Sometimes popular culture is able to deliver political commentary more effectively than editorials, op-eds, and articles. A great example is a current theme running through the popular cable television series The Walking Dead, which is about a zombie apocalypse.
We are all familiar with the standard concept of slavery. When we hear the term, we naturally think in terms of the plight of pre-Civil War blacks. Under slavery, many blacks lived their lives under total subjugation to their owners. They could’t just walk away. They couldn’t live their lives the way they wanted. They couldn’t pursue happiness in their own way. Their choices in life were extremely limited. They were forced to work for someone else and to obey his orders and commands. When they disobeyed or attempted to flee, they were subject to being punished by their masters.
We also think of the slaves that lived in ancient times under the pharaohs. Coming to mind is the movie The Ten Commandments, which depicted Jewish slaves who lived their lives under the control of Egyptian masters. The Jews were forced to spend every day of their lives making bricks and doing other things to build the pyramids for the pharaohs. Under slavery, they too could not just walk away.
None of that type of thing is occurring in The Walking Dead. Rick Grimes, the star of the show, and the people in his group, are pretty much free to live their lives the way they want, except for one big thing: A man named Negan, along with his followers, wields the power to seize anything he wants from Grimes’ camp, including food, bedding, and other assets that Rick and his group acquire.
What happened was that Rick’s group was captured by Negan’s group, whose numbers far outweighed those in Rick’s group. After brutally murdering two of Rick’s group — murders that absolutely stunned The Walking Dead audience — Negan made it clear that Rick and his group now belonged to him. He effectively owned them.
But what is fascinating is that Negan didn’t enslave them directly, like blacks in the Old South or Jews in ancient Egypt. Instead, Negan permitted Rick and his group to return to their camp and live the way they lived before, but with one big proviso: Negan and his gang would wield the authority to periodically visit Rick’s camp to collect any portion of Rick’s and his group’s income and assets.
You know, just like income taxes! Whatever Rick and his group find scavenging, a certain portion must be paid to Negan to fund his group. Or property taxes. Whatever Rick and his group own is subject to being taken by Negan.
What’s also fascinating is that everyone within the show — and undoubtedly everyone within the viewing audience — recognizes that Rick and his group are now living their lives as slaves, notwithstanding the fact that they are not in the same position as American blacks in the Old South or Jews under the Pharaohs.
Obviously, this holds a powerful political message for Americans of our time, a message that we have been stating here at The Future of Freedom Foundation ever since our inception 27 years ago. That message is this: When Americans adopted the federal income tax, they lost their status as a free people and became serfs and slaves under the control of their federal masters, just as Rick and his group have become serfs and slaves under the control of Negan and his group.
Keep in mind that our American ancestors lived without income taxation for more than 100 years. There was a simple reason for that: Our predecessors understood that freedom necessarily entails the right to keep everything you earn and to decide for yourself what to do with your own money.
You might save it or spend it. You might invest it or squander it. You might donate it or hoard it. It is your call. It is your money. You have the right to decide what to do with it.
No IRS returns. No IRS audits. No rushing to the Post Office every April 15. No withholding taxes. No FICA taxes. No deductions. No taxation on income at all. For more than a century, Americans were free to keep everything they earned, and there wasn’t anything the federal government could do about it.
Everything changed with the adoption of the income tax in 1916. From that day forward, Americans were converted into serfs or slaves of the federal government, just as Rick’s group has been with respect to Negan’s group. From 1916 on, the federal government wielded the same authority to take whatever percentage of people’s income that it wanted as Negan wields over Rick’s group in The Walking Dead.
Sometime the federal government is nice, and takes a smaller percentage of people’s income, just as sometimes Negan is nice and leaves Rick’s group with more provisions. Sometimes the federal government isn’t so nice and takes more to fund its welfare-warfare state operations, just as sometimes Negan isn’t so nice and takes more to sustain his group.
But the point is that by now wielding the authority to set the percentage that it could take, the federal government became the master and the American people became its serfs or slaves, just as Rick’s group has become serfs or slaves to Negan’s group. Whatever people are still permitted to keep, either by the federal government or by Negan, essentially becomes an allowance, just like the allowance that parents give their children.
There is only one way for Rick and his group to regain their freedom in The Walking Dead: to somehow remove the power that Negan has over them to seize their income and their assets. The same holds true for today’s Americans.