Kirsten Kuhn: The immorality of taxation (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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The debate over the removal of the food sales tax in Kansas has brought to the forefront the role of taxation in society, where it has been lacking for far too long. 

Many Lawrencians support sales tax as a general practice, on the grounds that it funds public services such as roads, schools and sanitation. These are obviously desirable end goals for a society to have. Community members need to travel between various locations, children should be educated, and no one supports returning to the days of chamber pots and outhouses. 

Since we often oppose taxation for these purposes, people accuse libertarians of not supporting services such as roads or schools. This is not the case. We oppose coerced methods of funding them; we do not oppose roads or education as such. 

Many of you are in favor of “Axing the Tax,” as am I. Kansas is one of only seven states that retains a full sales tax on groceries. Many of us understand that this policy is regressive, nonconsensual, and improper. Most legislatures have recognized these facts, and have exercised restraint in this area.

Yet this tax continues to harm all of us, low-income Kansans the most. It is clear that it is imprudent to retain it. But I’d ask you to simply expand this consideration to other areas. 

To get to work, you probably have to buy gas. The sales tax on that is just as regressive as that on food. You paid the sales tax on the car (or bicycle) you had to buy to get to work. Once you’ve received your paycheck, you are taxed. You pay a tax on the home you are required, both legally and from a survival standpoint, to live in. Even if you rent, property taxes are baked into your rent amount. 

For all of these things, you had no choice in the implementation, and very little input in the direction of funds once you’ve relinquished them. Yet you must pay. If you had in your pocket all the money you have paid out to these various taxes, you could directly fund the services that you actually support and use. 

I have very little doubt that Lawrence would retain its library, art installations, or beautiful green spaces under a voluntary system. The people (including me) enjoy and desire these services! But instead of funneling the tax funds through multiple layers of bureaucrats, financial support would come directly from the funders. Bureaucracy costs money, and not too little of it, either.

Further, involuntary taxation forces you to pay for services and activities with which you may have a strong moral disagreement. Many Republicans are forced to pay for family planning services against their values. Progressives are forced to fund ongoing police brutality and mass incarceration. We should all be opposed to the funding of unconstitutional and abhorrent foreign policy and warmongering. Yet we pay.

An argument can be made for a sales tax on many consumer items, such as TVs and gaming consoles. These are completely voluntary purchases. You might be bored, but you will not die without these items. You will die without food, shelter, and the means with which to obtain these. 

Taxation has gone too far in Kansas. The sales tax on food is simply the most obvious way to begin to see beyond the veil. Voluntary funding of societal needs is a better way to achieve our goals. Good ideas don’t require force.

— Kirsten Kuhn (she/her) is a super awesome Libertarian porcupine residing in Palmyra Township. She believes in personal freedom and self-determination for all people and enjoys gardening and beekeeping in her spare time. She can be reached at or @KSLibertarians on Twitter. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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