Monday, July 5, 2010

Governed or Oppressed? Part III-The Price We Pay

While the actual trigger for the Revolutionary War was a move to confiscate the weapons the colonists had cached, there's no denying that a strong component of the decision to rebel was unreasonable taxation. And while 'reasonable' is an integral component of our law, and the British common law it descended from, it's always a difficult term to define. But perhaps some simple facts will help us judge whether we're taxed at a 'reasonable' rate:

  1. In 2010, the average taxpayer will work until April 9th, the 99th day of the year, simply to pay his taxes. In other words, you'll spend more than a quarter of the year working without anything to show for it; your labor gains you nothing, except the ability to pay your taxes. 
  2. In downtown Chicago, a can of soda is taxed at 14.75%; you are taxed at roughly 1/7th the cost of the product.
  3. Cigarettes, a particularly unpopular and difficult to defend product, are taxed at a rate of $3.66 per pack of 20 in Chicago and $4.25 in New York City . Average pack prices in New York are about $11, giving a tax rate of over one third the cost of the product.
  4. In 2010, Americans in the highest income tax brackets will pay 39.5% in income tax, up from 35% previously.
First, I would like you to consider what would happen if your income rose by about 28% right now. Because that's what would happen if you didn't pay income tax. Your standard of living, ability to invest and save, would all be impacted. Never forget that the difference between your current financial condition and that hypothetical one is one thing-taxes. And before we blithely let our leaders vote for larger and more expensive bail-outs, increased entitlement programs and other social welfare programs, ask yourself if you are willing to work one, two, three or ten more days for free to pay for them. Don't allow the disconnect between what is spent in government and what you lose to exist in your thinking, as it does for so many. Whenever government spends money, you're working longer for free-nothing more complex than that.

Secondly, I want you to consider the way in which taxes 'stack'. If we're in downtown Chicago and decide, rather unwisely, to buy that can of soda, the 14.75% tax you pay comes from an income already reduced by a third due to income taxes. You're paying sales, property and other taxes out of what remains of your earnings after income taxes are paid, taxing the remnants of your pay again each time you purchase something with your own money.

Third, and a sticking point for many, is the concept of a 'sin tax', as exemplified by the rate of cigarette taxes in Chicago and New York we noted above. Smoking is unhealthy-I personally abhor it-and obnoxious. But it's legal. And while legislators could never survive banning smoking, they can make it a whipping boy and revenue source without much political backlash. While completely legal, smokers can be punished for their choice to smoke, all the while adding revenue to the seemingly insatiable appetite of the government for more cash.
As I mentioned, I'm not a smoker. But I also realize that taking something unpopular and singling it out for incredibly high tax rates is not a scheme limited to cigarettes. Liquor is also taxed at what can only be a punitive rate, and even we non-drinkers pay it when hosting a party. But more chilling is that the concept of selective, punitive taxation, will likely not stop with tobacco and alcohol.

As the government becomes our health insurance provider, we'll probably see unhealthy things begin to suffer punitive tax rates, if only 'for the good of society.' Butter, bacon, eggs; all of these contribute to heart disease, and increase medical costs. Will we be asked to pay extra for the privilege of eating these things? From what we've seen with other unpopular activities, there can be no doubt.

Retaining the product of our labors, the fruit of our effort and time, is one of the most fundamental aspects of liberty. There are few more effective ways to reduce a person's ability to act, to enjoy life and to impact their society than by taking their money, the lifeblood of our current society. And when we're taxed enough that we can no longer live the life we're earning, can no longer turn our effort into personal gain, have we crossed from citizen to subject, from voter to cash cow? And if we're reduced to being fuel for the engine of government, are we being governed, or oppressed?

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