Editor’s note: For an opposing opinion on this issue, see BRIAN MOEN’s column “Tea Party whiners.”
Recently, it was discovered that the IRS has been targeting conservative groups by arbitrarily delaying their application for tax-exemption because of their policy viewpoints.
This is obviously unacceptable, as even President Obama will admit. But I think this raises a broader question about what the IRS really is and what they are doing.
In my view, the IRS is guilty of theft. And it should come as no surprise that they adopt such non-objective tactics to achieve their ends, since there is no justification for coercive taxation.
In our society today, we do not question the power that government has over us in taking our wealth by force. This is something I think needs to change.
Of course, as I have stated in past columns, taxation is only one means by which our government coerces us — economic regulations and restrictions (such as anti-trust legislation and minimum wage) and wealth redistribution (through welfare programs and entitlement schemes) are the other primary ways.
It might be thought that taxation is justified on the grounds that we have entered into a “social contract” (of the sort suggested by Rousseau and Locke), whereby we implicitly give up some freedoms for the sake of the protection and stability that government grants us.
But such a view is untenable — there is no kind of consent except direct consent from individuals — no one can consent to taxation “on my behalf.”
If your life is yours — if you alone have moral authority over how you will expend your energy, how you will pursue your values and how you will use the wealth that you have earned — then taxation is not justified.
Do not mistake me for the conservatives or libertarians who are vaguely skeptical of all government power — I think government is a necessary good, but we must remind ourselves why we need it. As Thomas Jefferson stated in his inaugural address:
“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”
In a truly and consistently free society, government would be funded voluntarily — according to the independent rational judgment of individuals who decide to contribute to it.
As to how to implement this in practice, this is an interesting but not insurmountable challenge (there is a lot of good literature in the libertarian tradition on this topic). It should be noted, though, that to fund government in this way does not require the idealistic expectation that there be no freeloaders — in a rational society, most people will see the need for government and be willing to fund it.
I hope people still care enough about the importance of objectivity in law to condemn what the IRS has done. But we must not forget the wider context, that all government coercion should be opposed, no matter how equally it is applied.
TRISTAN DE LIEGE pays his taxes, because otherwise he would go to prison. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.