The natural right to private property is not protected in these United States. Such is the sorry state of a supposedly free society that uses its alleged freedom to excuse its spending billions on defending itself against communism, a political system that is distinguished, primarily, by its abolition of private property rights. At least the natural right to speak one's mind freely is still relatively safe here. And so, herewith, a response to Ronald Reagan's appointee as IRS commissioner, Roscoe L. Egger, Jr.
Mr. Egger recently sounded off about taxes—that insidious denial of the individual's right to honestly acquired property—before an annual meeting of the National Association of Tax Administrators. His words would put to shame the founding heroes of our republic. "We cannot," he declaimed, "tolerate self-styled saviors of our constitutional system who flaunt their defiance of the law in the name of tax reform and spurious constitutional theories."
With this rhetoric, which could not fail to endear him to his assembled cohorts in the legalized robbery system, Mr. Egger was condemning the many autoworkers in Flint, Michigan, who tried last spring, vainly, to take a stand in defense of private property rights. Admittedly, they didn't put their fight this way. Instead, they probably thought of it simply as trying to hold on to a bit more of what they honestly earned by the sweat of their brows. But the full meaning of the autoworkers' mass protest was nothing less than the meaning of the historic Boston Tea Party—"Stop this stealing of what is ours!"
Frowning upon such a show of principle, Mr. Egger would have us turn to what he and his fellow "tax administrators" charmingly call the law. "California Proposition 13 and similar measures in other states," exhorted the esteemed leader of government's legalized extortion ring, "give ample proof that Americans have legal remedies available when they feel their taxes are too high." Has Mr. Egger ever heard of civil disobedience? of unjust laws and the need at times to defy them in order to prod complacent governments to recognize their perpetration of injustice? of slave rebellions? He would have counseled the foes of slavery to wait for the bright sunny day when the enforcers and sanctioners of lifetime forced labor would willingly, without the force of moral resistance, have relinquished their awesome power!
To advocate breaking the law is irresponsible, because one cannot know whether the millions of people who might follow such advice can really afford to confront the powers that be. Yet breaking the law is clearly quite proper—indeed, morally required—at times. The sure examples are those of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia; and who could morally blame the black and colored people in South Africa who defy the cruelty of apartheid and jump various color lines?
Other cases might be more difficult to cite in simple terms, but any intelligent human being can easily imagine them. Certainly poets, novelists, playwrights, and orators throughout the ages have managed to point to credible human situations in which breaking the law was the only decent thing to do. When the president and most of his staff admit that taxation has gone way beyond even the level that is acceptable in polite, conventional society, it is sheer boorishness to write off tax protestors as antisocial rabble-rousers. Next the members of Poland's Solidarity will be called yippie anarchists.
Mr. Egger tried offering this lame excuse for his harsh words and policies against tax protestors: "To let them get away with it would insult the vast majority of law-abiding taxpayers whose honesty makes our tax system the envy of the world." Balderdash! We of the vast majority pay because we know well and good that we are powerless to wage an effective, winning war against the arms of the State. It would be foolish to try to resist in a piecemeal fashion. Even Soviet citizens know better than to argue with the forces of the Kremlin, which does not make compliance with its tyranny a case of "honesty" worthy of the "envy of the world."
Fear, Mr. Egger, of the brutes whom you send after us when we resist your expropriation of our hard-earned income—that is what leads to the system that may very well, of course, be the envy of bureaucrats across the globe. You have armed yourself very well, with our property. And now, should we get fed up with your practice of devouring us more and more every year, you can, and do, use these arms against us.
What of the legitimate questions that can be raised about claims of the impropriety of taxation or the morality of resisting it? For example, could society be provided with the necessary legal protection—courts, police, military, etc.—without taxation? Like so many "practical" men, Mr. Egger did not bother with such abstract, philosophical questions. Had he bothered to ask, he would have invited volumes of answers, in the midst of which he might have found out that yes, indeed, solutions to financing public services—bona fide, genuine public services, not the mishmash of special-interest wishes politicians are so eager to lump in with the "public sector"—are available. Such solutions, furthermore, do not breach fundamental principles of morality such as the injunction against theft. (For let us never forget it, taxation is theft; only politicians, bureaucrats, and their intellectual apologists like to weasel out of this harsh conclusion.)
Government can indeed pay for itself by charging for its bona fide services—maintenance of contracts, for example, and enforcement of judgments and police protection of individual liberties. There are good discussions of this in the literature of public finance, but one must be better than a hired bully in a grey flannel suit to consider them.
Of course, most of us will pay up. It is better than being in jail. "Your money or your life," says the masked thug, and we will give him our money if we are street-wise. But let us not go around pretending that this is the way a decent society ought to be run.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Stop This Stealing!".