Over at Mises Blog, Jeffrey Tucker links to this revolting New York Times op-ed by Richard Coniff (registration and a strong stomach required) in which Coniff recommends replacing the word “taxes” with the word “dues,” on the grounds that “tax” has a negative connotation, whereas “dues” suggests community and obligation and general warm fuzziness.
Now, statist attempts to twist language are hardly new- indeed, it’s an age-old tradition, and one that is especially important in an age where it’s no longer socially acceptable to just come out and say that the lower orders need to shut up and do what they’re told. Still, this is one of the more brazen attempts in recent memory.
Dues are voluntary. When I chose to quit the Cub Scouts, I stopped paying dues to that organization, and I didn’t have to move to some other youth group’s jurisdiction in order to do so. Unless I decide I want to change careers and become a professional comedian, I don’t have to pay my dues by spending years telling jokes for hostile drunks in filthy dive bars. (My real life is close enough to that already, thank you.) I don’t pay dues to the local Garden Club or the Elks or the Knights of Columbus or the League of Women Voters because I have not chosen to join those groups.
And that’s the point, of course; give a violent, coercive activity the name of a peaceful, voluntary activity to make it easier to pretend that one is actually the other. There are few things more revolting than the spectacle of someone cheerfully proposing a clever knew way to dupe victims of abuse and exploitation into submitting to- and worse, into feeling good about, into loving- their oppressors. Statists like Coniff don’t just want your money, and they don’t just want your obedience- they want your soul.
In a way, though, Coniff speaks more wisely than he knows. He points out that the term “tax” has gained a punitive, coercive connotation. In his conclusion, as he talks about the need to use language that makes people feel good and patriotic about being robbed blind (I’m paraphrasing a bit), Coniff remarks:
“Taxation” is a throwback to the time when kings picked our pockets.