Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Up To No Good (and Knowing It)

Tibor R. Machan

In my efforts to explain that taxation is extortion and a relic of the feudal age when it was the rent landowners--mostly monarchs and lords--collected from people, I have met with much resistance. It is mostly based on the widespread belief that without taxation the functions of government could not be paid for. Now this is wrong. If governments did just what they are supposed to--"secure our rights"--there would be no problem paying for their services by contract fees, for example. That enormous amount would fund the judicial, police and military branches, all that a free country ought to have from its government.

Sounds a bit incredible but then so did abolishing serfdom and slavery at one time! Or the draft! But all these are imperatives of a free society, however difficult it is to imagine them for those with the governmental habit. And curiously enough, some of the best minds defending taxation know this very well--they know that there is something amiss with taking from people their honest belongings, their resources, earnings, etc. That is why quite a few of them have taken a different approach to crafting their apologetics!

They now argue that no one owns anything, after all, and everything belongs to the government. Professors Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel of New York University did just this in their book, The Myth of Ownership (Oxford University Press, 2004), maintaining that the country owns the wealth in it, not individuals, and since the country is represented by the government, it gets to allocate the wealth, not you or I. We only get a bit of it that's left over once the government takes what supposedly belong to it.

This is like in the days before the American revolution, when government owned the country and even the people in it or at least treated them all as subjects instead of citizens. Such a reactionary view is now being advocated, including by the likely first nominee to the U. S. Supreme Court, Professor Cass Sunstein of the Harvard Law School (formerly a colleague of President Obama at the University of Chicago). In the book he co-authored with Stephen Holmes, Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (W.W. Norton, 2006), they also argue that our rights are granted to us by the all mighty government and can be revoked by that some government whenever its officials deem it necessary. (They don't put it in such stark terms but it all mounts to this!) I myself have done a bit of work on the issue, in my books Individuals and Their Rights (Open Court, 1989) and The Right to Private Property (Hoover Institution Pres, 2002) which, of course, these fine scholars manage to completely ignore as they proceeded to try to demolish the most powerful idea that stands in the way of tyranny.

But whatever their scholarly ethics, one thing is for sure: these folks know well and goo--just as did Karl Marx and Frederich Engels in their book, The Communist Manifesto--that they must abolish the concept of private property in order to secure government's legitimacy as it extorts our resources. Otherwise, if it's ours, if we do have the right to private property, by what authority does a government--a bunch of human beings with a limited job to do--take from people what belongs to them?

Of course it takes many decades, even centuries, for a revolution to gain its full impact where it has occured and so even in the United States of America the old notion that government is sovereign, not you and I, retains a hold on people's thinking. It is, however, wrong, just as wrong as the belief that governments own us, or that some people own some others.

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