers to cutting taxes on the rich, this poll tax can be explained only as an assault on the non-rich. Like all taxes by now, its purpose is control, not revenue.
 
In one of the few bright episodes of recent decades, Thatcher’s poll tax was defeated by a campaign of mass civil disobedience, and the result was her ouster by her own party. So there we have the precedent which gives modern proof of concept: Refusal to pay an odious tax can achieve the same effect it did in 1765.
 
Today we confront the same thing. Americans remember the “poll tax” mostly as a device to enforce Jim Crow, a nasty disenfranchisement mechanism buried once and for all by the 24th Amendment (and a subsequent SCOTUS decision). But it has a much older, more comprehensive history, as a primary weapon of economic and from there political control.
 
One example is the French taille. Tocqueville describes in his Ancien Regime and the French Revolution (in Book 2, Chapter 12 and elsewhere) how the French nobility steadily shook off or evaded most of the taxes to which they were theoretically subject, while in direct proportion the monarchy came to rely more and more on this head tax, which fell overwhelmingly on the bourgeoisie and peasantry. By the 18th century it and some new variations were the primary tax. This was one of the grievances which exploded into Revolution.
 
That example at least did have an actual revenue motive, though we can say its real purpose was to absolve the rich from having to contribute to that revenue. (It also provides another revolutionary precendent.) But in the case of colonial poll taxes, often called “hut taxes”, there’s no doubt about the primary intent being to force an economic transformation for the imperial benefit.
 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, European colonial annexation in the late nineteenth century molded the multitude of different agrarian, pastoralist, and occasionally even hunter-gatherer groups into peasant producers largely through the imposition of residential hut and poll taxes. This forced rural producers to earn cash for tax payment, generating the foundations for the continent’s agricultural export economy based on the beverage crops of coffee, cocoa, and tea and several food and fiber crops including peanuts, cashew nuts, tobacco, sugar, and cotton……….

The historical motive of acquiring control over tropical biodiversity was a major driver of colonial subjugation of other nations by the Western Europeans. By setting up slavery — and later indentured labor-based plantation systems — a steady stream of tropical goods and raw materials was obtained, both to diversify European diets and clothing, and provide the raw material for new industries.

Moreover most of this swelling flow of valuable goods was not actually paid for since the very same taxes extracted by colonial rulers from local peasants and artisans were used to buy these export goods from them, thus converting a cash tax into a goods tax, while the foreign exchange earnings from selling these export goods to the world were not permitted to flow back to the colony.

 
Here we’re coming closer to the economic control aspect of the health racket mandate. As the corporatist system continues its attempted feudal conversion, economic relocalization is the only alternative we have to total impoverishment and debt enslavement. Post-Peak Oil, there are two possibilities: The full restoration of feudalism under far worse than medieval conditions, in which case the whole democratic movement will be proven to have been a mere accessory of cheap oil. Or, we can choose to take the final step in democracy’s logic and cast off the last authoritarian superstition, “representative” pseudo-democracy. We can relocalize on the basis of sustainable, cooperative and usufruct agriculture. This would be the culmination of human wisdom, all we’ve fought and bled so hard to learn and win. It would render the travails of the Oil Age birth pangs, and render history logical. But neoliberalism intends to confirm the opposite - that the age of cheap oil and cheaper democracy was an ahistorical blip, and all the manic-depressive ups and downs of the Oil Age were meant to simultaneously soften us and soften us up, for the final triumph of the ancient slave system, which will then be proven correct in the end, after all.
 
Taking our destiny in our hands will require a broad disengagement from the corporate economy. All the economic trend lines for the non-rich already point toward greater reliance on the informal economy. Relocalized production, growing our own food, barter – these are all things the Depression will be forcing us to do anyway. Whether we turn them into an affirmative way of life and the basis of a healthy, vigorous, joyful democratic renewal is our choice.
 
Today, as the criminals systematically seek to string barbed wire around us, we need to fear this older, broader use of a poll tax. Just as foreign imperialism used it for economic Gleichschaltung of farmers who were outside the imperial commodity crop system, so today’s domestic imperialism will try to use mechanisms like forced purchase of the health insurance Stamp to keep us confined in the dollar-based cash economy. This is likely to be the case with the expensive and odious registration requirements of the Food Tyranny bill and any mandates the goon FDA chooses to inflict. That’s a critical battlefront, but we can look around for examples and see them everywhere. For example, the very provision of finance “reform” which allegedly sought to rein in predatory credit practices threatens also to deny credit to workers in the informal economy even where married to cash earners. It seems someone up there wants to quash familial attempts to transition from cash/debt slavery to self-reliance.
 
Looked at in this perspective, we can see how the health racket bailout is also imposing a kind of head tax. How would someone immersed in a cooperative economy pay for it? (I leave aside for the moment the related question of how the government might seek to legally assault coop arrangements by calling them taxable barter. But that’ll be a subject for future posts. For now I’ll point out the common system goal - everyone must earn cash. Everyone must participate in the corporatized economy.)
 
I wrote earlier about how the Stamp mandate entrenches corporate tyranny, how health insurance can never work in practice and makes no sense even as a concept, how it’s unconstitutional, and how it’s a regressive tax and a reactionary policy. Now I conclude by arguing that it’s also a poll tax. As such it’s an intended weapon of socioeconomic control. This also brings us back full circle to how it’s an entrenchment of tyranny.
 
I don’t agree with economic “libertarian”, i.e. tyrannical propertarian, Murray Rothbard on much**. But his commentary here, directed specifically at Thatcher’s poll tax, is right on:
 

Not only that: but a poll tax is a charge levied on a person’s very existence, and the person must often be hunted down at great expense to be forced to pay the tax. Charging a man for his very existence seems to imply that the government owns all of its subjects, body and soul.

 
And how was Thatcher’s poll tax defeated? Through a grassroots campaign of civil disobedience:
 

The Anti-Poll Tax Unions, as mentioned earlier, called for mass non-payment of the tax. As the amount of the poll tax began to rise and the inefficiency of local councils in collection of the tax became apparent, large numbers of people refused to pay the tax. Local councils tried to respond with enforcement measures, but these were largely ineffective against such huge numbers of non-payers – up to 30% of former ratepayers in some areas refused to pay, according to the BBC.

A Labour MP, and Militant Tendency supporter, Terry Fields, was jailed for 60 days for refusing to pay his poll tax. For this he was expelled from the Labour Party in December 1991. The Labour party refused to support the non-payment campaign, especially amongst MPs – “Law makers must not be law breakers” was Neil Kinnock’s response.

The strategy was threefold. Firstly, non-payers were encouraged not to register. Secondly, they were encouraged to go to court and contest the Local Council’s attempt to gain liability orders and, by doing so, clog up the courts. After a liability order was granted, non-compliance was the next step, refusal of admission to bailiffs, etc. If this led to another court hearing – the first one at which the non-payer could be jailed – the non-payer usually did not turn up. Because of the huge number of non-payers, usual enforcement measures like liability order, bailiffs and even arrest warrants and committal hearings proved useless – there were not enough bailiffs, courts or prison cells to implement any of the orders granted. For example, in November 1990 South Yorkshire police said they were planning to refuse to arrest poll tax defaulters even when instructed to by the courts because it would be “physically impossible for the police because of the large number of defaulters.” The second year of the poll tax saw an increase in non-payment as people who had been wavering decided to join the non-payment campaign.

 
So Thatcher can be our model here. Where it comes to the Stamp mandate, the basic action is clear. If you can’t afford a “good” policy, then refuse to buy the worthless Stamp. I’ll grant that one significant difference is that whereas the Thatcher Stamp was to be collected by local “councils”, Obama and his insurance racketeer masters have deputized the more dangerous IRS as their goon. But the principle is the same. (Note also how the “opposition” Labor Party was a willing and eager Thatcher thug where it came to trying to extort the tax. Labor angrily opposed the grassroots campaign, which succeeded only in spite of it. So there’s another parallel for today. Anyone who hasn’t absolutely renounced the Democratic Party is still unfit for the struggle. Such people still understand nothing about our circumstance.)
 
The goal of the Stamp mandate is flatly to steal as much as possible, and also to try to forestall the very recourse to the informal economy which is also the solution to our predicament, the only alternative to mass resistance. If they really try to use the IRS as this medieval-style goon, then mass resistance may be the only way to accomplish this recourse at all.
 
People talk more and more about revolutionary situations. One ingredient which is usually part of the mix is that the system tries to collect a new tax the targets find odious. I mentioned above the Ancien Regime’s increasingly onerous imposition of the taille. We’re all familiar with the Stamp Act. Today, the American people should view this looming gangster mandate as something odious far beyond the Stamp Act. It’ll be far more onerous and have absolutely zero justification (even the Stamp Act did have a “pro” argument, albeit a weak one). Since Obama has chosen to overtly politicize this even in the courts, calling his own mandate a “tax” (after he angrily denied it was a tax, during the political fight), and since this is clearly a political scam anyway, let’s meet that challenge. This is a political fight. Call it the Stamp Tax, the Obama Tax, or whatever’s most powerful.
 
Thoreau went to jail rather than pay an odious poll tax. This was the wellspring for his great essay, Civil Disobedience, a subsequent inspiration to Gandhi, King, and so many others. This is part of the lineage of today’s struggle. Direct resistance to kleptocracy coincides so well with the broader relocalization imperative. This broader imperative is both indirect resistance and the transformation toward the post-debt, post-fossil fuel economy we must reach in the end anyway. In both cases we must rely far more on the informal economy. So for example: Growing our own food is affirmative and creative in itself, and in itself is also an indirect struggle against corporatism. But we must also be prepared to directly struggle against government thuggery on behalf of Big Ag. The same elements are present in every sector.
 
When we look at Stamp resistance in that epochal context, how it would harmonize, how it would take support from existing trends and in turn reinforce them, the case doesn’t look so hopeless.
 
On the other hand, there’s the dismal fact that we’ll increasingly lack access to system health care. But that’s the process they’re already imposing. The whole debacle of this bill proves it. The system, the rackets, both kleptocratic parties, intend to enclose health care so that only the rich have access to it, while the rest of us only pay and pay and pay. That state of affairs won’t change so long as this system exists.
 
So burning our ships at the shoreline of the informal economy would really be only a symbolic act, since the criminals already stole the sails.
 
Health care itself will have to be relocalized for the post-oil age. But our one chance of regaining control over any aspect of the health care system as we’ve known it is successful struggle against kleptocracy.
 
So however one looks at it, we have to resist and reject the Stamp.
 
..   
 
*I’m all for communities supporting themselves. Which is precisely why we want parasitic central governments, big corporations, and their taxation out of our lives. How exactly was Thatcher’s centralized poll tax a relocalization measure? Of course, it was no such thing. As always, the central government does nothing but steal, at best then trickling some of the loot back down to privileged recipients only. If the community from whom the tax was extracted ever sees anything but detriment from the transaction, that’s a rare accident.
 
**I’m ready to agree with some of these people on another point. Not long ago I wrote, No Taxes on the Non-Rich. Reading the Rothbard passage linked above helped convince me once and for all of the conclusion I’ve been heading toward: No Tax, period. Let’s demand zero taxation. Not necessarily in principle, but let’s either oppose or remain silent on all taxes. I say we should happily accept a flat rate as long as the rate is ZERO. Let the central government borrow every cent for its malevolent spending. As Bernanke himself admits, they just print however much they want anyway. They’re all closet MMTers.    

16 Comments

  1. Taxation is best viewed as part of a larger regulatory scheme. When the entire regulatory scheme is geared towards furthering the common good, then taxation that supports that regulatory scheme is just fine with me. For example, I’d tax stock market gains and other speculative winnings at a rate much higher than the income actually earned by individuals or businesses in order to promote real investment and discourage financial speculation.

    The problem with the regulatory scheme that we have today is that it encourages financial speculation and discourages domestic capital formation for investing in new businesses. All of this benefits the financial industry and decapitalizes our country, strip mining the future of its citizens.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — January 9, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    • Yes, but that’s now a “special case” regulatory scheme which doesn’t exist and won’t exist.

      I just posted a comment at your place a minute ago. I thought those electrons headed in the other direction looked familiar.

      The Fitts video is authoritative.

      http://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/build-america-or-rebuild-america/#comment-4083

      I defy anyone to watch it and still think humanity can coexist with corporations and this federal government.

      Comment by Russ — January 9, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

      • I was speaking conceptually and in the abstract. I agree that there’s no way we can get to the kind of regulatory scheme I theorize through incrementally changing what we face today. I just don’t want to throw away potentially useful tools because they don’t happen to be useful (and are actually harmful) today.

        While I’m hoping to see more from Fitts, I’m looking forward to the next Zeitgeist film later this month. While I had some concerns about false assertions in the first film, the movement they’re building is becoming interesting to me. The trailer:

        Also check out Zeitgeist Addendum:

        http://vimeo.com/13770061

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — January 10, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

      • To throw away the taxation tool while we’re still mired in this system wasn’t my first choice, but it seems to me that every cent extracted from the non-rich from here on will simply be stolen, and we could better use our dwindling income for our own purposes.

        Meanwhile, going all in on “No Taxes”, along with a general anti-central government ideology, offers some common ground with other groups, and may even serve as a wedge issue vs. the astroturfers in some ways. From there the main challenge would be to convince people to see big corporations as a/the “government” as well. Corporate exactions as taxes, corporate impositions as regulation, and so on.

        Also, if populists of “left” and “right” could together generate a movement absolutely dedicated to rejecting all federal taxation (a movement which for now still has the tacit support of the system itself, which has exploited the anti-tax sentiment for its own demagogic and structural purposes), this could help hasten the downfall of the dollar itself (whose preceived integrity, in the end, still depends to a large extent on the taxation power), which is a key weapon the system will want to use to enforce economic conformism, as I discussed in the post.

        I’m not saying all this will be easy to do, but it seems like a promising line to probe.

        I still haven’t gotten around to watching the Zeitgeist videos, but I’ll make time. I remember the discussion here about it some months back.

        Comment by Russ — January 11, 2011 @ 4:30 am

  2. Russ, thanks for this post. You have a way of assembling historical pastiches which make the flow of events over time very clear in a way that illustrates your points. I currently benefit from a public healthcare system, but I wonder how long ours will last, as there are constant encroachments by the private sector here. As an aside, I found this passage very interesting.

    “Looked at in this perspective, we can see how the health racket bailout is also imposing a kind of head tax. How would someone immersed in a cooperative economy pay for it? (I leave aside for the moment the related question of how the government might seek to legally assault coop arrangements by calling them taxable barter. But that’ll be a subject for future posts. For now I’ll point out the common system goal – everyone must earn cash. Everyone must participate in the corporatized economy.)”

    I have been struggling with this a lot, as the establishment of decent-sized coop food production facilities in cities and other high-density areas will require quite a bit of debt money at least in the medium-term. I would be extremely nervous about working on a project which seeks to directly undermine the corporate state and is funded by it, either by loans or grants. The best plan I can think of is to try to take on the minimum debt load possible, and keep a lid on any long-term strategy until the debt was paid off free and clear.

    Another issue I have been thinking about is the compensation of individuals working in coops. It seems reasonable to me that most people would be willing to accept somewhat lower cash wages if they had an equivalent amount of compensation in a scrip or other informal currency which could be used within the community, and accepted at the coop as payment for food and water. It would make sense for a food production coop to collaborate with and invest in other local businesses (eg restos, bars), who, in agreeing to accept scrip would be able to use the currency toward their own expenses with the food production coop. A scheme like this, using something like clay poker chips manufactured within the community (and administered by it), could be a way of decreasing the amount of debt-money required by the community.

    Comment by paper mac — January 10, 2011 @ 5:29 am

    • Thanks, paper mac.

      There’s lots of variations on the basic co-op idea, and yours is characteristic. It seems like the original sphinx riddle is always the same: For the co-op to exist within the hostile capitalist environment requires that it start out with a capital accumulation of its own, which it needs to replenish from time to time.

      How to turn it into a closed loop (at least relative to the corporate economy) seems an impossible challenge. Most ideas seem to assume, if not explicitly stipulate, that members are also earning cash from outside. This cash is then supposed to be invested constructively within the co-op, to bring a much greater return to its members than if they put it into a big bank. (After all, why would a multinational bank have a branch in your community at all unless it was taking away from the community?)

      But that cash infusion, either constant or periodic, although it doesn’t have to be huge, still seems necessary under current conditions.

      Of course, a lot depends on the level of commitment of the members and their priorities. A spartan attitude and practice, more concerned with positive democracy and self-determination than with material bloat, would go much further with less than if members still crave all the luxury accouterments of the “middle class” lifestyle.

      Your idea is the right one, and lots of groups are trying out versions of it. No one’s found the magic solution yet, though. That’s one of the problems I hope we can work on here, although I too don’t yet have any great new ideas on it.

      Comment by Russ — January 10, 2011 @ 6:47 am

  3. Russ, I have mentioned before that you either haven’t done your homework or you cannot understand what MMT is about. Hint, it is not just about understanding the mechanics of the transactions which occur at the USDT or the Fed Reserve, as well as the commercial banks. The idea which Wm B Mitchell (who coined the term MMT) and LR Wray (An American educator who agrees on most points with Bill Mitchell, is that the economy is supposed to be about governmental operations which assist the average citizen, especially, as regards inflation and unemployment. There are many other aspects which you will have to learn about on your own. The US, nor any of a number of other countries who have the capacity to do so, does not employ MMT (a theoretical construct) to run the economy. For any who wish to learn a bit more, check out billyblog entry for 1/11/2011 for a start:

    « Saturday Quiz – January 8, 2011 – answers and discussion
    Monetary system not behaving according to textbooks – system is wrong!

    1/11/2011

    In a speech in Maryland on January 7, 2011, one of the US Federal Reserve Governors, Elizabeth A. Duke spoke about current monetary trends in the US. It was hot on the heels of the testimony that the Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke made to the US Senate (January 7, 2011). They echoed similar messages. The reality is that the US economy is stagnating with very moderate growth and a very weak labour market. The overwhelming reliance on monetary policy as the saviour (low interest rates and quantitative easing) is misguided and will not provide the spending support that the private sector requires to regain their confidence again. But the interesting point to come from Duke’s speech was her observation that the US monetary system is not behaving according to how the mainstream macroeconomics textbooks (and thousands of orthodox teachers) depict it. That comes as no surprise when it is clear from the perspective of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that the textbooks are a joke. But given the monetary system is not “behaving itself” you can guess what all those mainstream professors are out there telling their students. Simple, the system is wrong!

    As background to this blog you might like to read the following blogs – Money multiplier and other myths – Why doesn’t this attract headlines? – Understanding central bank operations and Money multiplier – missing feared dead

    Duke seems to have set a cat among some pigeons in her remarks about the linkage “between the level of reserve balances and the monetary aggregates” if the response to her comments out there in the Internet is anything to go by. Anyone with some understanding of the way the monetary system operates and the role of the central bank viz-a-viz the banks would have yawned and thought well so what.

    The reality though is that her observation should have been read out to all macroeconomics students around the world just prior to tearing up all mainstream textbooks that they are currently using and recycling the material into community gardens.

    What did she say?

    …………….. for the rest of the story, check 1/10/2011 edition of billyblog at:

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=13078#more-13078

    Comment by William Wilson — January 10, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    • William, my closing line there was sort of tongue in cheek. The point is that they print* whatever they feel like whenever they feel like. The link there quotes Bernanke admitting as much. I didn’t really mean they were MMTers.

      [*And no, I don't mean literally print, I mean credit accounts. I don't know offhand how much physical printing they've been doing.]

      The idea which Wm B Mitchell (who coined the term MMT) and LR Wray (An American educator who agrees on most points with Bill Mitchell, is that the economy is supposed to be about governmental operations which assist the average citizen, especially, as regards inflation and unemployment.

      That’s what I understand it to be as well, and that’s what I thought I wrote in previous posts. You never specified what you thought I said that contradicted that.

      (Although, let’s be clear that some who claim to subscribe to MMT think what you just wrote there goes too far, and that MMT doesn’t “prescribe” anything at all, but only describes accounting identities and truths about the relation of money issuance to the productive capacity of the economy. I of course think a morality and a prescription does follow from this, just what you said above.

      But it’s clear that “MMT” is still a term whose compass is in dispute.)

      Comment by Russ — January 10, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  4. Hi, there Russ. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on this healthcare issue. I posted a link to blog along with several of your posts at Rawstory.com. I hope you don’t mind and I’m sorry if you didn’t want me to do that.

    However, the response from the Obots is yet another reminder as to why I’m leaving the country as I am able (it will probably take a good while as I am poor with no foreign connections).

    I was called Teabagger and they argued that commence was defined as the use of resources (bangs head against wall).

    They also said Obamacare was a good thing because it reduced deficits and everyone should be forced to buy insurance because everyone has to “pull their own weight.”

    These folk’s think they are progressives…this is why this country is doomed.

    Comment by Septeus7 — January 12, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    • Hi Septaeus. No, I don’t mind. I always like being linked. Thanks.

      But I doubt I’ll go read the comments, if it’s just a bunch of stupid cultists.

      “Progressives”, mouthing right wing propaganda about how working people “don’t pull their own weight”. LOL. That’s typical.

      But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, their corporate masters may be just about finished with them. As I’ve said before, no matter how things turn out in the end, corporate liberals have no future.

      Comment by Russ — January 12, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  5. Thanks for the great information on colonialism, puts in perspective long standing questions about the whys and wherefores of it.

    Re resistance, here’s a basic owners manual of techniques that are all legal and are already being used.

    “Meanwhile, we’re expected to continue consuming and responding to advertising and paying our taxes as before, but with the deficit made up by our free time, our community sovereignty and a willingness to take whatever job comes along to the benefit of the New Money Masters of the Economy. The growing unemployment and imminent economic depression that is being felt throughout the country means that things will only get worse.

    People sometimes react to the inability to meet their expectations through expressions of anger, depression or substance abuse. Others turn to crime and parasitize people through overt stealing or theft by another name, such as multilevel marketing or the sale of questionable value in merchandise or services.

    People are turning away from this situation in disgust and are helping to develop an Alternate Economy as both a healthy survival mechanism and a tacit means of protest… ”

    verdant.net

    Comment by verdant — January 13, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    • Thanks, verdant. It looks like there’s lots of good ideas and advice at that site. That’s all the stuff we need to be doing.

      Comment by Russ — January 14, 2011 @ 4:54 am

  6. [...] bruited. Such regressive levies are then meant to be handed over to the corporations and the rich. The health Stamp mandate is one such tax. Obama, the Democrats, and the Republicans now openly call it a tax.   E. Austerity [...]

    Pingback by We Have A (Fascist) Command Economy « Volatility — January 20, 2011 @ 6:40 am

  7. [...] should other than might makes right. We know that any corporate forced market is robbery.)   5. The mandate is a poll tax, a head tax, in precisely the sense that foreign imperial conquerors would impose on an indigenous people to [...]

    Pingback by The Stamp Mandate, Time Banking, and the Anti-Colonial Movement « Volatility — September 20, 2011 @ 3:27 am

  8. [...] and will remain so, until we abolish it completely.)   For the occasion, I’ll repost my essay on the Stamp mandate as a poll tax, and how in the past mass civil disobedience has defeated similar assaults. One thing which is [...]

    Pingback by The Obama Poll Tax « Volatility — June 29, 2012 @ 11:14 am

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