Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Serfdom, Taxation and Individualism

Tibor R. Machan

For some this issue may appear to be moot—taxation, like death, is unavoidable, is what many believe. And many others would like us all to fall for this because then they would have gained the upper hand about political economy.

For those who don’t much like the free society and its economic system, free market capitalism, it’s vital to show that taxation is just. That’s because taxation means government owns everything, we merely rent some space and time from it for which we have to pay a bundle. That is how it used to be in the era of feudalism—the monarch owned it all and for our use of some of it collected a hefty tax. (This is what Robin Hood protested, by the way—he didn’t take from the rich but from thieves!) Not only did all property belong to the king—the government—but everyone’s labor did too. That’s what serfdom means—you and your labor belong to the government.

There are those today, in prestigious universities, who insist that this old system is correct and none of us owns anything. “The myth of ownership” is what two such scholars call it, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel of New York University, as well as quite a few others. They insist that everything that you and I may regard as our own property is, in fact, the property of the government or the public. We get the government’s permission to use it but only at a high price.

Now this idea makes sense when you accept that government is God here on earth. Just as everything belongs to God, so such folks believe everything belongs to government. You may think that the money taxed from us is ours but these folks claim it isn’t. The reason is that such folks do not even believe there is a you and me and the rest of us, as separate individuals, in this world. They are anti-individualists and believe, as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor argued, that we all belong to our communities. We do not even own our own lives—the right to life is a myth, too, just as the right to private property.

It was the thesis of the American founders, learned from the English philosopher John Locke, that individual rights are natural—the very nature of a human being makes these rights imperative as part of our social existence. They were individualists, not collectivists like these new theorists are and the pre-Lockean thinkers were. In opposition to Karl Marx, they regarded each person not as but a cell of the most important individual, namely society (or humanity) but as an individual with an independent will. Each of us has an individual identity, we are not all simply part of some larger being and subservient to it.

But if anti-individualism is a crock, which in my book it certainly is, then not only is serfdom a vile mistake but so is taxation. Ultimately some other means of paying for the few proper services of government must be found because taxation is in fact extortion—“You pay or we put you to jail,” so we are told, but in fact no one has this authority, no one at all. Just as no one has the authority to enslave anyone, or to make anyone into a serf, none has the just authority to extort from another as little as a penny.

Because an alternative way to pay for legal services hasn’t been widely discussed—although there are such ways—the anomaly of taxation in a free society is accepted and now those who don’t much like the free society at all are happy to use it as a way to reintroduce the system in which individuals had no rights, indeed, didn’t exist as such.

With government’s growth by leaps and bounds and no opposition found to this in mainstream politics, there is a serious danger that the anti-individualist crowd will succeed. The courts are almost completely under their sway (wiping out private property rights right and left), as are legislatures.

I say let’s stand up for our rights, including private property rights, and condemn taxation as Mafia style extortion and insist that it be gotten rid of just like serfdom has been. That would be taking the American Founders’ idea to its logical conclusion.

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