Above the entrance to the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service on Constitution Avenue is chiseled this quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxation is the price we pay for civilization.” It is easy enough to see why government officials would want to put that quotation on display because it counsels people to be pleased with the taxes they pay. It is not so easy, however, to determine the accuracy or moral force of the sentiment expressed there. Taxation represents the replacement of the handshakes of commerce with the threat of force as an instrument for human governance. Although some libertarians think this threat is unnecessary to human governance, others think some modest use, although unfortunate, is unavoidable. This second position makes taxation a form ...

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