Column on Taxation Without Representation

Taxation Without Representation

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last year there has been an immense accumulation of national debt. Now in principle this is nothing new–the practice of funding projects with borrowed money is quite old but the scale has never been this huge. (Some may argue that war time debts were of greater percentage of the national budget but this is not war time.)

While Democrats are well known to be the routinely big spenders, Republicans aren’t far behind, especially during the George W. Bush presidency. So my points have nothing to do with partisanship–plague on both your parties, I say. At this time, however, it is Republicans in Washington who are pointing fingers about the incredible national debt and how this will have to be paid for by our children, grandchildren, et al. But even the Republicans are silent about one of the colossal obscenities of all this, namely, that we have here a practice that runs smack up against one of the quintessential American principles, namely, "No taxation without representation." 

I am not sure why hardly anyone is saying anything about this in the mainstream media but it is really quite gross: the people who will carry the burden of all this irrational spending aren’t the ones who are voting for it or voting for the people in Congress who are voting for it all. No. The process of dumping all this debt on those who aren’t even alive yet, not to mention cannot vote, is so out of line with the American political tradition that it simply baffles me that few commentators make mention of that fact.

For my money all taxation is extortion, a policy suitable to monarchies but not free societies. To pay for the job–a limited job at that–that government is supposed to perform, nothing coercive must be undertaken. No robbery, no burglary, no theft, no extortion, Nada. But this seems not to phase too many people, and certainly very few if anyone in the mainstream media. Yet the practice of extorting money from citizens is not consistent with the theory of rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, nor indeed with the Bill of Rights (the 5th amendment, in particular). Yes, late in the day taxation was "authorized" by, well, those who wanted to do it. That’s like bank robbers deciding that robbing banks is just fine. But it isn’t of course. In the past it made some sense because the country "belonged to" the king or czar or some other despot. Because of this fiction, taxes could be levied on–rent could be collected from–those working within the ruler’s realm.

But the country has changed from being ruled by a monarch to being governed by those who were selected by the citizens and this simply does not authorize anyone to expropriate a huge portion of our resources. Government must find a voluntary way to fund itself, no different from the dentist, shoe maker, golf pro or taxi driver. None of these people doing vital work have the authority to extort money. If they cannot find willing customers, they must find some work that people are willing to pay for. Anyone benefiting from the tax system is getting tainted funds.

Never mind this radical, albeit very true, doctrine of how to pay for legitimate public services. Assume that the way it was left by the American framers is kosher enough. Taxation is permissible provided those being taxed can vote on the policy. No taxation without representation, in short. 

But this has now been totally subverted, so we are now moving back toward the time when governments owned the country and even us. And some of the major legal theorists advising the Obama administration, such as Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, explicitly advocate just this viewpoint: Government owns everything and grants us the privilege of spending some of its money!

Well, maybe in time we will resume the more progressive public policy whereby government will promote the protection of individual rights instead of violating them. 

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