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Tax Cuts Need No Justification


Tax cuts do not have to justified. It’s government spending that that has to be justified.

I realize that is contrary to virtually every news report and analysis of President Bush’s plan to cut income tax rates. To listen to the news media, you’d think the government creates the wealth in this country and then parcels it out to the people. Pundits and activists complain about tax cuts going to the rich as though money is being handed out.

But this is all exactly backward. The government doesn’t create wealth. Individuals do through their work and ingenuity. What the government does is take it — by force — and give it to someone else.

A tax cut doesn’t give money to anyone. It doesn’t even give it back to anyone. When government cuts taxes, it merely abstains from taking it from its producers. The money never leaves the hands it originates in because it never goes to Washington in the first place.

Thus all the talk about how much the Bush plan will “give” the rich is sheer balderdash. It “gives” nothing to anyone. But here in America we have become so mired in welfare-state thinking that most people approach these issues as though tax revenues are a pot of cash that belongs to the government. Just look at the differences in the way tax cutting and government spending are treated. A number of people have proposed that any tax-cut plan contain “triggers,” which would allow a phase of the cuts to be canceled if projected surpluses do not materialize.

Have you ever heard anyone propose a trigger for government spending? Increases in spending are considered so normal that if someone proposes a smaller increase than planned, it’s called a budget cut.

As Thomas Sowell points out, somewhere along the line the burden of proof shifted from the politicians who confiscate our wealth to the people who produce it in the first place. The question is, how can we restore the proper moral perspective? We can begin by using language clearly. In his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell noted that muddy language facilitates muddy thought. Perhaps if we clear up our language, our thinking will clear up also.

To tax is to take by force. Everything the government has, it has by virtue of its having threatened reprisals if the owners did not surrender it. No one who sweats over a 1040 form as April 15 approaches should be surprised by this. If you have any doubts, look up what the government has in store for you if you neglect to tell the IRS about some money you earned. There are people spending long terms in prison because they didn’t give the government what it claimed it was entitled to. Entitled? By what right? You say the people authorized the tax laws? Not by a long shot. Tax laws are written in arcane language behind closed doors by a few tenured congressmen and their staffs. Government has myriad devices for mystifying its operations in order to keep John Q. Citizen at a safe distance. We the people no more authorized the tax-eating monster we live with than we authorized the tornadoes that tore through Arkansas and Mississippi recently.

But even if we did, that would not justify it. We’d all agree that I have no right to threaten my neighbor with fine or imprisonment if he doesn’t give me 15 percent of his income. We’d further agree that a majority of my neighbors also does not have that right. So how did “the people,” meaning a small band of politicians, get that right? The government can have no rights that are not possessed by individuals. To believe otherwise is to lapse back into the time before the American Revolution, when kings thought they ruled by divine right. It’s sad to contemplate that the only apparent effect the American Revolution has had on the American people is in how they spend the Fourth of July.

Taxes should be cut — better, repealed! — because the money belongs to those who earn it. It’s bad enough the politicians take our incomes from us. At least we should make them justify their morally felonious activity.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.