The Indicator from Planet Money - An Ode To Taxes

Taxes get a bad reputation, but they were central to the formation of representative government and even the written word.

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Avon station Cardiff here. This is the indicator from Planet Money and it is Friday Stacey. It is Friday, which means that it is time for another installment of her indicator summer school. You actually did some traveling to a 3D fantastic place. You went to Greece. Yes. This was a couple years ago when we could travel and it was a was a really wonderful trip. I spend a lot of time in museums cuz this is what I like to do and I was in this Museum that was inside of a monastery and there were all these texts there. Most of them are Bible text. It was like an illuminated Bible tax and things like that, but I saw this one scroll way kind of off in the corner. It was a little different from everything else and Cardiff. I took a photo of it. Here it is.

Wow, it's like bigger than a person is taller than a person and about half as wide. It seems like 7 ft long gold seal on it very fancy, but guess what? It was about what

Taxes, I was beside myself. I was so excited. In fact, according to this Museum this long 7 foot squirrel with a list of tax exemptions that was granted to a particular Monastery from alexios the first emperor of Byzantium in 1088 and this time you thinking because like you I know the taxes are important right obviously raising money is important for a government for an emperor important. I mean, why are tax exemptions worthy of a visiting the two things on manuscripts in this Museum or like our Immortal Souls and taxes maybe Byzantium had interest groups lobbying the emperor for tax breaks to that is actually very possible. Of course right now. Everyone is talking about that because the government has been spending so much money to try to help people and save the economy and also at the same time people are paying way less in taxes right now than they were last year because of unemployment.

Tickets for now. Everyone is talking about possible to do taxes in the future like a millionaires tax or higher inheritance taxed some way to get more Revenue to the government when the government needs more money because a lot of the government's money does come from taxes and all of this news is why I kept thinking about this girl. I thought in Greece because that's cool made me realize that I have been thinking about taxes in entirely the wrong way more on that after the break.

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And he is known for many things but one of them is he created a central fund for financing activities of the Athenian State and he financed a through the collection of tax revenue fun facts if we could even start having more fun than we're already having someone wrote poetry man. Fucking Nissan's man, lol. Okay. Thank you. Anyway, it was not doing much exciting stuff and someone went to centralize things get his vision. He wanted to make a larger more powerful government and he did that partly your taxes at the same time. So long started putting together the foundations of a democratic government a representative government and will says that the orderly collection of taxes and the creation of this Central fund were fundamental to that project taxes were kind of the glue to the whole thing.

The Democratic process in which everybody has some say it is something that that made ancient Athenians more willing to give up some of their individual rights and brought them together and we'll says that collecting taxes in a way that's orderly was itself a technological innovation of sorts. The way I think about Finance is that it's a set of tools. It's a technology to move value backwards and forwards Through Time makes it possible to plan and to grow because you can anticipate roughly how much money you have coming in and when so you can make plans for the future and in a democratic system people kind of except that they're going to hand over some of their money in taxes and they're going to give up a portion of their money and some of their independence to a government these sacrifices give people a stake in the government and its policies. It also gives them a right to speak up in fact will thinks the desire

Collect taxes on the part of the government was a lot of what motivated Athens to create a representative government in. The first place democracy is one way to legitimize in people's minds the taxation process. So one of the nice things about having a democratic processes, you can say look everybody's had their say we've agreed and if you don't like it, you can vote your Congress people out of office, but we all agree that we owe our fair share. Where is if you've got a despotic government that you feel is just squeezing you and not not acting in the people's best interest you going to have a lot of resistance to paying taxes without representation. I think that's a shorter way of putting it.

What does taxes were Central to the social contract of a representative government? It is a central part of the government citizen relationship. And he says when government abuses power or mess up this Dynamic you can have very powerful consequences and it can even take them down in France when tax collection was stepped up during a famine and it's part of the reason that the French Revolution got going. It's kind of also interesting by the way, what will says about how in a democracy we all agree that we owe our fair share. We just don't agree about what we just don't agree about what that fair share actually entails like a cat be spent as a big part of like the Democratic process taxes are definitely emotional people strong feelings about them Pro or con higher or lower and that strong feeling can cause revolutions, but there have been times when it is also caused quite a bit of innovation.

The first writing that we know of is cuneiform writing which was writing on clay tablets and you know, it was fascinating when in the in the 19 century Scholars figured out how to read this writing but then a lot of got disappointed because instead of finding great, you know, works of poetry and literature which there were some of almost all of these tablets were business transactions and most of them appear to be business transactions that had to do with delivery of goods to the state. So it was taxes and Finance and Accounting that really led to the emergence of a written language and basically the Deep human need for an IOU. We might not have the written word know Hamlet don't Odyssey know. Mrs. Dalloway. No Bluest Eye without taxes. Yeah, but also like no James Patterson, so, you know,

Maybe still not the greatest thing in this is what's mine. And what's yours? How much does the government have the right to take and what do we get for the money? We give to the government in the case of representative government if we're not happy with our tax situation or any other situation we can vote people out of office will says that helps the taxes go down a little smoother and to close out card if I feel like maybe we should have a poem from one of the fathers of this whole relationship between representative government and taxes King Saul on some wicked men are rich some good or poor. We will not change her virtue for their store Virtues Of thing that none can take away but money changes owners all the day.

spoken like a Taxman

this episode of the indicator originally aired in November 2018. It was produced by Darice Raffi on and Jamila Huxtable. Patty Hearst is our editor and the indicator is a production of NPR.

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