Freedom from the Income Tax

by Harry Browne

April 15, 2003       

Someday, I hope, April 15th will no longer be Tax Day (the day your income tax return must be filed) but instead will be known as Freedom Day — a day to remember the huge, expensive, intrusive, and meddling government that was once was and that we should be on guard against forever.

That can come only after we repeal the income tax and reduce the federal government to a size that can subsist on just the tariffs and excise taxes already being collected. No flat tax, no "fair" tax, no replacement tax of any kind — because government has been made so small an income tax is no longer needed to finance it.


Not at all.

A Little History

Many people aren't aware that America — conceived in liberty in 1776 — didn't have a permanent income tax until 1913. In fact, the Constitution of the United States prohibited an income tax.

For over a century, the U.S. government survived quite well without an income tax. It operated a small, constitutional government on the revenue from tariffs and excise taxes.

Tariffs are taxes imposed upon imported products, and excise taxes are imposed at the manufacturing level on domestic products. Because those taxes affect the prices of products, they were self-limiting. That is, the taxes couldn't produce unlimited revenue to the government.

If a tax was raised too far, the product would be priced out of the reach of the consumer, sales would fall, and the tax revenues would fall.

Thus, relying on tariffs and excise taxes, the U.S. government was able to raise only so much money and no more. The same was true of state and local governments: there were built-in limits to how much they could tax.

As a result, in 1913 federal, state, and local governments combined took in taxes only 8% of the national income.

But that changed quickly with the passage of the 16th Amendment, authorizing an income tax. In contrast to tariffs and excise taxes, income-tax rates can be raised upward and upward and upward, since most people can't choose to stop working in order to avoid the tax.

That meant the federal government now had virtually unlimited resources to do whatever the politicians wanted. Respect for the Constitution disappeared almost overnight. The U.S. government plunged the nation into World War I, a strictly European war, something it couldn't have done without the income tax to finance the war effort. (The top rate quickly zoomed upward to 77% from 7% where it had been set in 1913.)

Today governments at all levels take 47% of the national income. That means you work nearly half your life to support the welfare state. And now there's no topic on which the politicians refuse to consider legislation. Your entire life is fair game for them to enact rules.


Imagine what would happen if we repealed all forms of federal income tax — including the personal income tax, the corporate income tax, Social Security, the estate tax, and the gift tax. A world of benefits would quickly come in the wake of repealing these taxes.

The first benefit is the most obvious: all the money you're paying in income taxes will be yours — to spend, to save, to give away as you see fit, not as the politicians think is best for you, best for the nation, and — most of all — best for them.

You are the one who gets up every day to go to work. You're the one who puts in long hours. You're the one who makes your job what it is.

What have the politicians done to earn that money?

Absolutely nothing.

What claim should they have on your earnings?

Absolutely none.

When we repeal the income tax, all that you pay now in income and Social Security taxes will be yours at last — to do with as you see fit.

If yours is the average American family, that means over 10,000 dollars a year that's been going to the politicians that will stay in your hands.

Every dollar you earn will be yours — to spend, to save, to give away as you see fit — not as the politicians think best for you, for the nation, or for themselves.

They won't have a claim on a single dollar you earn.

So what will you do with that money when they no longer take it away from you?

  • Will you put your children in private schools — where you could get exactly the kind of education you believe best for them? No more wondering why more time is spent learning to be a good citizen than learning about history, geography, reading, ‘riting, and 'rithmetic. No more fighting the Board of Education to try to get the curriculum changed. You pick the school that fits your idea of what a school should be.

  • Will you start that business you've always dreamed of?

  • Will you move into a better neighborhood, take your family on a better vacation, arrange a much more comfortable and much more secure retirement?

  • Will you help your church or your favorite cause or charity in a way you've never been able to do before?

What will you do with that money?

At last, it will all be yours — and the government will no longer have a claim on it.

Other Benefits

That in itself is reason enough to want to end the income tax. But here are three additional benefits:

  • There will be a similar increase in take-home pay for everyone you do business with — your customers or your employer — meaning that people will have more money to spend on what you have to offer.

  • A similar increase in take-home pay will occur throughout America, unleashing the biggest boost in prosperity that America has ever seen. There will be a job for everyone who can work and charity for everyone who can't.

  • Your life will be your own again: an end to government snooping into your finances, an end to keeping books for the IRS, an end to fear of an audit, an end to rearranging your financial life to minimize your tax burden.

And there's a fifth benefit that's probably the greatest of all: No longer will the federal government have the resources to run our lives. It will be unable to continue ruining what was once the best health-care system the world has ever known, destroying American education, making millions of people dependent on welfare, subsidizing foreign dictators and meddling in explosive foreign affairs.

Our Chance

Repealing the income tax is the issue on which we can rally Americans to cut government truly to the bone — the bone being the functions authorized in the Constitution. Without the resources to meddle in our lives, the government will have to withdraw to the limits of the Constitution.

There isn't space here to cover all the ramifications, objections, and possibilities surrounding this subject, but the American Liberty Foundation is launching a project to acquaint the American people with the benefits to come from returning to constitutional government through the total and immediate repeal of the income tax.

Reports and programs will be issued dealing with ways that government functions can be better handled outside the government, how downsizing the federal government will lead to downsizing state and local governments (and possibly even foreign governments!), how even those who don't pay income tax today can benefit from the repeal and in fact be induced to help us.

This is a fascinating subject because it is the single subject that automatically encompasses an end to practically every other ill the federal government has inflicted upon us.

And the rewards it offers provide an opportunity to reach all Americans with a message of a better life — leading perhaps to April 15, 2010, when we celebrate Freedom Day instead of Tax Day.


Harry Browne was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, and is now the Director of Public Policy for the American Liberty Foundation. You can read more of his articles at