*Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Nixon sent the National Guard into Kent State when it was, in fact, Governor Jim Rhodes. Additionally, it should be noted that while the protests being held at Kent State were not entirely non-violent, the two protesters who were killed were not convicted of committing any acts of violence before or after their extrajudicial killing, and the two others who were killed were students not who were on their way to class and who were not involved in the protest.*
Considering this is a libertarian audience, I don’t expect this to be met with even a remote level of agreement. Especially since I am writing this piece with some of the more social of libertarians in mind; the anti-capitalists among us. Now wait! Don’t hang up . . . I am lonely.
Local is better, right? “Down with centralization!” When a tax is local and implemented through democratic means, it shall be the most just. At least when a tax is local you are getting your money’s worth. You can more easily hold the politicians spending it accountable.
Unfortunately, none of these things are necessarily true.
I have been back and forth on the issue of the (necessary?) evil of taxation as much as any guy with a purple tailored bicycle shirt, gold tie, and 45 horsepower tractor in the barn. Let’s face it – taxes suck. They suck the life out of us. They suck away incentive. They suck productivity away from voluntary markets. They suck away the value of future property earnings. Taxes can suck a golf ball through a garden hose . . . the chrome off a trailer hitch. Sure, they also provide some pretty cool stuff. Things like roads, bridges, courts where you can sue the dick who never fulfilled that roofing contract, police to show up and investigate after a perp has murdered you and escaped in your car, a coroner to put a tag on your big toe, and even advanced signals intelligence systems that allow federal agents to pinpoint your location after you refuse to pay those decades old BMI contracts. I mean, taxes pay for lots of cool things! Since we can agree they are a drain on our souls though, and we tend to agree we want to reduce and/or eliminate as many of them as possible, it seems worth exploring which taxes, specifically, are the least just.
Income tax is a quick go-to. It isn’t that old. Federally, the income tax is only about as old as Betty White (sorry, Betty). Ratified in 1913, the 16th amendment gives authority to the federal government to levy tax against the earned incomes of individuals. Previously, the majority of federal revenues were collected through tariffs (we do hate those damn tariffs as well!). If you are unfortunate enough to live in a state or municipality/township that levies an income tax, the majority of those have been even more recent. For those of us in Ohio, it was not long after Governor Rhodes’ Ohio National Guard gunned down a few nonviolent students at Kent and Nixon declared the War on Drugs. In my own city, the local income tax was implemented years after 9/11. The recency of income tax makes it easy pickings. It also closely aligns with the anti-capitalist notion of “theft of labor.”
Corporate tax is another one that is met with great hostility, especially by my friends in the extreme (lower and upper) right regions of the political compass. “The cost is simply passed on to the consumer!” they will say. They are not wrong. It is absolutely true that any cost a business bears will be passed along to those who purchase the goods and services created by that business. Corporate tax is, however, not the most evil tax.
Sales tax, value-added tax, and consumption tax – while not all the same, for the purpose of my word limit I will treat them as relative equals. These seem to be taxes that get everyone excited as just means to fund programs (if any just means exists at all). You can opt out if you want. You don’t have to buy the products at all, or you can buy through unofficial channels and practice agorism. Based simply on these facts, it is clearly not the most evil tax and should therefore not be the one that we are expending the most energy trying to eliminate.
Finally, we get to property tax, which I resolve to be the most evil and burdensome of taxes. You cannot opt out. Even as a renter, the cost will be passed along in the form of lease payments. Your burden is unknown – in both the short and long run. The democratic process means that mob rule will determine what you shall pay, year to year, based on levies. Additionally, reassessments can completely rearrange the tax values of properties on a whim. And what is the most appalling reality of all? You own the property, but are told that you need to pay for permission to continue holding legal title to it. You are told that if you don’t continue to make your annual rent payment on the title that grants you permission to continue to own something you already bought, it will be confiscated upon your death without your permission and against the wishes of your last will and testament (so much for the right to life, liberty, and property). This tax is used to confiscate the estates of your deceased family members, and sometimes worse; it may force them out of their family home while they are still among the living.
Now let me repeat the most important problem with property tax in bold letters – You cannot opt out. For my friends on the left who have been wondering why the hell I said you were going to agree with me at the beginning of this article, here it is. Property tax is the single greatest mechanism that assures you will be required to participate in a wage earning or profit earning system. The ability to be a non-participating objector is erased. Sans property tax, a person would be able to purchase a property, improve it, and generate a space that allows them to operate outside of either a capital or governmental authority. A person could conceivably pass this property down for generations, never being forced to contribute to any system that they were philosophically opposed to. In the absence of property tax, there is a path to opting out of all forms of servitude to anyone other than one’s self and family.
Of all taxes, property tax most assures that your liberty can be completely and indefinitely limited. You are being detained.
Criticizing without offering solutions is just complaining. In part two, solutions to the problem of property tax on private residences will be addressed.