Billy Takes a Bow - Linda Christas Linda Christas

Billy Takes a Bow

by Bobbie Taylor, Class of '12

Recently, newspapers around the world carried a story about the sale of the only authenticated photo of Billy the Kid.

a photo of billy the kid

Billy the Kid

Sources said that the photo was purchased by a private collector.

Originally, the Kid paid just twenty-five cents for this image of himself. The sales price this time was 2.3 million dollars.

Now let's just think about that for a moment. This fellow who purchased the photograph of a stone cold killer chose freely to spend the earnings of a middle class American family's lifetime for a photograph to place in a steel box in the bowels of a New York bank.

I believe that kind of news is very sad for America.

There are so many people who struggle daily for their bread, and among us, there are folks who have so much, and do so little for it, that we seem to have regressed, in a process of reverse evolution to a time when, by the divine right of kings, fabulous wealth was deemed a sign that an individual was graced of God.

I was just reading recently of the life of Constantine, the first so-called Christian ruler of the known world (In actuality, Constantine didn't become a baptized Christian until very late in life. Evidently he wanted to wait in order to get as many sins absolved as he could through baptism. At that time, that was a fairly risky proposition. No matter. He made it, and is presumably dancing to harp and flute in the heavens.)

The reason I bring up Constantine is that, of course, he was fabulously wealthy in that he owned, well, everything. And, Constantine, the brutal person he was, projecting him into the 21st century would have been just the kind of guy to be enamored of a photo of Billy the Kid.

However, how did Constantine make his money?

Let's start out by describing the taxes he levied.

constantine bust


1) Farmers were visited by the tax collector as often as the tax collector chose. They, the farmers, were told just how much grain and other commodities they owed Constantine. The tax collectors weren't particularly careful to match amounts owed with the farmer's actual revenue. And, there was no forgiveness. That is, once the farmer was quoted the tax, there was no appeal. He had to give Constantine's enforcers that amount of goods, even if he, the farmer, had to travel a thousand miles to buy the goods at ruinous prices. Many a farm family starved to death or simply abandoned the land as a result.

2) If the land was abandoned by a farmer, and another individual "found" the land, automatically all back taxes were due, thus driving all but the very wealthy from the land. The very wealthy, being well connected, often could have the taxes forgiven, an option not available to 99% of the population. It is easy to guess in which direction wealth distribution progressed.

3) In the city, Constantine had another method of tax collecting. Again his tax enforcer would visit a home, and name whatever number he chose. Again, these taxes starved and bankrupted thousands every year. And, in an interesting twist, if a city dweller could not pay the tax because he and his family starved to death, the tax was then due and payable by his next door neighbor.

As you can see, this is one way to have a small cadre of individuals high up in the military, the church and the court able to afford a photo of Billy the Kid.

We never seem to learn.

In the first decade of the 21st century, we are repeating much the same philosophy as existed at the time of Constantine, albeit a bit modified.

Bankers and stock firms are given money that rightly belongs to the people. The Federal Reserve loans money at zero interest to bankers who then turn around and, instead of investing in small business owners, put the money into stocks which then make more individuals fabulously wealthy.

At the same time, we make certain that the upper 1% of our population have practically a tax-free ride, as over 139,000,000 Americans who want work cannot find employment. In raw figures, there are MORE people without work who wish to work in America today than there were at the height of the Great Depression.

How many of the 139,000,000 unemployed do you think were bidding for Billy's photograph?

And, when the wealthy make really, really bad mistakes, who do you think pays for that? Well, it's probably not Constantine and his buddies, but the people who were born only with their skills, and not much else.

What I am saying is that we need to be careful. When people talk about the Bush tax cuts, I see more purchases of Billy's photograph being enabled by closet billionaires. When I see a Cezanne purchased for fifteen million for a home in the Hamptons, I say to myself, what is wrong with America.

unemployment line in americaNow don't get me wrong, if we have a person like Bill Gates, he gets a pass. Gates changed the world with his genius. When I see a man like Steve Jobs, if he is buying the photo of Billy, I have no problem with that.

However, that said, Gates has indicated he will be giving each of his children ten million dollars, and the rest goes to charity. FAIR? Yes.

On the other hand, the Lemons, the Vanderbilts, and the Rothschilds made no such deal.

Long ago most of those family members stopped using their genius to benefit mankind. Long ago, they found their way to casinos, yachts and decadence. Of course, they are surrounded by the Marie Cassatts, the Cezannes and the Billy's, but to what end?

Do we really want to live in a world carved roughly on Constantine's model?

I believe that one should be given billions, even trillions if one started only with one's skills and seed money and earned those kinds of funds.

However, when one hoards that kind of wealth, and then passes it on to children and children's children whose main occupation is keeping their wealth out of the hands of the unemployed and starving, I do have a problem with that.

Am I talking about socialism here? Well, maybe. There was a time when the rich labored under taxes of 90% in the United States. Of course, they didn't care for it. But then, that was during the 1950's. Yes, during the golden age of America. When everyone was fully employed, and when we saw for the last time the dollar worth more at the end of a year than at the beginning, the wealthy had to contribute mightily to full employment.

Were the rich unhappy then? Not hardly. They were still wealthy, but very few rich chose to spend their wealth purchasing the likeness of a parent-murdering bandit.

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