Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul has a tax plan he’d like to sell you on. The plan, which would put in place a 14.5 percent flat tax, was crafted with the input of some of the wrongest people in the conservative economic policy world, and it would redistribute wealth up the economic ladder while tossing a bone or two to the people at the bottom. But Rand is proud of it nonetheless, mainly because he thinks it’s less slavery-like than your average tax scheme.
Here’s what Paul said last week about taxation and “freedom,” as reported by BuzzFeed:
“Now you can have some government, we all need government,” the Kentucky senator said while discussing Thomas Paine and the role of government at the local public library. “Thomas Paine said that government is a necessary evil. What did he mean by that?”
Paul said he believes that “you have to give up some of your liberty to have government,” saying he was “for some government.”
“I’m for paying some taxes,” continued Paul. “But if we tax you at 100% then you’ve got zero percent liberty. If we tax you at 50% you are half slave, half free. I frankly would like to see you a little freer and a little more money remaining in your communities so you can create jobs. It’s a debate we need to have.”
That was his big pitch – The Rand Paul tax plan: Only 14.5 percent slavery!
This is a dumb argument. And it’s upsetting to hear this dumb argument coming from someone who is trying to be president, but will go back to writing and approving legislation if/when that doesn’t work out. Taxation is not tantamount to slavery. The only thing that’s comparable to slavery is actual slavery. You might not like it that a portion of your paycheck is sent to the feds and your state government, and you may disagree with how your tax dollars are spent, but that is in no way comparable to being kept in bondage and having the fruits of your labor stolen from you.
Any way you look at this argument, it’s bad. When you’ve staked out the position that your effective tax rate is how you measure one’s slave status, then you’re arguing that a progressive tax structure means rich people are less free than the lucky poor folks who would see a smaller percentage of their income go to the government. By this reading, a hedge fund billionaire who moves his assets offshore to avoid paying taxes is basically Frederick Douglass. And when you refer to something as slavery, how can you then make the case that there is an acceptable threshold for it? Why should 14.5 percent slavery be any more tolerable than 100 percent slavery?
It gets even worse when you remember that Rand Paul is trying to make inroads with black voters and repair his party’s abysmally bad reputation with African-Americans. Rand obviously understands at a certain level that slavery was a uniquely horrific crime, the memory of which still haunts our politics. After the shootings in Charleston last month, Paul called for the Confederate flag to be removed from grounds of the South Carolina Capitol because “to every African-American in the country it’s a symbolism of slavery to them and now it’s a symbol of murder to this young man.” Here we are, just a couple of weeks later, and he’s comparing the grotesque human rights violations represented by that flag to the banal act of filing your annual tax return.
And this isn’t Rand Paul’s first foray into comparing policies he disagrees with to slavery. In 2011, during a Senate hearing, he said that a “right to healthcare” would, in effect, make slaves out of doctors such as himself:
With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care you have to realize what that implies. I am a physician. You have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. You are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants, the nurses. … You are basically saying you believe in slavery.
On the flip side of the “slavery” argument, Paul argued earlier this year that the vaccination of children was “an issue of freedom,” essentially saying that parents should be free to have their kids be vectors for the communication of dangerous disease. (Before he was elected to the Senate, Paul went on Alex Jones’ radio show and warned that mandatory vaccinations were a precursor to martial law.)
Rand’s been espousing this strain of dorm-room libertarianism for quite some time, reducing complex policy issues to black-and-white questions of “freedom” and “slavery.” He and others like him who carp on the slavery of taxes and the tyranny of public health promotion are an obvious source of frustration to other libertarians who would very much prefer that the public faces of the “Libertarian Moment” stop making asses of themselves by cheapening the horror of America’s slave past.