Friday, May 4, 2007

on the subject of taxes.

I've had a lot of debates with a lot of different people over the years on the topic of taxation. My opinion, the only one that is consistent with the Non-Aggression Principle, is that taxation is theft.

That position is apparently too radical to stomach for many people. Advance this position in a debate, and people will call you a "pie in the sky libertarian", a radical, a utopist, and other (less flattering) things. Sure, they all agree that we pay too much in taxes, or that the wrong people are paying too much or too little, or that taxes are spent on the wrong things, but it's common opinion that we need some taxation, because it serves the public good, or society, or whatever else you choose to call the group of folks making up your neighborhood. People will argue until they're blue in the face that no, taxation isn't theft, because of implied consent and majority rule and fairness and all kinds of reasons that are supposed to be mitigating factors--good reasons why it's right and proper for the government to come knock at your door, hold a gun to your head, and demand that you hand over part of your paycheck under pain of death.

Now, it's illegal and immoral for you to walk over to your neighbor's house and demand money at gunpoint. It remains illegal and immoral even if the entire street decides to stop by at your neighbor's house to do the same, and there's absolutely no mitigating factor that would excuse such an act. It doesn't matter how much money your neighbor makes, how little you make, how noble the intended use of that stolen money, or how many children go hungry in your own house--the second you show up at his door and threaten or employ force to get at your neighbor's wallet, it becomes an immoral and illegal act of coercion.

At what point, then, does it become moral and legal to do the same on a larger scale? Is it just the number of people showing up at your neighbor's doorstep? Where's the magical threshold where a coercive act becomes right and legal and moral? Ten people? A hundred? A thousand? A million?

Now, there are plenty of folks who will defend taxation, even minimal taxation, with all kinds of arguments. They'll talk about "implied consent", "social contracts", and other imaginary moral constructs that are supposed to turn strong-arm robbery into a transaction of mutual consent. All those arguments, however, do not negate the fact that all taxation involves the involuntary transfer of property under threat of force.

(There are those, of course, who defend the morality of taxation with the argument that they pay their taxes voluntarily because they see the need for the expenditure. That's baloney, of course--you cannot give consent to being robbed, or raped, and have the robbery or rape magically turn into charity giving or consensual sex. It would only be a true choice if there was no coercion involved, no threat of violence in case of non-compliance.)

The "social contract" is another one of those non-existing constructs that mainly serve to make the robbers feel morally justified, and the robbed feel less violated. You cannot be a party to a contract which you never signed, and the fact that you were born into a society does not constitute consent to anything (and definitely not consent to the confiscation of half your productive output for the duration of your life.)

True, there are services that are desirable. National defense, fire protection, garbage collection, libraries...those are all nice things to have, for sure. None of them excuse robbery, however, and if your idea fails to get enough enthusiasm from the community to get enough folks to toss money into the hat voluntarily, then that's too bad. Besides, there are very few (if any) items on that list of desirable services which cannot be handled by private contract and the open market.

A while back, I had a discussion with someone who likened taxation to a contract with a homeowner's association, or maybe the boy who comes and cuts your lawn. I told him that the analogy was faulty, and presented him with a more accurate version.

I agree that you mow my lawn every week, in exchange for $20 per week, payable every year. You start doing the job, and we're both happy for a little while.

Then you take it upon yourself to prune the trees on my property. You also clean my pool, paint the outside of my house, and re-pave my driveway. The problem is that not only did I not ask you to perform the work, but you're doing a horrible job at it: the trees are cut way more than necessary, you don't remove the branches from the lawn, your "pool cleaning" consists of dumping a bottle of shampoo into the pool, and your paving job is merely a coat of paint that runs down the driveway at the first rain. You've only painted one side of the house, and it's a color I can't stand.

At the end of the year, you present me with a bill. Your original $20 per week have been increased to $ say it's more difficult to mow the lawn because of all the tree branches. You've charged me $400 for a pool cleaning, including $150 for a bottle of "pool cleaning agent". Your driveway "paving job" comes to $2000, and the house paint job is listed at $2000 as well. Instead of the originally agreed $1040 for a year of weekly mowing, I am looking at $10,640 for "property maintenance".

There's also a $1,040 item on the bill described as "Fairness Tariff". When I ask you what that is, you say that this money will pay your maintenance of your brother's lawn. (Your brother's lawnmower is broken, and he hasn't gotten around to fixing it). I protest this item, and you say that it's only fair that I "pay my share" to keep up the neighborhood.

I point out that I never agreed to let you do all those other things, and you break out the contract. At the end, you've unilaterally appended the following sentence: "All property maintenance shall be performed by the lawnmower operator; rates shall be determined by said operator after services are rendered. Scope of property maintenance shall also be determined by lawnmower operator."

When I protest and say that I never agreed to that clause, you point out that I gave my "implied consent" by signing the original contract, and that all the other services rendered are related to lawn care anyway. Besides, you say that I have the right to negotiate a new contract or shop for a different one every four years...the only problem is that you and your cousin Bill are the only lawnmower guys in town, since you beat up the other kids who try to break into the business. I've tried to buy my own lawnmower, but the city council (mostly made up of your family members) has outlawed unlicensed private ownership of motor-powered mowers, for safety and noise pollution reasons. (They also determine who gets a license.)

I refuse to pay the bill, and you drag me into court, where the judges are all related to you. When I protest this extortion racket, the judge tells me, "You should have known how things work around here. The whole town knows how the lawnmowing business works in this neighborhood. You always had the option not to move here."

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