The Tribulations of Taxation


This weekend, I took part in that most aggravating of annual rituals and filled out my 1040 form. The experience brought to mind my favorite conservative pipe dream (aside from the naughty ones), the one where tax day comes right before election day. One year of that would guarantee us a streamlined system of calculating taxes, a minimal amount of paperwork and a lot more of our income left in our pockets.

But alas, I am stuck with our current system. The worst thing about it is that I’m supposed to be grateful for a refund. While a refund is certainly better than the government keeping my money, I’d be a whole lot happier if they hadn’t taken it to begin with and spared me their accursed forms.

I admire the efforts of the President and Congress to give us a portion of our money back. But if they don’t need it, why do they take it to begin with? It’s not their money to be distributed at their convenience; it’s our money that they should take only when necessary.

I’m not going to argue that all taxation is theft and therefore we ought to run off to our bunkers and declare the sovereign state of New Freeland; taxes are a necessary evil, and the good that comes from paying them is sometimes worthwhile. Without taxes, we wouldn’t have policemen to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of criminals, and then I’d have nobody to root for in criminal law. In addition, we would lack a military, an efficient infrastructure, national parks and other services essential to America’s well-being.

The thing about necessary evils is that they’re only supposed to be tolerated so far as they are necessary. We need not look at the necessity of supporting essential government functions and jump to the conclusion that Rawls was right and disparities in wealth should exist only so far as the government allows them to exist for social utility.

Each working person puts in hard hours to earn his or her paycheck. Every cent the government takes it obtains by virtue of its monopoly on violence – its ability to summon force against an individual citizen to compel payment. Each time this happens, each time the government tells a working person that the fruits of her labor do not belong to her, the government demeans her labor and by implication her time and her abilities, the very essence of her personhood. This sort of activity should obviously be limited as strictly as possible.

This being Harvard Law School, I expect at least a thousand students will rise to the defense of our Federal government and the high taxes required to fund all those great programs (except of course the Department of Defense, the CIA and the criminal division of the Department of Justice). Or maybe taxes are just our most straightforward method of redistribution, and any reduction in them reinforces the power of the evil straight white patriarchy that delights in the misery of others. In either case, these students believe we must fight hard to ensure we are taxed enough.

Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, responding to such concerns, created a discretionary tax for those who wanted to pay more. None of us should be surprised that the fund’s income to date is barely enough to fund a decent night on the town. Apparently the high-tax types in Arkansas are all hat, no cattle. Their concern is less with how they live their lives and more with how they want to force others to live.

I wonder how HLS students would react if they were given a similar option. I doubt they’d put their money where their mouths are. By this time next year, I expect almost all of the big government lefties will be looking for every deduction they can take from their fat corporate salaries – and if that’s what they do, good for them. It’s their money and they should keep what they can to do with as they choose.

Any justification for our current tax regime hinges on the idea that somehow the government’s right to your money supercedes your own. This is not an abstract point of political philosophy; the current conceptual framework we let our government get away with impacts you every hour you work and every dollar you earn. Consider carefully how you want the government to treat you and your earnings, and remember April 15 when November rolls around again.

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