Taxes & Spending

Imagine no income tax

Imagine there’s no income tax. It isn’t hard to do. No last-minute paperwork hell. And no IRS, too.

Almost half of Americans don’t have to imagine. An estimated 46 percent of the country will not pay any federal income taxes this year. 

And you read this as though it were a bad thing?

Too many conservatives deride the 46 percent who pay no federal income tax as moochers. On last year’s Tax Day, Tom Neven lamented at First Things that “half the country pays nothing towards a government that in theory represents everyone.” He asks: “Where is the sense of shared sacrifice that is part of citizenship?” Heritage Foundation blogger Rob Bluey earlier this year labeled the income-tax avoidance as “startling,” “alarming,” and “eye-popping.” Texas Governor Rick Perry launched his presidential campaign by proclaiming himself “dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.”

Half of Americans not paying federal income taxes is not an injustice. It’s a start.

The 54 percent of Americans who pay the federal income tax should not want the 46 percent to pay income tax just like them. They should want to pay no federal income tax just like the 46 percent. The progressive income tax is an injustice, and people who love freedom should seek its abolition rather than its expansion.

The 46 percent lives the way the 100 percent lived a century ago. They pay all sorts of federal taxes—passport fees, alcohol duties, tariffs on imported goods—just like Americans did in 1912. They even pay federal fuel and payroll taxes unknown to early-20th-century Americans. They just don’t pay an income tax.

The faulty presumption underlying the resentment toward the 46 percent is that the money that they earned somehow belongs to the federal government. This is an Obama mentality. The president claims that oil companies receiving tax breaks enjoy subsidies. He labels tax cuts as giveaways. He claims that the wealthy (who pay most of the income taxes) aren’t paying their fair share.

We have become so preoccupied with fair that we have lost sight of free. “Fair” is a word for losers. It’s the term universally invoked by losers in response to losing—“That’s not fair!” “Free” is a winner’s word. Free is don’t hurt me. Fair is do help me. But government is supposed to treat us equally under law. The progressive income tax doesn’t do that. It helps some by hurting others.

So thoroughly has the land of the free become the land of the freeloader that we invert “freeloader” to mean the people who don’t give the government money rather than the people who demand the government give them money. A freeloader is someone who takes something from you, not somebody who doesn’t give something to you. It may be true that a portion of that 46 percent who won’t fork over their paychecks to Uncle Sam also get Uncle Sam to fork over a portion of the 54 percent’s paychecks to them. But the malefaction there is sponging off the government, not preventing the government from sponging off them.  

Talk of repealing the Sixteenth Amendment is dismissed as chimerical. But utopianism isn’t what it used to be.

Utopianism is what will never be. The norm in American history is the absence of an income tax. The federal government used to treat all taxpayers equally under law. One’s personal business wasn’t the government’s, and ultimately, everyone’s business. A government that respects privacy fosters a people who do so, too. That something has been is proof that something can be.

Liberals may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday Barack will join us. And Americans will live as one.

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