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Is taxation moral?

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Lakeside
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If our good government didn't have the power to tax us in order to fend off the invaders, we would all lose our lives...every rational one of us would be against letting that happen.

I think this is a pretty weak argument. You're just saying that two wrongs make a right, and appealing to our understanding that one of these wrongs is much less wrong than another.

First of all, those people you're taxing aren't the ones doing the invading--it's not their fault. Could you repel the invaders by taking their stuff? Perhaps, but who produced that wealth? They did.

Second, you're implying that people have to be forced to give up as much as possible to win. What if this requires that you have total socialism? Does that mean no one deserves to enjoy the fruits of their labor?

Finally, I'd like to point out for the sake of the discussion that even if this argument validates the idea that we should have taxes in some situations, that is very different from Grame's argument for (a little) taxation as long as we've a need for military/courts/police.

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  • 3 years later...

...

Ayn Rand was against a government that had a "blank check" over the lives and property of its citizens. A government that has no authorization to nationalize businesses, no authority to expropriate goods, no power of eminent domain to seize land, no power to declare a paper currency legal tender and then roll the presses forever, but does have a defined power to tax credit transactions to an amount specified by law enacted by a representative government is not a government with a blank check.

 

 

...

So in conclusion, this contradicts calling government itself a contractual agreement where it involves either imposing legal punishment for non-payment of taxes or denial of the right of self-defense to noncontributors. I think that premise, i.e. that I am delegating my right of self-defense to the government therefore transferring money payment in exchange for protection services, the non-payment of either which would bring about enforceability in either party, leads to option 1b, that is anarchy (which will quickly devolve into 1be, that is rule by the biggest mob or gang which imposes a protection racket.)

...

 

I haven't read all of your posts in this topic, but thought you two might be able to give me some insight on a particular issue I'm curious about regarding voluntary taxation.  My original question is in the Walter E. Williams topic, page 6, post 140.  You may want to look and respond there, but here's a resposting of the actual question:

--

The following premises have to some degree impeded my ability to further my argument (that providing education ought to be considered part of securing a right to life) by understanding objections to it.  It would be helpful to me to construct a common platform to work from.  Please have a look and respond as you see fit...

 

In a fully free society (that practices justice for all):

 

1) I should only pay for services I endorse,

 

2) others will not be able to, or not want to, pay for anything,

 

3) therefore I will pay some share of services to others.

 

I believe the 2nd point is given and that the 1st and 3rd points are in conflict.  I looked briefly into other  topics addressing voluntary taxation but didn't find a resolution to the issue of only paying for services you endorse while at the same time necessarily paying for anothers service you might not endorse as a result of providing justice for all.

 

Can anyone point me to a resolution previously posted, or briefly describe the resolution here?

--

Thank you in advance for any feedback you can offer...

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. . .

In a fully free society (that practices justice for all):

 

1) I should only pay for services I endorse,

 

2) others will not be able to, or not want to, pay for anything,

 

3) therefore I will pay some share of services to others.

 

I believe the 2nd point is given and that the 1st and 3rd points are in conflict. . .

 

No; the first is obvious while the second is hogwash.  Even Ebeneezer Scrooge paid for bookkeepers.

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Fair enough.  I probably shouldn't have reached into another topic for my answer.  I came here because it was directly related to voluntary taxation, and I thought you might have already addressed it.  Basically, I'm trying to resolve the idea that one shouldn't have to pay for government services beyond what is personally endorsed, i.e., not have to pay for anothers services, with voluntary taxation which still covers free riders.

 

If free riders are unavoidable, it seems to me that point #1 is a flawed premise.

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If free riders are unavoidable, it seems to me that point #1 is a flawed premise.

Well, I'm not sure what you mean by "endorse". If someone is giving money to something of his free-will, I would assume he's endorsing that. To endorse means to approve of, right? So, if that's what you mean, it would be clearer to formulate #1 as "I should only pay for things freely and voluntarily, not because someone is threatening force against me"
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I too have never been presented with a compelling argument that people would pay for a necessary government they aren't compelled to pay for. Everything I've ever observed about human nature says that many, many people won't, and this would force the ones who do pay to pay a lot more, causing them to be even less enthusiastic about paying, and that this entire effect would snowball.

 

And in the modern world where upwards of 20% of our GDP absolutely must be devoted to defense and police and so forth, it's not valid to say that it would be so cheap as to not trouble anybody.

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And in the modern world where upwards of 20% of our GDP absolutely must be devoted to defense and police and so forth

Where are you getting this from? Only highly repressive states (like Saud), and maybe Israel (which is a small country in a constant state of war) spend even close to that much on defense and policing. The US, which acts as the de facto world police, spends 4.5% of GDP on its military. Other countries with strong militaries, even less.

Law enforcement costs are even less than that (and going down, along with crime rates). Not to mention that most law enforcement activity is definitely not a "must": most law enforcement spending goes to enforcing vice and immigration laws (the US federal government spends more on immigration enforcement than terrorism prevention, for instance).

Other than the US, where defense spending is unusually large at 4.5%, I doubt there even is a western country that spends more than 5% of its GDP on legitimate government activities. THAT, or less, is how much it would take, to maintain the government in laissez faire capitalism: 5% of GDP.

 

And that's for countries with high crime rates and an especially active military. In a country like Japan, with less than three murders a year for every million residents, and a military restricted to operating within its borders, the government could easily be run with 1% of GDP.

Edited by Nicky
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We all went over this carefully in another thread about the cost of an "ideal" government. It all adds up.

 

I suppose we can all hope for a future world where there's no crime, but I said the modern world that has a lot of bad things in it.

 

Regardless, even a tiny percentage would be a mountain of money if only a tiny few had got stuck paying for it. All I need to make my point is for the number has to be non-zero. Blanking-out on this problem and envisioning a crime-free, bad-guy-free fantasy world doesn't make the problem go away.

 

That is, if your goal is to try to understand how Objectivism applies to the real world... It's not everybody's goal...

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We all went over this carefully in another thread about the cost of an "ideal" government. It all adds up.

 

I suppose we can all hope for a future world where there's no crime, but I said the modern world that has a lot of bad things in it.

 

Regardless, even a tiny percentage would be a mountain of money if only a tiny few had got stuck paying for it. All I need to make my point is for the number has to be non-zero. Blanking-out on this problem and envisioning a crime-free, bad-guy-free fantasy world doesn't make the problem go away.

Only one here "blanking out" is the person who just got caught making up nonsense, claiming that defense and law enforcement costs 20% of GDP, when, in reality, the average cost of defense and law enforcement across the western world is less than a third of that? And that's without factoring out the cost of immigration and drug law enforcement.

Regardless, even a tiny percentage would be a mountain of money if only a tiny few had got stuck paying for it. All I need to make my point is for the number has to be non-zero.

 

If all you needed to make your point was a number that is non-zero, then how come you didn't just go with the truth instead of an obvious exaggeration?

 

We all went over this carefully in another thread about the cost of an "ideal" government. It all adds up.

There's nothing to "go over carefully" here. An ideal government is engaged in two activities: military and law enforcement. Only thing you "going over" things will do is give you an opportunity to make up more nonsense.

Current western governments might not be ideal, but they do keep track of their spending. So don't "go over it", just look it up on google. I did:

For instance, the US spends 4.5% of its GDP on the military, and less than that on law enforcement (I don't just mean the federal government, I mean all levels of government).

Canada spends 1.3% on the military, a little more on law enforcement.

The UK spends 2.6% of its GDP on the military, less than that on law enforcement.

China spends 2% of its GDP on the military, and 2.1% on law enforcement.

Japan spends around 2% on the military, less than that on law enforcement.

It goes on and on. Every developed, and most developing countries all follow the same pattern.

US law enforcement agencies are the hardest to figure out because there's no centralized department in charge (you might need the ability to do math), but for other countries the government budget just comes up on a handy dandy pie chart in a google search. Or, at worst, you have to look at the different ministries, and their budget is listed. The Ministry of Defense spends all the military budget, and Justice and the Interior usually do all the law enforcement related spending.

Edited by Nicky
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Well, I'm not sure what you mean by "endorse". If someone is giving money to something of his free-will, I would assume he's endorsing that. To endorse means to approve of, right?

...

 

Yes, of course.

 

...

So, if that's what you mean, it would be clearer to formulate #1 as "I should only pay for things freely and voluntarily, not because someone is threatening force against me"

 

The setup already presumes no one is being forced to pay for things.  If there was any doubt, point #2 makes that explicit.

 

"I haven't read all of your posts in this topic, but thought you ... might be able to give me some insight on a particular issue I'm curious about regarding voluntary taxation." ~ from post #252

 

Point #1 expresses the sentiment I've heard in this forum that no one should have to subsidize a government service (like education) for another, which presumes in your words, "Redistribution... just, more efficient, and with more choice." ~ from post #12, Walter E. Williams topic

 

... or as aleph_1 asks in post #142 of that same topic, "Why do I have to accept the premise that I must accept responsibility for paying for others?"

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If free riders are unavoidable, it seems to me that point #1 is a flawed premise.

 

Well, first of all, "free riders" are completely avoidable.  Second of all. . .

 

1) I should only pay for services I endorse,

 

2) others will not be able to, or not want to, pay for anything,

 

3) therefore I will pay some share of services to others.

 

Even if they weren't (so if #2 is true), 1 wouldn't invalidate 3 (nor vice versa); one would simply have to make a choice.

Is it worth supporting a few freeloaders, in order to protect one's own rights, or not?  I don't see any reason why either choice would be inherently superior to the other; it seems like a personal value-judgment.

So even if Crow's assertions were valid, voluntary governance would still be perfectly possible; it would simply cost a little bit more from those who want to make it real.

 

I too have never been presented with a compelling argument that people would pay for a necessary government they aren't compelled to pay for.

 

You're asking for proof of innocence, on the basic premise that everyone is evil (or moronic).  This isn't a point that merits anything further than a "speak for yourself, brother!"

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You're asking for proof of innocence, on the basic premise that everyone is evil (or moronic).  This isn't a point that merits anything further than a "speak for yourself, brother!"

 

Nope, not everyone, just a some people. That's all it takes for the entire "volunteer" system to come crashing down.

 

Anyhow, the solution you brought up above is a valid one, as long as you don't mind a world where some people will have zero protection of their rights. In other words, if you don't pay the taxes usage fees to the local police, it's open season on your home and person and you have absolutely no legal recourse when you are robbed.

 

Also, how would you propose the US military only protect some of the citizens here and not others? How would that actually work?

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Also, how would you propose the US military only protect some of the citizens here and not others? How would that actually work?

What's your alternative? Are you simply against government? If not, how do you reconcile involuntary taxation with its supposed purpose of protecting freedom? 

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What's your alternative? Are you simply against government? If not, how do you reconcile involuntary taxation with its supposed purpose of protecting freedom? 

 

Personally I think there's no way around compelled taxation at least in some form. I'm open to ideas though.

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Nope, not everyone, just a some people.

 

I'm sorry; that was phrased clumsily.  You're asking for proof of innocence, on the premise that everyone is guilty until proven otherwise.

 

Also, how would you propose the US military only protect some of the citizens here and not others? How would that actually work?

Along the same lines that waste disposal, Cable TV and plumbing services work, I imagine; you call for help when you need it and it'll come, if you've paid for it.  Although, really, there's no reason why any arbitrary variety of concrete implementations might be conceived of; that's part of the beauty of it.

 

Perhaps they'd make an app for that.

 

More specifically, I think you're wondering how to protect some customer from an ICBM without also protecting his neighbor.  And certainly some number of "free riders" would be unavoidable in such cases, I would concede.  However, so long as you only end up paying for others' defense when it is absolutely necessary to ensure your own, why would you worry about it?  I don't think that's healthy.

 

Anyhow, the solution you brought up above is a valid one, as long as you don't mind a world where some people will have zero protection of their rights.

 

Not even a little bit.  :thumbsup:

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What's your alternative?

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 reason this discussion comes up every now and then, is that Objectivism points to voluntary taxation as a philosophical idea and leaves the implementation to a future generation of legislators. There's an analogy to discussions about free-will. Objectivism argues for free-will, but does not explain the mechanism by which it works. The arguments for both are philosophical and abstract, without much concrete details (from the specialized sciences).

Firstly, ... if a country is full of people with the morality of spongers, it's politics won't ever look Objectivist and won't stay that way if it is miraculously imposed. So, the context of this discussion -- the starting assumption -- is that we are talking about a country that we will not see in our lifetimes, nor will our kids. When someone like Paul Ryan or Paul Rand propose their budget, they're painted as extreme. And, this is with budgets that keep almost every head of expenditure intact, including government money going toward a retirement, healthcare, welfare, etc.

When we discuss voluntary taxation we're really saying: imagine that we have gone through a phase where voters finally decided to slow the growth of government; then, imagine we've gone through a phase where voters have decided to cut the scope of government, then imagine we go through a phase where voters decide to bring government functions down to the bare essentials proposed by Objectivism; then, imagine we go through a phase where voters figure that even some of these services can be done by private actors. Now, at this stage -- as you can see we're generations in the future -- how would we convert the funding to volunteer funding?

All this -- or something similar -- is implied by the question: how can government be funded through volunteer contributions?

 

Second, ... people who think they can figure out detailed answers now are treating philosophy like it is different from other sciences. A person making fire-crackers centuries ago might has speculated about how we would reach Mars, early balloonists in the 1700's might have speculated something different, the Wright brothers would probably imagine something different still. In all areas of life: food, cars, homes... we  trying something that seems to make  the most sense, and then we see certain flaws, which we fix.

 

A fair number of libertarians speculate about schemes by which government can be financed. Often, the starting point is some problem we can foresee today, like the so-called "free-rider problem". So, they come up with a way to solve the problem, or to minimize it. perhaps someone points out that their proposal will allow rich people to kill poor people with impunity. So, they tweak it and come up with a modified solution. Someone else points out that government employees cannot be expected to work without knowing if their salaries would be paid tomorrow. So, they come up with a framework where people can promise future volunteer contributions, and can be bound to those promises. And so on.

 

All fine; no harm speculation as long as we realize that this is speculation, an that the actual problems future humans will face and will need to solve will be different. For instance, it is just as likely that two centuries from now over-funding is the problem, rather than under-funding. So many billionaires have left money in trusts to fund military and police, that voters in 2200 A.D. are debating how to curb the power of government functionaries who are not as responsive any more because they have this huge guaranteed stream of cash coming to them each year :)   Science fiction? perhaps, but that's what most of the discussion is when it gets into nitty-gritty of how the problems will be solved.

 

Philosophically, if enough people want to have a government like this and make the funding voluntary, they will also be able to create mechanisms to fund it. it isn't even going to be rocket-science when my great-great-... ... great-great-grandkids get there.

 

 

 

 

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Interesting comments, softwareNerd...

 

For now, I'm supportive of a flat tax collected on sales of marketable goods and services; a "user fee" if you will for securing the marketplace. And I'd allow for unregulated bartering for those who prefer not to use cash, provided there was the same flat tax collected whenever goods were exchanged for cash.  There's probably some kinks in that system, but the advantage would be an equitable share of the load paying for essential government services; whatever the voters determine them to be.

 

The "voluntary" aspect would then be fulfilled by choice to purchase and whether or not to use the coin of the realm.

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The "voluntary" aspect would then be fulfilled by choice to purchase and whether or not to use the coin of the realm.

Well, you can call anything "voluntary" by this standard. So, its good you put it within quotes to show that it isn't.

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Philosophically, if enough people want to have a government like this and make the funding voluntary, they will also be able to create mechanisms to fund it. it isn't even going to be rocket-science when my great-great-... ... great-great-grandkids get there.

 

 

I'm jumping on the back of this statement to point something else to the naysayers. 

 

The real question is what is the principle then find solutions, not what is the problem.   It is very telling of those who first search for problems then give up the principle.

 

Problems are good, troubleshooting is a valid part of venting process, but it is a means to the principle for an important fact being forgotten:

 

We do NOT have to prove the principle.  It has already been proven. It is not a floating abstraction, but a fact already verified through day to day perception and integration of history and experience.  

 

We know it's true, the only matter is how to to make it happen.

 

This last is the crux of the issue since the principle was verified outside of the system in place.  It has been verified through history and reason.  We've seen the results in parts, now it will be up to real thinkers and leaders to make it happen. 

 

How we do that is the real question.  Not how we can't.  

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Anyhow, I think in the context of this world we live in, the answer to this thread's question is, in a word, yes.

 

I think Objectivists are better focused on corruption rather than taxes as such. Flat taxes are better than "bumpy" taxes that give out special favors to various groups, for instance. Taxes should try to be roughly connected to one's net service receipt from the government's protection, for instance.

 

Sales tax (or transaction tax), for instance, is roughly connected to people's use of the court system and some police and things like the FBI. Presumably if you transact more, you are using these services more.

 

Property tax is connected to people's use of the military (i.e. protecting everybody's property). The more valuable your property, the more there is to protect. Here "property" is used in the broadest sense, e.g. your bank accounts and stock portfolio, etc.

 

Income tax? Is there a case to be made for income tax? It wouldn't seem like it. Seems like there's a transaction there though, but it doesn't seem like that activity is anywhere near having the most impact. Maybe a very low tax associated with the transaction of the payment to a person.

 

Other direct use taxes (parks, passports, immigration, etc.) can be very valid.

 

But all this is to say that it's important not to play the role of "crazy person" when you join the typical conversation of what we should do. We need to solve problems in this world and we should arguably be good at that. We have reason, and lack the religious baggage that imputes an inherent evil on any particular class (i.e. HOTGFBG). We can rifle through sophistry and populism like no other.

 

Objectivism applied to this world is powerful indeed.

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