Simple Liberty  

 

     
   
     

The General Property Tax

Written by Darrell Anderson.

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Introduction

The general property tax does not receive the same attention as the income tax. Yet, there are fundamental and inherent flaws associated with this tax, not only philosophically but administratively. Tinkering with this tax is impossible. Indeed, a century ago E. R. A. Seligman said this about the general property tax:[1]

Practically, the general property tax as actually administered is beyond all doubt one of the worst taxes known in the civilized world…It puts a premium on dishonesty and debauches the public conscience…the general property tax is so flagrantly inequitable that its retention can be explained only through ignorance or inertia.

How did this malevolent tax come into existence? The illusion of a power to tax allegedly is derived from “the people.” Through the illusions of constitutionalism and the flawed concept of “social contracts,” legislators are “empowered” to pass laws to tax. All taxes are a matter of legislative fiat. Fiat means by decree. Decrees often are made under the color of law.

Color of law: acting under the pretense that a statute or custom, whether or not necessary, provides justification to bypass, evade, or ignore known or accepted boundaries.

Through these flawed doctrines, legislators therefore tax whatever they want — within the loose and purposely ambiguous “boundaries” outlined within constitutions. Constitutional articles or amendments might be “needed” to “legally” open the door, but what gets taxed, by how much, and in what manner is basically a legislative exercise.

For centuries property of all kind has been the subject of taxation. In early Britain and Europe, land taxes were in the nature of a levy on the income that land produced, either gross or net. In the early American colonies, taxation of all sorts were minimal and what taxes existed usually were in the nature of tithes. Because of the scarcity of a circulating currency and abundance of land, many public officials were paid in lots or acreage of land,[2] and headrights often were provided to the early settlers to encourage settlement. Essentially, headrights assigned or awarded a fixed ratio of acres of land to the head of a family or trading company. Whether that land was granted or purchased, title was always in fee simple.

The word allodial means beholden to no one. The concept of allodial title was unknown to ancient hunter-gatherers, herders, and agrarian societies where people lived at subsistence levels. Only in societies where surpluses were created and traded and where markets of exchange existed did the concept arise.[3] Under such a social system, the only possible allodial titles were those allegedly possessed by the king or ruling priests. All subsequent land titles were only in fee simple — socage. That is, such titles were a political privilege and not a right. Titles in fee simple still acknowledged the “sovereign” as the ultimate titleholder.[4]

Fee simple is easily remembered in concept by remembering that the word fee originally was a contractual derivation from the words feud or fief.[5] Fief (or fiefdom) is another word for estate or tenure, and a privileged titleholder in that system was called the tenant in chief.[6] Understanding this origin shows the relationship to the “sovereign.” The modern use of the word fee is derived from the same etymology.[7] A more light-hearted twist on words to remember the nature of fee simple is an individual pays a fee to receive a simple title, not allodial.

Inherent in the idea of fee simple is the land is not truly owned by the privileged titleholder, but ultimately is owned by the issuer of the title — the “sovereign.” In other words, the concept of fee simple implies only the highest private title with respect to everybody except the “sovereign,” but the land is still beholden to the “sovereign.” All fee simple titles are only for usage and occupancy. Thus, from the “sovereign’s” perspective, fee simple titles represented boundaries against all “citizens” of the realm, but not against the “sovereign.” Such titles conveyed no rights of sovereignty. Land titles were held only at the “sovereign’s” pleasure and could be seized at any time and for any reason.

Under this illusion of “sovereignty,” between the “sovereigns” of different political societies land titles could be obtained only through one of three means:

  1. Conquest (adversarial raw acquisition).
  2. Cession (abandonment).
  3. Treaty (negotiation and exchange).

Within each separate political society individual land titles could be obtained only at the pleasure of the “sovereign.” Through this political system arose the feudal system of land ownership.[8] This type of thinking provided the foundation for the modern property title system.

In America, because such large tracts of land were provided to some people, remaining and subsequent settlers often were forced to rent that land. Quitrents were in use, and those payments arguably could be considered a tax.[9] The practice of collecting quitrents was a legal theory originating in the European feudal era, whereby the tenant who paid such rent was quieted or quit from all other services to the landlord. In colonial America the theory worked poorly. Often the tenant simply did not pay the fee — land was far too abundant (no scarcity) and enforcing the concept was difficult across 3,000 miles of ocean.

Because land was abundant, most settlers preferred to own land in fee simple rather than pay rents of any kind, or they simply evaded the quitrent payments. Furthermore, although land titles in America originated in Europe, those titles were not previously provided under the European feudal system. Additionally, American settlers resisted the quitrent idea as a tax on the products of their labor, and did not perceive such payments as a method for maintaining peace among feudal settlements.[10]

Land did not escape taxation in the colonial era and various methods were used to determine the tax. Many land taxes were in the nature of production from the land, but some land taxes were by the number of acres, others by assessed arbitrary value.[11]

Unlike other areas of the world, in the early American colonies land ownership became the fundamental means of establishing economic freedom and liberty. This should come as no surprise as natural resources are derived primarily from land. Anything that contradicted the effort to economic liberty was sternly resisted. Thus, in America, land speculation and squatting became a common activity.[12] Regardless of this attitude, because land titles were in fee simple, land titles were perceived as being subject to the so-called power of eminent domain.[13] Eminent domain should be thought of as a modified form of feudalism. The primary difference is the individual commonly known as the landlord is eliminated. That the concept of eminent domain exists should be a clue about who truly claims to hold title to land.

Despite this background and certain similarities, the general property tax finds its first modern roots in the Jacksonian era. Jackson did not create the modern property tax, his philosophy and policies only provided an environment for the later seeds. Before Jackson’s election, popular thinking had shifted slowly toward a national plutocratic focus, especially during John Quincy Adams presidency. As Jacksonian policies shifted the political emphasis from the central federal political system back to state and local systems, there was a push for internal improvements, such as canals, railroads, and turnpikes — and the need to finance those projects. With this shift came a rise in local borrowing of revenues to finance the necessary capital, creating numerous headaches, including disastrous defaults. Taxpayers were in no mood to foot the bills as many people believed that profits from the internal improvements were supposed to cover the original investments. Despite the quest for a tax-free method of providing local revenues, politicians began looking for internal methods to fund projects.[14]

The Jacksonian emphasis to provide equality of process (“equal rights for all, special privileges for none”) caused a subsequent emphasis on providing equality, uniformity, and proportionality in tax collection methods.[15] Thereafter, uniformity clauses began appearing in constitutions. At that time property taxes were perceived as a “simpler” and “fairer” means because revenues were raised locally, emphasizing local control over centralized control.[16] Thus, the movement to see all property as equal, providing no or few distinctions. Despite the seeming similarities to feudalism and quitrents, and the history of American colonization, the general property tax as practiced today arguably is an American invention.

Today, general property taxes are “authorized” by state legislators, through constitutional and statutory “authority” — but levied and collected locally by county, township, or municipal bureaucrats. Interestingly, despite the age-long struggle to provide “uniform” taxation, many constitutions are written to exempt all or part of the general property tax from that requirement.[17] The reason is that nobody has yet discovered a method to tax land and attachments uniformly — and never will. Thus, the tax violates the concepts of equality/uniformity and apportionment.

Property taxes are used to fund local expenditures. In 1991 the general property tax provided three-fourths of the revenues for local political systems and an amazing 97.5% of the funds needed to support local public schools.[18] In essence then, any discussion about property taxes is limited to local actors. The local players simply use the statutes provided them by the state legislators. The legislators enacted statutes based upon the alleged powers and authority provided to them through the illusion of “the people.” Except for a few minor administrative purposes, the state bureaucrats generally do not enforce the property tax laws, local bureaucrats do. For example, notice that property tax default deeds are still called “sheriff’s deeds.” The state legislators merely sanction the process.

Furthermore, the “legal” geographical boundaries of the property being taxed falls within the so-called political boundaries of the state. By presumption, politicians and bureaucrats therefore “claim” jurisdiction over such property, and in actuality, claims ultimate ownership.

Presumption: An attitude or belief based upon possibility or probability instead of fact — a process of accepting something without evidence or basis in fact.

Is there currently a way to stop or reduce property taxes? Statutorily, yes. A person can start a tree farm, a ministry, a nonprofit organization, go to war and return home a disabled veteran, etc. There are numerous statutory exemptions. That such exemptions exist is another clue the tax is not uniform, fair, or equal.

Is there a way to stop such taxes constitutionally? Unlikely unless the state constitution prohibits such taxation. Therefore, the only true remedy is ideological and philosophical, and subsequently, social reform.

In some states the local counties and municipalities do not have to levy a property tax just because statutes exist allowing for such a tax. In such areas local political systems can choose to fund local operations using other revenue collection methods. However, the property tax is easy to levy — nobody can hide land or a house. Enforcement is ridiculously easy too. A few strokes of the pen and the sheriff literally throws people out of their homes. Or worse, as now practiced in some states, local bureaucrats merely wash their hands and sell the alleged tax debt to “investors,” leaving the dispute of equitable interest in the title to be battled between the title holder and “investor.” Pontius Pilate would be proud.

Direct Tax or Direct Legal Plunder?

To those people who understand legal plunder schemes, many oppose the general property tax because the right to property is infringed. In many ways, the general property tax itself is legal plunder.

What is legal plunder? Plunder is the forceful taking of property. Plunder is known more commonly as theft and pillage. Illegal plunder of property never has been condoned within any civilized culture. The word within is important. Plunder often has been recognized and condoned outside of each society, such as in wars. Legal plunder is the forced taking of property under color of law. Frédéric Bastiat best described the process:[19]

When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it — without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fraud — to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed.

Legal plunder, unlike illegal plunder, has been accepted, condoned, and promoted for ages. Legal plunder is an effort to create virtual perpetual motion through the captured labor of other people. Many individuals do not understand or even recognize legal plunder. Bastiat explained how to recognize legal plunder:[20]

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

Bond issues, millages, school support, whatever — the general property tax is used to finance projects and services that not all people use or want. The revenues are coercively collected from one class of people and transferred to another class. Long lost is the principle that taxes are used to protect rights and property, or fund only essential and common services. Through property taxes, wealth is forcibly redistributed throughout the community. All property owners are forced to pay their “fair share” regardless of whether one wants or needs the services provided.

Through legal plunder schemes, local property taxes today are being used for purposes exceeding the boundaries of protection of rights and property. Projects funded through property taxes include schools and colleges, direct welfare, redevelopment and economic projects, business and corporate subsidies, public “safety,” waste removal, jobs, and social service programs. Included in many communities are sports arenas, casinos, theaters, golf courses and numerous other recreational ventures.

Because of the legal fiction known as incorporation, property taxes today allow local political systems to act as businesses, competing with private ventures. Through those legal fictions local politicians and bureaucrats are now involved in real estate development and property rental, investments, insurance and banking, airports, and hotels.

Legal fictions are contrived presumptions in order to operate under the color of law. Legal fictions exist for two primary reasons:[21]

  1. To provide an illusion of legal jurisdiction.
  2. To mask the fact that a rule or principle of law has changed.

Although embraced within the jargon of the legal community, the idea of a “legal fiction” is an oxymoron. A fiction is something that does not exist. Something either exists or does not.

Through the concept of legal fictions, several rules or principles of law are being masked. One principle is there is no true complainant or defendant involved in any legal action. Another masked principle is that often no actual trespass occurs. There is only the illusion that trespass might occur if certain actions are not coercively regulated and there are only humans acting behind a veil of political privilege. Another masked principle is pretending that this process does not create artificially created scarcities. The primary purpose of political “licensing,” including the concept of fee simple titles, is to promote artificial scarcity and to protect political privileges. Political “licensing” denies the concept of self, is a form of conscription, denies explicit consent, and therefore, denies free association and voluntary exchange.

Political systems exist primarily for one reason — to control and manipulate the process of creating artificial scarcity. A political system is merely the physical manifestation of the philosophy of statism — the political means of sustaining energy flows. Political systems do not always encourage class warfare, or protect the ruling or bourgeoisie classes. They always protect the self-interests of those who control the process.

No matter how an individual inspects the modern uses of property taxes, such uses are pure legal plunder. Coerced wealth redistribution implemented under the guise of democracy and mob rule. These revenues do much more than provide protection of people and property, or fund essential and common services.

To further mask these presumptions and legal fictions, another legal fiction is used. The general property tax is an in rem tax.[22]

In rem: A technical term used to designate proceedings or actions instituted against the thing, in contradistinction to personal actions, which are said to be in personam.

Labeling a tax as in rem is pure legal chicanery and sleight of hand. Such phraseology is deceptive because only people can pay taxes. Yet, because of this in rem nature, statutorily the property serves as immediate security for the alleged tax debt. This is another clue that title is not allodial in nature. That security “pledge” is created by pure legislative fiat. The tax is levied whether the land is improved or unimproved.[23] The tax is collected without regard of who the title holder is, and no thought is provided to whether the title holder can pay.[24] Lost is any concept of apportionment; people on fixed or low incomes, typically the retired, elderly, and unemployed, are especially pinched by this approach.

The mere physical existence of the land and the legal fiction nature of an in rem tax allows the tax to be levied without knowing the title holder’s name and by legislative fiat the tax becomes an automatic lien on the property.[25] If an individual title holder fails or refuses to pay the tax, the title holder’s property is then seized — under color of law — either directly by local bureaucrats or indirectly by “tax default investors.” Fail to pay the tax and an individual experiences the bluntness of legal plunder under the so-called “police powers” doctrine. Perhaps blackmail or extortion would be better words. Indeed, an individual had better believe that such an action is an exercise of police powers because politicians and bureaucrats sees the nonpayment of the tax as a threat to their order, safety, security, health, morals, and general welfare. Without those revenues, the legal plunder scheme crumbles — and hard.

People either possess the right to property or they don’t. Which answer prevails? Must people sacrifice one right in order to enjoy the fruits of other rights? Although the option of sacrificing one right to enjoy another is available to all people, this option always should be one of choice and not of force. The Declaration of Independence states that people have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Court judges have interpreted those words to include ownership of property.[26]

If therefore property is taxed and then if unpaid the property is forcibly taken, did the owner ever have that right to own property? Yes, as that right to own property is inalienable, that is, inseparable. A more appropriate question then is are those rights being honored and respected? Or have those rights been waived? Or worse, have those rights been usurped and are merely ignored?

Ad Valorem Taxation of Property?

The general property tax is based upon a subjective ad valorem calculation system. Black’s Law dictionary, Sixth edition, defines the ad valorem tax:

Ad valorem tax: According to value. A tax imposed on the value of property. The more common ad valorem tax is that imposed by states, counties, and cities on real estate. Ad valorem taxes can, however, be imposed upon personal property; for example, a motor vehicle tax may be imposed upon the value of an automobile and is therefore deductible as a tax. A tax levied on property or an article of commerce in proportion to its value, as determined by assessment or appraisal.

The United States Supreme Court judges also have described the ad valorem property tax:[27]

. . . This taxation plan involves the identification and valuation of the variable individual holdings to be taxed, commonly called the assessment, the application of a uniform rate calculated on the need for public revenues, and the collection, in default of payment, by distraint and sale of the property assessed and taxed. This form of taxation is not regarded primarily as a form of personal taxation but rather as a tax against the property as a thing. Its procedures are more nearly analogous to procedures in rem than to those in personam. While personal liability for the tax may be and sometimes is imposed, the power to tax is predicated upon jurisdiction of the property, not upon jurisdiction of the person of the owner, which often is lacking without impairment of the power to tax. In both theory and practice the property is the subject of the tax and stands as security for its payment.

Ample descriptions and definitions, but upon what foundations are those explanations based? The primary foundation is the presumption that politicians and bureaucrats possess jurisdiction over the land title and are, ultimately, the supreme title holder.

The Supreme Court judges acknowledge local bureaucrats’ “power” to levy “nondiscriminatory” ad valorem taxes, and have decided that procedurally, as long as proper notice is served and opportunity is provided for the taxpayer to be heard, collecting such taxes do not violate due process of law.[28] In other words, do not try to involve the court judges in any fight you might have against property taxes. This game is strictly administrative. Indeed, in some states, the constitution is written to specifically bar people from pursuing judicial relief except in cases of fraud, “errors of law,” or the adoption of “wrong” principles.[29] This game is meant to be played for keeps, with the politicians and bureaucrats always being declared winner.

Yet, who decides this value?

People determine value through subjective desires and the ability to acquire. Human desire is both interpretive and virtually unlimited and is part of the unconditional realm of existence, but the ability to acquire is limited and part of the conditional realm. Both desire and value are subjective interpretive processes.

The concept of value does not necessarily imply something is beneficial, but only the opinion that something is beneficial. Value is a measure of intensity and how much energy one exerts.[30] When individuals apply perceived value to goods or services they then seek ways to obtain those goods and services. Conversely, if nobody wants the thing, the thing no longer has value.

Some objects also possess negative value. Goods that individuals no longer want might cost individuals to dispose of those items.[31] Daily household trash or a ruined loaf of bread are examples.

Value is a function of many elements. Being subjective, only an individual can define value.[32] Thus, there is no such thing as intrinsic value. Intrinsic means belonging to the real nature of a thing, not being dependent upon external circumstances.[33] Only each individual can decide whether a good or service has value. In the Garden of Eden, the desire for apples today might be a desire for oranges tomorrow. Because all human energy is expended toward satisfying needs and wants, each individual determines how much labor to provide to sustain energy flows. If an individual determines that the amount of labor and time exceeds perceived value, then an individual likely will not pursue obtaining that thing.[34] Just as beauty is subjectively in the eye of the beholder, so too is value in the eye of the beholder. Distinguishing between needs and wants is an individual exercise.[35]

Most people do not consider their home and property for sale and assigning a perceived value is nothing more than a fiat bookkeeping entry, so how can there be any attached value? Perceived value according to whom? Value is not guaranteed, but rather the right to use one’s property peacefully is what is protected. In the environment of exchange, the value of property is a function of what other people will pay. Value is dictated by supply and demand, not a political process. In such an environment value is meaningless without a buyer and seller. By arbitrarily assigning perceived exchange value, the entire ad valorem method is inherently flawed by definition, even if honest people attempt to manage the process.

Most property tax schemes, despite being labeled an ad valorem system, subtly incorporates a doctrine known as acquisition value. This method allows assessors to manipulate the tax basis of property at the time of sale or construction. Partially because of an unsound currency system, this adjustment process causes an unnatural continual rise in costs, which in the case of constructing and selling homes, greatly inflates the perceived value.

At the time of sale or construction of a structure, the initial ad valorem basis is adjusted to the perceived inflation-adjusted cost, that is, the perceived market value. Older homes never experience this direct sky-rocketing effect.

However, this assessment process of newer property always indirectly affects older property. There is an unwritten “rule” that the addition of newer property magically raises the perceived value of surrounding property. Because of the ravages of an unsound currency system, newer construction always costs more to build. The perceived value of newer property is always assessed higher than surrounding property. Thus, although title holders of existing property did absolutely nothing to their own property, the assessment process nonetheless raises the “taxable value” of all property. There is no recourse to this process and due process and equal protection seem to be denied.

Property taxes are supposedly used to fund specific local services. Therefore, taxes should be paid according to usage and not by perceived subjective value. Why should a home owner who builds a new modest two-bedroom home pay more in taxes than the owner of a fifty year-old four-bedroom home located in the same geographical area? The older home can house more people than the newer home. Reason dictates that the demands on local services would be higher from a greater number of people living in the larger home rather than the number of people living in the smaller home. That is not to suggest a per-room taxation scheme,[36] only that the property tax is inherently flawed.

Why should those people who work harder be penalized for pursuing their happiness? Are not taxes intended to protect rights and property? Is not one of those protections that one should reap and enjoy the fruits of labor? If an individual works harder and builds a small, reliable and safe house while another individual is content to live in a larger but older dwelling, by what standing does a tax collector justify penalizing the more productive individual yet leave the unproductive person unaffected? Conversely, by what manner does the older dwelling increase in perceived market value despite no improvements being added to the property? The ad valorem method is inequitable to all. Property values are not to be protected, but only property titles.

This ad valorem calculation method exposes a huge flaw in the general property tax, a flaw that greatly conflicts with the concepts of rights and property. The ad valorem method inherits the feudal concept of noblesse oblige, that is, the obligation of the noble class to care and assume responsibility for other people. Those people who are more productive are, by default, treated as nobles. Yet, such a tax provides and promotes class distinctions. Is such a tax justifiable? Such class distinctions violate equal protection.

Yet, any individual who seriously studies taxation knows that the cost of all taxes are passed to other people. Property owners who rent or lease their land never suffer the cost of a property tax as they merely pass that expense to tenants. Thus, the general property tax is regressive, especially when considering that many poor people usually rent.

The tax discourages production because improvements are taxed, and idle unimproved land sits empty to avoid the increased taxation while hopefully rising in speculative market value.[37]

The general property tax, which is collected to allegedly provide common goods and services, is not levied directly upon all who participate in those goods and services. The tax is levied only upon land title holders, yet all people are assumed to participate in the goods and services funded by those taxes. Again, a violation of equal protection.

Yet, court judges have routinely upheld that non-land owners possess an equal voice in such tax issues because such people partake “equally” in how the revenues are spent and any issue affecting voter privileges must be evaluated according to a “strict scrutiny test.”[38] Never mind that the fundamental issues are not addressed, that how the revenues are collected are ignored, simply proceed past Go and collect your legally plundered $200.

To those people who lease their property, the cost of the tax is passed to those who rent the property. Those who lease property, although lawfully liable to pay the tax bill, are shifting the burden to other people. Those people who do not lease and live on their property cannot directly shift the cost of this burden. The person who leases property is engaged in commerce yet avoids the financial burden of the tax. The individual who simply enjoys his or her property and is not involved in commerce cannot directly avoid the financial burden of the tax. Again, this tax is a violation of equal protection.

The concept of noblesse oblige, taken to a logical conclusion, is based purely upon perceived wealth and the more wealth one is perceived of possessing, the higher the tax.

Compounding this issue is that many title holders receive statutory exemptions and abatements. This is especially true when local politicians use tax breaks to lure business owners into their area. However, statutorily fixed by budgets, the property tax game is a zero-sum game. That is, the total sum of revenues needed will be collected one way or another. When escape is provided to some, the remaining owners must fill the void. With such thinking, never can an honest person claim that equal protection of the law is provided.

Unbelievably, many people in the tax collection scheme believe such a tax system provides equity, advocating such a system solely because the extortion fees remain local.

Mob Rule Hard at Work

Another way the right to own property is negated is that a small minority of people can, using the so-called democratic process known as the “referendum,” coerce all title holders into funding numerous debt-based issues. By what standing or authority does one individual force another to accept unwanted debts? Ever wonder why the Founding Fathers opposed direct democracy as a process of government?

Democracy is a word often heard in today’s political discussions. The word typically is used to describe the concept of a collective compact versus dictatorships and tyranny.

The concept of democracy is built upon the concept that all people are created equal and that foundation is translated to mean an equal voice in mutually shared affairs. However, the concept of being created equal means only that every human has an equal right to survive and pursue happiness. The concept of property helps promote and protect the concept of equal survival. When democracy becomes a philosophy the concept often is distorted into meaning contrived “equal” opportunities or coerced “equal” results, and political privilege is elevated above fundamental rights.

Democracy is a process.[39] Democracy is sometimes defined as majority rule. This is especially true when individuals are deprived of liberty of action or resources through “a majority vote.” That process, however, is merely a majority of people realizing they can coercively transfer wealth from a minority — under color of law — through “voting.” Proponents of political democracy embrace the concept of property ownership, but reject the idea that titles are absolute. Such boundaries can be voted out of existence. Yet, without protecting property titles, political democracy, the “fraternal twin of [political] communism,”[40] “becomes an advanced auction of stolen goods.”[41] People trade their bullets for ballots and begin plundering one another.[42] Ballots are not necessarily more peaceful or acceptable than bullets, and often are just as violent as bullets because under the color of law, the threat of violence exists. Political democracy is best described as mob rule,[43] tyranny of the majority, or collective dictatorship. Or, in more light-hearted terms, political democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Political democracy is theft by proxy.

To add salt to the wound, these referendums are decided only by a minority of people who choose to participate in the referendum process. In essence, a very small minority coerces all title holders to forego their right to property. As horrid as “democracy” can be, at least a “true” democracy would require a true majority of the population to participate before any referendum would be considered legitimate and valid. Yet, many millage and bond referendums succeed with but a minority of voters.

With a five percent turnout of the total population, those voters can coerce the other 95 percent to finance a debt they did not want. Indeed, many of those voters are not even title holders. Some would argue the other 95 percent should have voted, but those people miss the foundational point — that the other 95 percent had chosen not to participate in the legal plunder scheme. Doesn’t such a process violate the cornerstone of justice; the concepts of self-ownership, rights, property, contracts and consent? There is something inherently wrong with this picture.

Allowing one class of people (the so-called “majority”) to rule another class of people (“the minority”) is exactly the type of faction problem James Madison feared.[44] Taxes and debts must be firmly rooted in the concept of consent. The disturbed machinations of voting violate this fundamental principle. Never should taxes or debts be forced upon people without their direct, explicit and continual consent.

Compelled Education For All

Another coercive aspect about property taxes is supporting “free” public education. The tenth plank of the Communist Manifesto[45] requires political support of free public education:[46]

Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, …

Although all people posses a right to pursue an education, nobody is forced to obtain an education nor is any individual forced to pay for another individual’s pursuit of education. Yes, educated people generally create a more healthy community. Yes, education should be encouraged:[47]

Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged. [emphasis added]

Today that education is not encouraged but compelled upon the majority of people, and provided at the expense of land owners. Some people do not want that education yet sadly, through compulsory attendance laws, participation is mandatory of the masses. Something is inherently wrong with this picture too — just as an individual possesses the right to pursue an education, an individual also has the right not to pursue an education.

There are several reasons that underlie compelling mass education. One reason is to foster common knowledge and beliefs. People participating in the local political society assume that “being in the neighborhood” provides implied consent to participate. Another reason is to arguably educate people about how that political system functions in order to maintain those processes. Another reason is to combine the previous two reasons in order to encourage people to believe they have some sort of obligation to support the ongoing illusions of legal plunder.[48]

Additionally, the modern public education system is a result of intense industrialization.[49] Those same goals do not change. Modern industrialists and business owners want to hire people who have been thoroughly indoctrinated into their beliefs in order to create a more easily manipulated work crew.

Yet, at most, education is fundamentally a family and individual responsibility, not a “taxpayer’s” responsibility. At the fundamental levels of education, parents — and parents only — are responsible for providing education opportunities for their children. Only parents can decide, and only parents have the right to decide, how their children will be raised and what values and precepts shall be taught — at least until children mature to be self-discerning.

Even if a group of parents decided to pool their efforts to support a local neighborhood school, the financial responsibility still must be met personally by the participating parents. That is how any voluntary society works. Those parents have no standing or authority to force other people to provide for their personal obligation of raising their children.

Furthermore, what is the purpose of public education? Hardly any individual will deny that in today’s world the purpose is not necessarily for enlightenment but to prepare people for employment and more importantly, to be “obedient” citizens. Yet, even with those goals, the public state school system fails miserably.

Personal responsibility is almost always more successful than collective responsibility — if some parents chose to personally fund a local neighborhood school, and those parents paid directly for their children’s education, as is done in a private school, those parents would see a high degree of accountability, no baloney, and educational results that would be the envy of many. The home school movement also shows consistently better results than public education. Why? Personal responsibility rather than compelled collective responsibility provides better results. This is simple human nature at work.

Understand one basic tenet about educational processes — all educational processes rest upon worldview perspectives and interpretations. All such education is taught through a worldview. When people get involved in “public” education, the foundation is the worldview of statism, “benevolent” state, legal plunder, coerced wealth redistribution, and mob rule.[50] Isn’t there a constitutional mandate preventing the political system from establishing a state religion?[51] Isn’t religion nothing more than an interpretive belief system?

Sadly, those parents who choose to be more actively involved with their children’s education, such as private schools and home schools, not only must personally fund the education of their own children, but are forced to fund through property taxes the agendas of a state-sponsored school system, from which no benefits are derived.

To add salt to the wound, many of the people who allegedly benefit from a “free” educational system do not possess title to any land. Should the expense burden of any services be on those people who choose to use those services or on all people? In a free society, those people who seek certain services pay directly, but in a legal plunder system everyone is told and taught to pay their “fair share.” The barrel of a gun will be used to enforce this payment. The education portion of the general property tax is unjust and unfair to those people who wish to avoid participating in such education schemes.

Perpetual Slavery

Perhaps the one aspect of property taxes that most violates rights is that for an individual to exercise the right to own landed property, an individual must become a slave. Perhaps a serf is the technically appropriate word to use, but the difference between a slave and serf is largely one of perceptions only by historians. To the serf there is no difference.

For the remainder of an individual’s life, as long as the person possesses title to land, that individual must generate revenues to pay the yearly ground rent known as the general property tax. That individual must live in fear of being unable to provide those revenues, and thus losing not only his or her property, but his or her home. Statists do not care because the tax is levied against the thing, not the individual.

Such fear contradicts the foundation of rights, property ownership, and retaining the fruits of one’s labor. Such fear contradicts the precept of law that while exercising one’s rights and enjoying one’s property, one does not infringe or violate the rights or property of other people. Because of property taxes, people become enslaved. The concept of possessing an equal right to survival is rendered meaningless.

The entire nature of the general property tax easily fits the description of the first plank of the Communist Manifesto:[52]

Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purpose.

Never mind if an individual uses no services provided by the local politicians and bureaucrats, or that such an individual is perhaps self-sufficient and self-reliant, and neither needs nor asks for any of those provided services, such people are nonetheless enslaved until that ownership is terminated. An individual need look no further than this serfdom to see the mindset of legal plunder. How reminiscent of the old feudal land system.

All people recognize that involuntary servitude is wrong. Involuntary servitude is a violation of commonly accepted social rights.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.[53]
There shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.[54]

The key is the word involuntary. The sky politicians and bureaucrats remind people that nobody is “forced” to live here, that they can leave any time they want. Thus, the “servitude” is voluntary.

No human on this planet can survive without ties to land. Every human’s existence depends upon land. Gravity keeps everybody perpetually fixed to land. To tax land in an in rem fashion is pure slavery. By exercising the social right to own property and enjoying the fruits of labor, are not all property owners nonetheless being subjected to a life of involuntary servitude? Is there something fundamentally wrong with this picture?

This legal plunder scheme justifies the abrogation of rights in that the “needs” of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. The wolves continue to outvote the sheep.

Conclusion

Be reasonable about this tax. If all people die, then certainly people must agree that “ownership” of land is a fleeting and momentary occurrence. Nobody truly owns anything, and history shows that eventually title changes so many times that any momentary battle for title is just that — momentary. Nobody ever owns land, but only temporarily possesses certain rights to use land. Yet, this is exactly what the concept of rights are all about. Rights to property are not rights to an object, but rights to jurisdiction over an object. Because all humans do indeed die, that jurisdiction is temporary.

So what is the real issue here? Simply that by taxing that temporary ownership — recognized by lawful property titles, people are enslaved and restricted from fully enjoying the fruits of labor and the enjoyment of property. If nobody truly “owns” the land, then all title to land is not title to land, but title to enjoy the fruits of that land and the labor used to nurture and enjoy that land.

The issue at stake is that fundamentally, all wealth is derived from land and the natural resources land provides. Humans cannot dissolve their ties to the land. In a sense, humanity and the land are one. Taxing land, therefore, is theft of the fruits of labor, theft of property, and enslavement. Such an effort is nothing more than an attempt to create perpetual motion through the captured labor of other people. The concepts of self-ownership, rights, property, contracts, and consent become meaningless.

Legislators and local politicians have been tinkering with general property tax for a long time.[55] The tinkering has yet to provide an equitable, uniform method of taxation — and never will because the concept itself is inherently flawed. The concept itself is based upon the idea that coerced wealth redistribution is an acceptable doctrine.

The property tax deprives an individual of fundamental rights and enslaves. Revenues collected are dispersed for purposes other than for the protection of rights and property. Like the income tax, the tombstone is waiting to be used. All that is needed is death of the tax.

One last note. This discussion applies to any “ground rent” or “single tax” idea. Although proponents of those ideas would disagree, know that the only thing different about their tax from the current property tax system is the mathematical basis for calculating the tax. All “ground rent” ideas promote perpetual slavery because nobody can live without ties to the land. “Ground rent” proponents use terms such a “socially created values” in order to mask the essentials of the idea. In other words, a “ground rent” tax, like the current system, seeks only to fence the captured audience, change a few numbers, but essentially keep the people enslaved. Under a “ground rent,” title to land would be just as superficial as with the current property tax system. If you don’t think so, then like today’s system, ask any “ground rent” proponent what happens to the title holder if that individual fails or refuses to pay the “rent.”

“Ground rents” are intended to correct problems with land title distribution and speculation. Yet, those problems are caused by politicians and bureaucrats providing opportunities of political monopoly and privilege. No “ground rent” tax system will correct the root problems of people’s insatiable desire to satisfy special interests at the expense of others.

Finis.

Terms of Use

Endnotes

[1] Fisher, Glen W., The Worst Tax? A History of the Property Tax in America, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996), p. 4, citing E. R. A. Seligman in Essays in Taxation, (1905, 5th edition, New York: MacMillan Company). Seligman was sympathetic to the Progressive movement and favored an income tax, which might partially explain his comments. He also was in favor of taxing unproductive land because he believed such land was held only for speculative purposes. Sakolski, Aaron M., Land Tenure and Land Taxation in America, (New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1957), p. 254.

[2] Sakolski, Land Tenure, p. 250.

[3] Davidson and Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), p. 83.

[4] Watner, “Libertarians and Indians: Proprietary Justice and Aboriginal Land Rights,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 7 No. 1 (1983) p. 147.

[5] Berman, Law and Revolution, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 298.

[6] Zane, The Story of Law, p. 208.

[7] Berman, Law and Revolution, (New York: Ives Washburn, 1927), p. 298.

[8] Sakolski, Land Tenure, pp. 12–13.

[9] Ely, Jr., James W., The Guardian of Every Other Right, A Constitutional History of Property Rights, second edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 11.

[10] Sakolski, Land Tenure, p. 41.

[11] Sakolski, Land Tenure, pp. 248–250.

[12] Sakolski, Land Tenure, pp. 21.

[13] Ely, The Guardian of Every Right, p. 23.

[14] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, pp. 46–50.

[15] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, p. 59.

[16] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, p. 60.

[17] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, pp. 2–3.

[18] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, p. 4. This has changed in the last decade as some state legislators have shifted away from funding schools solely by local property taxes and toward distributing general tax revenues.

[19] Bastiat, The Law, translated by Dean Russell (1950; reprint, Irvington-on-Hudson: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1981) p. 26.

[20] Bastiat, The Law, p. 21.

[21] Maine, The Ancient Law, (1861; reprint, Washington, D.C.: Beard Books, 2000), pp. 15–16.

[22] Black’s Law Dictionary Sixth Edition.

[23] Sakolski, Land Tenure, p. 249.

[24] Sakolski, Land Tenure, p. 249.

[25] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, p. 11.

[26] For example, Bartemeyer v. State of Iowa, 85 U.S. 129 (1873); U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment; state constitutions.

[27] United States v. Allegheny County, 322 U.S. 174 (1944).

[28] Winona and St. P. Land Co. v. State of Minnesota, 159 U.S. 526 (1895), Longyear v. Toolan, 209 U.S. 414 (1908).

[29] For example, refer to the Michigan Constitution, Article VI, Section 28.

[30] Hall, Calvin S. And Lindzey, Gardner, Theories of Personality, third edition, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1957, 1970, 1978), p. 129.

[31] Barnard, Harvey, Draining the Swamp, (Baker: Allodial Publishing, 1996), pp. 29–30.

[32] Hayek, F.A., The Road to Serfdom, fiftieth anniversary edition, (1944; reprint, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 66.

[33] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, second edition, 1983.

[34] Lane, Rose Wilder, The Discovery of Freedom, (1943; reprint, Laissez Faire Books, 1984), p. 44.

[35] Friedman, David, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, (New Rochelle: Arlington House Publishers, 1973, 1978), p. 67.

[36] Such a tax would be similar to the tax that encouraged Fries Rebellion in 1798. The problem? Congressional legislators levied its first direct tax, and assessors counted windows to determine the value of a house, similar in nature to the European hearth tax. Refer to Charles Adams, Those Dirty Rotten Taxes, The Tax Revolts that Built America, (New York: The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 1998), p. 70.

[37] Sakolski, Land Tenure, p. 254.

[38] Read Hill v. Stone, 421 U.S. 289 (1975).

[39] Sowell, Thomas, Knowledge and Decisions, (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 119.

[40] Davidson and Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual, p. 328–330.

[41] Davidson and Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual, p. 141, citing H.L. Mencken.

[42] Spooner, Lysander, The Lysander Spooner Reader, (San Francisco: Fox and Wilkes, 1992), “No Treason No. II,” p. 67.

[43] Tannehill, Morris and Linda, The Market for Liberty, (1970; reprint, San Francisco: Fox and Wilkes, 1993), p. 35.

[44] The Federalist Papers, No. 10.

[45] To those people who have time, browse through a copy of the Ten Planks of Communist Manifesto. Notice that all ten planks have been implemented in America.

[46] Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto, Introduction by Martin Malia, (New York: Signet Classics, 1998), p. 76.

[47] Northwest Ordinance, Article III, 1787.

[48] Hayek, F.A., The Constitution of Liberty, (1960; reprint, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 377.

[49] Toffler, Alvin, The Third Wave, (New York: Bantam Books, 1980, 1981), pp. 29–30.

[50] For a short introduction to the history of the public school movement, read Murray N. Rothbard, Education Free and Compulsory, (1971; reprint, Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999).

[51] United States Constitution, Amendment I; state constitutions.

[52] Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p. 75.

[53] United States Constitution, Amendment XIII, Section 1.

[54] Wisconsin Constitution, Article I, Section 2.

[55] Fisher, The Worst Tax?, pp. 187–205.