Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Harry Reid’s "Voluntary" Taxation

Tibor R. Machan

On the Web Site, FreeLiberal.com, to which someone guided me, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada defended the idea that taxation in America, especially the federal income tax, is voluntary. His basic argument was, believe it or not, that elsewhere in the world people lack the many loopholes we enjoy here. (These, by the way, are the loopholes Senator Reid and his fellows in the Senate are constantly promising to close!) So while the Senator’s case that taxation is voluntary rests on there being loopholes in the system, he is vehemently opposed to those loopholes. Which means that even in his own twisted terms, the Senator does not really believe in the voluntariness of taxation only in that it isn’t so bad here as elsewhere.

But let’s rewind a bit. Does the fact that taxation in American includes many loopholes make it voluntary? This is like claiming that when one is put in jail and there happen to be several escape routes from it through which a few prisoners can break out, the prisoners are there of their own free will! Well, Senator Reid & Co., a dysfunctional prison is still a prison and a tax system that isn’t as harsh as the worst is still a coercive system.

Some people used to defend slavery on the grounds that slaves were often treated well by their masters and that if they were not slaves, their lives would face many obstacles they do not face as slaves. But this does not justify slavery one bit. Life is often harsh for free men and women but this is no excuse for enslaving them even by relatively nice masters.

Voluntary payments are available only when not making them does not land one in trouble with the law. Maybe the trouble in which not paying taxes lands people in America isn’t as severe as in some other regions of the world. But that doesn’t make taxation voluntary. Voluntary means no adverse consequences are imposed by government on those who refuse or fail to pay, period.

What taxation resembles most closely is organized criminal extortion. And this is because that is exactly what taxation amounts to in its customary home, namely, a feudal system. In such a system the monarch or some minions of the monarch, who are all in fact criminals by civilized standards, collect payments from the people because they live and work in the realm that is deemed to belong to the monarch. Even in such systems the power of the monarch can be restricted somewhat and the extracted payment need not be onerous. Just as in our country people aren’t entirely incapacitated because of taxation, in feudal systems many people were and are willing to put up with what the monarch extorts from them, either in forced payment or in forced labor.

Furthermore most of us would rather live in America, with its extortionist tax policies, rather than on some desert island where no one is bothering to take away one’s resources. That’s because despite the vicious nature of taxation, clearly things could be worse. Just as in personal matters of violence there are degrees of severity, so with the violence done by governments. Where I used to live as a child, in communist Hungary, matters were far worse and for some far worse than for me even there. The place was still a tyranny!

None of this makes taxation a proper public policy, any more than some type of relatively mild slavery, such as serfdom, is morally acceptable. Human beings ought to be completely free from each other’s intrusiveness, even when that isn’t very likely to happen. Just as with fitness, the fitter the better, so with liberty, the freer the better.

What a truly free country ought to have is a system for funding law enforcement, maintenance, and administration paid for by way of voluntary fees, just as everything else in a free society is paid for. Of course, the fees one would pay could be imperative for most because law and order are so valuable. And as with, say, long term health or auto insurance, nearly everyone would very likely pay up! A contract fee, for example, a bit like a sales tax, could do the job, especially when one figures that we are here discussing funding the legal system of a genuinely free country, one the strictly limited government of which sticks to its task of securing the rights of the citizenry. But one could still opt out and just rely on a hand shake an so avoid the fee!

In any case, taxation is anything but voluntary, even if in different places it can be more or less unjustly intrusive. But, of course, Senator Harry Reid would not admit this and chooses, instead, to concoct an incoherent story to live with his complicity in the injustice of the institution.

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