I saw a little bit of this libertarian guy, Dean Smith, talking on the Joe Rogan experience about how taxes as they are now will be seen as a crime akin to slavery by future Americans. He believes that because tax collection is underwritten by the threat of violence. If you do not pay your taxes, he says, men with guns can come and forcibly take you from your home and throw you in a cage. That our government operates using the money taken under the threat of force is criminal.
This misses something important. All governments are underwritten by the threat of force.
Every law, every fine, every regulation, every mandate the United States government issues is backed by men with guns. If you don’t have a fishing permit and catch yourself a monster trout, you’ll catch a fine. If you don’t pay the fine, in some states, you can be imprisoned. The state will attempt to garnish wages or place liens on your assets first, but that is also a form of force.
This is the social contract, and it isn’t voluntary. As a citizen, you cannot opt out except by leaving the country. And then you’ll be subject to the rules and regulations of another government.
But imagine a government where you could opt in. Where you voluntarily pay your share of taxes and, in exchange, receive the services of the government. You call 911 because of a fire or burglary, and the dispatcher has to check their records to see if you’ve paid your taxes. No, sorry, we don’t have a record of that, enjoy your smoldering wreckage.
This voluntary tax scheme would actually build a massive record-keeping bureaucracy to track payments across multiple service providers. If you think the government is flawed and inefficient now, wait until they have to check records every time someone gets stabbed or has a heart attack or crashes their car. How often do you think they’ll get it wrong? Dispatchers already make errors by assuming a call is not an emergency or sending help to the wrong address – they’re only human, after all.
What about things that benefit everyone as a whole, like the military, the CDC and NIH, or the National Weather Service? If you don’t pay your share, do you get the benefits of cancer research? Or do the costs of those studies get passed on to the companies researching cancer treatment, who then pass it on to cancer-riddled consumers? We’re already at a point where prescription drug research is already so expensive for often marginal benefits. Pharmaceutical companies have to pursue money makers, drugs that treat chronic illnesses, like depression and high blood pressure, instead of drugs that cure diseases, like antibiotics. At this point, every single government action becomes a consumer choice. Or, more likely, a corporate investment.
We created governments to handle the big, societal issues that arose from agriculture – defense, food distribution, common good, economic protection – and continued with industrialization – pollution, labor exploitation, increasing globalization. These problems don’t take well to opt-in or consumption taxes because they affect everyone. And while individuals may disagree about the specific large scale problems to solve – look at Lamar Smith’s war on the NSF grant process – I don’t think many people believe that there are large, complex issues we need to tackle as a country.
Taxes are how we fund these solutions. We may have legitimate quarrels over the type of taxes and the rates, but to argue that we shouldn’t have taxes at all is fantasy. Your income depends on the protection and services that the government provides, so you should throw that government a cut. If you don’t, the notorious GOV is gonna come knocking for their money, Lebowski. If there were no consequences for non-payment, there’d be more people ignoring to government. In order to maintain their authority, the government needs to use force to maintain power when people challenge it. That they need to use force show a weakness in their power and authority.
Fortunately, the US maintains a mostly consensus government, where nearly every gets to vote for representatives who determine where their tax dollars are spent. Elections lend tax collection a measure of legitimacy. If you think, taxes are theft, you can vote for people who will oppose them. But you are going to have a hell of a time arguing against the existence of taxation once people realize all the things those tax dollars pay for and the alternatives to mandatory income taxes.