Why did Rome and Byzantium fall apart after centuries of success? What causes civilizations to collapse, from a dysfunctional fourth-century-B.C. Athens to contemporary bankrupt Greece?
The answer is usually not enemies at the gates, but the pathologies inside them.
What ruins societies is well known: too much consumption and not enough production, a debased currency, and endemic corruption.
Americans currently deal with all those symptoms. But two more fundamental causes for decline are even more frightening: an unwillingness to pay taxes and the end of the rule of law.
Al Sharpton is again prominently in the news, blaming various groups for the Baltimore unrest. But Sharpton currently owes the U.S. government more than $3 million in back taxes, according to reports. His excuses have ranged from insufficient funds to pay them to sloppy record-keeping and mysterious fires.
Sharpton, a frequent White House guest, apparently assumes that his community-organizing provides him political exemption from federal tax law. He seems to be right, at least as long as the current administration is in power.
The Clinton Foundation is expected to refile its tax returns for 2010, 2011, and 2012 after failing to separate government grants from donations. If an average citizen tried to amend his taxes for such huge sums and from that long ago, he would probably be under indictment.
News reports of undocumented donations from foreign governments caught the foundation underreporting its income. The well-connected Clinton clan apparently had assumed that their political status ensured them immunity.
In the current political landscape, ideology also offers cover for tax noncompliance. Two of the most liberal talking heads at the MSNBC cable news network, Touré Neblett and Melissa Harris-Perry, known for their advocacy of higher tax rates on the affluent, turn out to be both quite well off and quite unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes. Reports indicate that Neblett and Harris-Perry both owe more than $50,000 in delinquent taxes.
Nonparticipation in the tax system and noncompliance are recipes for social and cultural disaster.
Who will police the tax police?
Former IRS official Lois Lerner and her subordinates were found to have targeted conservative nonprofit groups for excessive federal scrutiny. While testifying before Congress, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and investigators later found that two years of her e-mails had gone missing in a mysterious computer crash. Lerner has not been charged.
Under the current system, the very wealthy have the pull and capital to navigate around the 3.7-million-word IRS tax code. Billionaire George Soros, a proponent of big government and higher taxes, reportedly could face a tax bill of approximately $7 billion after years of deferrals.
Nonparticipation in the tax system and noncompliance are recipes for social and cultural disaster — as we see with the current climbing tax rates, huge deficits, and unsustainable national debt.
Our laws are becoming as politicized as our tax system.
Whatever one thinks of illegal immigration, it’s undeniable that under the Obama administration, federal immigration law enforcement is now predicated on politics. The law as it was written suddenly has ceased to exist — at least for particular groups at particular times and places.
In the last six years, the enforcement of federal laws has depended on their apparent political utility. If elements of the controversial Affordable Care Act were deemed politically risky, then their implementation was ignored until after an election. If the Environmental Protection Agency could not see its agenda passed through Congress as federal law, then it implemented its green policies by fiat.
If the Obama administration reaches a controversial agreement with Iran that will not meet the Constitutional test of ratification by two-thirds of the Senate, then it will not be called a treaty and instead be imposed by presidential executive order.
Prosecutors have never been more ideologically driven. Senator Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) opposes administration policies on Cuba and Iran — and then suddenly faces federal indictments on charges covering a period from 2006 to 2013.
In the tragic Freddie Gray case, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby all but assured an angry crowd that she had provided them indictments for murder and manslaughter and thereby expected calm in the streets in return. She indicted six Baltimore policemen on charges that are likely to be reduced or disproved in court, but those charges served the short-term purpose of defusing unchecked rioting and looting. Warping the law was thought to be more effective in easing tensions than enforcing it.
Increasingly in the United States, the degree to which a law is enforced — or whether a person is indicted — depends on political considerations. But when citizens do not pay any income taxes, or choose not to pay taxes that they owe and expect impunity, a complex society unwinds.
And when the law has becomes negotiable, civilization utterly collapses.
© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
22 thoughts on “America’s Politicized Tax Enforcement Is a Harbinger of Decline”
In Orwell’s classic, ‘Animal Farm’, the basic commandment was, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. I think ol’ George was on to something.
That single commandment was painted on the barn right at the end of the story – you might call it the climax or punchline.
Before that, the pigs had written the original seven rules, which kept getting mysteriously modified overnight. Nobody could quite remember what came before, or why; but they got used to frequent changes.
It is that conditioning which made the final, monstrous rule palatable.
Dr. Hanson’s description of the income tax system, the abuses, and the immunity with which the politically connected democrat political supporters of the president are relieved from their tax obligations are a further indictment of a tax code and agency which needs to be repealed.
It appears that tax avoidance is also practiced by the too big to fail banks in the U.S.A. and Switzerland. They aided and abetted U.S. citizens on hiding income and evading taxes. Then, you have the oxymoron of the earned income tax benefit which is an enabler for illegal aliens, prison inmates and Americans to cheat the Federal Government out of billions each and every year along with the stolen identity thieves who file and collect on fictitious tax returns.. Corporations ,that in reality pay no taxes but only pass the taxes along to the ultimate consumer–aka. the consuming public. American corporations also are taxed at the highest tax rates in the free world and that is why trillions of corporate wealth is kept overseas and out of the reach of the I.R.S. The citizens of the U.S.A now must suffer until 2017 at which time ,maybe a new law abiding president will take office and heed his or her oath of office–fix the tax code, execute the laws already on the books,uphold the constitution and not behave like the muslim, Marxist dictator now holding the position of the president. Maybe, just maybe we may escape the failure of the Roman Empire.
Pingback: Victor Davis Hanson: ‘When Law Becomes Negotiable, Civilization Collapses’ | pundit from another planet
V.D.H. articles are first in line for my reading
The Progtard notion of “unequal before the law” income taxation, vs. everyone paying some flat rate… is just part of the insanity of 2nd Worldview Progtard Control. The Central Banking scheme it has provided the world is based upon everybody and everything being in debt. This works for a few hundred years, then implodes.
A true 1st Worldview Freedom-Liberty people, like our Founding Fathers’ Constitution, would not permit Central Bankers, as they are a cartel designed to bail out banks. This backstop is not needed by every other industry. Creative Destruction works for all industries, but can’t for finance, because that which fails is too big to fail, which is an Orwellian lie.
A true 1st Worldview Freedom-Liberty people would base their economy on earned income and gold/silver. Gold is a law unto itself, being by nature rare, and we need to submit to its law. Printing money is the reverse.
Our choice, as you so well describe Dr. Hanson, is between lawlessness (i.e. Central Banksterism) or law.
Globalization, there was always only one pie and the West got the lesser portion—except if your name is Clinton. The window to set in place policies to mitigate the damage was closed with the election of our first pretend to be sort of Christian but Muslim president—now the future is triage. Extend,extend— at some point the structure of the present World order shifts. Peace thru strength— no concept so proven or easier to understand. But not so in Obama and sons detached from reality worldview. The continuing crime is nothing can be done to put us at the proper “peace thru strength” level of readiness, with our revered golfing Majesty still in the seat of obstructionist power. (or the herpes of politics to follow.)
“”” why we have an oversupply of almost everything”””. Will then invert to undersupply. All except dirt cheap third world labor.
Extremely thoughtful and reasoned argument supporting the ‘way of the nations’ and this nation. Great insights and conclusions. Unfortunately all too true. Does anyone care? Why only 4 comments?!!! Hello America! Wake up and contact your representatives and really watch at things local level. There is yet little time. The IRS needs an overhaul…starting with flat tax, simplified codes and Lois Lerner behind bars!
“When law becomes negotiable, civilization collapses”.
In addition to our insane tax laws, we have “asset forfeiture laws” whereby governments, local to Federal, steal property of law abiding citizens without due process or compensation—a clear violation of the 5th amendment. Point being: if the government violates the very laws it has sworn to “uphold and defend” then there is NO LAW! If there is no law, I (and anyone else) can do exactly what I want, whenever I want. This is the very seed-bed for anarchy—which as we have seen in Baltimore and other cities isn’t very far away.
All warfare is ultimately economic but it always helps to demoralize the opposition along the way. Can anyone say that Obama is not at war with America? Think of it as fundamental transformation via warfare.
Depressing, so depressing article about the decline of the United State…….
Ny a t-il personne pour sauver ce fantastique pays de la ruine et du déclin?
As usual Dr. Hanson is right on the history and the related current affairs, so is “libra”. I fear that it is already too late. None of the pathological currents running through our country are going away anytime soon, they are too deep and too interwoven in the populace. Millions on welfare for not only their own life but multi-generational. Thousands of new laws every year, local, federal and state on top of an unknown number already on the books. Dishonest “big mouths” in government, journalism, business and seemingly everywhere in public life. A way out; I don’t see it.
It’s hard to take the Professor seriously here. Suggesting the decline and fall of American civilization because a couple of no-nothing talking heads owe $50,000 is laughable at best. That Sharpton owes big $$ is no secret, though my professional experience suggests that big earners routinely seek to minimize what they have to pay. The US has the most successful voluntary income tax system in the world, a country of vast complexity and size. Our corporations pay as little tax as they can and choose to based on where they choose to receive income. I am an ignorant novice compared to the Prof when it comes to classic Greek and Roman history and politics. However even I know that Rome’s decline took hundreds of years to begin, and finally too hold when the political corruption and unwillingness of the citizenry to man the legions led to the over fattening of its economic and political system. If we want to talk corruption, all we have to look at is the amount of money that will be raised and spent in the Republican primaries and general election. Is it really necessary to spend $5 billion to elect a half wit to the presidency?
I think you are distorting what Dr. Hanson is saying. The fact that a couple of dimwitted hypocrites on MSNBC can rail and lecture others for not paying their “fair share” while they themselves owe $50k in back taxes is not going to destroy our republic, but allowing tax law to be arbitrarily applied to your political enemies (Lois Lerner, anyone?) and ignored when it comes to your political friends could have a very damaging effect if it becomes the norm.
Your comparison of US corporations that legally minimize their tax bill by basing their headquarters overseas to a common scofflaw like Sharpton is absurd and, frankly, quite amusing. US corporations already pay the highest corporate tax rate of any industrialized nation, which amounts to billions of revenue to the US Treasury. They also create millions of jobs for our citizens and invent new products like the iPhone and the 787. What has Sharpton given society, other than the Tawana Brawley hoax and racist smear, the Freddie’s Fashon Mart incitement that left seven people dead and the recent politically motivated faux outrage against the Police? Maybe Sharpton would be feeling the full brunt of the law right now for the millions he owes in back taxes were he not a priviliged guest at the WH with insider access, but rather the leader of a prominent Tea Party group that was critical of the Administration’s failed policies.
I would assume that if you genuinely despise the influence of big money in politics that you must have been utterly sickened when candidate Obama decided to break his campaign promise to publicly finance his 2008 presidential campaign and chose to take advantage of the private money he had raised, or when Hilliary Clinton triumphantly announced recently that she would raise a staggering $2.5 billion for her presidential bid.
“”” putin takes swipe at US in victory day speech.”” el-Sissi there–Egypt lost to the terrible dictator faces.
“”” martin o’malley battles the guardian””. from the guardian. Will sing the Marshall Plan song with a side of pandering to ancient grievances. A direct quote from Marty— Legacy issues from 300 years of brutal racial history. Martin is a good whitey who will smite bad whitey.
societies which function are characterized by individuals who practice piety, rectitude, honesty, discipline and accountability. these individual virtues are also part of the lexicon of the larger society, and that society demands those virtues.
now, there are societies in which these virtues are honored in their breach and not their observance, but, at least these qualities are recognized as qualities to attain, even if seldom. now, it is not guaranteed that societies which announce these qualities will ever attain them, or will ever see individuals who can be described by them, or will thrive.
but, it is guaranteed that individuals and societies that are completely unaware of such qualities, or openly disdain them, or who flaunt their departure from such qualities will fail.
we fail. and, are doomed to failure and collapse, because an honest and virtuous person is so seldom encountered, and never honored.
name a “public servant” (and the term is laughable) who can described with these terms.
the best we can hope for is downfall which chastens, and does not totally destroy. and, a return to the private virtue that religion provides, albeit imperfectly, but that is the nature of the beastie involved, and a public virtue the ancient romans who have recognized. you know, the things that the great community organizer ridiculed.
p.s. we do not have a rule of law in this country. we have fiat, and uneven disposition, based upon privilege. in this the left is correct, but, rather unwittingly, they describe their own position when discussing such matters.
On a recent trip to the UK, I paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum in Greenwich. The museum houses some amazing objects of Britain’s past conflicts. When you walk onto the ground floor you immediately notice a captured German V-2 rocket and a V-1 buzz bomb; these types of weapons had terrorized Londoners during the Blitz. Hanging from the ceiling is a Spitfire that had fought 57 sorties during the Battle of Britain, which was arguably Britiain’s “finest hour.” And on the floor is a Russian T-34 tank. I only had enough time to see two of the main exhibits (my wife finds military history very boring), but they both made a lasting impression on me. Besides effectively describing the large scale slaughter and human depravity of war, both exhibits showed the ghastly results of (1) a poorly conducted foreign policy; and (2) what can happen when a republic implodes and the rule of law is replaced by the rule of men.
The first exhibit concerned World War One. Walking through it, you came face to face with the horrors of trench warfare. Devlish weapons and strategies, such as the Mills bomb, hand to hand fighting with clubs and knives, and poison gas (BTW, last month marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Ypres where the Germans first introduced chlorine gas) had been devised to break the deadlock, but to no avail. In the Battle of the Somme, roughly 600k Central powers’ soldiers died in order to gain about six miles of ground. Accoding to the short history in my guidebook, the war had started after the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 by a Serbian terrorist had forced a confrontation between Austria-Hungary’s ally Germany and Sebia’s ally Russia. Austria-Hungary wanted to punish Serbia, and wanting to knock out Russia’s ally France before Russia could mobilize her massive army, Germany declared war on France. After Germany invaded neutral Belgium, Britain entered the war in order to honor a treaty it had signed. This tangled web of treaties and alliances resulted in the needless slaughter of 17 million people. I hope given the current shambolic state of US foreign policy in which redlines are issued and retracted, cheap photo ops with plastic reset buttons are made, and where a post war world order that has maintained peace and stability for 70 years is effectively trashed that another avoidable conflagration is not repeated.
The second exhibit concerned the Holocaust. It begins by describing the gathering cloud of fascism in Germany that had resulted from the post war chaos of punishing reparations and massive unemployment. As the exhibit meanders along the timeline of Hitler’s rise to power, the brutality against the Jews gets worse and worse. I won’t recount the ghastly details, but I did find one image particularly gut wrenching. It was of a young Ukranian Jewish woman partially naked, fleeing in terror, with blood on her face as she is being chased by a gleeful mob that had been incited by the German SS. As a trained nurse I’m familiar with the concepts of empathy and compasion. They were drummed in to our heads and hearts from day one. I couldn’t help but feel the same sense of empathy for this innocent human being that I would have for a patient who despite leading a healthy lifestyle is diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
We may not know why cancer strikes in some, but we do have a good idea how republics die and a Hitler comes to power. It happens when ideology is allowed to trump due process and the rule of law. I don’t think America is any danger of bcoming a fascist dictatorship some time soon, but like the thickening intima of a corotid artery, the ground work is being layed down. Under Barak Obama, we have seen a man increasingly act outside the traditional constraints of executive authority as he tries to implememt his ideology at all costs. From a de facto executive amnesty, an EPA that issues its own law, an IRS that uses its vast powers to attack the Administration’s political enemies to a former Secretary if State who keeps a private email server to store public emails and then sifts through them to delete whichever ones she believes the American people do not have the right to know about. What will America look like if Hilliary gets elected for the next 8 years?
Silly to assume we can replicate conditions that occurred in places like 1930’s Germany and not suffer the same results. There is a level of corruption, dishonesty, and violence that will cause people to eventually sell freedom for security. That may take awhile or simply go viral with an as yet unknown defining event. Buckle up.
Rule of Law is a prejudice of the Anglosphere, believed in nowhere else and less and less even there.
The majority belief is that the guys in power help the guys who keep them in power. The end.