Irish Liberty Forum

Medieval Keynesianism

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I’m currently reading “For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilisation” by Charles Adams and I came across a fascinating description of tax theory during the time of Louis 16th in France. I quote:

Economists in the ancien régime believed that the best medicine to cure poverty was heavy taxation. Indeed, the poorer a region was the heavier it should be taxed. Increased taxation, said these experts, would increase productivity and benefit everyone; consequently, taxes were the appropriate tool to combat poverty.

    The poor were like grass– the more they were cut down, the stronger they would become.

Adams is definitely not a libertarian but here he lays out the retarded philosophy that has plagued man since time immemorial, that taxes are a good thing.

Incidentally, the only way to avoid taxes was to become a nobleman by issue of the King or work for the State. Noblemen despised work, as all good aristocrats do. I find this outlook on life compelling when one considers the lens from which Marx, the wealthy landed aristocrat, looked at the world and how much he despised and refused to work for a living, thinking it was beneath him. As has been pointed out before, the intellectuals of today have a lot in common with the aristocracy of 300 years ago: they love the State for the privileges it grants them but they also despise work.

Tax-payer who was found to be keeping extra food for his family in Medieval France

I’ll revisit this in another post once I’ve finished the book but Adams demonstrates how the feudal system resulted from the savage taxation from Emperor Commodus to the collapse of Rome in which farmers preferred to become chattel slaves to the local biggest landowner (who was normally exempt from tax and was granted his land as a political favour) than actually pay the taxes and starve. Parents used to sell their children as slaves just to pay the tax collectors.


Written by NaomhAdamnan

June 11, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. […] their children as slaves just to pay the tax collectors. Cross posted at the Irish Liberty Forum: Medieval Keynesianism Irish Liberty Forum __________________ Tu Ne Cede Malis Sed Contra Audentior Ito Ludwig Von Mises Institute Irish […]

  2. Nobles also had to pay taxes. See Magna Carta! They had many responsibilities including the personal one of providing soldiers, boats horses when warring. The suggested motivational impact could only work on the mesne lords, those between the King, Queen or other sovereign and the peasants who worked land which they possessed, and the serfs and slaves who were landless. They could always leave and be outlaw. If they did well, they were named viking, after the activity. If not they begged and were vagrant.
    The mesne lord had invested all he and his family had in the area granted to him by his lord. He had to motivate his people to provide the taxes. If no he would fail to fulfill his obligations and another would receive the grant.

    Pat Donnelly

    June 25, 2009 at 10:41 am

  3. I find it strange that one has to ‘work for a living’. That is a very odd reason to work. I am not aware of any other animal that has to ‘work for a living’.

    One should work to produce something that is beneficial to oneself or others. That should be the only reason anyone should ever work.

    A lion would not spent 40 hours a week prowling the countryside, killing as many gazelles as it can lat its hands on. It does not worry about maximizing its productivity or outperforming its neighbor. A lion hunts when its hungry. What’s the point of hunting when you have enough food?

    People should not have to work to live. We have the technology and expertise to produce all we need and work alot less than we do now.

    Instead of focusing on producing as much meaningless crap as we can and spending billions on marketing it to ram it down our throats, why not just make that which is actually beneficial; that which we actually want and need? By working alot less, people could actually have fun, relax and do what interests them, not what pays them. The great scientific advances were made not by clever entrepreneurs (who give us Credit default swaps and Collateralized debt obligation), but by eccentrics, people who were not motivated by money but by the love of what they were doing.

    People do things for other reasons than money. People do things because they like doing it.


    August 2, 2009 at 7:45 am

  4. Interesting points, Dermot, although I’m not entirely clear what you are getting at.

    Through an expanded division of labour people focus on what they do best which is usually what they enjoy the most. Their enjoyment of their work usually focuses their mind on becoming a specialist at it.

    But, as Hazlitt wrote in “One Lesson”, “Demand does not only equal supply, demand is supply” for supplying goods other people want is the only way we can acquire goods we want without using violence. The reason people work more than the bare minimum to cover the cost of bread and water is because they demand more purchasing power than what they have, to live in greater comfort and to provide more fully for one family and loved ones. Surplus savings become investment capital which is then used to advance new industries and technologies that may be of value to the public.

    Of course it is easy to criticise consumerism and materialism for how much junk is produced, but ultimately this is not an economic problem but a cultural one. Artificial booms encourage consumption as wealth seems to detach itself from the process of trade and serving one’s fellow man and appears to originate in luck in which the lazy scoundrel is as fortunate as the honest and diligent. By simply owning and holding shares and houses, selling and “flipping” you can become a millionaire without lifting a finger during the boom. This would not generally not be a financially sound business in a pure free market. The humble worker who continues to serve his fellow man is scorned during the boom for being so old-fashioned, whilst the gambler is hailed as an economic magician for none of his bets can go wrong during the boom.

    It appears that you attach a negative connotation to work, and that the only kind of labour which one calls “work” is that of a sweat-shop or farm-hand labourer out in the fields.

    When I say Marx refused to “work for a living” I am saying that he refused to participate in producing anything that anybody wanted (except the occasional article for Engels who kept him on private dole, holding his family just above starvation because of Marx’s deep convictions against work). If everybody held Marx’s attitude the human race would quickly die out.

    It is my experience that personal enjoyment and job satisfaction more often than not coincide and I expect that if the free-market was not restricted the satisfaction from employment would only increase, not decrease as Marx assumes, as one continually focuses more and more at what one enjoys the most.


    August 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

  5. I don’t find much in your post that’s really contradictory to Brian’s points. If people really prefered more leisure to more work and more money, and they thought that this would make them more happy, what’s stopping him?

    One should work to produce something that is beneficial to oneself or others. That should be the only reason anyone should ever work.

    Indeed this is the purpose of work and jobs.

    Instead of focusing on producing as much meaningless crap as we can and spending billions on marketing it to ram it down our throats, why not just make that which is actually beneficial; that which we actually want and need?

    How do you know what is mindless crap and what is “needed”? Is this evaluation somehow objective.


    August 3, 2009 at 12:43 am

  6. The purpose of work at present is to make an income. One has to have an income in order to consume in the present system. The motivation of work is profit. It is rather strange if you think about it. Practically every worker works so as to make a profit. Their motivation for work is not what they produce, it is the financial reward they get for production.

    Every other species on the planet works so as to acquire something that benefits them or their community. It is their only motive. Surely that is why we should also work. If that was our primary motivation, we would not be moving factories to China, producing 30 types of toothpaste, destroying our forests and oceans. It is completely irrational.

    As regards what is mindless crap and what is needed, yes we can decide objectively, if we had real choice. In the Capitalist system, we do not have choice over what needs to be produced. That which makes a profit will be produced and, indeed, needs to be produced.

    Clearly, people would prefer to eat quality, locally produced, healthy food. Because of the profit motive of Capitalism, most people do not do so.

    Firstly, they do not have the time to prepare quality food. They do not have the money to purchase it or they make a decision not to purchase it so as to save their scarce income. No rational person would chose to consume the food that we now eat. It is detrimental to their health, of poor quality and damaging to the ecosystem. They are, however, compelled to consume it due to this system’s profit motivation.


    August 3, 2009 at 4:14 am

  7. Hi Dermot, the above has potential for a long discussion and I’m trying to study for exams at the moment so I apologise but I’d prefer to continue this conversation in a few weeks when I’m free.

    20000 or anybody else is also free to join in in my stead, otherwise I’ll pick it up again at the end of the month!


    August 3, 2009 at 11:04 am

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