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ur “modern” society is ruled by taxes at every corner. Some people are ok with taxes whilst others detest them despite living in a country where the public services offered are quite good based on the taxes they have to pay. The depreciation of public taxes is based on the quality of the public services offered by the government as well as other benefits that are available to the citizens from this indirect investment.

At the end of the day we all kind of hate paying taxes. Your average citizen gains around $3,000 per month (if that) and from that based on the country they are located they can even pay $1,000 in taxes, remaining with only $2,000. In our society, this is balanced by a norm that dictates how much tax someone has to pay based on their earnings as well as the nature of work.

The important point here is to understand that lower-class citizens usually end up with barely enough money to pass by from month to month whilst the middle to higher social class, although they pay more taxes, can afford a more luxurious lifestyle without the worries of how they will pay the rent next month.

Ancient Athenian Democracy

In Ancient Athens, the democratic government never had this problem as only the very rich would end up paying taxes and they were pleased about this. At the time, during the 5th century BC, most of the taxes that were gathered from rich citizens were used to uphold the naval army (mainly for defensive purposes) and offer gifts to the gods.

Some people think that Athens used the same governmental system as the Greeks, but that is wrong as besides some similarities, there are some crucial differences. The main goal of Athenian democracy was for all citizens to have equal political rights. This meant that they would be able to participate in any discussion of the council and partake in it with suggestions, no matter the social status of the citizen.

However, there was a small racial twist if you were of foreign descent (no matter how many years you lived in Athens) you were not allowed to partake in any of the political discussions held by the government. Therefore you had no political rights as a citizen, but these people only had to pay taxes if they were wealthy.

Ancient Athens during the 4th century BC (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Within this democratic system, they were trying to find a balance with the main focus being set on equality. Knowing that most of the citizens were poor, it would not be fair to have them pay taxes as then they would risk following behind the poverty line, meaning that many of them would end up starving and that would end up being a big problem for the government as they would lose their internal workforce.

You may think that today this would never happen as even if a person does not have any income they don’t always get income support or financial aid from the government. Why do you think so many people end up on the streets? Many people see their rent or mortgage as the biggest expense, but truly the greatest expense in our lives is tax.

As I mentioned before, there are certain democratic countries that do a good job when it comes to distributing/investing the taxes gathered from the public into public services or other programs to aid citizens in achieving a better life. However, there are a lot more countries in which governments don’t know how to efficiently use the tax money or it ends up in the pockets of corrupt politicians.

The public needs of Athenian citizens

During the 5th century BC, Athens was a prosperous nation with over 300,000 citizens and a steady economy. Most of the tax money which focused on public service went into agriculture and international trade. The other taxes that were applied by the Athenian government were on export, import, prostitutes, and immigrants.

Another part of the taxes was going into the Naval Army combined with the whole of Ancient Greece. Besides Ancient Grece being a powerful nation, the army was seen as a public service at the time as it offered protection to its citizens. The constant construction and maintenance of a huge fleet were costly, to say the least, and Athens offered a huge financial contribution towards this from taxes.

Citizens going to a temple in Ancient Athens for a religious festival, painting by Greg Ruhl (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The other big use for money gathered from taxes was the offerings to the gods. The Athenians were always building impressive temples dedicated to their gods and hosting holidays for the whole public with large feasts with musicians and actors to attract the public.

Why were the rich happy to be the only ones to pay taxes?

In this democratic government with a focus on equality, the rich citizens representing the higher social class were proud to be the only ones to pay taxes as they were honored to play an important role in sustaining the government and its citizens.

They saw themselves as the fortunate ones and their mission was to help the unfortunate, something that you would rarely see today. Some rich people that do help out the unfortunate don’t even do it out of kindness, but to build a good moral reputation around their brand.

Besides the moral act, these rich citizens from Ancient Athens didn’t really win anything from being the only ones to pay taxes besides staying on the good side of the gods and pleasing them through this action. I say this because it is not moral nor the government which in the end devises who will have a fortunate life or who won’t, it is the people themselves who are either born in a rich environment or they create a rich environment.

If we look at things from a different perspective we can also comment that the government was actually trying to sustain a constant income through this decision to have only the rich pay taxes. I say this because if the poor did pay taxes, eventually they would starve to death which means that they would not be able to hold up the economy. Whereas the rich would be at very low risk of ever going poor or starving to death, therefore providing constant income whilst losing nothing, actually gaining praise for promoting equality.

Once again, it is imperative to understand that a big part of the politics within this government also included the gods and maintaining a good relationship with them. In order to have good faith, the government would stay away from unethical actions or anything that would end up making the gods angry. That is why the rich citizens may have seen it as their mission from the gods to use their fortune and lead those who were unfortunate to a better life.

How do we define equality?

Either way, they achieved equality, or at least the closest a democratic government had come to equality. However, is this really equality? It does not seem equal to have one citizen pay taxes and must not do so. Besides being fortunate to become rich, most of the rich citizens may have been working hard to develop this fortune.

What I would define as equality within a democratic government is to close the gap between social classes or at least to remove the lower social class and make everyone become rich to a certain extent. Now we all know that true equality is just a dream that is impossible and it will stay impossible, not because it cannot be achieved, but because we are all different so we won’t allow equality to be achieved.

Besides the argument of equality, such a democratic government can really come in handy, especially with the gap between casual citizens and extremely rich people becoming bigger. The idea behind this specific democratic ideology is that we can end poverty because, once again, the biggest expense within most households is tax.

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