Straws and Pots


Would a single straw, added to tens of thousands of others loaded upon a hapless camel, suffice to break the animal’s back? I doubt it, but that’s not the point of the aphorism, which is that, at some point, a breaking point is reached. Those referring to the straw that broke the camel’s back are generally signifying a point at which the overloaded victim might resist.

This is in direct conflict with another old saw, namely the frog in the pot of water which is gradually heated so that the frog is boiled before it has the sense to jump out of the pot. (I recall learning, however, that this situation does not prevail: a frog will, indeed, jump out of water that is heated beyond his tolerance.)

But let’s not quibble. Both of the maxims are true. People will tolerate a very great deal before resisting. Many, indeed, will tolerate whatever is imposed upon them without resistance, even if, in so doing, they "break their backs." But some — thank God!! — will eventually say "Enough! No more!"

These profundities flickered across my mind the other day when I took my daughter to pick up her new car. It seemed peculiar that there was no sales tax added to the bill, until I realized how clever that "omission" was. Paying for a new car is painful enough; having to add, in my daughter’s case, almost 1600 bux more might be the proverbial straw. What, after all, did the state and local governments do to earn 1600 from this transaction? Judging by the nearly dozen or more forms that the dealer produced for my daughter’s signature, their only role was to impede and complicate the sale. And they expected a 1600 reward? So, with great cunning, the rulers delay the imposition of the tax until the car is titled, at which time the buyer, delighted with his/her new car, may somehow be willing — even pleased — to pay the tax for the privilege (??!) of driving the new car. Psychology is everything!

The sales tax is an interesting phenomenon. In Missouri, it is found in Chapter 144 of the state’s revised statutes, with 144.020 getting, more or less, and finally, to the point:

144.020. 1. A tax is hereby levied and imposed upon all sellers for the privilege of engaging in the business of selling tangible personal property or rendering taxable service at retail in this state. The rate of tax shall be as follows:

Remarkable! It is a "privilege" to sell your goods in Missouri. Moreover, it is a privilege granted by the state, even though the state may be unaware of the transaction, which buyer and seller could accomplish with no help at all from the state. And, of course, by virtue of this granted "privilege," the state is entitled to payment. But from whom? It would appear from the above that the tax is due from the seller. In that case, however, why is the buyer involved? And it appears that he is, because the law, at 144.080, makes it a crime for a seller to absorb or assume the tax, or fail to show it as a separate item. Here is that section:

5. It shall be unlawful for any person to advertise or hold out or state to the public or to any customer directly or indirectly that the tax or any part thereof imposed by sections 144.010 to 144.525, and required to be collected by the person, will be assumed or absorbed by the person, or that it will not be separately stated and added to the selling price of the property sold or service rendered, or if added, that it or any part thereof will be refunded. Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Am I reading this correctly? These "laws" seem to say that a merchant may not absorb, or himself, pay the sales tax. Yet they also say that the seller, not the buyer, is responsible for the tax. And the tax must be itemized on the bill, although the customer paying the bill is not liable for the tax.

Anything you buy in a store has been taxed many times. The raw materials were no doubt taxed, as was the sale to the retailer. None of these taxes are itemized on the bill. But the sales tax must be. How odd, if the purchaser is not liable for the tax.

What would happen if purchasers, like the scalded frog, jumped out of the cauldron? Since the buyer is not liable for the sales tax, why should he pay it? What a situation would prevail if, all across the state, buyers refused to pay the sales tax, claiming, "It’s not my duty to pay this tax. I’m not the seller!" At first blush, it would seem simple: retailers wishing to remain in business would say, in effect: "OK, don’t pay it. I’ll pay it for you." But that, as we have seen, is against the law! Sellers may not assume or absorb the tax, whether or not they increase the cost to the buyer to compensate for it. It would appear from the law that sales in Missouri would be impossible if customers declined to pay a tax for which they are not liable, for the seller may not pay it on their behalf.

And then there’s the matter of involuntary servitude. The tax-collecting service provided, without compensation, and involuntarily, to the government by private citizens and companies is immense. I haven’t researched the matter: maybe it has been litigated. If so, would it be surprising that the government ruled, in its courts, in its own favor by declaring that compelling individuals to calculate, save, and forward to the government a tax, is not what it clearly is: involuntary servitude? Our rulers’ contempt for the Constitution is as deep and pervasive as their desire to loot and plunder.

For that matter, their contempt for the Constitution matches their contempt for their subjects, upon whose backs they heap straw upon straw with — as yet — little sign of resistance.

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, the frog is thinking of jumping out of the increasingly inhospitable pot? Might the camel, at long last, shrug off his burden? The sales tax, it seems to me, provides an excellent opportunity for such jumping and shrugging. Why should millions of buyers, every day, pay a tax for which they are not liable? Could it be because they are unaware of their lack of liability? How beautifully ignorance plays into the hands of the oppressors!

And how easily we suffer injustice when the injury is familiar, traditional, and not, usually, too onerous!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is author of All Work & No Pay, which is out of print, but may occasionally be obtained on eBay.