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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

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Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Corona, 'The Science' or Scientism, Islam, the State, the cult of Gender Fascism, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion...

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

France: A history of high taxes, despotism and denial of freedom

Divine Rule in any form will ultimately fail.

by StFerdIII

There are many annoying attributes about Francophiles and those who declaim that France 'is civilization'. The chief complaint is that they ignore reality and real progress.  Certainly aspects of Western civilization are French inspired. Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Beaujolais wines, Rabelais, Gothic architecture, the Normans, pretty women, the language, and the courage of French troops at the Battle of the Marne in 1915, loom large in history. Today unfortunately the modern state of France mimics that of the pre-modern French area, a geography which is a state-controlled entity, where governments consume 50% of the total economic output, and where over 40% of all workers, are employed by the state. Dynamic, energetic, and innovative France is not. Far from being unusual in French history however, this is the norm. France's default organization has been despotic statism. This is one reason why France is far weaker and poorer than it should be.

France is younger than the United States. It is a new creation, amalgamating different and foreign controlled lands. In 1453 when the long war with England finally ended in a French victory, no more than half of present day France was a part of the French empire. Most of the West and Centre of the current country, including the huge area of Bourbonnais [where the Bourbon Kings resided]; were outside of the French state. Different regions, languages and customs were brought under control, over a 3 generational period and by the early 16th century most of present day France was ruled from Paris. In order to quell local cultures and dialects, the French state became highly centralized, imposing a uniform variant of the French language and culture on its disparate regions. This fact has always informed the political-economy of France down to this day. It is a highly regulated, state-manufactured creation.

Absolutism was France. In no other country did the 'Divine Right of Kings' take such a hold as in France. The pre-modern French Parle-ment or Estates General met in 1483; then again in 1560; once more in 1614; and not again until 1789. France was ruled by divine decree. The messiness and robust debate of a democracy or a system of representation did not appear in France until the latter third of the 19th century. Representative democracy has had a very short life indeed in the French state.

When you have absolutism, you will also have high taxes. The two go together. Unchecked, unfettered Kingly rule has to lead to exploitation. There is no exception to this, in the history of man. In France the mass of people who were largely poor, and semi-literate, were plundered by the state in the form of high taxes. Police surveillance was also extremely active – a fact given great expansion and color in Hugo's classic, 'Les Miserables'. The population was largely miserable, at least as compared to the elite of the French court and business. They were taxed, regulated and denied the opportunities afforded by a system of liberal capital and labor exchange. France was so heavily regulated that population movement; internal immigration; business investments; and farm production all fell under the very watchful eye of the state and its minion bureaucrats. Nothing moved, breathed, invested, or profited in France without the state knowing about it. Hugo's 'Miserables', were in the main un-free, and usually disallowed from pursuing life, liberty, private property and the pursuit of their own happiness.

Even with overwhelming taxation the French state was always near bankruptcy. Part of this was due to the French state's obsession with expansion and war. France's imperialist policies and ceaseless conflicts to push French hegemony were key reasons why the state was always short of money. The army and navy were huge – the largest in Europe and probably took up ¼ of the entire French budget. But this alone does not account for systemic French bankruptcy. The elite were mainly responsible. By the time of Louis XVI, the court of Versailles and the rich families subsidized by the state were taking 10-15% of the national income. This was dead money. You can argue that some part of the armed forces expenditure was necessary, even though the constant warring was not intelligent policy, and unnecessary. But parasites consuming 10-15 % of all tax incomes is a sure path to financial insolvency. Long before the French Revolution, the French state was in penury, owing some 2 Billion Francs in debt; even though the over-taxed peasants contributed some 200 million in revenues. France's poor financial condition only worsened after the American Revolution which it helped financed, and which led directly in part, to its own 1789 Revolution where a peasantry finally got fed up with royal prerogatives, grinding taxation, and the first formative patterns of a police state.

Throughout French history the application of taxes benefited the elite, and punished the mass. This policy always leads to economic rigidity, which further greases the wheels of corruption and elitist nepotism. The French state had three basic taxes. The most important French tax was the taille or property tax. The elite including the powerful church clergy, were exempt. Villages for some reason paid in one lump sum. The taxation for each village was arbitrary. In many cases some villages were paying taxes on historical population levels which were no longer relevant. A second tax, on top of the taille, was a consumption tax, paid by every citizen on product consumed. Any artifact of daily life was highly taxed – soap, salt, wine, liquor, tobacco, candles, wood, brought in enormous revenues. Lastly, each person paid a poll or head tax – just for being alive. The actual head-tax would depend on which of 22 groups you fell into. Poll taxes were due in full, in cash, on a certain day each year, and this payment caused much grief for the mass of citizens.

The results were predictable. The high taxes deformed the political-economy. The more money you made the higher were your taxes. Many farmers ignored technology and productivity and used simple implements to eke out a bare minimum living standard to avoid sur-taxation. The opposite was true in England. French investments in business were confined to the ruling elite. Any great capital projects were controlled by no more than a few hundred French families. This neglect of capital accumulation and diffusion ensured that productivity was low and that jobs were not created. The French state basically viewed both the economy and the peasantry as assets to plunder and rape – not as individuals or abstractions to help, enrich, or ennoble.

The worst aspect of the French state however, was the destruction of private property. You can't build a modern nation state without private property ownership. In France long into the 19th century, all lands, and property were granted by the license of the French crown. These were called 'privileges'. If a peasant discovered a vein of iron ore, it could only be mined through the sale of that land by the state to a select business consortium, controlled by the state. The King owned all the land and everything underneath it or around it. If however, the King's consortium found a good mine on your land, they would pay you nothing for it. They would simply go in, mine the ore, and destroy your property – and you would receive no payment.

Private property did not exist in pre-late 19th century France. Unless that is, you were part of the elite, or had the money to buy your license. But most licensees were hard to obtain. In the past as in modern France, the state prefered monopolies. This makes it much easier to charge higher rents and allows the state more facile control. Due to the limitations on licenses and the addictions to monopolies, there was little competition in pre-modern French business and industry. This limited the ability of France to compete in the European political-economy, retarding French industrial growth, and limiting wealth creation.

Along with state-controlled industry, guilds or unions developed further impairing competition, escalating prices and making products which were inferior but of high cost. The guilds usually cooperated with the ever-present French bureaucracy, ensuring for instance that the dying of cloth had over 300 regulations which would of course limit competition, provide a barrier to entry, and guarantee the jobs of literally thousands of state bureaucrats and inspectors. It mattered not that the cloth produced was inferior, highly priced and of little benefit to the French peasantry which was forced to buy it. The state made money – and lots of it – from the entire process which it controlled. In effect the French consumer was paying another tax for the rampant forms of monopoly and protectionism, abetted by guilds and the bureaucracy, on all 'important products' that the French state needed or wanted to control.

When you add it all up, it makes a sorry tale. For hundreds of years the French state was omnipotent. High taxes, a police state, bureaucracy, unions, and protectionism punished all aspects of the citizenry and the French political-economy. It was despotism run amok. Viewed in this long-term perspective it is no surprise that the French lost European hegemony to first the Dutch, and then the English. In both Holland and England the exact opposite attributes of political-economy were being developed. Instead of viewing the average person as a useless and quite stupid animal to be husbanded and exploited, the Dutch and English found the principles of liberation and opportunity and out of all proportion to their small population sizes; were able to control world trade and capital.

The lessons from French history and even modern development are pretty clear. Statism and despotism are the same thing. Divine rule by Kings; or a cult; or a state technocracy; or by communal Marxism always leads to the mass being impoverished, denied liberty, and prevented from accumulating wealth and property. It is a lesson which is not taught enough, understood well enough, or embedded in our own political-economic discussions. Despotism in any form fails. It is as simple as that.



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