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Is taxation moral?

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Lakeside
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I agree with Mrocktor, naturally.

Grames, I hear you saying that there is no such thing as a market in force. That such an idea as a market in government goods and services amounts to open warfare. That is painfully wrong, as I've argued. Back on page 7 or 8 I was arguing this point, but you said you were going to ignore me and my argument because it was boring and had been refuted 9,000 times elsewhere. So, why are you contradicting me now? Should I just copy and paste and my arguments that I've been making? Are you ready to address them? Again, you say there is no such thing as a market in force short of open warfare. That's painfully, obviously, wrong.

I mean, we must be speaking past each other. What do you call campaigning for election? Is that not marketing for government resources and jobs? What you call competing crime enforcement agencies? CIA, FBI, Federal, State, Local, International. Do they not compete for funding? What you call two cops applying for the same job? What do you call new home security technology? What do you call personal gun ownership? To bring in Zsorenson's thinking on pollution, what do you call it when farmers bring lawsuits against one another, hire lawyers, PR reps., etc. etc. Do we not all spend money to fund the production of government goods and functions? Is not a lot of this left up to totally free individual consumers of those goods? Is not a lot more left up to the voters? Sure, there is a market in force. For heaven's sake, what we arguing about is whether or not we should establish totalitarian planning over the market. Make taxpayers out of free individual consumers. If there were no market, I wouldn't be arguing that you should leave that market be. Laissez fare.

Edit: So, as far as the charge that I'm logically advocating open warfare... No, I'm arguing that you be conscious of the fact that there is a market in force. Governments are taking my money by force to fund their projects. That's clearly wrong. It does not matter what they do with the money. They could either feed the poor, line their own pockets, or caught criminals. Whatever they do, it doesn't change the fact that they're robbing me. If I own property in California, for instance, I should be free to donate my money to the government of New York. Just because I own something in "California", doesn't give Californians the right to my profits. Does that mean California and New York are in open warfare? I don't see why. It means I'm free to choose. I'm not free to choose to murder anyone, or send my check to someone who would, say for the sake of argument, rob someone. Because taking money from people against their will, is wrong, correct? We'd prefer people didn't endorse that kind of thing, right? So, how am I, by sticking up for the absolutism of individual rights endorsing open warfare, but you, when you argue that I be taxed even though I've committed no crime, are clean?

Edited by Brian9
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After further consideration, I want to expand, in a minor way, on my argument that the idea behind taxes is based on the view that most people can't be trusted to secure a free nation. That we must force society in general to support a good government, because if we don't, they won't. My expansion is this: I think that the refusal to admit that there is a market in force, i.e. that people have choices to make about where, why, how, and how much they fund government, is a result of the wish that again, they didn't have those choices. You'd like to eliminate personal responsibility for government by taxing everyone. It makes sense to me that you'd argue that there is no personal responsibility for government in the first place. You don't trust people to make decisions about government for themselves, because you are afraid that it would amount to open warfare. You're scared that open warfare is what we will get if people are allowed to exercise free judgment. I've said before I have some sympathy for this view. There is a considerable body of evidence that suggests that you are right. But you are wrong, fortunately. Human beings are capable of senseless evil, and have done, are doing, and will do great evil. But they're also capable of progress, as you no doubt know. Of creating more just laws, and freer nations. James Madison wrote, "The citizens of the U.S. are responsible for the greatest trust ever confided to a political society. We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." The trust was a bit misplaced, was it not? Or was it? The only way to found good government is with this trust, and to be logically consistent, it means no taxes. Once you start totalitarian planning, I don't see a logical reason to stop. Let me put it like this: if individuals aren't allowed to exercise their personal responsibility as it concerns government, then who is left to trust?

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Taxation at a level agreeable to the governed is appropriate, that is, moral and ethical

The level of taxation is related to the cost of government.

The cost of government is related to the tasks it performs.

The tasks government performs is based on what the population expects of it.

The more we (the governed) expect of government, the more it costs and therefore

the higher the level of taxation and by extension the cost of living.

As soon as this circle closes it becomes a spiral.

The circle starts with our expectations and the morality in our expectations and

our expectations of others.

If we are immoral in our expectations then it follows our government is immoral in its actions.

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Prescient: That's like saying theft is okay if the person being robbed is agreeable. Tax is the word polite society uses when it robs people. We like to say it is agreeable, because it is agreeable to us, but it isn't agreeable to the people being taxed. Those people are being robbed. If everyone were giving willingly, I submit to you that we wouldn't have that use of the word, tax. I mean, there would not be a word that society reserves for government's thievery. We don't even use the word tax when we are talking about punishing criminals, or taking money from someone to right a wrong, at least not to my knowledge. We instead call it a fine or something else. Taxes is just a euphemism for theft. Somehow, if I steal from you, we call it theft. But when millions of people steal from millions of others, or billions from billions, we call it taxes. And we think it is necessary and good, but I argue that we're wrong.

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No, a "mass" cannot consent. Only an individual can consent. What do you do to the individual who disagrees? Force him to pay? Then your government is criminal.

No, a "mass" cannot consent. Only an individual can consent. What do you do to the individual who disagrees [that his right to swing his arm does not end at your face]? Force him to [obey the law]? Then your government is criminal!

/irony

To not consent to pay for the enforcement of a law is to not consent to that law. Either there are laws, which are upheld, or there are not. If a government can make laws, but not enforce them, then what point is there of government? Means of enforcement is enforcement is the law. There has to be a decision-making process about how law will be enforced, including how to pay for this. Just as individuals who do NOT personally consent to some laws, must still accept them, likewise they might have to consent to pay taxes they don't want to.

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For example in the current context, there is more than one means for the government to obtain the necessary revenue. Taxation is one way. There are others. Are any of these moral? Is taxation moral? Only if the answer is the same to both questions does the issue of relative merit come into play -- and if the answer is "no" to both, we may as well just be bad ...

There are other ways besides taxation. They are fine ways, perhaps preferred. I am only attempting to argue that forced taxation can be moral in some circumstances, and thereby "taxation is moral", because it is not inherently immoral.

My argument has been mistaken because I have tried to simplify it.

I do not think that a consensus by itself justifies taxation. I'm arguing that forced taxation against a non-consenting individual would have to be within the framework of some consensus. Otherwise, it's one man or men, and their judgment, ruling over another. The participatory nature of a consensus process changes that situation.

Again, yes, objective laws, constitutional rules, objective processes, and so forth, all precede any legitimate instance of forced taxation.

And again, if these rules and processes are not sufficiently objective, it is entirely proper for any individual to rebel against them should he desire to take up that burden.

The free exercise of reason ends where force begins. Note that free exercise of reason implies that mean reason differently. If they did not, no such concept of 'free exercise' would exist, since all would happen to reason the same. Therefore, the instances where force must be dealt with by men of reason require an objective and rational process. How does this occur when men reason differently? Consensus: retain areas of objective, rational agreement, omit areas of disagreement.

This actually means that disagreement means: do nothing. Not like today where disagreement means: no cutbacks on government this year, but we'll raise the debt ceiling, and the bureaucracy will find ways to spend all the money, and get it.

The less a society can agree upon, the less law there is, for better or worse. And if you live in a place, and market, where an overpowering majority is collectivist, you're living in the collective. Move out! Don't complain about it, but want to buy all the collectivists' crap, and sell your crap back to them.

And if they won't let you move, and extend their reach into your home, well, good luck - there's not very much philosophy will do for you at that point.

Again, reiterating the first point, if there's a rational consensus over objective principles concerning governing, this includes the means of law enforcement, and if your persist in the minority you still have to pay just like you have to obey the laws themselves.

I've made my point now about 3 or 4 times. But I'll keep trying because this is one area where Objectivism should distinguish itself from Libertarianism. It's a position of strength from which Objectivism can offer better solutions for our government than any other political philosophy.

For instance: why abolish the FDA? I'll make a post about this later.

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I understand the point you're making, Zsorenson. You're saying not everyone agrees about everything. Take government for example. If everyone did think identically, why'd we have to tax each other? Since we do disagree about the law, we have to come to a consensus and the people who hold the minority opinion simply have to pay the taxes, because they can't get away from the rational, objective conclusions of the majority. Since they have to obey the majority's laws anyway, how can one reason that they shouldn't have to pay the taxes to fund the enforcement of said laws? So long as the majority's laws are reasonable. Is that roughly it? You also added that if they aren't reasonable, then of course you should rebel, or emigrate, if you can. But if you can't - if you're stuck with an oppressive majority, then well, you're stuck and what can you do about it. Do I have you, correctly?

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I've made this point three or four times: How can you claim to have the more reasonable arguments, but also claim you want to force people to do 'your' bidding? If you can't persuade people that it is in their best interests to voluntarily pay for your security provisions, and presumably that would be your preference, why should you then force them to? Could you not give people who paid for your government voluntarily a card, and then charge anyone who couldn't produce that card a bit more? Why do people have to be forced to pay for good government? If your government doesn't exist by voluntary means, shouldn't that be your first clue that it isn't a good government. Why introduce violence into the human relationships at all? You haven't done a bit, I don't think, in order to show why violence is necessary. Grames made the argument it was necessary because we couldn't win a war with a totalitarian force, if we didn't first become one ourselves in order to raise the necessary war chests, as if free people can't be convinced to voluntarily pay for their own security. You were trying to make some point about how pollution requires taxation. I don't think anyone on your side of the argument has made anything like a remotely convincing point about how people free to pay for particular government jobs/employees/services/ are less efficacious than not. Answer this question? What is it about security, local police, armies, or courts, that means they can't be produced willingly. You want security. I want security. Who needs to be forced here? Illustration: Between Switzerland and Denmark or any other civilized nation, who needs to be compelled to abandon their sovereignty? Doesn't what you propose logically lead you to desire a single, solitary government? Why should there be? People are different and have different needs, specifically. Government, in reality, is not some abstract idea. It is a lot of complex concretes. You can't force everyone to pay some one arbitrarily chosen group of people, because that one group of people are not know-it-alls. You have to let people be as free as possible to come up with creative solutions.

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To not consent to pay for the enforcement of a law is to not consent to that law.

If you cannot see the difference between forcing an action ("give me money or else") and demanding restraint of actions that violate rights ("don't hit people in the face or else") you should not be in this discussion. You should be back studying the basic principle of individual rights. I suggest "Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand", it is a great book.

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  • 5 months later...

Just tying things up, I found an objection to this taxonomy and wrote about it in the thread My Social Contract Debate post #33

I have just realized the hidden assumption and error in this taxonomy of positions you created in that other thread:

(1) protection services should follow from payment received

or

(2) equal protection must be provided to all regardless of payment status

Then, if (1) protection only follows from payment received:

[a] a proper government must maintain its monopoly of force and deny protection to non-payers (presumably they still have to follow the law, but they themselves go unprotected)

or

allow competing agencies of defense (that is anarcho-capitalism)

But, if (2) government is necessary and equal protection must be provided to all, then we have the options:

[d] the government's revenue should consist of voluntary contributions

or

[e] the government's revenue should consist of coercive transfers

"Protection services" need not and should not be all lumped together into one package deal. Some are (2), others can be (1). The distinction between the which protection falls into which group is whether the law governing that protection is universal or particular. Murder is law that applies to everyone equally, because the right to life that it protects is universal. On the other hand, a contract or a patent or deed to land only applies to the parties involved.

The equal protection principle must apply to the universal laws, and is impossible to apply to contracts which name individuals and implicitly exclude everyone not named.

Further elaboration of the difference between civil and criminal law continued in the thread Government Police on Privately-Owned Roads. In post #91 I defined three areas of law covering three ways to initiate force: crimes, torts and criminal fraud.

Crimes are initiated force that intentionally and violently overcomes the non-consent of the victim to inflict a loss. Crimes are defined by public laws and apply to everyone.

Torts cover violations of agreements made in good faith or accidental infliction of losses. The loss is necessary and the violence may or may not be present but the intent to inflict harm is absent or not relevant. The agreements or contracts involved only cover the parties to the agreement.

Criminal fraud covers agreements made in bad faith by one party where there was always the intent to violate the terms. The violence may be absent but the harm and intent to inflict harm remains.

A government because of its monopoly on retaliatory force is unconditionally obligated to respond to crimes and criminal fraud. The government does not get involved in torts until after a judge has decided the case and there is noncompliance with the judgement. The government's role as an arbiter of last resort between parties in some (not all) types of torts is precisely the function which Ayn Rand proposes to sell on a per-contract basis with proposed contract fee in "Government Financing in a Free Society". Criminal cases are always a defendant versus the state as accuser, and would not be conditioned on a payment of any sort either to have a case brought or to avoid one.

Policemen exist to keep the peace by enforcing the law. The law is constituted of the legislated statute law and judicial directives in particular cases. Police do not enforce contract law, contracts which they have no way of knowing about nor power to arbitrate. Government does not have an unconditional obligation to enforce contracts because contracts are not law either in origin or scope. It is valid to conditionally grant the "force of law" to valid contracts (no slave selling or assassinations) upon payment of a fee.

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Yeah I'm not seeing how it follows here. Government does enforce contracts, as you yourself state, “after a judge has decided the case and there is noncompliance with the judgement.”

So how does it follow from this that government does not have an obligation to enforce contracts? It has an obligation (though I think you're using “unconditional” differently from me, as clarified below) to enforce the contract if failure to execute the contract consists of a violation of one of the parties' rights.

Since government is not a social contract, the government has no grounds to claim the same mode of operation for itself.

This is further reinforced by my rebuttal of your objection to my taxonomy [it's the post right after yours so, no point in linking it]: contract rights can be considered distinct from rights to specific pieces of property, but all rights, even a person's specific right to an asset or to performance of contractually agreed-upon actions can be traced back to the right to life[.] The right to that specific piece of property comes from the right to contract, which itself can always be traced back to the right to life, a universal protection. The only difference between a universal right and a right to a particular, as you put it, is that one need “do” nothing (including pay the government!) to deserve the root universal right, but one need have chosen some action and/or interaction with another man to deserve the particular, such as contract with him. Since one is the root of the latter, it is not a packaged-deal fallacy, but attempting to divorce the two from practical application can be a stolen concept fallacy.

In considering protection services as a “one lump deal.” you're bringing an economic argument into an ethical argument about whether taxation is moral. There is nothing about a government financed entirely by voluntary contributions in the fully free society which prevents it from producing protection in “marginal units” rather than “one lump.” But the denial of enforcement of contracts to non-payers consists of a real violation of rights, which is what is under consideration, not the economics of the production of protection. In that case, it's the government which is not living up to its conditional obligation.

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Yeah I'm not seeing how it follows here. Government does enforce contracts, as you yourself state, “after a judge has decided the case and there is noncompliance with the judgement.”

No, government enforces the law. Laws are legislation and judicial directives. The private drafters and parties of contracts are not legislators or judges. Contracts are not themselves laws. This is an argument based on efficient cause distinguishing law from non-law.

Pause for a moment. Why did judges ever deign to arbitrate contract disputes in the first place? It is remarkable that people who sign papers with promises on them are not all regarded as fools and suckers. Their complaints could all dismissed from consideration as out of the jurisdiction of the government. Why should the government give a damn about stupid little pieces of paper? Where is the blood and broken glass?

Losses which the criminal law aims to prevent are tangible losses, and I will even venture to say are capturable in several first level concepts concerning life and property. Property is not a first level concept but things like cars, cash and computers are first level to the extent that they are perceivable objects. Speculative financial losses documented by broken promises in contracts are not the class of loss or class of initiation of force that is the object of statutory criminal law. This is an argument based on final cause distinguishing law from non-law, and the identification that losses ought to be tangible is a material cause argument.

The question is why did judges begin to arbitrate contract disputes, not why is arbitration useful. Why and how did it become the government's job? Is it truly necessary or merely an improvement to a legal system that has advantageous consequences?

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  • 3 weeks later...

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.

How can a society exist without a government? How can a government exist without money? How else can money be reliably collected to govern?

Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)

.

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  • 5 months later...

I think that if your contribution is entirely up to you there is a powerful incentive to want to negotiate over it

Yes--to get a good government. If the police/courts are corrupt, then you can withdraw financial support of the government until the problem gets solved to your satisfaction.

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At the ethical (personal) level an initiation of force against you imposes a cost. Either you surrender to the superior force and they take what they want or you pay the cost of resisting in time, effort, and expenses. If no one happens to initiate force then the cost never manifests.

At the political level the creation of a government entails forethought, planning and a continuing expenditure of money to provide for a military capability, payroll for civil servants, managing government property and payment of national debts. The government is continually resolving conflicts both foreign and domestic on the basis of its monopoly on retributive force. The government merely transfers the real costs imposed by the actual initiators of force to its taxpayers.

But what if the government is fighting a foreign nation that it shouldn't be fighting. Now you're forced to pay them and the money is being spent poorly. Just because 90% of the people in your country want to fight a war with a nation (thereby being enough to get a declaration of war) were this other nation doesn't pose a threat to the O-ist nation doesn't mean you should be forced to pay for it because the its the government that's doing the fighting. Not having taxation creates a check against the stupidity of most of the people in your society.

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If it is a war measure it is a mistake to classify it as a violation of rights. Justified wars by proper governments are not initiations of force but responses to initiations of force.

So what if the war is justified? We're debating how it should be financed.

The claim is that any tax imposed to finance the war is not a rights violation. I would tackle that claim first.

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If there is any correlation at all between the largest corporations in any market and the most efficient corporations and the most efficient corporations reduce their expenses including their taxes, then we can count on the largest corporations not paying taxes beyond token publicity stunts.

Until their consumers boycott their products and buy them from competing corporations that pay the government more.

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The protection of my rights in that situation is not independent of the judgment of other men. The very entity which is charged with defending my rights relies crucially on other people recognizing their own rational self-interest and funding the government...

All this does is invalidate one argument for no taxes--it doesn't prove that there should be taxes.

...how can such a law system actually be effective if its funding is crucially dependent on the independent judgment of members of society? Those who don’t understand property rights would refuse to fund this objectively proper law system, and the rich would be at the mercy of the masses, same as in anarchy, through a more indirect route.

It can be effective if enough people understand why they need to fund the government. Your argument appears to be "some people won't contribute to the government, therefore, let's take their money by force." How is that moral?

Just because there are going to be free riders doesn't mean there should be taxes. In fact, in any society free from coercion, free riding and an increase in the wealth of the society go hand in hand (people will free ride off the minds of the most productive-wealthiest). You're basically saying "What if there isn't enough money donated for the government to work?" Then this means that too many people are stupid, which will result in a sub-optimal society under any form of social organization.

I can throw this back at you and say "What if, under your preferred model of social organization, a bunch of people start going around murdering people?" Wouldn't this mean that your life is in jeopardy? Of course it is, but does that mean that we need Big Brother to watch over us?

In any society, your life/prosperity/rights are subject to the judgement of others. Heck, even if you lived in a society that organized 99% of the way to how you'd want it, there still might be some laws which you think are immoral. Does this mean we should get rid of voting?

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The claim is that any tax imposed to finance the war is not a rights violation. I would tackle that claim first.

I understand, but he said "Justified wars by proper governments are not initiations of force but responses to initiations of force" as an argument for taxation (which doesn't follow) and not as if someone was arguing against governments ever going to war (I'm pretty sure that didn't happen).

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Can consent be made subject to the collective action of voting? You have the power to do so. You have the right to make that agreement. The real question is do others have the right to hold you to your agreement to abide by the decision of the group? Yes, so long the agreement is not an abdication of your rights.

This whole debate is over what people have the right to. You appear to be arguing "You've agreed to having people vote on stuff and make it the law that people will have to follow or face the consequences of force used by the government, therefore, if the government uses force against you because people voted for them to do that, then it doesn't violate your rights."

That's pretty much just argumentum ad populum. "Hey, 75% of people in the US decided we should tax you, so it's moral, and you've consented to it being moral because you think people should be able to vote on the law and force others to abide by it."

But the whole point of this discussion is what the law should be.

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