Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What Are Taxes?

Tibor R. Machan

In the April 15th edition of The New York Times Richard Conniff suggests that what the government collects from us each year on or about this date be called "dues" instead of "taxes" ("Abolish All 'Taxes'”). As he puts it, "we need language to remind us that this is our government, and that we thrive because of the schools and transit systems and 10,000 other services that exist only because we have joined together."

Nice try but it won’t fly. First, many of those services would easily exist without government and in fact do. But, unlike with government’s “services,” they aren’t paid for by means of extortion. You know about extortion, at least from the movies, no? It is when someone promises you that unless you pay him or his organization a certain sum, you will be killed or maimed or your property will be burned down. And this was called by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. “the price of civilization”!

Second, government tends to establish monopolies, so one reason it is difficult to get its “services” elsewhere is that it makes sure no one can provide them. Take first class mail! Only the US Postal Service may provide this! Or the issuance of passports.

Third, when one pays dues to, say, Costco, Sams, the health club or the gym, one may exercise the exit option--that is, stop going and paying--anytime one so decides. There may be some provision one needs to fulfill but only because one has agreed to do so in the first place. Taxes must be paid with no consent involved, with no exit option. One is born in a country and unless one stops being its citizen and leaves it, one must pay taxes. In fact, one must pay if one merely visits to do some business there.

Fourth, consider how taxes came to be in the first place. The ruler of the realm--king, tsar, Caesar, whoever--imposed it on those under his or her command in payment for the privilege of living and working what that ruler owned, namely, the country! “You live and work here, so you pay me!” That was when it was widely but mistakenly believed that the powerful who conquer a place are its rightful owners. But what the American revolution was about is the abolition of this ridiculous myth, that the government owns the country. Instead, it is private citizens who do--they have the right to private property (just as it is clearly implied in the U. S. Constitution). Government, in turn, is supposed to protect this among some other of the citizenry’s rights. Government is like a hired body guard, not a ruler, not in a free country at any rate.

In times when monarchies were the political norm--which is still the case in many places around the globe--ordinary people (“subjects”) lived by permission of the government! They had no right to their lives, liberty, pursuit of happiness, property or freedom of speech. Serfdom was widespread, meaning people were legally tied to the lands where they lived--they belonged to the ruler.

Renaming taxes “dues” isn’t going to change its nature as a form of legalized extortion. Mr. Conniff should know that a rose by any other name is still a rose and taxes by whatever euphemistic label one were to attach to them would still be taxes, the expropriation of resources by the rulers of the realm.

What other means could the few legitimate services of government be paid for? By the voluntary system of contract fees! All contracts, which are backed by law, would have a fee attached. But no one would be forced to get this backing, only it would be unwise not to do it. So there could be plenty to fund the strictly limited government that a free society should have. Not, of course, the bloated leviathan that we now have, one that has departed from the American Founders’ idea that governments are instituted to protect our rights!

What renaming taxes “dues” would accomplish is to prolong the time it will take to finally abolish this brutal feudal device from what is supposed to be a free country. The price of civilization my foot!

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