Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is Working a Crime?

This would seem to be an odd question, until you stop and think about it. A thief who gets caught gets punished but, at least in The Netherlands, only gets to serve 2/3 of his sentence if he behaves well while imprisoned. An honest worker on the other hand, when caught, gets to pay his punishment (called: taxes) in full, plus a sanction should he have failed to inform the state that he was working. There's no such sanction on thieves not reporting their crimes. Thus, one could say that working attracts a more severe penalty than stealing.

When you commit a crime, like rape or robbery, usually the victim reports that to the authorities. However, when you work, you have to give yourself in, as there is no victim to do it for you; working is a victimless crime, like buying a car, buying gas, speeding, drinking alcohol or smoking a joint. Since most people have a healthy objection to handing their hard-earned cash to the government while having done nothing wrong, the state had to come up with some ideas to make sure their perp would not stay below their radar. And unfortunately, it proved to be pretty proficient at that.

When you buy a car, gas, alcohol or tobacco, the state has made sure that the penalty for those crimes is already cashed by the seller of the goods, who then not only gets the blame for the high prices, but also has to deal with the paperwork and repaying the fines to the state. Not only does he not receive any compensation for that, but should he make a mistake while performing this alien duty, he can expect, again, a fine.

When you accept a job, it is the employer who is forced to report that fact to the authorities and collect the penalties for it from you. But since as an employer he's accomplice to the crime, he gets fined himself as well. Therefore, employers will do their utmost to hire as few employees as they can get away with. Only that way, they can keep the total sum of fines to a level that can still with some decency be incorporated into the prices of their products. At the end of the day, employees will still have to negotiate their due balance with the state, exposing them to the same risks as private entrepreneurs, discussed below.

Entrepreneurs have to turn themselves in, like the 'speeders'. As they will be hesitant to do so, as explained above, the state has organized special teams whose only purpose is to catch these 'criminals' in the act. For 'speeders', it is the radar- and laser-brigade, for entrepreneurs (and employees) it's the tax-brigade, in the US the IRS.

While all parties tend to get away with their crimes if they don't turn themselves in and do not get caught, when caught thieves have the best deal, speeders the middle and entrepreneurs and employees (the workers) the worst. De 'speeder' will get fined, pay it in full and that's it. The thief gets punished, but gets a discount of 33% if he behaves well. The worker, however, gets fined and gets to pay his full fine plus a sanction that can amass 100% of that fine. The only way to avoid the sanction is to turn himself in before getting caught (and there's a high risk of that since it is an ongoing occupation).

The inescapable conclusion has to be that working is indeed a crime, and a very bad one at that, or else the government would not punish it so severely. BUT: if the state regards working as something undesirable, as something to oppress, like mobility and the pleasures of life, as something worse that stealing, in short: if the states feels it should oppress prosperity and happiness, what does that tell us about the true intentions of the state?

DISCLAIMER: this article is based on the situation in The Netherlands, where car prices are subjected to a tariff of 46% and then to a VAT of 19%, where gas prices are currently € 1.78 per liter (yes, that's right, over $ 8,- per US gallon at current rates), more than a full euro of which is tariff+tax. But the essence of this article will likely apply to most 'democratic' countries. In Belgium, sentences under 3 years imprisonment are normally not followed up, while traffic fines are chased to the cent. Not sure whether The Netherlands are any better.

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