(Op-Ed) Taxation in Modern America

November 2nd, 2018

Jacob Towers

Note: This piece has the distinction of having been written for a school assignment, with some slight edits.

I believe the federal income tax is immoral, because it is not consensual. It is put in place and decided on by 535 people who give themselves deductions and salary raises to offset what would be lost in taxation. To be clear, I am not saying this issue should be settled a different way. Thus far, there has never been a better system for instituting policy than the United States Congress. That, however, does not make it a perfect system.

When it comes to state income tax as a whole, I am a bit more split. In a sense, it is consensual because you choose to live in that state, and if you don’t like it, you can move to a state like Tennessee that doesn’t have it. That argument is flawed, however, because the same thing could be said for the country, and for that argument to hold any water, states that do not have an income tax would have to remain permanently so. My biggest problem with federal income tax is that there is no original Constitutional backing for imposing a federal income tax, and the amendment that made it “legal” (sixteenth) was not properly ratified because the language in the amendment is different than what was proposed by Congress. Multiple court cases, including Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co., include language that suggests that the income tax is an unconstitutional direct tax that should be distributed equally among the population of the states.

From my understanding, under the tenth amendment to the Constitution, states have the right to levy a tax on income, as there is nothing in the Constitution that bans it, and it is not a power reserved for the federal government. That is another reason that I find the state income tax to be more reasonable than the federal one. However, I do believe that if there is going to be an income tax of any kind, it should not tax people a higher percentage just because they earn more. That is literally punishing people for contributing to the economy. If an income tax is to exist, it should be a flat percentage across the board. A person making $100k a year shouldn’t be paying a higher percentage of his or her money to the government than a person making $50k per year. Keep in mind, the higher earner is still paying double what the lower earner is, but in the current federal system, the person making $50k is paying out about $12.5k to the government, while the person earning $100k is paying out $28k per year to the federal government. An argument often made is that a person making that much money is not going to be having financial problems because they pay out an extra 3% of their income. In most cases, that’s probably true, but that doesn’t account for state income tax at all, just federal. And either way, that’s completely missing the point. Let’s say you have $20 and you go to the vending machine. It charges you $1.30 for two sodas, but your friend goes to the same machine with $10 and it only charges them $0.50 for one soda. You are going to feel like you have been cheated, and that’s because you have.

Sales tax, in my opinion, is the only true from of consensual taxes. The logic behind this being that no one forces you to participate in a transaction. You are not forced to buy anything in a specific place. If you don’t like the sales tax rate at one place and they are just too outrageous for you, you can always go somewhere else. You are choosing to buy this product, knowing you will have to pay sales tax. That is a fully consensual transaction. You may not be happy about it, but you are still consenting regardless, and you are the one initiating the transaction.

The same can’t be said for income tax. With income tax, you never have the opportunity to express consent. 535 people in a room get to decide how much money you will shell out based on how much money you make. That is a form of discrimination, and it is immoral. To be clear, I am not comparing this to any extreme form of discrimination like Jim Crow or the Chinese Exclusion Act or anything crazy like that, however, judging someone based on a single quality and putting them into categories based on that judgement is textbook discrimination.

An argument that is often made in favor of income tax is that you vote for members of Congress, so it is consensual because you voted for the 535 people who decide how much you get taxed. That seems logical, and I understand the reasoning behind it, but just because you vote to steal someone’s money doesn’t make it moral. Especially when the people voting have built in clauses that significantly reduce the amount of money they have to pay out. And the holes in this argument are even further exposed when you take into account that the people in the lower tax brackets far out-populate the ones in the top. This means that essentially, people who make less are determining how much people who make more are paying in taxes, if you follow the logic of this argument.

Lastly, I want to say how much I despise personal property tax. The argument against it is literally within the name. It is your personal property, so what on Earth gives the government the right to tax it? The personal property tax is the most immoral there is, and to be quite honest, it sets a dangerous precedent. There is absolutely no Constitutional backing for personal property tax, and it is theft. It's like if you buy a car from a dealer, then once a year the landlord of the dealer’s building and your landlord show up at your front door one day and both of them demand money from you for owning a car. If you don’t pay, you go to jail, as if you are the one robbing them. This practice is absolutely asinine.