On an NPR broadcast, E. J. Dionne and David Brooks were discussing the “fiscal cliff” that we may or may not go over. Dionne, an op-ed writer for the uber-liberal Washington Post, compared President Obama’s resolve in pushing for more taxes to Abraham Lincoln who “stood his ground on the fundamental principle that we needed the 13th Amendment and needed to ban slavery.”
In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln stated that every person has the natural right “to eat the bread which he has earned by the sweat of his brow.”
While this phrase was not unique to Lincoln1, nevertheless, he was right.
Income is the result of people working or investing. Taxation takes some of that hard-earned money.
Some taxes are necessary and equitable; most are not. For example, the gasoline tax is equitable and does not violate the 13th Amendment since the money (supposedly) goes to build roads and bridges that we travel on. If we don’t drive, we don’t pay the tax that’s levied on every gallon of gasoline sold. Of course, the tax is paid by people who don’t drive but in an indirect way. Goods and services that travel over roads have the cost of fuel built into the price of those goods or services (e.g., repairmen, UPS and FedEx deliveries, etc.). No involuntary servitude is in view.
But in terms of taxation as a form of wealth redistribution, taxation is a form slavery. Money is taken from people who work and then given to people who don’t work. More than 6000,000 Americans died to end that form of wealth distribution, so it’s rather remarkable that Mr. Dioone would make such an outrageous comparison.
Slavery comes in a number of forms. Our most immediate familiarity with slavery is chattel slavery which was visible. But there are other forms of slavery that are more subtle, as Steven Yates and Ray E. Bornert II point out in their article “Is the Income Tax a Form of Slavery?”:
[S]lavery is non-ownership of one’s Person and Labor. It is involuntary servitude. A slave must work under a whip, real or figurative, wielded by other persons, his owners, with no say in how (or even if) his labors are compensated. His is a one-way contract he cannot opt out of. A slave is tied to his master (and to the land where he labors). He cannot simply quit if he doesn’t like it. Moreover, a slave can be bought and sold like any other commodity.
When Congress passes laws to tax our labor, is this not a form of slavery when what’s collected goes to other people? We can’t choose to labor somewhere else to avoid a federal income tax. It might help to understand the relationship between taxation and slavery if we described taxation on income as a tax on labor. We could then apply the 13th Amendment:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
If the government can take a percentage of money I get for my labor that is then passed on to other people, then this is a clear violation of the constitutional prohibition against “involuntary servitude.”
“If we work 40 hours a week, and another entity forcibly conscripts 25% of our compensation, then we argue that we have been forced into involuntary servitude – slavery – for 10 of those 40 hours. . . .”
It’s that simple.
- John Winthrop (1587/8–1649), Governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote the following in his Journal in 1642, “So many enemies doth the Lord m against our daily bread, that we might know that we are to eat it in the sweat of our own brows.” [↩]