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Government Steals $600 Million From Detroit Homeowners

In a spectacular display of callous unconcern, the City of Detroit has overtaxed its homeowners by over $600 million during the past 10 years.

According to investigative reporting by The Detroit News, Wayne county tax assessors simply stopped reassessing homes as market prices fell. Anna Bolden bought a lovely brick bungalow at a tax foreclosure auction for $4,800. When her tax bill came in, she found out why the house had been foreclosed: the city was charging taxes on a house worth $57,000. “I went down [to city and county offices] to ask questions, but it’s like everybody is giving you the runaround,” she said. “It makes you feel like they are cheating you…but what can you do?”

Anna Bolden (Photo: Robin Buckson, The Detroit News)

Although some homeowners managed to pay their inflated tax bills, at least 59,000 homes still have tax debts totaling $153 million dollars—including interest and fees on their fraudulent debts. There is a process to appeal the tax bills, but it’s a long and complicated process, and many don’t even know it exists. About 28,000 people have already lost their homes to the government over the excessive taxes. The ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund sued to stop the tax foreclosure auction in 2016, but a judge ruled that the Michigan Tax Tribunal had oversight rather than the court—essentially claiming that this injustice was not his problem.

Despite low-interest repayment programs put into place by the government, many citizens feel that more should be done. However, city officials report that they are not allowed to simply eliminate the tax debt—even when the amount people were overcharged is more than the debt the currently owe. Nor are they allowed to retroactively apply poverty tax credits that people qualified for but were not aware of in previous years.

Anna Bolden's home in Detroit. (Photo: Robin Buckson, The Detroit News)

Of course, simply forgiving the tax debt that should never have been levied in the first place is out of the question for the government. City and county officials have argued that forgiving overtaxed residents who have not paid their taxes would be “unfair” to those who have paid. Naturally, the same officials have made no effort to address the unfairness faced by those who have lost their homes due to the overtaxing. However, the former Chair of the State Tax Commission Doug Roberts admitted that “Nobody paid as much attention as we should have. We should have [intervened] sooner.” Roberts also stated that the Detroit News’ findings are a “compelling case” and the government should “resolve the issues as equitably as possible.”

“That’s what government exists for,” Roberts said. Whether the government exists to belatedly correct a problem that it created and then ignored for years while tens of thousands of people suffered, you can judge for yourself.

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What is Voluntaryism?

Writer Auberon Herbert coined the term “voluntaryism” in the 19th century. A classical liberal philosopher and individualist, he was an advocate for individual liberty, private property, and voluntarily-funded government. He argued that government should never initiate force and should only be a vehicle for defending individual rights. In his essay “The Principles of Voluntaryism and Free Life,” he writes that in a voluntaryist society “the state employs force only to repel force—to protect the person and the property of the individual against force and fraud; under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them.”

Voluntaryism is a philosophy based on consent consistently applied in all human interactions. Consent—uncoerced, positive agreement—is an integral part of a society based on natural rights, including freedom of association, private property, and self-defense. This sounds great to most people when they first hear it, but some struggle when applying this consent-based philosophy in all social practices—perhaps especially when it comes to taxation.

what is voluntaryism
British writer and politician Auberon Hurbert

Voluntaryism rejects forced taxation as a valid mode of funding governments and their social programs because it is impossible, as things are currently organized, to obtain consent from each individual—not only in the appropriation of these funds, but also in the ways taxpayer dollars are used. Under taxation, pacifists are forced to fund war, vegans are forced to subsidize dairy farmers, pro-life advocates are forced to fund abortion providers, homeschoolers are forced to fund government schools they don’t use, and everyone is forced to pay the salaries of the unelected bureaucrats who administrate these operations. There are too many examples of conflicting interests to even list because individuals vary too much for central planning to accommodate everyone in a truly ethical way.

If at some point in the future we could individually opt-in to the government services and programs we wanted to pay for and opt-out of the ones we don’t like, and create what Herbert called a “Voluntary State,” that would be a different story! But for now, the voluntaryist philosophy states unequivocally that taxation is theft. What the money is used for, whether we like and use or benefit from the programs it funds or not, does not change this fact: that if you refuse to pay your taxes you will be robbed of property, forcibly jailed, and/or killed by the state. There is no consent, and it is not voluntary. The voluntaryist will assert that this kind of aggression and coercion against individuals is immoral. Force and aggression, according to voluntaryism, are only appropriately applied in self-defense of person and property.

VIA’s mission is to show the world that voluntary philanthropy is not only already extremely common, but much more efficient than government welfare programs (which divvy out pennies for every dollar they appropriate), as well as being the most moral way to provide charity. We reject the state’s use of coercion, force, and aggression—even when their gains are used to help the less fortunate. We are here to show the world that we can provide ethical, direct charity to individuals in need with the consent of all parties involved, through purely voluntary interactions.

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