Friday, April 16, 2010

U.S. Income Taxes Should Not Be Compared to Slavery

To most people, the title of this post probably seems rather obvious. However, within certain libertarian circles, usually among the anarcho-capitalists, saying this is akin to pissing in the punch bowl. I understand what the people who use the "Taxes=Slavery" metaphor are trying to say, but I think it's about the dumbest thing someone can say to attract people to their way of thinking.

Messaging doesn't happen in a vacuum and, thus, messengers should be aware of the context in which they are putting forth their ideas. In the United States, with a still-unresolved legacy of racism and chattel slavery with origins that predate the Founding, throwing around the "S-word" so shamelessly is offensive whether it comes from the Left, the Right, or somewhere in between.  Given the free exercise of so many rights that we all take for granted, invoking slavery in a contemporary setting trivializes the true suffering of slavery's victims, undermines its very real legacy that remains in our culture, and makes whomever uttered such narrow-minded nonsense look like an ass with no sense of historical propriety. To those of us who can trace our lineage to slavery within four generations and have living relatives who grew up under the racist legal and cultural legacy of American slavery--comparing that history to paying income taxes seems just a bit fucking trite.

Taxes and the government they fund are real problems that need to be addressed by serious people. However, using brazenly lopsided metaphors such as "Taxes=Slavery" amount to nothing more than libertarian Godwin moments.


KmeleAnthony said...

I completely agree with the sentiment.

I'm sympathetic to a descriptions of taxation as theft, but i'm always peeved when friends casually use slavery to describe a range of "bad things".

Prostitution isn't slavery (unless we're talking about sex trafficking), neither can anyone be a "wage slave".

Historical significance is one thing, but the persistence of slavery into the 21st century makes the abuse of language even more heinous.

Caleb O. Brown said...

Interesting that you quote Nozick at the top of your page, but you don't mention his Tale of the Slave.

JPB said...


It did dawn on me, but I let it go. The reason I didn't bring it up, as I mention in the post, is that my issue is about messaging. It's not that the coercive power of the state siphoning so much of our money through coercion isn't, on some level, analogous to slavery. It's that it takes a lot of explanation to justify the reasoning behind the soundbite friendly "Taxes=Slavery" -- and a lot of people aren't going to bother with asking what exactly people mean by that. Further, I would also wager that, if asked, a lot of the people who carry signs to that effect at tea parties have NO idea who Nozick was or could justify the statement to anyone's satisfaction. It's implication is not necessarily self-evident as a messaging device and thus fails to do what it means to.

As my tweet and facebook status indicated, I get what they were trying to say, but the stark contrast is so vast that those who don't already agree/get it will not be persuaded--and, perhaps, will be revolted--by such simplistic jingoisms.