The Power to Tax Is the Power to Destroy

We watched in dismay as the unemployment numbers soared again last Friday — a massive loss of 651,000 jobs in February. Thank God it was a short month…

But let’s put this into perspective. In December, the non-farm payroll (NFP) figure was 577,000 jobs lost. In January, the NFP figure was a worsening 598,000 jobs lost. Then in February, 651,000 jobs lost. But that incredible decline is not the whole story.

The December numbers were revised to 684,000 — an additional 107,000 jobs lost. January’s number was also revised, up to 655,00 — an additional 57,000 jobs lost. What are the odds that the brutal February numbers are going to stand pat or get better? As I have said many times, some people have a vested interest in controlling (manipulating) these report numbers. A certain amount of fear is useful among the populace in the midst of a crisis.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis go to waste. This crisis [the economic turndown] provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that thought by saying “never waste a good crisis” in Brussels as she droned on about climate change.

Just before his election, Barack Obama proclaimed, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Sadly, the fundamental change has already begun.

A New York Times reporter asked the president if he was a socialist. Obama dismissed it as a joke, but just a few hours earlier, Hugo Chavez, socialist president of Venezuela, invited Obama to, “Come with us on the road to socialism. This is the only path. Imagine a socialist revolution in the United States.”

Disgusting. Unnerving. Scary.

While a certain amount of fear may be helpful, panic and pandemonium would be absolutely counterproductive. I think it is in the government’s best interest at this point not to release the full damage in the employment market. Frankly, I am taking bets that the next set of jobless numbers will include a revision for this month that will put the February numbers at 725,000 jobs lost. That would put the official unemployment rate at just over 9%.

Of course, as it stands, we need to understand that the unemployment rate in and of itself is an average. The average figure is mitigated by categories on the lower end of the spectrum. For February, the lower categories of unemployment were Managerial and Professional Positions at 4.5% and 3.5% respectively. Not too disturbing…

But when we look at the other pieces of the puzzle, we see double-digit unemployment among Hispanics (10.9%), and African Americans (13.4%).

By broad category, we see the following unemployment news:

  • Construction workers — 22.0%
  • Farm and Forestry — 22.0%
  • Production — 13.7%
  • Transportation — 12.5%

These sectors will only continue to worsen, and they may in fact be worse already.

“So why,” do you ask, “are you going to such lengths to describe the gloominess of the situation?”

Today, it serves as the springboard for the commentary, and the lesson of the week.

John Marshall, Supreme Court Justice from 1801-35, left us this memorable quote: “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” It is well worth memorizing. But we are watching it at work all around us. Here is what it has to do with you and me.

When governments levy taxes, and there is some need to do so, they act as a parasite. Their modus operandi is to take, but never to create. The State’s real role is to be a negative influence, not a positive one. They are to inhibit evil on a personal level by constricting crimes against citizens. They are to inhibit evil on a federal level by acting against powers that would attack us.

Beyond there, expansions become positivistic. They become world improvements. Better roads. Better schools. Better commerce. Better parks. Better art. Better money. Better housing. Better health. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel relates the efforts of the first State to improve its lot in life. “The people are one (of one mind—Ed.). And now nothing will be withheld from them which they have imagined to do.”

This is the State mantra: “Yes, we can!” And States imagine that they can do anything. All they need is a few more bucks and a few more taxpayers who think that what they want to do next is just the best idea since sliced bread. But what they (the taxpayers) forget is that the government is a net destroyer of wealth. In order to “create” anything, they must take wealth from whoever is currently holding it.

In our day we are seeing the net effects of taxing everything in sight…

When you tax a man’s income, his income goes down. The power to tax is the power to destroy.

When you tax a man’s income, you are taxing his employment. So unemployment rises and employment goes down. The power to tax is the power to destroy.

When you tax a man’s ability to work, he works less. True productivity goes down. The power to tax is the power to destroy.

When you tax a man’s work, you tax the chief source of his freedom. “Six days thou shalt labor…” The power to tax is the power to destroy.

You see, a government can tax all kinds of income for all kinds of reasons.

But not Liberty.

Freedom is beyond a government’s ability to control (although they will try!). Freedom comes from God. Our Creator endows men with certain unalienable rights. Among them is Liberty. When a government tries to tax Freedom, it moves to different shores. It packs up all its inestimable benefits and heads to lands where it will be treated better. Where it will get a better reception. Where people who have been enslaved too long hunger and yearn for its gifts. To citizens who are willing to lay down their lives to secure it and fight back the forces of bondage to keep it.

But we have forgotten such things. We are not the noble people we once were. Much of our citizenry is infected with indolence. Multitudes look to the State as the supplier of everything from soup to nuts, cradle to grave, and womb to tomb. You can see it in the faces of ordinary Joes when they light up at getting their “tax refund.” Forgetting the tremendous sum of money the state has already taken, they are just glad to “get something back.”

We have become a nation of slaves. Bound to the idea that the government will provide.

As we come up on the Easter season, it is customary in many homes to watch Cecil B DeMile’s, The Ten Commandments, his depiction of the freeing of God’s children from bondage and slavery. What he doesn’t show is how the people complained shortly after being freed that their lives were too hard. (Because living free isn’t easy.) They said to Moses that they would rather go back to Egypt. They’d rather be slaves.

Hunting for food. Finding water. All this was too much responsibility.

In Egypt, life was simple. Their taskmaster’s brought them food. Their slave-driver’s brought them water. Their lords told them how many bricks to make. (And they were happy to have 100% employment!)

But the rigors of living free were just too much for them.

So it has become in our own day. Men would rather live in servitude to an all-providing State, reveling in their own laziness, than to take up the mantle of responsibility and live free.

That is true of many. But it is not true of all.

It is not true of me. I hope it is not true of you. And I suspect it isn’t. Otherwise we would never have found each other here.

But for the long run, the excessive taxing of wealth and the attempted taxing of Liberty does not bode well for our Motherland. A man reaps what he sows. So does the country in which he lives.

Days to come will find wealth following in the wake of Liberty — shifting to other quarters. We will begin looking for other opportunities in places where freedom reigns supreme. But for now we will have to work with what we have. Money will continue to flow into and out of the major currencies for a while yet.

Bill Jenkins

March 20, 2009

The Daily Reckoning