Dismal Scientist wrote: I seem to recall that Our Lord also had a special fondness for tax collectors.
Yes, especially ones like Zacchaeus who, if I remember right, promised to give half his belongings to the poor, and pay back fourfold anyone he defrauded.
I would love that attitude to infect the IRS.
IIRC, the tax collector held a unsavory social position (legalized theft + traitor) though they could be wealthy. Perhaps the best analog today would not be an IRS agent, but an investment banker
? Which sort of brings us full circle to capitalist, eh?
The comparison with investment bankers is exact.
The Romans farmed their taxes out.
The year's taxes of a province would be put up for auction and assigned to big investors, who bought them at a discount. They, in turn, would re-sell them in smaller parcels to middle-men, and so on, down to village level.
The profession was not without its risks. Crassus, who was very rich, joined Pompey's and Caesar's conspiracy in a fit of pique, because, when he had bought the taxes of Asia Minor, the quaestors, (the Treasury officials in charge of the auction) had not thought to mention that the province was in open rebellion and the chances of anyone actually paying up were slim. The Senate refused a bail-out. He was not without spirit; he was killed leading an army in a disasterous campaign against the Parthians, having part-financed the expedition, in return for one-third of the spoils.
That not all publicani
were as dishonest as was popularly supposed, is shown by the fact that Zacchaeus, out of half his property, could offer four-fold restitution to those he had defrauded (the measure of damages, by the way, in Roman law, for the fur manifestus
, or thief taken in the act.)