Slavery and the Income Tax
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Not surprisingly, the New York Times has an op-ed today entitled “Shaming Those Who Skip Out on Taxes,” which calls on the federal government to publicly shame tax delinquents as part of its efforts to increase tax collections.
I’ve got a better idea: How about people in the private sector publicly shaming everyone who favors the continuation of the federal income tax?
Except for a brief period during the Civil War, the federal income tax was not a part of America’s governmental system for some 125 years. That’s because our American ancestors understood that if the federal government had the authority to tax incomes, the American people would not be free. They understood that a free society necessarily entails the right of people to keep everything they earn without fear that the government can seize any portion of it.
Moreover, our American ancestors rejected the welfare-warfare state that the income tax funds. Imagine: more than a century of American life without Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, welfare, corporate bailouts, FDIC, Federal Reserve, fiat money, foreign aid, drug laws, immigration controls, economic regulations, public schooling, national-security establishment, military-industrial complex, foreign military bases, regime-change operations, coups, invasions, occupations, secret surveillance, torture, assassinations, Pentagon, CIA, and NSA.
That is what it once meant to be an American. That is what it once meant to be free. That is what it once meant to be exceptional.
Not anymore. Today, the United States, with its welfare state and regulated economy, is just like every other country in the world. And with its warfare state, the American people now live under a government that wields powers that are inherent to totalitarian regimes.
And it’s all funded by the federal income tax, a tax whose collection is enforced by one of most powerful and tyrannical agencies in history, the Internal Revenue Service, an agency that has the power to directly seize people’s assets with no judicial process whatsoever.
The adoption of the income tax in the early part of the 20th century upended the relationship between the American citizenry and the federal government. When people are free to keep everything they earn without fear of government confiscation, they are the sovereigns and government officials are the servants. On the other hand, when government officials wield the authority to seize people’s income in any amount they determine appropriate, the citizen assumes the position of serf and the government becomes the master.
Modern-day American statists justify and defend the income tax by pointing that it enables the federal government to take care of us and keep us safe. Yet, consider the big exception to freedom in 19th-century America — slavery. Don’t we find a similar rationalization for that governmental institution? Weren’t slaves provided with guaranteed jobs, food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and retirement, just like the welfare state does for Americans today? Yet, every slave knew that freedom entailed the right to be free from that type of guaranteed security. Freedom entailed the right to leave the “security” of the plantation and engage freely in economic enterprise, along with everyone else.
Today, there are the incessant calls for income-tax “reform.” Such calls are no different in principle from calls to reform the slavery system. Reform might well make life better for American serfs, just as reform might have made life better for the slaves, but no one should operate under any delusions: Income-tax reform will not mean freedom, any more than improving the plight of the slaves would have meant freedom for them.
Those who advocate either slavery or income taxation should be ashamed of themselves. Genuine freedom entails the abolition, not the reform, of income taxation and the IRS, just as genuine freedom entailed the abolition, not the reform, of slavery.