The Corner

Taxes & Tyranny

From my USA Today column:

Congratulations! This is your last week working for the man — at least for this year. The Tax Foundation calculates that Tax Freedom Day for 2010 is April 9, which means that by Friday, Americans will have spent nearly 100 days working just to pay their taxes. If Democrats have their way, Tax Freedom Day will keep getting later and later.

Hold that thought. Imagine for a moment that Tax Freedom Day was Dec. 31. In other words, picture working 365 days a year for the government. Now, the government would “give” you a place to sleep, food to eat and clothes to wear, but all your income would really be Washington’s income to allocate as it saw fit. Some romantics might call this sort of arrangement “socialism” or “communism.” But another perfectly good word for it is “slavery” or, if you prefer, involuntary servitude.

Now, no one is proposing any such arrangement. But it’s an important point conceptually. A 100% tax rate would be tyrannical not just because you have a right to own what you create, but because the government would necessarily decide what you can and can’t have. Reasonable people can of course differ about where a tax rate becomes tyrannical, and we’re far from that line in historical terms. But any amount of taxation can be unjust if it is being used for bad reasons, is applied discriminatorily or if it’s taken without representation. (That’s how the American Revolution started, after all.)

Individual liberty is far from the only concern, either. The kind of country we want to be is deeply bound up in taxation. The Tax Foundation estimates that some 60% of American families already get more from the government than they pay in taxes (and the top 10% of earners pay more than 70% of the income taxes). If all of President Obama’s plans are enacted, that percentage will increase. We are heading toward being a country where instead of the people deciding how much money the government should have, the government decides how much money the people should have.

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