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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Natures Tax Collectors or Rent Seekers?

Nature's Tax Collectors

As noted Henry George put considerable effort working out principles of taxation. He wrote an opus about tax reform and gathered a huge following of progressives under the populist wing of the Democratic Party. Two of those were scholars and lawyers who would go on to support his movement after he died in 1897. After Henry George died in 1897 Shearman and Seligman went their separate ways. Though both articulated clear Gerogist Principles. They differed on some particulars.

"Henry George’s lawyer, Thomas G. Shearman, in “Natural Taxation” (1898) [referred to] certain kinds of people (rent-seekers)" as “nature’s tax collectors,”

A Grossly Unfair Tax system taxes unearned takings

Shearman noted that:

"if government failed to heavily tax (really, retrieve or reclaim) their unearned takings (while leaving their wages untaxed), a grossly unfair tax system would result."

It should be noted that the word rent and the word tax were once pretty much the same thing. The ability to collect rent was once a feudal right associated with barons, counts, dukes and kings. Economic rent is a privilege. Private collection of economic rent is privateering. During the late middle ages, sovereigns began to farm out taxation to "tax farmers" who collected taxes (rent) in return for a cut. There is a case to be made that tax farming was one of the reasons for the French Revolution. But that is another essay for another day.


That term applies because it is private persons performing government functions. Privateers were originally pirates authorized to wage war on an enemy by stealing from them on the high seas. But as I explain in a series of articles on the East India Companies took privateering to a whole new level by privatizing war and colonialization in the East Indias. One of their first acts was to usurp the Mogul ability to tax people in the province of Bengal (now Bangladesh and neighboring provinces in India). Pirates and wealthy adventurers (legal pirates) are after loot.

Economic Rent

The easiest way to loot is to get the government to put property into their greedy little hands. The technical term for this is Rent seeking. Economic rent is the premium owners of vital public property charge for using vital public goods. Such people set themselves up with the privilege to provide a monopoly service that rewards themselves heavily. They are like the tongue lice that eat a fish's tongue, except they "eat" and acquire or usurp governmental powers. Sitting pretty such people live on economic rent.

Examples of Shearman’s concept that rent-seekers are “nature’s tax collectors:”

"Part of the rent a tenant pays to a landlord is a tax, and is really intended for the government so it can provide for the health, education, training, retirement, etc. of the tenant, but the tax is shifted onto the tenant if not collected by government from the landlord."

Of Course landlords and other rentiers don't see any mutual responsible to tenants, labor or those paying them economic rent.

An Ideology of Loot

My Friend Rick DiMare writes:

"Under neoliberal theory we’ve been duped into believing that rent-seekers (i.e., landlords, lenders, employers and speculators) are entitled to keep most or all their income, whether earned as a wage, or taken as unearned income.... We’re taught that government is terribly inefficient and inept when it comes to providing social services."

The con of Neoliberalism

This is a bait and switch argument, as the rentiers and their shills who make this argument don't feel any need to provide social services efficiently or at all. But it is the kind of deflection and distraction that pays people to shill for them. Part of economic rent is used to buy an ideology that justifies privateering. This ideology is rightly named neoliberalism. Although a more accurate term would be "faux liberalism" because it isn't intended to work as a body of policies and theory. It is just intended to justify the accumulation of loot by the privateers. The real justification for neoliberal policies is simply the Nietzchean "Will to Power" and unadulterated Darwinism sometimes justified by grossly heterodox theologies. [Ironically these are usually some of the same people who preach against Darwin].

For the Public Good becomes for Private Loot


Land Property Power

"Part of the capital/land gain paid for an inflated land parcel by a land buyer"... ought to be "a tax which belongs to government for the benefit of the public at large, and ... not intended for the landlord or land speculator, so tax unfairness ... result[s when] ... land gain is not collected from the landlord by government."

That is just one example,

Banking Money Power:

"Part of the interest a borrower pays to a lender is a tax paid by the borrower to the government, but is intercepted or privatized by the lender if the government fails to collect the lender’s net unearned income.

Natures Bounty belongs to all of us

natural resources in private hands such as oil, trees, etc... all have a component that by natural right belongs to the public at large, or at the very least to the people who work to extract those resources, process, move and sell them. The ideology of privateering shields owners from any social responsibility. The ideology demonizes any public benefit as "socialism" and thus distracts people from even appreciating that they have a right to any reward beyond the peanuts thrown to them by monopolists or employers under their control. Nature's bounty should belong to all of us. But privateers covet and covet such properties in order to extract value from them they can convert to loot.

There are beautiful mansions in Britain that belong to people who using the British East India Company as their vehicle, systematically looted India. Castles and Mansions, world wide are built with loot gained from taking a good idea and building it into a vast and gargantuan fortunes. Much of that wealth is turned into treasure and unavailable to anyone. Pirates literally would bury their treasure. Modern looters bury their treasure in offshore banks.

Shifting Taxes to Rent

An unfair tax system is setup so that even taxes ostensibly intended to punish or control excessive wealth get shifted from the pirate captains to the crew. Avoiding that becomes difficult because of the armies of shills the wealthy will hire to gaslight the subject. But also because most people, even many Georgist, don't really understand the progressive principles behind taxing unearned rent, making taxes affordable and the principle of Shiftability. Sometimes what is intended as a luxury tax or punishment for bad behavior becomes ineffective at stopping the behavior but oppresses labor and capital instead. Moreover, much of what makes some people phenomenally rich is hidden private taxation. Rick notes:

"in addition to actual (overt) taxes on wages paid by an employee, an employee also pays a hidden (covert) tax whenever forced to accept a low or unfair wage for work performed (because of the employer’s monopoly advantage over land, corporate privilege, capital, etc.). Of course, the employer is entitled to a wage, which may be substantially higher than that of employees, but the employer should not be allowed to keep unearned net income or profits produced, nor should the employer be allowed to pay the net income to shareholders in the form of dividends. If this unearned income is not taxed or reclaimed by government, the tax system will be unfair, and the tax will have been shifted onto to ordinary consumers and the poor. A general “inflation tax” is shifted onto ordinary consumers if Congress does’t tax income received in Federal Reserve notes using highly progressive tax rates (under the currency-regulating Springer income tax)."

The only taxes that are not shiftable are:

  1. Taxes on unearned income, i.e., Henry George’s “single tax,” which includes taxes on net rental income, net interest income, dividends, net corporate profits, capital/land gains, gambling winnings, etc.
  2. Taxes on luxury goods
  3. Taxes on estates, prior to 1916 known as legacy, succession or inheritance taxes

Further Reading

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