69.4 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


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 tflenaerts@ucdavis.edu.


  1. Tristan (if I may presume);

    You need to establish the right to property. I’ve read through many of your previous pieces, and as best I can tell you don’t orient yourself in any particular tradition outside of “Ayn Rand”. That’s a bad tradition to be in. Quote Hayek, or Friedman, or–ideally! Nozick. That would be a start. Ayn Rand, simply, is not a serious thinker. You cannot simply assert her positions and expect that to be sufficient.

    This statement: “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”–is incoherent. To deconstruct, you suggest that someone’s life is only their own when all three of the following conditions have been met: 1) moral authority over how to expend energy (is moral authority different than actual authority?) 2) how we pursue our values (there are many values society does not countenance–you’re a libertarian; at the limit, let’s think of the principle of no harm) 3) you get to choose how to use the wealth you have “earned”. Re: 3–why? You have to provide explanation. What do we earn? What qualifies as wealth? Please.

    Here’s the radical leftist John Locke in his second treatise:

    It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?

    Look, you may have beef with taxation, but if “tyrannical” simply means that each individual does not agree to it, government simply can’t exist. Arguing that support for policy proposals must be unanimous, however, is simply hopelessly naive. That’s coming from a political theory scholar who usually cares little for how practicable political positions are, mind.


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