Is the Income Tax a Form of Slavery?

Is the Income Tax a Form of Slavery?

by Steven Yates and Ray E. Bornert II

Slavery, we are reminded incessantly these days, was a terrible thing. In today’s politically correct society, some blacks are demanding reparations for slavery because their remote ancestors were slaves. Slavery is routinely used to bash the South, although the slave trade began in the North, and slavery was once practiced in every state in the Union. Today’s historians assure us that the War for Southern Independence was fought primarily if not exclusively over slavery, and that by winning that war, the North put an end to the peculiar institution once and for all.

Whoa! Time out! Shouldn’t we back up and ask: what is slavery? It has been a while since those ranting on the subject have offered us a working definition of it. They will all claim that we know good and well what it is; why play games with the word? But given the adage that those who can control language can control policy, it surely can’t hurt to revisit the definition of slavery. There are good reasons to suspect the motives of those who won’t allow their basic terms to be defined or scrutinized.

Here is a definition, one that will make sense of the instincts telling us that slavery is indeed an abomination: slavery is non-ownership of one’s Person and Labor. It is involuntary servitude. A slave must work under a whip, real or figurative, wielded by other persons, his owners, with no say in how (or even if) his labors are compensated. His is a one-way contract he cannot opt out of. A slave is tied to his master (and to the land where he labors). He cannot simply quit if he doesn’t like it. Moreover, a slave can be bought and sold like any other commodity.

In this case slavery is at odds with libertarian social ethics, in which all human beings have a natural right to ownership of Person and Labor. According to libertarian social ethics, contracts should be voluntary and not coerced. This is sufficient for us to oppose slavery with all our might. However, notice that this clear definition of slavery is a double-edged sword. There is no reference to race in the above definition. That whites enslaved blacks early in our history is an historical accident; there is nothing inherently racial about slavery. Many peoples have been enslaved in the past, including whites. The South, too, has no intrinsic connection with slavery, given how we already noted that it was practiced in the North as well. No slaves were brought into the Confederacy during its brief, five-year existence, and it is very likely that the practice would have died out in a generation or two had the Confederacy won the war.

Finally, it is clear that when most people talk about slavery, they are referring to chattel slavery, the overt practice of buying, selling and owning people like farm animals or beasts of burden. Are there other forms of slavery besides chattel slavery?

Before answering, let’s review our definition above and contrast slavery with sovereignty, in the sense of sovereignty over one’s life. Slavery, we said, is nonownership of Person and Labor. In that case, sovereignty is ownership of Person and Labor. The basic contrast, then, is between slavery and sovereignty, and the issue is ownership. And there are two basic things one can own: one’s Person (one’s life), and one’s Labor (the fruits of one’s labors, including personal wealth resulting from productive labors).

Let us quantify the situation. A plantation slave owned neither himself nor the fruits of his labors. That is, he owned 0% of Person and 0% of Labor. In an ideal libertarian order, ownership of Person and Labor would be just the opposite: 100% of both. In this case, we have a method allowing us to describe other forms of slavery by ascribing different percentages of ownership to Person and Labor. For example, we might say that a prison inmate owns 5% of Person and 50% of Labor. Inmates are highly confined in person yet they are allowed to own wealth both inside the prison and outside. Some, moreover, are allowed to work at jobs for which they are paid. When slavery was abolished, ownership of Person and Labor was transferred to the slave, and he became mostly free. So let us define the following categories in terms of individual percentage ownership:

Category Characteristics
Chattel Slavery 0% ownership of Person and Labor
Partial Slavery some % ownership of Person and Labor
Perfect Liberty 100% ownership of Person and Labor

With this in mind, here is our question for our readers: how much ownership do you have in your person and your labor? Are you really free? Or are you a partial slave? We are not, of course, talking about arrangements that cede a portion of ownership of Person and Labor to others through voluntary contract.

We submit that forcible taxation on your personal income makes you a partial slave? For if you are legally bound to hand a certain percentage of your income (the fruits of your labors) over to federal, state and local governments, then from the legal standpoint you only have "some % ownership" of your person and labor. The pivotal point is whether or not ownership is ceded through voluntary contract. Have you any recollection of any deals you signed with the IRS promising them payment of part of your income? If not, then if 30% of your income is paid in income taxes, then you have only 70% ownership of Labor. You are a slave from January through April – a very conservative estimate at best, today!

If one wants to stand on the U.S. Constitution as one’s foundation, then the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can be used as an ironclad argument against a forcible direct tax on the labor of a human being. The 13th Amendment says: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

The 13th Amendment makes it very clear that we cannot legally or Constitutionally be forced into involuntary servitude.

As such, we maintain that a human being has an inalienable right to own 100 % of Person and 100% of Labor, including control over how the fruits of his actions are dispensed. A human being has an inalienable right to control the compensation for his labor while in the act of any service in the marketplace – e.g., digging ditches, flipping burgers, word-processing documents for a company, programming computers, preparing court cases, performing surgery, preaching sermons, or writing novels.

A forcible direct tax on the labor of a human being is in violation of this right as stated in the 13th Amendment. If we work 40 hours a week, and another entity forcibly conscripts 25 % of our compensation, then we argue that we have been forced into involuntary servitude – slavery – for 10 of those 40 hours, and we were free for the other 30. If we could freely choose to work just the 30 hours and decline to work the 10 hours, then our wills would not be violated and the 13th Amendment would be honored.

However, Congress, the IRS and their Internal Revenue Code (IRC) lay direct claim to those ten hours (or some stated percentage) without our consent.

In other words, in a free and just society, a society in which there is no slavery of any form:

  • Human beings are not forced to work for free, in whole or in part.
  • Human beings are not slaves to anything or anyone.
  • Anyone who attempts to force us to work for free, without compensation, has violated our rights under the 13th Amendment.

This, of course, is not the state of affairs in the United States of America at the turn of the millennium, in which:

  • We labor involuntarily for at least four months out of every year for the government.
  • We are, therefore, slaves for that period of time.
  • The government, having forced us to work for free, without compensation, has violated the 13th Amendment.

Of course, what follows from all this discussion is that there is an issue about slavery. But it is not the issue politically correct historians and activists are raising. As for reparations, we suspect many of us might be willing to let bygones be bygones if we never had to pay out another dime to the IRS. We often read about how great the economy is supposedly doing. Just imagine how it would flourish if human beings owned 100% of Person and Labor, and could voluntarily invest the capital we currently pay to the government in our businesses, our homes, our schools, and our communities!

For those of you who believe that the 16th Amendment repealed, replaced, modified, appended, amended or superceded the 13th Amendment, you are mistaken. For an Amendment to be changed, in any way, there must be an Amendment that emphatically declares this action. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that alters the efficacy of the 13th Amendment in even the slightest way. The 16th merely allowed the government to enter the "National Social Benefits" business where it finances the system with the mandatory contributions of voluntary participants. While all Americans certainly understand the concept of mandatory contributions, they fail to understand the concept of voluntary participation, largely due to a very effective marketing campaign on the part of our central government for several generations now since the Great Depression. The 16th gave the government the power to legally enter a contractual relationship with its citizens wherein the citizen contributes a portion of his labor in exchange for social benefits. In order for both Amendments to peacefully coexist, the contractual relationships in the system created by the 16th cannot be forced upon the citizens. For to do so would be to contradict the 13th completely.

Two final questions, and a few final thoughts. Can we really take seriously the carpings of politically correct historians about an arrangement (chattel slavery) that hasn’t existed for 140 years when they completely ignore the structurally similar arrangements (tax slavery) that have existed right under their noses during most of the years since. And does a governmental system which systematically violates its own founding documents, and then oversees the imprisoning of those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the violations, really have a claim on the loyalty of those who would be loyal to the ideals represented in those founding documents?

Eventually, we have to make a decision. How long are we going to continue to put up with the present arrangements? In the Declaration of Independence is found these remarks: "… [a]nd accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed." We are accustomed to the income tax. Most people take it for granted, and don’t look at fundamental issues. Yet some have indeed opted out of the tax system. It is necessary, at present, to become self-employed and hire oneself out based on a negotiated contract in which you determine your hourly rate and then bill for your time. Then you send your client an invoice, they write a check directly to you in response, and you take the check and deposit it in your bank account; you may wish to open a bank account with a name like John Smith Enterprises DBA (DBA stands for ‘Doing Business As’). If the bank asks for a tax-ID number, you may give your social security number. This is perfectly legal since you are not a corporation nor are you required to be. Nor does the use of a government issued number contractually obligate you to participate in their system.

We should specify here that we are discussing taxes on income resulting from personal labor, to be carefully distinguished from taxes for the sale of material items, or excise taxes. These are an entirely separate matter.

By advocating opting out of the tax slavery system, we are not advocating anything illegal here; that is the most surprising thing of all. The Treasury Department nailed Al Capone not because of failure to pay taxes on his personal labor but for his failure to pay the excise tax on the sale of alcoholic beverages. So a plan to be self-employed that includes profit from the sale of material goods should include a plan to pay all the excise taxes; you risk a prison sentence if you don’t. But the 13th Amendment directly prohibits anything or anyone from conscripting your person or the fruits of your physical or cognitive labors; to do so is make a slave of you. You may, of course, voluntarily participate in the SSA-W2 system by free choice. In this case you are required to submit to the rules as outlined in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). And this means that you will contribute a significant fraction of your labor to pay for the group benefits of the system in which you are voluntarily participating.

Your relationship with the system technically begins with the assignment of a Social Security Number (Personal Tax ID Number). This government-issued number, however, does not contractually obligate you to anything. The government cannot conscript its citizens simply by assigning a number to them. Assigning the number is perfectly fine. But conscripting them in the process is a serious no-no. Some people that feel strongly about the last chapters of the book of Revelation might view this as pure – evil.


The critical point in the relationship begins when a citizen accepts a job with an IRS registered corporation. Accepting the government owned SSA-W2 job marries you to the system. The payroll department has the employee fill out a W4. This W4 officially notifies the employee that the job in question is officially part of the SSA-W2 system and that all job-income is subject first to the rules and regulations of the IRC and then secondly to the employee. When you sign that W4 you are at that point very, very married to the system.

So why not just decline to sign the W4?

You can decline to sign a W4 but this does not accomplish much nor does it unmarry you from the system. Your payroll office will merely use the IRC defaults already present in the payroll software and all deductions will be based on those parameters.

Okay, you might say, fine, I'll sign a W4 but I'll direct my payroll department to withhold zero. (You can do this for federal withholding but not for social security tax.) This still does not unmarry you from the system. Your payroll department still reports the gross income and deductions for your SSA-W2 job to the IRS each and every quarter. And at the end of the year you will probably end up writing a large check to the IRS for the group contributions you declined to pay during the year.

You then might say, Okay, then I'll just direct my payroll office to decline to report income to the IRS.

Reply: they cannot legally decline to report your SSA-W2 income because of their contractual obligations under the IRC that were agreed to when they established their official IRS registered corporation. The corporation can get into deep trouble by violating their contract.

Okay, you reply in turn, I'll just get the corporation to create a non-SSA-W2 job for me.

Response this time: the corporation cannot do this either; their contract under the IRC requires every single employee-job in that corporation to be an SSA-W2 job. This is similar to labor union practices of insisting that all jobs in a plant be union jobs.

You retort: isn't this a government monopoly on every corporate job in America???

The short answer is YES.

So how can I legally decline to work for free?

The answer is to decline to be an 'employee' of an official IRS registered corporation.

How is that possible?

The answer is simple. You become an independent contractor. The Supreme Court upholds the sovereignty of the individual and has declared that your "...power to contract is unlimited." Corporations hire the labors of non-employees each and every day.

If there is an infestation of cockroaches near the employee break-room, the corporation doesn't create an SSA-W2 employee exterminator job. They hire a contract exterminator to kill the bugs. When the bug-man arrives they don't hand him a W4 and ask him to declare his allowances, they lead him straight to the big-fat-ugly roaches and implore him to vanquish the vermin immediately. When the bug-man finishes the job he hands them an invoice for his services. And the company sends him a check to pay the invoice. And nowhere on that check will you find a federal, state, county or city withholding deduction or a social security deduction or a medical or dental deduction or a garnishment or an "I'll-be-needing-an-accountant-to-figure-all-this-out" deduction or a "Tuesday-Save-The-Turnips-Tax" deduction. On the contrary, the bug-man receives full remuneration for his service. This simple arrangement is completely legal and the IRC has zero contractual claim to any part of this check (assuming the bug-man has made no contract under the IRC). And anyone or anything that attempts to forcibly conscript any part of that check is violating the bug-man's rights under the 13th Amendment.


"There is a clear distinction in this particular case between an individual and a corporation, and that the latter has no right to refuse to submit its books and papers for an examination at the suit of the State. The individual may stand upon his constitutional rights as a citizen. He is entitled to carry on his private business in his own way. His power to contract is unlimited. He owes no such duty to the State, since he receives nothing therefrom, beyond the protection of his life and property. His rights are such as existed by the law of the land long antecedent to the organization of the State, and can only be taken from him by due process of law, and in accordance with the constitution. Among his rights are a refusal to incriminate himself, and the immunity of himself and his property from arrest or seizure except under a warrant of the law. He owes nothing to the public so long as he does not trespass upon their rights." Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43 at 47 (1905).

What does the bug-man do with his check?

The short answer is ... he keeps it ... all of it.

What about filing a tax return?

The bug-man declines to file a return since he has nothing to report that is under the jurisdiction of the IRC. Since he does not work in a government owned SSA-W2 job he is out of the system and under no contractual obligation to make contributions. The corporation that wrote him a check for his service legally reports it as an internal business expense. He is legally classified as a non-participant.

If you are in the SSA-W2 system:

The purpose of an individual year-end tax-return is to settle the exact amount of contractually required contributions to the SSA-W2 system as determined by the IRC. Filing is purely voluntary. You can decline to file but doing so does not release you from your contractual obligations under the IRC. In the absence of a tax-return, the IRC permits the IRS to file a tax-return on your behalf and they are allowed to file a return that maximally favors them. And this they will do if it creates a receivable – accounting lingo for – "you owe them money." They will decline to file a return if it would create a payable – accounting lingo for "they owe you money." If the IRS files a return and creates a receivable against you they will send you a notice declaring their claim. If you decline to pay, the IRC permits the IRS to file a tax-lien against you. This of course will be seen on your credit report. And the end result is your credit is damaged. The IRS computers will see to it that the lien remains on your credit report until the lien is paid. You can't beat a computer.

What if I file a return but cheat like crazy?

This is a very bad idea. The Treasury Department nailed Leona Helmsley not because she failed to pay taxes on her personal labor but because she filed a fraudulent tax return. Filing a dishonest tax return puts you at risk. The IRS is very astute at defending itself. Basically the IRS is responsible for enforcing the IRC rules. If you are in the SSA-W2 system you have to live by the IRC. If you decide to stay in the system, we recommend securing the services of a highly qualified CPA or tax attorney that can assist you in filing the most advantageous return possible without committing fraud or risking an audit.

In the end, the law does allow you to opt-out because you can't be forced to work for free. If you do opt-out there are at least 2 potential inconveniences you need to understand:

1) Difficulty with conventional loans.

You will have a far more difficult time getting loans from conventional banks, because so often these depend on verifying your income with signed tax returns you no longer have. You can hire an accountant to compose a certified financial statement that some loan institutions may accept as valid proof of income.

2) No unemployment benefits.

This benefit is part of the SSA-W2 system and since you're not in the system you can't use the benefits. If you have no contracts you only have yourself to complain to, you can't complain to the government because you can't get anyone to do business with you.

Moreover, some who have opted out have moved all their physical assets into a trust. This measure makes it almost impossible for the IRS to touch the assets. The IRS, after all, cannot simply decide to go after a person’s wealth. They have to obey IRC rules as well. If there is no income over which they have jurisdiction then they can legally do nothing.

It is worth noting, finally, that the government is in the "National Social Benefits" business. The government entered this business with the ratification of the 16th Amendment and has achieved a near perfect monopoly in this market (a violation of anti-trust laws). If you don't believe this, try finding a non-SSA-W2 job with a U.S. corporation. As such, it is in the interest of any business that has a monopoly to get the customers to believe that there is no alternative to the present business relationship. The government is not about to provide any of its customers (you and I) with any information suggesting otherwise. In obtaining such information, we are clearly on our own; no government agency will assist you in opting out of the income tax system or the social security system, with the possible exception of the U.S. Supreme Court, should the right case one day come before them.

So one’s best weapon is still the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the 13th Amendment, and information. Whatever the inconveniences, the reward is personal sovereignty – otherwise known as freedom.

October 7, 2000

Steven Yates has a Ph.D in Philosophy and is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1994). A free lance writer, lecturer, and frequent contributor to and The Edgefield Journal, he lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Ray E. Bornert II is President of HixoxiH Software. A portion of this article has been adapted from his essay Are You A Slave? He lives in Snellville, Georgia.

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