Hail Caesar!

Check out this merry message from our friends at the Census Bureau:

Census ad

And be sure to read Tom Knapp’s comments, as well as the Bible’s animadversions on King David’s earlier census.

I’m tempted to add a shiny poster of Jesus being crucified, with the text: “This is how Jesus died. Jesus cooperated with the Roman Empire’s criminal justice system. Don’t be afraid.”

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13 Responses to Hail Caesar!

  1. Neverfox January 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    The first thing that occurs to me is that the creators of this poster must have failed biology.

  2. micah January 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    How outrageous! This is just another example of the federal government showing how low they’ll stoop. Every citizen should clearly see the red flag waving behind this one.

  3. Thomas L. Knapp January 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #


    Actually, this isn’t a government poster. It was created by a Latino non-profit to encourage participation in the census (so that Latinos don’t get “under-counted” for the purposes of apportioning federal loot).

    • Roderick January 2, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

      this isn’t a government poster

      Oh, I didn’t catch that.

  4. Anon73 January 2, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    Actually you could do a whole series on these; have a split poster with Jesus doing something on the left and him being crucified on the right. For example the left might show him clearing the temple of tax collectors and moneylenders, and the caption would say “Jesus cleared the Holy Temple of usury. Jesus was crucified. Don’t be afraid.”

    • P.M.Lawrence January 3, 2010 at 1:55 am #

      Er… that wasn’t tax collectors and moneylenders but money changers (though I wouldn’t be surprised if the same people were involved in each of these allied trades), and usury didn’t come into it but rather extortionate oligopolist rates of exchange. The thing was, ordinary money couldn’t be used for sacrifices because it had idolatrous stuff like Caesar’s head on it, so people had to buy the scarcer Judaistic coinage. Think of it as being like event organisers banning people from bringing in their own drinks so they have to buy them from concessionaires – mutually beneficial for the organisers and the concessionaires but tough on everybody else. Though, come to think of it, knocking over the concessionaires’ stock would be a bit tough on people about to go in… There’s an analogous incident in Apuleius’s Golden Ass, in which a magistrate hears of a shopper buying food at above a set price so he takes the shopper and the food back to the merchant, then while the shopper watches he tramples the food on the ground to show the merchant just what he thinks of the merchant ripping off the shopper.

  5. Aster January 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    1) Separation of church and state issues, much?

    2) “Don’t be afraid” should warn any person of sense that the author of the propaganda suspects that you’ve reasons to feel fear.

    3) Neither the Left nor libertarianism needs to revive the concept of “usury” in public discourse.

  6. Doug Parris January 2, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    Libertarians have, in fact, been instrumental in making “usury” a major political issue (See: “End the Fed”). The Left, by contrast, has gotten rich and powerful based on practicing usury and, as you say, would love to prevent its becoming an issue.

    • Aster January 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

      Interesting gravatar. My take on ‘usury’ is that the concepts of “theft”, “fraud”, “extortion”, “privilege”, or “exploitation” will work nicely. ‘Usury’ is a concept rooted in the kind of Medieval economics overturned by Adam Smith; it’s an agrarian concept used to stigmatise finance or commerce ability as parasitic and unproductive and ‘other’ to socially accepted economic life. The word has become tainted with anti-semitism, and it usually travels in the company of other provincial prejudices. The term ‘bankster’ makes me wince.

      The Federal Reserve certainly implements a subtle but massive form of regressive taxation by giving first spending power to those connected to the state. That’s bad, but the term ‘usury’ has the specific connotation of stigmatising the charging of interest on the basis of the false belief that physical production is real and valuable while abstract or conceptual production (‘brainwork’) is not. This concept is dangerous not only to financiers but also to artists, intellectuals, entrepeneurs, hospitality and helping professionals, and anyone else whose profession produces something which you can’t hold in your hand. Dante put the usurers in Hell next to the sodomites and blasphemers because the Medieval mind saw all three as violations of a mythic natural social-metaphysical order (which the Church is still quite ready to restore if it ever gets the chance). In much of the Islamic world prohibitions on interest are still a serious obstacle to economic modernisation, just as equivalent prohibitions in the social realm prevent the emergence of an individualist civil society.

      And, indeed, the increasing prevelance of the term ‘usury’ in what passes for today’s libertarian movement has been accompanied by a “red state” American nativism rife with anti-intellectualism and conspiracy theories worthy of the Protocols. Which is a good reason why knowledge workers with any sense of history would be wise to withdraw their sanction from libertarianism until this changes. The only revolutions that improve things are those which respect the abstract economy and protect developed cultural capital even as they overthrow an unjust establishment which exercises hegemony over and within it. ‘Usury’ and similar concepts have long been used to encourage oppressed people to take their anger out on the wrong targets. Granted, many people who take up the ‘usury’ battle cry don’t intend to invoke this history. But plenty on the political Right know precisely what they are doing when they use the concept, and its usage by libertarianism has encouraged the hopelessly blurred boundaries between what was once a civilised radical individualism and a noxious radical racial-religious populism.

      • Anon73 January 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

        Well ‘usury’ was just one example; the point is Jesus did a lot of good things that would make for a funny parody of the opening poster. I was not aware that the term ‘usury’ had connotations of anti-semitism or anti-commerce however.

  7. Brassy January 2, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the seemingly significant fact that there’s no evidence to suggest that any such census ever occurred, except for the gospels themselves, which are not regarded as reliable historical accounts for obvious reasons.

    • P.M.Lawrence January 3, 2010 at 2:47 am #

      While I know of no separate evidence for that particular census, that says more about my personal expertise than whether it happened; absence of evidence v. evidence of absence, and so on. But certainly censuses of that sort were taken for that reason, and this one’s requirements were well matched to a typical Poll Tax system of the period.

      Later on, the Byzantines worked out a really cunning improvement called the Kapnikon that threw most of the compliance and administration burden onto the people while still being less of a burden on them overall than the previous Poll Tax (so it was accepted more readily than analogues in other times and places), and which also incrementally reduced collection problems even further by encouraging large, supportive families/households because those paid the same tax as small ones. That didn’t lower the tax take, just made larger targets, because the rates were raised as households grew (it’s a Tragedy of the Commons mechanism). It was almost self-enforcing – tax evaders were often rounded up by their fellows so they wouldn’t have to make up the shortfall themselves.


  1. Jesus did it. Why not you? — Matthew Hurtt - January 6, 2010

    […] attitude still makes it ridiculous and ineffective. Particularly bizarre is the  fact that this Census Bureau ad is ostensibly intended to appeal to Christians, even though the Roman state murdered Jesus […]

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