“Taxation is in every government a very delicate and difficult subject. Hence it has been the policy of all wise statesmen, as far as circumstances permitted, to lead the people by small beginnings and almost imperceptible degrees into the habits of taxation. Where the contrary conduct has been pursued, it has ever failed of full success, not infrequently proving the ruin of the projectors.”
– Samuel Bryan (Centinel), Anti-Federalist Paper #21
A few years ago, I wrote two book reports about the federal income tax and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – David Burnham’s exposé on IRS abuses, and Ed Hedemann’s examination of tax resistance methods. What I didn’t really understand back then were the ethical and historical justifications for the federal income tax itself. Who better than the well-renowned Frank Chodorov to explain why and how the federal income tax came to be?
Interestingly enough, none other than the 9th Governor of Utah, J. Bracken Lee, wrote the forward to Chodorov’s book. As Lee explained it:
“The obligation of freedom is a willingness to stand on your feet. The early American wanted it that way. He was wary of government, especially one that was out of his reach…in other matters, the early American was willing to put his faith in home government, in a government of neighbors, in a government that one could keep one’s eyes on and, if necessary, lay one’s hands on…the Sixteenth Amendment changed all that…it made them citizens of the United States rather than of their respective states…they became subject to the will of the central government…the state governments likewise lost more and more of their autonomy…the economic power which the federal government secured by the Sixteenth Amendment enabled it to bribe the state governments, as well as the citizens, into submission to its will…the Sixteenth Amendment must be repealed. Nothing less will do…with the repeal of the amendment, the socialistic measures visited upon us these past thirty years will vanish…however, the principle argument for the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment is that only in that way can freedom from an interventionist government be restored to the American people.”
I sincerely doubt any governor worth his salt today would loudly demand the repeal of the 16th Amendment. What is also noteworthy is the fact that ex-governor Lee also claimed that the federal income tax undergirded the supremacy of United States citizenship above that of state citizenship, despite the fact that the federal judiciary has consistently ruled for over a century that there are two classes of American citizenship.
Written in 1954, Chodorov argues that the 16th Amendment’s imposition of a federal income tax upon the American citizenry is a vehicle for socialism. He says:
“The American tradition rests squarely on the premise that the human being is endowed with rights by his very existence; that is what makes him human. Hence, any political action which attempts to violate these rights violates his humanness, and thus becomes ‘evil’…with this definition of ‘evil’ in mind, it is the purpose of this book to show that many laws and governmental practices are impregnated with it, and to trace this wholesale infringement of our rights to the power acquired by the federal government in 1913 to tax our incomes – the Sixteenth Amendment. That is the ‘root’…as a consequence, the kind of government we are acquiring is distinctly different from that envisaged by the Founding Fathers; it is fast becoming a government that conceives itself to be the source of rights, which it gives and can recall at its own pleasure.”
Oddly coincidental that 1913 was also the very same year that the Federal Reserve Act was passed into law, thereby establishing the fourth central bank in America’s history, which remains with us to this very day, isn’t it? Chodorov goes on to say that:
“Indirect taxes are mere money raisers; there is nothing in the character of these taxes that involves any other purpose…the government does not question the right of the citizen to his property. The citizen need not pay these taxes; he can go without. This alternative does not apply to direct taxes. The principal direct taxes are those levied on inheritances and incomes…the amendment puts no limit on governmental confiscation. The government can, under the law, take everything the citizen earns, even to the extent of depriving him of all above mere subsistence, which it must allow him in order that he may produce something to be confiscated…that, of course, is the essence of socialism. Whatever else socialism is, or is claimed to be, its first tenet is the denial of private property…so long as the confiscation of private property is legalized, this country is not immune to the advent of ultimate socialism, which is communism.” [emphasis added]
This is a rather important distinction made within the ideology of American republicanism. Much discord has arisen and grudgingly remained between Americans over time due to misunderstandings of this doctrinal point. According to this minarchist (that is, limited government) perspective, things like a sales or excise tax are not automatically a form of legalized theft, for it matters which government (federal or one of the several states) is levying such a tax, on what commodity, and for how much; for example, tariffs are largely constitutional for the federal government to levy, pursuant to the Taxing and Spending Clause (Art. I § 8 cl. 1). Revealingly, Chodorov points out that:
“The effect of the ability-to-pay doctrine in practice is to discourage production. If an increasing portion of what I earn is taken from me – and that is the intent of the graduated income tax – then my inclination will be to cut down on my earnings. Men work to satisfy their desires, not to pay taxes. There is no sense in keeping my barn full if the highway man empties it regularly and I have no means of preventing him from so doing…that is the effect of the ability-to-pay doctrine. If we examine the income tax carefully we find that it is not a tax on income so much as it is a tax on capital. What the government takes from me is not what I consume but what I might have saved.” [emphasis added]
This demonstrates the reality of human action pitted against the illusion of human design, especially central planning. Originally sold as a plot to “soak the rich,” the end result of the federal income tax was to essentially de-industrialize America, and it was originally done as a war tax!
Chodorov largely blames that despicable tyrant FDR and his Raw Deal for the growth of statism (aka, Big Government). He explains that:
“If it had not been Mr. Roosevelt and his horde of self-seeking visionaries, it would have been somebody else. The New Deal, or something like it, was planted when the Sixteenth Amendment was put into the Constitution. It needed only the fertilization of the depression to bring it to flower. Whatever politician happened to be at the helm at the propitious moment would have done more or less what Mr. Roosevelt did…Mr. Roosevelt was an excellent politician.”
Given how Roosevelt engaged in his notorious court-packing plan in order to strong-arm the United States Supreme Court into declaring socialist insecurity as being constitutional, I think Chodorov was right in his analysis here. He further observes that:
“Measures instituted by government during war have a way of perpetuating themselves during peacetime. Government is incapable of relinquishing powers. And so, the withholding and the pay-as-you-go taxes are still in force and will continue…the real reason for withholding taxes is the unwillingness of workers to share their incomes with the government and the consequent difficulties of collection. To overcome this handicap, the government has simply impressed employers into its service as involuntary and unpaid tax collectors. It is a form of conscription.” [emphasis added]
No kidding! Gee, and here I thought compulsory registration for the inactive draft was the only form of conscription left. He goes on to say that:
“In the matter of government services – which is the protection of life and property – the customer is the citizen. The government will serve him best only if it cannot set its own standards, when it does not enjoy a complete monopoly of power. This brings up a contradiction. The theory is that government must have a monopoly of coercion to prevent us from using coercion indiscriminately on one another; we institute government, and endow it with sole police power, for the purpose of maintaining order. Nevertheless, experience has shown that the monopoly we give government can work for disorder; the power can be used to create disharmony and promote injustice. That, in fact is the record…hence, unless the monopoly of power can be checkmated, freedom is always in danger.” [emphasis added]
Well, at that point, why bother having a government at all? If Chodorov’s observation is correct, then that leaves the advocates of limited government in a bit of an uncomfortable bind, doesn’t it? Ultimately, Chodorov defends the idea of private property vociferously throughout his book, but could the same be said of modern American patriots who often advocate for “public” goods to be shouldered upon taxpayers, whether they be “public” schools, “public” roads, or as is the case was this same time last year, the “public” lands? Again, where were those fearless constitutionalist American patriots when the off-grid homesteaders in Costilla County were being tyrannized?
Fascinatingly, Chodorov also had something to say about his conception of nationalism. He wrote that:
“When we try to define ‘Americanism’ – of which there is much loose talk these days – we find it necessary to look at our beginnings for the essential ingredient. Whatever special character this country can lay claim to it, it was a habit of freedom that was acquired before the country was formally organized. And it was an acquired, not an inherited characteristic, for the American was ethnologically as heterogeneous as his forebears. His ancestry gave him nothing that the peoples of Europe did not have. He had come by freedom through trouble and toil; he meant to hold on to it.”
That is rather poignant, because it suggests that America is largely a nation of immigrants, and as such, as long as they respect private property like their lives depend upon it (because the truth is, it does, as argumentation ethics proves), then by assimilation alone, just about any human can become “American,” for it is the cultural ethos, not some ancestral bloodline, that determines whether or not such immigrants truly belong on this continent; put another way, Americanism is a choice, not a fate of circumstance.
Frank Chodorov’s The Income Tax: Root of All Evil is a good place to start in order to begin truly comprehending the federal income tax. Understandably, Chodorov advocated for the repeal of the 16th Amendment, and having read what he had to say, I find myself uneasy, for to do so would require political crusading vis-à-vis grassroots lobbying the United States Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, just like they did with the passage of the 21st Amendment repealing alcohol prohibition; having said that, I would otherwise welcome the abolition of the federal income tax, if only in spirit. Precluding the fictional novel Atlas Shrugged by 3 years, Chodorov was truly a canary in the coal mine, as it were. One rather chilling insight he had I think is worth sharing:
“The fires of freedom are stoked by the will to be free. It is not the promise of bread alone that will spur a people to shed their shackles, but rather the hope that they may attain the dignity of self-respecting individuals. Without idealism a revolution is nothing but a gang fight. Nevertheless, it will be found that every struggle for freedom was led by a group who, through prompted by lofty purposes, had some immediate economic objective in mind; it may not have been personal gain that drove them to act, it may have been the improvement of general conditions, but in any case an economic motivation was present. Nor will the rank-and-file go through the struggle of liberation unless they can see a pot of gold in the rainbow.” [emphasis added]
Whether he realized it or not, I think Chodorov explained why something like an assassination market is more likely to work as a positive individual incentive rather than a “collective awakening” as a negative collective incentive. His point is well taken though, and with regard to the federal income tax, there is, admittedly, a financial incentive to alleviate the burden of this taxation off the shoulders of the American people, even if only in the form of greater savings and personally accumulated capital.