We all have heard much throughout our lifetimes, and seen little happen, on the subject of high taxes. Where is the politician who has not promised his constituents a fight to the death for lower taxes — and who has not proceeded to vote for the very spending projects that make tax cuts impossible? There are some the shoe does not fit, but I am afraid not many. Talk of tax reduction has thus come to have a hollow ring. The people listen, but do not believe. And worse: as the public grows more and more cynical, the politician feels less and less compelled to take his promises seriously.
I suspect that this vicious circle of cynicism and failure to perform is primarily the result of the Liberals’ success in reading out of the discussion the moral principles with which the subject of taxation is so intimately connected. We have been led to look upon taxation as merely a problem of public financing: How much money does the government need? We have been led to discount, and often to forget altogether, the bearing of taxation on the problem of individual freedom. We have been persuaded that the government has an unlimited claim on the wealth of the people, and that the only pertinent question is what portion of its claim the government should exercise. The American taxpayer, I think, has lost confidence in his claim to his money. He has been handicapped in resisting high taxes by the feeling that he is, in the nature of things, obliged to accommodate whatever need for his wealth government chooses to assert.
The “nature of things,” I submit, is quite different. Government does not have an unlimited claim on the earnings of individuals. One of the foremost precepts of the natural law is man’s right to the possession and the use of his property. And a man’s earnings are his property as much as his land and the house in which he lives. Indeed, in the industrial age, earnings are probably the most prevalent form of property. It has been the fashion in recent years to disparage “property rights” — to associate them with greed and materialism. This attack on property rights is actually an attack on freedom. It is another instance of the modern failure to take into account the whole man. How can a man be truly free if he is denied the means to exercise freedom? How can he be free if the fruits of his labor are not his to dispose of, but are treated, instead, as part of a common pool of public wealth? Property and freedom are inseparable: to the extent government takes the one in the form of taxes, it intrudes on the other.