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But no one is paying the tribute. Even as the government pushed through the new measures, it knew that no one would comply with them. Just this week, The New York Times reported, “On a recent morning, Maurizio Compagnone, an employee of Italy’s internal revenue service, stood before a classroom of middle school students in a leafy neighborhood here, preaching the virtues of paying taxes. ‘You may think, “I’m 13, why should I care about taxes?” he said with earnest enthusiasm as the students looked on, slightly bored. ‘But you can take a step in the right direction. You can change the behavior of the people around you, your parents and friends.’” “And the children shall lead them” seems to be the philosophy of the Italian government. Only there are no children, and if the people of Italy were to comply with the government laws, they’d starve.
So what’s a poor Italian to do? Go to work, and leave the government to fend for itself. I have never seen so many working poor as in Italy. Where Los Angeles’s impoverished areas are hangouts for drug pushers and gang members, Rome’s seem to be thriving market areas where hustlers sell prints of the city at jacked-up prices, and where the police look the other way.
My wife and I bought a couple of paintings from a nice enough young man who told us he was an art student. We probably paid too much for them, and he probably wasn’t an art student – when I returned to the site of the purchase five minutes later to ask for directions, the young “artist” had vanished into the night. But so what? At least he was selling something. I’ll still frame the paintings, and I’ll still put them up. And if he can keep that cash rather than handing it over to a 65-year-old pensioner, more power to him. If Italy’s lucky, he’ll use the money to settle down and get married (Italy’s Catholicism means that unlike Britain or the Netherlands, people still wed) and pop out a few baby Italians, who will then use papa’s entrepreneurial skill to produce goods and services others want to buy.
The lesson for the U.S. is clear: no matter how hard government cracks down on tax evasion and black markets, such activity will only rise with the growth of big government. If we want a functioning system, we must give people a stake in that system by protecting their right to earn.
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