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State Functions and Taxation

The difference between a mafia state and a constructive state is what they do with taxes, whether collected in cash, kind, or labour.

A mafia state uses their force to coerce the taxed populace into labour which enriches them further, with three main aims:

  1. The production of luxury goods
  2. The reproduction of elite sources of power
  3. The preservation of the subject classes and their ability to satisfy the previous two aims

This triad forms the motive structure of an exploitative state, which merely maintains the sufficient capacity of the subject classes without any concern for their wellbeing otherwise. The ultimate goal of the state is to fulfil the motivations of the elite for luxury goods or services, which includes the practice of power and humiliation of others. The reproduction of sources of power, be this social capital or weaponry, enables the maintenance of the hierarchical structure, which in turn makes coercion possible. The preservation of the subject class makes their productive capacities possible, which in turn serves 2 and 1.

There is little other than self-preservation that incentivises the exploited classes to join in this system. Barring some kind of class-consciousness, their individual or community power will be insufficient against the centre that is kitted to suppress uprisings. Though their power for most of history will have been insufficient to suppress the entire subject populace at once, this has very rarely been a requirement.

What are the possible positive incentives a state may provide to a taxed population? These are the fruits of centralisation- emergency relief in the form of specialised taskforces and reserve goods; administration and security making trade, travel and communication safe and organised; and research, which is both only possible given a certain amount of free time, and capable of increasing productivity or quality of life among the taxed population. A state which invests taxed goods and labour in these endeavours is a state that provides arguably attractive positive incentives for a taxable population to become a taxed population.

Such a beneficial state does not, necessarily, need to be centralised- the taxation of currency incentivises the acquisition of currency via the exchange of labour or goods with currency-holders, or the capitalist class. This class thus becomes a de-centralised branch of the government, deciding what kind and shape of labour and good arrangement the taxed population will fall into in order to fulfil their tax obligations. That is- instead of the government directing the owed goods and labour, they provide tokens to a select class, which then directs the taxed population into industries of their choice, and provides them the tokens by which they can pay off their tax debt.

But this is not the only incentive in a monetary capitalist system. For many, the production of goods required for survival is no longer individualised, and so things such as water, food and shelter all require monetary payment. This is a form of indirect taxation, further cementing the role of capitalists as state agents. In order to acquire the goods needed to survive, most people need to pay those who hold land or other primary goods currency, which to acquire they need to work for a currency holder. For the landowners, this currency works in two main ways: to pay the state, and to pay their labourers. The payment to the state aside for a moment, payment to labourers works in the same way as taxation derives labour dues: that is, a token of no immediate worth compels the taxable class to perform labour for a capitalist; this token in turn is exchanged for the necessities of life. Unlike earlier ages where the majority of the taxed population would have been rural and largely self-sufficient, and taxation enforced via the negative threat of arrest; in the modern day the positive threat of starvation and homelessness is enforced via the negative threat of police action against violation of property law. That is, the acquisition of goods recognised as property of the capitalist without their permission activates the element of force, whereas before it would have been the retention of goods recognised as property of the capitalist that would have activated this mechanism.

These two are, essentially, the same thing- the only difference is that equivalence is now recognised to a greater degree. That is, instead of the production of the taxed class being the direct issue of property, the equivalents of their production have become more important. To understand why, consider this: when a labourer works to produce a product, they are producing something that will generate a certain amount of value and thus profit for their capitalist employer. They are paid a minor share of this value, which they then use to trade for the necessities of life. A peasant’s refusal to pay the taxed share of their produce would be the same as the labourer’s refusal to give up the product of their labour. The only difference is that the labourer would then have to trade this valuable product for the necessities of life, rather than consume it directly. In the peasant’s case, the lord does not contribute to the labour, but takes a cut; the same is the case for the labourer. The capitalist, then, is effectively taxing the labourer- if the labourer refuses to be taxed, then the law applies to them the same way in both cases, as having violated the right to property.

Both the capitalist and the lord can, indeed, have a right to a certain share of production, if they fulfil the role of a beneficial government- that is, organise and secure the means of production so as to make the labour of the taxed more productive. This cut, however, is almost never the basis for the “taxation” at hand, and instead it is often the power difference that leads to the reaping of as much as possible from the taxed.

This is in part why the cries of “taxation is theft” ring so hollow from the so-called libertarians of the American right. They wholeheartedly support the maintenance of capitalist wage-labour, but simply wish to remove the overlord of this system- this is no different from lords grumbling about crown taxes that cut into their profits. It is not a cry for true freedom any more than the Magna Charta was- it is simply an attempt to decentralise a large system of exploitation. And even that decentralisation is likely to be, at its core, disingenuous, as the dream of all lords and capitalists alike is to gain pre-eminence and dominion over their peers. The abolition of monopoly is simply a tactic used by would-be kings on their path to the throne.

The difficulty, really, lies in the double-edged nature of administrative and security roles. An administrator, by their very definition, determines the allocation of responsibilities and resources; it is, then, entirely within their capacity to assign more of these to themselves. To decentralise decision-making reduces the role of the administrator and thus their effectiveness, making their very existence increasingly redundant. Increasing it, however, gives them more and more prerogative to set the system up to their own benefit, as opposed to the collective benefit. If indeed a “philosopher king” such as Plato’s, or incorruptible men of religion as is the dream of theocracies, could indeed be relied upon, there is no reason why centralised administration would be oppressive, per se. Their function would merely be one of another service, and their recompense would be accordingly mundane. It is the impossibility of faith in such incorruptibility that makes this a conundrum.

Security faces a similar issue. To enable a class to secure a population and its production necessarily requires granting them the tools by which they can also become the threat against which they were assigned. To disarm the securing forces, either physically or legally, would be to reduce their effectiveness and thus their function, making their very existence increasingly redundant. To increase these capabilities gives them the capacity to rape and pillage where others may have, yet to a more organised and wide-scale degree. If virtuous soldiers or vigilant police could be trusted, there is no reason why such a system need be oppressive; it is the impossibility of trusting such virtue that makes this a conundrum.

It is also important, when considering examples via these two conundrums, to understand that they applied in a layered fashion. That is- a system that seems extremely decentralised from a broad view, where administration and security are neglected by a state either unwilling or unable to control either, can contain examples of the polar opposite on the local scale. Warlords, dukes, local officials, magnates etc. can all exert greater power in their own domains due to the lack of imposition from above, making the life of their “subjects” one that is both heavily organised and policed by a force that is above them- it makes no difference to their lived reality that this force is not the central state. Inversely, a heavily centralised state may contain many examples of deregulation, with swathes of the economy not included in central planning, but organisation and militarisation within those sectors barred by the strong central arm. Many can slip between the cracks, but if the central force is powerful enough, those who slip through will be incapable of organising themselves into mafia, cartels, community governance, syndicates, guilds, or other types of localised governance. Thus neither under the purview of the central state, nor capable of organising on the local level, they may live in relative anarchy.

This is why it is important to draw parallels between capitalist extraction of the value of labour and taxation; between magnates and state officials. If we are talking about centralisation of power and governance, both can perform this role, and it is in the absence of both, not just the state forces, that anarchy exists. Anarchy does not exist within battling factions per se, but between them; it is the absence of an overarching order that generates a general anarchy, though the particular is still organised. Thus, privatisation does not generate anarchy due to the withdrawal of the state, but rather the opportunity for nesting and rival forms of power to take over. This is why the private sphere must be considered as within the realm of governance and politics, rather than as abstracted from it.

It is always fascinating to see how much of status quo thought is internalised even in the most vitriolic critiques. The idea that ideologies are categorically distinct from religions stems not from an objective analysis of the two classes, but from modern-day ideologies’ self-definition, which is curiously accepted in their external evaluation. That is, those who want to understand ideologies, instead of evaluating them from as neutral a point as possible, seem to accept what they say about themselves. Seeing as most modern Western ideologies emerged from a period in which religious authority and religious founding for law was being eroded, they naturally contain in their constitution pleas to distinguish themselves from the class of “religion” as they define it.

The “public/private” distinction follows the same pattern. The “private” sector of capitalism wishes to position itself as a freer and more naturally virtuous alternative to the planned and centralised “public” state, and as such does not count itself as a tool of governance in the same way. This is part of its founding myth, and it takes acceptance of its exceptionalism to accept its categorical difference. Yet that preceding logical necessity is ignored even by many anti-capitalists, who either accept the public/private distinction, or instead throw out the entire paradigm of governance in exasperation. In the first the optical illusion is maintained; in the other, the whole light show is shut off, so the false distinction is still not exposed. Democratic socialist attempts to “balance” public and private sectors fall in the former group, whereas culturalist explanations that blur the mechanics of power and turn it into an amorphous force inherent in everything, constitute the latter.

Where does this all bring us? Though the preceding few paragraphs digressed from the general point, they ultimately serve to put the present day into perspective, such that the question of centralisation is still salient regardless of privatisation and the “free” market. The conundrum still remains, however: if centralised organisation and security are required, but their effectiveness in fulfilling these functions is dependent on giving them capacities that can be used for abuse, then what must we do?

There are, I think, three main routes down which we can go to answer this question. The first is to flat out deny the necessity of these roles, and to suffice with a disorganised mode of existence- true anarchy, one may say. The issue with this is that the lack of a system is incapable of preventing the emergence of a system. That is, if one lacks both the organisation and the power to constitute a system, one also lacks the ability to prevent the gathering of such power by another, who can them form a system themselves.

The second is to find an imperfect solution, and this derives from Kant’s “council of demons” view of politics- that is, to assume that all will act evilly and selfishly, devise a system of governance that is satisfactory to some degree in this situation, and then to set it in motion in the real world with the hopes that people are better than a council of demons, so the result is even better than the minimum degree of satisfaction required in theory. This is, by and large, the basis of most forms of governance- or at least, the optimistic justifications thereof. The system may be bad, but the world would be worse without it, let’s keep it and try to make it as balanced as possible. We will have to endure some evil either way, the balance will just shift with the times.

The third is the slowest solution, and in some senses the least guaranteed- solving the problem at the root. I like the think of the difference between the previous solution and this one as the difference between politics and religion. While the imperfect solution above tries to make a good enough system with dangerous materials, this third approach is to alter the materials themselves. That is, instead of redirection and control, this would advance through education. The answer here, then, is not in what to do about dangerous individuals, both anarchical and state-participating, but rather how to make it such that individuals themselves are less likely to create the danger that necessitates centralised governance. Pipe dream as it may seem, if a mode of existence can be found that both educates the average individual to a degree that they require less central administration and provides them enough virtue to prevent them from committing dangerous or evil acts, then the threshold at which centralised governance can be effective goes down, and so does the capacity to abuse such power.

There is, in one sense, a way to read this in which it is very patronising. This third option can be used as a way to chastise the “lower” classes, putting anarchic danger as the chief reason for the conundrum at hand, and blaming its existence on the lack of education or direction among the lower classes. This is a limited and bad-faith view of this option. The conundrum is a conundrum due to two sides, and would not be an issue if the threat of “high” class abuse was not a fact. Thus, this kind of education would also be necessary for those who are poised to take power. It is also very much the case that the anarchic threats against which central governance are directed often arise out of neglect and necessity, rather than moral deficiency. This third solution in some ways, then, may seem to paradoxically rest upon the pre-existence of a distributive system that provides enough for each member so as to rule out these crimes of necessity. The resolution of this paradox lies in the distinction between a pre-requisite of foundation vs. maintenance– that is, whether this solution requires its purported product for it to even be attempted in the first place, or whether it is required to sustain the system it generates. If it is the latter, then we are only talking of a virtuous cycle, and there is no contradiction. If we’re talking about the former, then there is a deep, deep issue.

I prefaced this third way as “religion” as opposed to “politics”, because it seems that one of the chief definers of a religious structure, at least those that transcend state structures, is that they attempt to change the inner worlds of their adherents, without the necessity of force or coercion (though this should not be confused with the necessity of their absence). Their social function is to change the adherents in such a way as to generate individual and communal patterns of behaviour that produce certain desired (and sadly certain undesired) macro results. Custom, philosophy, ethics, and many other such phenomena perform these functions as well, and religion is just one, relatively organised expression.

My hunch is that all three of the above stated solutions are necessary for the ultimate resolution of this conundrum. The anarchical solution is useful for everyday life, where the issue is not brought up where it is not necessary- to bring this hierarchy and centralisation into spaces where it is not necessary is to grow the problem for no reason, so living as much of life outside of this issue as is practical is the first step. This, in turn, allows for the political to step in- if the central power is not absolute due to the persistence of everyday, local anarchy, then it is still malleable. Political power can provide the infrastructure via which the conundrum itself can be changed. Lastly, then, the third solution comes into play as it is made possible by the political movement, and the cultural/ethical shift in the population reduces the necessity of centralised power, thus lowering the threshold for its effectiveness and neutering the conundrum.

This isn’t a perfect solution and seems to rest on a knife-edge of centralised power existing but not being dangerous enough to worry about. I’m still unconvinced, but it’s the best I have so far, and more importantly, seems to be the most promising for future expansion.

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