Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
Are you the owner of some property? For many of us, the answer would be, “Of course. I own a home, and a car.” Maybe, for some, an additional home, and several cars, plus a boat. But whatever it is, it’s yours, and you own it, right? You even have impressive documents like “Title,” or “Deed.”
It is interesting to check the law dictionary to see just what an owner is. You will find that he is one who has dominion of a thing, to do with as he pleases. And what is property? It is the external things of this world over which one man claims sole and despotic dominion, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual. Dominion, it turns out, is simply ownership, but despotic refers to a despot, who is the master, the supreme lord.
Stop thinking about it at this point, and you will be content. However, should you let your mind slip into logic mode, you might find yourself questioning why, if the house, car, etc. are yours, over which you have SOLE dominion, and are supreme lord, you must pay strangers, every year, a considerable fee to be able to continue as “owner.”
If you are, indeed, the owner, the supreme lord and master, over the things upon which you exercise sole dominion, can other individuals, even operating under the pseudonym “government,” have a valid claim upon that property if you fail to pay them what they regularly demand?
Either you own it, or they own it. If you own it, how can they seize it from you if you deny them the tribute they demand? How can strangers claim a right to your property, over which you have SOLE dominion? But if they own it, why should you pay a tax on property that you do not own? And shouldn’t they call it “rent,” instead of “tax?”
Ah, but it’s more complicated than that. The definitions of “property” and “owner” that I referred to above all had a modifying phrase, such as “pursuant to law,” or “according to law.” In other words, you can do as you want with “your” property--as long as it’s according to law. The items over which you claim sole dominion are certainly yours--pursuant to law. Well, back to the dictionary. What, exactly, is the “law”? We read that a statute (a more elegant term for law) is defined as the written will of the legislature. The “legislature” is simply that group of people--there’s nothing special about them--who demand your money from time to time. So: if it is their will--i.e., whatever they want--that you give them what they demand or surrender “your” house, car, etc., to them, then they have but to write it down, and presto! A law! And you know how sacrosanct laws are! You can ignore what other people want, but not those claiming to serve you as “legislators.” So your property is yours, all right, unless they want it, and they will take it, unless you give them lots of money yearly. It’s the law, and you know it’s the law, because they say so. And they have the right to “say so” because—they say so.
Haven’t we learned somewhere that this is a democracy, where there are no nobles, no knights, earls, dukes, etc.? There is no privileged class among us! Well, it’s surely true that we have no lords and ladies, but we have, instead, “legislators,” who lord it over us and expect us to adhere to their will, because they have written it down, and thereby made their will a law. Law: a whim backed by a gun, as one wit put it.
I don’t claim that the strangers demand money to put into their own pockets. If you were to ask them, they’d assure you, most sincerely, that they take your money for a variety of purposes lumped together as “the public good,” which, somehow, they are able to ascertain. Were “my” state of Missouri no longer able to support its Acupuncture Advisory Committee, or Head Injury Advisory Council, the “public good” would surely suffer. And the state’s Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Rules, and Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission have “public good” written all over them. Could life as we know it continue without the State Committee of Dieticians?
True, we occasionally hear of laws being passed for the benefit of special interests, who may repay the favor with certain generous contributions, or of laws being ignored for other special interests, which may be similarly grateful. No doubt such things are very rare--or maybe just rarely reported.
But the overriding question, for me, at least, is: Whose property is it? If mine, why must I pay them to maintain my sole and exclusive dominion? But if theirs, why must I pay property tax on someone else’s property? They should pay me for looking after it!