Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Homelessness
by Pirate Joe,
17 January 2009

    Hard Times. They’re here, and likely to get a bit worse before they get any better. All the ingredients  are in place, making an old Woody Guthrie 78 sound as if it was recorded yesterday. The words come across with a startling, almost eerie, reality:
“But believe it or not,
 you won’t find it so hot,
if you ain’t got the do re me.”

    Yet this commentary is not about the Great Depression, (the first,(1873) the second (1929) or the inchoate third (today)). Rather it is about one of the most fundamentally un-American institutions ever conjured up by any government.
    A bit of background first. No less a document than the Declaration of Independence states that we (as living beings) “are created equal....endowed....with certain unalienable (meaning, literally, not to be made foreign to us) Rights” (sic)....(and) that among (in other words, not limited to) these are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” Further, that in order to secure those rights, “governments are instituted among men”
    Oh, so that’s why we have governments.
    This was one of liberalism’s finest hours, advancing the almost unheard of concept that governments are here to serve us, not the other way around.
    Liberal thought has brought us out of a number of Draconian laws, and prevented many other harsh measures from ever seeing the light of day. Pour example: Remember debtor’s prisons? These institutions criminalised debt indirectly (ostensibly, their purpose was to insure a debtor’s appearance in court) by incarcerating a debtor until his debt was paid. The debtor was responsible for paying for his own heat, clothing and food. As you might expect, many died. It was in 1849 that the last one was closed in the U.S.A. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Another reason that these prisons were the end of the line for many was the simple fact that once in jail, you obviously had no way of earning money, and hence few viable options for paying your debt. Another fine bit of legislation was the Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Act of 1785, which provided that a bankrupt person be nailed to a pillory by the ear. Just to make sure you didn’t somehow forget this pleasant little experience, they would then cut the ear off. Old colonial New York was far more humane. A hot branding iron was used to place a permanent “T” for thief on your thumb. Gradually, we embarked on a path that decriminalised poverty.
    Many years later, when the IRS came along, the income tax was graduated, meaning that a person who makes $10,000/year will not pay at the same rate or amount as someone who makes $100,000/year, who, in turn, will not pay as much as someone who makes $500,000/year, etc. Imagine for an instant, that instead of this system, the IRS instead declared that everyone must pay a tax of $50,000/yr. Assuming the person who makes $10,000/yr turned every penny of his/her earnings over to the government, that person would accrue a debt of $40,000/yr. The $100K individual would turn over 50% of his/her earnings, and the $500K guy would be paying a mere 10%. After four years of life in the street, a destitute, homeless person (who hadn’t earned a cent) would be $200,000. in debt to the government. Ouch. Obviously, such a hideously oppressive system would never be enacted, but the point I’m trying to make is that even though the graduations have been messed with, the basic concept is intact: the worse off you are, the smaller your obligation becomes, until (below a certain point), you owe nothing at all.
    Sales taxes are handled to gain a similar effect. Notice the next time you go to the food store, you don’t pay tax on food. You will pay tax on non-food items, such as laundry detergent, toilet paper or that can of dog or cat food. Not, however, on the food you need to survive. Nor on a visit to the doctor. Nor on any medicine he might prescribe. The idea that anyone might be put in the position of starving or succumbing to illness  because they didn’t have enough to pay a tax on food, medical services or medicine is repugnant to a modern, liberal, progressive society, as indeed it would be to anyone of conscience.
    Nor, if you are a homeowner, did you pay sales tax on your house. Again, since shelter is a basic need, it would seem morally bankrupt to deprive one of shelter because a tax could not be paid. It is rather hard to imagine life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness living in the street when the temperature is hovering at -20 degrees C.
    So, answer me this: why do we allow any sort of property tax in America?
    Property taxes are the most regressive, oppressive, hideously Draconian and autocratically imposed system for punishing hard times, hard luck, downward mobility or just plain poverty ever devised by man.
    Consider this all-to-common scenario: Your business goes bust or you loose your job and your unemployment runs out. You have little or no money, but your house is payed in full, so you at least can plant a garden in the back yard and have a roof over your head, right? WRONG. The insidious evil of property taxes will make you homeless.  The government will, by force, remove you from your home, and leave you destitute in the street. The home that you paid for in full will be confiscated. (for failure to pay this tax) How is this life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Remember, the IRS taxes you on income, if you make nothing, or less than the threshold, you owe nothing. This is inherently fairer system.
    I can see no reason why any American should ever be penalised for hard luck or poverty by the loss of their home. This just simply should never be allowed in America. Property taxes should be abolished. Period.

13 reasons why property taxes are unfair, Draconian, un-democratic and utterly contrary to the spirt of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution:

1.It is not a graduated tax. (not indexed to ability to pay).
2. It taxes an unquestionably basic human need: shelter.
3.It can deprive individuals of the basic right to live off their land.
4. It can result in government confiscation of fully paid-for property.
5. It’s methods of assessment are often capricious and arbitrary.
6.It can result in “taxation without representation” (if for example, you own business property in a township other than the one in which you live, you cannot vote on the issues or for the candidates that will decide how to take your money).
7.It is decidedly unfair to senior citizens and others on fixed incomes.
8.It oftentimes forces vulnerable seniors from the homes they’ve spent their lives in.
9.It places the local tax burdens unfairly on one group of people, property “owners”.
10. It is many times used as a weapon by local governments to displace entire neighbourhoods.
11.It can deprive individuals of a basic need, shelter, and force them into life-threatening homelessness.
12.It would seem to be a violation of the Fifth Amendment: “....nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation”.
13. There are no deductions allowed, as with the IRS.

    This blight upon our land can be eliminated, but, as with most injustices, it takes o-r-g-a-n-i-s-a-t-i-o-n! If you feel that you should be required to pay a tax to the government in order to keep what is rightfully yours, regardless of your ability to pay, fine, do nothing. If you feel as I do, that it is an abomination for anyone to be forced to pay ransom on their very own homes, then act. Talk, organise, broadcast, write, call, e-mail, post and publish. Let’s get a movement going. Success will mean that no matter how bad this depression gets, once you’ve paid for your home, noone can ever put you out of it.