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.:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- What to Expect If You Don’t Pay Your Taxes (tax.findlaw.com)
- Criminal Tax Manual 8.00 — ATTEMPT TO EVADE OR DEFEAT TAX (justice.gov/tax)
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:
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.