By Marco den Ouden
[Editor's Note: This article won the grand prize in The Voluntaryist
essay contest on how best to explain that taxation is theft.]
One of the by-products of the American Civil War was the abolition of
slavery. Well, sort of!
The Civil War resulted in the elimination of formal slavery. However, it
did not get rid of essential slavery. What does this mean? Let's go back to
pre-Civil War America to find out.
The Southern U.S. states were not sophisticated slave states. Slaves were
held as chattel. The plantation owner literally "owned" his slaves. They
were his property. He kept them and cared for them just as he kept and
cared for cattle and other domestic livestock. He housed them, fed them and
clothed them, and, of course, he made them work for him. If they did not
suit him, he sold them.
But suppose slavery was not abolished in the 19th Century, but rather it evolved into a more sophisticated system. How might it have changed? First a slave owner might have thought, "Hey, what if I can get the benefit of slave labor without
the exorbitant cost of feeding, clothing and sheltering them?" Some slave
owner may have taken the first path to sophistication by paying his slaves
a nominal wage (less than it cost to keep them on the plantation) and told
them, "I'm going to start paying you for your work but you must go and find
your own food and shelter. You are free to go about your own business
except that you must come to the plantation to work every day. After all, I
still own you."
Other slave owners notice he's saving a bundle on costs and also adopt the
practice. Soon the entire society has adopted this new mode of slavery.
The slaves have so much free time on their hands that some start
moonlighting. While it's still nickel and dimes, the slave owners look the
other way. But after a while they notice something quite unexpected. The
slaves are not the stupid, backward people they thought they were. Some used their spare time to get educated and now earn as much, if not more, off the
plantation as on.
A very sophisticated slave owner puts two and two together. "My slaves can
generate more wealth on their own time than working for me," he reasons.
"Why don't I give them complete freedom to choose their own line of work
and develop wealth in their own way. Instead of having them work on the
plantation, which would under-utilize their skills, I'll let them do what
they are best suited for in the marketplace. I'll hire some poor white
trash and slaves who can't find other work for the fields. And as for my
slaves, they will give me 50% of all they earn. After all, I still own
If the slave owner is really sophisticated, he will notice that skills and
aptitudes vary greatly among his slaves. The unskilled ones will not be
able to survive on the small remuneration he pays for farm work. The
original concept was to save on the costs of feeding, clothing, and
sheltering his slaves by paying them and letting them fend for themselves.
He decides that he will not demand any tribute from slaves who can do
little besides farm work. He decides to graduate the tribute demanded
according to how much the slave earns. The more they earn, the greater the
percentage they pay to the slave owner. He carefully crafts the rates of
tribute so the slaves still have an incentive to better themselves and earn
more. He calls this sliding scale a "progressive" tribute system.
Soon other slave owners follow suit and the slave society reaches its
ultimate level of sophistication. The slaves are formally free to do what
they want to do. Formal slavery has been abolished. But essentially, they
are still slaves. They must pay a tribute based on their earnings to their
masters. The essence of slavery is working for the benefit of others rather than yourself, not by choice (as in supporting your family or giving to charity)
but by force. To paraphrase Frederick Douglas, who escaped from slavery in
1838, a slave is someone who "toils so that another may reap the fruit."
The American Civil War resulted in the end of formal slavery. But it did
not end essential slavery. In fact, over the years, essential slavery has
expanded to include not just former slaves, but everyone. And everyone is a
partial slave owner as well. We have, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a
system of slavery "of the people, by the people and for the people." The
instrument of its implementation is the income tax!
Until we abolish coercive taxation, the forced taking of the fruits of the
labor of those who have earned it for the benefit of those who have not,
we will not have abolished the essence of slavery. Until we see the rise of
another great emancipator who can educate the world to the evil of slavery
down to its essential core, we will not be a truly free people!
[This article originally appeared at About.com on April 13, 1998. It can also be found at Towards a Tax Free Canada.]