Commentary

It Feels So Good

This is about civilization and taxation and duty, but first a brief word about dog scrotum:

One of the most elegant vulgar jokes ever written goes as follows: Q: Why does a dog lick its balls?

A: Because it can.

Like much humor, it’s funny because it is unexpected but obvious truth. It subverts the complexity of veterinary physiology and cuts right to the explicit nub of it. And what’s not just funny but hilarious is the implicit logical extension. If you, fella, could do the same, you would, too. Because…duh.

Now let’s look at a slightly different question: Why do Americans pay their taxes? Here are some possible answers: 

  • Because the tax receipts are necessary to keep the society afloat.
  • Because it is our civic duty in support of the commonweal.
  • Because in exchange we receive enormous value, including basic services, security, infrastructure, rule of law, social and economic opportunity, a social safety net to somewhat protect our most unfortunate fellow citizens from poverty, in turn somewhat protecting us from our most unfortunate fellow citizens. 
  • To stay out of prison.

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Pick one, or mix and match. The follow-up question is, why do Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Spaniards and Brazilians evade taxes on such a grand scale?  

Are they inherently less aware of financing their governments? Are they without a sense of the social contract? Are they ignorant of the value exchange, what the government provides with their tax payments? Come on. You know the answer:

Because they can. 

It’s not as if the civic duty to pay were some sort of tacit agreement, some unspoken compact. Apart from being the historical and immutable economic model for government, it is the law. But in those countries, the economies are so shadowy and the bureaucracies so helpless and the cultural of impunity so ingrained that tax evasion brings little risk of detection, much less jail. In direct proportion with laxity of enforcement around the world, civic duty goes begging. 

Civilization is the subordination of personal interest to the interest of the community, and it works pretty well -- unless nobody’s looking. Then it tends to be every man for himself. Shorting the tax man is no different than flicking boogers on the carpet, speeding on the interstate or failing to sort your recyclables. Never mind the other folks, never mind the rules.

Now then: what if the economic model were based on a quid pro quo that wasn’t a law, wasn’t a rule, wasn’t a deal, wasn’t a contract -- legal or social? The model depended on a value exchange involving you personally, but you had never, ever been asked for your consent, let alone your signature on the dotted line.  

I have just described the media economy.

It is a tax. For hundreds of years it depended on your attention, however grudging, in exchange for free and subsidized content. It was a fair tax. It was a good tax. It was an enormously lucrative tax for all four parties -- media, marketers, agencies, consumers -- who depended on it. But the consumers never agreed to pay it. No, they didn’t opt out, which suggested satisfaction, but that was just an assumption….

….because they couldn’t.

Now with ad blockers the captive audience can liberate itself from ad taxation, and with breathtaking speed and righteousness, it has. The industry has responded with anger, denial, accusations of immorality and a continued delusion that all they need to do is improve the user experience for the historical quid pro quo to be restored.  

As if. For the first time people are free to live the dog’s life, and it feels so good.

5 comments about "It Feels So Good".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 18, 2016 at 9:27 a.m.

    As one of your friends says. " Either I pay, you pay or someone else pays. Sometimes, the someone else is I or you." It all catches up.

  2. Henry Gomez from MARCA, January 18, 2016 at 11:42 a.m.

    It's a great analogy. Yes, people woult like to evade taxes (ads) if they can. But the analogy works both ways. When a plurality or majority of people evade the tax, then the benefit the taxes bring go away. So the task for advertisers (just as for governments) is to make taxes fair but inescapable. 

  3. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, January 18, 2016 at 12:06 p.m.

    With the singular exception of the Super Bowl (and maybe The Oscars), traditional brand marketing is on life support, and the prognosis isn't good.  To survive, the only alternative is to disguise brand messaging as "native" content that will evade ad blockers.  There's something inherently dishonest in this practice, and we old-timers will always miss the clear delineation of ad-supported media, where content was content and advertising could be free to talk openly about the attributes of the product or service it was selling.

  4. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing, January 18, 2016 at 12:12 p.m.

    For print media -- magazines, newspapers, etc. -- advertising is generally not an intrusion to the readers.  When they're reading news articles or other info that interestes, they can CHOOSE to read an ad on the same or opposite page.

    On the Internet, pop-up ads are an intrusion and they are an irritant.  Irritating the prospect is not smart marketing.  Advertisers are using the Internet because it's cheap. 

    The Golden Age of Marketing-Sales is now dead.  Everyone is poorer because of it.  Neil Mahoney

  5. Doc Searls from ProjectVRM, January 20, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    GREAT post, dammit. You say in a few paragraphs what I've been trying to say for the last forty posts here: http://j.mp/awars .

    On the ball-licking topic, a bonus link from Rodney Carrington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIoy_DFIe3Y

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