Submitted by Pater Tenebrarum of Acting-Man blog,
Source Zero Hedge
IMF Discusses 'One-Off' Wealth Tax
It is undoubtedly nice to have a job with the World Bank or the IMF. One of the most enticing aspects for those employed at these organizations (which n.b. are entirely funded by tax payers), is no doubt that apart from receiving generous salaries and perks, they themselves don't have to pay any taxes.
This doesn't keep them from thinking up various ways of how to resolve the by now well-known problem of the looming insolvency of various welfare/warfare states. In fact, they have quite a strong incentive to come up with such ideas, since their own livelihood depends on the revenue streams continuing without a hitch. One recent proposal in particular has made waves lately (it can be found in this paper – pdf), mainly because it sounds precisely like the kind of thing many people expect desperate governments to resort to when push comes to shove, not least because they have taken similar measures repeatedly throughout history.
The recent depositor haircut in Cyprus has also contributed to such expectations becoming more widespread. We believe is that it is far better to let shareholders, bondholders and depositors (in that order) take their lumps in the event of bank insolvencies rather than forcing the bill on unsuspecting tax payers via bailouts. What was odious about the Cypriot haircut was mainly that the government steadfastly lied to its citizens about what was coming and that certain classes of depositors, such as e.g. the president's relatives, got all their money out just a week or two prior to the bank holiday, by what we are assured was sheer coincidence (this unexpected twist of fate which proved so fortuitous to the president's clan increased the costs for remaining depositors).
Still, the entire escapade was a salutary event in many respects. It proved that government bonds are not a reliable store of value (it was mainly their holdings of Greek government bonds that got the Cypriot banks into hot water) and it was a reminder that fractionally reserved banks are inherently insolvent. In short, it has helped a bit to concentrate the minds of many of those who still remain whole and has sensitized them to other attempts of grabbing private wealth that may be coming down the pike.
This is probably also the reason why a paragraph in an IMF document that may otherwise not have received much scrutiny as it would have been considered too outlandish an idea, has created quite a stir. That such proposals are made from the comfortable environment of a tax free zone is quite ironic. Here is the paragraph in question:
It is actually not a surprise that there is a 'wealth of experience to draw on'. Throughout history, governments have thought up all sorts of methods to get their hands on their subjects' wealth. It would have only been a surprise if there had been no 'experiences to draw on'. In fact, as wasteful and inefficient as the State is otherwise, this is one of the tasks in which it proves extremely resourceful, inventive and efficient. The extraction of citizens' wealth is an activity at which it excels.
Apparently the IMF judges that stealing 10% of all private wealth in one fell swoop is perfectly fine as long as 'some see it as fair'. Some of course would. There is however a crucial difference between imposing such a levy at gunpoint and letting bondholders take losses. The latter have taken the risk of not getting repaid voluntarily. No-one forced them to buy government bonds.
As to the pseudo-consolation that such a confiscation should be presented as a 'one off' event so as 'not to distort behavior', let's be serious. The moment governments gets more loot in, they will start spending it with both hands and in no time at all will find themselves back at square one.
States and Taxation
As Franz Oppenheimer has pointed out, States are essentially the result of conquests by gangs of marauders who realized that operating a protection racket was far more profitable than simply grabbing everything that wasn't nailed down and making off with. In modern democracies it has become easier for citizens to join the ruling class (i.e., the more civilized version of these marauders), which has greatly increased acceptance of the State. Also, a large number of people has been bought off with 'free' goodies and all and sundry have had it drilled into them throughout their lives that the State is both inevitable and irreplaceable.
There are of course other advantages to be had in democracies, such as the fact that a market economy is allowed to exist (even if it is severely hampered) and that free speech is tolerated. One considerable drawback though is that taxation has historically never been higher than in the democratic order (and still these States are all teetering on the edge of bankruptcy anyway).
As an aside, conscription and the closely associated concept of 'total war' are also democratic 'achievements'. Whereas war was once largely confined to strictly localized battles between professionals, the French revolution and its aftermath was a pivot point that marked a change in thinking about war and ultimately paved the way for legitimizing the all-encompassing atrocities of the 20th century, with civilians suddenly regarded as fair game.
A little historical excursion: Under medieval kings there was at least occasionally a chance that a tax might actually be repealed, even if only temporarily. For instance, in 1012 the heregeld was introduced in England, an annual tax first assessed by King Ethelred the Unready (better: 'the Ill-Advised'). Its purpose was to help pay for mercenaries to fight the invasion of England by King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark.
Ethelred had been forced to pay a tribute to the Danes for many years, known as 'Danegeld'. In 1002 AD he apparently got fed up and in a fit of pique ordered the murder of all Danes in England, an event known as the St. Brice's Day Massacre. Not surprisingly, this incensed the Danes and Sweyn Forkbeard's invasion was the result. Sweyn seized the English throne in 1013, but died in 1014, upon which Ethelred was invited back by the nobles (under the condition that he 'rule more justly'). However, he soon died as well, which left Edmund Ironside in charge for a few months in 1016. Sweyn's son Knut eventually conquered England later in the same year. Knut simply continued to collect the heregeld tax after ascending to the throne. The heregeld was a land tax based on the number of 'hides' one owned (the hide is a medieval area measure, the precise extent of which is disputed among historians; one hide was once thought to be equivalent to 120 acres, but this is no longer considered certain). The tax was finally abolished by King Edward the Confessor in 1051 (Edward was Ethelred's seventh son and was later canonized. He was the last king of the House of Wessex). The tax relief unfortunately proved short-lived. Shortly after Edward's death in 1066, the Normans conquered England and 'hideage' was reintroduced.
Ethelred the Unready, inventor of the heregeld tax, holding an oversized sword.
Although he is generally referred to as 'the Unready', this translation of his nickname is actually incorrect: rather, it should be 'ill-advised' or 'ill-prepared'. In the original old English "Æþelræd Unræd", the term 'unread' is actually a pun on his name. 'Ethelred' means 'noble counsel' (in modern German: 'Edler Rat') – his nickname thus juxtaposes 'noble counsel' with 'no counsel' or 'evil counsel'.
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ethelred's nemesis, the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard, likewise holding an oversized sword
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
The man who abolished the heregeld tax, St. Edward the Confessor.
It is noteworthy that he is usually not depicted holding an oversized sword (he was however reportedly not inexperienced in military matters. When Welsh raiders attacked English lands in 1049, they soon had reason for regret. The head of one of their leaders, Rhys ap Rhydderch, was delivered to Edward in 1052. The head was no longer attached to the rest of Rhys). Edward is probably not mainly remembered for this, but he gave England fifteen glorious years free of hideage tax.
As Murray Rothbard writes in 'The Ethics of Liberty' on the State's monopoly of force and its power to extract revenue by coercion:
(emphasis in original)
In the pages following this excerpt, Rothbard expertly demolishes numerous spurious arguments that have been forwarded in support of taxes by people claiming that they are somehow akin to voluntary contributions.
The Vote Changes Nothing
In the course of this disquisition Rothbard also discusses whether the democratic vote actually makes a difference in this context, whether, as he puts it, the "act of voting makes the government and all its works and powers truly "voluntary." On this topic he quotes from the observations of anarchist political philosopher Lysander Spooner, who wrote the following in 'No Treason:The Constitution of No Authority':
Discussing taxation in the same text, Spooner famously compares government to highwaymen. He is however not merely equating one with the other, but rather concludes that highwaymen are to be preferred. After all, neither are their activities attended by hypocrisy, nor are their demands without limit (we would add to this that no-one ever published learned papers advising them how to best go about grabbing more loot).
Somehow we don't think that Mr. Spooner would have been a very big fan of the IMF and its ideas.
Lysander Spooner had their number.
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
The particular wealth tax proposal mentioned by the IMF en passant is odious in the extreme, especially as the wealth to be taxed has already been taxed at what are historically stratospheric rates.
It is noteworthy that the alternatives discussed by the IMF for heavily indebted states which are weighed down by the wasteful spending of yesterday appear to have been reduced to 'default' (either outright or via hyperinflation) or 'more confiscation'. How about rigorously cutting spending instead?
One must also keep in mind that any proposals concerning so-called 'tax fairness' are in the main about 'how can we get our hands on wealth that currently still eludes us'. People need to be aware that worsening the situation of one class of tax payers is never going to improve the situation of another. The IMF's publication is a case in point: in all its yammering about 'tax fairness', the possibility of lowering anyone's taxes is not mentioned once (not to mention that it seems quite hypocritical for people who are exempted from taxes to go on about imposing 'tax fairness' on others).
Lastly, a popular as well as populist target of the self-appointed arbiters of 'fairness' are loopholes, but as we have previously discussed, they are to paraphrase Mises 'what allows capitalism to breathe'. Closing them will in the end only lead to higher costs for consumers, less innovation, lower growth and considerable damage to retirement savings.
Two apposite statues at Trago Mills, UK, dedicated to HM Inland Revenue – Loot & Extortion.
Friday, October 18, 2013
A Large Wealth Grab on Americans Could be On The Way
Posted by Charleston Voice