The Beast Never Changes

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Some days you just can't avoid seeing the State's
ugliness – even in places of refuge that are supposed to provide
solace and comfort. Recently rereading the book of Genesis, I found
a depressing little illustration of the eternal nature of government.
You may remember the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was
sold by his jealous brothers into slavery, ended up in Egypt as
a servant to the captain of Pharaoh's palace guard, was falsely
accused of attempted rape by his master's wife, and was jailed.
He stayed there until Pharaoh had a dream that his soothsayers would
not interpret for him. Pharaoh's cupbearer remembered the young
Hebrew who had correctly interpreted dreams in prison, and Joseph
was summoned to the royal court. Joseph told Pharaoh that the dream
meant that Egypt was going to experience seven years of plenty followed
by seven years of famine. Pharaoh elevated Joseph to the status
of vizier (think: prime minister, Dick Cheney, etc.), and Joseph
set about preparing Egypt for the years of famine.

In the years of plenty, the Egyptian government
under Joseph's direction "collected" one-fifth of the
grain produced in the land. Did government agents purchase the grain
from farmers? There's no indication of money changing hands. Was
it collected by voluntary contributions from the populace? Doubtful.
Actually, Joseph told Pharaoh: "Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint
overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the
produce of the land. . ." (Gen. 41:34; New American Standard;
emphasis supplied). So the jack-sandaled thugs took the grain, but
apparently to promote the general welfare: the food was collected
as a reserve to be used during the famine, "so that the land
may not perish through the famine." (Gen. 41:36)

So far, so good. I realize that a 20 percent tax
rate sounds extreme to freedom-loving folks in the 21st century
A.D., but you have to understand that those ancient Egyptian yokels
weren't as sophisticated as we are. And even we might accept such
a tax rate temporarily if we truly believed a real emergency were
on the way. In any case, the problem comes when the famine hits.
The grain that was taken by the government in the
good years is not given back during the famine — it
is sold back to the starving people for cash! (41:56) As the famine
deepens, the government vacuums up all the currency in Egypt and
neighboring Canaan. (47:15)

It gets worse. As we have learned so well in recent
decades, where ordinary people see a crisis, the State sees an Opportunity.
The year after the money runs out, the people trade their livestock
for the government grain (which, of course, used to be their grain).
The next year, they trade their land. Finally, when there is nothing
else to trade, they agree to become slaves of Pharaoh. All of them:
"As for the people, he made slaves of them from one end of
Egypt to the other." (47:21)

Thus, using the taxing power and a little foresight,
Pharaoh ends up with all the cash in the country, all the livestock,
all the land, and the entire population enslaved to him. Say what
you will about Egyptian civilization, but they sure had the government
part down pat. In fact, I can almost see Pharaoh berating the twentieth
century's tyrants as amateurish pikers as they pass the time in
their Eternal Reward, wherever that might be.

I almost forgot the punch line: after the deal
was struck to enslave the whole population of Egypt, the government
enacted a statute that imposed the 20 percent tax rate for all time,
famine or no famine. And that tax was still in existence when the
book of Genesis was written, over 400 years later. (47:26) It's
good to be the State. Always has been. Well, at least for the last
four thousand years.

August
16, 2001

Michael
J. Yanochik [send him mail]
is a lawyer in The Woodlands, Texas.

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