Ever since the first e-mail was sent, it was only a matter of time before governments worldwide would find a way to monetize the internet. Its commercial potential revolutionized capitalism, but it fiercely resisted the inevitability of the state taking its traditional cut; despite the way it ran roughshod over traditional market models — or perhaps because of it — it soon developed the reputation as the one truly free market.
It was easy to see why e-commerce proved so appealing to doctrinaire libertarians: if anything could be aptly describe as the last frontier of unregulated capitalism, it was the storefronts of the internet. Right from the start, e-commerce was able to avoid the traditional pitfalls of local taxes, international trade restrictions, and even various forms of regulation that had so often taken a bite out of profitable industries like gambling, finance and telecommunications. “Information wants to be free”, went the rhetoric of the day; but judging from their behavior, the owners of the world’s most profitable websites meant ‘free from regulation’ as much as they did ‘free from restriction’.
As the 2010s dawned, everyone know that something had to give. The web had been a mixed blessing for government revenue; it had created a whole new generation of multi-millionaires, but they were too well-versed in the mechanics of ‘avoison’ to add much value to the tax base. Their favored forms of commerce allowed them to dance rings around sales and luxury taxes, and the new cycles of boom and bust they created threw hundreds of thousands out of work, creating widespread social dependency and a consequent drain on the federal coffers. It couldn’t keep up this way forever; there had to be some way for the government to get a cut of all that sweetly intangible e-money. The question was, how?
The answer didn’t come until summer of 2013, and it came not from a seasoned government functionary, but from a radical refugee from the world of e-commerce. Victor Benavides, the junior senator from New Mexico, had been responsible for several initially profitable though ultimately doomed start-ups, including cybersodas.com, telescarves.com, TierWasser.com (a mineral water delivery service for pets), and AtYourService.com, a company where, for a small fee, operators would pretend to be customer service representatives for a different company you were angry with and allow you to yell at them for a half-hour at a time. Coming from the private sector, he knew from firsthand experience that any internet start-up worth its salt was prepared from the time the ink dried on the incorporation papers to devote significant resources to dodging taxation.
Benavides also knew that internet users were also a highly organized, extremely stubborn group of consumers when it came to added costs. They expected to use the web for free, and while they paid for quality, convenience and/or usability, they had been traditionally very strongly against any kind of across-the-board user fee for internet access, even if it targeted high-volume internet users over casual surfers. How to resolve this problem? How to reconcile the government’s need for increased revenue with the fact that most of the wealthiest individual who owed their largess to ducking any kind of authority?
The Utilities Self-Righteousness Excise Revenue, or USER tax, was the solution. Its various provisions were implemented, it is true, in a somewhat stealthy fashion, being attached as riders to elder-care safety acts, collective bargaining agreement protocols, public transportation bills, and other legislation of no interest to the voting public. Even such electronic-freedom watchdog organizations as noticed the elements of the USER tax raised relatively few objections; it was not a form of censorship, after all, and, as Benavides had predicted all along, everyone simply assumed it would apply only to other people.
Within six months of its initial passage, the USER tax — a simple pay-as-you-go program that generated revenue based on the frequency and intensity of self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, smug, patrician, sanctimonious, prescriptive, and self-flatteringly glib and spurious statements made in the internet — had generated so much income that the federal government was predicting its largest revenue surplus since the 1990s. By year’s end, the amount of money generated by parenting sites, foodie blogs and music critic message boards alone was projected as enough to wipe out the entire federal debt.
The most important factor in USER’s success was that any movement against it only strengthened it. Every outraged comment quoting Thomas Jefferson was posted on-line in protest of the idea of taxing self-righteousness added another few pennies to the federal coffers. Perpetual outrage machines like mises.org, freerepublic.com, and the various Breitbart organizations soon found themselves fully funding the government agencies they had long sought to abolish. Even the mighty Anonymous fell before the might of Victor Benavides’ brainchild; so addicted were they to grandiose statements of righteous striving that their very first attempt to strike back at the USER tax bankrupted them completely.
Like many ambitious internet entrepreneurs before him, Benavides eventually became a victim of his own success. Plans to institute similar measures that would tax the use of phony tough-guy rhetoric met with great hostility from pretend veterans’ groups, and a proposed scheme to fine men who complain about fat chicks one dollar for each pound they themselves exceed the obesity limit would have placed the entire country into receivership. Japan had recently undergone a massive debt crisis after placing a similar tax on posting photos of quirky-looking food, and Britain’s attempt to litigate the copyright of “Keep Calm and Carry On” parodies was tied up in unending and costly court proceedings. And a temporary rise in reasoned, respectful on-line communication had its ugly mirror in a growing underground economy of self-righteousness, to which a huge spike in suicides amongst service industry employees had been linked.
But the massive success of the initial project led to worldwide fame for its founder. Soon after being named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 2014, he retired from public service and rededicated himself to the private sector — specifically, the field of green energy, where he has recently seen great success in generating electricity from people who begin sentences by saying “I’m the kind of person who…”.