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A few pages earlier Rothbard defined taxation, uncontroversially, I hope, as “a coerced levy that the government extracts from the populace.” Pulling no punches, he quotes his mentor Frank Chodorov, once an editor of The Freeman:
A historical study of taxation leads inevitably to loot, tribute, ransom — the economic purpose of conquest. The barons who put up toll-gates along the Rhine were tax-gatherers. So were the gangs who “protected,” for a forced fee, the caravans going to market. The Danes who regularly invited themselves into England, and remained as unwanted guests until paid off, called it Dannegeld; for a long time that remained the basis of English property taxes. The conquering Romans introduced the idea that what they collected from subject peoples was merely just payment for maintaining law and order. For a long time the Norman conquerors collected catch-as-catch-can tribute from the English, but when by natural processes an amalgam of the two peoples resulted in a nation, the collections were regularized in custom and law and were called taxes.
“Why do not economists abandon the search for the ‘just tax’ as they abandoned the quest for the ‘just price’?” Rothbard asks.
One reason is that doing so may have unwelcome implications for them. The “just price” was abandoned in favor of the market price. Can the “just tax” be abandoned in favor of the market tax? Clearly not, for on the market there is no taxation, and therefore no tax can be established that will duplicate market patterns.
So let’s hear no more about tax fairness, unless it’s to point out that fairness is approached as tax rates move toward zero.
Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman, where this article originally appeared.