What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
The following is an op-ed I wrote, published in today’s Standard-Examiner.
As government budgets tighten and the demand for its services either remains constant or increases, politicians and their constituents are exploring how to resolve this apparent conundrum. With a steady population increase in Utah straining the government’s ability to provide for its citizens, what is the proper response?
The state’s Republican Party platform, which calls for a “broad-based rate reduction” and only “limited taxation,” has not restrained some members of its party from advocating for tax increases to try and solve the funding gap. For example, Republican Sen. Aaron Osmond recently proposed raising taxes to better fund education and transportation. Highlighting a “recognition that we need to do something,” Osmond suggested that that “thing” should be to impose higher taxes—or, in other words, to take more money from Utahns that is rightfully their own.
Osmond is not alone. Many Republicans (and their Democrat counterparts) supported bills in this past legislative session to increase taxes. One prime example is Senate Bill 226, sponsored by Senator Wayne Harper (also a Republican), which would have required e-commerce businesses to collect sales tax from their customers in Utah. Another is House Bill 372, sponsored by Representative Paul Ray (another Republican), which would have imposed significant taxes (86 percent of the manufacturer’s price) on e-cigarette nicotine products.
Fortunately, none of this legislation survived. The advocacy to take more money from the pockets of people in Utah demonstrates the arrogance of state officials who want to preserve or expand the status quo rather than looking for ways to cut programs, eliminate waste, and better manage existing tax revenue. More money is not needed—less government is.
The state struggles to finance its services primarily because it has inserted itself into areas it does not properly belong; a government involved in protecting life, liberty, and property need not tax citizens to furnish them with social welfare programs, entice companies to relocate to the state, or subsidize private businesses. Even education is a service which falls outside government’s legitimate scope and which should therefore be left to the market, outside of the purview of taxation.
There is a reason that Chief Justice John Marshall once wrote that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Taxes are not voluntary contributions, freely given to help an organization thrive. They are confiscations of one’s earnings, imposed with the ever-present threat of force against those who fail to comply. As such, it is offensive to casually throw around the suggestion of “raising taxes” as if the resulting revenue magically flowed, without complaint or controversy, from the pockets of taxpayers to the coffers of the state.
With his trademark fiery rhetoric, Tom Paine accurately portrayed both the history and future of taxes. “The greedy hand of government,” he wrote, “thrust[s] itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasp[s] at the spoil of the multitude.” Always looking to better fund its operations, “invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation.” In other words, the natural inclination of the state is to grow—and to force all of us to provide financial backing.
According to the Tax Foundation, Utahns pay on average 9.3 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Added onto this, of course, is the burden of federal taxes which is around 15 percent for the average middle-class American family.
“Greedy hands” indeed — if the government can’t get by with roughly one-fourth of each individual’s earnings, then it’s time to have a serious conversation about the things government has found worthy of our tax dollars thus far.