In June 1381, a mere 600-plus years ago, the English crown enacted a tax on each member, or poll, in a household, to raise funds to finance the seemingly endless Hundred Years’ War with France. The new tax heavily burdened agricultural and urban working classes, many of whom supported large families. These groups had earlier been subjected to the 1351 Statute of Laborers, which fixed minimum wages resulting from the dearth of hands due to the Black Plague and were enjoying a modicum of economic relief.
The poll tax was obviously unpopular, creating organized opposition that historians called the Peasants’ Revolt. In the eyes of the ruling class, the opposition was deemed a rebellion, threatening the royal hegemony, one of the first in English history. From another perspective, the so-called rebellion was an action of organized working folk.
The lords and masters who ruled over and managed the agricultural and industrial production paid tribute to the royal rulers by way of taxes and fees collected from their enterprises and inhabitants. The king might also accept military service or military fortifications as tribute.
In 1381, promising reform and appealing to national patriotism and solidarity against France, the protesters were mollified by the 14-year-old Richard II as they marched on London.
This month the media was ablaze with reports about millionaire and billionaire Americans legally avoiding the payment of income taxes while continuing to feed themselves and enjoy luxuries. A line in The New York Times front page article cited “the fact that the United States puts its emphasis on taxing labor income versus wealth.” A simple, yet powerful, statement of an issue that closely resembles feudal society in 1381.
Americans are very tolerant people. However, highly esteemed values of fairness, equity, and exceptionalism permeate our founding and historical documents, governmental proclamations, and judicial system. Tolerance exists true even for the success of the few who become millionaires or billionaires. What is also true is that the rich are expected to pony up a fair share to pay governmental expenses.
Americans are very tolerant people. However, highly esteemed values of fairness, equity, and exceptionalism permeate our founding and historical documents, governmental proclamations, political culture, and judicial system. Tolerance exists, even cheers, for the success of the few who become millionaires or billionaires. What is also true is that the rich are expected to pony up a fair share to pay governmental expenses while the vast majority is the consumer of goods and services that create super wealth..
If one is very wealthy, the schemes to avoid declaring an income riddle the nation’s tax codes. They are not in need of earning an income and can afford food, vacations, luxury yachts, private jets, and other wonders by borrowing against assets, often corporate resources. It’s a great deal because the wealthy borrower will have a deduction for any interest paid on the loans so guaranteed by assets.
The news organization ProPublica obtained a huge trove of IRS data for a number of super-wealthy Americans. The data were disheartening to the working stiff. For example, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, had a worth of some $18 billion in 2011 but paid no income tax. At the same time, he received a $4,000 tax credit for his children. In effect, Bezos enjoyed a poll tax reversal paid by other taxpayers.
Be that as it may, we have been assured by none other than Mitt Romney that corporations are people and, ultimately, the money corporations receive goes to people – some day, some time. Romney’s assertion is cognizable as the traditional Republican economic theory fostering trickle down financing. Like Richard II’s promise to the peasants, it may take a while for the trickle to begin or even have a generalized effect.
Donald Trump’s promise, then refusal, to release his tax returns caused some snickers and continues to be clouded in legal conflict to the present. The nation’s tax system is shrouded in mystery and secrecy, most notably as it applies to the wealthy. Some critics argue that the amounts all pay in personal taxes should be made public in the same way as property taxes are treated and made publicly available. The argument continues that the wealthy have nothing to hide and should take pride in their financial accomplishments.
Those at the lower end of the economic totem hierarchy foot the tax bill for those above. Shifting the reliance of taxing labor or earned income to measures of wealth appears not only enticing but eminently fair and equitable.
Unfortunately, the last rebellion in the United States on January 6, 2021, was unrelated to tax or wealth protestation. It remains, however, that those at the lower end of the economic totem hierarchy foot the tax bill for those above. Shifting the reliance of taxing labor or earned income to measures of wealth appears not only enticing but eminently fair and equitable.
Ethnohistorians and culturists advise that images at the bottom of totems are the most important, and the symbolic meanings are generally read from bottom to top. Those who pay income taxes in this country are likely to agree with that view.