Believe it or not, for most Americans (perhaps including many now reading this), April 15 was actually a pleasantly anticipated time of year. That’s because they knew they’d get a check from the government, in the form of a tax refund. The fact the money is actually theirs – and has been held without interest for the last year – probably doesn’t bother them much, since they figure it wouldn’t be there at all if the IRS hadn’t set it aside for them, like a stern, but benign, parent.
Sure, the average American is mildly annoyed by having to fill out his 1040 tax form, or paying H&R Block to do it for him. But he figures that if you’ve got to fill in paperwork to get money from a bank, why not the government? They never consider how the government gets money: Namely, by forcible extraction from its subjects. Every other person and entity creates goods and services which are exchanged voluntarily; only the State makes a purely one-sided demand. It’s a sign of the continuing degradation of life in America that the subject is even worthy of discussion.
The average guy may hear about the IRS destroying someone’s life from time to time, but he’s been pretty well brainwashed into believing they somehow deserved it. In any event, it probably bothers him about as much as it does a bovine when a predator cuts another cow out of the herd – he figures if they’re gutting someone else, they’re distracted from him for the time being.
Americans have contracted the European disease known as schadenfreude – taking pleasure in another’s misery. Even when there’s a muffled complaint, it tends to center on the system’s lack of “fairness” (as if the nebulous concept of fairness had any meaning in this context), or its lack of “efficiency” (thank God for small favors), or some other tangential issue. People may whine about taxes being “too high,” but, unfortunately, they rarely talk about the legitimacy of taxation itself.
Nowhere, except perhaps in a few newsletters, which are preaching to the choir, do you ever hear an attack on the principle of taxation itself. Rather odd when, in point of fact, taxation is theft. My dictionary defines theft as “the act of depriving another of his property by force or fraud.” It doesn’t go on to say “unless you’re the government, then it’s not theft anymore.” Or, perhaps, “unless the money is used for good purposes.”
Being an optimist, I’d like to believe people pay their taxes mostly out of the fear of the consequences of not doing so. But a surprisingly high number of Americans pay them because they believe it’s the right thing to do. As despicable as it is to do something out of fear, I can sympathize with the first group; I cannot with the second. Why not? Let me give a brief explanation.
Suppose a mugger approaches you on the street and demands your money. Would you say he has a right to it? Suppose, however, he explains he needs it for his hungry children. Does that make it any more right? Suppose he explains that he’s doing so as the agent of a majority of the local residents. Does he now have a right to your money? How about if he says he represents the government?
The answer, as I see it, is that he has no right at all. The ideal response to a mugger is to shoot him on the spot – although that’s usually impractical, and overly risky for the money involved. But I can respect someone who admits he handed over his wallet under those circumstances. I can’t respect someone who allows himself to be robbed because he actually thinks the thief has a call on his money. I fear most Americans fall into the second group, paying their taxes meekly, dealing obsequiously with the IRS agent. It makes me wonder if, as a group, Americans are more like a flock of bleating sheep, or a herd of lowing cattle. As individuals, are we more like robots, or whipped dogs?
As a member of the first group of taxpayers, I shovel a huge amount of money into the belly of the beast each year. Regrettably, there’s not much I, or anyone else, can do about it. In fact, my guess is that things are likely to get worse as the demands of the State grow, funding all manner of domestic regulation and welfare, and foreign wars. But there’s cause for long-term optimism. The system will eventually collapse of its own weight.
Perhaps the catalyst will be the widespread dissemination of an encryption method like PGP, allowing people to transact business untraceably, in total privacy. Perhaps there will be a breakdown in the IRS’ notoriously antiquated and poorly designed computer systems. Perhaps a virus or worm planted by a freedom-oriented programmer (or scores of them planted independently by scores of different programmers) will make tax collection impossible. Perhaps the arrival of The Greater Depression will itself collapse the net receipts of the State precipitously.
What? How would the country run if the federal government could command no resources? My answer is (after a relatively brief period of adjustment): extraordinarily, fantastically well. Far better than it does at even the best of times today. But an explanation of that will have to wait. To be continued.