Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The TAX POEM viral email: debunking reactionary libertarian mythology

Mary Harris Mother Jones would tell the truth about 100 years agoI first saw the so called "Tax Poem" in 2007. I've been receiving it in chain emails from people at least once a month ever since. I've received it three times in the last two weeks alone. While certainly clever to some degree, it is completely false, packed with historical errors, outright lies, and reactionary ideas. The following is what I wrote in response to the anonymous tax poem author in 2007. Feel free to send my fact filled response to anyone who has ever sent you the viral tax poem email.

Tax his land,
Tax his bed,
Tax the table
[ ...snipped for brevity... ]
Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, and our nation was the  most prosperous in the world.
We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.
What in the hell happened? Can you spell 'politicians?'
And I still have to 'press 1' for English !?!
I hope this goes around THE USA at least 100 times!! YOU can help it get there!!!!

Leaving the reactionary cum libertarian first portion on taxes alone for now, let's look at what 1907 really looked like...

>> 100 years ago, and our nation was the  most prosperous in the world.

Maybe it was for the Robber Barons. For the rest of us the turn of that century saw a continuation of the brutal working conditions from the industrialization period in the 1800's. Child labor was rampant [1], working conditions were horribly unsafe with no regulations whatsoever [2], there was no minimum wage, and workers often labored 10-15 hours a day [3]. Back in these "good ol' prosperous days," employers had private armed and/or government troops shoot and kill workers that had the audacity to ask for safe working conditions, reasonable hours, or something approaching a living wage [4].

1907 was a year after Upton Sinclair exposed the horrific working conditions endured by American workers in his landmark work "The Jungle." More than exposing employers' exploitation of wage slaves, Sinclair's book showed how little regard business has for public health. "The Jungle" played a major role in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

In 1907 San Francisco, reeling from the aftermath of the 1906 quake, had nearly 220,000 homeless with little or no access to government help. Irish, Scandinavian, German and Italian immigrants were to endure the same vicious racism and discrimination we see heaped on Latinos and Arabs today. American workers suffering through all this 'prosperity' the email author refers to didn't have to do so for long. Life expectancy in 1907 was only 47 years [5].

The decade including 1907 saw the power and ruthlessness of trusts founded by robber barons so unchecked and overreaching, Republican Theodore Roosevelt was compelled to go on a 'trust-busting' mission to try and rein in monopoly capital enough to provide some semblance of fairness in American society. Perhaps the email author was confining his discussion to the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Morgans when he described "the most prosperous [nation] in the world." For the average working American 1907 was anything but prosperous -- it was full of oppression, brutality, and poverty.

>> We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world,

An astute reader would recall there was no national debt in 1999 either. As for the email author's middle class statement, unqualified as it is, this often just refers to broad sections of the working class with a small strata of professionals and petty bourgeoisie thrown in to muddle the actual class picture. I think we have painted an accurate depiction of what conditions were like for the 1907 working American above.

>> and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

The statement is so sexist and misogynistic on its face, the author should have just added "barefoot and pregnant" while he was at it. Maybe Mommy Rockefeller could have afforded to stay at home with the kids in the 1900's. However, most working class women worked, worked long and arduous hours, and worked for much less than their male counterparts. See my notes [2-3] above for what conditions were like for working class women during the first decade of the 1900's. Of course, that hasn't changed much. In 2007 women still only earn 77 cents on the dollar for the same jobs compared to men. They still endure constant sexism and objectification in the workplace as well.

>> What happened? Can you say politicians!

Any analysis that leaves out WHO politicians serve is mere rhetorical treachery. A wise man once wrote "The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." Understand that, and you understand the real heart of the matter.

>> And you still have to "press 1" for English!

One can only imagine the racist and reactionary aims behind the author's addition of that last line.

[1] Child labor wasn't outlawed until the passage of the FLSA in 1938. Also read about Mother Jones 1903 "Children's Crusade," fight to limit child labor to 55 hours a week.

[2] Those abhorring workplace safety laws would be well served reading about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I'd be interested to hear someone argue against regulations that would have prevented locking hundreds of young women in a potential tinderbox.

[3] Taking the above Triangle Shirtwaist workers as an example; these women were compelled to work 14 hour shifts for a $1.50 a week (about $30 a week in today's dollars) -- some prosperity!

[4] See the 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike, the 1903 Colorado Labor Wars, and the 1904 Dunnville Massacre.



Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

Just the other day, some libertarian dork posting on Cindy Sheehan's facebook page asserted "Americans were so much freer 150 years ago," at what he termed the height of of "lazier faire capitalism." Like all reactionaries, blissfully unaware of history, he didn't stop to think that 1859 was actually the height of CHATTEL SLAVERY just before the civil war. Maybe it's all the home schooling that explains why the right wing is so amazingly stupid.

Aragond said...

Hearty thanks for authoring this. The lines you debunk from the "poem" are so eaily recycled and thoughtlessly passed from email account to email account that I have my doubts anyone offers even the slightest droplet of critical thinking toward them. Consequently, like an urban legend, they gain credence as truthful because, hell, the internet NEVER lies, does it. That there remains some critical thinkers out there warms the cockles o' me ole' heart.