Tax day nears, but do we really need taxes?
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

As April 17 nears, most of us again struggle with filling out tax forms, pawing through receipts and perhaps filing online. But lost in all the busywork is the larger picture: the legitimacy of taxation.

Various taxes now devour more than 40 percent of the average family's income, and indirect regulatory taxes consume another 10 percent to 20 percent. Shockingly, half of the hours you work are for the government, not for yourself and your family.

People argue about which kinds of taxes are "better": Income taxes are supposedly more "progressive," but they invade our privacy. Sales taxes disproportionately hit the poor. Property taxes are rent you must pay for the house you "own" -- meaning government really owns all property.

Obviously, all taxes hurt workers and families. People are incensed when lenders charge "usurious" interest rates to risky -- but voluntary -- borrowers. So why aren't more people infuriated that government forces citizens to hand over half their earnings for as long as they live?

People have blindly accepted that government needs taxes. But many libertarians believe that government could exist without any taxes at all.

Yes, you read that right: No taxes of any kind whatsoever.

How could this be? Aren't death and taxes the only certain things in life? Well, prior to the establishment of the American democracy (excepting the ancient Greek forerunner), subjugation to tyrants, kings and dictators was a certainty as well, but we've shown that self-rule results in the greatest, most widespread wellbeing the world has ever known.

We just need to take the final step: to free our people from the oppressive yoke of taxation. How can we be called a "free" people, when we are not allowed to keep our property or the product of our labor? Taxation is only one step removed from slavery: We (some people) can to decide to work or not, but if we do work, half of our labor belongs to our overlords, the state. (Note: Until recently, slavery also was one of the certainties of life.)

Of course, without taxes, the government would be a tiny fraction of its current leviathan state. Our military would be limited to protection of our borders. People would have private retirement accounts and health insurance. Corporate welfare would cease to exist and private charities would better help the needy.

Locally, schools would be privately-run like colleges, with charitable scholarships and bank loans helping families. City services would be privately contracted. Nearly every government function could be done better (and cheaper) privately.

But we still need government to protect citizens from force and fraud. Our military, police and justice systems should remain government functions. And government should probably plan larger roads.

So how would we finance those few legitimate functions? By voluntary donations. People do voluntarily support causes worth supporting, and most people agree that military, police, courts and roads are beneficial. We are such a generous people that these departments would probably be better-funded voluntarily than they are now, competing for tax dollars with a hundred other departments.

If government were dependent on voluntary donations, it would be beholden to the people. Government would be forced to listen to citizens, because arrogance, corruption and inefficiency would cause people to stop donating. Would government become the pawn of Bill Gates, then? Gates is certainly rich, but not as wealthy as the entire middle class, and bribery still would be a crime.

But what about those freeloaders who wouldn't pay? So what? Not everybody needs to contribute to a charity for it to be effective, but enough people do because it makes them feel good (and superior to others). After all, democracy works even if some people don't vote. We can trust citizens to contribute, just like the founders trusted citizens to rule.

Our society can patriotically encourage donations without compelling them. People would feel pride and ownership in our government, not the detachment and resentment we mostly experience now. The citizens would own the government, not the other way around.

Crazy? Our founders had a pretty radical idea, one now nearly universally accepted.

Accomplishable? Perhaps not anytime soon, so you had better keep working on your 1040 -- but that needn't stop you from dreaming big dreams of real freedom.