Parts of the US federal government have been shut down for 2 weeks now, which means various ‘non-essential’ government departments aren’t functioning. Despite this, the IRS continues to take people’s money for services not being rendered. A reminder that the nature of the citizen’s relationship with the state is desperately asymmetrical. Not to mention unethical and abusive.
If a private enterprise kept charging people for a service it wasn’t able to provide, then its customers would have grounds for legal action against the company because of the existence of a legally binding contractual agreement between them. In market society, contracts are the way we hold each other accountable in our economic exchanges and peacefully resolve conflicts.
But when it comes to the government, there’s none of that. There’s no contract between the citizen and state agencies; nothing to keep the latter accountable to the former and no exit clause to enable the former to extract themselves from an arrangement they don’t find beneficial. You won’t find any judge ruling that state agencies are legally obliged to provide their ‘customers’ with anything in return for their money. State agencies can’t be held accountable to any contractual promises they made because they never made any and never will make any. And yet taxpayers are still legally obliged to pay them whatever amount the government says is necessary. If they don’t, there are terrible consequences for the individual.
But what consequences befall a state agency when it fails to do what its supposed to? Practically none. At best, some of the current people might be replaced with new people, but the agency remains functioning more or less as it did. Perversely, state agencies are often effectively rewarded for their failures by being given more funding. Exactly the opposite of what happens in the private sector.
The grim reality is that we don’t pay taxes so we can have roads, schools, police etc. We pay taxes because if we don’t we will be locked up. We pay money to various state agencies simply because we are coerced and compelled to. But we’ve been doing it for so long now that we’ve rationalised it and convinced ourselves that not only is it justified but also good. This is Stockholm Syndrome on a species scale.
Taxation is not ‘the price we pay to live in a civilised society’. A price is a proposal. A price you pay is a proposal you accept. It’s impossible to accept a proposal that was never made in the first place and since no government anywhere has ever proposed to its citizens (prior to taking their money) that they pay x amount to fund its operations, the money taken from us by governments cannot possibly be described as the price we pay to live in civilised society; it’s simply the money extorted from us by people acting in the name of the state, who lawmakers have granted the exclusive legal right to do so.
Taxation, then, is nothing more than institutionalised and legalised crime in the same way chattel slavery was. And just as many slaves didn’t comprehend that what was being done to them was a violation of their human rights, most people living in state-controlled societies today don’t recognise that taxation is a violation of our property rights, which are human rights.
As we move into 2019 let us not delude ourselves any longer. Taxation is nothing more than institutionalised extortion. Let’s just admit as much and approach the new year in acceptance of this. At best, it’s a bad idea believed in by people with good intentions. At worst, it’s an endless source of funding for the schemes of an endless line of sociopaths and egotists who enter government and build giant military and police states, which kill, imprison and rob millions of innocent people.
The good news is that, despite the useless, wasteful and terrible things governments the world over are doing with taxpayers’ money, free people and free markets around the world are still driving humanity forward and steadily reducing global poverty. And this should continue throughout 2019.
One final thought. There’s lots of hand-wringing in the media about how tragic it is that lots of national parks and museums are closed due to the government shutdown. But this doesn’t constitute an argument for classing these government-run services as ‘essential’ or mean we should think government shutdowns are bad.
Instead, it’s a reminder that it’s a dumb idea to put a single agency, the state, in charge of vast swaths of land and in charge of cool things like museums. Because whenever that agency becomes dysfunctional, no one can enjoy the most beautiful parts of the country and no one can enjoy trips to museums. It’s a reminder that big, powerful government is why we can’t have nice things.