A liberal acquaintance of mine likes to say that "taxes are the price we pay for civilization." He would, for he's a retired professor from a government university.
He didn't think this up on his own, of course. His soundbite is a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by Progressive Republican President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. Holmes also said, "I like taxes. With them I buy civilization."
Up 'til now, I had failed to come up with a retort to this challenge. But the other day, while awake at 4:00 am (that peculiar time for inspiration), I found my answer.
No. Taxes are not the price of civilization. Taxes are the Cost of Compulsion. Taxing is just what governments do, all of them, from the grandest continental power to the meanest guerrilla band taxing the villagers in its jungle hideaway.
You only have to look at the process that got the votes to pass ObamaCare 219-212 in the House of Representatives on the night of March 21, 2010 to understand the self-delusion in the idea that taxes have anything to do with civilization. Why wonder that the president won't answer the questions of Brett Baier? Why be shocked about the capitulation of Rep. Stupak? Why wonder why so many Democratic House Representatives have caved, bowing to the power that will certainly punish them for a No vote, rather than to the people, who may perhaps forgive and forget by November?
ObamaCare is about raw political power. It is about threats, deals, arm-twisting, and paying for votes with taxpayers' money. Its taxes, its alphabet soup of bureaucratic agencies, its budgetary tricks are about folding the whole vast enterprise of modern American health care under the knout of politicians and special interests. Henceforth, Americans will get health care only if they genuflect to the political gods.
Under actual civilization, ordinary Americans in voluntary association would secure their access to health care by balancing their needs and their means through their own voluntary individual and collective efforts. Insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals would compete vigorously for their good opinion. And Americans would, so far as they were able according to their lights, obtain that decent provision of health care without compelling other Americans to provide health care for them through exercise of political power.
But our liberal friends, led by the president himself, have built up a belief system that supposes the opposite. They have taught themselves to believe an impossible thing. They profess the notion that a free and generous society is not the last best hope of mankind. They confidently believe that the highest and best society is one organized upon a system of universal compulsion and administered by large-minded people like them.
No doubt they truly believe that bureaucratically administered one-size-fits-all is the most evolved and compassionate way of delivering social goods like health care and education. But the poverty of their thinking does not excuse the injustice of their program. The United States was not founded in 1787 so that its rulers 233 years later in 2010 might turn it into a social democracy by a simple majority vote in order to gratify their vanity and reward their supporters.
In the following days and months, we may dearly hope, a movement of rejection begun by ordinary Americans a little over a year ago will swell into a raging torrent that floods the U.S. political square like nothing since the civil rights era in the 1960s. Otherwise, the pessimists like Mark Steyn will be right in that once national health care has been legislated, you've got European social democracy until the day that the whole unbalanced and unjust system collapses in a welter of non-negotiable demands and sovereign default.
In truth, this is the way that all societies decline and fall. They bulk up their government with the sons of the privileged. They overextend their commitments. They buy off powerful interests. They inflate the currency. They default on the national debt. And then the people perish.
It is time to put away childish things and see things face-to-face. Taxes are a projection of government power -- the fund-raising arm of the ruling class. Governments will tax to the limit and beyond, and they will justify their subventions with pleasing narratives until the people rise up and stop them.
But in the dark hour of defeat, there is still the counsel of Winston Churchill: In victory magnanimity, in defeat defiance.
Our Constitution affords us a simple and effective way to register that defiance: at the ballot box in November.