How Civilizations Collapse — Is U.S. Next?

Why did Rome and Byzantium fall apart after centuries of success? What causes civilizations to collapse, from a dysfunctional 4th-century-B.C. Athens to contemporary bankrupt Greece? The answer is usually not enemies at the gates, but the pathologies inside them.

Does Al Sharpton's community organizing exempt him from complying with federal tax law?

The answer is usually not enemies at the gates, but the pathologies inside them.

What ruins societies is well known: too much consumption and not enough production, a debased currency and endemic corruption.

Americans currently deal with all those symptoms. But two more fundamental causes for decline are even more frightening: an unwillingness to pay taxes and the end of the rule of law.

Al Sharpton is again prominently in the news, blaming various groups for the Baltimore unrest. But Sharpton currently owes the U.S. government more than $3 million in back taxes, according to reports. His excuses have ranged from insufficient funds to pay them to sloppy record-keeping and mysterious fires.

Sharpton, a frequent White House guest, apparently assumes that his community-organizing provides him political exemption from federal tax law. He seems to be right, at least as long as the current administration is in power.

The Clinton Foundation is expected to refile its tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012 after failing to separate government grants from donations. If an average citizen tried to amend his taxes for such huge sums and from that long ago, he would probably be under indictment.

News reports of undocumented donations from foreign governments caught the foundation underreporting its income. The well-connected Clinton clan apparently assumed that their political status ensured them immunity.

In the current political landscape, ideology also offers cover for tax noncompliance. Two of the most liberal talking heads at the MSNBC cable news network, Toure Neblett and Melissa Harris-Perry, known for their advocacy of higher tax rates on the affluent, turn out to be both quite well off and quite unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes. Reports indicate that Neblett and Harris-Perry both owe more than $50,000 in delinquent taxes.

Who will police the tax police?

Former IRS official Lois Lerner and her subordinates were found to have targeted conservative nonprofit groups for excessive federal scrutiny. While testifying before Congress, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and investigators later found that two years of her emails had gone missing in a mysterious computer crash. Lerner has not been charged.

Under the current system, the very wealthy have the pull and capital to navigate around the 3.7-million-word IRS tax code. Billionaire George Soros, a proponent of big government and higher taxes, reportedly could face a tax bill of approximately $7 billion after years of deferrals.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson

Nonparticipation in the tax system and noncompliance are recipes for social and cultural disaster — as we see with the current climbing tax rates, huge deficits and unsustainable national debt.

Our laws are becoming as politicized as our tax system.

Whatever one thinks of illegal immigration, it's undeniable that under the Obama administration, federal immigration law enforcement is now predicated on politics. The law as it was written suddenly has ceased to exist — at least for particular groups at particular times and places.

In the last six years, the enforcement of federal laws has depended on their apparent political utility.

If elements of the controversial Affordable Care Act were deemed politically risky, then their implementation was ignored until after an election. If the Environmental Protection Agency could not see its agenda passed through Congress as federal law, then it implemented its green policies by fiat.

If the Obama administration reaches a controversial agreement with Iran that will not meet the constitutional test of ratification by two-thirds of the Senate, then it will not be called a treaty and instead be imposed by presidential executive order.

Prosecutors have never been more ideologically driven. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., opposes administration policies on Cuba and Iran — and then suddenly faces federal indictments on charges covering a period from 2006 to 2013.

In the tragic Freddie Gray case, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby all but assured an angry crowd that she had provided them indictments for murder and manslaughter and thereby expected calm in the streets in return.

She indicted six Baltimore policemen on charges that are likely to be reduced or disproved in court, but those charges served the short-term purpose of defusing unchecked rioting and looting. Warping the law was thought to be more effective in easing tensions than enforcing it.

Increasingly in the United States, the degree to which a law is enforced — or whether a person is indicted — depends on political considerations. But when citizens do not pay any income taxes, or choose not to pay taxes that they owe and expect impunity, a complex society unwinds.

And when the law becomes negotiable, civilization utterly collapses.

Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of "The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern."

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commented 2015-05-08 15:10:59 -0400 · Flag
Ed K. commented

Yes. How many billions are lost because of guys like Romney or clinton who pays about 13 percent effective tax rate. It’s probably all legal but it put more pressure on the government to squeeze the typical W2 working stiffs. Maybe a simplified tax code with less loopholes would function more predictable. Less government, honest tax system that’s more transparent and term limits for congress. That would get my vote.
commented 2015-05-08 15:01:32 -0400 · Flag
A.A. commented

“technology and tighter rules among developed nations can make it harder to evade paying taxing. So governments should be able to leverage this technology to capture most of its owed tax revenue today.”

Ed…the U.S. has over 200 Trillion (with a T) in unfunded liabilities and structural debt…how in the hell is taxing more efficiently going to solve THAT? The U.S. Tax Laws take over 6 Bibles worth of pages…not enough for you yet? How about the fact that the U.S. has become a global tax bully…and the only country in the world (along with Eritrea…not even really a country) that taxes its citizens even when they live and earn abroad…and reserves the right to look into any resident’s global assets (even non-citizens) and take its arbitrary piece of the pie. Grotesque, Orwellian, and immoral. How about a Fair Tax / Flat Tax regime that gets out of people’s lives and taxes evenly for everybody living and working in the U.S. (Corporations included)…and a focus on getting back to a Constitutional Republic and GROWTH rather than endless redistribution, confiscation, and class warfare.
commented 2015-05-08 15:00:22 -0400 · Flag
Chris R. commented

Ed — in your laudable quest for even-handedness you miss the gig entirely.

I don’t remember romney running on a conflicted or flat-out hypocritical platform, UNLIKE every democratic party mandarin or their media factotums. I do remember romney (shockingly) being unable to cobble together a cogent defense of what private equity properly operated is supposed to accomplish/serve.

While romney ran bain capital, was he an especially good or representative example of crony hypocrisy (buffet/soros/clinton/sharpton/msnbc)?? I remember him as a very succesful garden-variety private equity principal who racked up many successes, some losses, but by and large didn’t engage in anything scurrilous (apart from being a prominent member of ‘the 1%’). And the media sure tried to tag him with strip-mining productive businesses, lbo-ing in excess, greenmail, etc., but couldn’t get any of such charges to stick, thus it settled for the amorphous ‘anti-capitalist’ indictment-by-socioeconomic association.

In fact, what I most remember when the media dug into the romney dossier where multiple accounts of how he was a sincerely decent man who engaged in some astonishing acts of charity, always in a low-key manner (albeit this still doesn’t acquit for being such a horrendous campaigner).

I agree that hedge fund ‘carry’ tax exemptions are bullshit, these guys should be taxed on the basis of ‘ordinary income’.

But your suggestion that romney is akin to clinton et al. is entirely incorrect. (I don’t even think private equity can avail itself of the hedge fund carry capital exemption, can it??). Anyway, the point is VDH is bullseye correct stating that the current ‘leading lights’ (dim ones at that) of the democratic party are an especially unforgivable cadre of scumbags.

There are plenty of GOP apparatchiks that deserve to be drawn+quartered and pissed on for eternity, but the clinton grotesquerie is truly unfuckwithable when it comes to two-faced treason.
commented 2015-05-08 14:15:05 -0400 · Flag
Ed K. commented

Interesting take but too partisan. Its not just a party thing. What about the abilty for guys like Romney to shelter money overseas or hedge fund managers not paying true income tax rates. Unlike the past were it was easier to evade paying taxes, technology and tighter rules among developed nations can make it harder to evade paying taxing. So governments should be able to leverage this technology to capture most of its owed tax revenue today. However just because they can doesn’t mean society wont suffer from bad public policy and decline. Corruption and excessive exploitation are the main ingredients.
commented 2015-05-08 14:13:34 -0400 · Flag
Beauforde commented

“13 Million illegal and unidentified aliens , riots in the streets, million of Americans now unemployed and collecting welfare from a government that is trillions in debt and will eventually go bankrupt. Now that Americans can see that the police/government can’t or won’t protect citizens I think it is time people give long hard thought to how they can protect themselves and vote wisely.” OR GET OUT.