Taxes and the Total State

Biden has proposed a rather draconian tax initiative: you can read some of the details and an analysis here.  It will be justified, of course, by claims about “asking the rich to pay their fair share”, and “equity”…and I’ve already seen arguments that no one should be concerned about this unless they are very high income or soon expect to be, and that there aren’t many people in that category.

Some responses are obvious: Taxes originally targeted at high income levels have a way of migrating downward through the income levels–the income tax itself is an example.  The capital gains rates are in reality much higher than they look, because of the effect of inflation on asset prices.  Corporate income tax increases can affect everybody, regardless of income levels, in their roles as workers, consumers, and/or investors. And there is the matter of fairness–true fairness, not faux fairness:  it is not truly fair, democratic, or even civilized to assume that because there is only a small number of people in a given group, the rest of the society is entitled to do anything to them that they feel like doing.

But there is also, I think, an even more important point to be made.  A tax structure like this Biden plan–with its likely extensions and increases over time–acts to prevent the establishment and sustainment of individuals and families wealthy enough to act as a countervailing force to the government–media–academic complex.  I think the kind of people who inhabit the Biden administration, and who dominate today’s Democratic Party, do not like to see power & influence centers outside of this complex.  They really, really don’t like it, for example, that someone like Elon Musk can bypass their censorship efforts by buying and running a social media company.

Woodrow Wilson disliked the whole idea of separation of powers within government, which seemed to him to violate some kind of organic principle.  Totalitarians of all kinds have striven to eliminate alternative centers of loyalty and influence within their overall societies.  As Benito Mussolini put it:  “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

Whatever your current and expected income and wealth levels–if you value the continuation of America as a free society, then you have a dog in this fight.

“Cricket Morality”

Conservatives, libertarians, and well-meaning and rational people in general often remark on the unfairness of many practices of the “progressive” media and other institutions of today’s Left. Selective prosecutions, for example.  The fact that those same publications that mocked Dan Quayle for his verbal clumsiness are totally dismissive about any concerns regarding the verbal weirdness of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  Many, many other examples.

It is true. The unfairness is obvious and palpable.  But, listening to these entirely-justified complaints, I am reminded of a passage in Arthur Koestler’s 1940 book Darkness at Noon.

The protagonist of this novel is Rubashov, an Old Bolshevik who has been arrested by the Stalinist regime and is facing trial and probable execution.  Among his musings are the following thoughts:

It is said that No. 1 (Stalin) has Machiavelli’s Prince lying permanently by his bedside. So he should: since then, nothing really important has been said about the rules of political ethics. We were the first to replace the nineteenth century’s liberal ethics of fair play by the revolutionary ethics of the twentieth century. In that also we were right: a revolution conducted according to the rules of cricket is an absurdity. Politics can be relatively fair in the breathing spaces of history; at its critical turning points there is no other rule possible than the old one that the end justifies the means.

We introduced neo-Machiavellism into this country; the others, the counter-revolutionary dictatorships, have clumsily imitated it. We were neo-Machiavellians in the name of universal reason — that was our greatness; the others in the name of a national romanticism, that is their anachronism. That is why we will in the end be absolved by history; but not they. . . .

Yet for the moment we are thinking and acting on credit. As we have thrown overboard all conventions and rules of cricket-morality, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic. We are under the terrible compulsion to follow our thought down to its final consequence and to act in accordance to it. We are sailing without ballast; therefore each touch on the helm is a matter of life or death.

And this is indeed the logic of so many of our present-day “progressives.”  They have convinced themselves that we are not in one of those “breathing spaces of history” in which fairness is to be expected–rather, everything must be about ultimate things, must be “existential”, to use one of their favorite terms.

But to what extent do they want to throw out the rule of fairness because they believe we’re at a critical turning point at which no other option is possible…versus to what extent is it the other way around, i.e. they are motivated to believe we are at such a turning point because they want to throw out the rule of fairness?

And how many of them have ever considered the possibility that perhaps it is precisely those critical periods in which the rule of fairness is particularly important?

Traute Lafrenz, Last of the White Rose

Traute Lafrenz, last surviving member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement known as the White Rose, has died.  She was a university student in Munich in 1941 when she met Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst and got involved in the group.  Her involvement became known to the Nazi authorities following the arrest of Hans and Sophie Scholl, and she was also arrested.  Unlike Probst and the Scholls, who were executed, she was sentenced to one year in prison…but following her release, she was rearrested, and was liberated by the Allies only three days before her scheduled trial, which would likely have led to her own execution.  After the war, she emigrated to the US, became a physician, got married, and had four children.  She retired to Yonges Island in South Carolina.

More about Lafrenz, and the story of the White Rose group.

My post about Alexander Schmorell, another member of the group.

There is a wonderful German movie from 1982 about the group, titled simply The White Rose.  It portrays them not as plaster saints, but rather as real, if highly exceptional, people–sometimes, as high-spirited kids.  In German with English subtitles, the film doesn’t seem to have ever made it to DVD, in the US at least, but VHS versions are often available on Ebay. Highly, highly recommended.

Posted without comment

Well, not really. Is this really so? Will he not attend?

1. Germany is going to have to wait longer than expected for US President Barack Obama’s first official visit. Citing government sources in Berlin, Reuters reported on Friday that Obama will not attend the anniversary festivities marking two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall.   Spiegel Online/International

2. Spouses and even children–researchers combing the Stasi files after the Wall fell were horrified to discover the payroll included 10,000 informers under the age of 18–were potential eyes and ears of the regime; friends were suspect; and strangers were presumed to be Stasi until proven innocent, and probably well beyond that. “Relations between people were conditioned by the fact that one or the other of you could be one of them,” writes Australian journalist Anna Funder in Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. “Everyone suspected everyone else, and the mistrust this bred was the foundation of social existence.” –  Glenn Garvin, Reason

3. The pivotal scene in the magnificent new ( OPS: it’s a 2006 film) German movie The Lives of Others–which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last week–takes place in an elevator. The year is 1984, and the occupant of the elevator is a severe and profoundly intelligent senior functionary of the East German security service named Wiesler. A stray word about the inhumanity of Stasi interrogations, or a joke about the dictator Erich Honecker, is all Wiesler needs to hear to make a simple mark on a piece of paper that will ruin someone’s life. – John Podhoretz, The Weekly Standard

UPDATE: Communist-era store windows, via boing boing.