Libertarian View: Who Ever Heard of Voluntary Taxes

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It seems obvious that no one wants to pay taxes. Or does it? Libertarians are united in their opposition to the initiation of force to achieve social or political ends. We don’t like government, not because we oppose the idea of having one, but because of the intrinsically coercive measures all governments choose to use. Take taxes. Please! In my understanding of our system of government taxes can only be levied with the consent of the governed. Without the support of at least the majority of voters it doesn’t seem possible that we could have any taxes at all. So to some people taxes must be seen as a voluntary contribution to the good workings of government. Where are these folks?

Let’s then look at the question of the “good workings” of government. What things done by the government would you be ready and willing to pay for if there were no threats of consequence for non-contribution? Most people do seem to understand the need for things like police, fire, and roads. The needs for a neutral judiciary system and the capacity to enforce contracts and punish theft, force, and fraud are generally acknowledged as necessary. On the national level a military system is usually advisable. Some in my party may argue that even these core systems could evolve without government, but the need for them is still recognized. So if you are paying taxes to a government that only spends them on such universally agreed functions perhaps you are a voluntary supporter. The benefit of a tax system then would be to give you an idea how much money was needed from you and how and when to pay it. Simplicity in fundraising is the plus that taxes give government.


One of the negatives in a democracy is the tendency for interest groups to define additional spending priorities for government. Policies that involve taking money from one group of people and handing it over to another, based on no other rational than the greater political influence those on the receiving end have over those on the paying end are always being pushed. Of course virtually all governments prior to the eighteenth century were based on the goal of squeezing the masses to enrich the powerful. This is what governments do best.

In our democracy it has fallen to the Libertarian Party and its allies to be the sole voice for limited government. True there are many fans of limited government in the Republican Party, but let’s face reality here. Republican control in the US Congress and in many State Legislatures has not lead to any real change in the size or intrusiveness of government.

Even municipal governments such as our own City and County of Honolulu seem to have a tough time sticking to the essential city services that we pay our property taxes for. Early last year I attended a City Council Budget hearing where cuts were being proposed. I waited for over four hours as hundreds of city employees and others who had been solicited to appear by the Administration argued against any cuts in their pet programs. Finally, I got up there as the first to testify in favor of fiscal restraint and a limiting of city expenditures to the core function of government.

Since then I have heard dozens of elected officials use that phrase; “core functions.” Too bad none of them seem to know that it doesn’t and shouldn’t include the boondoggle they’re blabbering about when they say it.

I know many of you readers are not libertarians and don’t see all the good that I see in my party. Just remember I was the only one to testify in favor of those City spending cuts. I was the only one to testify against putting the van camera speed enforcement program on our roads prior to its actual implementation. Libertarians are too often the only voice raised for policies you well agree with. We are often the only ones asking government officials to look outside of the box at ideas that are not being pushed by either large party. Don’t you think our party could use some more support?

”’Tracy Ryan was the 2002 Libertarian candidate for governor and is chair of the Hawaii Libertarian Party. She can be reached via email at:”’