As Jonathan strode through the town he immediately noticed a dignified well-dressed man kneeling in the street, trying pain-fully to walk. Yet, the man didn’t appear to be crippled – just short. Jonathan offered a helping hand, but the man brushed him aside. “No, thank you!” said the man, wincing in pain. “I can walk okay. Using knees takes some getting used to.” “You’re okay? But why don’t you get off your knees and walk on your feet?”
“Ooooh!” moaned the man, squirming in discomfort. “It’s a minor adjustment to the tax code.”
“The tax code?” repeated Jonathan. “What’s the tax code have to do with walking?”
“Everything! Ow!” By now the man settled back on his heels, resting from his torturous ordeal. He pulled a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and mopped his brow. He shifted his balance to massage one knee, then the other. Many layers of worn-out patches had been sewn on at the knees. “The tax code,” he said, “has recently been amended to level the field for people of different heights.”
“Level the field?” asked Jonathan. “Please stoop over so I don’t have to shout,” pleaded the man. “That’s better. The Council of Lords decided that tall people have too many advantages.” “Advantages of tallness?” “Oh, yes! Tall people are always favoured in hiring, promotion, sports, entertainment, politics, and even marriage! Ooooh!” He wrapped the handkerchief around the newest of many rips in his grey pants. “So the Lords decided to level us with a stiff tallness tax.” “Tall people get taxed?” Jonathan glanced sideways and felt his posture begin to droop. “We’re taxed in direct proportion to our height.” “Did anyone object?” asked Jonathan. “Only those who refused to get on their knees,” the man said. “Of course, we’ve allowed an exemption for politicians. We usually vote tall! We like to look up to our leaders.” Jonathan was dumbfounded. By now, he found himself slouching, self-consciously trying to shrink. With both hands pointing down at the man’s knees he questioned incredulously, “You’ll walk on your knees just for a tax break?”
“Sure!” replied the man in a pained voice. “Our whole lives are shaped to fit the tax code. There are some who have even started to crawl.” “Wow! That must hurt!” Jonathan exclaimed. “Yeah, but it hurts more not to. Ow! Only fools stand erect and pay the higher taxes. So, if you want to act smart, get on your knees. It’ll cost you plenty to stand tall.” Jonathan looked around to see a handful of people walking on their knees. One woman across the street was slowly crawling. Many people scurried about half-crouching, their shoulders hunched over. Only a few walked proudly erect, ignoring the sanctions completely. Then Jonathan caught sight of three gentlemen across the street sitting on a park bench. “Those three men,” indicated Jonathan. “Why are they covering their eyes, ears, and mouths?”
“Oh, them? They’re practising,” replied the man as he leaned forward on his knees to shufﬂe along. “Getting ready for a new
series of tax proposals.”
• Is it proper to use taxes to manipulate behaviour?
• Do people shape their lives to reduce taxes?
• Are officials more wise and moral than their subjects?
• Is it unfair for people to be tall?
• What ethical issues are there in this story?
Through taxes governments have the means to manipulate the behaviour of citizens. This is in violation of individual rights. When taxes become severely burdensome, people alter their lives to guard against the costs, inconvenience, and indignity of those taxes.
When governments want less of undesirable behaviour, they tax it. By promoting some taxes as “sin taxes” the state is saying “these are sins – things you should not be doing, so we are going to tax them”. The state tries to discourage smoking and drinking in this manner. Ironically, taxes have the same effect on other kinds of behaviour such as working and saving. Thus working, saving, and becoming self-sufficient, are also treated as sinful behaviour.
The more people work – “sin” – the more they will be taxed. In this way the government also treats business success as a sin. This happens even though profitable firms provide goods and services, jobs and incomes – all of which provide for more tax revenues.
In other words, the state is discouraging work and self-responsibility – behaviour that is surely not sinful and that most people would like to encourage. Governments tend to tax efficiency and subsidise inefficiency. “Silent” or hidden taxes heavily penalise low-income people who have less inﬂuence over government officials. These types of taxes, in many disguises, affect our lives as politicians’ wishes seldom coincide with our own. Control of people through taxes, licences, and regulations upsets the economy, increases costs and reduces the demand for labour. This often leads to hostility and violence between groups that are on different sides of government favour.
This chapter is about the idea that equality of everything should be forced upon people. In this chapter, politicians try to force everyone to be the same equal height. As we saw in the previous chapter, people in Europe were prepared to alter their lives by shutting out the sunshine in order to save taxes. It is no different today. Governments try to control our behaviour with taxes. It is amazing how many people’s lives and conversations are shaped by the tax code.