The Power to Tax…

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is the power to destroy. So sayeth Chief Justice John Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. Likewise, I have always wondered why people moan about minor liberties at the margin–the right to not have to see a biblical statue on the courthouse lawn; the right to be a loser doing drugs–given that all this is trumped by the state’s unchallenged power to literally kill and enslave its citizens. I am talking about the power of conscription, whereby the state kidnaps young men and forces them to be slaves, and often to die, for it. Given that the State has the power and purported right to do this, are we surprised it sometimes thinks it’s okay to nudge taxes up from 49% to 50.1%? If the State has the power to kill, a fortiori, it has the power to tax, outlaw drugs, damage marriage and religion, etc.

I was reminded of this, in this article: Treasury Department Claims Power to Seize Gold, Silver–and Everything Else, GATA Says (thanks to Tim Swanson). As the article notes,

Having just gone through a controversy about a Supreme Court decision about government’s power of eminent domain, most Americans may be surprised to learn that the Trading With the Enemy Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act could expropriate them instantly and far more broadly without any of the due process extended to parties in eminent domain cases. All that is needed is a presidential proclamation of an emergency of some kind — and of course Americans lately have been living in a state of perpetual emergency.

So we can see that the whining about the marginal changes from the Kelo case (1, 2) is a bit out of place. The danger of expropriation posed by Kelo is nothing compared to the simple exercise of federal might following decades old legislation.Far too many libertarians and conservatives who kvetch about Kelo inconsistently support the federal power of emergency expropriation; or at least support “vigorous” federal war and related powers, and thus cannot really complain or be surprised when this power is used to take property. But even those who oppose both emergency economic and war power and Kelo need a better sense of proportion.

Yes, it’s bad that states can expropriate property (while paying compensation); but worse is the power of the state to enslave and murder its citizens (why is this not an expropriation deserving of payment of “just compensation”?), or to proclaim its emergency economic and war power, or, when it comes down to it, to initiate taxation, which is the power to destroy.

If the State could not tax or conscript, it would be unable to do many of the things that bug libertarians. And so long as it has these powers, this situation itself is the very problem; not the particular details of how it happens to wield its power from day to day. It is not how we are regulated that is the problem; it is that we are regulated.

2:40 pm on August 23, 2005