A Healthy Attitude Toward Taxation

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I’m going to relate to you some dialog from a 1949 Italian movie named “The Mill on the Po”, so that you will see a healthy attitude toward taxation. This movie is one of those very great neo-realist movies that came out of Italy. These are real treasures.

The Po is a big river, and the mill is a movable water-borne operation. The farmers bring the grain to it to be milled. The  State taxes the mill by having a meter and strings that operate the pulleys that turn so that a meter can count how much is being milled. The mill operators have been doing their milling as a family operation for longer than the State even exists in Italy. They hate this taxation, for which there is no visible return to them, and they disconnect the strings whenever possible.

The scene opens with a happy family celebrating a marriage soon to occur, when suddenly a boat comes up with several uniformed men in it, whereupon the son says to his mother, who heads the family:

“Mother, the tax police.”

That alone is worth the price of admission! To hear the term “tax police”, not tax collector, and to see them in the flesh and in uniforms, this is a healthy depiction.

The mother immediately asks whether the counters are in place and is assured they are.

The tax police demand “Where’s Scacerni Cecilia”? That’s the matriarch. She identifies herself and says to them,

“What do you want? You read the counters 15 days ago.”

The tax policeman replies

“We’ll read it again.”

They then have a little banter, with the mother lacing her comments with the heaviest irony. The policeman says

“Can’t say you’re not in good health, ma’am.”

And she comes right back at him:

“It does me good to see you here often playing masters of my house. It’s a solace.”

The tax police can’t understand her being miffed. One of them asks her

“Why are you so worked up?”

She lets him have it:

“Because of the arbitrary way we’re dealt with. Because never has such abuse befallen millers.”

The two tax policeman wonder through the meters checking them and one son tells him “the strings are in their proper place.” And the fierce mother adds

“And at every turn, a penny the government robs from our pocket.”

I’m sure Murray Rothbard would have loved this!

Then another son adds:

“Sooner or later, this slacker that busts our balls even when sleeping, I’ll throw him in the Po!”

The tax police now show their teeth. One says

“You’ve already been caught without the strings once, and then even a second time. ”

He then waves “the proclamation with the penalties” for tax evasion, and tells them:

“First time: Fine. Second time: Three times the fine. You’d be at the third. At the third fine: jail and confiscation of the mill that’ll be auctioned.”

The elderly son tells him

“To Hell with it” and adds

“Wretch! In the Po with this slacker.”

Since this movie is not easily or widely available, one may read about it at IMDb. There is at present only one review. It says “The difficult predicament of the millers who are burdened by high taxes and the resentment of farmers toward their landowners, will cause, under the impetus of a newly-created socialist movement, large demonstrations and open opposition to the public authorities.”

This scene covers a lot of ground in just a few minutes, such as the taxation of production, the necessity of police to collect and enforce the tax, labeling the tax as the robbery that it is, the realization that it’s coming directly out of the pockets of the producers, and the realization that the tax collectors and tax police are “slackers” who produce nothing, the incentive to cheat on taxes merely to retain what one has produced, and the draconian penalties for being caught evading taxes.



11:18 am on January 2, 2013