Column on Up to No Good (and Knowing It)

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 apologetic!

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

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 occurred 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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