We’ve all heard the old line about the certitude of death and taxes. It’s a bit telling about the nature of human beings and how they will use power, even if just a little, to try and extract the fruits of their neighbor’s labor for their own gain that we consider taxation as just another inevitable aspect of life. However, are taxes something that we should so readily come to expect?
Yesterday was the 4th of July, where we celebrated our forefathers’ decision to extricate themselves from British rule because of the many abuses by the crown, foremost among them, what the colonials considered excessive and unjust taxes. When independence was won, so loathe of taxes were the Founders that, under the Articles of Confederation, there were no national taxes; Congress had to scrounge what it could thru voluntarily contributions -contributions that were unsurprisingly lacking. Veterans of the War could not collect their pensions, and the infant nation could do nothing to keep British merchants from harboring in its bays and running roughshod over American vendors. The ensuing chaos from such a government resulted in the Constitution being ratified, creating a new, strong but limited central government whose powers included the ability to levy taxes nationally.
Presently in American politics there are two prevailing perceptions on taxation: on the Left, there is the misguided belief that taxes are the “price we pay for living in a free(?) and just society”. Per this narrative, we all pay taxes because we all benefit from living in a democratic society and thus must all share in the burden. This wouldn’t be a half-bad sell for taxes if half the people in American didn’t pay effectively zero taxes. (The Left’s reasoning also has the unfortunate trait of being utter bullshit.) It’s interesting to note: the people most attached to this narrative also hold the honorary title of “tight-fisted jerkwads who refuse to pay more to Uncle Sam than what the law requires.” If taxes are such an honorary patriotic duty, why don’t those on the Left pay more?
On the Right, we have the “taxation is theft” mantra. While truer to the nature of taxation -which is, money taken by force from unwilling payers- it has a major glaring weakness: if taxation is theft, why do we let the government “steal” from us while punishing individuals for doing the same thing? Why is theft illegal in most cases but not some, and if we allow theft to occur at some levels, why not others? Moral and reasonable people can agree: immoral acts do not become moral simply because the majority agree to engage in the act; government is an extension of the individual -of the People…what a person has right to do, the government may do also and nothing more. The problem with “taxation is theft” is that it implies that all taxes are inherently bad, and thus should be eliminated. Ask the Founders how easily a time they had funding even a small basic government with a Congress and an army under the Articles of Confederation.
The reality is taxes, when done properly and equitably, are somewhere in the middle. They are a necessary evil that funds government -government which is necessary and vital to secure and protect our rights from those who would take them from us. To call them theft is disingenuous, to call them “the price we pay to live in a free(?) or just society” is a lie. Taxes are the price we as citizens pay -in theory equally- for goods and services that only the government can provide, such as national defense or trade infrastructure and courts, that we all benefit from. Taxes pay for those services both necessary for the preservation of liberty and our rights and inadequately provided for by free markets because of market weaknesses like externalities or the free rider issue. And the American default is -or at least ought to be- to err on the side of letting free markets handle the care and provision of the goods and services necessary to preserve the public good and peaceful order.
To do more or less than this is tyranny, slavery, & theft. To tax one group to service another group is legalized looting, it is plunder on a national scale on behalf of the politically favored. For taxes to be fair, they must apply equally in cost and benefit. All must pay “their fair share” -i.e. equally burdened, and all must benefit equally and have equal access to the fruits of tax spending. That is what is meant by “the common good” and the “general welfare”.
As Jefferson so eloquently stated, “Whether property alone, and the whole of what each citizen possesses, shall be subject to contribution, or only its surplus after satisfying his first wants, or whether the faculties of body and mind shall contribute also from their annual earnings, is a question to be decided. But, when decided, and the principle settled, it is to be equally and fairly applied to all. To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.’”
Let us remember that overly burdensome taxes are why the Founders rejected British rule and sought independence and self-governance. Let us also remember that what they considered heavy and burdensome are peanuts in comparison to the taxes we pay today…those of us who pay taxes anyways. Liberty cannot exist where one man is taxed so that another may eat of his labor, or where one group is shouldered with a greater burden because of political favors bestowed upon another group.
And without liberty, there can be no justice. Without justice, there can be no peace. Without peace, life is little more than waiting around for death and taxes.