Blake Gilson" />
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Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Taxation violates individuals’ rights

Holding to a natural-rights view of ethics, individuals have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and property, but central to the idea of property rights is the right to decide how to spend one’s wages. A right is a moral entitlement to be free from interference with one’s personal sphere of action and property.

Rights theorists have heatedly debated what grounds the ethic, but an increasing interest has focused on an individual’s ownership of themselves. However, taxation eliminates options by giving the government a property right in the person. If we are to suppose that involuntary unilateral extraction of wealth is ethically wrong, to say "we need taxes" is to admit there is no moral way to achieve governmental action. Individuals own themselves. Yet taxation violates the principle of self-ownership because it forcefully transfers part of what a person produces to another group of people, which makes them all partial owners of that person.

Does the social contract theory legitimize such governmental action? Contracts cannot be valid if both parties do not agree upon the terms. Murray Rothbard in The Ethics of Liberty argues that it is in the nature of humans, who are born with no understanding of survival, to be free to pick goals and work toward those goals. He claims, "each man may only live and prosper as he exercises his natural freedom of choice. … If someone aggresses against him to change his freely selected course, this violates his nature; it violates the way he must function…. An aggressor interposes violence to thwart the natural course of a man’s freely adopted ideas and values."

Taking a different approach, Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues in The Economics and Ethics of Private Property that the ethics undermining basic negative rights and the ability to own property has to be presupposed when engaging in propositional exchange, as it necessitates the appropriations of one’s physical body and scarce resources. Hoppe concludes that the attempt to argue that one does not have the right to his or her body and to acquire property would be the claim’s ultimate defeat, as it exposes the speaker to be stuck in a contradiction.

Regardless how the ethic is grounded, the idea that individuals have an exclusive right to life, liberty and property is far from being conservative and is indeed very radical. The only form of exchange that would be considered ethical is based upon the voluntary transfer of one’s justly acquired property.†

Sociologist Franz Oppenheimer cites two forms of acquiring wealth. One is the productive, to create goods and to exchange such goods freely, which he calls the economic, and the other is one of force extraction by a unilateral aggressor without voluntary consent, which he calls political.

"Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor," Robert Nozick wrote. "Some persons find this claim obviously true: taking the earnings of ‘N’ hours labor is like taking in hours from the person; it is like forcing the person to work hours for another’s purpose. Others find the claim absurd. But even these, if they object to forced labor, would oppose forcing unemployed hippies to work for the benefit of the needy."

Often the objection is raised if one doesn’t like taxes one should move. The argument only functions if I wish to leave a society that I entered into explicitly voluntarily. Supposing the government does have the right to force individuals to move, this means individuals are the property of the government, which runs contrary to basic natural rights. Moreover, moving is not a recourse to avoid taxes as the IRS is working with other governments to tax U.S. citizens’ global income and giving up U.S. citizenship for tax avoidance is against the law.

But doesn’t the government provide necessary services? This question is outside the scope of moral justification. No one would consider the local florist any less a thief, and me a victim, if after taking some of my wages by force, he or she sent me flowers. The involuntary character of taxation is why taxation, as forced appropriation, is an invasion of basic negative rights. Gilson, a business sophomore, can be reached via [email protected].

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