June 29, 2012

The Obama Poll Tax (Part 2)


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.




  1. I am not sure that paying in cash is such a problem… “the system” does not really want you to pay in cash, as “it” has no way of identifying you nominally if you pay cash. Cash remains… anonymous. Credit, on the other hand, along with that credit card… it is nominal.
    Centralized government was erected on the ashes of.. the localized, feudal system. And by the time the French revolution came around, there were quite a few nobles who had much less.. cash than their bourgeois counterparts. They had the land, and the titles, but wealth had already been greatly transferred to the burgeoning bourgeois class, which was itching for social recognition.
    What we are coming up against, massively, is the organization of system, itself, versus power which is incarnated and concentrated in individuals.
    In the end, when power is concentrated in individuals, it is easier to wrest it out of their hands, than to try to fight.. the system…
    We have glorified the State, and put our trust in it because we are afraid of anarchy… even the most marginal among us are afraid of anarchy, and the chaos we imagine would arise from it..

    Comment by Debra — July 4, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

    • By “cash economy” I mean the command currency – dollars or what have you. The coerced requirement to “earn” dollars.

      Physical cash, meanwhile, is also slated for abolition, in favor of electronic cash, the better to force all transactions through bankster toll booths (where government and corporations can also better track it).

      The goal is to transcend command money and do without it as much as possible. To forestall this liberation is part of the intention of the Obama poll tax.

      A sub-goal of this is, where we have to use dollars, use physical cash instead of any electronic variety, as much as possible.

      Comment by Russ — July 4, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

      • Talking to someone this morning, it becomes more and more evident to me that the goal of… the system is maximum control, and abolishing anonymity. The anarchist publication protesting the French identity card (feel HAPPY that you still don’t have an identity card in the U.S., not in the U.K. either…) says that “the minimum requirement for a democracy is the possibility of forging false identity papers”. (But don’t you find it… STRANGE how much the police flourishes in democratic regimes ?…)
        That kind of throws a peculiar light on what so many Americans are so convinced that they want…. 0 fraud, 0 corruption, 0.. risk.
        I leafed through “Dune” again this week. (funny how literature is so much more stimulating, and thought provoking than social science, and philosophy ? forget it. A quick comparison with Marx’s little pamphlet about the fetichisation of merchandise shows how social science and philo just don’t manage to mobilize hearts and minds like a good novel…)
        The current goal of Western civilization is to eliminate all forms of surprise and risk in our lives.
        That is why we are taking ourselves down… the first reason. Everything else is secondary. In my opinion.
        This morning I had a little chat with the 72 year old Muslim gardener who I cultivate. He has a small plot where he spends most of his mornings, and we get along quite well.
        At 8:00 he told me that he had got up at 3:00 A.M. for morning prayers at the mosque. Back home for some quiet time, breakfast, the garden at 8:00. Prayers at other times of the day, too. Bed at 11:00 at night, or so…
        He looks great. You would never know that he was 72.
        I told him today that if the prayers took his mind off buying and selling, geez, we ought to send all of our major corporation heads for prayers at 3:00 in the morning…and ablutions at different times of the day. Time off work, breaks for the ablutions…
        If our civilization spent more time… praying AND FASTING, we would have less time for thinking about buying and selling, and sticking a price tag on anything that moves (or doesn’t).
        One last thing… the decadent European civilization where our young people have no.. incentive or desire to work (hard) or to sweat in any form, will be overrun by this kind of energy. That is… the way the world goes. And there is no use griping about it, either. (And E-activism doesn’t prevent obesity, last time I checked.)
        Decadence sets you up to be enslaved faster than anything I know.
        MY energy level is not great. But…. in two days, I’ve made at least 10 jars of apricot jam… among other things…

        Comment by Debra — July 6, 2012 @ 7:39 am

      • You’re mistaken if you think the US doesn’t have ID papers (driver’s license, SS card, etc.).

        The goal of Western civilization vastly increases the level of risk in the lives of the 99%, because that goal is to strip us of all forms of security in order to maximize the 1%’s economic extractions from us, and to maximize its own sense of political security. (I say “sense of”, not the reality. They probably could have maximized their security within the old mass middle class/welfare state framework, and still been almost as rich. But they chose to go for the all or nothing shot – total enclosure, extraction, and domination, or complete destruction for themselves.)

        Comment by Russ — July 6, 2012 @ 8:27 am

  2. Picking nits, picking nits… a driver’s license and a social security card are not quite the same thing as an identity card, even if there are numbers on them. Because an identity card’s SOLE purpose is to identify (control…) you. That is not true of a driver’s license or a social security card.
    But since you bring up the social security card… its name is pretty telling, isn’t it ?
    The all or nothing shot smacks of extremism.
    The global framework set in place after WW2 has secreted its own reaction, as it obviously would.
    And we are watching this reaction play out, as globalization falters.
    I think that is what we are seeing now. The more we move towards the ideological hegemony of occidental civilization, the more reaction (extremism) becomes violent, and will continue to do so. Not only from the barely existant “outside” the civilization, now… from the inside, too.
    The more we use the extremist.. words (like all, etc.) the more we are vehicles of extremism…most of the time, unwittingly, by the way, even if we think the opposite.
    And the more channels spout out the extremist words, the more extremism builds. Amplification.
    Ironically enough, I think that France is in a very dire ideological situation. It remains… the place where Enlightenment ideals were hatched, and blazed.
    Our society seems very morose to me right now, even though the French are more financially and materially prosperous (conservative..) than other European peoples. They have managed to maintain a strong national identity for quite some time now in the face of overwhelming American… colonization.
    But… with the disappearance of the last family homes (on the land, on the land…) this could change quickly.

    Comment by Debra — July 6, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

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