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Austrian Gov't Introduces Poll Tax to Prop-up Failing State Broadcaster
Welcome to the 17th century way of financing otherwise intolerable systems--like with the 'Injection Mandate', watch Austria as it is the canary in the coalmine
Two days ago we took a stroll down memory lane to appreciate the courage of Sabine Spögler-Dinse, the one (!) lone journalist who used to work at Austro-Covidian state broadcaster ORF who dissented publicly. Back in autumn 2021, she elected to keep her bodily autonomy—and self-respect—rather than submit to corporate injection policies. Please read the background here:
She has since renewed her calls for a ‘reckoning’ (Aufarbeitung) of her former employer’s actions, which is the topic of today’s post. The below piece appeared in conservative-leaning alternative media outlet eXXpress; translation and emphases mine, as are the bottom lines.
Ex-ORF Journalist Levels Serious Accusations against ORF for its Reporting—and Handling—of all things Covid
Discrimination against scientists who hold different views, defamation of people who do not want be vaccinated, incomprehensible Covid mandates: Former ‘Seitenblicke’ journalist Sabine Spögler-Dinse harshly criticises her former employer on eXXpressTV.
‘Scientists were massively discredited by the public TV stations, but in the meantime their statements have been confirmed’, she tells eXXpress editor-in-chief Richard Schmitt. We are also learning much more about vaccine damage. Many things have gone wrong. [If you understand German, you might want to watch an interview with Ms. Spögler-Dinse.]
Critics have been Labelled Tinfoil Hat-Wearers [Schwurbler] and Everyone is Now Supposed to Pay the ORF Tax [to be explained in the bottom lines]
Spögler-Dinse considers the new ORF tax, called a ‘household tax’ [Haushaltsabgabe] particularly outrageous. It is seemingly o.k. ‘to now compulsorily demand money also from those people who have been put in a corner for three years as mandate critics, anti-vaxxers, Covid deniers, or Tinfoil Hat-Wearers [Schwurbler].
The journalist recalls programmes in which critics were viciously attacked. Other reporting [sic] was also distorted. For example, as a ‘Seitenblicke’ reporter, Spögler-Dinse was not allowed to show people without masks at events. [Remember: ‘Seitenblicke’ is the ORF’s high-society format which runs every workday right after the evening news ; it’s watched by most people who turned on the TV to watch ‘the news’]
But Sabine Spögler-Dinse is also still annoyed by the internal Covid policies of the ORF: 2G [access-only to ‘vaccinated’ or ‘recovered’ individuals] applied in the entire corporate complex at the Küniglberg—and for the ‘Seitenblicke’ editorial staff even one and a half months earlier. That was why the ORF journalist [after 25 years] left her job at the state broadcaster. She was given a choice: either she would get vaccinated or she would no longer be allowed to work for the company. At the time, the journalist was in good health. adding, ‘in July 2021 it was already clear: the vaccines do not protect against transmission. That would have been the only argument for such mandates.’
One of the most uniform consequences of the ‘pandemic’ is the massive loss of trust in government (institutions) and legacy media. Now, this is about as much a truism as it is a fact.
In Austria, ‘trust in institutions’ is traditionally polled in late spring, and last year’s results are, well, quite something (courtesy of polling firm OGM’s ‘public trust barometer', current as of July 2022):
As the bottom rungs indicate, it is indeed a close call between ‘the gov’t [Regierung]’ and ‘Media [Medien, Verlage]’ in terms of who is trusted least. Job well done 👍 .
Ms. Spögler-Dinse—a high-society ‘reporter’, no less—is about the only (!) ORF employee to speak up. And she spoke up back in autumn 2021 when this was not only unpopular but also cost her the job. A mother of three children, I move to call her an exemplary person of moral integrity rarely seen ‘in the public sphere’ who consciously elected to prioritise her integrity over her super-secure job at the state broadcaster.
As regards the current events that so annoy Ms. Spögler-Dinse, as a result of the above-related massive loss-of-trust in supposedly public broadcaster ORF, many Austrians have cancelled their monthly subscriptions, called GIS-Gebühr. So far, ORF is financed by a certain annual appropriation, tightly regulated advertisement income, and these subscription fees.
As the ‘quality’ of the notionally ‘neutral’ public broadcaster deteriorated during the ‘pandemic’—not that it was perfect before, far from it (if you are Austrian or live there, you will remember the political struggles over the director-in-chief position whose power to shape ‘news’ was legendary, in particular before private TV stations were permitted in the 1990s)—deteriorated to a degree unheard and unseen since 1945, many Austrians who had ‘customarily’ paid these subscription fees cancelled them.
Now, ORF finds itself in rather dire straits as viewership numbers—and hence advertisement revenue, too—have plummeted, serious allegations of misconduct are surfacing (Ms. Spögler-Dinse’s is not the only complaint), and more and more people are ‘tuning out’.
The gov’t has responded as it always does: if you cannot make people do things ‘voluntarily’ (e.g., pay monthly subscription fees), compel them by law. Hence, it comes as no surprise that a new decree is currently debated that would make these formerly ‘voluntary’ subscription fees a permanent ‘household contribution’, Haushaltsabgabe. So far, the gov’t refuses to take the typical road and push for a piece of legislation in parliament.
The proper name for such taxation—and on this issue I am an expert [OT: muahahaha, it is the subject of the past 10 years of historical research of mine]—is: a poll tax, or capitation. According to the US-based ‘Tax Foundation’ (emphases mine),
A head tax, also known as a poll tax or capitation, is a flat or uniform tax levied equally on every taxpayer. Unlike an income tax, it is a fixed amount and not based on how much one earns, nor does it change based on any taxpayer circumstance or action.
Now you know. It is a classic example of ‘the state taketh, irrespective of how much and what thou maketh’. More from their ‘historical examples’:
Since a head tax is levied equally across the population and is not as affected by taxpayer behavior, shifts in the market, or economic cycle, it tends to be a more stable form of revenue.
Note, by the way, that the issue of ‘taxation without representation’ historically used to be a quite hot potato, and it was that way in both the US and French Revolutions.
One can look as far back as the 17th century, when both Great Britain and France levied taxes of a set dollar amount, determined by the person’s rank, class, and profession. By stratifying the tax rates based on those demographics, these head taxes may have been less regressive than a uniform amount levied on all taxpayers.
Yes, you read that correctly: taxation imposed in the early modern period, in principle, ‘may have been less regressive than a uniform amount levied on all taxpayers’.
Excursus: This is Nothing New (OT and wonkish, feel free to skip to the synthetic evaluation below)
If you read German, check out my recent article on ‘Domination, Taxation, and Bureaucracy after White Mountain: The Eggenberg Domains and the Habsburg-Territorial Administrative State, c. 1650-1720’, The Czech Historical Review 120, no. 3-4 : 607-52, from its English-language summary (my emphases and modifications):
It is epistemologically fruitful to study ‘composite domination’ within the same
framework as bureaucracy, taxation, and the ‘fiscal-military state’ ( john Brewer).
Analysis of a representative sample of tax records from the seigneurial holdings of
the Eggenberg points to both the continued importance of these “arcana dominiationis” (Josef Pekař) and the fundamental significance of everyday administrative life beyond and (or) outside Vienna and Prague. The sources examined here show two meta-trends: on the one hand, it is clear that, whatever the intentions for Vienna or Prague were, every policy implementation before the mid-eighteenth century depended primarily on seigneurial officials, both ‘on the ground’ in the various lordships and on the clerks in the regional offices. On the other hand, the emerging ‘fiscal-military state’ was also based to a large extent on a series of para- or entirely illegal decisions—especially by the territorial offices and officials—that were, at least partially, subsequently confirmed (approved) by the Bohemian diet. These procedural shenanigans are particularly evident in taxation.
These multidimensional findings have so far hardly had any impact on the
established research literature on the Habsburg Monarchy, to say nothing about
the other areas of early modern Europe. The fiscal records of post-1620 Bohemia
contain sufficient evidence of the increasing interconnectedness—collaboration—between the imperial court, the territorial authorities, and between state and non-
state (estate) actors. This has been emphasised for decades by ‘international’ research, yet, these notions have been only selectively taken up by scholars working in, or on, Central Europe, as can be exemplarily observed in the writings of Tomáš knoz, William Godsey, Petr Maťa, or Thomas Winkelbauer. The oft-discussed interrelatedness between war, taxation, and state-building after the Thirty years’ War (1618–48) focuses primarily on political aspects and intra-elite communication, with only very limited consideration given to (parts) of the official channels. Virtually everything is ignored that occurred outside Vienna and Prague or below the level of the regional offices, to say nothing about the seigneurial holdings that remained the ‘structural foundation’ of public administration after 1620, according to Eduard Maur. It is precisely in these contexts where we can not only identify a variety of new insights, if only scholarship could muster more interest in the field of the ‘arcana patrimonialis’, as Josef Pekař pointed out more than a century ago.
Whether analysed qualitatively or quantitatively, seigneurial tax records—analysed here using the example of the Eggenberg’s Bohemian estates—provide
a wealth of new insights into the realities of everyday administration beyond the normative instructions promulgated by the Viennese court, the central authorities, or the royal and estates’ Bohemian institutions (which have not yet been systematically studied to date either). In this context, it is also worth taking a close look at Crime History, which, in view of the oft-discussed tensions between ‘norms’ and ‘practices’, has for some time emphasised bespoke reservations. Jaroslav Pánek’s assessment that ‘these sources’—in the present context, e.g., territorial diet resolutions, rescripts or documents issued by central administrative bodies—’hardly provide a comprehensive picture of their effect and implementation’ on what went on at the regional or seigneurial levels. yet, these considerations (reservations) should also apply to research on domination, taxation, and state transformation until (at least) around the middle of the eighteenth century, if not beyond. Evidence from the Krumau-based seigneurial records suggests that the conventionally invoked (assumed) causalities of warfare, state-building, and bureaucratisation should at least be relativised, if not thoroughly reconsidered.
At first glance, this may seem to contradict the ‘Tilly Thesis’ of war-induced
state-formation, which serves as the bedrock for the majority studies on central
institutions, financial history, and public administration of the Habsburg Monarchy. In view of my findings deriving from everyday administrative life in post-White
Mountain Bohemia, however, it seems more realistic to speak of various manifestations of ‘systemic overload’, especially apparent in the decades around the turn of the eighteenth century. At first glance, this may seem contradictory; yet, this interpretation gains weight not only via comparisons made by Victoria tin-bor Hui but also in view of Tilly’s posthumously published reflections on war and state-building: the former considers, for example, recourse to military contractors, mercenaries, (forced) loans, foreign financiers, and the continued importance of non-state actors as ‘deforming’ forces that worked against state integration in the Chinese experience. Of additional importance here is that Tilly himself has recently clearly criticised the often quasi-teleological readings of his scholarship from half a century ago. By contrast, his latest insights into what Tilly calls ‘State Transformation’ have, so far, not been taken up by either the Oxford Bibliographies (as of this writing) or most scholars working on these topics. Here is hoping that this contribution will go a long way towards changing these matters.
Last Words (for now)
Having established my ‘expertise’ in these fiscal-bureaucratic minutiae, let us, in a brevity, consider what is going on: because the population has become very wary of the obvious bias in the state broadcaster’s reporting, its income stream is drying up; we note, in passing, that salaries for extra-obedient ‘journalists at ORF are very high, esp. relative to what ‘regular people’ make.
As a result, the government now returns to 17th-century principles of taxation in one context (financing of its main propaganda outlet) while the foundation of the tax system remains ‘the individual’. A contradiction, if there ever was one.
Not long ago, feminists used to get all enraged about all people—esp. husbands and wives—being lumped together for whatever purposes. Now, however, it seems o.k. for the Uniparty to push these anachronistic ways of taxation.
As an aside, why not tax families with children as a household as opposed to two individuals separately?
Austrians Under 42 Don’t Watch the State Broadcaster Anyways
Public outrage is mounting over this, and so is resistance: according to recent polling, 84% of ‘young adults’ under 27 refuse to watch ORF content irrespective of being fleeced by the government. The corresponding shares among other age brackets are detailed below:
Translation: ‘when was the last time you watched ORF 1?’ BLUE = in the last 1-2 days; ORANGE = in the last 3-4 days; GREY = at any time last week; YELLOW = last month; LIGHT BLUE = long ago; GREEN = don’t know.
Things will change, rather sooner than later.