Tacitus, the gabby Roman historian of 1 A.D., reported a new scam making the rounds in ancient commercial circles:
A tax of four per cent on the sale of slaves was remitted, an apparent rather than a real boon, for as the seller was ordered to pay it, purchasers found it was added as part of the price.
I have a clue for Tacitus, who was probably the world’s first newspaper columnist, judging by the volume of imperial dirt he uncovered and publicized. This tax racket probably had been around since governments first learned to squeeze wealth from working stiffs. Smarter stiffs found a way to make the dumber stiffs do the paying.
And it is still going today, as exemplified by the “make them pay their fair share” philosophy of the Democrat Party. The “them” to whom our proto-socialists refer are mostly corporations, because they are the entities with the most money. As each new tax is levied, manufacturers and distributors simply jack up their prices and John Public does the actual paying. Politicians love this process because they escape the lethal political onus of having voted for a hated general tax.
And the idea has spread to other sectors of our economy. For decades now, Hollywood’s rich actors have been ratcheting up salary demands all out of proportion to any hits they have been taking from the government. Producers have inflated production costs, as they bid for bigger and more costly screen extravaganzas. Prices have risen all down the line until the average popcorn consumer is paying five bucks and more for a ticket. Things have reached such a pass that movie exhibitors no longer profit from ticket sales. Their money comes from candy and soft drinks. Little wonder that filmdom’s elite can afford to be liberals and toot the trumpet for more tax and spending. It plays good at the box office and it pays at the bank.
The most egregious instance of this “soak the working stiff” came, of course, not from direct taxation, but in the great tobacco lawsuits of recent memory. They involved settlements of billions of dollars and were hyped to: 1. Punish the evil cigarette barons. 2. Reimburse states for Medicare money spent treating smoking diseases. States sued the tobacco companies, and collected vast sums, with much going to lawyer buddies of politicians in the aggrieved states. As for the cigarette barons, they didn’t lose a nickel. They simply raised the price of their smokes so that hamburger-flipping, tire-changing addicts paid the freight of $25 and more for a carton of coffin nails.
You have to hand it to the old Roman Senate. When they discovered their slave tax was being used to gouge consumers, they quickly abolished it. Try to find me a modern politician deranged enough to commit the same folly.