"Lower Taxes!"

Every tax dollar that government takes is an impingement on personal liberty. The purpose of taxation is to divert goods and services from private hands so they can be used by the government instead. TAKING LIBERTY SERIOUSLY would mean applying the test of strict scrutiny to all laws authorizing government expenditures and imposing taxes.
To justify any government expenditure or spending program, the government should bear the burden of showing that the expenditure or program serves a compelling interest, that the expenditure or program is narrowly tailored to minimize impacts on liberty and that there are no alternatives that would restrict liberty less. In short, the rule of strict scrutiny should apply to expenditures and taxation.

With this rule of strict scrutiny in place and implemented through Liberty Impact Statements and a new Constitutional Court, it would finally be possible to spotlight and put a stop to countless billions of dollars of wasteful expenditures—dollars that are siphoned off to unproductive, corrupt, or simply foolish governmental uses. This savings alone would produce a tremendous advance over the present “standard tax policy” under which there is an extremely strong presumption that every government expenditure is a valid and proper use of the money taken from taxpayers.

In addition, applying the rule of strict scrutiny would provide a systematic way to address the fact that spending always tends to bloat. It is almost a law of nature that spending programs grow and grow. The reason is that every bureaucracy is, in itself, a pressure group promoting its own existence and expansion. Because of the natural tendency of every spending program to grow, the costs of even the most legitimate government activities tend to expand, bit by bit, until the expenditures far exceed what is necessary to provide the program benefit.

There are no doubt literally millions of places in government budgets where spending can be pared back by simply wringing the bloat out of otherwise useful programs. It will never happen, however, unless we create a mechanism like a Constitutional Court and reverse the extremely strong presumption that every government expenditure is a valid and proper use of taxpayer money. Only with a strict scrutiny test applied by a Constitutional Court will taxpeyrs finally be able to get control over the countless billions of dollars used on unproductive, corrupt, or simply foolish governmental expenditures.

Some Other Possible Ways to Cut Government Spending
In addition to attacking the spending bloat on good programs, we should also cut down government programs which, despite their hype, do little or no measurable good at all. Here are some moves we could make:
  • Close Down Duplicative Federal Prosecution of Traditionally State Offenses—The Justice Department spends over $30 billion per year on a huge federal law-enforcement bureaucracy, but it mostly handles crimes which, historically, are in the jurisdiction of states. This extravagant duplication not only violates the spirit of our “two-tiered” system of government and expands federal control at the states' expense, but it is very wasteful as well. Eliminating this duplication could save nearly half a trillion dollars over the next 12 years. (See more here).

  • Focus DUI/DWI Enforcement on the Truly Dangerous – Several decades of strict DUI/DWI enforcement have not produced an overall decline in traffic fatalities. It has simply diverted fatalities from “drunk-driver” accidents to “sober-driver” accidents. It has not made us safer. (See more here). However, this diversion of fatalities from “drunk” to “sober” is far from cost-free. In addition to the direct costs of policing, prosecuting and penalizing there are also costs in lost wages and productivity (and, hence, lost taxes) as people take time off and even become jobless as a result of low-level DUI/DWI prosecutions. If a program to save lives doesn’t actually cut down on total fatalities, isn’t that the very definition of government waste?

  • Bring Prison Sentences Into Line With World Standards—American prison sentences are among the longest in the world. One in every 100 American adults is being held prisoner by government. There is, however, no evidence that these long sentences significantly reduce the rate of criminality or make us much safer.

    Long sentences may make some people feel better by knowing that wrongdoers are paying a steep price for their misdeeds, but all this good feeling does not come cheap: Taxpayers are forced to pay tens of billions of dollars for our nation's huge prison system, and “corrections” is one of the biggest items in many state budgets. Worse, the forced idleness of the prisoners means they cannot pay their fair share of taxes, so the rest of us have to pay even more.

    If some people feel that current sentence lengths should be retained, they should be permitted to express this preference by paying a special tax to cover the extra cost and the lost tax revenues from the prisoners. (see “Special Taxes For ‘Special Interest’ Programs,” below). This approach would make it possible to reduce the taxes paid by the rest of us. After all, the rest of us should not be forced to sacrifice our own preferred spending choices to subsidize what amounts to a pure consumption preference ("good feelings") of others.

  • Cut Drastically Back On Drug Prosecutions—The investigation, prosecution and punishment of drug crimes is a big item in state and federal budgets. Obviously, if Americans ever come to enjoy freedom as a fundamental right, the state and federal drug laws would be much different from what they are today. For starters, prosecutions and investigations could be limited to professional drug traffickers. These are the ones whose actions cause the problem while the users and addicts merely are the problem.

    We are wasting billions trying the punish the problem and not just its cause. Going after mere possessors, users or casual distributors is simply not worth the cost. If drugs are really bad for the users (as they no doubt are) and that fact doesn’t deter them, the law’s harassment isn’t going to deter them either—as we’ve seen time and time again.

    If some people feel that current drug-penalties should be retained, these people could be permitted to express this preference by paying a special tax (see “Special Taxes For ‘Special Interest’ Programs,” below). As already noted above, the rest of us should not be forced to sacrifice our own preferred spending choices to subsidize what amounts to a pure consumption preference of others.

  • Eliminate Sex Offender Registration (Megan’s Laws) —There are over 600,000 registered sex offenders in the America today, and the number is growing. Nonetheless, the evidence does not show that these laws are making us or our children any safer. (Note 1) Not only are these laws costly to implement, but they make economic invalids out of the 600,000 registrants—which means they are generally unable to earn to enough to contribute their own share of taxes. To make up for the loss of tax revenues from over 600,000 adults, the rest of us are forced to pay significantly higher taxes.

    If some people feel that current registration rules should be retained, these people could be permitted to express this preference by paying a special tax to cover the net cost of registrations and lost tax revenues from the registrants (see “Special Taxes For ‘Special Interest’ Programs,” below). Again, this approach would reduce the taxes on the rest of us: The rest of us should not be forced to sacrifice our own preferred spending choices to subsidize a pure consumption preference of others.

    Special Taxes For “Special Interest” Programs. Many costly government programs exist because they are demanded by special interests and pressure groups even though many or most Americans would prefer not to pay for them. A very fruitful source of budget reduction and tax savings would be to concentrate the cost of these “special interest” programs on the people who want them, allowing taxes paid by the rest of us to be reduced.

    Remember that every dollar of tax is an impingement on personal liberty—a diversion of personal spending choice from the taxpayer to government. The government should therefore be extra careful not to impose the particular spending preferences of some people on others who do not benefit, actually or psychically, from the expense.

    For some matters, of course, “public spending” is practically unavoidable. An obvious example is national defense. Whatever one's personal feelings about national defense, it is fair to say that everybody (except the enemy) benefits by keeping the enemy away from our shores. Government action to protect the national land (broadly speaking, environmental law) is another example. Keeping America a viable, vital, decent and beautiful place for human beings to live benefits everybody. Just as, for example, zoning laws protect and preserve property values locally, so likewise do well-formulated environmental laws provide benefit to everyone who has a stake in America.

    Many costly government programs are, however, of a different order, conferring benefit on only a segment of society or conferring only “psychic” benefits that are not appreciated by everybody. (We have just looked at several examples.) To the extent that government programs do not further public safety, health or well-being but exist only to assuage some people's "feelings" of what is right, these programs shift what amount to pure consumption expenses onto the taxpayers generally. In fairness, however, these expenses should only be borne by those who actually benefit or think they benefit from them.

    Our nation’s unusually long prison sentences provide a classic example. Many may feel that these long sentences are “right” and should be retained even though they provide no demonstrable public safety benefit. However, it costs the taxpayers billions of extra dollars per year to gratify these feelings, which are after all not shared by everybody. The expenditures required to gratify these feelings should therefore be regarded as what they are: pure consumption expenses. It is a pure consumption choice whether to spend the dollars involved on, say, a family vacation, a new flat-screen TV, or a bloated prison system.

    As pure consumption expenditures, the costs of unusually long sentences should be borne solely by those who desire the expenditures to occur, through a special tax that people could opt to pay or not, as they choose. Thus, every taxpayer would then have the freedom show their support for current sentence lengths, or not. What people would not have, however, is the choice of spending other people’s money on priorities when they themselves are not willing cover the cost.

    Obviously, supporting unusually long sentencing with a special tax will impose a greater burden on those who receive psychic benefit from knowing that wrongdoers are paying a stiff price for their misdeeds. But the rest of us should not be forced to sacrifice our own preferred spending choices to subsidize in this spending choices of others.

  • Notes
    Note 1. In fact, there is evidence that the registries may even increase repeat offending. J.J. Prescott & Jonah E. Rockoff, Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?, available at SSRN_ID1100663_code330160.pdf. See also Kristen M. Zgoba & Karen Bachar, Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Limited Effects in New Jersey, National Institute of Justice, U.S. Dept. of Justice (April, 2009). Return