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Withholding Is Involuntary Servitude

Posted by | May 25th, 2013

“The withholding feature of the income tax is a still more clear-cut instance of Involuntary Servitude. For as the intrepid Connecticut industrialist Vivien Kellems argued years ago, the employer is forced to expend time, labor, and money in the business of deducting and transmitting his employees’ taxes to the federal and state governments — yet the employer is not recompensed for this expenditure. What moral principle justifies the government’s forcing employers to act as its unpaid tax collectors? The withholding principle, of course, is the linchpin of the whole federal income tax system. Without the steady and relatively painless process of deducting the tax from the worker’s paycheck, the government could never hope to raise the high levels of tax from the workers in one lump sum. Few people remember that the withholding system was only instituted during World War II and was supposed to be a wartime expedient.

Like so many other features of State despotism, however, the wartime emergency measure soon became a hallowed part of the American system. It is perhaps significant that the federal government, challenged by Vivien Kellems to test the constitutionality of the withholding system, failed to take up the challenge. In February 1948 Miss Kellems, a small manufacturer in Westport, Connecticut, announced that she was defying the withholding law and was refusing to deduct the tax from her employees. She demanded that the federal government indict her, so that the courts would be able to rule on the constitutionality of the withholding system. The government refused to do so, but instead seized the amount due from her bank account. Miss Kellems then sued in federal court for the government to return her funds. When the suit finally came to trial in February 1951, the jury ordered the government to refund her money. But the test of constitutionality never came.”

– Murray Rothbard (For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto)

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