Today in NYP History: August 16, 1974, was the opening date of the New York Philharmonic’s first tour to Australia and New Zealand. Leonard Bernstein led the concerts in cities that included Seppeltsfield, Sydney, and Brisbane — where Bernstein made a furry friend at the nearby Lone Pine Sanctuary.
There is a simple reason why most contemporary democratic systems focus their energy, and their discourse, on how social services are delivered in exchange for taxes.
Democratic citizens, with their well-stoked individual interests and the priority placed on their own families, need not possess any conception of civic virtue. They need not participate with vigor in public life; they need not even vote. Systems of fining people for not exercising their franchise, as in Australia and eleven other democracies around the world, confess a basic futility. Such fines are just taxation by other means, a price I am willing to pay to be left alone. They are the equivalent of a parking ticket whose cost I will shoulder as a tolerable contract expense, not as punishment for a genuine violation.
The reduction of all fines to prices and all obligations to tax burdens shows just how comprehensive is the transactional contamination of democracy. If citizens are really consumers, forever negotiating the shoals of tax evasion, then it is rational to game the system. Smarter players will take the contest up a level and realize that you can game the system’s dominant myths as well as its material realities. From this vantage, the American Dream is the biggest long con in the history of politics, and the ultimate form of regulatory capture is not buying out a watchdog agency or taming a subcommittee chairman; it lies in keeping the narratives of democratic legitimacy and economic opportunity alive even when all the facts are ranged against them.