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Nap Time!!!

Saturday, January 12, 2008
People don't exist

Today's dictator-of-the-day comment comes from Harriet Rafter, writing a letter to the Chron:
Ever since Californians passed Proposition 13 more than 30 years ago, politicians have decreed we must cut and cut and cut state spending. Clearly, this is no solution. It is time to do what any individual would if his income dropped and he had already limited his expenses - find additional sources of revenue. Fees, taxes - we citizens must pay for the services from which we all benefit. I happily will.
I'm not sure what's "clear" about that clearly, but let's investigate this analogy a bit further. The State of California isn't an individual, but making the comparison isn't particularly helpful to Rafter's cause. When Cali realizes she isn't making enough money to fund everything she wants, she decides to secure additional sources of funding. She goes around to everyone's house and demands the occupants give her money. If they don't, she kidnaps them and throws them in a cell. Is that really "what any individual would" do?

But that's not fair. Because Rafter is willing and happy to comply! Now, when she says she'll "happily" raise, say, a million dollars in taxes, she doesn't mean she's willing to give a million dollars. (No one's stopping her) She's actually only willing to give one dollar and then send someone to another 999,999 people and force them each to give a dollar, too, or else.

Somehow, though, this kind of math just doesn't compute for folks. To them, all they see is "a little more of my money, and I get things I like, yay!"

To head off all you illiterates (not that you'll read this), I'm not asking folks to never tax. I'm asking folks to understand the moral implications of taxation, and not to raise taxes lightly just because you "happily" will do something. In other words, I think all taxation is theft (I don't know how to describe "give me your stuff or I'll take it and/or throw you in jail" as anything other than a bureaucratic mugging) but that not all theft is wrong. Still, the fact that it's stealing really ought to count a bit when you're making your decisions.

posted by Beetle Aurora Drake 1/12/2008 05:53:00 PM #
Comments (7)
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I agree with you, except on the analogy to stealing. when something is stolen from you you don't get anything in return, but at least with taxes we get services in return.

but i think youre right that many people dont understand the moral aspect of forcing people into the deal.
I don't think getting something in return means it isn't theft (nor, for that matter, do all taxes go to benefit all people). While I certainly prefer to be robbed by people who will then provide police service, it doesn't really change the fact that I was robbed. This is why I said that all taxation is theft, though not all theft is wrong.

If your mugger robs you of $5 and then gives you a burrito, he still robbed you, because you had no choice in the matter.
I feel like this somehow abandons social contract theory - that there is the consent of the governed

that by existing in, depending on, and taking advantage of a society which would disintegrate in starvation, violence, plague, and other horrendous events, in the event of the collapse of the government, do we not consent to give up our money? And thus, consenting to thievery makes it not thievery at all?
is it really consent when noncompliance means imprisonment?

i disagree that a society without taxes would disintegrate. is that just your intuition, or do you have proof?

i suppose social contract theory is a cute metaphor, but in reality, i never agreed to anything.
A government cannot run without money. If there is no government, there is no infrastructure, no research, no food subsidies, etc. All of the things which keep the huge number of people fed, clothed, etc., well above the levels possible with any sort of anarchy.

High technology living requires coordination and control. Without the government, I think it's very clear that life as we know would disintegrate in a massive famine and war.

I'd also say you agree to this system by taking of the benefits of it: drinking soda (made from subsidized corn that's been genetically modified), using money, driving on roads, crossing bridges, flying on airplanes, using the oil guaranteed safe passage on the open ocean by expensive naval forces.

Should you reject the social contract, you may leave it. But I would venture that is a style of living which you would not much enjoy, and would take considerable investment to create a new social contract among your friends, or joining the Bushmen of the Namib Desert or another hunter-gatherer group.

I would in fact argue that those not paying taxes when they are asked to by society are those that are stealing, rather than the public/government stealing from individuals, since individuals get back through public goods far more value, including life-sustaining value, than otherwise possible.

And in the US, the government prints money, has the right to regulate the amount of money in circulation, and it is not backed by any metal or value other than faith in the US government.

"Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's..."
Exclamation point earned through the suggestion that the U.S. Government has a "right."

What does genetically modified corn have to do with government regulation? For that matter, mentioning airplanes is pretty odd, since you seem to posit that if government-regulated air travel didn't exist, no air travel would.

If you do not agree to perform according to the terms of a one-sided contract you had no say in, you are not stealing by any meaningful definition of the word. Your suggestion is that people must submit to their betters, and those who do not do so are committing a sin and must be punished. You are free to hold that belief, and I agree with it in a certain sense, but I won't be so obtuse as to declare that those who don't pay back the "kindness" of the unilateral contract are the thieves. Social contracts are not contracts in the individual sense. They are binding in the way the law of gravity is binding, not the way your cell phone contract is, and they're built on a foundation of theft and extortion.

Instead of trying to justify theft, as a person with moral clarity might, you're trying to pretend that it isn't theft, because you don't want to deal with the moral costs of it. This, in turn, makes it painfully easy to take the freedom of others without bothering to consider that you're doing so (e.g. Harriet Rafter)
look, im not one of those people who hates taxes because its "my goddamned money those fatcats are taking". money isn't all that important to me.

but i do think that there is absolutely no moral justification for imposing a tax on people who do not consent to it. there may be utilitarian justifications, along the lines of what you raised earlier. but dont try to tell me that they have a "right" to collect or impose a tax (even if over half of the population votes for it) or that i have some moral obligation to pay a tax that i did not consent to.

and as for your vision of a tax-less world: do you really think people act morally simply because there is a government to punish them if they dont? i would argue that its a bottom-up process- they exist because we have the capacity for "coordination and control", not the other way around.
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