Instead of all the mudslinging between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, wouldn’t it be refreshing to have them engage in some serious political discussion?
Many American citizens might appreciate some in-depth exploration of the nature of taxation. The federal income tax, in particular, would deserve thoughtful examination. Senator John McCain could also enter the fray.
Why don’t these politicians, who are aspiring to the presidency – the presidency of a supposedly free country – spend a bit of their energy and time discussing with voters how a robust system of confiscatory taxation can be reconciled with the basic principles of the country laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
In this revolutionary statement of a radical political philosophy – wherein we learn that human beings are equal in having unalienable rights to, among others, their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness – it seems pretty clear that a government’s confiscation of one’s resources would amount to a violation of several of these rights.
Take life, for example. What does one’s life consist of? Much of it is spent, of course, trying to earn a living so as to support one’s various needs and wants, including the housing, feeding, clothing and education of one’s offspring.
Having an unalienable right to one’s life means, unless I am utterly amiss in my grasp of the English language and of how the American founders used it, that one may not lose one’s life and its fruits to other people unless one freely gives them away.
Confiscatory taxation is not a case of having one’s resources contributed freely, not by even the most post-modern interpretation of the words in play.
Then again, take liberty. What is this liberty? It has to do with one not having anyone else, including government, dictate to one what one will do, how one will act, what course of conduct one will undertake. None, since the right to liberty, too, is unalienable – that is to say incapable of being lost unless one’s humanity has vanished somehow.
Confiscatory taxation once again cannot be made consistent with the principle that one has this unalienable right to one’s liberty for such taxation coerces one to hand over a good part of one’s earnings to people one hasn’t freely chosen to receive them. (And let’s leave aside the sophistry of claiming that taxation is ultimately voluntary or that majority vote may void one’s unalienable rights!)
As to the pursuit of happiness, that too is supposed to be one’s unalienable right, yet when some get the legal power to force one to devote resources to goals one has not chosen to pursue, that right, too, is very evidently violated.
It bears remembering, also, that these are just a few among the “certain unalienable rights.” Indeed, human beings have unalienable rights to do anything that’s peaceful, that does not violate someone else’s rights. Even the Bill of Rights attests to this, in its inclusion of the Ninth Amendment among the principles it lists.
It clearly refers to rights we all have that are not enumerated in the Constitution. So, to use some simple examples, we all have the right to laugh, sing, have parties in our backyards and so forth, even though these rights are not listed – since they would take volumes to list – in the Constitution.
Yes, reference is made in the Constitution to taxation, but that is an unfortunate mistake, inconsistency actually, since taxation is not part of a free country properly understood, any more than serfdom is, or involuntary servitude. One might wonder, well then how are the proper functions of government to be funded, if not by means of the extortionist scheme of taxation?
Actually, there can be valid alternatives to taxation, ones not involving coercion, confiscation or extortion, although these are not studied now because so many people accept taxation as legitimate. That used to be the case with slavery, too, for centuries – alternatives to it were not studied in ancient Egypt and Greece or elsewhere because influential people complacently accepted the practice. As they now accept taxation. But that does not make it right!
Tibor Machan holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at Chapman University and is a research fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and Hoover Institution (Stanford). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. His most recent book is “Libertarianism Defended,” (Ashgate, 2006). E-mail him at [email protected].