Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken

The State as Country Club, Part I: Government Gifts and Citizenship

It is true that State apologists maintain that taxation is “really” voluntary; one simple but instructive refutation of this claim is to ponder what would happen if the government were to abolish taxation, and to confine itself to simple requests for voluntary contributions. Does anyone really believe that anything comparable to the current vast revenues of the State would continue to pour into its coffers? It is likely that even those theorists who claim that punishment never deters action would balk at such a claim.”
Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty

Hand in hand with arguing the police are ‘merely doing their job’ is the strange idea the ‘services’ we ‘receive’ somehow require the remittance of voluntary donations tax payments. When combined with Rothbard’s proposition above, the power of the police should be sufficient to reject this idea. Imagine a world where the government only asks for voluntary donations. If this were a reality, who would voluntarily donate money to have their behavior, commerce, and travel regulated by the police?

As we delve further into the idea of a country club state, it would be beneficial to discuss the two words I placed into scare quotes above. The services rendered by the government are interesting to try to pin down. Looking at the actions of a government through the lens that sees government as a benevolent business promotes the idea of the state exchanging our tax dollars for wonderful gifts bestowed  generously on the dependent populace. While those arguing in favor of the state tend to emphasize things that people supposedly want – solid public education, protection, healthcare – they ignore the things people tend not to want, such as regulation of their businesses and behaviors, the conscription of their children by the military, and the increasing invasions of their privacy (at the hands of the NSA) and security (at the hands of the militarized police).

The idea that we receive these services from the government is erroneous as well. In most states, schooling (or the regulation thereof), is compulsory. If you are free to educate your children at home, you are usually required to subject them to government testing, provide logs of study time, or submit lesson plans for approval. Though a few relatively freer states exist, they continue to extract tax monies from homeschooling parents, the childless, and those whose children are beyond the reach of the public education system. There are many other coerced services in this regard, such as the regulation of marriage (valid only if sanctioned by the state) and healthcare (millions of young people are required to buy insurance they do not want buy or pay a tax they do not want to pay). Using coercive services received by the public forced on the public as an argument against the proposition that taxation is violent theft is not exactly a winning strategy.

“We are born into a political status. We have no choice about the matter. We are … born under the dominion of politicians.… We can change our political status by emigrating from the subjection under which we are born to some other which we may think more desirable, but we cannot free ourselves from subjection to government altogether….Public opinion has progressed to the point where it recognizes that abandonment of the church is not in itself an evil however sinful it may be from the standpoint of the clergy. But it has not yet arrived at a point where it recognizes that the abandonment of the state is equally free from evil.… But while we may have to consent to a political status and to contribute to the support of the government, we do not need to over-estimate the extent to which politicians and the political state contribute to our comfort. For government is, at best, a necessary evil. It does not become less evil because it seems necessary.”
Ralph Borsodi ~ This Ugly Civilization

Arguing for the generous club perspective on government assumes membership. From whence comes this membership? Before providing the facile answer of ‘citizenship’, consider the oddity that is citizenship. Being born in a certain locale while a particular group is dominating the other inhabitants of that region does not constitute choosing citizenship. The individual being born does not have the capacity to reject or to choose citizenship. Rather, what happens at birth is the government claiming future taxpayers. Why does the government have a right to choose me at birth? For that matter, why does the argument start at a de facto social contract, rather than beginning from free individuals making whatever free associations they choose to make – without the meddling and interference of a government? It would make far more sense to allow adults to make decisions regarding their membership in this club rather than applying it to children at birth. When an ‘illegal’ immigrant crosses the Rio Grande, can she surrender her Mexican citizenship and receive the greater benefit of American citizenship? Of course not. There is paperwork, a line, and the need to control her ‘choice’.

The other explanation of consent to both the social contract and the state is voting. In this argument, it is theorized that ‘choosing’ representatives by voting in elections is our voluntary act of consent to be ruled by the state. We will discuss this, the final topic in this series, next week.

bastiat plunder


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