Thursday, September 04, 2003

Why Taxes are Really a Bad Thing

Tibor R. Machan

This is one of my favorite topics because I like to tell it like it is even when so many fashionable folks think I am way off base.
You’ve heard it before, I am sure – taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Bunk – that’s a ruse someone who loved big government dearly tried to perpetrate and, yes, one with which he managed to fool quite a lot of people. Millions still believe that taxes are necessary just to have a decent community.
Well, here is what’s wrong with that. Even the most vital services governments provide can be bought instead of extorted from us. There is no free rider problem – meaning, because some pay for something others can use, others will stubbornly refuse to contribute -- and even if there were one, it wouldn’t justify extortion.
What folks don’t seem to understand is that a truly just society is a place where people can live without having to deny their basic humanity. And our humanity consist primarily in needing to be free of other people’s oppression. That is why slavery was such a vicious institution. That is why oppression is so terrible, be it by one bloke, a party, or a majority. That is why any kind of coercion must be banned. People require, for their flourishing, to be free to choose and when this freedom is impeded, even just a little bit, their humanity is being assaulted.
The fact that in most of human history people lived under oppression doesn’t in the slightest undermine the moral point I am making here. Throughout history there has also been theft, rape, robbery, murder, assault and all kinds of related evils, yet no one would seriously argue that those are just part of the price we pay for civilization. That’s because it is clear cut enough that these practices are evil.
Yet what is taxation but imposing an ongoing, heavy burden on persons without their consent, just so that they can make a living, own property, and buy and sell goods in the market place.
Sure, there are services that make working free of intrusion more likely and these services cost something. But we should only have to pay and get these services if we choose to do so. That is what civilized life requires. We should be able to try doing without the services and suffer the consequences.
But most of us would not try to live without cops, courts, and the military, all of which make working, owning property, trading things and stuff more convenient. And we can arrange to obtain these services without deploying any kind of coercive force, contrary to what those try to peddle us who hold that extortion and coercion are needed so as to reduce, well, extortion and coercion. That is just nonsense.
OK, so it hasn’t been tried too often to get legal services governments provide without extracting funds for this coercively, at the point of a gun. Taxes are common, so they are widely thought to be necessary, but this is where the big mistake lies.
Why, however, would so many bright enough people insist that taxation is necessary and moral?
In her first novel, We The Living, Ayn Rand has one of her characters ask, “And what is the state but a servant and a convenience for a large number of people, just like the electric light and the plumbing system? And wouldn’t it be preposterous to claim that men must exist for their plumbing, not the plumbing for the men.”
Yes it would be but there are many, many people who love the idea of ripping off the rest so as to get greater control of the world around them, including of other people. And these folks want to peddle the idea that someone must be authorized to extract from the rest of us funds and labor time and goods and services so as to do certain kinds of good things.
They start by saying, “Well, we must have such extractions so as to provide us with the police, the military and the courts.” But they never end there. Once they have gotten millions of us to say, “Oh, yes, those things are vital, so you go ahead and use coercion to get them,” they proceed to say, “Well, now that we have the authority to use coercion, why not use it for all kinds of purposes other than proving security from others?” And the state then grows and grows and grows and the moral argument against it has been lost.
As I said, the whole thing is a ruse and it is about time for folks to recognize it. The main reason taxation actually prevails is that we haven’t yet fully grasped the implication of asserting individual rights and rejecting the divine rights of kings and the supremacy of government.
We need, in other words, to extend the American revolution to its logical conclusion.

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