In graduate school a professor of mine often referred to the “toolbox of government.” The characterization must have resonated with me because I still use it in my own classes almost fifteen years later. Of course he was referring to the variety of actions that governments at all levels have at their disposal to implement and otherwise enforce public policy. For our purposes we can narrow the contents of the “toolbox” down to the bare minimum:
- The power of government to deprive a person of liberty (think incarceration and in the most extreme form, the death penalty)—the hammer.
- The power of government to deprive a person of property (think real property and money)—the hammer.
Confused? Don’t be. Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835) is credited with expressing the position that the power to tax is the power to destroy. In this regard the power to tax is the power to punish those who violate the law, ignore regulations, or otherwise challenge the general welfare—the hammer. The power to tax citizens and residents, businesses, corporations, is generally available to most governments—from Congress to your local water district. Check your text books, one of the first concurrent or shared powers listed is the power to tax. Moreover, taxes are ubiquitous—fees: taxes; assessments: taxes; dues: taxes; levies: taxes; taxes: taxes. The power to tax is the power of government to deprive.
In the months following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obama-care) , much will be made of the taxation aspect of the now upheld health care reform package—especially the individual mandate, which requires people capable of paying for health insurance to do so or risk a penalty (tax). What do you think, is it the most intrusive tax ever devised by government (in this case by democrats)? Is it a new tax? Is it a tax increase (even though it only applies to people who don’t buy their own health insurance—and wouldn’t we otherwise call these people free-riders or equate them to people who don’t buy car insurance and drive up all of our rates)? With all the hammers we get hit with every day, is this the one we’re really going to object to? Ouch! I know how to fix it; where’s my hammer?!