Kulaks and gulags

kulak n. A prosperous landed peasant in czarist Russia, characterized by the Communists during the October Revolution as an exploiter.

gulag n. 1.A network of forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union. 2. A forced labor camp or prison, especially for political dissidents.

From the Ithaca Journal:

Despite lobbying, Cuomo shuns higher taxes for the rich

BY JOSEPH SPECTOR •ALBANY BUREAU • JANUARY 25, 2011

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to reject attempts by education groups and unions to shift the state's tax burden to the rich, saying that doing so would further hurt the state's business competitiveness.

The issue is creating a growing divide between the Democratic governor and the more fiscally liberal members of the state Legislature, who on Tuesday called on Cuomo to maintain higher income-tax rates for people making more than $200,000 a year. They also want him to move to a more progressive property-tax system based on household income not home value.

[....]

"When government resists deep cuts, when we appropriately tax the wealthiest New Yorkers and keep on public employees and keep on supporting the private sector by keeping government intact, (emphases mine) we actually see a better and stronger recovery," urged Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca.

If Assemblywoman Lifton in fact said this (and that seems likely since it sounds like the sort of thing I've heard her say with my own ears), her entire remark is absurd on its face. But let's look more closely at the parts in bold.

That last bit, about "supporting the private sector by keeping government intact," is just a wee bit bass-ackwards.  No, dear, especially at the state level where the government cannot print its own currency, the private sector props up the government, not the other way around.  

And then there's the ever-popular-amongst-progressives meme, "when we appropriately tax the wealthiest New Yorkers" (of which I am not one, not even close, according to their definition).  From a document in the Library of Congress, via Legal Insurrection (A volost' was a territorial/administrative unit consisting of a few villages and surrounding land. Think "county.")

11-8-18

                                              [...]

Comrades!  The revolt by the five kulak volost's must be suppressed

without mercy.  The interest of the entire revolution demands this,

because we have now before us our final decisive battle "with the

kulaks."  We need to set an example.

      1) You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the public       

         sees) at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich, and the            

         bloodsuckers.

      2) Publish their names.

      3) Take away all of their grain.

      4) Execute the hostages - in accordance with yesterday's          

         telegram.

      This needs to be accomplished in such a way, that people for

hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know and scream out:

let's choke and strangle those blood-sucking kulaks.

      Telegraph us acknowledging receipt and execution of this.

                                               Yours, Lenin

P.S.  Use your toughest people for this.

Now, am I suggesting that Barbara Lifton is on a par with Vladimir Lenin and has designs on well-to-do New Yorkers' necks? Of course not. But I'd bet good money that well-meaning people in 1875 thought that Marx had really nailed it with "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" (not that even Marx's Communist Manifesto in 1848 was so original. The Jamestown colony in 1607 and the Plymouth Plantation in 1621, for instance, tried this very thing—spectacularly unsuccessfully). Those 1875 progressives probably never anticipated that, by 1918, a disciple of Marx would have carried Marx's philosophy to such neck-stretching extremes.

But words matter. Context matters. History matters. And while I doubt that Barbara Lifton and her like-minded fellow travelers give this much thought to the absurd nonsense they spout, they should.  Already (and I know I'm mixing time periods here) the NYS kulaks are escaping from the gulag, moving to states that place a lower tax burden on their citizens. And ultimately, this sort of progressive thinking never ends well.