L. Neil Smith's

Number 4, January 1996

Can the Federal Government 'Sell off the Lands'?

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         The Libertarian Party platform says: "We ... oppose any increase in existing tax rates and the imposition of any new taxes; (and) support the eventual repeal of all taxation. ..." Furthermore, "We oppose as involuntary servitude any legal requirements forcing employers or business owners to serve as tax collectors. ..."
         The platform's "Taxation" plank concludes: "Default is preferable to raising taxes or perpetual refinancing of growing public debt."
         Article 14 of the national bylaws specify the party's national committee shall honor and support the presidential nominee chosen in convention "as long as their campaigns are conducted in accordance with the Platform of the Party," while Article 5 requires that the presidential candidate's platform shall be "consistent with the Statement of Principles and Party Platform."
         Where the Democrats and Republicans nominate the candidates who they believe are most likely to win, and then allow those candidates to draft a platform suitable to the campaign they want to run, the third-ranked Libertarian Party makes itself America's "Party of Principle" precisely by requiring that its nominees represent its platform; not the other way around.
         This makes it a very odd event when the purported front-runner for the Libertarian Party's 1996 presidential nomination -- a nomination which will be decided in convention in Washington City on the auspicious date of July 4, 1996 -- writes a lengthy letter to the party's monthly newspaper, the Libertarian Party News, defending his proposal to institute a new 5 percent national sales tax, or (should that fail to raise "enough" revenue), a 10 percent "flat" income tax.
         Of course, the supporters of Tennessee financial newsletter author Harry Browne -- who wrote that letter in November -- swear up and down the new Browne National Sales Tax would replace the current income tax.
         Sounds great. Only problem is, of all the states that have added state income taxes in recent years -- income taxes which were universally advertised as "replacements" for "regressive" sales and property taxes -- how many have actually gotten rid of those earlier sales and property taxes?
         Not a one. All "replacement taxes" become add-on taxes. The lawmakers in question simply pucker up and simper "Of course it's a replacement tax. We're just going to leave the earlier taxes in place for a few years, until we're sure your new tax raises 'enough' revenue. To do anything else would be 'irresponsible.' ..." There, that didn't hurt too much, did it?
         Refining his proposal in his new book, "Why Government Doesn't Work" (Increasingly dubbed by long-term members of the L.P -- which Mr. Browne joined as he began his campaign/book tour in 1994 -- "Why You Need Me to Make Government Work"), Mr. Browne now asserts the business owners who his new "Libertarian" IRS would force to collect a 5 percent sales tax won't mind a bit, because they'll get to keep a 5 percent commission.
         Doesn't that just make it a 4-and-three-quarter percent sales tax? But leaving aside such new math for a moment, let's recall that the party platform defines such forced tax collection duties as "involuntary servitude."
         And here all this time we thought the Thirteenth Amendment banned slavery. Turns out, if the Southerners had just paid all those chained-up black folk a 5 percent commission on the cotton they picked, and made them use it to pay for their own darned hamhocks and collard greens, they could have kept them in bondage indefinitely. Sakes alive!
         But wait, there's more:
         In the new book for which Mr. Browne is now on "the longest book tour of my life," the author goes further:
         The would-be nominee now says his various new taxes will only go into effect if he can't raise the $12 billion he needs to pay off the national debt and set up "annuities" to take care of all the poor and needy by selling off all the assets of the federal government, including the "federal lands" which make up the bulk of several Western states.
         Oh boy.
         First off, is there any reason to believe such a "yard sale" would mend our kleptocrats' spendthrift ways? Wouldn't it just encourage them to spend another 60 years running up another massive debt, to finance an even more oppressive welfare/police state, all in the cozy assumption that "They found some stuff to sell the last time, didn't they? Heck, our successors can always seize the steel and oil industries, and sell those off. Why worry?"
         But in truth, such concerns arise only if Washington City has clear title to the lands in question, which it clearly does not.
         Lawsuits are now working their way through the federal courts -- based on disputes between federal occupation troops and county officials in Nye County, Nev., Catron County, N.M., and elsewhere -- which will test the quite credible argument that Article I Section 8 of the Constitution limits the lands under federal ownership and control to the District of Columbia and those specific sites which the state legislatures may "consent" to sell to the federal government "for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings."
         The thrust-up popinjays in Washington City can show no valid, recorded title to the vast tracts which Mr. Browne envisions selling off to the highest bidder. The legislatures of these states (states which entered the union on an "equal footing") have never "consented" to sell Washington up to 85 percent of their land area, nor has Washington ever consummated such a sale by paying the states any gold for the land. That's why no titles are recorded.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may reach him via e-mail at vin@terminus.intermind.net. His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas, Nevada 89127.

A Juror's Creed: As an American juror, I will exercise my 1000 year old duty to arrive at a verdict, not just on the basis of the facts of a particular case or instructions I am given, but through my ability to reason, my knowledge of the Bill of Rights, and my individual conscience.
-- L. Neil Smith

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