An old friend of mine – let’s call him Creases – was recently lamenting the incredibly high property taxes in New Hampshire. To be fair, New Hampshire is great when it comes to income and sales tax (they don’t have any), but he mentioned that his father pays $7000/year in property taxes. Creases could understand the need for a tax to “provide for the collective defense” but found the property tax distinctly distasteful. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why ALL taxes (not just property taxes) are worse than distasteful…they’re downright immoral. So, here we go…
1. Our tax system is inherently coercive. Let’s hypothesize what would happen if you stopped paying your taxes – we’ll use the income tax in this example. After a while, you’d get audited and sent a notice informing you of your delinquent status and informing you that not only do you owe back taxes, you also owe “late fees.” You ignore these notices, and they continue to pile up, along with the amount that you owe to Uncle Sam. At some point, the IRS will get tired of your shenanigans and take you to court. You’re likely to be convicted and perhaps put in prison (with all the other ‘criminals’). At this point, your liberty AND your property have been taken from you. A system that is set up to take your liberty and your property from you if you refuse to hand over your justly-acquired property in the first place is based on coercion. Coercion is the archenemy of libertarianism and non-aggression, and thus taxation is immoral. I think it was Chris Rock who hit the nail on the head: “You don’t pay taxes…they TAKE that $h*t!”
2. Taxes force you to fund things you may find morally objectionable. They may also be used to fund things that you support, but the point is that you have no way to withdraw your support from things you find objectionable or immoral. I am a non-interventionist, and I wholeheartedly oppose our imperialistic foreign policy. I am also morally opposed to abortion, and do not wish to fund organizations that perform them. Unfortunately, money that I have worked for is earmarked for these programs, regardless of my personal beliefs. This is akin to requiring minorities to patronize KKK-held establishments, or requiring Catholic priests to sanction euthanasia; there is a serious conflict of interests, and it is immoral to force associations where otherwise they wouldn’t exist.
3. Taxes are rarely used effectively. Your tax dollars have been wasted on programs you likely don’t want or need (warfare, welfare, security, surveillance, etc). For instance, you’ll pay taxes to support government schooling even if you homeschool, send your kids to private school, OR even when you don’t have children at all! The government has zero profit motive…they have a captive customer base (that’s you, dear citizen) and nearly unlimited funds (your taxes + the Fed). Since the government has zero profit motive, there is absolutely no incentive to provide good products or good services. Need some examples? Take a look at publicly funded organizations and projects: dangerous roads, crappy schools, corruption in public service sectors, etc. Government has a monopoly on many important services, and they’re all failing miserably.
4. Taxes subvert ownership. As seen in #1, if you don’t pay your income taxes, you can end up in jail. Likewise, if you don’t pay your property tax, your home can get seized. Can you really say that you ‘own’ something if you must also pay ‘rent’ on it? Creases’ father may have 20 acres in New Hampshire, but only so long as he continues to pay his yearly dues, which are separate from the costs of procuring the land in the first place, and the sweat equity + capital he puts into it afterwards.
5. (BONUS reason!) Taxes are theft. If any private citizen, or group of citizens, were to treat your property in the same way that the government does, it’s generally understood that a crime has occurred. If I approach you to say, “Give me $200 for x/y/z cause, or I’ll cage you,” it is clear that I am violating your right of self-ownership and property, and I would appropriately be held responsible. Under the guise of authority, however, and with the special badge of “government,” an individual can say “Give me $200 for x/y/z cause, or you’ll be thrown in jail”…and this is somehow perceived as legitimate. It is ludicrous to have separate standards for individuals versus groups of individuals (the IRS or government at large for example). If it is theft when an individual robs property from another person, it is also theft when a group of individuals rob property from a person.
In short, taxes – no matter the type – are immoral because they rely on coercion. They are an attempt to make a claim on your life (or your labor) that is not legitimate, and they are enforced through aggression. The very heart of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, and thus, compulsory taxation has no place in a libertarian society.