Today, I sent in my taxes. Tonight, I’ll eat the bread of affliction.
The combination got me thinking.
Passover—the only Jewish holiday I’ve honored throughout my decades as an atheist —celebrates the mythic liberation of my ancestors from slavery. More than that, it asks each participant to imagine himself as a liberated slave.
It'a vast distance to cross in the imagination. Taxation is not slavery. But in a mixed economy, such as we have now, taxation has something important in common with slavery.
In a mixed economy, we are forced to pay taxes not only for the good we all need —the enforcement of our rights—but to serve the good of others at the expense of our own. Some of those others are the poor; some are the connected. But whenever the government taxes you for the sake of others, it violates the principle that you have a right to live for yourself , and to devote your efforts to your own life. It redirects the fruit of your efforts to sustain others instead of you, and to build their projects instead of yours. This is part of the essence of slavery: the slave is treated as existing to serve his master’s needs and plans, not his own. And perhaps the saddest part about drawing a comparison between taxation and slavery is that I could have compared antitrust to slavery instead, or numerous other policies.
At the birth of America, real slavery was practiced here. If you are ever tempted to equate taxation—or anything else modern Americans experience—with slavery, stop, stop immediately, and reread Frederick Douglass . The thought of slavery should always make us appreciate how free we are, even if this year it also points out how free we aren’t.
And yet, at the birth of America, the foundation of this country was laid on the principle that is the opposite of slavery—the principle of rights, including the right to the pursuit of happiness. It’s the political equivalent of the moral principle that, in Ayn Rand’s words, “your life belongs to you, and ... the good is to live it.” America has never fully lived up to the Declaration of Independence, but it gave our country its most essential spirit. Let us remember that spirit on this night and on all other nights, and let us appreciate how free we are, how free we aren’t, and how free we ought to be.
Next year in America!
- Alexander R. Cohen, Living for Yourself (webinar)
- David Kelley, A Life of One's Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State (Kindle)
- Edward Hudgins, Tax Codes Reflect Moral Codes