Life and Taxes
CR Lawn, 2012
“Taxes are the dues that we pay for
the privileges of membership in an organized society.”(note
1) –Franklin D. Roosevelt
We live in a time when too many with access to
power are promoting great economic and social fallacies, hoping
that by endless repetition their errant doctrine will come to be
accepted as gospel truth adopted unquestioningly by all.
As job creators, taxpayers and citizens it is
incumbent upon us to refute this fallacious doctrine that otherwise
will damage us all. That is why I discuss economic and tax matters
in our seed catalog.
To begin we must distinguish between home economy,
business economy, and government economy. In my home economy I follow
Scott Nearing’s dictum never to go in debt, even for a mortgage.
That keeps me in control of my economy, never a slave to anyone
who might profit from my unforeseen misfortune. As a business manager,
however, I cannot follow this philosophy, for to do so would stultify
our cooperative, preventing it from meeting our customers’
expressed needs. We have been fortunate in finding creditors such
as CFNE, CEI and individual supporters willing to lend us capital
at reasonable rates and fair terms. Without such credit our business
could not grow and continue to create jobs. A government economy
backed by the full faith and credit of its citizenry and empowered
to levy taxes and print money (U. S. Constitution, Article 1, Section
8) is in an entirely different circumstance. We are all the government
and we can collectively borrow to invest in our future. Any temporary
shortfall we owe only to ourselves and we can repay over time as
long as we can maintain that faith and credit.
Those arguing to shrink or eliminate government
depend on two fallacies:
1) that the private interest is identical to the public interest
2) that unregulated competition will best serve the public interest.
#1 is false because a corporation is beholden to
its owners or stockholders to maximize its bottom line without regard
to whether or not that will maximize the public interest. Corporations
manufacturing unhealthful products (tobacco companies), polluting
natural resources (strip mining operations), contaminating organic
farms with pesticides or transgenics (so-called life science companies)
externalize their true costs by assigning them to the public burden.
They thereby maximize their private interests but do not serve the
#2 is false because unregulated competition leads
inevitably to monopoly or oligopoly (note the current concentrations
among the major agricultural commodity and seed industries). As
Wendell Berry so eloquently states, “The law of competition
is a simple paradox: competition destroys competition. The law of
competition implies that many competitors, competing on the ‘free
market’ without restraint, will ultimately and inevitably
reduce the number of competitors to one.”(note 2)
Government addresses those societal needs that
are too complex for individuals and small groups. Who shall educate
our youth, maintain our highways and infrastructure, conserve our
natural resources, provide for our defense? These are public, not
private interests; they are commonalities. Our founders crafted
a federal system with a strong central government because the weak
government under the Articles of Confederation was going bankrupt
and could not fulfill common needs. As they wrote in the Preamble
to our Constitution:
“We the people of the United States, in
order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic
tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general
welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our
posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States of America.”
Those who would shrink government only to Defense
and Homeland Security take note: Promoting the general welfare is
not restricted to these limited functions. The near juxtaposition
within the Preamble of “forming a more perfect union,”
“establishing justice” and “insuring domestic
tranquillity” is not mere coincidence. Freedom from foreign
domination and terror, while necessary conditions for domestic tranquillity,
are not sufficient. Domestic tranquillity depends on a shared sense
of economic justice. To this end, Berry advocates:
• Heavy taxes on acreage beyond reasonable limits.(note 3)
• Inheritance taxes on large holdings.(note 3)
• Progressive income taxes.(note 4)
• Enforcement of laws against trusts and monopolies.(note
As FDR said, “Taxes shall be levied according
to the ability to pay. That is the only American principle.”(note
6) Or, as Benjamin Disraeli warned, “To tax the community
for the advantage of a class is not protection, it is plunder.”(note
Those who would free capitalism from government
regulation might first take a closer look at some of our major corporations.
From Bank of America to Blackwater, from Arch Coal to Monsanto,
from Halliburton to Massey Energy (recently bought out by the innocuous-sounding
Alpha Natural Resources, but nevertheless the biggest coal mining
business in Central Appalachia), all routinely subvert the public
good for private gain. Given that reality, we should ask those who
would privatize our postal service, our health care, our schools
and even our prisons on what grounds of magical thinking they rely
to suppose that the results would be any better than what we now
have. The privateers have already had their way far too much and
the result is goods that are not good, services that do not serve,
products that do not produce, information that does not inform,
education that does not educate, and jobs jettisoned to the lowest
bidders, usually overseas.
There are those today who would “starve
the beast,” lowering tax rates further, particularly for the
wealthy. By thereby denying government needed revenues, they would
deliberately create a shortfall, thence using the inevitable unbalanced
budget to call for further cuts in government services—services
they do not need because they have the money to buy anything—but
services the rest of us badly need and cannot otherwise afford.
Starving the beast ultimately starves us all, plunging our national
economy into depression.
If issues in the 18th century were so complex as
to require a strong government, how much more so are present times.
Anyone who believes otherwise is either disingenuous, delusional
or deceived. As was widely understood in the younger days of our
Republic, “Rightful taxation is the price of social order.
It is that portion of the citizen’s property which he yields
up to the government in order to provide for the protection of the
1. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936 presidential campaign address.
2. Wendell Berry, What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth,
“The Total Economy,” 2000, p. 184.
3. Berry, ibid, “Money versus Goods,” 2009, p. 28.
4. Berry, ibid, “The Total Economy,” 2000, p. 189.
5. Berry, ibid, “Money versus Goods,” 2009, p. 27.
6. Franklin D. Roosevelt, ibid.
7. Benjamin Disraeli, speech in Guildhall, London,
Nov. 9, 1878.
8. Journal of the State of Ohio, being the first session of the
46th General Assembly commencing Dec. 6, 1847.