Barry Bonds and the State

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By now you know that Barry Bonds has surpassed Hank Aaron to become the greatest home run hitter in Major League Baseball history. And you also know that this new record does not come without controversy. Many baseball fans and regular Joes alike have made moral arguments against Bonds and the legitimacy of his record amid widespread allegations that he's cheated over the years by using steroids.

Perhaps he has. But I have a question for you: Which is more immoral? A baseball player who may have used performance-enhancing drugs en route to accomplishing one of sports' greatest achievements, or a federal government that essentially created this scandal by hauling non-violent citizens in front of Congress to testify against themselves for allegedly doing something only to themselves? Depending on your outlook, you might think it’s a toss-up. Allow me to attempt clarification.

If you believe Bonds’s new record is tainted as a result of the superstar’s alleged steroid use, you may very well dismiss his latest accomplishment as meaningless and insignificant. Very well. As someone who doesn’t really care one way or the other whether Bonds juiced up to augment his play, I can’t get too worked up over this issue. Indeed, I believe we all have much more to lose in the way of freedom as a result of the government’s involvement in this whole steroid fiasco, than we do in, say, the way of bruised sensibilities in the event the record was actually taken from Hammerin' Hank artificially.

It is only as a result of the government’s arrogant and senseless “war on drugs” that it even deigns to believe it has the right to police Major League Baseball in the first place, when the league is perfectly capable of conducting its own affairs.

Insightful folks already know that if the government can claim for itself the power to patrol and punish voluntary behaviors and transactions between consenting adults that result in no harm or benefit to anyone but those immediately involved — and which, oh by the way, take place in private facilities — then the government essentially has the authority to regulate, manipulate, and monitor virtually any transaction in which we freely choose to engage. If this is of less concern to you than a relatively unimportant baseball record, then we are all in trouble.

Ever since the passage of the 16th Amendment, which granted the federal government the power to directly confiscate our income — our property — we basically are allowed to own nothing to which the government cannot also lay claim, at least in part. If there is a valid argument justifying taxes levied on voluntary consumer purchases, there is absolutely no justification for a tax that is nothing less than outright, state-sponsored theft. Though I would be incarcerated — and rightly so — for walking next door and taking money out of my neighbor’s wallet without his permission, the government makes this very act routine.

So is it a surprise that before 21-year-old Matt Murphy probably could even call his folks to tell them he’d caught Barry Bonds’s 756th home run ball, tax experts were already cautioning him about the fiscal “obligations” he may very well have to the State? According to an AP report:

“It’s an expensive catch,” said John Barrie, a tax lawyer with Bryan Cave LLP in New York who grew up watching the Giants play at Candlestick Park. “Once he took possession of the ball and it was his ball, it was income to him based on its value as of yesterday,”

By most estimates, the ball that put Bonds atop the list of all-time home run hitters with 756 would sell in the half-million dollar range on the open market or at auction.

That would instantly put Murphy, a college student from Queens, in the highest tax bracket for individual income, where he would face a tax rate of about 35 per cent, or about US$210,000 on a $600,000 ball.

It should come as no shock that Murphy will be expected to pay taxes on his earnings in the event he sells the ball. But Barrie notes that Murphy may be subject to taxes based on a reasonable estimate of the ball’s value even if he doesn’t sell it. (Murphy could sell the ball, the so-called logic seems to go, so the government may as well take its cut now. By this rationale, the government ought to just toss us in jail arbitrarily because we all could commit a crime.) Only under a government that employs a tyrannical, confiscatory tax structure could anyone be expected to pay taxes on income he doesn't even have yet.

Hence the immoral nature of the property tax. Not only are we taxed on goods at the time of purchase, but we're often also taxed on the value of our property after we've bought it. Taxing a baseball on a value that hasn’t even materialized in the form of a sale would be the same as paying local and state taxes every year on, for example, land or a car — taxes which are levied almost universally (where they exist) even if the owner has no outstanding debt on the property. Taxing Murphy's baseball on its value would be no different than the government taxing me every year on my lamps, televisions, toilets, frying pans, couches, bar stools, you name it, for no other reason than the mere fact that I own them.

Never underestimate the State’s desire to tax us, especially when it identifies a succulent opportunity to hit the jackpot. There is as yet no official word from the IRS on whether Matt Murphy will be forced to pay taxes on the value of his prize. However, if the government decides to swoop in and steal from him simply for possessing a baseball the market deems more valuable than another, it would only be logical for it to tax everyone who catches a home run ball at a baseball game.

If it seems as if this would be irrational and excessive — even outright fascistic and evil — that's because it would be. And though the idea's the same, it is even more depraved for the State to steal a chunk of our paycheck or any other property to which it believes it is entitled simply because we own it.

All the juice in the world couldn’t put Barry Bonds in that category of immorality.

CORRECTION: In my previous piece, I mistakenly wrote that Ron Paul raised more money than John McCain from April to June. At the time, McCain had actually raised more money, but Paul was in a better financial position due to lack of debt. I regret the error.

August 10, 2007