What Are Taxes?
Tibor R. Machan
In the April 15th edition of The New York Times Richard Conniff suggeststhat what the government collects from us each year on or about this datebe called "dues" instead of "taxes" ("Abolish All 'Taxes'”). As he putsit, "we need language to remind us that this is our government, and thatwe thrive because of the schools and transit systems and 10,000 otherservices that exist only because we have joined together." Nice try but it won’t fly. First, many of those services would easilyexist without government and in fact do. But, unlike with government’s“services,” they aren’t paid for by means of extortion. You know aboutextortion, at least from the movies, no? It is when someone promises youthat unless you pay him or his organization a certain sum, you will bekilled or maimed or your property will be burned down. And this was calledby Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. “the price of civilization”! Second, government tends to establish monopolies, so one reason it isdifficult to get its “services” elsewhere is that it makes sure no one canprovide them. Take first class mail! Only the US Postal Service mayprovide this! Or the issuance of passports. Third, when one pays dues to, say, Costco, Sams, the health club or thegym, one may exercise the exit option--that is, stop going andpaying--anytime one so decides. There may be some provision one needs tofulfill but only because one has agreed to do so in the first place. Taxesmust be paid with no consent involved, with no exit option. One is born ina country and unless one stops being its citizen and leaves it, one mustpay taxes. In fact, one must pay if one merely visits to do some businessthere. Fourth, consider how taxes came to be in the first place. The ruler of therealm--king, tsar, Caesar, whoever--imposed it on those under his or hercommand in payment for the privilege of living and working what that rulerowned, namely, the country! “You live and work here, so you pay me!” Thatwas when it was widely but mistakenly believed that the powerful whoconquer a place are its rightful owners. But what the American revolutionwas about is the abolition of this ridiculous myth, that the governmentowns the country. Instead, it is private citizens who do--they have theright to private property (just as it is clearly implied in the U. S.Constitution). Government, in turn, is supposed to protect this among someother 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 casein many places around the globe--ordinary people (“subjects”) lived bypermission of the government! They had no right to their lives, liberty,pursuit of happiness, property or freedom of speech. Serfdom waswidespread, meaning people were legally tied to the lands where theylived--they belonged to the ruler. Renaming taxes “dues” isn’t going to change its nature as a form oflegalized extortion. Mr. Conniff should know that a rose by any other nameis still a rose and taxes by whatever euphemistic label one were to attachto them would still be taxes, the expropriation of resources by the rulersof the realm. What other means could the few legitimate services of government be paidfor? By the voluntary system of contract fees! All contracts, which arebacked by law, would have a fee attached. But no one would be forced toget this backing, only it would be unwise not to do it. So there could beplenty to fund the strictly limited government that a free society shouldhave. Not, of course, the bloated leviathan that we now have, one that hasdeparted from the American Founders’ idea that governments are institutedto protect our rights! What renaming taxes “dues” would accomplish is to prolong the time it willtake to finally abolish this brutal feudal device from what is supposed tobe a free country. The price of civilization my foot!