August 6, 2004 -- When governments take too much money from productive individuals, not surprisingly individuals try to escape from their plunderers. To avoid high taxes and heavy-handed regulations, they might flee from cities to the suburbs, from one state to another—see all those business folks who left California for Arizona and Nevada—and from one country to another. In order to cut off the retreat of potential victims, the United Nations is pushing new proposals for global taxation.
Such efforts aren't new. In recent years the European Union has inveighed against so-called "harmful tax competition," that is, the fact that some governments don't punish their citizens as much as do others for the virtue of being productive. Thus the EU tried to "harmonize" taxes between its member countries, that is, make certain that no country keeps its taxes too low. And in league with the international bureaucrats at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—which includes the world's industrialized countries—the EU has attempted to set the groundwork for international tax harmonization, for example, mandating reporting requirements so that governments can chase around the world their citizens and businesses that attempt to protect their wealth by moving it or earning it elsewhere.
In September 2004 the United Nations plans to push its own proposal to create a global tax system. It wants a carbon tax on fuel use, a tax on arms sales, financial transactions, international air travel, and even a global lottery. The excuse for such global taxes, on top of national taxes, on top of state taxes, on top of county taxes, on top of city taxes, on top of town taxes, is the same excuse used for most of these other taxes. The UN wants an extra $50 billion annually - to start with—to improve education, healthcare and the like in less-developed countries and to fight global poverty—the poverty that is created by governments that refuse to grant their citizens economic freedom and that through taxes steal much of the minimal wealth obtained by their poor subjects.
Of course, these global taxes target the wealth producers in the industrialized countries. It targets the individuals who can afford international air travel and who have financial assets to transfer. And most of all, it targets one of the essential elements for production—the use of energy. Thus, the tax on energy use strikes at the heart of what allows prosperous countries to be prosperous. To what extent are the UN and its supporters motivated by normal thievery and to what extent by envy and a desire to punish the productive is hard to say. But it is certain that such a system would give the parasites and destroyers of this world even more power over the producers and creators.
Many leftists in America, including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, are calling on the U.S. government to be more cooperative with other countries, to make their goals ours in the name of harmony and partnership. In other words, they ask Americans to accept international tax, environmental, labor, security and other policies that harm us in order to gain the love and respect of the countries and organizations that are asking us to immolate ourselves. But wanting the approval of others at the price of our rational self-interest is morally contemptible and, in any case, those for whom we sacrifice ourselves would not have love and respect for us but only the contempt that a willful dupe deserves.
If the U.S. government is to be criticized for anything, it is for not more vocally and articulately taking the moral high ground when rejecting such proposals. In her novel Atlas Shrugged , Ayn Rand showed that productive people are right to withdraw their efforts from those who would feed off of them and that they can only stop the moochers by also withdrawing their moral sanction. This moral battle is now playing out writ large on a global stage. America must stand in this battle on the principles of individual liberty on which it was founded if it is to preserve itself and give repressed individuals in other countries their best change to prosper and flourish.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.