Taxes: A Flight of Fancy by George Bagby

Taxes are an infamously good way to discourage whatever they tax. For this reason and others, the income tax and the property tax are especially bad ideas, for they discourage both work and ownership, along with mandating that all forms of work and property produce a minimal amount of cash. Feudal society, which I will accept as a pinnacle of health for the West, did not and could not require such a thing of labor or ownership, and even in early America, cash circulation was very limited. American farmers – the majority of the population until WW2 – could live their entire lives without ever handling a dollar. Let us make two assumptions for the fun of it: firstly, that obligations like government debt and Social Security ought to be funded, and thus some sort of tax is necessary, and secondly, that some taxes could have attractive consequences.

Firstly, imagine the consequences of a high excise tax on everything one commonly finds in a city ditch: paper soda cups, beer bottles, and plastics meant to be thrown away. A simple excise tax here would not forbid the sale of such things, but it would ensure that they would be sold, and not given away. Restaurants and merchants would quickly find it more economical to use dishes meant to be cleaned and reused, and containers and bags meant for permanent use. High excise taxes on plastics that are slow to degrade would also be useful for obvious reasons. 

One cannot help but smile at the thought of the fast food empires replacing their stacks of paper and wax disposables with reusable crockery and dish pits, but why stop there? Fast food deserves more taxes to discourage it. A new Constitutional amendment to allow and encourage the taxation on the long-distance transport of foodstuffs between states would transform the American diet for the better in many ways. Interstate tariffs on tomatoes, beef, potatoes, chicken, and fish would mean the end of the age of the $1.99 factory-produced hamburger and any number of reefer semi-truck routes, but good riddance! One can easily imagine another interstate tax to favor small businesses over the Amazon oligarchs. The American meal would certainly be produced closer to home, would be a fresher, better quality meal in all respects, and this would increase the diversity of local economies – and property ownership – in all states. 

A high revenue tariff on all imported goods would, of course, be the end of the retail strips that extend out of the sides of our cities like the cancer-ridden fingers of a witch. God only knows how many years it will take to demolish the Wal-Marts and plow the parking lots back into wholesome pastures and cabbage patches, but better late than never. This would amount to high taxes on all sales and commerce – at least until the return of domestic manufacturing – but all incomes would increase dramatically with the demise of the income tax. A flat revenue tariff would also avoid some of the corporate corruption and hurt Chinese feelings that come with targeted protective tariffs. The revenue tariff would focus on state debt payments, and the new income with an increase in the prices of most goods would encourage Americans to do three highly useful things: buy American, invest locally, and pay down debt. A cut or abolition of property taxes would encourage investment in small properties across the board just as the corporate retail oligarchy declines and collapses. 

America could also take a page of Caesar Augustus and tax all single men for their irresponsible avoidance of marriage. This would supplement the useful increase of tax credits per child, which is an appropriate boon for the proletarian masses, who own no productive property, and whose chief value to the state is their ability to reproduce. The reasoning for the bachelor tax is simple. So long as the state will provide a retirement pension, the state has a serious interest in each citizen reproducing themselves in order to fund the pension program. A simple, punitive fee on divorce would also encourage the endurance of marriage. 

One last cheerful thought is a hefty tax on all petroleum. Plastics and synthetic fabrics do not deserve to survive, but the best result would be the effect of keeping everyone closer to home and clothed in Southern cotton or New England wool. The vulgar travel for the sake of selfies would immediately cease. Travel for the sake of merchant colonization of markets would largely cease, and the interstate tariffs would increase the ability of small businesses to compete with out-of-state giants without any attempt to reform corporate charters. The streetcars and revived rail that will begin to chug and clang in the restored neighborhoods will offer the clear, beautiful, and living alternative to the vast ugliness of the dying retail sprawl. Americans will walk, ride, and speak with their neighbors. An alternative to the gas tax would be the simple cut in the massive government subsidy of the automobile: the state funding of roads. Being that the state cannot afford basic maintenance on roads anyway, we can all look forward to the day when every major river will once again prove a significant barrier for the transport of goods and people. 

Of course, the wise course is actually to plan for the collapse of the DC leviathan. The special interests and consumers these proposals will outrage will not change course, in all likelihood, and increased deficits and bankruptcy loom. Never fear. The states are older than the Union, and the sensible states may survive it. I just don’t look forward to playing hot potato with the nuclear aircraft carriers when that day arrives. Perhaps Russia will take a few off of our hands? 


The Fleming Foundation

5 Responses

  1. Allen Wilson says:

    Definitely, get rid of property taxes, and watch the public school brainwashing system collapse.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    If one accepts the principle–as I have urged for years–that property, wealth, labor should not be taxed because they are fundamental to human survival and happiness–and one has to add food and other necessities, that leaves tariffs on foreign goods and sumptuary taxes on products declared contrary to the interests of a society. If one is going to tax superfluity and evil, then one might arbitrarily exempt, say, a liter of wine per person per diem, so much coffee, so much tobacco. Of course, one would heavily tax films, television, pop culture. and lay a heavy burden on people who attended pop music concerts or sent their children to public schools. Probably we’d have to have a 100% tax on automobiles and computers–after all, they use an inordinate amount of power.

  3. Raymond Olson says:

    In general, my reaction to such proposals of tax “reform” is the last sentence of Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

    Public schools, rather than being bled to death by Republican legislatures, should be returned to the communities they are supposed to serve. All “aid” of them and their curricula by federal and state agencies should be either ended or relieved entirely of strings, red tape, and regulation.

    When Reagan “forgot” his promise to close the federal department of education should have been the moment when anyone with an ounce of patriotic feeling should have rejected him and his gang.

  4. Kellen Buckles says:

    We in Oklahoma have just survived two weeks with our public schools shutdown — teacher strike “for the good of the children”. There’s a certain unintended truth in that! Unfortunately they won’t let the kids miss their studies; the school year has just been extended two weeks. Too bad, parents, if you had plans for those two weeks, such as non-refundable tickets.

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Raymond, in fairness to Bagby, I’d point out that he says himself this is a flight of fancy. Another way to look at it is as a thought experiment in which one can plug in and test different variables. It goes without saying that reform is impossible. If we had the will and understanding to reform our taxation, we’d have done something long ago.