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Mon Dec 13 12:07:18 2004

Referencing: Internet Taxation in Germany

At the article referenced above, BDD added some comments which I have reproduced here for easy reference:



Maybe Germans need public broadcasting to tell them what to do and think, but we sure as hell don't. Public broadcasting is nothing more than a source of government propaganda akin to the radio broadcasts that emanated from Berlin in the 1930's. Most of what public broadcasting claims to provide I can find on Discover, History Channel, BBC World News, etc., without being forced to pay a tax to support their activities. In other words, I don't need any bureaucrat using my money to advance his agenda and tell me how to think and behave.

In any case, just because registration is law, that doesn't make it right. I see no reason why any government has to know how many radios, telephones, TV's and computers are in one's home. Perhaps if European officials weren't so hell-bent on poking their frigging noses into everybody's business, taxing the daylights out of everything, and micro-managing everyone's activities, their economies would realize the sort of impetus and sustained growth that we are accustomed to here in North America.

I'm sorry if the tone of the article seems offensive to you -- it *was* intended to be mildly so in order to make a point. Any government that has the authority to regulate the purchases of its citizens/subjects -- especially items like radios, TV's, phones, etc. -- has the means to stifle communication and the exchange of free thought. Do I think that sort of governmental intrusion is Facist? You're damned right I do! Once it happens, it's a relatively simple matter to shift from a representative style of government, which many European countries have right now, to a totalitarian regime, which many European countries have had in the recent past. Although Denmark has not experienced that sort of cycle in her recent history, Danes were adversely affected by the Nazi regime almost until the conclusion of World War II.

Germany, in particular, seems to have had a long history of oppressive government, culminating in the events of 1933 to 1945. Following the close of World War II, the USA went out of its way (both financially and politically) to get Germany back on its feet and on the road to a free market economy and a representative form of government. This seemed to work as long as Germany was split, as West Germans were fearful of the communists and what they stood for -- as well as what they failed to accomplish. However, following unification, it seems as though regression to the "Heil Hitler" mentality started. Today's Germany is headed back toward a repressive style of government -- this Internet tax thing being just the latest of several examples of the trend.

Europeans may think that many of we Americans are ignoramuses who know little about European history, culture, politics and such. There's no question that some Americans match that description -- most of whom seem to have found employment in the entertainment industry.

Well, this American knows a lot about what goes on in Europe *and* the Middle East (I worked in Saudi Arabia and Iraq in years past). I've worked with technical types from various European states and I've seen how some had to do without some of the resources that I had available to me as a matter of course. Now, does that make we Americans superior in some way? No, it doesn't. But, what it does say is that our free market system, which is not hobbled by control freak governmental edicts, works a lot better than most. My opinion is European countries are over-regulated, over-taxed and economically over-extended.

If you don't agree with me, please consider the following: how is it a single company in the USA accounts for the lion's share of commercial aircraft sales worldwide, whereas the resources of two entire European countries are required to design and build one commercial airliner to compete with the 747? And why is the leading importer of automobiles to North America is Japan, not Germany, France, Sweden or the UK (even though cars like the Mercedes, Volvo and Saab are technically better than their Japanese competitors)? Could it be that the common answer is that the free market policies and limited governmental regulation that exist in Japan and the USA encourage the sort of investment and risk-taking that is required to dominate a market?



These comments raise a lot of issues for me, and I'm more than a bit conflicted on all but one.

First, funding of public broadcasting. I generally feel the same way about that as I do about public arts funding, etc: if there isn't enough audience to support it, let it die. Here in Boston, the local NPR radio is pretty popular, but the WGBH TV is not, and it's pretty easy to see why: the radio station produces interesting material worth listening to, and the TV station generally doesn't. On the other hand, I don't want to see radio or TV dominated entirely by commercial interests, though as I'll get to later, I don't think that's as important as it used to be.

With regard to the large companies that dominate markets, I definitely do not see that as a good thing. Extreme concentration of capital seems to lead to abuse of all kinds, and we've talked a lot about that here: stifling of innovation, abuse of employees, government in cahoots - it isn't pretty. More importantly, I think, is that it's also dangerous. We see that in computers where Microsofts dominance can put the entire internet at risk when yet another security flaw pops up. We saw it with the flu vaccine where having most of it made in one place caused a shortage. Concentrating our food production to major companies like ADM could cause horrible problems should they accidentally introduce something dangerous or harmful. Big may make things cheaper, but there is a higher cost that can be paid for it. On the other side of that, how do you regulate such a thing? How do you ensure safety and variety without draconian restrictions? I do not know.

But one thing I am not conflicted on is freedom of information. The internet has brought an amazing new ability to disseminate far more information to far more people than has ever been possible before. It has also brought personal opinion to a level of expression unparalleled since we were small bands or small city-states. The blogs are becoming an adjunct to newspapers, radio and TV and in some cases are even replacing these other media. In my opinion, it is a moral imperative to encourage that worldwide. Restrictions on communications are too easily accepted: would you pay a license to have the right to talk to your neighbor? Of course not. Yet Europeans apparently accept licensing and taxation of other communication as justified. It isn't, and as BDD suggests, it can lead to far worse.

Here in the U.S., we are not entirely free of government interference in this area, and there are those who are trying to increase that involvement. We cannot let that happen. Our freedoms are never easily won, and they shouldn't be easily surrendered either.



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© Tony Lawrence




---December 13, 2004

You DO know that you pay use tax for other bits of the public infrastructure such as roads and airports? Yet you have made a platform concerning telecomm taxes without examining whether the telecomm structure in the countries you deride is public or private. Nor do you discuss the differences in taxation between broadcasting and personal communications. You are aware, aren't you, that there is a federal tax on your phone bill and a FCC 'usage fee' on your cable bill?

Do you think that the government (FCC) auctioning the spectrum interferes with your freedom of expression? The price of a slice of spectrum clearly moves broadcasting out of anyones personal reach. It is starting to look like freedom of expression is a corporate and government luxury.

The problem with NPR is not that it is partially government funded so much as the political flow (clearly non-bipartisan) and the cash flow is in the wrong direction. Some broadcasters do not have this problem. See http://www.usatoday.com /news/politicselections/ 2004-03-23-clear_x.htm. One also suspects that some broadcasters may be burdened by a responsibility to their shareholders and tailors their journalism accordingly.

Other government supported broadcasting Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, Radio Marti, Radio Free Asia and WORLDNET (which claim to be bipartisan, btw) may actually be improving some peoples freedom of expression but somehow do not appear before your withering gaze.

-dhh

---December 13, 2004

Yes, I do know about all those taxes. And as I said, I have conflicting feelings about funding of these things.

The spectrum issues are a political hot-spot, and becoming a particularly sore point today as technology could now allow us to make ALL of that packet-based and entirely eliminate the need for ownership.

My concern is over-regulation. I prefer to err on the side of freedom.

--TonyLawrence

"With regard to the large companies that dominate markets, I definitely do not see that as a good thing."

I agree on that score. As Tony alluded, massive corporate size tends to result in over-dominance, loss of competition and, in some cases, a "poisoning" of the market with substandard products and services (Microsoft being a prime example). Be that as it may, there are some endeavors where massive resources are required (e.g., building cargo ships and passenger jets), which only a large corporation will possess.

Governments, too, can apply massive resources to massive projects (as the USA did in the construction of the Panama Canal). The difference is in how it is done. Businesses try to be cost-effective, as the bottom line directly affects the business's future chances of survival. With government, waste is the norm.

"You DO know that you pay use tax for other bits of the public infrastructure such as roads and airports..."

The above is true but with a very important feature: it's a pay-as-you-go situation. For example, highway construction and maintenance in Illinois (my home state) is financed by a combination of bonds -- which are purchased voluntarily, license plate fees -- paid only by those who operate motor vehicles, fuel taxes -- paid only by those who purchase motor vehicle fuel, and tolls -- paid only by those who use the toll roads. Airport funding comes from bond sales and from taxes collected from the sale of airline tickets and air freight services -- again, paid only by those who use such services.

"Nor do you discuss the differences in taxation between broadcasting and personal communications. You are aware, aren't you, that there is a federal tax on your phone bill and a FCC 'usage fee' on your cable bill?"

Again, these taxes are paid only by those who use the services and in the case of the federal excise taxes assessed on phone service, are in proportion to how much service is used. Low income families, in effect, don't pay these taxes, because monies collected from another tax, the universal service fee, finance phone service for low income households.

Something that you overlooked is that the tax aspects of cable TV service in the USA are not related in any way to how many TV sets are in your home. This is in marked contrast to the European norm, where every TV set is taxed, even if not actually in use. Ditto for the number of phones in use. I have four phones in my office, for example, but that in no way affects the cost of my phone service.

"Do you think that the government (FCC) auctioning the spectrum interferes with your freedom of expression? The price of a slice of spectrum clearly moves broadcasting out of anyones personal reach. It is starting to look like freedom of expression is a corporate and government luxury."

To some extent, that may be true -- as is also the case with many other things that involve substantial capital investment. However, we do have the freedom to *NOT* watch a network whose programming is not to our liking, as there are many to choose from. This is *not* the case in many European countries, where state-controlled broadcasting limits listening and viewing choices. Also, we are not being taxed on behalf of any one network, which is exactly what is happening in Germany and other countries with state-run TV and radio.

"One also suspects that some broadcasters may be burdened by a responsibility to their shareholders and tailors their journalism accordingly."

Gee, that sounds like a basic principle of a free market system -- being responsible to shareholders. If my company were publicly traded, I'd have exactly the same burden, regardless of how I might feel about it.

As to whether journalism gets massaged according to the perceived values of shareholders, I think that is a bit of a stretch. Disregarding broadcasters who cater to a specific audience (e.g., religious TV stations), it is not likely that all of the shareholders of a given broadcaster will share identical views. Assuming this is the case -- I see no reason to assume that it isn't -- how would the managers of a publicly traded broadcaster know exactly how to slant their news programs?

"Other government supported broadcasting Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, Radio Marti, Radio Free Asia and WORLDNET (which claim to be bipartisan, btw) may actually be improving some peoples freedom of expression but somehow do not appear before your withering gaze."

My comments were not focused on whether any state-supported broadcasting is good or bad. In years past, Radio Free Europe and others helped to penetrate the blanket of Soviet oppression and present a different viewpoint. Nowadays, the value of this sort of thing is questionable -- not many totalitarian regimes of the type targeted by Radio Free whatever are in power at the moment. In any case, what you describe is a uni-directional form of communication, so "improving some peoples freedom of expression" is not likely to be happening. Listeners may be getting a better perspective of what is going on, but they are passive listeners, not active participants.

What I was casting my "withering gaze" upon was the requirement that anyone who owns a radio, TV, phone or computer register same with authorities and pay a tax, even if the registered device is inoperative. Obviously, if someone is required to register their communications equipment then governmental agencies will know exactly who has the ability to receive broadcasts and/or communicate with others. Armed with such knowledge, any government can suppress freedom of expression by simply going to the home of the "offender," confiscating his property and perhaps tossing him into the slammer. Is that something you would support?

--BigDumbDinosaur



---December 13, 2004

I am no expert on any of this stuff, and I don't have much experiances with any country other then my own, but I have a standard rule at what I look at.

Government is a neccisarry evil. I don't like it, nobody should like it but we have certain realities that we need a govenment to help us deal with. However, just because something is good in small doses doesn't mean it's good in big doses.

Same thing for coporations.

However one thing that people have to realise when they talk about the corporation vs government is that corruption is the same across any big powerfull orginization. If you think that more government can protect you against the ravages of coporate greed you have another thing coming. All that happens is the same types of corrupt individuals begin dreaming about being "Minister of state" instead of "CEO of a major corporation".

Same corruption, same power, different orginizations. One group of evil pigs tries to pervert the free market towards their benifit, and the other group tries to pervert the democracy to their benifit.

However the main advantage of having big multimedia conglomerates to deal with over government run media is that if I don't like the big corporations I don't have to give them money. I dont' have to support them. So if they piss off enough people they will cease to exist as a entity. However a government entity can lie up and down all day long and I would still be compelled to support them on threat of legal fines and loss of liberty.

--Drag

---December 14, 2004

A corporation can be your only choice too, either because of patents, copyrights, or government enforced monopoly.

--TonyLawrence

That's quite true -- vidi AT&amp;T prior to the 1968 CarterPhone FCC ruling that was the beginning of the end for Ma Bell's phone monopoly.

--BigDumbDinosaur

---December 15, 2004


"A corporation can be your only choice too, either because of patents, copyrights, or government enforced monopoly."

Ah, but in those senerios it takes the effort of a government in order to force a corporation on you. In effect they just make a corporation a extension of government, seperate by name and legal technicalities only.

I am not saying that I like big corporations anymore then big governments, its just easier to take out a corrupt coporation thru legal and free market pressures. To take out a corrupt government usually takes nothing less then large scale civil disobediance or in worst case, a armed revolt.

Of course if corporations get into cahoots with the government then I say that is one big nasty government, or maybe a better term would be corporate-style governmental regime.(a oposed to a religious-based, communistic, or a fascist governmental ragime. Same old crap, slightly better dressed.)

--Drag





Thu May 28 13:28:23 2009: 6421   TonyLawrence

gravatar
I happened to come across this old post. Drag's "Of course if corporations get into cahoots with the government.." comment certainly rings true today, doesn't it?



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