We tend to forget taxes are immoral

In the wake of the fiscal cliff discussions and the current political discourse, we tend to forget some basic American moral foundations that we seemed to, at one point in our nation’s history, ubiquitously understand. What is a tax? As economist Walter Williams has repeatedly said, “Taxes are government claims on private property.” Similarly, John Marshall said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

One could also argue that taxes are a violation of the 8th Commandment in that they are inherently theft. The 8th Commandment commands us not to steal. The government confiscates income (private property) from the taxpayer. Nor are taxes voluntary. Thomas Jefferson argued what is now referred to as the “non-aggression principle” and thought that contracts and transactions must be voluntary to be valid. Imagine if I went over to my neighbor and demanded 15 percent of his income. Or, if he was “wealthy,” 40 percent. And if he didn’t pay, I’d use the power of enforcement. This may seem simplistic, but that is what taxes amount to.

None of these foundational points on taxes takes away from the benefit that some of the programs from taxes provide: police, fire, military, social services, etc. But until we understand that taxes are inherently immoral, we will continue to get the fundamental narrative wrong.

David Thomas