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Is taxation moral?

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I'll be defending taxation. Not the grotesque absurdity that it is today, mind you. I'll be defending taxation for the proper purpose of government living in todays world, where modern freedom and security is at stake. I'm open to any reasonable argument.

There is a specific person I'd like to talk to about this. DavidOddam (misspelled?) had written a statement saying "There's no question that all taxation is immoral." That's just not accurate.

Anyone with something to say is welcome to post, but please, no "I agree with so and so statements" unless your adding to the subject matter.

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YOU CANNOT CLAIM TO HAVE THE MORE REASONABLE ARGUMENTS AND THE GUN TO COMPEL ME TO SUBMIT TO YOU SIMULTANEOUSLY. If I don't agree that society must be forced to pay for government services, that doe

The alternative is that -- in its most core functions -- the government protects all people in its jurisdiction, those who pay, those who don't pay, foreigners visiting the country. I think the re

Saying I can be forced to pay money by being out-voted is a collectivist bate and switch tactic.  Morality is not subject to mathematics or any form of aggregate.  It's the old two lions and a lamb vo

What I'm talking about is the attitude that "all taxation is immoral." While the issue certainly can cover federal employees (from the military on to the IRS to the local law enforcement official), I'd like to limit the discussion to just the principal of taxing in this modern world. Like I had said, I'm not going to defend this monstrous money-cyphoning organization, but the principals behind taxation for the proper purpose of government.

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Then you have to reconcile the 'proper purpose of government,' which is to protect individuals from the initiation of force against them, with the initiation of force. Any extraction of your property against your will is an initiation of force, specially when the party doing it threatens to send you to jail or worse if you don't comply.

"Voluntary Taxation" isn't taxation: It's called Donations.

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What I'm talking about is the attitude that "all taxation is immoral." While the issue certainly can cover federal employees (from the military on to the IRS to the local law enforcement official), I'd like to limit the discussion to just the principal of taxing in this modern world. Like I had said, I'm not going to defend this monstrous money-cyphoning organization, but the principals behind taxation for the proper purpose of government.

Okay, I'll venture a response:

You stated that you are defending taxation for the proper purpose of a government, but you didn't outline what the purpose was. I take the position that the proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. By the very definition of the government having the power to tax, we can draw a conclusion about the kind of "protection" being provided by this situation. In the first place, this government will impoverish us and attack our property by seizing it in order to to provide us with protection from invasion of property and loss of life with your own expropriated property which we spend our lives producing, by legally sanctifying an agency that commits crime and aggression against our lives and property. Who is being protected here?

There is no rationalizing "violating rights for a good reason." This is an attempt to maintain a contradiction. "We will violate rights to protect rights." This, in practice, is nothing more than a type of legalized protection racket.

I take the position that the initiation of physical force is immoral (since reason is man's survival instrument, man must act by productiveness and trade, to the extent that one uses force, one can not act on the basis of rationality, productiveness, nor engage in trade, nor keep the product of his mind and labor, therefore morality demands that he may not initiate force), therefore stealing is immoral. Since stealing is immoral, it is wrong for one man to steal from another. If it is wrong for one man to steal from another, then it is wrong for one man to steal from another, even if one man calls himself an "IRS Agent."

If it is wrong for one man to do this, then it is wrong for a group of men to do this. Our thief is now simply a part of a larger gang that he in fact claims to be a representative of a group called "the Internal Revenue Service" and that this group is further empowered to seize money and property by an even larger group which is called "the government." Instead of calling himself a criminal, our thief calls himself a "tax collector," and instead of saying that he is taking money and property for himself, he claims that he is collecting it for "the poor" or "the proper functions of government according to Lakeside."

If a proper government, that is, a government whose sole function is the protection of individual rights, sets out as an end goal its power to tax, then this government invariably violates the rights of its citizens, and therefore becomes an improper government by its own standards.

You can only resolve this by either changing the proper purpose from something other than protecting individual rights (meaning you are asserting the proper purpose of government is to violate rights in some way) or you must prohibit the government from having the power to tax.

I suggest the latter, as a rights-protecting government is to be the agent of the persons within the country, who must have a choice whether to fund their government or not. What determines what is proper and improper for governments to do are, in essence, the same principles which differentiate the proper from the improper actions of the individual. Government has no more right to tax and violate rights than I do.

Men must deal with each other by trade, the giving of value for value by mutual consent according to their own terms set by their own independent rational judgement. In taxation, an individual's property is taken from him without his consent and services may be returned to him according to the government's decrees. This violates the trader principle and the principle that the government is the servant or agent providing a service and the citizen is an autonomous individual with a right to life, not a ruler and a subject relationship

I suggest a program of voluntary financing would be sufficient to pay for the proper functions of rights-protecting, and by definition this cannot include taxation.

Cf. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Chapter 15: "Government Financing in a Free Society," 1964.

I also put forth the proposition that once the principle of non-initiation of force is surrendered, you have no logical defense against the government raising taxes further, no standard by which to argue that 15% taxation is okay, but 50% is not, and those democratic officials within government will constantly seek to expand their mandate and extend largesse to themselves and their privileged groups, agitating and promising the public a free lunch by extracting an ever larger portion from the wealth the citizens create by production and trade. Taxation will necessarily increase to the largest possible amount government officials can get away with via public opinion without causing men to stop working, riot, or start a revolution. Once that limit is reached, then government will set out to tax indirectly via deficit spending, borrowing from the public, foreigners, and the banking system, and inflation, which is very politically expedient and much easier to get away with than direct transfers, but every bit as immoral.

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Is the idea of citizenship charges a legitimate plan? I have heard arguments before that the government cannot own any property and therefore it is immoral for them to charge us simply to live here, however, is it necessarily immoral for the government to charge us for the provision of services in the same way a business does? The laws of supply and demand still apply to government services (ie higher crime rate = a higher demand for court services) however no Objectivist would ever claim that businesses should be supported by donation. Is it possible to run all government agencies through systems similar to insurance policies?

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is it necessarily immoral for the government to charge us for the provision of services in the same way a business does?

Certainly. The government is not a business, and is only similar to a business in that it provides a service. But the government's existence, and the services it provides, are created by members of society out of necessity. For government to continue existing requires an active process: rational actions on the part of the public to avoid corrupting the government, and continual donation to support the existence of the government.

Demanding a fee for my existence, on penalty of jail, threat of non-service, or forcible removal from the country, is an initiation of force and thus immoral.

Is it possible to run all government agencies through systems similar to insurance policies?

No, because government, unlike business, is granted a monopoly on the service it renders, and its clients are not specific individuals, but all current and future individuals living in the country.

Edited by brian0918
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First of all, I agree 100% with the objectivist viewpoints stated above. No reason that I should rephrase them and repeat the same message. What I want to say is the following:

You have to remember where taxes came from. It used to be that when there was a king, emperor, pharaoh, etc., they were established as the rightful owners of their lands and all that was in it, including its people. The people had no right to the fruit of their labors, they were the property of their ruler, working the rulers lands. Taxes were taken from them by "right".

Throughout history taxes started as, and continued to be tyrannical means of enriching the ruling class. It is important to note that all current tax practices evolved from this and it is also important to note that all nations on this earth either are or once were under the control of a totalitarian regime. Sure, they liberalized and in many cases power is no longer in the hands of the nobility, but their system is still a derivative of the original oppressive and immoral totalitarian tax scheme. Taxes were not started as a practical, "necessary evil". They were simply an evil. Taxes are not a practical necessity…funding is…and there is no evidence that the removal of citizens property by force is the only or the best way to fund a government. None. Taxes aren't "necessary", they are the status quo.

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I'll join in on the side of defending taxation.

Endless money forms the sinews of war. - Cicero, Philippics

Athens only avoided defeat by the Persians because it fortuitously discovered a new silver mine a few years before, with which it financed construction of the new and large navy which in turn achieved victory at Salamis. Early Rome started with 1-3% tax rate on wealth and property and got to zero temporarily only due to tax farming conquered provinces. The banks and central banks of European countries from the 1600's onward have loaned money to governments at war in the form of purchased bonds. After the industrial revolution and the rise of a large middle class war bonds were also sold to private citizens. War bonds are debts that can only be repaid if the government has an income stream. Inflation for financing deficits is a hidden form of a tax.

I am currently reading The Lords of Finance (now 150 pages into it). It starts off with a review of the finances of World War One. It made no rational sense whatsoever, but once the war became a war of attrition it went on until one side was utterly exhausted financially. Unable or unwilling to pay meant unable to fight.

I have read God and Gold (which are euphemisms for culture and trade respectively, the book is not about God at all) by conservative historian Walter Russell Mead which defends the thesis that the by turns Dutch, British, and now American international oceanic free trade regimes are the source of their resilience in war and their unbroken string of victories in major wars. The author cites historian Niall Ferguson for the following figures: at the end of the American Revolution the British national debt was 268 percent of GDP. In 1822 it was 268 percent of GDP. During this period Britain had a peak tax rate of 35% while fighting Napoleon, fully drew on its public lines of credit, and launched an Industrial Revolution. From this I conclude that government debt is not necessarily disastrous.

Mead quotes Thomas Babbington Macaulay on the national debt held by the Bank of England:

At every stage in the growth of that debt the nation has set up the same cry of anguish and despair. At every stage in the growth of that debt it has been seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and and ruin were at hand. Yet still the debt went on growing; and still the bankruptcy and ruin were as remote as ever.

The government bonds have been honored. Old bonds were paid off, new ones issued. None of it would be possible without taxes.

Today and for the foreseeable future depriving the government of its power to tax has the exact same moral status as unilateral disarmament: it is an utterly immoral idea.

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Today and for the foreseeable future depriving the government of its power to tax has the exact same moral status as unilateral disarmament: it is an utterly immoral idea.

Who is arguing for an immediate end to all taxation? It is obvious that the public needs to be slowly weaned off government services, so that private service-providers can build up to take their place, and ultimately the government's spending can be reduced. When it is finally reduced to a minimum (for courts/police/military), then the government can begin accepting donations and reducing taxation.

Edited by brian0918
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Today and for the foreseeable future depriving the government of its power to tax has the exact same moral status as unilateral disarmament: it is an utterly immoral idea.

As you say, “none of it would be possible without taxes.” Exactly. No government can finance activities beyond its immediate pool of resources voluntarily given, unless it engages in forcible transfers of wealth from the ends of the people to the ends of government. When the direct transfer isn't enough, it will engage in indirect transfers such as inflation and deficit spending.

All the wars you mention would not have been possible in the first place without government having the power to tax and a monopoly of the note issue or central bank.

You say it is impractical to end taxation because there will be wars, but I say ending taxation is the most practical thing of all if exactly because it will end the wars. Now the response is, but not all countries will end taxation and warfare, thus those who do will be disarmed against them.

Not so. A country who is less internally coercive is a richer country. Observe all the wars which were started by the more statist, that is, more internally coercive countries against the freer countries. (Cf. “The Roots of War,' CUI)

Those countries which do not tax will have a greater pool of resources on which to call up if it is attacked. No free country which is rational enough to recognize the principle of individual rights will be irrational enough to commit suicide and refuse to voluntarily fund their defensive war effort against aggressors. This explains why the more capitalistic countries always triumphed over the more statist countries. (Cf. Democracy: The God That Failed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe.)

But you say, we aren't rational enough. Well, if we aren't rational enough, then all the taxation in the world can't help us anyway. This is tantamount to an argument for the draft, and as reductio ad absurdum for the Total State, because we might get invaded some day and no one will volunteer to fight, therefore the countries that do conscript will beat us. There will be countries that do engage in war socialism and have command economies, therefore we must also engage in war socialism and have command economies, or else they will beat us. etc. We know this is false. The argument for the draft and ultimately for a militarized economy applies to taxation as well and in the same manner.

Observe the defense spending of DPRK is estimated at 33.9% of its GDP, whilst ROK spends only 2.7% of its GDP on defense. The less you expropriate wealth and capital from the citizenry, the more capital accumulation takes place, thus the more wealth the country will have to draw on in order to satisfy real demands of protection and defense. The South Koreans figured out that it makes no sense to militarize the economy in order to protect themselves from a militarized economy. It is impractical because contradictions are wrong and the attempt to maintain one is evasion and this act of pragmatism will undercut, not bolster our practical success at protecting outselves.

End all taxation, voluntary soldiers, voluntary funding of self-defense forces. A large, globe-spanning, tax-funded military is counter-productive to wealth, prosperity, liberty, and there is all the more potential for irrationality to develop that our country turns into a Germany or an Austria-Hungary and starts wars of aggression of its own in the future. A government which on principle does not recognize their citizens right to property will not stop there. A government which has legal power to rob Peter to pay Paul will not stop at robbing only Peter. The aggrandizement will continue unless the people recognize on principle the right to life and all it implies. Thus, Ayn Rand's analogy about offering a single teaspoon to a burglar as a compromise. There can be no compromise on basic principles, including the right to life, which means the right to property. (Cf. “Doesn't Life Require Compromise?” VoS)

Now about ending taxation gradually or immediately. I say end it immediately. Our end goal is to cut all taxation down to 0%. The fact that we must “today and in the foreseeable future” put up with taxation is not because we ought to choose gradualism as an end in itself, but because there is too much resistance to respecting individual rights. We might, after some agitation, succeed in obtaining a 15% tax cut, but no more. This is all good and well and it would be immoral to reject such an offer. But to imply that a 15% tax cut is an end goal in itself would be to imply that we would not accept a 16% tax cut, or a 17% tax cut, or a 20%, 50%, or 100% tax cut.

If there is a button in front of us that would get rid of all violations of individual rights, we ought to push it. Because no such thing exists, we have to settle for what we can get today and for the foreseeable future. We encounter resistance to our ideas. It is one thing to advocate a 15% tax cut if there is not enough support to cut them further, but quite another thing to advocate a 15% tax cut as one's ultimate goal regardless of such facts as there hypothetically being enough support for a greater advance. Therefore, we are abolitionists, not gradualists, but we are not so impractical as to only accept 100% pure laissez-faire right now while rejecting the reality we face. The reason why we do not immediately end all injustice is because not enough support exists, not because it would be wrong to do so.

Edited by 2046
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Is the idea of citizenship charges a legitimate plan? I have heard arguments before that the government cannot own any property and therefore it is immoral for them to charge us simply to live here, however, is it necessarily immoral for the government to charge us for the provision of services in the same way a business does? The laws of supply and demand still apply to government services (ie higher crime rate = a higher demand for court services) however no Objectivist would ever claim that businesses should be supported by donation. Is it possible to run all government agencies through systems similar to insurance policies?

Citizenship fees are where you pay for the right to vote, from what I've read of people. The government still must enforce contracts and ban force

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What would a government that is funded solely by donations look like? Would that government be capable of providing the services delegated to it namely courts, police and defense? I know that Objectivism rejects anarchy but a how can a government without means be anything but anarchy? I have not heard a satisfactory convincing account on how a government that can provide the services it must provide by voluntary means. Ayn Rand certainly never adequately addressed this conundrum in my mind.

Speaking mostly about defense, would it be possible to maintain a standing military with the supplies and equipment necessary to defend a country from the likes of say a Russia?

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What would a government that is funded solely by donations look like? Would that government be capable of providing the services delegated to it namely courts, police and defense? I know that Objectivism rejects anarchy but a how can a government without means be anything but anarchy? I have not heard a satisfactory convincing account on how a government that can provide the services it must provide by voluntary means. Ayn Rand certainly never adequately addressed this conundrum in my mind.

Speaking mostly about defense, would it be possible to maintain a standing military with the supplies and equipment necessary to defend a country from the likes of say a Russia?

Actually she did address this issue in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. She writes that punitive damages applied to civil court cases as well as fines given to criminals would be more than enough to fund the necessarily small number of services needed in a rational society

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I'll join in on the side of defending taxation.

...

Today and for the foreseeable future depriving the government of its power to tax has the exact same moral status as unilateral disarmament: it is an utterly immoral idea.

Are you speaking for "the greater good," as opposed to the individual rights of man? I read the topic literally: Is taxation moral?

I was under the impression that it is Objectivist canon that, for obvious reasons, there are intermediary (and practical) steps prior to restricting the current government's ability to tax. Specifically, a reasoned and rational process of de-control preceded by a change in the philosophy dominating the culture.

Related audio from Rand in a Q&A (about 3 min mark) listen to the first question and her response in the Q&A link.

What would a government that is funded solely by donations look like? Would that government be capable of providing the services delegated to it namely courts, police and defense? I know that Objectivism rejects anarchy but a how can a government without means be anything but anarchy? I have not heard a satisfactory convincing account on how a government that can provide the services it must provide by voluntary means. Ayn Rand certainly never adequately addressed this conundrum in my mind.

Speaking mostly about defense, would it be possible to maintain a standing military with the supplies and equipment necessary to defend a country from the likes of say a Russia?

Yes, assuming a critical mass of individuals in that society who chose to think. Absolutely.

Picture a business like, say Home Depot, able to operate freely with no taxes and no regulations. The *price* for operating in that free of a realm would necessarily be built into their operating costs. In a society structured as such, the people (customers) will contribute, at minimum, what is *necessary* for them to remain in such a society... Those with the most wealth and the most to lose will protect that wealth. Those with less means will simply "vote with their dollars" (i.e. who they choose to help make wealth in the free market based on competition)

Imagine: Home Depot has a logo of a fighter jet as part of their brand (everyone knows this means they pledge a certain amount of their profits to voluntary defense contributions).

Lowes is their biggest competitor. Their logo is joined with an image of the scales of justice. They do real well too.

Even in our mixed economy you can buy water at Starbucks for like 3 bucks and they donate to some cause. I have a friend who owns a car brokerage business which is branded as "charity driven" (www.drivewiseauto.com/). Even in this highly controlled and mixed economy, he has found a place in the market and does alright for himself and his family. (Remember, this is all voluntary - no force or fraud involved -- I know this may make some of you cringe, but as Objectivists, it should not)

If there is a true *need*, why assume first that the people will not provide for their own selfish well being? Why assume that they must be forced to do this from the start?

Disclaimer: This is not to say we could institute this today. As mentioned above, it requires a cultural and philosophical shift by enough people)

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Those countries which do not tax will have a greater pool of resources on which to call up if it is attacked.

How does a country "call up" its resources without a power to tax?

No free country which is rational enough to recognize the principle of individual rights will be irrational enough to commit suicide and refuse to voluntarily fund their defensive war effort against aggressors. This explains why the more capitalistic countries always triumphed over the more statist countries. (Cf. Democracy: The God That Failed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe.)
"The more capitalistic countries" have voluntarily instituted tax regimes and conscription to win their wars, which they won because they had a lot of money and the power to earn more as long as they had superior sea power.

But you say, we aren't rational enough. Well, if we aren't rational enough, then all the taxation in the world can't help us anyway. This is tantamount to an argument for the draft, and as reductio ad absurdum for the Total State, because we might get invaded some day and no one will volunteer to fight, therefore the countries that do conscript will beat us. There will be countries that do engage in war socialism and have command economies, therefore we must also engage in war socialism and have command economies, or else they will beat us. etc. We know this is false. The argument for the draft and ultimately for a militarized economy applies to taxation as well and in the same manner.

Observe the defense spending of DPRK is estimated at 33.9% of its GDP, whilst ROK spends only 2.7% of its GDP on defense. The less you expropriate wealth and capital from the citizenry, the more capital accumulation takes place, thus the more wealth the country will have to draw on in order to satisfy real demands of protection and defense. The South Koreans figured out that it makes no sense to militarize the economy in order to protect themselves from a militarized economy. It is impractical because contradictions are wrong and the attempt to maintain one is evasion and this act of pragmatism will undercut, not bolster our practical success at protecting outselves.

We do not "know this is false" because it has never happened in history that country with no taxation and no conscription fought off a country with both. The only example that comes close is the American revolution, but North America was a sideshow then while the main opponent was France, a country with both taxation and conscription that partly subsidized American forces and whose navy was responsible for the victory at Yorktown.

The ROK has NOT protected themselves without subsidy. Although today there only about 28,000 American troops there, previously the giant American military presence there protected the ROK while it grew its economy. South Korean has conscription for all young men.

End all taxation, voluntary soldiers, voluntary funding of self-defense forces. A large, globe-spanning, tax-funded military is counter-productive to wealth, prosperity, liberty, and there is all the more potential for irrationality to develop that our country turns into a Germany or an Austria-Hungary and starts wars of aggression of its own in the future.
What is necessary for wealth is peace. What has produced peace is a world-class globe-spanning tax-funded navy that can ensure free trade for maritime powers and isolate and blockade its enemies. That has been the pattern for 400 years now.
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Are you speaking for "the greater good," as opposed to the individual rights of man? I read the topic literally: Is taxation moral?

I was under the impression that it is Objectivist canon that, for obvious reasons, there are intermediary (and practical) steps prior to restricting the current government's ability to tax. Specifically, a reasoned and rational process of de-control preceded by a change in the philosophy dominating the culture.

Related audio from Rand in a Q&A (about 3 min mark) listen to the first question and her response in the Q&A link.

Taxation can be greatly reduced by limiting government to its proper functions. I think getting rid of that last 5% of taxation will be impossible regardless of how rational America becomes so long as there are large collectivist countries to defend against. This is a measure required to defend individual rights and the individuals being defended ought to consent to it as the rational and moral course.

Imagine: Home Depot has a logo of a fighter jet as part of their brand (everyone knows this means they pledge a certain amount of their profits to voluntary defense contributions).

Lowes is their biggest competitor. Their logo is joined with an image of the scales of justice. They do real well too.

I cannot imagine that. If Home Depot sells something to the government that is corruption. If Lowes wins a court case that is corruption.

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I think getting rid of that last 5% of taxation will be impossible regardless of how rational America becomes so long as there are large collectivist countries to defend against. This is a measure required to defend individual rights and the individuals being defended ought to consent to it as the rational and moral course.

But how do you defend that when we know that 5% is arbitrary?

As Rand was already quoted (& I am now paraphrasing)- once the government is allowed to use force to take 5% or 15% or 20% you can not stop it from taking 50% or 100%.

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Ask for it - like war bonds, except what you get back in return is not extra money, but your own safety.

That makes long term planning of the size and pace of operations of the military impossible as funding will fluctuate as defeats and victories occur and could dry up at any time. Unwillingness to sponsor losers would cause there to be the least funding when it was most needed. The Union would not have won the American Civil War under this financing regime. There is also the phenomenon of the big donors who think they have a right to dictate operations, select favorite generals, specify certain purchases etc. as a condition or right due to their donation, and the bigger the donation the bigger their own consideration should be (the corruption issue again).

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That makes long term planning of the size and pace of operations of the military impossible as funding will fluctuate as defeats and victories occur and could dry up at any time. Unwillingness to sponsor losers would cause there to be the least funding when it was most needed. The Union would not have won the American Civil War under this financing regime.

Again, if people are unwilling to aid to their own security, they will face the consequences of their action. The fact that the Union winning the war is a better result than the Union losing the war is not a justification for coerced taxation.

There is also the phenomenon of the big donors who think they have a right to dictate operations, select favorite generals, specify certain purchases etc. as a condition or right due to their donation, and the bigger the donation the bigger their own consideration should be (the corruption issue again).

And how does forced taxation solve this problem, and justify the violation of individual rights? Corruption by the rich is a possibility under any system. A rational form of government is not automatic, and requires continual action to maintain.

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But how do you defend that when we know that 5% is arbitrary?

As Rand was already quoted (& I am now paraphrasing)- once the government is allowed to use force to take 5% or 15% or 20% you can not stop it from taking 50% or 100%.

No cleverly designed Constitution can guarantee Utopia. There is no system of government which cannot be corrupted by a corrupt citizenry. A free society requires a virtuous citizenry. If that doesn't stop the government from taking 100% then nothing can.

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No cleverly designed Constitution can guarantee Utopia. There is no system of government which cannot be corrupted by a corrupt citizenry. A free society requires a virtuous citizenry. If that doesn't stop the government from taking 100% then nothing can.

Utopia isn't the end being sought, a ban on all rights violating activity is. A 5% tax is a rights violation as far as I can tell. Am I to understand that this violation of rights is necessary?

Edited by Craig24
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No cleverly designed Constitution can guarantee Utopia. There is no system of government which cannot be corrupted by a corrupt citizenry. A free society requires a virtuous citizenry. If that doesn't stop the government from taking 100% then nothing can.

So using your own logic- the virtue by which you would like to see a taxation although a small and "reasonable" amount for only specific things remain small and reasonable is the same virtue that those who argue for voluntary taxation are counting on.

You count on virtue to keep the government from taking too much.

I count on virtue to convince the free populace to give enough.

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