Tax Day: What Kind of “Civilization” Are We Paying For?

April 15 seems to be a holiday of sorts for progressives, who inevitably trot out Oliver Wendell Holmes’s quote about taxes being “the price we pay for civilization,” and reminding us of all the great stuff — roads, schools, etc. — that they pay for. But on closer examination, tax day really isn’t a very good choice for progressive holiday.

Let’s start with the idea of progressive taxation as a remedy for economic inequality and unjust distribution of wealth, taking Bill Gates as an illustration. Virtually the entire price of Microsoft software — probably 99 cents out of every dollar that goes into his pocket — amounts to robbery. The entire Gates fortune is stolen loot, monopoly rent extorted from the pockets of consumers by virtue of the state’s “intellectual property” [sic] laws. If not for copyright and patent monopolies on his operating system and other products, Gates might — just possibly — have become a millionaire from selling customization and tech support services for software that was itself free (that’s the business model of Linux distributions). Even if he accumulated $10 million, that comes to about 0.01% of his actual peak fortune of $100 billion. Considering that Gates’ entire treasury of stolen loot could never have been acquired without the help of federal law, it stands to reason that the only way for government taxation to achieve net justice would be to tax Gates’s income at 100%. Otherwise, the government’s just helping Gates rob you, then giving back a fraction of it so the injustice doesn’t become too destabilizing.

That same principle applies to all “progressive taxation” of the plutocracy’s wealth. The primary purpose of the state is to enforce artificial property rights and artificial scarcities that the economic ruling class can extract rents from. On an entirely secondary level, it gives back a tiny share of those extracted rents to the poorest of the poor, in order to prevent starvation and homelessness from reaching the kind of politically destabilizing levels that might lead to people pulling the whole edifice of exploitation down. It also provides some middle class entitlements like Social Security (although they’re funded almost entirely by non-progressive payroll deductions) in order to maintain sufficient public purchasing power to prevent the boom-bust cycle from getting too severe. But to repeat, all these forms of welfare for the underclass and entitlements from the middle class don’t even approach the levels of wealth the plutocracy has robbed the public of, with the help of government.

Even if government did tax the plutocracy at 100% and give it back to the public in the form of some kind of guaranteed income, it would be utterly stupid. It would just be taking with one hand and giving back with the other, eating up half the money in administrative costs. Far more sensible would be for the state to simply stop helping the rich rob us in the first place: Abolish patents and copyrights, absentee titles to unimproved land, entry barriers for small businesses, regulatory constraints on self-employment and home-based businesses that compete with brick-and-mortar establishments, and the like. But you know the state’s not going to do that, because enforcing an exploitative system of power is what it DOES.

What about all those highways and roads, schools, national “defense” and the like? Well, generally any time the government provides “public services” below cost, the main beneficiary is corporations whose business models depend most heavily on such subsidized inputs. The main beneficiaries of the Interstate Highway System (built under the supervision of DoD Secretary Charles “What’s good for GM is good for America” Wilson, former CEO of General Motors), for example, are the long-haul trucking industry, nationwide retail chains, food processing corporations, breweries, etc., that have driven local retailers, canneries and breweries out of business and turned America’s Main Streets into deserts.

The schools grade, sort and process human beings into “human resources” warped and deformed to suit the needs of corporate employers for obedient and uncritical bureaucratic cogs. Local freeway systems, promoted by the automobile-highway complex and real estate industry, serve mainly to turn the car into a necessity for poor people who once could have used feet, bicycles and streetcars to get to work and shopping.

As for “national defense,” its main purpose is to enforce corporate domination on the entire planet. Between the “defense” budget, the military aspects of NASA and Homeland Security, and debt on past wars, the military — basically rent-a-cops who terrorize the world into accepting corporate rule — accounts for over half the total US budget.

This is the kind of “civilization” you’re paying for.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory