Pondering a tax-free existence

It’s hard to miss. In nearly any discussion about politics, there is sure to be at least one person in the group that proclaims “Taxation is theft”, followed by “Abolish all taxes”, and when questioned about it, proclaim “The U.S. government only started collecting taxes in 1914, it did just fine without them before, it can do it now”.

Sound familiar?

Generally, the Libertarian generally sees next to no roll for the government, taking the Grover Norquist stance of “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform
Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

The problem with this, of course, is that while they state it as a simple matter of fact, they fail to mention that this is perhaps the most radical transformation that society would have ever seen, and nobody, not even them, has the first idea what the actual consequences of such a fundamental change would even look like.

Try it somewhere else first

My first reply to an advocate of weak government is a simple one: If you are such a fan of weak government, show us this could work. Point to a country in the modern world that whose citizens prosper unde Failing that, why don’t you move to a country that has what you profess to want, such as Somalia, and show us that it’ll work. It may sound like a straw man argument, but what other examples of countries with weak to nonexistent central governments are there to draw from? The onus is on them to demonstrate that this idea can work before being advocating thrust upon the rest of us.

There’s already a definition for countries a weak to non-existing central government: “failed state”. Foreign Policy magazine helpfully publishes their Fragile States Index every year.

Different times

The primary argument of the “taxation is theft” crowd centers on the fact that the nation functioned just fine prior to the advent of the Federal Income Tax. Of course, it was radically different than the country we see today.

We didn’t have the interstate highway system connecting the east coast with the west coast, so there wasn’t a need for a Department of Transportation. Food was grown locally, without modern pesticides, hormones, and other additives. You didn’t need to rely on the USDA when you could simply visit Joe’s Farm and see that his cattle were not looking too healthy. This was the age before modern pharmacology, so if you got sick you’d likely take a patent medicine, of dubious quality and with unknown ingredients, compared with todays FDA that actively polices products sold to the public.

There’s more.

If your bank was robbed, there was no FDIC to insure that your savings remained intact. Nor were there safety nets like Social Security and Medicare for the aged or infirm. Of course, prior to modern medicine, a persons life expectancy was dramatically shorter than it is today, so there wasn’t a need to see to it that people were cared for after their working years.

Life expectancies have grown dramatically in the modern age (Source: Social Security Administration
Life expectancies have grown dramatically in the modern age
(Source: Social Security Administration)

We also didn’t have an electrical grid to provide electricity to every home, so we therefore didn’t have the need to insure that utilities provide power in the cleanest way they can. And, of course, factories operated without regard for the pollutants the spit out, making the modern images we see out of China reminiscent of cities in the United States only decades ago.

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in circa 1940(Source: Explore PA History
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in circa 1940
(Source: Explore PA History)
Pollution in modern-day China(Source: China Mike
Pollution in modern-day China
(Source: China Mike)

The anti-government, anti-tax crowd believes that the role of the Government should be limited to providing security at it’s national borders, while giving it’s near absolute freedom within those borders. They believe in property rights, but exclude the fact that without government, property rights accumulate to whoever has the sheer power to take and hold that property rather than the Court of Law, which is only a construct of Government in the first place.

The point is, it’s the epitome of delusion (I think), to be able to look around at the society that has allowed so many to prosper and say “I could have done this myself”. As independent as one wishes or believes they are, at the end of the day, the government has largely had their backs. It’s sort of like the “anti-vaccine” crowd, who are able to get away with not having their children vaccinated because they reaping the societal benefit that the vast majority of their kids playmates have received their vaccines.

More Government is not always best

Doubtless someone will disagree and take my argument to the extreme – saying “well, if you’re in favor of some government, then even more government would be even better”.

False.

Just as we can survey the modern world and point to country after country whose citizens can only dream of living in a society like ours, there are also plenty of examples of both Governments amassing too much power, to the detriment of their citizens with North Korea being a primary example, with China and the old Soviet Union being other, less extreme examples.

And there are plenty of examples of countries who let their governments become subservient to corporations, and there are terms for them as well: “Corporatocracy” and “Banana Republic“.

The point

The point is, the libertarian/no-government sect is either unaware of the consequences of what they call for, or, in the case of the movements most visible leaders, specifically avoid discussion about the many benefits that government has indirectly provided them over the years so that they could preach from their soap boxes. It especially helps when you preach against societal safety nets up until the exact moment you need them most.

While the libertarian view on “freedom” can be described as having as little government around as possible, I take a more expansive view, saying that the role of government is not only to insure the safety of its citizens by maintaining secure borders, but to insure the health, safety, physical and financial security of the citizens who live within those border, especially from events which they can not feasibly exert any control over.

Image source: Taxation Is Theft.cards
Image source: Taxation Is Theft.cards

Is taxation theft, and therefore the antithesis of freedom? No. Taxation funds the services that allow us a much greater degree of freedom than we would have otherwise.

We’re free to eat food with a high degree of certainty that it’s free from contamination. We’re free to deposit our money at the bank, knowing that if it burned down, was robbed, or made unwise investment decisions, our savings will be intact. And, when we’re sick, we can rejoice in knowing that the drugs our doctors prescribe to us have not only been tested to insure that their benefits outweigh their risks, but that the drugs we pick up from the pharmacy are, in fact, the drugs our doctor prescribed. The list could go on.

If anything, it’s because those protections have done such a good job in general, that we take them for granted, and instead only focus on their failures.

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