Column on “Voluntary” Taxation

Harry Reid’s "Voluntary" Taxation
Tibor R. Machan
On the Web Site,, 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

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