A Truly Fair “Tax”

by | Oct 24, 2011

The proposals by Herman Cain and Rick Perry to streamline the tax system are certainly a step in the right direction. But neither candidate has addressed one crucial point: taxation is theft. If your neighbor broke into your home and took your money, would the purpose of his crime change the fact that he stole […]

The proposals by Herman Cain and Rick Perry to streamline the tax system are certainly a step in the right direction. But neither candidate has addressed one crucial point: taxation is theft.

If your neighbor broke into your home and took your money, would the purpose of his crime change the fact that he stole from you? Would it matter whether he used the money to pay tuition for his children? Would his action be proper if he donated the money to charity? Would his crime be mitigated if he used the money to repair the street in front of your house?

The fact is, no matter the purpose, your neighbor’s action is theft. No matter how much the needy, or “society,” or you might benefit, the fact remains that your money was taken  without your consent and used for purposes with which you may or may not agree. This is true whether your money is taken by your neighbor or by the government. When your neighbor steals your money, it is called theft. When government takes your money, it is called paying your “fair share.” But how can theft ever be fair?

As a taxpayer, you are forced to finance government schools. If you disagree with the curriculum of those schools, but cannot afford the cost of a private school, you have little choice but to subject your children to ideas that you find repugnant. Non-parents are similarly forced to pay for the teaching of ideas they abhor. Is this fair?

As a taxpayer, you are compelled to provide charity for the poor and needy through government “entitlement” programs. If you object to any aspect of those programs, your judgment is irrelevant. Is this fair?

No matter the purpose for which government uses your money–foreign aid, farm subsidies, “investments” in alternative energy, the military, etc.–your own choices, desires, and values do not matter. Is this fair?

So, how do we finance government without resorting to coercive measures? How should government raise the funds needed for its legitimate functions–the police, courts, and military–without violating individual rights? Before we answer these questions, let us first consider other products and services.

We see, on a daily basis, individuals willingly pay for the values required to sustain and enjoy life. Individuals are not forced to pay for food, or gasoline, or cell phones, or Internet service.  They make these purchases voluntarily. And they do so because they judge that purchasing these products and services is in their self-interest.

When an individual is free to act on his own judgment, he seeks the values that he believes will make his life better. Only government coercion can prevent him from doing so. Only government can prohibit an individual from consuming raw milk, or using incandescent light bulbs, or taking life-saving medicines, or any other action. Only government can compel an individual to financially support a business through subsidies, tax breaks, or other handouts.

Government is a value when it is confined to its proper purpose–the protection of individual rights. Indeed, the protection of individual rights, including property rights, makes the pursuit of other values possible. As James Madison wrote:

That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.

Just as individuals willingly pay for the values that enhance their lives, they also willingly pay for legitimate government services. And we can see this on a daily basis.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 1,028,830 private security guards working in the United States in 2009. This is about 145,000 more than the number of police in 2008. According to the Department of Justice, Americans spend more than $100 billion per year on security alarms, security guards, and other security services, which is twice what is spent by federal, state, and local law enforcement departments combined. Clearly, Americans are voluntarily spending money in order to protect their property and persons. And this money is spent in addition to the taxes paid for the provision of police.

Why do Americans voluntarily spend so much on private security? For the same reason Americans spend so much on groceries, automobiles, entertainment, and other values–it is in their self-interest to do so. And each is free to purchase the services that he believes will be best for him.

In addition to private security, Americans donate millions of dollars each year to police departments. Foundations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and other cities raise money for their police departments. More than one hundred branches of the 100 Club similarly raise money to aid police officers, fire fighters, and their families.

As these examples demonstrate, voluntary payments to government are practical. They are practical because they are moral–they allow each individual to act on his own judgment. And what is more fair than that?

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Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

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