Column on What Are Taxes

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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