Monday, August 23, 2010
The City of Brotherly Love has decided that all its bloggers are their brothers' keepers:
Between her blog and infrequent contributions to ehow.com, over the last few years she says she’s made about $50. To [Marilyn] Bess, her website is a hobby. To the city of Philadelphia, it's a potential moneymaker, and the city wants its cut.It's bad enough that, apparently, anything we own or produce is fair game to be looted by any level of the government these days.
In May, the city sent Bess a letter demanding that she pay $300, the price of a business privilege license.
What's worse is that most people think of taxation as if it were a law of nature or an immutable metaphysical fact, rather than the man-made (and alterable) phenomenon that it actually is.
It would be one thing if Bess’ website were, well, an actual business, or if the amount of money the city wanted didn’t outpace her earnings six-fold. Sure, the city has its rules; and yes, cash-strapped cities can’t very well ignore potential sources of income. But at the same time, there must be some room for discretion and common sense.Since when has a city taking its "cut" as soon as some official smells money -- or imagines he does -- been "common sense?" And no, it wouldn't be different if Bess actually made money, because the city would still be trying to steal something that is hers by right.
While Mark Hemingway does us a valuable service by bringing attention to this government intrusion, he is so focused on the licensing fee that he misses a more serious issue. How would some government entity even know whether a blogger is making enough money to "justify" such a licensing fee? By having some kind of auditing mechanism in place and, probably, also setting itself up as an arbiter of what constitutes a blog. From there, regulations on that activity -- regardless of tax status -- would be a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Thanks to taxation, then, what you say needn't even be related to a political campaign to become the business of some little dictator in the government. And with opponents making mistakes like the one Hemingway does here, such a scheme will end up being pawned off as a "reasonable" alternative to the city forcing people to choose between shutting down their blogs or continuing with them illegally over a steep fee.
If it comes to pass that censorship arrives in America, it will not be all at once by the decree of some political figure. (Only the final step down that road could be.) It will come one almost imperceptible step at a time as other, better-established affronts to our freedom breed other government controls.
Today: Several clarifications after second excerpt.