Sunday, 4 June 2017


The Ancient Greeks had a nominal system of taxes and tithes that helped promote trade and kept the polis able to operate on a day-to-day basis (compare to Rome whose wealthiest oligarch, Pompey the Great, accumulated all that treasure by owning the city’s fire department and extorting), but the financing of extraordinary expenditures—like emergency repairs to roadworks or bridges, a new amphitheatre, public festivals or even defensive actions fell exclusively to the super-rich to shoulder as their public duty and social obligation.
Not only were the wealthy eager to pay a progressive tax that needed no enforcement, theirs was also the oversight and execution of the liturgical (λῃτουργία, meaning public-service) tasks that they took responsibility for. The best technical counsel and artisans would be employed to make sure that their benefaction and charity optimised the welfare for all, since those whom delivered inferior public-works were as roundly condemned as those who were perceived to be tight with their money and horded wealth for its own sake. If one donor was feeling particularly put upon and suspected his fellow associates were poor-mouthing and shirking their duties, the former could issue a challenge: the later either take up the liturgy or submit to a tribute to determine who was richer—failing to answer that summons would result in the two parties exchanging estates. What do you think? The received representative democracy is certainly very different from the politics of the agora but maybe technology has advanced sufficiently to manage all the voices crying out to be heard without falling into mob-rule and disorder. I suspect, however, that we still need saving from ourselves. Such a voluntary taxation regimen seems appealing, but I do wonder if the same template could be applied without the engagement and participation of every single citizen and whether we’ve not—considering the mutual levels of distrust and distaste for politicians (professional or otherwise)—already to a person been designated denizens and guest-workers for the ruling-class.