Renting Freedom

Robert Higgs is one of my favorite anarchist philosophers. He has a knack for pointing out the bloody obvious that many people fail to see. In October he wrote a short post pointing out that nobody who is required to pay taxes is truly free:

In the antebellum South, it was not uncommon for slaves to rent themselves from their masters. As a young man, Frederick Douglass did so, for example. His owner gave him leave to go out on his own, to find employment where he could, and to pocket the pay he received for such work, except that each month he had to pay his master a fixed sum for his freedom. Douglass worked in the shipyards of Baltimore, caulking ships. Aside from his rental payment for his own body, he lived as he wished, subject to his income constraint. He found his own housing, acquired his own food and clothing, and so forth, just as a free wage worker would have done.

It strikes me that this practice has much in common with the situation in which an ordinary private person finds himself in any modern country today. The person is in general at liberty to arrange his own employment, spend his earnings as he pleases, acquire his own food and housing, and so on, except that he must pay a rental for this personal liberty, which takes the form of a portion of his earnings that must be paid to the various governments that collect income and employment taxes in the jurisdiction.

People believe that feudalism and slavery are, for the most part, a thing of the past. We’re living under both of those systems but under different names. Instead of being serfs we’re called citizens. Instead of barons, lords, and other royal titles we have sheriff’s, city councils, and other bureaucratic titles. Much like the slaves of the South, we must rent our freedom. We can’t own land, we can only rent it. If we fail to pay our rent on either our freedom or our land one of the royal slave catchers will find us and kidnap us so that a royal judge can decide how best to punish us.

The United States isn’t the freest country on Earth. In fact, it’s one of the more draconian countries because it not only has ridiculous high rents but also because those rents are enforced by a ruthlessly efficient government.

3 thoughts on “Renting Freedom”

  1. We can’t own land, we can only rent it.

    So true. My wife and I were careful to purchase a home in an area without a homeowners’ association, but the city government has its tentacles in everything. A few months ago we got a letter whining about a tiny patch of weeds in the corner of our property. It explicitly threatened to put a lien on our house unless we fixed this terrible problem pronto.

    Then you’ve got eminent domain to think about, and thanks to the assholes in the Supreme Court, the government is free to take any property they like and give it to a favored crony (at a “fair market price” set the same shitheads who stole it).

    And you’ve got the world’s highest incarceration rate, which in and of itself makes a complete mockery of any claim that the U.S. is “free”.

    And don’t get me started on seizure and forfeiture which directly incentivize theft on the part of cops and make it a near practical impossibility for innocents to recover their stolen property.

    We don’t have the corruption that countries like Mexico have, where you pay a bribe routinely to grease the wheels. We’ve got something worse: everything done by the book, which is absolutely replete with penalties for trying to live your own life rather than consenting to let the government run it for you.

  2. At least you didn’t build a wind turbine on “your” property!

    Or, heaven forbid, comply with the bullshit requirement to take down my wind turbine, but fail to remove the foundation. Those foundations can cause a lot of trouble, you know: a high wind comes up, and it blows right into the neighbor’s property, possibly destroying his house! We must rid the world of the menace of foundations! Thank God we have governments to ensure that this vital duty is not shirked.

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