On the Other Hand...

Property Tax: Past-Due for Abolition

by Jim Davies

New Hampshire has many people opposed to the property tax system, but alas! most of them just want it replaced by some other form of theft, such as a tax on income or sales. They're a bit transparent, really; they are just saying, go ahead and levy a tax to give the goodies we want to us and to those who vote for us, but don't tax us, or them, for we don't like it - tax someone else instead. So although I join these folk in opposing a tax on property, I reject everything else they say from that point on.

So, the shriek will go up, What Then Will You Do? - meaning, if I abolished the prop-tax, with what would I replace it? The answer is, that I would replace it with nothing at all; it is his responsibility, not mine, if someone favors ANY tax, to prove to your satisfaction (since you, after all, will pay it) that no alternative exists but to finance his pet scheme by force.

My position is simple: if something cannot be financed by voluntary exchange, it should not be financed at all, for in a pure and literal sense, there is no demand for it; or if there were a true demand, then people would buy the services in question of their own volition. Either way, no force is needed.

That system of voluntary exchange is called the "market", and it's the only moral economic system yet invented, for it's the only one that doesn't force some of us to do things we don't wish to.

But, but... they will say, what about the schools?

Glad they asked; that's a fine example. If there is a true demand for a system of "education" that assigns every child to a "school" on the basis of where his parents live, that sits him still in fixed periods every day for two thirds of the year for 12 years to learn exactly what a hierarchy of experts decide he should be taught whether or not his parents agree and whether he has in it the slightest interest, that gradually washes his brain with the particular values that hierarchy holds dear, that bores him to tears if he is unusually bright but which leaves him behind if he is unresponsive, that "graduates" him whether or not he can read his diploma, then yes, certainly: people will buy it.

I happen to think that virtually nobody would be so foolish as to spend good money on such a travesty; not any price, and certainly not over $5,000 per student per year. But I could be wrong, and will not argue, as some might, with the sovereignty of the market; for it consists, after all, of real people spending their own money as they see fit.

I sometimes wonder why real people spend their own money on a whole heap of things that are not to my taste - but that's the wonderful, variated, quilt- pattern nature of the market; it's pluralistic. Everybody buys what they want, even when it may be foolish, fattening or immoral. Long may the market reign.

Having now proved that like all taxes the prop-tax is entirely needless, let me point out a few especially obnoxious attributes of this particular one.


First, strictly speaking the property tax does not exist; the term is an oxymoron. If we hold "property", we hold property, and the very definition of property ownership is that all others are excluded from its use without our express permission. It's my doll, my ball, therefore you can't play with it; it's my house, therefore you cannot enter it; my car, so you can't drive it.

But if you possess the right to seize ownership of my house or car unless I pay you an annual tribute, then I do not in fact "own" the property at all. You own it instead, and I am paying you rent; my "title" is just a legal fiction. That is precisely what a property tax does, and wherever a property tax exists, private property ownership does not; the two are mutually exclusive, and that's a fact. Therefore, "property tax" is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron.

I happen to think it's a terrible thing that people in New Hampshire can not own property, but that opinion we can debate; what we can not debate is the clear fact that nobody does. Except, perhaps, dolls and balls and other toys.


Second, the prop-tax is horribly intrusive, an attribute it shares with other taxes. In order to fix how much each of us shall pay in annual serf's tribute, the taxgatherer must come up with a formula, and the one chosen is to relate it to his estimate of what the property is worth, were it sold.

To make such an estimate, the taxgatherer has to poke his ugly nose in to the house from time to time. Yes, the prop-tax system requires that we allow some government snoop to enter our "own" property; another reason on its own why private property no longer exists. Or if the property has wheels, we must submit to the placing of an anti-fuzz sticker on the windshield before we can roll them without risk of molestation.

Perhaps they will fix a house value just by driving by, and then pass to us the onus and expense of proving their estimate is too high. Same difference. If we want to retain more of our own money than they demand, we have to surrender our privacy, we're forced to admit an unwanted visitor.

And of course, if we want to extend our "own" property, the prop-tax system requires that we actually have to get their permission, even though they are not contributing a penny to the cost; for otherwise, they might miss out on any increase in taxable value. Private plans become public knowledge.

Again like all other taxes, the prop-tax does have one thing to be said for it; as soon as We the People wake up to the fact that not one red cent of it is in the least degree necessary, we can vote it out of existence in one day flat. Soon, soon, may that long, intoxicated slumber come to an end.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 133

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