Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"Crazy Compromises - An American Tradition"

There’s this thing with Inheritance Taxes – try not to think too hard about how I know this – wherein after a legally prescribed deductible, you have to pay a percentage of the rest of your estate in an Inheritance Tax. 


A professional Estate Planner can legally arrange things so you don’t have to pay nearly as much.

Leaving me wondering… “Do they want you to pay Inheritance Tax, or don’t they?  If they do, why did they make one law where you are required to pay a certain amount in Inheritance Tax, and another law that says, “We were just kidding”?

It was explained to me that this was a politically negotiated compromise.  One constituency wanted a meaningful Inheritance Tax, while another constituency wanted no Inheritance Tax.  And this is where they finally came down.

I smiled, but lightningly quickly, as the Estate Planner charged many hundred of dollars an hour and I did not want to waste time on things I can do nothing about, although, you may have noticed in this arena, that is pretty much all I do.   At least, here, the meter is not crazily running.  In that place, considering, “Would you like coffee, tea, water, organic fruit juice or a soft drink?” cost me twenty-seven dollars.  The question alone was twenty-one fifty.

To my way of thinking, the resolution they came to about Inheritance Tax is not a compromise.  A compromise involves splitting the difference.  No Inheritance Tax – a hundred percent Inheritance Tax – you meet somewhere in the middle. 

Another kind of compromise involves “Horse Trading.”  In post-Revolutionary times, the Federal government assumed the states’ Revolutionary War debts – which the South didn’t want, although I never understood why – “We’re assuming your war debts!”  “You most definitely shall not, Suh!”  I’d say, “Take ‘em!”  

Anyway, in exchange for the South’s reluctant concession on this matter, the nation’s capital was situated in Washington rather than Philadelphia, which is considerably further north.

That, to me, is how you compromise – meeting in the middle, or “Horse Trading.”  But “We are making this law, but we are making another law where we are easing up on the first law –that one, I do not understand.

Then I realized that’s how it works here.  

A community decides to ban an unacceptable firearm from being sold at gun stores but allows the same gun to be legally available at nearby gun shows. 

What are they saying with that? 

“Our community is putting its foot down!  Except there.  Load up!

To some, that's “legitimate compromise.” 

To me, it’s just telling you where to drive.

I now realize that this curious version of compromise is an American tradition.

You probably know this one already.  But to me, it is worth repeating, being the historical Granddaddy of American-style compromise.

Returning again to the post-Revolutionary Era, to determine the size of a state’s representation in the Federal government, they used a conducted census – the more people living in your state, the greater number of representatives it would be allotted in Congress.  (Specifically, in the House of Representatives.)

That sounds democratic, doesn’t it?  Not to the South.  Where there were fewer people, which meant fewer representatives.  Southerners feared being regularly outvoted in the national legislature.

When approached about joining the Union, Southern negotiators entered with an ameliorating proposal.

SOUTHERN NEGOTIATOR:  “We are counting the slaves.”


“As people, Suh!  As people!”

“Hold on a second.  You want to count slaves as people?”

“As so they are, Suh.”

“Since when?”

“Suh, you are impugning a fine segment of humanity.  I shall have none of that in this negotiation!”

“‘A fine segment of humanity’?  Are you talking about the people you have insist are your personal property?  Like furniture, or cattle?”

“That’s ‘chattel’, Suh.”


“Correct, Suh.  Though we are not herein speaking in the ‘ownership’ context.”

“What context are we speaking in?”

“In the context of ‘If you do not allow us to count slaves as individual people, we are not amenable to joining the Union.”

“Aw, come on!”

“A phrase that shall ring reverberatingly in our history books.  ‘I regret I have but one life to give for my country’ and ‘Aw, come on!’”

“Let us be forthright and forthcoming here.  You have never considered slaves people.”

“You have never invited us into the Union.”

“Fine.  But if you truly believe slaves are people, then free them… Hey, where are you going?”

“Suh, we agreed to this colloquy in good faith.  Not for tomfoolery and nonsense.”

“Sorry, I thought I could fix something, there.  Your wish is for slaves to be people, just not free people.”

“Correct, Suh.  Are we agreed upon this consideration?”

“No!  This is transparent subterfuge.  You simply want more countable individuals for the upcoming census.  So you demand inclusion of millions disenfranchised inhabitants you brought over in boats.”

“In fact, Suh, it was primarily Northern nautical seafarers who brought them over in boats.  We simply purchased them when they arrived.”

“I’m sorry.  Although we wish greatly to welcome you into the Union, we are not counting a slave as a person.”

“Are you open to compromise, Suh?

“What are you talking about?”

And here we go.

“We propose, as a concession, that the enumerable value of a slave be assessed at nine-tenths of a person.”

“Sorry.  What’s that, again?”

“Since you adamantly refuse to accept a slave a whole person, our generous counter-offer, is that they be evaluated as nine-tenths of a person.”

“This is preposterous!  We shall have no talk of ‘nine-tenths of a person.’”

“How about eight-tenths of a person?”


Seven-tenths of a… “

“By heavens, you must stop this!  Fractionalizing people?  This is abominable!  Go back to Swanee, or whatever cornpone place you crawled out of!”   

“Suh!  This is no place for geographical invective.  We are simply considering a compromise.”

“But this is disgraceful, along with ridiculous.  You cannot bisect human beings for political expediency.  May I remind you this country has standards, ‘Suh.’  We are the shining City on the Hill, a beacon for decency, democracy and justice the world holds as an immutable ‘Measuring Stick’ for honorable behavior.  If we revere our reputation in the world, we cannot concede to this scandalous proposal.”

“Three-fifths of a person.”

“‘Three-fifths’ is acceptable, sir.”

"It is?"

"I was just waiting for the number."

“Then we are agreed, Suh.  Now, on to the Electoral College.”

And we know how that worked out.  Leaving the South, including the subsequent Civil War, a respectable “Two-for-three.”  And leaving us with a tradition of compromise that makes no sense whatsoever.

Which, imaginably, does very little for our reputation in the world.

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