Commentary

Abolish, Don’t Reform, the Income Tax

By Jacob G. Hornberger | October 21, 2021 | 4:54pm EDT
A view of the Internal Revenue Service's headquarters March 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit:
A view of the Internal Revenue Service's headquarters March 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit:

As I have repeatedly emphasized, in order to achieve a genuinely free society, it is necessary to dismantle or abolish infringements on liberty. If all we do is reform infringements on liberty, we have done nothing to achieve liberty. All that we have done, at best, is improve our lives as serfs. That’s because reform is not freedom. Reform is reform.

Obviously, making the case for liberty to people is much more challenging than making the case for reform. Since reform leaves the infringement intact, people feel more comfortable with it because it doesn’t entail a fundamental change in what they are accustomed to. Moreover, the arguments for dismantling or abolition are fundamentally different than the arguments for reform. (See my recent article “Don’t Reform the IRS. Abolish It Instead.”)

A good example of this phenomenon is a recent article in the American Thinker entitled “An End to Tax Withholding” by Lloyd Billingsley. In his article, Billingsley criticizes the federal withholding tax. He provides readers with an interesting history of the withholding tax. It came into existence as an emergency wartime funding measure in World War II and then became a permanent part of the government’s income-tax system. He also points out that the idea, ironically enough, originated with libertarian economist Milton Friedman.

So, what does Billingsley advocate? He settles for calling for an end to the federal withholding tax. He says, “Long before the pandemic, the federal government was too large, too intrusive, and too destructive of freedom. Freedom is seldom lost all at once, and once lost, it is difficult to recover.”

But ending the withholding tax does nothing to restore genuine freedom to the American people. After all, such a proposal doesn’t relieve people of having to pay the income tax. It just delays the payment of the tax.

In order to achieve a genuinely free society, it is necessary to abolish the income tax itself. Obviously, the arguments for doing that are different from the arguments calling for a repeal of withholding. With income-tax reform, the income tax stays in place. With income-tax abolition, the income tax is eradicated.

Freedom entails the right to keep everything you earn. Your income belongs to you — all of it. None of it belongs to the government. 

When government wields the power to take any percentage of your income it wishes, you become a serf. You exist to serve the state. Oh sure, sometimes the state is kind and lets you keep more of your income. Other times it’s not so kind and leaves you with less. But make no mistake about it: When government is determining the percentage, you are on an allowance.

That’s not a free society. That’s a serfdom society.

The problem, of course, is that most everyone has been indoctrinated into thinking that the income tax, along with the welfare state-warfare-regulatory state it funds, is freedom. That’s why many Americans really do believe it when they sing, “Thank God I’m an American because at least I know I’m free.”

Our American ancestors understood that freedom necessarily entails an income-tax-free society. That’s why America lived without income taxation and an IRS (and a welfare-warfare-regulatory state) for more than 100 years. 

Statists lament that an income-tax free society would produce massive disparities of wealth, but they are simply succumbing to the grave sins of envy and covetousness. They also fail to recognize that when people are free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, everyone benefits from rising standards of living, especially the poor. Income taxation destroys massive amounts of capital, which is a key to rising standards of living. In the process, it ensures greater poverty.

Let’s leave reform to conservatives. Let us libertarians continue leading America to freedom and prosperity by raising people’s vision to a higher level — to the level of genuine liberty.

Jacob G. Hornberger is The Future of Freedom Foundation's president and founder. He has served as a trial attorney in Texas, a law and economics professor at the University of Dallas, and the Foundation for Economic Education's director of programs.

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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