About a year ago commentary in Alex Jones’ infowars.com discussed a tax protest in England. A number of Englishmen engaged in effecting a civil arrest of a judge over a “charter tax” which the judge was enforcing. This was in neither Idaho nor Montana, but in the mother country. Commentators are comparing this to a poll tax protest in 1990 and on this side of the pond to the American Revolution.
Such comparisons are often made. However the Peasants’ Revolt or Wat Tyler’s rebellion took place in 1381 as peasants who were unhappy with their lot of being taxed. They rebelled against the boy king, Richard II, who had ascended the throne because his father, Edward the Black Prince, had the bad form to predecease his grandfather Edward III. As a minor Richard was controlled by John of Gaunt and Simon Sudbury, a pair of tyrants who would exist gloriously in the pages of a Sir Waltet Scott novel. The tax was not as important as the fact that these peasants were held in a state of villeinage or perpetual debt by their lords.
Added to this was that a theologian named Wycliffe had recently been dismissed from Oxford for his deviation from church doctrine regarding the Eucharist. His followers were called Lollards and were mostly from the class of villeins.
This is just a little background. In the great twentieth century we began some programs to have the government guarantee and regulate loans for various purposes such as small business (really big businesses do not need these loans because they have subsidies in the form of contracts), farming, home ownership and education. This was to protect these from the rigors of the market and to protect farmers from the villainous bankers who appear in melodrama to take the farm until Dandy Dick shows up, having hit the Power Ball to save the day. Note that the term villain is used for a creditor whereas the term villein means debtor. The term villain was early on used as a class distinction as in “these rough villains” to refer to the debtor class who were outside polite society. In American usage the term villain became the loathsome creditor.
In the late seventies and early eighties there was a mortgage crisis in the midwest—it is not considered as serious because the people losing their stuff were farmers. So were they the victims of predatory banks? In the words of Walter Williams if you said no go to the head of the class. The banks had been working with the farmers, adjusting rates—they had been through the tough times together and come out of it before. The Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) was the successor of a new deal agency that guaranteed agricultural assistance loans. It was a GS-14 or supergrade administrator who made the decision that the banks had to foreclose.
During the Clinton Administration many of the loan guarantee programs became direct loan programs. During the “recovery,” bailout or takeover of the financial system there were a lot of requirements on private lenders to adjust terms and even write off debt.
However, no government debt was written off and, in fact such debt follows for the rest of people’s lives and is not discharged in bankruptcy. The existence of Federal student loan debt (either direct or guaranteed) may restrict government employment, travel outside the country, educational programs etc. Such controls over individuals is much like the semi-feudal control in England in the fourteenth century.
During various times, especially in rural areas, there have been organizations sprout up to actively protest debt policies. (A joke in early Wyoming was that Republicans were beholden to the big banks in New York or Denver whereas Democrats were beholden to banks in Chicago and Omaha.) In the upper midwest there were “penny auctions” wherein friends and relatives of those farmers foreclosed on would bid trivial amounts on the land while other friends and relatives convinced speculators and bank representatives that they did not want to bid. This could happen again.
The problem with villienage is that it leads to the condition Kristofferson wrote about in Bobby Magee. “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” When too large a portion of the population gets into that situation it is going to be a lot different than the collectivist controlled Occupy movement.