Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Han dynasty death trip

Playing chicken.
As it happens, the willingness of the rich to defend their wealth from taxation to the point of national ruin is nothing new in world history, as Francis Fukuyama recounts in his magisterial new book The Origins of Political Order. The Han dynasty in China fell in the third century AD after aristocratic families with government connections became increasingly able to shield their ever-larger land holdings from taxation, which helped precipitate the bloody Yellow Turban peasant revolt. Nearly a millennium and a half later, the great Ming dynasty went into protracted decline in part for similar reasons: unable or unwilling to raise taxes on the landed gentry, the government couldn’t pay its soldiers and was overrun by Manchu invaders.


Except then they'd have to admit that spending is exactly what government is for.

Piece of (constituent) work

Matt Yglesias points out, quite correctly, on the subject of Republican House freshmen scrambling for just the kind of earmarks or lettermarks or fingermarks they have been denouncing with such Robespierrean fervor, that the projects they are trying to fund in their districts are mostly pretty decent ideas that deserve to be funded. Indeed, and let us go a tiny bit further and say that this is what your congresscritter is supposed to be doing for a living. I have never understood the horror expressed by a certain kind of reformist at your congressional earmark. I do understand why it is bad to fund the Bridge to Nowhere, or the project of the person who funds your campaign, with money that your voters are not going to see. But if your voters are going to see it, why not?