Conservatives are against new taxes—unless they are for them. The unprincipled conservative approach is most recently illustrated by a February 14 release from the American Conservative Union (ACU) urging Congress to sanction Internet sales taxes.

In the release, ACU president Al Cardenas says the federal government should allow states to impose sales taxes on out-of-state businesses to “level the playing field” with in-state business. (Most but not all states impose a sales tax.) Cardenas endorses the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act to accomplish this.

To buttress his position, Cardenas appeals to the authority of a 2001 article by William F. Buckley (no surprise) on the matter. In this article, Buckley acknowledges the “collectivist” motive of letting “states come in with a transfer tax.” However, Buckley argues, without the requirement to pay a sales tax, “out-of-state businesses are, in practical terms, subsidized.” But Buckley’s claims on this point are complete nonsense: The government does not “subsidize” a business by declining to forcibly confiscate wealth from it.

Buckley is right about one thing: “If the advantage of tax-free Internet commerce marginally closes out local industry, reforms are required.” Indeed they are. But what reforms comport with individual rights? That, of course, is a question that never occurred to Buckley or his ilk.

To the degree that sales taxes finance any government activity not directly related to operating local court and police functions, they not only violate people’s rights to control their own wealth and trade with others on a voluntary basis; they also do so for purposes that the government has no moral right to engage in at all. (Ultimately, governments can and should be financed fully voluntarily.) . . .

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