Tax Revolt Detractors Want the Poor to Keep Suffering

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The idea of a tax revolt recently attracted considerable attention after the Western Cape premier, Helen Zille, mooted the idea as a means to hold politicians accountable if:

1)    The NPA does not proceed with prosecutions after a reasonable amount of time; or

2)    Voters continue voting for a party that endorses (implicitly or explicitly) the corruption in government.

I agree with the Premier on the above conditions.

It is quite clear that it is ridiculous to claim that a #TaxRevolt would hurt poor people the most. Surely spending money meant for the poor on corrupt deals and not facing any consequences for this harms poor people more now and in the future, than finding a means of holding these politicians accountable in how they spend this money.

Using the same logic as those claiming to speak on behalf of the poor against a tax revolt, we might say it is better for R1 out of a R100 to make its way to the poor rather than nothing at all. It is also a matter of respect for taxpayers and their property. Most people seem to assume that taxes are government’s right, that no conditions exist under which taxes would be unjust as long as the government doing the taxing is elected by some temporary majority for an arbitrary period of time.

This view is incompatible with individual liberty.

Taxes are an imposition in the life of an individual. The government does not ask you for permission before taxing you, it does not offer its services in a competitive free market in which you can choose your own provider of policing, roads, courts, etc.

The majoritarian explanation is simply not sufficient. Voters could just as well endorse murder (which is why we have not put the question of a death penalty to a referendum) or theft, as seems to be happening with expropriation without compensation. Therefore, it is not enough to justify taxes on the basis of the “will of the majority”, as this is incompatible with the concept of liberal democracy where the rights of the individual are protected from the often-arbitrary whims of the majority.

The other response to Helen Zille’s tweet was on the basis of the rule of law. This is interesting, given that the Premier pitched her idea as a defense of the rule of law. Most politicians tend to forget this when it is inconvenient, but the rule of law means much more than just following the written text of legislation passed by Parliament and signed by the President. It also includes as imperative, the principle that all should be equal before the law and that it should be applied without fear or favour.

This has not been happening in South Africa.

Not only have politicians gotten away with billions of rands in theft against the taxpayer and the poor; almost no one has been held accountable for this. But private individuals like you and me have the state coming down hard on us for similar offenses. There is one law for politicians and another for us, the citizens who have to fund these crimes.

It is not clear that voting would change anything, even if an opposition party could somehow threaten the ANC’s majority. Who is to say leaders of that party would not engage in the same looting the ANC has so easily gotten away with? There is clearly something wrong with our institutions; a serious enough defect that the idea of a tax revolt should be an option.

Even without the corruption, I believe the imminent amendment of the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation is a serious enough violation of the rule of law (legalized theft precludes the rule of law – can be no just law without the respect for private property) that on its own it merits a tax revolt. South Africans often forget that we are descended from the likes of Bhambatha ka Mancinza, who launched a rebellion against an unjust tax. Just because the faces of the people running government are now black does not mean they have license to do with us and our property as they will. Enough is enough.

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