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Vail Valley Voices: What great nations do

Scott Glasser
Vail, CO, Colorado

I am reading a wonderful book, “Hannibal,” first published in 1889 by Theodore Dodge, a very prominent military historian of the late 19th century who lost a leg at Gettysburg, about the second Punic War – the one most of us know as the time when the brilliant Carthaginian general, Hannibal, crossed the Alps and invaded Italy.

For over a decade, Hannibal was the scourge of the Roman empire -marching up and down Italy while winning countless battles. Many historians consider Hannibal the most able and brilliant commander in

history.

But unsupported by the Carthaginian senate and vastly outnumbered by the Romans, he eventually left Italy, but not before destroying numerous Roman armies, teaching Rome difficult lessons and raising fear in every Roman town and city.

If not for the fortitude and tenacity of Rome, Western civilization may have turned out differently. And indeed, if not specifically for the sacrifices of the Roman upper class, the great empire would not have survived Hannibal’s genius.

Livy, the Roman historian who wrote about Hannibal several generations after the war, described the actions of the Roman senate following the annihilation of two Roman armies by Hannibal at Cannae in 210 B.C.: “The taxes rendered necessary by the war were weighing very heavily on all the citizens and colonists of Rome. General discontent was rampant. Laevinus, on the assembly of the Senate, protested against the severity and inequality of these imposts, and urged that the upper classes should give an example of their patriotism.

“He moved that each senator should present to the coffers of the state all the gold, silver and jewels he possessed, except only what was suitable and proper for the uses of his wife, daughters and table. (Obviously marriage hasn’t changed all these years.) This proposition was hailed with acclamation.

“At the closing of the Senate, the forum was swarmed with the rich … each vying with the other in laying his offering at the feet of the fatherland. The example was followed by every class; and the treasury was filled more easily and to better effect than it could have been by any species of taxation. And this with abundant satisfaction to all.”

During the crisis generated by our participation in World War II, President Roosevelt was faced with the prospect of paying for the war. Tax rates on the rich were increased so that all income above $250,000 was taxed at about 90 percent. But the tax base increased, too, by about 5 percent of the population.

From ancient times to the present, increasing taxes in times of crisis – particularly on the rich – is necessary, and I think we can all agree that a $15 trillion deficit represents a crisis as serious as Hannibal’s invasion and World War II.

No one likes paying taxes. And it would be reasonable to put a sunset clause on any enacted tax increases, especially if we are successful in reducing our $15 trillion debt.

I recognize the problem is far more complex than simply raising taxes, but this right-wing nonsense that increasing taxes on the rich is class warfare is ridiculous.

Counting on the patriotism of the rich to help the country climb out of a hole isn’t class warfare – it is an ageless thing that made just as much sense 2,000 years ago and during World War II as it does today. This is exactly what great nations do.

For those who believe we are overtaxed, keep in mind that as a percent of GDP we pay a lot less on average than the other 38 members of the Organization for Ecomonic Cooperation and Development, paying 28 percent of GDP in taxes versus 36 percent for the OECD as a whole.

Despite the rhetoric, it isn’t possible to cut spending enough, or to realistically grow the economy quickly enough, to make a serious dent on this enormous deficit.

We are in a terrible economic crisis that threatens to saddle our children and grandchildren with enormous hardship and austerity. And no one has been more adversely affected than the middle class and poor.

That $15 trillion has already been spent – largely on us. We have to pay it back. Who can help if it doesn’t begin with the rich?

Scott Glasser is an Edwards resident.


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