At a discussion the other day about Fareed Zakaria’s book … the Future of Freedom … and it dawned on me the question I should be asking … thinking about … is … how stable is our own government? What could be the cause of the fall of democracy in the Western world?
And then I thought … taxation! … let me explain …
taxation is the cause of some of the most important revolutions in history. Nothing riles people more then unjust, unfair taxation. Especially when oppressing a strong minority …
The Protestant Reformation came about from the excesses of the Pontiff at the time. But the chief cause of discontent was taxes … people (especially people in Germany) were not getting much bang for their buck. They were sending cash to Rome only to see it squandered on opulent parties or ill-conceived wars. The people of Germany were primed to dislike Rome and when the revolutionary Martin Luther pinned his 95 points on the church door, the people were quickly behind him …
And of course, the American Revolution was the classic revolution over taxation. stamp act … tea act … do you think those people living in the 13 colonies at the time would have really revolted if they weren’t getting such a short stick on revenues? I think they would have been very content to remain under the umbrella of mother England.
Taxes devastated the German Weimar Republic. The taxes imposed on Germany by France, Britain, and US directly led to the rise of Hitler. There could not have been a worse consequence from the Treaty of Versailles
Taxes lead to revolutions. Some of these revolutions are good, others bad. All are highly disruptive.
Our own democracy might be in peril because of taxation. The burden on the young from social security and Medicare in the US — and similar social programs in Japan and Europe — is going to put a lot of pressure on democracy. This is going to be especially true in Japan where the young/old imbalance is particularly acute.
majority rule would rule in favor of the old … but might and force can rule for the young in a bitter reaction. As I think about the question “what might imperil our own democracy in the next 50 years” I think long and hard about taxation as our societies are sure to have a fairly redistributionist tax that puts a lot of burdens on peoples in their 20s, 30s, and 40s (the people who are the most effective at fighting wars and waging violence). And when we think of reforms of programs like social security, Medicare, and other “entitlements”, we must remember that reformation of these programs might be a necessity to save our society.
clarification: I’m worried more about taxation wo fair representation and the danger of putting most of the tax burden on large and powerful minority. Prop 13 in CA is an example of poorly shifted tax burden. It discriminates against the younger, newer home buyer. That type of discrimination, in the long run, can be extremely dangerous because there is a breaking point where that young worker might not take it anymore. And as a society, we should do everything we can to ensure that this breaking point does not happen.