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Just when I was getting sleepily comfortable with my worldviews, Harvard’s Michael Sandel had to mess with my head.

I’ve been cool with taxes for quite some time now. I wasn’t always. As a teen and into my twenties, I saw no reason why my hard-earned money should fund other people’s issues. I vividly recall being thrown back when my boss at the time, whom I admired greatly, was completely at ease with taxes.

Over the years, I’ve become at ease with paying taxes too. Now, when I hear “tax cuts”, I warily wonder which services we are going to lose. And beyond paying for items I use myself – universities, health, safety via police – I also want to live in a society where the hungry are fed and the homeless are housed. That society just feels better to me.

Until I considered it from another point of view. This other point of view forces a clash between my deep-seated sense of independence (I’m nothing if not “my own person”) and my commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms versus my desire for a kind, compassionate society and .

The reasoning goes like this:

1. Taxation = the taking of our earnings.

2. Taking of earnings = forced labour

3. Forced labour = slavery

ERGO: Taxes are a form of slavery.

If I don’t have the sole right to the fruits of my labour, that’s like saying the state is a part owner of me.

Readers. Agree? Disagree? Is this way of posing the issue a red herring?

Paul – I bet you have something to say 🙂
And maybe you, Canajun Finance?

If you have time and inclination, here’s the lecture:

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. GregEh

    Strong agree. All the actions of the state depend on it’s monopoly on violent force. From this, all actions of the state are a result of violence and immoral.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    @GregEh wait a minute. waaaah? Isn’t the State simply a social contract we all agree to?


    Dec 14, 2010
  2. the Joshua

    I agree. I don’t/can’t work yet I still get taxed and don’t get the societal benefit of GST or HST *shudder* with out filing these tax forms that I can’t keep track of let alone gather together to hand in… I’ve tried to live off the grid for a number of years but the Government keeps telling me I owe them money. I didn’t use any services… why should I pay?


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    Joshua. You don’t use *any* services? ahem. You don’t walk across streets? Didn’t you go to school? and the fact that you live in relative safety- that’s paid for with taxes, non? just how off the grid ARE you? Having said that, If I’d picket against tax forms with you if you ever wanted 😉


    Dec 14, 2010
  3. Premise one may be faulty. There is certainly some ‘taking’ going on. But that ‘taking’ is a result of the collective will of society to preserve and enhance the quality of life through a planned and cohesive effort. That’s why it’s called tax ‘collection’. It’s as voluntary as the tithe in church. In theory, if you don’t like it, you can move to another jurisdiction (if you can find one) where there is no taxation. “Sole rights to the fruits of my labour”; sure, but by living and participating in society one implicitly relenquishes a smidgeon of those rights in defense of the whole. There is also a suggestion that there is some ethereal force or entity doing the ‘taking’. If you accept that government and law are an extension of community – is it possible to ‘take’ from yourself? Are you then forcing yourself to labour for yourself? Have you essentially enslaved yourself? I suppose some would argue that is exactly what we have done.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    @Bradley Thank you for dropping by and your thoughtful response. I think the piece missing was, as you said, the notion (which @GregEh would disagree with) that we have all agreed *together* that this is how we want to embark on living together.


    Dec 14, 2010
  4. FYI, GregEh is a declared anarchist, and his comment above is the (non-)party line.

    Second FYI, sorry, but I couldn’t be bothered to watch the 55 minute lecture. But a little googling tells me that the guy has written and talked a lot about libertarianism. So I assume that’s the viewpoint he’s talking about/from in the lecture. (Side note: Good teachers of political history and philosophy can explain any political philosophy convincingly and faithfully… including the ones they strongly disagree with)

    Taxation is the price society demands of us for its roads, schools, government and other workings. It’s rent. And it’s not optional if you want to live inside the society. Anybody who doesn’t want to pay the rent is welcome to leave (except if they’re in prison for past transgressions against the society, I guess).

    Most of us are free to “shop for societies”. For example I’ve lived in four countries (in three of them long enough that I’ve paid taxes there). I pay my taxes happily, because I like to live in well-functioning societies.

    I don’t know if there are any truly anarchist societies in the world for any anarchists or 100% libertarians who might be shopping for a new society that fits their values. Somalia is probably the closest right now.
    Jan Karlsbjerg´s last [type] ..Actual product may not be exactly as shown


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    @Jan Well, I think I’ll take a pass on Somalia! 😉 and yes, the context was a discussion of utilitarianism / libertarianism. Like you, I have held the view that taxes are my rent. But I guess what I’m wondering about now is, are they also for something “more” than rent (ie. paying for services I use, or might use). Examples include detox centres, or funding for the arts, or for redressing historical wrongs (eg. residential school survivors). Those to me are more than the basic services for which I look at taxes as an “exchange”. Previously, I would also have been happy to pay for the arts (cbc, ftw!) under a notion of “together, we’re building a particular flavour of society” but I’m a little less convinced now. Could I not do it instead via voluntary donations instead of “forced labour”?
    ps: So @GregEh is an anarchist, eh? Good on ya, Greg — keeps us all honest.


    Dec 14, 2010
  5. So there are some things you’re OK with paying for and others you think should be voluntary? Sure. North America is already doing this a lot. Private and religious organizations handle many necessary tasks in our society today. (Apparently) the governments are not geared toward making sure that the homeless get warm clothes, that poor families can afford a christmas dinner, etc. so there are charities for that. And a lot of art funding comes through similar channels. And charitable donations are tax deductible, too, so the taxman is even contributing to your voluntary contributions to the charities that you favor.

    I can respect people (almost) regardless of their political philosophy provided they live it out and aren’t hypocritical about it. What I can’t stand are the people who espouse libertarian political views when talking about how much tax they want to pay, and then espouse socialist or communist views when talking about the services they want from society. A old boss of mine in Denmark did just that: He wanted both to have almost no taxes AND to have free daycare and schools for his kids. I’ve nothing but contempt for that kind of thinking.

    In contrast, I used to know an old dude (still back in Denmark) who had been a part of the same Tae Kwon Do club that I was a member of. When I met him on the street one day I asked him why he stopped, because I had seen with my own eyes the physical benefits he had gotten from the training. Oh, it was too expensive, he said. But couldn’t he get some sort of subsidy from the city or something seeing as he was an old age pensioner, I asked? Maybe, but he didn’t want to do that. I asked him if he voted for “Fremskridtspartiet”, that time’s dominant right-wing, no-damn-taxes (and no-damn-foreigners) political party, and sure enough he did. I hate(d) that party’s politics, but I respected the old dude for living the values he believed in.

    So by all means start campaigning for lower government grants to the arts and instead pay more at the door when you go to the opera, theater, etc. 🙂
    Jan Karlsbjerg´s last [type] ..Movie- Tron 1982


    Dec 16, 2010
  6. Well, it’s a tough one. Which is worse:

    A. To be bought and sold like chattel. To have no right to choose where I live, in which country I live, what work I do, who I sleep with, when I sleep. To have no right of personal security. To be beaten or killed at the whim of the individual who holds my life as property.

    B. To pay a percentage of my income to fund those things which the market economy cannot efficiently provide.

    So the question is does A=B? It’s a sad commentary that this can even be posed seriously.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    Well, OK, point taken, *kinda*. I think the argument made by libertarians ( @Jan called it) is that the percentage of / extent to which our labour-earnings which are involuntarily taken is the percentage / extent to which we are enslaved. I don’t think the argument strictly goes: since we are taxed, we are slaves entirely.


    Dec 19, 2010
  7. I stand by my point. The comparison is deliberately inflammatory and specifically designed to hamper rational discussion of public policy. By equating the two concepts taxes of any kind are presented as a fundamental evil to be avoided at all costs. The result is not difficult to see as the federal and state governments in the US slide towards insolvency – a result seen as desirable by neocons going back to Ronald Reagan and his team.


    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    It reminds me a bit of Rob Ford (TO mayor) and the “gravy train”. It’s seductive and easy to condemn the gravy train without parsing it out. Similarly (I see more clearly now why you find this so objectionable), a quick reference to slavery bypasses a whole series of important thoughts and judgments.


    Dec 20, 2010

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