Legend has it that the Persian King Xerxes was confident in his ability to crush the Greeks because he saw them as dishonest men. They lied to one another in their marketplace and in their debates over politics and law. From the perspective of the Persians, a people who allegedly viewed lying as the worst crime possible, this defect would undermine their efforts to resist the Persians. Men who cannot trust one another cannot defend one another when under attack.
We know Xerxes was wrong, if he indeed thought these things. Much of our history of the time comes from Herodotus, who was not afraid to gild the lily when rerecording the history of the Greeks and her enemies. It is a useful insight, however, as the market-based society is, when you think about it, a system where the rewards go to those who are best at deceiving their fellow citizens. More accurately, status comes from deceiving people into thinking you are being honest with them.
The marketplace for goods and services is where sellers misrepresent their goods in order to maximize profit. Sellers exaggerate key features and do not disclose possible defects to potential buyers. On the other hand, the buyer will misrepresent his interests and make claims about finding a better deal from another seller. Both sides haggle trying to take advantage of the other. The dynamic of the marketplace is a game of liar’s poker where cleverness and deceit are rewarded.
Democratic politics is just taking the marketplace idea and applying it to the governance of the society. The sellers are the people with ideas for how to solve problems in society and the buyers are the majority who vote on it. The game is to convince the mob there is a problem and that you have the solution. Being right about the problem or the solution is unimportant. What gets rewarded is convincing fifty percent plus one to go along with your scheme, which makes you the winner.
The recent trial balloon launched by the inner party regarding a wealth tax is a good example of how the lying game works. The idea being floated is that billionaires will be subjected to a new tax that applies to their unrealized capital gains. They will pay a tax based on the potential profit from the sale of certain assets. Presumably, this will apply only to equities, the market value of which can be determined by the current trading price at the time the tax is assessed.
Right away, you see that everything about this is a lie. For starters, how does one determine if you are a billionaire? It is easy when it comes to oligarchs like Jeff Bezos, but further down the list it gets less clear. Calculating net worth is not as straight forward at this level as most assume. Of course, avoiding the tax will spawn an industry to help the rich hide their assets from this tax. Since that exists in other areas, this tax is a boon to the financial schemers who currently serve the rich.
Then you have the impracticality of the idea. When would the tax be levied, and would it be levied on the same asset every year? If you buy a stock in 2021 and it goes up ten percent, you get taxed on the ten percent. If it goes up again in 2022, do you pay a tax on it again or just the increase in 2022? What happens when you pay the tax on unrealized gains that disappear the day after you paid the tax? What about assets held in family trusts? Do they get taxed as well?
The point here is that this is a nutty idea simply on the grounds that it is a wildly complicated solution to a problem that is simple to address. If you really want the rich to pay more tax, you tax them at a higher rate. Treating all income equally is the most straightforward and honest solution. Those gains and losses from investment activity are just another line in the income section of the tax return. Imputed income like stock options is just another entry on the W2.
Of course, this will never become law. It is just a sop to the mouth breathers on the far left who operate on massive corporate platforms while pretending to be anti-capitalists and socialists. It also allows the zombies in Conservative Inc. to come out from under their beds and do their libertarian dance. They get to put on the thin tie, throw on the Flock of Seagulls cassette and carry on like it is 1985. It is party night at the museum where everyone gets to pretend the outside world does not exist.
Everything about this drama is a lie, because it is just a drama. It is a story being told to arouse the passions of the crowd so they stop thinking about things that should matter to them, like the fact that gasoline prices have doubled, or their government lied about the Covid pandemic for two years. This is the nature of democratic politics. The winners are just the best liars. The losers never lose anything. They just have to come up with better lies so they can get another crack at the lying game.
A culture built around rewarding the most devious and dishonest is going to get more of the devious and dishonest. Assuming Herodotus was right about Xerxes, it was an important insight about the nature of democracy. The marketplace society is inevitably a society full of liars. On the other hand, the factious Greeks, and their penchant for lying, did beat the Persians. They did not just defend their lands, they dominated the Persians on land and sea, despite the numerical disadvantages.
It may be that a hidden strength of the marketplace is that because no one can trust anyone and there is no neutral arbiter to enforce honestly, everyone has to be on their game all the time. Therefore, it boils off those who are less clever and less able to live by their own wits. The cost to the collective strength that comes from the lack of trust is less than the benefit that comes from stronger individual members. Deracinated clever liars are better than united trusting morons.
That may be why democracy is such a violent form of government. The Greeks were always fighting with one another and then with the Persians. America is a hyper-violent empire that is always looking to wage war. Perhaps the hidden cost of that hidden strength of the market it is needs an enemy to bind the parts together. The reason liberal democracy looks a lot like fascism is the only way to bind the sticks together is with enemies, real and imagined.
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