The most evil of all taxes – the tax on property – is evil not so much because it takes but rather because of what it precludes. That being even the possibility of ever owning your home and land. Which is of course precisely what this tax is meant to do – the money-stealing being an incidental benefit to the government which steals it.
The real benefit – to the government – is establishing the principle (and the fact) that no one will ever be able to fully, truly own their home and land. That the government owns all land. The property tax establishes the proper relationship – that of renter and landlord.
This analogy is historically accurate as the property tax dates back to feudal times, when the lord – the medieval era’s equivalent of a county supervisor today – sent an assessor to gauge a landholder’s ability to pay. This was based on the value of his land and other holdings. Thus was the principle established that the lord – and not you – fundamentally owned the land. Which you were permitted to retain possession of so long as you paid the taxes demanded, establishing your status as a tenant.
This loathsome business migrated to Great Britain’s American colonies and – startlingly – it was not done away with when the colonies became independent from Great Britain. Like chattel slavery, the property tax was not confronted by the founding generation as preposterously antithetical to the core ideas expressed by the Declaration of Independence.
Well, implied by it.
The Declaration is poetry, not straight talk. Jefferson wrote beautifully but imprecisely. The “pursuit of happiness” sounds wonderful – but what does it mean, exactly? How does one reach a state of happiness when one is perpetually beholden to the lamprey that is government? How can one object to the ugly practice of owning human beings when the government lays claim to the property of human beings? Put another way, if it is wrong to own another human being, then how can it be right to assert ownership over another human being’s property?
The slave is owned, physically (and legally) possessed by another person – his owner. The tax slave is also possessed – just less obviously because less immediately.
He is permitted the illusion that he is his own man – mark the italics. But he is denied full ownership of anything that would establish that he is a free man, i.e., his home and the land it sits on. If he is denied the right to own such property – as by being compelled to make regular payments of money to its in-fact owner – then what does he own, exactly?
His physical person?
This is a fiction, though perhaps a more palatable one. He is free, it is true, to move about at will – though even this degree of freedom is being systematically taken away. But of what use is this freedom when he can never call even a single square foot of dirt his own to stand on, beholden to none?
He is free – to work. He is not free to keep that which is produced as the result of his work. The only distinction between this state of affairs and the position of the chattel slave is that in the case of the latter, the lord/master steals everything the slave produces while in the case of the former, the “free” man is permitted to retain a portion of the fruits of his labors.
The slave is in some ways more meaningfully free than the “free” man. He does not own the hut he sleeps in – and knows it. This being a manifestation of psychological freedom. He does not have to pay “taxes” in order to be allowed to live in the hut, which is also freeing in a way.
The “free” man is in bondage – to the fiction that he owns the house he occupies.
He is deluded by the trappings of ownership, such as a piece of paper that says it’s his. But what is the worth of such a piece of paper in view of the fact that no matter how much he pays in “taxes” on that house, his obligation to continue paying as a condition of occupancy never ends?
This is how the tax on property differs from the tax on income – which ends when one no longer earns a taxable income. Which happy state of affairs would be possible to reach if one were not obliged to continue paying property taxes on one’s home and the land it sits on – without end. Which obliges one to earn income in order to pay them.
Chattel slavery – the obvious form of slavery – made many of the slave-owning founders (among them Jefferson) uneasy. For they understood the contradiction – the hypocrisy – of writing poetry about freedom while denying it to some people.
What they did not understand, most of them (Jefferson may have) was that by carrying on the British feudal tradition of taxing a man’s home and the land it sits on, they denied real freedom to everyone.
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