George Bush will, he says, be spending some political capital on revamping the tax code. Let us hope he pursues this goal with the same iron determination he has shown in transforming Iraq. Simply stated, the federal tax code is a scandal that puts the lie to any legitimate claim of personal liberty in this country.
It's been a long time since there was a successful national tax revolt here. Actually it was before we had a country. Great Britain imposed various and in many ways necessary taxes on the American Colonies, a stamp tax, a tax on tea and a few other everyday items, in order to help pay for the French and Indian War. The sticking point was that the colonies had no say in the matter. This got the colonists riled up, so riled up in fact as to eventually bring on a civil strife, property destruction in towns and cities, deaths, and eventually political severance from the world's mightiest empire.
Students learning about this period in our history (allow me some wishful thinking here) surely must puzzle over the drastic consequences of what to modern eyes seem such mild tax burdens.
Taxes today are everywhere, and everywhere accepted. Seen and unseen, they are collected at every level of government on virtually every economic transaction that takes place: income taxes, phone and cable line taxes, fuel taxes, auto registration taxes, sales taxes, school taxes, property taxes, and many fees, tolls, and other non—tax impositions — the list goes on and the burden increases. Where is the outrage? Today it is all quiet on the taxpayer front. Why?
A partial explanation is that in simpler times the nature of taxation was more clearly understood by the taxpayer. The power to tax was widely recognized and feared as the dangerous and arbitrary power it is, the power to build and the power to destroy, and, by its very nature, a limit on freedom.
The taxing power accumulated over the last one hundred years by the federal government would have shocked the Framers of the United States Constitution. Alexander Hamilton would have blanched at the trillions of dollars taken from the citizens and employed by a bureaucratic executive branch for the purpose of increasing political, and, more ominously, moral power. For make no mistake, beyond the legal—theft aspect of modern taxation, the vast tax code directs behavior far more persuasively in today's America than the Ten Commandments.
This is the crucial change since colonial times, the moral and ethical acceptance of confiscation, by force, of the personal property of the people for the enrichment of the state.
Respect for property rights has undergone a profound change as well. No longer does government decide collectively and democratically what you should contribute to the general good but rather how much you may be allowed to keep. The unstated principle behind this is that government has prior rights to all property.
The average taxpayer seems to no longer feel that it is really his money in a paycheck. The 'take home' pay is more like an allowance given by the benevolent state. Only the young, those just joining the workforce and receiving their first paychecks, are appropriately shocked by the hand of government reaching into the flow of money from the employer for services rendered, and taking its share first, before the funds ever reach the one who earned them.
In addition, the very complexity of the tax code, the vast web of taxes and tax rates and tax credits, clouds the understanding and enervates the population into quiet meek acceptance. Helplessness in the face of the mysteries of taxation encourages a compliant citizenry, willing to bend to the will of the state.
President Bush will surely have his hands full in persuading Congress to transform the code. Politicians and bureaucrats have little desire to alter this state of affairs, which empowers them at the expense of their constituents. They prefer a docile and uneducated population, so much the easier to fleece.
Even compassionate conservatives seem to prefer to be compassionate with dollars from the U.S. Treasury (which takes them from us). There is far too little compassion shown to the citizen denied the fruits of his own labor or enterprise.
Moral arguments regarding taxes are seldom made and when made are routinely fatuous. Discussions revolve around who should pay more. Or what is 'fair.' The right to tax goes unquestioned. The propriety of robbing Peter to pay Paul's Social Security benefit or subsidize Paul's Section 8 apartment (which might be nicer than Peter's abode) is not a question which preoccupies many of the Deep Thinkers.
In the rare case a citizen or group does bring up the moral, ethical and constitutional questions, the response almost inevitably becomes personal. Motives are questioned. Listen to how the questions are framed and answers inferred in the standard modern political debate about taxes: do you want to pay less of your own money to cure the ills of an ever—growing state? You are 'apathetic.' Want to earn and keep more for yourself and your family? You are 'greedy.' Resent your money being confiscated and sent to strangers, to the indigent, to wealthy retirees, to hostile foreign governments, or pornographic artists? You are 'selfish.'
The federal government demands payment, and by force confiscates a portion of your paycheck. Virtually all subsequent transactions using the remainder of your paycheck will include a cut for some layer of government, as the saying goes, whether you like it or not. And the government takes this demand very seriously. Not paying taxes is a serious crime. There are crimes and then there are serious crimes.
Think about this—— if O.J. hadn't paid his taxes, he would be in jail today.
Andrew Sumereau is a writer residing in East Stroudsburg PA