If you have decided to go along with Chief Justice Roberts and agree that Obamacare is a tax, now is the time to contemplate the many things this reading will allow Congress to require you to do.
The list is literally endless, because of the endless number of things ideologues can come up with. But these are some of the top tunes:
1. Congress can force you to buy an electric car.
2. Congress can force you to buy solar panels.
3. Congress can force you to buy and install a remote-control thermostat for your home.
4. Congress can force you to buy internet service.
5. Congress can force you to buy particular kinds of food.
6. Congress can force you to buy contraceptives for yourself.
7. Congress can force you to buy biofuels, even if you don’t have any use for them.
8. Congress can force you to donate to political causes and “charities.”
9. Congress can force you to pay union dues.
10. Congress can force you to buy the New York Times.
11. Congress can force you to buy “green travel” packages.
12. Congress can force you to buy a 3-bedroom, 2-bath townhome with a 1-car parking spot for your electric car.
13. Congress can force you to pay for soccer, gymnastics, and ballet lessons for your children.
14. Congress can force you to pay for a gym membership.
15. Congress can force you to rent a 2-bedroom apartment with no parking space.
16. Congress can force you to borrow money.
17. Congress can force you to pay for a state-college education for your children, regardless of where or whether they actually attend college.
17. Congress can force you to buy a goat.
19. Congress can force you to hire people.
20. Congress can force you to buy mass transit passes, whether you use mass transit or not.
The list could go on and on. After all, if fining people for not buying health insurance is the same thing as a “tax,” then fining them for not spending on other things is also a tax.
We rarely make important distinctions in our politics anymore, and that is a great menace to our idea of liberty and limited government. We must not let our concept of the purpose and character of a tax be corrupted, precisely because taxing us is a power accorded Congress in the Constitution. The definition of “tax” is, in fact, the most important limit on what Congress can do with its power to tax. In the wake of the Obamacare ruling, defining “tax” is defending our liberty – or, from the opposite perspective, attacking it.
This is not a minor point. Definitions are central to the idea of constitutionalism. We have let government dig into our pockets in so many different ways that many Americans have lost sight of the importance of definitions, but it is fatal to our liberty if we accept that any old way the government might make us spend money is a “tax.” It’s not. Taxes produce revenue for the government as their primary purpose and first-order effect.
I recommend reading Federalist 30-36 to discern the prevailing view of taxes at the time of our founding, as a revenue-production measure for the expenses of government. Count the number of times you see the word “revenue.” In Federalist 30, Alexander Hamilton makes an illuminating distinction between having power over the people’s lives and having the power to tax:
In the Ottoman or Turkish empire, the sovereign, though in other respects absolute master of the lives and fortunes of his subjects, has no right to impose a new tax. The consequence is that he permits the bashaws or governors of provinces to pillage the people without mercy; and, in turn, squeezes out of them the sums of which he stands in need, to satisfy his own exigencies and those of the state. In America, from a like cause, the government of the Union has gradually dwindled into a state of decay, approaching nearly to annihilation. Who can doubt, that the happiness of the people in both countries would be promoted by competent authorities in the proper hands, to provide the revenues which the necessities of the public might require?
Read the whole paper; it is clear that Hamilton viewed federal taxation as a revenue-raising measure, and not as a means of exercising mastery over the people’s lives and fortunes (e.g., regulating, penalizing, or social- or environmental-engineering the people). If we have come to see federal taxation in the latter light, it is not because such a purpose can be read into the Constitution or the Framers’ intent. We have a choice to accept the statist-interventionist mentality on taxes, or not. The most important thing we can do today is affirm limits on Congress’s power to tax, by requiring narrow definitions.