INCOMPATIBLE VIEWS ON GOVERNMENT — PART 2A

The post continues where INCOMPATIBLE VIEWS ON GOVERNMENT — PART 1 left off. Please refer to PART 1 for links to the other posts.

Here we will consider the first of four questions.

Why is it moral for the government to tax us?

Why is it moral for the government to tax us? This is, oddly enough, not a question most of us give much thought. Our biggest expense is taxes, but most of us just accept that fact, pay our taxes, and try to get on with our lives. Some of us even make a virtue of paying taxes, holding it up as our contribution to a great society. Since we don’t have any choice in the matter, that is an odd sort of pride. However, there are more pragmatic views. Here is something Lysander Spooner wrote just after the Civil War.

For this reason, whoever desires liberty, should understand these vital facts, viz.:

  1. That every man who puts money into the hands of a “government” (so called), puts into its hands a sword which will be used against himself, to extort more money from him, and also to keep him in subjection to its arbitrary will.
  2. That those who will take his money, without his consent, in the first place, will use it for his further robbery and enslavement, if he presumes to resist their demands in the future.
  3. That it is a perfect absurdity to suppose that any body of men would ever take a man’s money without his consent, for any such object as they profess to take it for, viz., that of protecting him; for why should they wish to protect him, if he does not wish them to do so?  To suppose that they would do so, is just as absurd as it would be to suppose that they would take his money without his consent, for the purpose of buying food or clothing for him, when he did not want it.
  4. If a man wants “protection,” he is competent to make his own bargains for it; and nobody has any occasion to rob him, in order to “protect” him against his will.
  5. That the only security men can have for their political liberty, consists in their keeping their money in their own pockets, until they have assurances, perfectly satisfactory to themselves, that it will be used as they wish it to be used, for their benefit, and not for their injury.
  6. That no government, so called, can reasonably be trusted for a moment, or reasonably be supposed to have honest purposes in view, any longer than it depends wholly upon voluntary support.

(from here)

Spooner obviously had a cynical view of government, and some classified him as an anarchist.  Since the man is long dead and not well-known, I won’t debate whether Spooner was an anarchist. The point here is that taxation does not require the consent of those taxed by the government, and not paying can have severe consequences. If we don’t pay, the authorities will come after us.

So about that question? Why is it moral for the government to tax us? What is the crucial issue? Let’s refer to an old post, PHILOSOPHICAL CONFUSION OVER ENDS AND MEANS. Here we considered the wisdom of that old proverb:

The end justifies the means. (see here and here)

As that old post explained, morality requires that the means be in accord with the end. Taxation looks an awful like stealing. How can such stealing be justified?

Here is an example of doing something wrong for an apparently high and noble purpose. Does it make sense to teach a child to tell the truth by lying about your own truthfulness?  No one should lie, right? And we don’t want to set a bad example. Yet if we lied to our children to hide our own dishonesty and then expected our children to be truthful, would it even work? No. We would eventually be found out, and our children would probably follow our bad example. Hopefully, the prospect of such a horror encourages us to be honest. That is, the proper way to teach others to honor the truth is to honor it with ones own conduct.

Lying to our children about our own dishonesty would in fact just compound the sinfulness of our lies. We would be telling our children two lies. We would be trying to deceive them into believing that we could be trusted to tell the truth and that we believed that honesty is actually important.

Still, when it serves its proper purpose, good government achieves an end which justifies the use of force to make everyone help pay for it.  What is that purpose? The founders explained the purpose of government in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, (from here)

We can debate what the Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness might be. Nevertheless, it is clear that the founders wanted a government that would protect the People from being deprived of their Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Why a government? For thousands of years men have created governments. Those government have done good things and bad things.  The good things governments have done include the maintenance of order, that is, the protection of life and property. The bad things include enforcing the stratification of societies with “elites” at the top and slave classes at the bottom.

For better or worse, government is something we know how to do, and the absence of government, anarchy leading to famine and disease, is worse than a bad government. Therefore, because some agency has to exercise the force required to maintain order and protect everyone’s rights, forcing everyone to pay taxes to maintain a good government is one of those cases where the means is in accord with the end and therefore justified.

That is, we simply do not know a better way.

What Is To Come?

Answering the first of those four questions took a bit more effort than I had hoped. So this became PART 2A, and I will try to answer the other three questions in PART2B.

Please refer to PART 1 for links to the other posts.

18 thoughts on “INCOMPATIBLE VIEWS ON GOVERNMENT — PART 2A

  1. Honestly, my friend, as a Christian in this more or less Post-Christian secular nation, I feel like the Jews paying taxes to Caesar and nothing more. There was a time I felt patriotic but not anymore. I still vote out of a moral obligation as an attempt to sway the tide of godless tyranny. In the end, I give to Caesar what is Caesar’s because it’s his. What does the money say? Does it not bear the name Washington?

    In the end, I don’t need much to love God. All I know is that I do want to live with the freedom to publically practice my faith, which doesn’t mean just attending church services or praying silently to myself. And that should be the bargain for any and every American’s loyalty–and Taxes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. God knew that man would need a governing system in which to live by—commandments I think we call them….that man would need rules of conduct…and in the development of time, we had kings and rulers of the land who were to be responsible to those “under their authority”…but knowing man as we do…. we saw how badly that often went….
    Yet in order to oversee the “responsibility” of those under authority, it made sense that each member would need contribute to the caring of the whole….
    I wrote a post a while back after having read an exceptional book about Churchill written in part by one of his great grandchildren….

    “Kingdoms and other forms of human government exist because humanity has fallen away from God.
    In human society, the default is always towards anarchy and chaos—as the history of the twentieth centruy in particular amply illustrates. Something must resist and restrain the downward spiral into disorder.
    Therefore, God institutes and permits governments.”
    Excerpt: God and Churchill
    Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley

    I offered this reflection…
    “Rules, laws, standards of conduct have had to be implemented in order to afford man the ability to live in a state of order verses the chaos, anarchy, civil unrest and the destructive every man for himself.”

    the post in it’s entirety:
    https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/standards-of-conduct/

    that is indeed a moral need to contribute and I suppose we call that contribution taxes—but like anything else man is a part of—we see how a perfect plan becomes deeply tainted….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I was a teenager, I read quite a bit by Churchill. As world leader, I think he decided not to leave what was written about him left to chance. So he wrote quite a bit.

      There is no doubt Churchill was ambitious and imperfect, but I do think the man tried to let his conscience guide him. I wish we had more like him today.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Well done with part 2 Tom! I know in my hear that we must have some sort of taxation but I’ve never been able to justify why it is ok for the government to take our money by force. You’re reasoning here is solid and I agree with it.

    Government is needed and I think you and I agree the it must be one of extreme limitation with the power balance resting with the people. That balance now has shifted too far for the benefit of the political class and so it seems our tax dollars either end up lost in the pit of bureaucracy or go in to programs that work against us. This won’t change until people stop crying for a “king” to control them and relearn the value of individual liberty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What is funny is that when we can present such a rationale for government, we have a more practical and justifiable reason than Democrat Liberals are capable of presenting. Yet, they accuse us of hating government and wanting to get rid of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “For better or worse, government is something we know how to do, and the absence of government, anarchy leading to famine and disease, is worse than a bad government. Therefore, because some agency has to exercise the force required to maintain order and protect everyone’s rights, forcing everyone to pay taxes to maintain a good government is one of those cases where the means is in accord with the end and therefore justified.”

    I didn’t see that coming. You never cease to amaze Tom. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps one other justification is “buy in”. We sympathize with the Founder’s criticism of that “taxation without representation” was immoral, but what about the problem of “representation without taxation”? Single resource economies where, for example oil proceeds, pay for all of government functions tend to be inherently corrupting. On the other hand, if everyone is paying their fair share for government, it would seem to me that also means that we have a moral right and even a responsibility to demand accountability. Tax payers are not just citizens – they are clients and government has a fiduciary responsibility to us.

      Like

      1. As I see it, there are two issues here:
        1. How we fund the government. It may be convenient for the government, but Venezuela indicates the problem of state owned industries. Government should not be given control of resources that do not pertain to its mission.
        2. Representation without taxation. When people are using the government to get things, they can easily forget someone else has to pay the bill.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A morality that justifies the means by the ends is not morality, at least none that a Christian could support.

    Taxation is the moral duty of justice one has to societas as expressed in the common government for the exercise of the same common government’s distributive justice.

    Like

        1. His book “The Four Virtues” may be helpful for you, though I expect you may find him overly tyrannical for saying there are objective, civic virtues that people have a moral obligation to follow.

          Like

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