“The Price We Pay for a Civilized Society,” 2016 Edition

English: Many dollar banknotes.
Hundred dollar banknotes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tax Day,” the deadline for filing individual federal income tax returns, falls on April 18 this year. Usually it’s April 15, but a federal holiday, Emancipation Day, bought you the weekend if you’re running late. I feel your pain. Sackcloth and ashes! Wailing and gnashing of teeth!

In addition to the annoyance of filling out a bunch of paperwork and maybe even sending a check to Uncle Sam if he didn’t take as much as he wanted out of your paychecks over the course of 2015, you’re in for the usual series of lectures about how this business or that billionaire didn’t pay “their fair share.” Case in point: Javier E. David’s April 16 column for CNBC, “Corporate tax dodging costing US billions in annual income.”

Let’s try an experiment.  I have a dollar in my pocket. OK, I’m taking it out. Now, instead of giving it to you, I’m putting it back in my pocket. Did my actions “cost” you a dollar? No, they didn’t. That dollar was never yours to begin with.

Similarly, when David complains that “Apple, General Electric, Microsoft and Google engage in tax havens that costs [sic] the US $111 billion annually,” he’s getting it backward. That money belongs to Apple, General Electric, Microsoft and Google, not to “the US” (by which David means “the US government”). Wanting it and not getting it is not a “cost.”

Ditto the 1040 you’ve probably filed or are about to file. In most cases, every dime involved is money you earned that the government previously embezzled from your paycheck, or demands that you cough up now (I say “most cases” because some lower income filers end up getting back, through “refundable credits,” money than they paid in).

So here comes the libertarian line that induces tantrums and seizures in lovers of big government:

Taxation is not, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it, “the price we pay for a civilized society.” Taxation is theft, pure and simple. It’s no different in principle than any other embezzlement scheme or protection racket.

If there’s a difference at all, it’s a difference of manners. Muggers and extortionists are morally superior to government in that at least they don’t pretend they’re doing this stuff to you for your own good.

Next time a politician regales you with tales of all the great things he intends to spend billions on, remember who he’s getting that money from, and how.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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