Taxation Is Not Slavery

“Taxation without representation,” as James Otis said, “is tyranny.” But taxation with representation is just democratic government.

“Taxation without representation,” as James Otis said, “is tyranny.” But taxation with representation is just democratic government.

After I argued earlier this week that if anything we should pay more in taxes, a Facebook commenter wondered if Big Think ever came down against government coercion. I don’t speak for Big Think, of course, and I’m sure that the other bloggers here disagree with me about much of what I write. But it certainly is true that if we don’t pay the taxes we’re asked to pay the government will fine us or even throw us in jail. Some even compare the time we spend working to pay our taxes to slavery.

It’s not slavery. While it the government does force us to pay our taxes, portraying taxes simply as a form of government coercion is a bit strange. It's a little like comparing having to pay your share of the rent to slavery. People who live in the U.S. don’t have any choice about whether to obey U.S. laws. We may disagree with how the government spends our money, and may not feel we personally receive enough tangible benefits. But the U.S. is a democracy, and we are also collectively the ones who get to decide—and who benefit from—what the government does,.

Those who complain about paying their taxes seem to want goverment to operate on a take-a-penny-leave-a-penny model. But if we were each allowed to pay as little taxes as we wanted—or to pay only for those programs we happen to like—most of us wouldn’t do our share. With the success of the Tea Party, it’s certainly not as if the people who want smaller government and lower taxes are underrepresented in Congress. But those people still have to compromise with those of us who don’t share their views, and abide by the decisions of majority.

While we may not personally use government services that much, or receive much in the way of government handouts, the truth is that most of us benefit from what the government does more than we realize. Just because you didn't call the police today, doesn't mean you didn't benefit from having them there. The U.S. is such a nice place to live not just because Americans are great people, but also because we have used government policy—by investing in infrastructure and education, enforcing contracts, regulating business, protecting our borders, providing social services, and so on—to make it that way. It is our system of government as much as anything that makes the U.S. a better place to live than Somalia.

Obviously, there are serious, difficult questions about what share of our collective expenses each of us should have to pay. I have argued that the rich should bear a larger share of burden, both because they can more easily afford to and because they prosper the most under our system. The rich do, of course, pay proportionally more federal income tax than the rest of us. But payroll taxes and sales taxes fall more heavily on the rest of us, so that we all end up paying roughly the same share of our income in taxes.

But whatever you think about who should bear the burden of paying for government, it doesn’t make sense to say we shouldn't have to pay for it at all. People who think should taxes should be lower in general should campaign against the things we actually spend our money on, not object to the fact that they are forced to contribute their share. If they want to demand that we reduce defense spending or cut Medicare benefits, that’s totally understandable. They just shouldn't complain that they are asked to do their part to pay for those programs.

Related Articles
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less