Is the Income Tax a Form of Slavery?
Slavery, we are reminded incessantly these days, was a terrible thing. In today's politically correct society, some blacks are demanding reparations for slavery because their remote ancestors were slaves. Slavery is routinely used to bash the South, although the slave trade began in the North, and slavery was once practiced in every state in the Union. Today's historians assure us that the War for Southern Independence was fought primarily if not exclusively over slavery, and that by winning that war, the North put an end to the peculiar institution once and for all.
Whoa! Time out! Shouldn't we back up and ask: what is slavery? It has been a while since those ranting on the subject have offered us a working definition of it. They will all claim that we know good and well what it is; why play games with the word? But given the adage that those who can control language can control policy, it surely can't hurt to revisit the definition of slavery. There are good reasons to suspect the motives of those who won't allow their basic terms to be defined or scrutinized.
Here is a definition, one that will make sense of the instincts telling us that slavery is indeed an abomination: slavery 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.
In this case slavery is at odds with libertarian social ethics, in which all human beings have a natural right to ownership of Person and Labor. According to libertarian social ethics, contracts should be voluntary and not coerced. This is sufficient for us to oppose slavery with all our might. However, notice that this clear definition of slavery is a double-edged sword. There is no reference to race in the above definition. That whites enslaved blacks early in our history is an historical accident; there is nothing inherently racial about slavery. Many peoples have been enslaved in the past, including whites. The South, too, has no intrinsic connection with slavery, given how we already noted that it was practiced in the North as well. No slaves were brought into the Confederacy during its brief, five-year existence, and it is very likely that the practice would have died out in a generation or two had the Confederacy won the war.
Finally, it is clear that when most people talk about slavery, they are referring to chattel slavery, the overt practice of buying, selling and owning people like farm animals or beasts of burden. Are there other forms of slavery besides chattel slavery?
Before answering, let's review our definition above and contrast slavery with sovereignty, in the sense of sovereignty over one's life. Slavery, we said, is nonownership of Person and Labor. In that case, sovereignty is ownership of Person and Labor. The basic contrast, then, is between slavery and sovereignty, and the issue is ownership. And there are two basic things one can own: one's Person (one's life), and one's Labor (the fruits of one's labors, including personal wealth resulting from productive labors).
Let us quantify the situation. A plantation slave owned neither himself nor the fruits of his labors. That is, he owned 0% of Person and 0% of Labor. In an ideal libertarian order, ownership of Person and Labor would be just the opposite: 100% of both. In this case, we have a method allowing us to describe other forms of slavery by ascribing different percentages of ownership to Person and Labor. For example, we might say that a prison inmate owns 5% of Person and 50% of Labor. Inmates are highly confined in person yet they are allowed to own wealth both inside the prison and outside. Some, moreover, are allowed to work at jobs for which they are paid. When slavery was abolished, ownership of Person and Labor was transferred to the slave, and he became mostly free. So let us define the following categories in terms of individual percentage ownership:
Category Characteristics: Chattel Slavery 0% ownership of Person and Labor Partial Slavery some % ownership of Person and Labor Perfect Liberty 100% ownership of Person and Labor
With this in mind, here is our question for our readers: how much ownership do you have in your person and your labor? Are you really free? Or are you a partial slave? We are not, of course, talking about arrangements that cede a portion of ownership of Person and Labor to others through voluntary contract.
We submit that forcible taxation on your personal income makes you a partial slave? For if you are legally bound to hand a certain percentage of your income (the fruits of your labors) over to federal, state and local governments, then from the legal standpoint you only have "some % ownership" of your person and labor. The pivotal point is whether or not ownership is ceded through voluntary contract. Have you any recollection of any deals you signed with the IRS promising them payment of part of your income? If not, then if 30% of your income is paid in income taxes, then you have only 70% ownership of Labor. You are a slave from January through April – a very conservative estimate at best, today!
If one wants to stand on the U.S. Constitution as one's foundation, then the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can be used as an ironclad argument against a forcible direct tax on the labor of a human being. The 13th Amendment says: "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."
The 13th Amendment makes it very clear that we cannot legally or Constitutionally be forced into involuntary servitude.
As such, we maintain that a human being has an inalienable right to own 100 % of Person and 100% of Labor, including control over how the fruits of his actions are dispensed. A human being has an inalienable right to control the compensation for his labor while in the act of any service in the marketplace – e.g., digging ditches, flipping burgers, word-processing documents for a company, programming computers, preparing court cases, performing surgery, preaching sermons, or writing novels.
A forcible direct tax on the labor of a human being is in violation of this right as stated in the 13th Amendment. 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, and we were free for the other 30. If we could freely choose to work just the 30 hours and decline to work the 10 hours, then our wills would not be violated and the 13th Amendment would be honor