I can’t say exactly how the conversation started or, to be honest, why it started at all. As my dad and I watched the waves crash against the shore and the beautiful sun set, my mind wandered to a subject I know all too well: politics. Twenty minutes later, as if attempting to solve America’s problems over the course of one meal, we concluded that of all taxes, property were the most unjust. Property taxes, you say? You talked “politics” and ended up discussing property taxes? Indeed we did, and what ideas we had.
The United States Constitution — more specifically, the Fifth Amendment — states the following: “[No person shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” It is this passage that explicitly defines every American’s right to private property; unless, by legal due process, we lose said property, it cannot be taken from us. Since a person cannot be deprived of property if he does not own it — being “deprived” of something that is not yours is no “deprivation” at all — one must conclude the Constitution’s authors assumed a right to private property. I begin my argument with this seemingly obvious contention to avoid any possible confusion about the subject. Allow John Adams, our second president, to clear up any remaining ambiguity:
The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.
Now that I’ve established every American’s constitutional right to own private property (it’s a shame I feel the need to do so), we can move onto taxes. You may not be surprised to learn property taxes have been around for quite some time; in fact, states have taxed land for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, regardless of age, such taxes are blatantly unconstitutional.
My argument against property taxes hinges on two contentions: first, that the government does not have the right to seize land for “private use,” and second, that such taxes in and of themselves nullify our right to own private property.
Let us go back to the Fifth Amendment: “…private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” I am not going to wade into the “just compensation” debate; for my purposes, the definition of that phrase is utterly inconsequential. What matters is this: the government can only seize property for “public use,” and when doing so, must compensate the owner. Notice the amendment does not allow the government to seize land for “private use” — that is, it cannot take someone’s property unless that land is to be used in the public sphere. I challenge anyone who would argue otherwise to explain why our Founding Fathers, who valued property rights above all else, would give their government the power to seize a citizen’s land for “private use.”
What does this have to do with property taxes? Everything. From Aviva Friedlander:
If your tax bill is still unpaid after a year, the county treasurer may foreclose on your property. This means the government will take ownership of your home in lieu of the unpaid tax bill. The county will then attempt to sell your home in a tax sale to recover the tax money owed.
“The government will take ownership of your home in lieu of the unpaid tax bill”…interesting. As noted in the previous paragraph, the Constitution does not say the government may seize property for “private use.” However, officials do just that when they foreclose on a home due to property tax violations — they “deprive” the owner of his property with the express purpose of selling it to someone else for “private use.” This blatantly unconstitutional expansion of authority constitutes the foundation of the property tax — without the right to seize land for “private use,” the government cannot get the payments it wants.
The government’s coercive power in this situation may well be unjust, but my second point is even more important. By forcing us to pay taxes on our land (and, for that matter, our home), the feds destroy private property altogether. Think about it this way: if you bought a car and paid for it in full, you would theoretically become its owner. What happens when the government comes along and says you have to pay to keep using that car? Would you still be its owner?
That is the property tax. In order to keep living in my home, I must pay the government a percentage of its value every year. If I don’t, my property will be seized, processed, and sold. So I ask: do I own my home if I have to pay to live in it? No. Paying to live in a house is called ‘renting’. Property taxes are simply the government’s way of saying, “We own the land, you’re just living on it.”
To recap, property taxes are unconstitutional in two ways: first, they violate the Fifth Amendment by allowing the government to seize land for “private use,” and second, they undermine our constitutional right to private property.
My message to Congress is simple: abolish property taxes. I don’t care how much good you think they do or how ‘necessary’ they may be, they are unconstitutional, plain and simple. I know it’s hard to fathom, but we have a law (Constitution) above the laws. Obama may have forgotten that, but I have not. If you like taxing land, amend the constitution; until then, property taxes are unabashedly illegal.