Jacob G. Hornberger – January 10, 2019
A recent exchange between two members of U.S House of Representatives — Republican Steve Scalise and Democrat Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez — demonstrates perfectly how when it comes to income taxation, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between conservatives and leftists. It also demonstrates how libertarians are the only ones who hold the freedom position when it comes to income taxation.
Ocasio-Cortez, the self-described socialist, recently told Sixty Minutes that she favors a 70 percent income tax rate on the rich in order to pay for the federal government’s socialist programs, including Medicare for All, which she, of course, would love to see enacted.
That motivated Scalise, the conservative, to respond in a tweet pointing out that Republicans “let Americans keep more of their own hard-earned money” while Democrats “take away 70% of your income and give it to leftist fantasy programs.”
Now, mind you, in the minds of conservatives, that demonstrates how different conservatives are from leftists. Republicans favor having the government let you keep, say, 70 percent of your income while those socialist Democrats favor having the government let you keep only 30 percent. In the middle are those conservatives and leftists who favor letting you keep, say, 50 percent; they’re considered the “moderates” or “middle of the roaders.”
My libertarian response to this controversy: Whoop dee doo! Notice the operative word in Scalise’s message: “let.” Conservatives and socialists both believe that people’s income should be subject to being seized by the federal government. Oh sure, conservatives are nicer to us than liberals because they want the federal government to “let” us keep more of our money, but make no mistake about it: Conservatives have the same fundamental mindset as socialists, a mindset that places the citizen in the position of serf and the government in the position as master.
In a genuinely free society (as compared to one that people are falsely convinced is a free society), people have the moral, God-given, natural right to keep everything they earn. It’s their money, after all. They’ve made it. It rightly belongs to them. They have the right to do whatever they want with it — save, spend, invest, or donate it. No one and no government has the legitimate authority to force people to save, spend, invest, or donate their money to anyone.
That means in a genuinely free society, the government wields no legal authority to seize any portion of a person’s income. That’s because the person’s income is his by right. It doesn’t belong to the government.
The Framers and our American ancestors understood this principle of freedom. That’s why there was no federal income tax and no IRS when the federal government was called into existence. If there had been, the American people would never have approved the Constitution and, therefore, there wouldn’t have been the federal government. Americans would have simply continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, where the federal government was denied the authority to tax at all.
Freedom is also the reason that Americans lived without a federal income tax for more than a century. Yes, you read that right — for more than 100 years Americans kept everything they earned, and there was nothing the federal government could do about it.
Notice something important: The mindset of our ancestors wasn’t one of gratitude that the government was “letting” them keep 100 percent of their income. Their mindset was one of rights and freedom. They understood that they had the moral, God-given, natural right to keep 100 percent of their income. They understood that an income-tax-free society was a necessary condition of liberty.
For that entire period of time, there was no doubt about the relationship between the federal government and the citizenry. The citizens were the master. The government was the servant.
As we all know, 20th-century Americans rejected the no-income tax mindset of their predecessors. With the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment and the federal income tax, the relationship of the federal government and the American people became inverted. The government became the master and the citizens became the servants, especially when we see how the IRS has converted a once-proud, courageous citizenry into a very fearful and submissive one.
Today, the government wields the legal authority to take whatever percentage of income it wants from people. Sometimes it’s nice and lets us keep more of our income. Sometimes it’s not so nice and lets us keep less. But make no mistake about it: We are dealing with the word “let.” By wielding the authority to set the percentage of the government’s take, what the government “lets” us keep is essentially an allowance, just like what parents give to their children.
It’s worth noting that while Scalise cavalierly refers to Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist programs as “leftist fantasy programs,” what he blocks out of his mind is that he, along with his fellow conservatives, are as committed to welfare-state socialism as Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and all other socialists. Just consider the conservative commitment to Social Security, Medicare for Some, Medicaid, farm subsidies, education grants, school vouchers, foreign aid, the military-industrial complex, and, well, the entire panoply of welfare-state and warfare-state programs. Conservative fights with leftists are always a matter of control, power, or degree, not ones based on a principled difference of positions.
We libertarians, of course, stand apart from both conservatives and leftist statists. We libertarians favor the abolition, not the reduction or reform, of the income tax and the IRS and the multitude of welfare-warfare state programs they fund. But then again, it is only we libertarians who favor a genuinely free society.
This article was originally published at FFF.org. Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch.