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Don’t Cut Taxes — Abolish Them!

January 9, 2001

The pettiness! The pettiness! We are now at the stage where bitter fighting erupts over the president-elect’s nominees for cabinet positions. Is John Ashcroft a racist? Did Linda Chavez illegally employ an illegal immigrant in her home?

In Washington these questions are being treated as life-and-death issues, preoccupying this power-obsessed city as questions of war and peace or slavery and freedom once preoccupied our ancestors. If this is what modern politics is all about, no wonder sensible people ignore current events.

Squabbling has replaced debating. Unlike our ancestors, we don’t want to discuss basic questions of political philosophy. Consider the thoughtful economic columnist for Newsweek, Robert J. Samuelson. He says he has generally opposed tax cuts: “The arguments against them seemed overwhelming: the booming economy didn’t need further stimulating; the best use of rising budget surpluses was to pay down the federal debt.” But he has changed his mind: “A tax cut is now common sense.” We need it, he explains, to fight off a recession, though he thinks George W. Bush’s plan takes the wrong approach.

Samuelson speaks of “consumers” rather than individuals or citizens. He thinks in terms of “the economy” and government management of it rather than the principles of justice and property rights. He assumes the goal of maximizing aggregate wealth rather than giving every man his due.

In this he is, alas, all too typical of our time. The taxing power of government is a given; there is no such thing as unjust taxation, only tax rates so self-defeatingly high that the government itself suffers along with “consumers.”

I nearly wept, during the presidential campaign, when GWB said that nobody should have to pay more than a third of his income in taxes. It was the first time in ages that I’d heard a major political figure suggest that taxes may actually be unfair to the taxpayer. Suddenly I knew how a slave picking cotton must have felt when he first heard rumors of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Chattel slavery in this country was abolished in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment. But tax slavery was instituted in 1913 by the Sixteenth Amendment, which gave the federal government limitless power to tax incomes. That is the chief reason most of us now work nearly half the year just to pay taxes.

We are so inured to it that we don’t raise the fundamental questions: By what right does government tax us in the first place? How much can we be justly said to owe the government? Is there any point at which taxation becomes tyrannical? And have we reached or passed that point?

It’s tacitly assumed that a government has the right to tax as much as it chooses. Only pragmatic discretion limits government rapacity. The taxpayer’s sole defense is an exceedingly feeble one: the vote. And that is offset by the fact that people who live off the taxpayer can vote too.

[Breaker quote: Taxation 
is both unnecessary and wrong.]Limitless taxation is the natural consequence of limitless government. Spouses can be dumped, children can be aborted, parents can be abandoned, but you can’t divorce the state. It owns you. It may not take everything you have — even slaves have to be fed — but there is no defining line beyond which it recognizes taxation as robbery. Knowing nothing of mine and thine, it’s an enormous parasite. Once it can take anything, it can take everything.

The irrationality, not to mention injustice, is appalling. The taxpayer is charged trillions for “defense” he doesn’t need, “social services” he doesn’t receive, and of course interest on a “debt” he didn’t incur. Though his own tax “debt” is imposed without his consent or contractual agreement, he is said to “owe” the government whatever it demands of him.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is often quoted: “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Then why don’t higher taxes produce a higher civilization? At one time most people assumed that chattel slavery was necessary to civilization too, and would have thought it foolhardy and utopian to abolish the institution. Others thought the military draft was necessary to national survival. Given a chance, experience proved otherwise.

Maybe someday Americans will wake up and realize that taxes are not only excessive, but wrong in principle. And unnecessary — except for that part of the population that expects to be supported by others.

Joseph Sobran

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