This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Another Modest Proposal: How To Solve The Newport Beach Dock Tax Crisis The Real-American Way

Gustave Doré, "The Childhood of Pantagruel" (1873)There was a custom in France during the times of the Ancien Régime of having low-born commoners — peasants and petty townsfolk — watch the King eat. For Louis XIV, who instituted this custom, inviting the poor masses to witness the majesty of the courtly dinner was merely one sensible way of promoting the cult of royal personality in an age before television, photography or daily journalism. Ironically, in the process of making his monarchy great and increasing the magnificence of the French Court, the Sun King essentially destroyed his country, plunging most of its people into decades of intense poverty (and ultimately, nearly a century of political turmoil, of which the Revolution was only the beginning). As the great bulk of the population got poorer and more desperate, while its ruling elite felt increasingly entitled to have the commoners finance every luxury imaginable, this tradition of royal display took on a decidedly sinister connotation. It surely seems bewildering to us why the King, his wife, and his nobles, all dressed magnificently, would gorge themselves on twelve-course meals of game, seafood, exotic fruit and fine pastries in full view of the multitude of their bedraggled subjects, who had paid for all of that and couldn’t even afford bread for themselves and their families. But if you asked the last Ancien Régime King, Louis XVI, about it, he would probably tell you that he was performing a public service; that the spectacle of the royal feast was ultimately more valuable to all his starving subjects than the feast itself was to him. Hence, it was only fair to make the starving subjects pay for it.

Far be it from me to suggest that the twenty-first-century America is anything like pre-revolutionary France (yet), I was reminded of this bit of historical trivia just before Christmas, when certain owners of yachts docked in Newport Beach, California threw a hissy fit over having their (comically low) docking rents raised to pay for necessary and long overdue repairs to the docks.

The city’s five-year plan for the harbor calls for $29 million in long-overdue maintenance. Its silt-filled channels haven’t been fully dredged since the Great Depression. Ancient, leaky sea walls protecting neighborhoods need to be repaired or replaced.

“We have the makings of a perfect storm like they did on the East Coast” during Superstorm Sandy, said Chris Miller, the city’s harbor resources manager. “The sea walls are nearing the end of their useful life.”

Even with the rent increases, Newport’s dock owners will contribute a tiny fraction of that cost — the rest coming from the federal government and the city’s general operating fund.

(Emphasis added.) For the last two decades, yacht owners paid a flat fee of $100 per year to dock at Newport Beach. Now, the fees will vary by square footage and will range from $250 to $3200 per year for extra-large vessels. Clearly, making people who use the dock pay a tiny fraction of necessary repairs represents a vicious and unconscionable attack on Innocent Job Creators, who shouldn’t have to pay for any public service or infrastructure, in any amount, ever.

The offended yacht owners offer an exceedingly persuasive justification for revolting against what they call the “dock tax” — and this is the one that reminded me of the French royal custom — namely: they decorate their boats with Christmas lights and line them up for a parade, which means their ownership of yachts is actually a public service, hence the public should pay for the entirety of the harbor upgrade. When one man is eating roast pheasant and another is smelling it, it’s the latter who should pay for the meal. Obviously.

An increase in city rental fees for residential docks that protrude over public tidelands created a furor when it was approved last week by the City Council.

It also prompted a call to boycott the boat parade and festival of lights by a group calling itself “Stop the Dock Tax.”

“It costs us thousands of dollars to voluntarily decorate our homes and boats to bring holiday smiles to nearly 1 million people,” organization Chairman Bob McCaffrey wrote to the city. “This year, we are turning off our lights and withdrawing our boats in protest of the massive new dock tax we expect the City Council to levy.”

So — having taxpayer-funded universal health insurance, complete with subsidized contraception? An intolerable assault on liberty. Having the taxpayers pay for the upgrade of docks most of them aren’t using and have no access to? Perfectly legit. No, seriously, it makes sense. Since the benefit of maybe watching a boat parade once a year is clearly greater than the benefit of owning and docking a yacht, it’s the peasantry who must foot the bill. And of course, spending $50,000 to decorate your yacht for Christmas is all about bringing joy to the ungrateful masses, and not at all an exercise in narcissistic showing off.

But still, aren’t taxes communism? Even taxes on the poors? And isn’t boycotting a plebian, Marxist-Leninist tactic? I suggest that the yacht owners of Newport Beach employ a more capitalist, laissez-faire, Real American solution to the problem: sell tickets for the boat parade. Finance the dock repairs exclusively with the profits from those sales. And while you are at it, build ten-foot walls around your neighborhoods (if you haven’t already done so), and charge visitors a fee to enter, since I think it would be just a tad unfair to raise taxes on the plebes just because some of them sometimes look at a mansion and find it pleasing to the eye.

See how many people are willing to part with cash in this economy to see your stupid chochkes — if actually given a choice.


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5 thoughts on “Another Modest Proposal: How To Solve The Newport Beach Dock Tax Crisis The Real-American Way

  1. Great article. Amazing how far money can separate a person from sense, and you draw a fabulous parallel.

  2. Wow, one could only wish that docks and yachts were swept out to sea. Except the oblivious owners would demand reimbursement from the government for not fixing the docks and sea walls in the first place…the vicious cycle of stupendous wealthy ignorance. Love the historical tie-in (not much of a leap, actually).

  3. A powerful piece of writing. I loved your tie-in with the opening.

  4. Pingback: And while I’m online … | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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