The fairness test

Let’s discuss two people, Mr. Adams and Mr. Jones.

Mr. Adams is 35.  He spends most of his time surfing in Southern California.  He is blonde, tall, muscular and handsome.  Women flock to him and he has had scores of relationships.  But Mr. Adams does not like to work.  He has spent most of his adult life going from job to job.  He will take a job for a year and then lose the job and get unemployment.  Currently, he lives in a house in Venice Beach with several other guys.  He gets food stamps (now called CalFresh).   He works the occasional odd job and makes a few hundred dollars a week on the side (in cash).  He owes money to a long list of people, but he is a pretty pleasant guy and charming and he gets away with not paying back the money he owes.  He does not like to do favors for other people, and usually finds a way to disappear when people are asking for help moving.  He thinks “the rich” should pay more taxes and does not think it is fair that the rich have so much and people like him have so little.

Mr. Jones is 55.  He is a paraplegic and has spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair ever since an accident when he was a teenager.  He is not an attractive man physically and does not have a girlfriend (although he would like to).  He has never had a serious relationship with a woman and is lonely.  Mr. Jones has always been fascinated with computer programming, and has started a business where he makes apps for the Iphone.  He works 12 hours a day and his only real recreation is when he takes his wheelchair down to the bike path along the beach in Santa Monica, California, where he lives.  One of his apps is really popular, and Mr. Jones is going to have a good year in 2011 — he might make $500k this year.  Mr. Jones is one of the 1 percent financially.  In 2010, he made $350k and paid 35 percent of his gross in taxes (state and local).  Mr. Jones gives contracting work to a dozen or more subcontractors who are in effect his employees.  Mr. Jones gives to several charities and is helpful, pleasant and friendly, but he doesn’t have much of a social life.  Mr. Jones is saving so that he can buy a new house in Acapulco, where he would like to retire in a few years.  He has paid taxes all his adult life, but thinks taxes are much too high and opposes paying more of his money in taxes.  His taxes are already going up significantly because of Obamacare.  He thinks charitable giving should be voluntary.

Questions.  In what moral universe would it be “fair” to take money from Mr. Jones and give it to Mr. Adams?

Which of the two is greedy?

Which of the two is covetous?

Which of the two is doing more to help society?

How does giving more government money to Mr. Adams help him become more productive and useful to society?

Mr. Jones, sick of paying such high taxes and already facing a tax increase because of Obamacare, says he will have to lay off two of his subcontractors if his taxes are raised any more.  So, is it a good thing for two people to lose their jobs as Mr. Jones is taxed more?

Is it possible that when we spend our time talking about “fairness” — and think it comes when we take money from some people and give it to others — that we concentrating on the wrong issues?



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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

99 thoughts on “The fairness test

  1. Good point, Geoff.

    We obviously will have to take Mr Jones out behind the shed and shoot him for his selfish and un-American attitude….

    Then take his money and pass it on to Mr Adams, who never got the chances in life that Mr Jones obviously did.

  2. Oh, I’ve heard another way to express the fairness test. If the fair thing is to soak the rich so that the poor have more, then perhaps it would work in other ways, too.

    All those students who get “A”s will now have to accept “C”s for grades, so we can prevent others from receiving failing marks. It isn’t fair that some get “F”s, and so those who are rich in grades, should share them who are poor.

    Of course, this also means that Harvard graduates must share their Ivy League degrees with those who have not yet obtained their GED. It is, for what it is worth, only fair.

  3. A very good story to support lower spending. I am sure those on the left could come up with an equally compelling story to the opposite. The question is which story is more representative of reality?

  4. Rich, I have known perhaps a dozen people in my life who are very similar if not exactly like Mr Adams (I grew up in a California beach community). I have known several people who are similar to Mr. Jones. Every time we take money from somebody like Mr. Jones, we are giving at least some of it to people like Mr. Adams.

    Now, people will make the completely valid point that we are also giving money to people a lot more deserving than Mr. Adams. And this is certainly true. But the purpose of this story is to get people to stretch their perceptions of what redistribution is really all about. When you FORCE people to give money to others, you are violating natural law and hurting people. It is immoral to use force and compulsion. Instead of having this mental image that “rich people” are wearing top hats and smoking cigars, we need to see them as real people. Why should a small businessman who has worked hard all his life be FORCED to pay money for layabouts?

    As I have written many times on these pages, you need some money for government. But we need to approach this situation with humility. Would Mr. Jones be willing to pay, say, 10 percent of his income in taxes, rather than more than 35 percent? Certainly he would. We need to push voluntary solutions rather than using force.

  5. Geoff, if only situations were that clear cut in our society, it would be easy to argue that we should eliminate the social welfare state. You are right. It would be unfair, unnecessary, and counter-productive. But the welfare state was not intended to rectify the economic gap between people Mr. Adams and Mr. Jones, both of whom have the educational capacity and opportunities to make it in society without any handouts. I disagree with Communists and others who would argue otherwise.

    However, not all paraplegics are computer geniuses. And in the real world, Mr. Adams is probably also a deadbeat dad with five ADD kids from a woman who is a recovering drug addict, who works minimum wage, struggling under crippling debt, and an endless string of medical problems.

    I don’t know what the solution is to real world problems, and whether the social welfare state makes it better or worse for them. Perhaps in many cases it makes it worse. But I know personally of many cases where programs like Medicare and Disability have provided a lifeline to people with no other options, and have helped them to move forward in life, or at the very least, to live with some kind of dignity, where they would just be on the street otherwise. I’m OK with the rich paying for that.

    Do the rich want to live in a dignified and civilized society which makes basic provisions for the starving, unwise, and unwell underclass? Or do they personally want to take responsibility for these people, by giving the money to charities? Will they be like Scrooge, who excuses himself by saying, “Are their no workhouses?” Or will private charities be overflowing with gifts when we refund all the medicaid we’ve been taking from them, so that these private charities can pay for the thousands of dollars in individual medical bills that each of these hard-luck cases calls for?

    The system works imperfectly, but is it really better than none at all? Just church soup kitchens and private employment offices? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

  6. I agree with Rich – the story is badly skewed. If the choice were between these two specific people, it’d be a no brainer. But not all of those who have a hard time working and on welfare are a Mr Adams, and not all entrpreneurs are a Mr Jones. Adams could just as easily be a struggling working single mother and Jones a greedy opportunist jumping from CEO position to CEO position.

  7. So, Frank, it would be justified to forcibly take money in your scenario, but not in mine? Why is that? Could you tell me where in the Constitution it says it is OK to take money from greedy (but presumably law-abiding) opportunists but not from paraplegic self-starters?

  8. Another question to ponder: who gets to judge if the person having his money confiscated is a greed opportunist or a paraplegic self-starter? The people on this blog?

  9. Geoff, I can see that you are trying to make a theoretical case that it is immoral to take money from one group and give it to another. Regardless of how complicated the real world is, there will always be this unfair situation of Mr. Jones and Mr. Adams within the system.

    But even if redistribution was strictly voluntary, this wouldn’t rectify the situation with Mr. Jones and Mr. Adams. Mr. Adams would still mooch off the charities Mr. Jones gives to. This paradox of the undeserving poor is something that is universal, and has been addressed frequently in the scriptures.

    So whether the government redistributes, or we redistribute voluntarily, we will always have the “undeserving poor.” Therefore, I don’t think it can be used as an argument either way.

  10. Nope – I dont think either scenario would be justified. We can’t, at such a high level, make such a judgement call. We can determine, on an individual basis, that those who are poor need help. Where should the money for that help come from? If churches and charities could do it all, there would be no need for the government to help, but churches and charities are already overwhelmed. So where does the money come from?

  11. How much of the money taxed goes to Welfare? To Pay the Debt? To War/ Defense? .. Just wondering if anyone know the percentage distributed. It would be nice to have the option to where I want my taxes directed to.

    That’s the big problem about Welfare, we don’t want to create a Lazy society that just makes it easier to live life and receive that Government check, but we don’t want to turn our back from those that really need it. And leaving it all up to religious and private charitable institutions sounds unrealistic. I’m personally thinking about our church, we first care for the members, then comes everyone which case everyone else would not necessarily qualify for automatic charitable help.. I’m I wrong in this?

  12. Mr. Jones gives freely to charity, and he thinks it should be voluntary. This is the concept of free agency, which is difficult for some in today’s political environment to comprehend. Mr. Jones is building his character by voluntarily providing charity, and most likely the charity will receive gratitude when a deserving person receives it.

    On the other hand, Mr. Adams when mooching off his friends or receiving food stamps (CalFresh) views it as his “right”, thereby destroying his character by remaining part of the “entitlement” culture. He wouldn’t understand the need for gratitude. His character is diminished by being part of the “gimme” culture.

  13. We would all do well to start at basic principles. Theft is theft, whether or not it’s done with a majority vote. End of story. Anything less than voluntary human relations is immoral, unethical, and evil.

  14. Geoff B., we already argued about fairness before, so I won’t repeat that here.

    Playing devil’s advocate for a bit: its easy to make up hypotheticals that make a policy look unwise, but a proponent of the policy would probably say that those policies don’t accurately reflect what would happen in the real world. A sophisticated proponent of the policy would admit that any policy will hurt some people and help others and the real question is whether the policy is less unfair than the alternatives.

  15. Mr. Collins,
    Those are more along the lins of basic assertions. I assert the opposite. Have we really done well to start by contradicting each other?

  16. Adam, “fairness” is irrelevant when we’re talking about the use of violence. Theft is uninvited violence (aggression), that’s why it’s evil, and it takes theft in order to re-distribute wealth. This is a no brainer. What’s unfair is the wielding of unjustified power by some over others. Violent exploitation is what’s truly unfair. A violent mob preying on society, whether or not it preys less on the poor and more on the wealthy, is what’s unfair. It’s silly to argue fairness between the poor and the wealth when they’re both being violently exploited by a common enemy.

  17. To me, this is an easy one. Man generally understands what is right and what is wrong. In the Church, I think we tend to use the light of Christ to explain this.

    So, by the use of tax incentives, we encourage tax payers to give their money to private organizations that help the poor. Lets say the gov. spends about 20% of tax revenues on the poor. So one could get a tax break (dollar for dollar) for up to 20% of his taxes if he shows that he has donated up to 20% of his income to a charity of his choice.

    I think the same kind of thing could also be used to fund insurance companies. We really do need some kind of universal health care, but not through the gov. If the gov was better at spending money than the private sector, then by all means, let the gov. do so. But that has not been my experience.

  18. Most of the things that make Mr. Adams unlikable have nothing to do with government policy and social services. Whether or not he gets food stamps won’t change the fact that he shirks his EQ moving responsibilities and mooches off the rest.

    You asked,
    “In what moral universe would it be “fair” to take money
    from Mr. Jones and give it to Mr. Adams?

    In the same moral universe where Mr. Jones’s tax money is being used to provide school lunch to Timmy Smith, whose dad died because of a tragic car accident, and whose mother can’t provide health insurance at her hotel cleaning job.

  19. (Edited) — Herbivore, if you are going to post here, you are going to have to avoid personal attacks. (Editor)
    First off, let’s look at the deceptive use of the words ‘theft’ and ‘steal’. Taxation is as old as time, and if all taxation is stealing then you’ve alienated 99.999% of us who think basic infrastructure, accessible drinking water and a functional justice system are good things that we should all contribute to. I’m not accusing you for being in this minority or that you think all taxation is bad, but just trying to understand the hyperbolic idea of any tax or public service being equated with ‘theft’ and ‘stealing’.
    There are several justifications for taxing people for public services: 1) adequate coverage of benefits (maximize those who can actually benefit from the system) 2) acquiescence of the people to enact these taxes. 3) (because we are, presumably, mostly LDS) a moral justification for taxation.
    If we can vote that a fraction of our property taxes or state income taxes should go to educating all within their respective boundaries, we should also be able to decide whether a fraction of our payroll taxes should go to those struggling to make ends meet. (I slipped that in for those of you who think your federal income taxes pay social security).
    In ANY altruistic system, there will be ‘cheaters’ (using the biological nomenclature). It is up to our society to deal with those cheaters individually. I would personally disagree that the existence of ‘cheaters’ should be used as an argument to abolish altruism.

    Hopefully, although rushed, this gives you a better perspective of taxation and why the dangerous strawman argument of calling it ‘theft’ is invalid.

  20. Let’s first talk some figures. The 2012 national budget was $3.7 trillion. Of that, about $2.2 billion, or about 60 percent, involved entitlements and welfare, what for the purposes of this post we would call “taking money from Mr. Jones and giving it to Mr. Adams.”

    If you include state income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc, it’s safe to say that about 65 percent of all govt expenditures involving taking from some people and giving to others for the purpose of “welfare.” So, CEF’s example of 20 percent is not even close to current-day reality (although I wish it were).

  21. Herbivore is in the clutches of the classic left-wing delusion. He believes that expropriating other people’s money is equivalent to altruism. It is not. Altruism is when you are generous with your own money.

    Also missing from the discussion is a rather obvious reality. Taxes don’t go to help poor people. What?! That’s right. Taxes don’t go to help poor people. Taxes go to build permanent bureaucracies and insure continuity for the ruling class. Do you know what the federal budget was for food stamps in 2009? 79 billion dollars. That is 16% of what the Obama regime spent on one loan to one ‘green’ company owned by Democrat campaign contributors. Solyndra is one of many crony companies that got multi-billion dollar loans. The Medicare budget was 793 billion–about equal to what the Obama regime lent to Fisker auto to make electric cars in Finland.

    Federal workers can rarely if ever be fired. While million of American families are languishing in real poverty without hope for the dignity of a job, Federal worker unemployment stands at less than 2%. Federal workers make 40% more on average than private sector employees. Just by legislating parity between private and public wages, the CBO estimates a 47 billion dollar savings.

    I could go on. And on. And on.

    (Edited for too many personal attacks — Mick I agree with you but let’s keep it civil. Thanks).

  22. I would like to address Adam G’s comment number 14. One of Adam G’s many positive qualities is that he is very consistent on the abortion issue. The natural right of “life,” meaning government cannot take life and should protect life, is important to him. There are also natural rights to personal liberty and personal property.

    Appealing to Adam G, I would say that one of the great strength of the “pro-life” position is to consistently appeal to this natural right. It simply is not right for people to kill defenseless other people. Now, we can argue about whether life begins at conception or not (I am not convinced it does), but at the very least we can agree that abortion creates serious moral concerns that must be addressed. The position of the other side has been to sweep all these concerns under the table and claim that the “woman’s right to choose” always trumps a baby’s right to live. But this ignores the basic issue of natural rights: you cannot deny that killing people is not right, and if you start inventing reasons why it is OK to kill people, you eventually get to the position that it is OK to kill mentally retarded babies, less intelligent babies, less attractive babies, etc “for the good of society.” Such a position becomes quite comfortable for Nazis, which helps us see how truly evil it is.

    But we might be able to agree that there are limited circumstances where abortion might be morally OK. What if the baby will kill the mother? What if the mother is a victim of incest or rape? What if the mother is 12 years old? What if the mother is mentally retarded and was taken advantage of?

    The “pro-private property” position is exactly the same as the “pro-life” position: ie, it is just as wrong to take other people’s property through government force as it is to take a baby’s life. We should appeal to people to voluntarily give their own money, we should not take it from them by force. Force is wrong and morally unjustified.

    Now, we need tax money to run society. So, there may be very small exceptions to the above point. And this was the position of early Americans. Taxation was miniscule in the United States until 1913. So somehow we had a prosperous, healthy society that avoided taking money by force for 130 years. So, the morally justified model is obvious: massively decrease the size of government, take less money from the Mr. Jones of the world, and the vast majority of people will be OK with the result, just as the vast majority of people will be OK with a result where abortion really is “safe, legally and extremely rare.”

    Just as the pro-life movement has appealed to morality on the abortion issue, and successfully changed a lot of minds in the last 30-40 years, people like me will be appealing to morality on the issue of forced taxation in the years ahead. It is a very similar battle.

  23. Just one situation like the scenario described makes government welfare untenable. Anyone who demands some statistically valid average is morally ungrounded. The state can never be involved in wealth redistribution. Period period period. The result, even for the most deserving, is immoral. God calls us as individuals and as the church to relieve the burden of the poor. We cannot pass it on even with tax withholding. Pooh-poohing this is a denial of the power of godliness.

  24. Herbivore, we are not saying there is no role for government. In fact, many of us believe that there are important reasons for government to be involved. That said, one big issue we have is having FEDERAL government doing all it is doing. Clean water is more an issue of state and local, not federal government. The EPA tends to do over-sweeping one-size-fits-all regulation that has not been approved by Congress, which hurt business, farmers, and the poor.

    While there may be a place for government to help provide for the poor, we have to see realities of federal government doing it. First, all agree there is at least $400 billion per year that is wasted in our Welfare system. That waste comes in the way of Fraud, Waste and Abuse. An example would be my wife’s ex, who was on SSI and Medicaid for a bad back, but would farm and log for local farmers around him. We wrote a letter to the SSA about it, but they did nothing regarding it. They allowed him to cheat the system until the day he died. There are probably hundreds of thousands of similar examples in the federal system.

    That the Federal Medicare and Medicaid programs are underfunded with unfunded mandates (mainly to the states) for $100 Trillion, means we are automatically looking to bankrupt all the states, simply because the Feds ordered it without paying for it.

    And the bail outs that have occurred did involve welfare of another sort: to rich banks, auto industry, green energy, and unions. We’ve sent out several Trillions of dollars between Congress and the Fed Reserve for corporate welfare. Better to end all welfare and end all the fraud, waste and abuse. Too many people are bribed until the 99% are not listened to anymore.

    LBJ’s War on Poverty was done in order to end poverty. Yet we have more people on the poverty roles or receiving assistance of some kind from the federal government than at any other time in history. Welfare is an addictive thing that people do not want to get rid of.

    Example? How about the current AARP commercials where old people are demanding Congress not touch the Medicare benefits that they “earned.” Last time I looked, many of them haven’t really “earned” it, as most did not put into the system their entire lives, and none have paid for the Part D prescription, as that is still unfunded. IOW, we’ve taught a generation of old people to demand welfare payments that they have not earned, nor do not necessarily deserve. Is it fair that the federal government steal from our children and grandchildren so that an eighty year old can have heart replacement or hip surgery today?

    To allow such is to totally destroy common sense and logic! And it destroys the link between mercy and justice.

    Does giving my 80ish mother or mother-in-law prime health care and prescription today worth telling our children they will have to live in poverty tomorrow, paying off the huge bills we’ve left them?

    I’m ready to give up on any claims to Medicare and Social Security so that my kids and grand-kids get a fair chance at life. Sadly, there are way too many selfish in the system who do not. For the kids, it would be better to stop all welfare now, and give them a fair shake at life, than to allow the welfare system (Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and welfare to corporations, etc) to suck the cow dry.

  25. I think it’s a enormous act of pride to assume the responsibility of divvying up someone’s earnings amongst the populace in a more “fair” fashion.

    Also, let’s imagine a scenario in which 100,000 people all have 10 dollars each. Everyone has equal wealth. Then one person writes a book, and offers it to anyone who wants it for 1 dollar. Everyone in the community buys one. The author now has over 100,000 dollars, and everyone else has 9 dollars.

    Is that unfair?

    Now, it doesn’t always happen this way. But it often does. Sometimes people are rich because we gave them money. And now we force them to give it back? How is that fair?

  26. Geoff B.,

    I’m not as consistently pro-life as you think. On logical grounds I believe that human life and personhood begins at conception, but I’m OK with the law letting parents off their baby if the mother’s life is at risk or if the baby was conceived in rape or incest and I’m ok with contraceptives. I have complicated justifications for it, but partly it just comes down to expediency.

    The case that government expropriation of private property is theft is much less clear on historical and logical grounds than the case that abortion is taking a person’s life. Taxation and regulation have occurred throughout our history. Saying that its OK as long as the unprincipled exception is small doesn’t really do much for your argument, because it still has you saying that any level of taxation is unprincipled. Which is silly. In fact, its utopian. The difference between the extreme pro-life case and the extreme case against taxation is that the extreme pro-life regime would be harsh on some but it would be workable. An actual human society could work that way. But no actual human society could work on the principle that any use of violence or societal use of private property through taxation or other means was wrong. The distinction you make between ‘user fees’ and ‘theft’ doesn’t rescue you from utopianism because its arbitrary. In my opinion, there is no meaningful distinction between assessing a ‘user fee’ on someone for the privilege of bringing goods into this country and assessing a ‘user fee’ on someone for the privilege of earning an income in this country.

    There are much better arguments to be made against our current welfare state system.

  27. I agree that in the strict sense of the term taxation is theft, just like arrest is kidnapping.

    However, a low level of taxation that provides for a handful of things that people would have to pay for anyway, that can only effectively be provided by quasi-governmental agencies, is a reasonable expedient in my opinion.

    That means courts, police, and defense. And to the degree we can fund those with reasonable user fees, all the better.

  28. Adam G, using phrases like “silly” and “utopian” do less to further the discussion than the basic assertions of Skyler Collins.

    Hong Kong recognized taxation as theft until very recently. The result was an economic miracle that is obvious today (I travel there a couple times a year). Technologically, Hong Kong makes the US look like a third world country, and people in Hong Kong have among the highest standard in the world and are the envy of Asia. Today, your average rich and middle class person in Hong Kong pays about 10 percent of their gross in taxes. Government spending is tiny — expenditures, including, for example, the subway system, are pushed into the private sector. Singapore has similar levels of taxation, and its economic miracle is even more phenomenal than Hong Kong (given that it was a tiny fishing village 70 years ago). The United States until 1913 spent less than 3 percent of GDP on all government enterprises, and of course the economy boomed, and the consensus was the taxation is theft. Now, we spend more than 35 percent of GDP (state, federal, local) on taxation, and the economy stagnates.

    The actual historical evidence is clear: a recognition that taxation is government force and that we should be extremely humble about the use of government force brings prosperity. The opposite brings stagnation.

  29. I’ve made the argument before that it isn’t theft any more than paying for a good or service is theft. Just because you don’t recognize the personal benefit, doesn’t mean that you don’t have any personal benefit from the things that taxes pay for. For example, you may not own a car, so feel you shouldn’t pay “user fees” to build roads. However, a good portion of the goods you do use are transported by road. If gas taxes were removed, and substituted with “road use fees,” you’d probably end up paying even more because the cost would be raised on every good that is transported by road, plus a markup, just as it is for gas tax.

    It’s just a case of semantics at that point.

    I can get behind disagreeing with the way taxes are spent, and I can get behind efforts to amend tax spending. But believing that the entire concept of taxation is theft is overstatement to the point of ridiculousness. It operates under the assumption that living in our world with our current level of comfort happens in a vacuum, an assumption that I find creeping up in a great many “liberty” based political arguments.

    It’s like the old seminary video with the teenager complaining that agency should be the same thing as freedom. (Incidentally, I can’t watch that video without remembering that the guy I had a major high school crush on had a shirt just like that. 😀 And you’ve got to love that hair.)

  30. Geoff B., silly I’ll grant you, although surely you agree that arguing that any form of government acquisition of money is wrong is silly? I’m not directly saying that your position is silly, I’m saying that it reduces to a position that is silly. Reductio ad absurdum, in other words. As for the utopian, I stand by that description. Any position that all taxation is theft is utopian, because it cannot function in the real world without unprincipled exceptions (as you seem to admit).

    There was no consensus in 1913 that taxation was theft. Quite the contrary. Even though the government was small, it was not nonexistent. It was not funded purely by voluntary subventions.

    As far as a I can discover in a quick search, Singapore appears to be funded by a personal income tax, a corporate income tax, and a kind of sales tax. Hong Kong appears to be funded by a personal income tax, a corporate income tax, and by subsidies from the PRC.

    I could find nothing from either government showing that they thought taxes were morally wrong.

    Note that your restatement–“taxation is government force” is morally quite different from saying that taxation is theft. The former means humility and caution in levying taxes. The latter means that it is wicked to levy any taxes at all. Stealing and robbery isn’t ok if you only do it in moderation.

  31. If you have a problem with the government forcing you to give up some of your income, perhaps you should change your attitude. What is robbery when taken by force from the unwilling becomes a gift when given willingly.


    On the other hand, there may well be ways that are more efficient economically–that enrich all of the population, involve less corruption, provide incentives to all to work hard and to save and to contribute to the greater good of the whole body politic. I’d be happy to hear those arguments–either here, or more important, from anybody running for political office in this country.

  32. Well, Mark B, we make those arguments here on practically a daily basis. So, keep on coming ’round.

    Next time my car is stolen I will taken your attitude — it was a “gift.” Unfortunately, I might have problems getting reimbursed from my insurance if I call it a gift rather than theft.

  33. It worked for the bishop in Les Miserables.

    And it serves you right for owning a car. That’s so 20th Century.

  34. I have not yet seen a convincing argument that income taxes are *not* theft. All arguments come down to the same point: that there is a societal consensus that (some — only 53 percent) people should pay taxes, therefore it is OK for society to force these people to pay taxes. I have seen a lot of ad hominems — it is silly, absurd, etc — but I have never seen the argument convincingly made. The “societal consensus” argument seems wrong to me — there was a societal consensus that black people should be slaves in the South for many years, and that didn’t work out too well. The “societal consensus” argument ignores natural rights and says that some societies can do things that are wrong based on a majority rule. So, if the majority of society decided that all people over 7 feet tall should be killed, that would be OK too because it is societal consensus? No, we don’t base a just society on a “societal consensus” because that just creates tyranny of the majority, which usually results in evil.

    SR has argued in the past that taxation is not theft because you pay for a good a service, and that is not theft. This seems very wrong. You voluntarily pay for goods or services. Nobody is forcing you to. For example, if the government made you buy an Android rather than an Iphone, we would all agree this is force. But the government makes me pay income taxes whether I want to or not. I have no choice at all. SR above uses the example of user fees — well that is exactly my point. I have no problem with user fees and in fact this is the only just way of doing taxation. If you want to use a park, pay a fee. If you want to use a road, pay a toll. If you want to use a bus, pay the fare. This gives you choices — you can either use the park or not use the park. So, who pays when Fedex delivers a package to your door? Well, you do — indirectly. Fedex must pay the user fee for gas and the user fee for the road, and they must pay the salary for the driver, overhead, etc. This is all built into the price of delivering the package. So, package fees may go up. But you can choose not to get packages delivered — again, freedom of choice. Nobody forces you to do anything.

    I think a lot of people don’t know what excise taxes and tariffs are — they are user fees and they funded nearly all of the US government for our first 130 years. People could go most of their lives without ever paying taxes because they could choose not to buy products that did not have excise taxes. Again, this supports freedom of choice, which we should all want.

    I am open to arguments that income taxation is not theft, but so far I haven’t seen a good argument. Convince me, but without the ad hominems, please.

  35. Taxation is theft, clear and simple. FORCING people to pay for goods that you offer them, even if they don’t want them, is just plain evil. Yep, I said it. The ideology is evil. Evil as in devil-inspired. Our generation has been fooled by the adversary into thinking coercion is moral, so long as we can drum up a sufficient rationale for it.

    I play the guitar in my yard. You enjoy the music next door. I come to your door, put a gun to your head, and tell you to pay for the performance or I’m locking you in a cell. That’s what the “you benefited, so you should be forced to pay, whether you asked for it or not” argument means to me. It’s thinly disguised aggression, and those who support it are aggressors.

  36. In addition to his hard work, Mr. Jones takes advantage of substantially more public goods to make his profits than Mr. Adams ever needs. There is the vast federal intellectual property system enforcing his rights in his software, federal treaties and the Dept./Commerce and U.S. trade missions enforcing his rights abroad, all of the free public education embedded in his 10 employees/independent contractors, his ratable share of the federal and state infrastructure allowing distribution of iphones to enable his apps to have an audience, federal subsidies to businesses owned by disabled persons, etc. Why don’t these factors count in your definition of fairness?

    The cost and what it means to enforce property rights (which I believe is a legitimate goal of government in libertarian views) in an economy as complex as ours is a topic I rarely see explored in depth by libertarian bloggers. This and other large public (i.e. government) goods are the massive cornerstone of wealth creation in this country.

  37. I agree with Geoff. If you want to use a road, pay a fee. If you want to use the park, pay a fee.

    SilverRain says, “a good portion of the goods you do use are transported by road.” Well, if I have a product, and I want to sell it to someone, I offer to ship it to them, or deliver it to them, and I either pay the fee, or ask them to pay the fee, as a price of that service. But I give them the choice before setting out on the road. I don’t force them to pay for the service if they don’t want it. That’s just aggression.

  38. Nobody forces you to pay taxes any more than you are forced to pay for a service you have used. If you walk into a store and use their services without paying, YOU are the thief, and you can sure bet that you would be subject to the law for it. You live in this country, in this society, and you benefit actually andsolve potentially in myriad ways by it. If you don’t like American taxes, the government isn’t keeping you here by force. Leave, and refuse to take advantage of American life.

    If you don’t like the HOA, don’t live in a neighborhood with an HOA. If there are benefits to the HOA that you don’t want to give up, use your voice to try to change what you don’t like. If you are unsuccessful, chalk it up to part of the cost of the HOA.

    Living in any community means there are going to be things we don’t like. Taxation is a means whereby a country can handle the various needs of communal interest. Everybody has the same voice, the same power to affect change as anyone else. Call it “tyranny of the majority” if you like, but I find that far preferable to tyranny of the few, which describes every other government functioning in an unrighteous world.

    Sure, voluntary donations only would be ideal in an ideal, righteous world. But we’re not in a righteous world. And any attempt to force that kind of world is just as tyrannical. So I prefer to think of taxes as necessary and part of the cost of living in this country with a certain set of benefits.

    That doesn’t mean I agree with the way they are handled, and won’t do what I can to change it when I can.

    There are other options to paying taxes, you just don’t like any of them. Just like I don’t like the alternatives to paying for my food.

  39. DCL, that is a decent point. Well done. Let’s concentrate on your issues.

    I showed above our $3.7 trillion budget (see comment 21). Of that, more than half is entitlements, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Each of these are forced transfers of wealth that have nothing to do with any of issues you mention above. Then we get to additional wealth transfers like HUD, the Ag Dept, etc. Again, none of these have to do with the issues you mention. So, about 60 percent of the federal budget involves forced transfers of wealth from one person to the other. Can we assume that we can cut 60 percent of the budget and not be affecting the issues you mention? If we could throw in cutting the Dept of Defense in half (which I favor), we could cut the budget from $3.7 trillion down to about $1 trillion and still be providing public education, the state dept to do international treaties, the dept of commerce for US trade missions. We would still have the FBI to enforce domestic patent laws. I will agree to this. Can we agree that we could cut the $3.7 trillion budget down to $1 trillion and still protect Mr Jones’ hard work?

    But there’s so much more. If we cut $100 billion more by getting rid of the Dept. of Education, we would not be ruining public education but probably instead improving it by getting rid of all of the bureaucracy and forced standardization. If we only have a $900 billion budget, the interest on our (now, nonexistent debt) would dry up and eventually we would be down to a $700 billion budget. Given that we take in about $2.5 trillion in tax revenue, we could give massive rebates back to the people and pay off the $15 trillion debt within a decade. So, DCL, I fully endorse your plan! Sign me up for cutting the federal budget from $3.7 trillion to $700 billion by 2014 or so.

  40. SilverRain, therein lies the problem. Your considering different forms of government and not asking whether or not we can do without government all together. I recommend reading Rothbard’s “Ethics of Liberty” and Hoppe’s “Theory of Socialism & Capitalism”, search them at

  41. SR, I know you have made this argument before, but I must say with all respect that I don’t get it. I am trying to be as respectful as possible when I say this. You say:

    “Nobody forces you to pay taxes any more than you are forced to pay for a service you have used. If you walk into a store and use their services without paying, YOU are the thief, and you can sure bet that you would be subject to the law for it. You live in this country, in this society, and you benefit actually andsolve potentially in myriad ways by it. If you don’t like American taxes, the government isn’t keeping you here by force. Leave, and refuse to take advantage of American life.”

    It seems you are missing a couple of key points here.

    –You can choose not to use a service or you can choose other services. For example, you can choose to go to a movie or you can choose to go to a restaurant or you can stay home and do nothing. This involves free choice. But if you make $200k a year you MUST pay income taxes, regardless if you are like Mr. Jones and never use any govt services at all. So, in reality there is no choice in our society. If you make a certain amount of money, you MUST pay. I am never forced to walk into a store — I can do something else. This is nothing like your store example.
    –Saying my only choice is to leave is a bit like saying that African-Americans had the choice to leave rather than face Jim Crow laws in the South. Yes, they did, but isn’t the point that when something is wrong we do something about it, not just say, “take it or leave it?”

    In short, I don’t get this argument. It doesn’t do anything for me at all.

  42. The store analogy fails, because I haven’t walked into a store. The real analogy would be a merchant dumping a bunch of goods into my lap and saying, “pay up or go to jail.”

    And yes, what you have described is the tyranny of the majority. Sorry, not the world I want to live in. In fact, I think it’s a scarier world to live in than the tyranny of the few, because it’s my neighbors committing the tyranny.

  43. Or, a better analogy: I’m browsing through the store. A bunch of OTHER customers all vote and say, “We all want this product. Including him (referring to me).” And then the store owner forces me to pay for a product, because all the OTHER customers voted that I should. That’s pure aggression, and simply wrong. Plain, dumbly wrong.

  44. Geoff says, “We don’t base a just society on a “societal consensus” because that just creates tyranny of the majority, which usually results in evil.”

    I would submit that the “tyranny of the majority” is the very definition of democracy. Questions of good and evil don’t matter in this issue. Good and evil is whatever the people decide in a Democracy. This is not God’s country. It is ours. It is whatever the people want it to be, whatever they vote for, whatever they collectively decide.

    America is “We the People.” It is only “under God,” meaning, that back when they wrote the constitution, the majority of the culture happened to believe in God. But there is no legally binding contractual obligation within the constitution to submit to divine authority or morality whatsoever. It is the people’s authority that is empowered in the constitution, not God’s. Whatever the people say is truth, is right, is correct. We don’t turn to God for truth, but to our judges, appointed by us. They don’t turn to God for truth either, they turn to precedent, and their own wisdom.

    That is why America is Babylon and always has been. It is not a theocracy. It is the rejection of God in favor of rule by majority, because nobody could agree on what God’s will was.

    Geoff says that it is immoral for the state to steal from someone and give it to another. But here in America, it will only be immoral if the people say it is. But if the people say it is OK, then it ceases to be immoral, and it becomes a good thing, just as slavery once was. We can try to convince people that it would be better if the government didn’t steal from people. But we can’t ultimately resort to moral arguments, because morality is always changing in Democracy. If you want fixed morality, you have to go to church, not state.

  45. Nate, we are not a democracy, we are a republic. There were elements during the Constitutional convention who wanted a democracy (one big house, all the representatives vote, majority rules wins). But we were deliberately set up as a republic with a Senate with different rules than the House, three branches of the government, etc. I completely and utterly reject the statement, “if the people say it is OK, then it ceases to be immoral, and it becomes a good thing, just as slavery once was.” Things are moral or immoral regardless of what the people say. It was never moral to have slaves, and Jim Crow laws were never moral, and it was never moral to ignore the Second Amendment and institute unconstitutional anti-gun laws.

    I will agree with you that the way we change things is by “convincing people.” Why do you think I write all of these blog posts? I don’t believe in forcing anybody to do anything (as long as they are not harming others). But I do believe in convincing people using moral suasion, which is what I am doing.

  46. I know that it’s provocative to say that whatever the majority says is right. You are correct that this is not true from an eternal or religious perspective. But it has to be true within it’s own sphere of governance, or government would cease to function. That is why we had slavery. There would have been no constitution without it. Slavery had to be accepted, or the country we love would not exist. It was only when the majority was ready to reject slavery that it became officially immoral. Of course it was always immoral in God’s eyes. But not in the eyes of the United States of America. That is why God and America have never been one. In the eyes of our great republic, slavery was completely and morally acceptable.

    I’m not sure I understand the difference between what you are saying is a democracy and a republic, and how it would be different. It seems to me that each of the three branches of government still ultimately stem the will of the people. The people vote regularly for executives and legislatures, and those people vote for judges. Ultimately, it’s still the people who are in charge.

  47. I wrote about the ‘taxes are theft’ issue in the past. I basically agree with Adam and SilverRain on this.

    I think Geoff’s arguments and LDSP’s arguments have to be taken separately. LDSP believes it’s possible to not have a government and yet have a productive society, so his argument of taxes being theft is at least logically consistent because he isn’t *just* suggesting taxes are theft. He’s also suggesting all governments are immoral use of force and violence. (Though I believe there is adequate evidence that his desired form of anarchist society can’t be implemented in real life by real people.)

    Geoff, I’m basically lost at your line of logic and I’m sincerely asking for clarification. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain my confusion and ask for clarification.

    I confess, I don’t really understand why you keep arguing that taxes are theft. I either do not understand your position at all (always a possibility) or you are undermining your otherwise valid points about ‘over taxation’ by claiming ‘all taxes are theft’ instead.

    The problem is that most people, including myself, believe governments are moral institutions. (LDSP being a notable exception.) I thought you also believed this and I keep trying to mash the idea of ‘taxes are theft’ with the idea that ‘governments are moral and must be run by money’ and I can make no sense of whatever you are saying.

    Note the difference here: I understand LDSP when he claims taxes are theft. I don’t when you do. That’s because the idea of ‘taxes are theft’ has logical consequences that LDSP will admit to but I haven’t seen you admit to or at least explain how you personally deal with the potential logical consequences that seem so obvious to people like myself, SR, and Adam, etc. So I’m honestly really and truly at a loss to understand what you are saying or where you are coming from.

    Since you presumably wrote this (and all your posts, of course) with the intention to ‘make a point’ the fact that I don’t even understand your point in the first place should be significant to you. Until you either give up the ‘taxes are theft’ phrase or at least go on to explain in what sense you mean this, I’m effectively lost.

    Adam explains the apparent problem with your argument very clearly. His point is that accepting that ‘taxes (of any type) are theft’ leaves one wondering how you fund a government in the first place.

    You used the example of Hong Kong and their success with (you claim) non-existent taxes. I honestly am not familiar enough with Hong Kong to take your word for this. I find it unlikely that they had no forms of taxes whatsoever (i.e. I suspect Adam is correct about them), but if they did have no forms of taxation at all, I’d fully expect that the burden is on you to explain how they funded themselves and to give a strong and detailed explanation of how you believe this approach could be made to work for a larger nation like the USA. You have not offered this up, so merely referencing Hong Kong does nothing to reduce the confusion I feel at your argument. In fact, it add nothing to the argument at all until you supply the additional context required for me to make sense of what you are trying to say.

    You stated that you “have not seen a convincing argument” that taxes are not theft. But here I think you miss the point. I have no intentions of trying to convince *you* that taxes are not theft. I presume that I *can’t* convince you of that or any position if you don’t want to be convinced.

    Further, you wrote this post, not I. What I am looking for is for you to *convince me* that taxes are theft. Of, failing that, at least help me understand *why you believe taxes are theft.* Right now, I can truly say that I have seen you do neither of these.

    Simply pointing out that taxes are taken by force is not equivalent to explaining to me why you think that makes taxes equivalent to theft for the same reason that telling me that governments monopoly on violence (through a police force) does not make them equivalent to thugs. The analogy in both cases being so vague as to fail to enlighten me at all as to what your point is.

    Again, I’m not even arguing that you are wrong (as of yet). I’m simply say I haven’t a clue what your real point is because I’m stuck on the whole ‘taxes are theft’ thing as (from my current so far unenlightened point of view) obviously wrong, so you must have meant something else.

    For example, it occurs to me that maybe you are using ‘taxes’ in some very narrow sense. Perhaps (I think to myself) maybe you equate ‘taxes’ to ‘income taxes.’ I tell myself, “Maybe Geoff believes we should only fund governments through tariffs.” Or maybe you only intend “taxes are theft” to be taken as hyperbole. I tell myself, “Maybe Geoff does see that there are huge logical differences between taxes and theft but he wants to ‘get people to think’ through use of an intentions and wild exaggeration.” Or, I think to myself, maybe Geoff really doesn’t mean “taxes are theft” but rather “taxes past a certain point are theft.” So, I tell myself, Geoff really means that our taxes are too high. (As he seems to suggest in #23) Or… or maybe Geoff is the same as LDSP. i.e. he’s an anarchist. Maybe he really does think taxes are literally theft and that governments are literally thugs. Ah-ha! I tell myself, “Geoff is really a closet anarchist and doesn’t want to say so… for some reason… that I can’t figure out…”

    If I’m still waffling around trying to decide if your arguing for a) only voluntary taxes, b) only indirect taxes (i.e. tariffs), c) no taxes at all, d) low taxes, e) no governments at all then how in the world can I possibly keep track in my mind what point you were trying to make? Do you see the issue?

    (Again, I’m not arguing against your point, as of yet. I’m just explaining that I don’t know what your point is.)

    Now I gather, from #23, that you probably do *not* literally mean that taxes are theft. I suspect what you are trying to say is that forced taking of money is serious business so it should be done sparingly and as miniscule as possible. Or at least this would be my best guess given your #23 comment. But I’m not even sure of this. You sometimes seem to be suggesting different things at different times.

    Also, if this was your point, then please understand that saying ‘taxes are theft’ when what you really mean is ‘taxes are serious, so it should be done minimally’ is really really distracting. You do yourself no favors by continuing to make such a wild claim when even you don’t believe it.

    This because theft is never okay. Not even in miniscule amounts. (I assume we are not including examples from war time Nazis or the like.) But taxes apparently are to you. So, for me, at least, this is a done deal: taxes are not theft and I’m lost as to what you really mean.

    Please don’t take this the wrong way. Fact is, I think taxes are way too high too. Is it possible that we agree on quite a bit more then we think and the real issue is your over use of hyperbole to the point of (to me) distraction? I’m open to this possibility.

  48. “Nate, we are not a democracy, we are a republic.”

    Better go look up these two words. These words have multiple possible meanings.

  49. @LDSP (and others) on “tyranny of the majority”

    Okay, LDSP, whenever we talk about government, you bring up “tyranny of the majority.” But I feel you are too sloppy on your usage here because this can be understood in different ways and you are using it both ways (as far as I can tell) without distinction.

    From a certain point of view, ‘tyranny of the majority’ is what we try to avoid within a democracy by putting in bills of rights and the like. We are trying to protect ‘the minority’ in case we are someday the minority.

    From another point of view, democracies are *by definition* a ‘tyranny of the majority.’ THis is something we talked about in person. You admited that “from a certain point of view” our constitution is a tyranny of the (super) majority because a super majority can change the consitution to say whatever they want.

    The problem is that I really can’t see a way out of this. The constitution is the highest law because we made it the highest law. Appealing to God does not help here because we still have to agree with each other on what God wants (based on our varied understandings) and then put it into a constitution.

    In short, I perceive your citing of a “tyranny of a majority” as toothless because it can be cited for *anything* we don’t personally agree with.

    Yes, the (super) majority want taxes. Yes, the (super) majority want government just as we currently have it (more or less.) We have the government we want and deserve. Even you admit this.

    So what uses is it to say “well, forcing taxes on someone that doesn’t want to pay is tyranny of the majority” or the like?

    Imagine, for the sake of argument, that you suddenly manage to convince 66% of the nation that stateless anarchy (in you sense, not the ‘usual sense’ of disorder) is the way to go? But I don’t want to live in a stateless society because I’m convinced (perhaps wrongly) that it doesn’t work. So are you going to, via your tyranny of the majority, force me into your ideal stateless society anyhow? And what, exactly, would be your alternative to such a tyranny of the majority?

  50. Bruce,

    Correction: I don’t think society is possible without government. But I DO think society is possible without the state. The state is an entity that claims a monopoly on force and wealth by confiscation. But there exist forms of government that don’t do that. For example, systems of elected arbitrators who mediate between interpersonal disputes. Like the judges of ancient Israel, or (I think) the judges in the Book of Mormon. I don’t believe either system claimed a monopoly on force, or wealth by confiscation (aka, taxation).

    And yes, I believe that democracy is, by definition, a tyranny of the majority, so long as we empower those we elect with a monopoly on force and the power to legislate. And so if that is democracy, I don’t believe in democracy. However, if we elect leaders (judges, for example, who arbitrate interpersonal disputes) who don’t claim a monopoly on force, or who don’t claim the power to legislate, then I’m ok with that.

  51. Bruce,

    I have to admit, much as it pains me, that your comment makes sense. Yes, sometimes I appear to argue for low taxes and then I argue for no taxes. Maybe a more complete answer will make more sense (to both you and me).

    1)Income taxes are both theft and forced redistribution. User fees (excise taxes and tariffs) are not. I am not an anarchist — I believe in limited government like we had in the 19th century, when the federal govt was funded by excise taxes and tariffs and there were very few other taxes in the U.S.
    2)For now, this income tax theft is legal (just as Jim Crow laws were once “legal”). There was an amendment passed to make income taxes legal, so they are legal.
    3)My goal is to end income taxes ultimately. Hopefully the 16th amendment will be repealed.
    4)This goal may never happen in our lifetimes.
    5)In the meantime, I want to convince as many people as possible (probably never you) that income taxes are theft and morally wrong.
    6)*At the same time* I am also arguing that taxes should be as low as possible (this is presumably where we agree).
    7)*Given that we have an income tax and that it may not be repealed during our lifetimes, and the fact that government needs funding, it is legitimate to discuss how income taxes will be used to fund things.*
    8)If you are going to discuss how income taxes will be used to fund things, it is legitimate to say you want income taxes to be low and government to be cut.
    9)My ideological opponents always argument that govt can never be cut because poor people will be thrown into the street and that “the rich need to pay their fair share.”
    10)Tax policy should never be based on “fairness,” because this is subjective and arbitrary.
    11)But if we are going to be fairness into the discussion, we must admit that “fairness” brings a lot of problems and contradictions, like the one of Mr. Jones and Mr. Adams.

    I hope this is clearer.

    One last point: Hong Kong had virtually no taxes until very recently. Now, income taxes are very low. So, it is not contradictory to say that a)you can grow a country with virtually no taxes, because Hong Kong had virtually no taxes for 140 years and grew like gangbusters and b)that you can have a modern, low-tax, high-tech country with very low taxes. If I were a HK citizen, I would push for lower taxes constantly, trying to get back to the “virtually no taxes” situation of, say, 1960, to pick a date from HK history.

  52. Thanks for passing that link on Geoff. It was very enlightening. I think John Adam’s quote sums it up: “There is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust.”

    I can see how there are numerous restraints within government to protect it from the often arbitrary and unjust tyranny of the majority. I would however submit that ultimately, if there is consistent and insistent pressure by the majority, it eventually can break down all the bureaucratic barriers the framers put to restrain it. The “republican” aspects of government merely slow the process.

    But that may not always be correct, as sometimes the judicial branch has actually pro-actively set trends that later were adopted by the majority as good and right, like Brown vs. Board, Roe vs. Wade, etc. The people voted for those who voted for the judges, but the judges act as a kind of conscience, often going against the wishes of the majority. So government can act as a conscience. It can create truth, and then it can sell it to it’s populace, who then adopt it themselves.

    So maybe I should modify my statement. The legislators and the judges determine what is morally right and wrong. Still not God, but better than the mob of unruly and unwise voters.

  53. And tariffs are equally re-distributive–they place the thumb of government on the scale in favor of the producers of certain goods (manufactured goods, for the most part, in the 19th century) and thus allow domestic manufacturers to raise their prices. The producers of raw materials are therefore at a competitive disadvantage. Is that not “theft” just as much as the requirement that a person pay tax on a certain percentage of his income?

    And, isn’t “redistribution” a completely separate issue from taxation? Sure, if the government had less money, they couldn’t give as much away. But let’s say that the total tax revenues were just sufficient to pay for legitimate government functions–national defense, maintenance of public order (I’d go on, but don’t want to get into a fight on that right now)–will you still maintain that the taxes are re-distributive? You could, but you’d be wrong.

  54. LDSP,

    Okay, for the sake of discussion with you we’ll adopt “state” as meaning “a government with a recongized monoply on force” and we’ll adopt “government” as being a more general system that includes states but also includes your hypothetical governments. (I don’t believe the system of judges was stateless.)

    You can drop the distinction of “wealth by confiscation” because a) that’s what were’ discussing so you don’t get to start it with an assumption, b) presumably this is just one of many things a ‘state’ can do via their monoply of force.

    I said you don’t believe in ‘governments’ but I was actually just saying “state.” So everything I said was accurate, you just need to adjust what terms I was using at the time.

    As far as your arguments, you have to understand that I don’t believe in the existence of a stateless government. I can imagine a utopia that has one in much the same sense I can imagine Darth Vader using the force, but I can’t imagine it as a reality at this time. So when you speak of stateless governments as alternatives to states run by taxes, you have a long bridge to build to even convince me that we aren’t talking fairy tales. You should probably concentrate on making it seem more real to me. Since I don’t (yet) accept it as real, merely saying “taxes are thievery” means as little to me as saying “bigfoot is a Catholic” or something like that. I’m in no real position to argue since I feel like we’re just making things up. Since we are just making things up, you are free to imagine it anyway you wish and I have no power (nor desire) to argue the point.

    What would be more effective is real life examples, presumably modern ones, that we can look at. Since there really aren’t any, presumably you can do what Geoff’s doing and pick “closest fit” examples.

  55. @Geoff #57:

    Okay, that clarified things enough that I know now where we (currently) disagree.

    I do not see the difference between income tax and tariffs. It seems to me that if we were to start with the assumption that income tax is theft, so would be tariffs. Likewise, if we start with the assumption that tariffs is not theft, income tax would not be either.

    In saying this, I’m just looking at moral implications only. I am saying nothing about the *wisdom* of one over the other. It might well be that, say, tariffs are a much better way to get income for a government (state) than income tax. (Ignoring the thoughtful point in #60 at the moment.) So, at least for now, avoid making arguments about why tariffs are *better.* I’m specifically interested in why income tax is immoral in your mind but tariffs are not when in fact both are forced taking of someone else’s money.

    So this is where I do not understand you argument now. (Note: far more specifc now, so this represents real progress.) You should concentrate on explaining why you feel this there is a difference between income tax and tariffs such that one is theft and one isn’t.

    As for Hong Kong: again, I’m in no position to assess your argument. I will not be until you do more than merely assert that “Hong Kong had virtually no taxes until very recently”. What you need to do is explain to me how it got a source of income without ‘taxes.’ Is this a case of wording again? To me “taxes” includes “tariffs.” Did Hong Kong get it’s “taxes” through “tariffs”? Is that what you mean?

  56. Bruce,

    From my friend Howie (an excerpt of a conversation we had the other day): “For examples of stateless court systems, see the Icelandic Commonwealth 960-1262 AD, Ireland from 600 to 1600 AD under Brehon law, the American west from 1830 to 1900, Stateless Pennsylvania in the 1680s, enforcement of the Xeer in post-collapse Somalia, Zomia in southeast Asia from around 200 AD to today, and numerous others. None of them are perfect, nor are they cultures I would personally advocate, but they are all examples of decentralized legal systems that function(ed) in the absence of an ideological monopoly on violence.

    And by the way, British common law, on which American law and the Constitution were largely based, was decentralized and spontaneously organized, aka “anarchic,” even though it coexisted with the English monarchy. The early English crown was responsible for enforcing the laws – not making them. And when you recognize how that’s possible it kind of sounds insane to have a small group of people unilaterally declaring and violently enforcing their arbitrary opinions on vast expanses of territory. I mean seriously. Who could ever think that was a good idea?”

    The truth is, Bruce, it has existed and currently does exist. Also, the old system of merchant law is another example of this too. It’s real, documented, and in most instances has worked just as well or better than our current system. And our current system owes its greatest debt to the customary laws of great Britain, which were formed under a stateless system of decentralized arbitration and mediation. It is from that system that the common law developed, and from the common law we get almost all of contemporary American jurisprudence, as well as the classical liberalism that inspired the American revolution.

  57. For the benefit of Bruce and anybody else considered with “consistency,” my preferred governmental system is “voluntary communitarianism.” What I mean by this is a system where people are never forced to do *anything* but where, by their own volition, they decide to help each other. I see 19th century Utah as having such a system. From what I read in the Bible and BoM, the judges-period Israelites and the righteous Nephites and Jaredites devised such a system. As they were warned in several different occasions, by abandoning a system of judges for a system of kings they lost their voluntary communities and became despotic monarchies(King Noah being a great example). This was not that far from the vision of Jefferson and Jackson and many 19th century Democrats — leave people alone, low taxes, small government, let them take care of themselves and people will mostly help each other.

    But just for the record, if you ever see me defend LDSP’s position it is because I think we agree more than disagree. I am not an anarchist today because I tend to be realistic and see that it would never happen. We have brainwashed people into thinking that the government must take care of them. However, I tend to agree with his position that anarchy would not be nihilism but instead would end up being voluntary communitarianism, which is the most righteous system possible.

    Given that we have a big government and a country of 300-plus million, we need to talk about how we would finance it and keep it together, which leads to my next comment.

  58. My problem with income tax is there is always a way for government to squeeze more out of us. When started, income taxes were only around 2%! Since then, we’ve had brackets go as high as 90% for some. Such taxation becomes punitive.

    It also opens the door for excesses from government. Since they essentially have a bottomless pit of money, they can always find new projects to spend it. Now we find that even if we don’t have the money, government is glad to spend it anyway….

    Income tax has turned Washington DC into a system of bribery. Lobbyists bribe Congressmen, Congressmen pass laws benefiting corporations, unions or old people. Congress spends tons of money in their districts, seeking to bribe people to vote for them in the next election. There is a big reason why West Virginia, with a small population, has more highways than almost any other state – Robert Byrd. There is a reason why a “bridge to nowhere” was built in Alaska. There is a reason why retirees were given Medicare Part D prescription by George W Bush without having to pay for it.

    Because of the moneys involved in the income tax, it has corrupted people that initially went to Washington to make a difference. You cannot tell me that Chris Dodd and Barney Frank do not belong in jail for the Country Wide and Fannie/Freddie scandals that they perpetrated and now have dumped on the American public to pay for.

    When is “fair” too fair? Having an open mind is good, unless you keep it so far open that your brains fall out. In this instance, the Utopia dream is not to cut back on government and seriously reduce our taxes, but to keep spending ridiculously and seeking ever higher taxes in order to buy more votes and satisfy one’s favorite lobbyists or unions.

    Geoff’s example can be put on the grand scale. Some work hard in this nation to provide for themselves and their workers. Meanwhile government looks for ways to spend more and more in order to give the non-workers (whether for good or bad reason) more and more handouts. We can always find a good reason to spend more money. It is hard to tell grandma that she’ll have to pay for her own medicine.

    But think of it this way. We have created a monster in Congress and the White House. The Trillions we give them in income tax is not enough. They have pushed spending for “fairness” issues to the point we have hit $15 Trillion deficit. Is it “fair” to place such a future tax onto our children and grandchildren, so that granny gets her medication and others can feed off the cash cow? This generally is the same argument we are having with Geoff’s scenario, except the taxpayers are still little children or not born yet. Many of them will grow up to be millionaires, and some billionaires. Why shouldn’t we tax them now, in order to ensure we get from them what they will owe us in the future?

    Just where do you draw the line on “fairness”? Why not buy everyone a home, a new fuel efficient car, and a jacuzzi? So what if we have to extend the income tax down to our great-grandchildren. After all, it is only “fair” that we provide fully for our people today!

    There is the story of the goose who laid gold eggs. The goose was stolen by a greedy thief. At first, he was satisfied with the income that one gold egg a day brought. But after a while, his eyes got bigger, and one egg a day was not enough. Angry and impatient, he wanted his fair share, and so cut the goose’s head off in order to get to all the eggs.

    This fits perfectly with our nation today. Government and those drinking from the government teat always want more and more milk. It is never enough. Shall we steal the milk from others in a vain attempt to satisfy an insatiable craving? Yet, that is what we’re doing.

    I’m sure that if we could even begin to live within our means, just using what taxes now come in to pay for government without going into more debt, but living with a balanced budget, would be a great beginning for Geoff, LDSP, and me. I do not believe we can reach a minimalist federal government in my lifetime without a major crisis. But it may be possible to reverse current trends of insane spending, no budgets being produced, and insisting we take care of every “need” or “want” of either the Democratic or Republican welfare systems. Government means someone is “governing”. What we’ve seen in the last many years is not governing. It is just spending recklessly, all in the name of being fair.

  59. What are excise taxes, tariffs, and how are they more fair than an income tax?

    First, please read this:

    Look at the chart. See how the federal government has been financed for our history.

    For the first 130 years, financing came from excise taxes and tariffs. During the Civil War, there was an income tax, but it was declared unconstitutional.

    What is the difference? Excise taxes and tariffs are, for the most part, user fees. You can avoid them by not using the products that are taxed or tariffed. Plus, taxes are collected from companies and not from individuals. And finally, they are constitutional, meaning they were specifically expected to be collected as part of the Constitution. Here is a summary from the Wikipedia article:

    “Having just fought a war over taxation (among other things) the U.S. Congress wanted a reliable source of income that was relatively unobtrusive and easy to collect. Tariffs and excise taxes were authorized by the United States Constitution and recommended by the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton in 1789 to tax foreign imports and set up low excise taxes to provide the Federal Government with enough money to pay its operating expenses and to redeem at full value U.S. Federal debts and the debts the states had accumulated during the American Revolutionary War. Hamilton thought it was important to start the U.S. Federal government out on a sound financial basis with good credit. The first Federal budget was about $4.6 million dollars and the population in the 1790 U.S. Census was about four million. Hence the average federal tax was about $1/person per year. Then tradesmen earned about $0.25 a day for a 10-12 hour day so federal taxes could be paid with about four days work. Paying even this was usually optional as taxed imports listed on the tariff lists could usually be avoided if desired.”


    –A federal income tax was never envisioned by the Founders. Such a system might be imposed by individual states but never on a federal level.
    –You can avoid these taxes, so they promote voluntaryism (not being forced to pay something you don’t want to pay).
    –Individual people don’t pay them directly, the are indirect taxes.
    –Tariffs are taxes on people who use the products, but they are also taxes on foreign products rather than domestic products (I recognize the problem with this today — I will get to that in a second).


    –Moving back to excise taxes and tariffs should be the eventual goal. Completely agree that in our current environment they will not work. We need a 10-year plan to transition back to user fees rather than income taxes. Today, government takes up about 35 percent of our GDP. I want it back below 5 percent.
    –Step one. Elect Ron Paul. He has proposed cutting the federal budget from $3.7 to $2.7 trillion in one year. Balance the budget by 2015.
    –Step two. RP will probably serve only one term. Step two would be another libertarian-minded person like Gary Johnson or Rand Paul. Continue to decrease the size of government until we have a large surplus and can reform the tax system.
    –Step three. Repeal the 16th amendment.
    –Step four. Start funding our government with consumption taxes rather than the income tax.
    –Step five. Continue to cut government.
    –Step six. When cut government to the point it is below 5 percent of GDP, move back to a system of excise fees and tariffs and user fees.

    Will any of this happen? Almost certainly not, but we can continue to hope.

    In the meantime, I will always argue for smaller government, more volunteerism, less government force and the Constitution.

  60. “…a system where people are never forced to do *anything* but where, by their own volition, they decide to help each other.”

    Geoff, I think this is a great ideal, too. However, it only works in an imperfect world if there is a method by which to exclude people who don’t participate by their own volition. Otherwise, you get the entire burden of societal costs on the shoulders of the good people who are willing to participate, while others ride their coattails, take advantage of the system, and eventually corrupt it.

    Hence, why the United Order did not work.

    Voluntary communitarianism ONLY works upon principles of righteousness, which, if it exists, makes ANY government work. The problem with our current government system is not necessarily the basic structure, it’s that corruptive people and practices have taken over. Our representative democracy with three branches of government was designed to slow the process of corruption with the recognition that corruption could not be eliminated in a realistic world, and provide a way for the people to nonviolently overthrow the people in power when it got bad enough that enough people felt it was time for it to be overthrown.

    So I agree that these ideas for a government are dreamy. Who wouldn’t want to live in that sort of world? But that’s just it: it’s a dream. Unless you’re planning either a way to exclude anyone who isn’t willing to conform to principles of righteousness (which uses some form of force, by the way,) or are planning to force people to BE righteous (which I’m sure we can all agree is wrong,) it’s just not tenable in the long run.

    Let’s not forget what eventually happened even to the Nephite system of judges: it became corrupt and dissolved into tribal governance. Just like any other system. Because human corruption is inevitable. And the more people you include in your group, the more inevitable it becomes. The ONLY system which really works is righteousness, and without righteousness NO system works indefinitely.

  61. You can choose not to use a service or you can choose other services. For example, you can choose to go to a movie or you can choose to go to a restaurant or you can stay home and do nothing. This involves free choice. But if you make $200k a year you MUST pay income taxes, regardless if you are like Mr. Jones and never use any govt services at all.

    1)Income taxes are both theft and forced redistribution. User fees (excise taxes and tariffs) are not.

    I have not yet seen a convincing argument that income taxes are *not* theft. All arguments come down to the same point: that there is a societal consensus that (some — only 53 percent) people should pay taxes, therefore it is OK for society to force these people to pay taxes. I. . . .
    I think a lot of people don’t know what excise taxes and tariffs are — they are user fees and they funded nearly all of the US government for our first 130 years. People could go most of their lives without ever paying taxes because they could choose not to buy products that did not have excise taxes. Again, this supports freedom of choice, which we should all want.

    Originally you were arguing that all taxation was theft, which is the position I characterized as absurd or silly or utopian. Because no state can run on charity. I never said anything about social consensus.

    Now you are only stating that income tax is ‘theft.’ But you don’t make a convincing moral distinction between income tax and other kinds of taxation. Most tariffs and and excise taxes were not ‘user fees’ in any meaningful sense. You haven’t made an argument that they were. A user fee in strictu senso is a fee that you pay for a particular service that is closely tied to the costs of the service. So if the government performs inspections of imported goods and charges a reasonable fee to cover the costs of inspection, that would be a genuine user fee. But if the government is just charging a percentage of the value of your product of from 5% to 100% (these were the ranges for 19th and early 20th C. tariffs) and is using the money to fund its operations generally, then its not a user fee in any real sense. Or if you argue that it is in some loose way, because the government’s military and postal services and courts and land operations and building of monuments and roads and harbors and surveying etc, etc, help to maintain the market for your imported goods, then logically income taxes can also be user fees because the government maintains the market in which you work for your income. So the user-fee/tax distinction is not a distinction between excise taxes and tariffs on the one hand and income taxation on the other.

    Voluntariness isn’t a distinction in kind either. One does not have to have income any more than one has to have food (excise taxes) or has to have an economy that has any contact with the outside world (tariffs). Most tariffs and excise taxes weren’t on products that were luxuries that most people went without, because then they couldn’t raise much money. You might say that the whiskey tax was an exception, but for much of the 19th C., whiskey was the only economic way for backwoods farmers to get their corn or wheat crops to market. Is taxing your main source of income ‘voluntary’ for you? Not meaningfully.

    Making 200k a year is voluntary. You can choose to make less. In fact, our tax code makes it so that you can opt out of paying most income taxes if you are willing to take a low-paying job. Your choice to make more is a choice, just like your choice to buy food instead of growing all your food on your own, or your choice to buy clothes instead of raising your own sheep, carding the wool, spinning, weaving, and sewing your own britches. Arguably you would be better off if you made only 30k a year than if you tried to live without buying anything.

    What you seem to be groping towards is an argument that taxation is theft *if* the tax money is spent on illegitimate purposes. Arguing about whether social welfare spending or industrial policy is legitimate or not strikes me as a much more productive conversation. For instance, your argument that income tax is forced redistribution isn’t really an argument about taxation at all, but is an argument about what tax money is spent on. One could have a government solely funded by high excise taxes and tariffs that then gave big sums of money to the poor. This would be forced redistribution without any necessity for an income tax. In other words, what Mark B. said in comment #60.


    Everything Bruce Neilson says in comment #52 I agree with wholeheartedly


    I’m not addressing the argument that anarchy or stateless governments or whatever are possible, because I don’t think its worth taking seriously. Every functioning society, even celestial society, is built on a foundation of violence, period. I have no more interest arguing this point than I want to discuss any other form of crankery, like Marxists arguing that economics explains everything or feminists arguing that social sex roles are purely constructs. If you find that insulting to your point of view, so be it.

  62. Geoff B.,
    your #66 presents some practical arguments for tariffs and excise taxes, but doesn’t present any argument that income taxes are immoral while tariffs and excise taxes aren’t.

  63. Okay, Skyler. I read it. Here is where the idea breaks down for me.

    “To be an anarchist only means that you believe that aggression is not justified, and that states necessarily employ aggression.”
    I don’t think that a state necessarily does employ aggression. If you define “aggression” as anything the state does, like taxation, then there is no ability to discuss that with someone who does not define it that way. When you give it a definition like, “the initiation of force against innocent victims” you leave a lot of room to define what constitutes force, and what constitutes an “innocent.”

    I don’t think taxation is aggression. It is a price tag attached to being a citizen of a certain country, just like the price tag attached to anything else in a market. If you don’t like the price, you don’t have to be a citizen. If you want to remain a citizen, and think the price should be changed, that is a wholly different approach than the one being presented, which is to essentially say that if I don’t want to pay the price to be a citizen, than paying the price to be a citizen is morally evil.

    This stance takes a morally neutral tool (ie. the state) and labels it as evil. This is like calling a hammer evil because some people hit others over the head with it. The state, not being a creature with agency, can’t be evil; the people who use it to take advantage of others are evil. The state is a governmental structure, not an action (such as the faulty analogy of crime in the article), not a person. Anarchy in this sense is just another governmental structure, with just as much capacity to be taken advantage of by opportunistic or evil people.

    That article uses a great many “always,” and “must,” which is often a sign to me that the writer is speaking from an emotional point of view, and not a reasonable one. Articles like this attempt to create a self-definition where 1) the viewpoint presented is a moral stance, 2) it is the ONLY moral stance, and therefore 3) anyone who disagrees is amoral or immoral.

    And that is the root of the reason why, despite having heard a great deal of persuasion towards such stances (as taxation is theft, and any government is amoral) and despite having some sympathetic leaning towards portions of those thoughts, I remain wholly unconvinced. It is not all-or-nothing, black-and-white, if you believe in “the state” you also believe that aggression is justified. That’s a false viewpoint obviously calculated to discredit the opposition by reducing them to a subhuman, amoral category. (Which, by the way, is no different than any other political party out there, and is partly why I will not subscribe to any political party.)

  64. And I might add in discussions such as this, when a person makes their argument by defining any opposing viewpoint as morally bereft, that person is a fanatic.

  65. @LDSP in 63: LDSP, I have a distinction in my mind between ‘stateless government’ and ‘spontaneously organized.” You seem to see them as synonymous. I do not. So I can’t buy your British Common Law example as relevant.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that British Common Law (and all Common Law) was “spontaneously organized.” But I also have no doubt that the governmental system we have today was as well. (In saying this, I am not endorsing the current government, just point out that it was in a very real sense ‘spontaneously organized.’ in much the same way common law is.)

    Consider that common law and judges existed because there was someone to enforce laws and a clear means of experimenting and testing out laws. These improved and evolved over time to be increasingly fair. But that is the exactly what a non-anarchist believes about our current constitutional government. In fact, an out right liberal would point out that we have had (in their minds) increasingly fair laws for exactly the same reason: they spontaneously evolved, organized, and improved with time. That’s because the concept of common law and the concept of ‘legislature’ are both based on forms of state government and are both good examples of ‘selective systems.’ (i.e. systems that are setup in such a way as to evolve and improve based on constant feedback.)

    So as far as an argument in favor of stateless governments, the common law example is a non-starter for me and is even an argument against it.

    Questions about the other stateless governments you made an example of, particularly the ‘old west.’ First, who paid for the sheriff in the old west? I don’t know. But this seems relevant.

    Second, I’m sure you realize that all of your examples are quite old. The idea that they ‘were better than what we have today’ seems rather subjective and not something I’m even close to conceding. But I think comparing what we have today and what we had then seems like a fair place for getting past Utopian assumptions.

    So, for example, if we moved to a stateless government today, should I assume we’d lose indoor plumbing and revert back to the services level of the old west? If not, you’ll have to explain to me how it would work.

  66. @Geoff in #64:

    Interestingly, my ideal is “voluntary communitarian-ism” too. And I hear you on “I am not an anarchist today because I tend to be realistic and see that it would never happen”

  67. @ Ram in #65: Ram, the issue I have with what you are saying is that you are just making an argument against income taxes by example. The logic can be boiled down to “income taxes used to be lower and now they are higher. And they ended up being abused. Therefore, income taxes are bad.”

    This is fine, as far as it goes. And I doubt anyone here (we’re all basically various types of conservative) is going to argue with you. But this is an incomplete logical argument. Now go on and explain why some alternative tax (remember, tariffs are a type of tax to me) is your chosen variety and why it doesn’t have these same issues.

    There is also another thing you have to do, maybe less for those of us here (since we’re all conservative), but it’s obvious it would have to be part of a more general discussion.

    The fact is that most (super majority) people *want* the level of services governments provide in the modern era. That is why we have the government we have. It’s easy to argue, especially amongst a group of conservatives, “we should have lower taxes.” But that is meaningless without a full proposal of what services will be dropped and what they will be replaced with.

  68. @Geoff in #66,

    Okay, you answered a lot of questions I would have asked later. And I think that clarifies your position even further.

    However, right at the moment, the current thread of logic is whether or not there is a consistent sense in which you believe income taxes to be theft and tariffs not to be. I’m still not understanding that point and will need further clarification.

    It seems like what you are getting at is that because tariffs are a tax that you can avoid by not buying things (as with sales tax) it is therefore not theft.

    I’m not sure I’m getting this argument though. Is theft not theft, for example, if a bandit sets up a toll on a road. (I’m playing Skyrim right now and I just killed a bandit for daring to try to charge me a toll to use the road.)

    It seems to me that the relevant point here is whether or not the taking of money if *forced.* And it is *just as much forced* with tariffs as with income taxes. I do not see how the fact that you can avoid it by not buying things (can we really not buy things at all?) somehow makes it less *forced* and therefore less of a theft. This is my hang up with the whole ‘(income) taxes are theft’ line. I still see tariffs as ‘theft’ too for the same reasons. Therefore we’re right back to the idea that government can’t exist.

    I think your argument does address a number of interesting points that would be a distraction from the main point if I were to bring them up. Let me just say that I voted for Alan Keyes once who wanted to abolish all taxes in favor of a 20% to 30% sales tax. His reasoning was exactly the same as yours. If I were talking to Alan Keyes, I’d want to know how the fungible nature of money might undermine his position. (For example, there is only a psychological difference between a direct tax and an indirect tax.) In fact, due to the fungible nature of money, I’m not sure I can truly buy any of your arguments as literal. I think they are good ‘psychological’ arguments, however. There is something psychologically beneficial about being able to (as Alan Keyes put it) “reduce my taxes any time I want” via not buying things. But the reality is that it probably wouldn’t affect my purchasing habits one iota since I’m already a saver. So the net result would just be a different way of taxing me. And I personally don’t care *how* I’m taxed.

    So, for the moment, let’s put the argument of the ‘wisdom’ of one type of tax over another aside for the moment. You might be right that tariffs are better and less corruptible means of taxation then income tax. But that isn’t the point at the moment. The point is whether or not there are different moral implications of tariffs then income taxes. And so far, I’m not seeing the difference.

  69. @ SR in #71 and 72:

    SilverRain, my own feelings are the same as yours. This is my biggest hangup with libertarianism. (Despite, as you say, having leanings towards it.)

    It seems to me that it’s ideologically built on a assumption that seems false to me: i.e. that it’s possible to determine ‘what an inititial use of force is’ via some means other than the already existing political system.

    In most cases, the whole point of having a government, making laws, etc, *is* to determine what our society is going to define as the initial use of force. A libertarian *knows in their bones* that taxes are a form of aggression and initial use of force, so they are opposed to it. If I see taxes as dues for citizenship (using your example) then I’m just missing the point. But, in fact, I am not. I’m disagreeing with that point of view.

    In fact, realistically, we might see the libertarians view as advocating initial use of force. For example, refusing to pay your dues as citizenship is legally going to land one in jail precisely because they decided to assert themselves on the rest of society. (i.e. a form of initial use of force or initial aggression from the point of view of the opposing party.)

    It’s really hard to imagine any moral point of view, no matter how warped, that doesn’t definitively define itself as not being the initial use of force and ‘the other guys’ as the aggressor. That’s practically what it means to have a moral discussion.

    The problem is that we all have our own ideas of what is right and what is wrong and when we make our moral arguments we are simply defining in what sense we see the ‘other side’ as being the initial aggressor. (While they explain in what sense they see us as the aggressor.)

    Therefore the whole approach of ‘being opposed to initial use of force’ is just a fancy way of saying “I’m starting with the assumption that I’m right and I’m arguing based on that assumption.” This is why libetarianism dies for me personally, despite having many correct ideas.

  70. Bruce Neilsen,

    English common law incorporated some customs (i.e., spontaneously generated rules), but the bulk of the common law came from judicial rulings (the judges in question being appointed by the King), by royal decrees and parliamentary ordinances, and creative judicial expansion of the same, and by borrowings from Roman/canon law.
    Roman law itself started out as largely customary (the mos maiorum).
    In neither case–England or Rome–would I describe the government as ‘stateless’ or not founded on the use of force.

    Sidenote, but one advantage of excise taxes and tariffs over income taxes is that in the future it reward savers like you–they basically function as an IRA. Another stealth advantage (to the government) of an excise tax is that it functions as a wealth tax. People who have already saved money that they were taxed on have to pay tax on that money again when they withdraw it to pay for their retirement or whatever. So switching to excise taxes rewards future savers but penalizes past savers.

  71. Tariffs are user fees as long as they are sufficiently low and dedicated to the cost of maintaining free trade with foreign nations – which is one of the primary purposes of the navy, as well as our diplomatic corps.

    The gasoline tax is a user fee as well, and as long as the proceeds are used to maintain roads and highways, one of the fairest user fees ever devised.

    Similarly the courts should be funded with a reasonable levy on compensatory damages, and as well as 100% of all punitive damages. There isn’t a reason in the world why punitive damages should go to the plaintiff.

  72. Mark D.,

    agreed, but with that definition of user fees, income taxes can also be user fees, provided they are kept low and only used for the army and for reasonable administration of the economy. I disagree that only taxes that are ‘user fees’ in your somewhat broader sense are just, but that’s a different argument.

    I also mostly agree with you about punitive damages. Instead of 100%, I would say that the successful plaintiff could get his attorneys’ fees paid out of the punitives, plus maybe a little bit more in incentive, and then the rest to the state, absolutely. The current system is just a windfall and a lottery, with no real moral justification.

  73. Bruce #75,

    First, I would have said things slightly different than how you simulated a quote from me. For example, I would have used the word “higher” rather than “hire”. 😉

    I do not believe there is a perfect world out there. There is no perfect solution that solves all ills. There are simply better and worse.

    I have a problem with big federal government. There is no escaping it. Things done on the state level can be more easily changed, or I can always move elsewhere. But something done on the federal level affects anything and everything.

    Income tax was established so that federal government could grow. It is easier to increase or create a new tax, than to increase a tariff, etc. That said, I believe our economy is too big to handle on tariffs alone.

    The two best solutions would be either:

    1. the FAIR tax, or

    2. I would turn tax collecting over to the states, and give states more voice in how they would collect the tax. If they want to do it via income, sales, or another method, they can do so. This allows the people to be closer to the issue, deciding whether it will be a flat tax, graduated tax, business tax, sales tax, combination, etc.

    My concern is not so much that government may have to “steal” some money from us, but that it seeks to steal way too much. It corrupts not only the politicians, but the recipients of the largesse – whether poor people on welfare, corporations and banks on welfare, farmers on welfare, AARP retirees on welfare (Medicare), or other nations on welfare. There is a self-promoting and sustaining bureaucracy that cannot ever get enough with its insatiable appetite.

    Republicans drooled over increasing Defense and building up for two huge wars, creating an ever larger bureaucracy. Democrats drooled over expanding health care in order to expand their power base. Money was poured into the coffers of banks, Fannie and Freddi, GM and others, while millions of Americans lose their homes, can’t get a loan to start a small business, or drive around in 12 year old cars (like I do).

    Social Justice has become social insanity. Corruption has destroyed any sense of really helping anyone. While we pump trillions into welfare payments, people are not making any personal progress towards their own retirements or livelihood (except the bankers).

    I don’t like the income tax, because it has given America the belief that they can ask and “poof!” the magic government fairy will appear and give them all the largesse they want. As I said, it has corrupted people across this nation, rich and poor. We have become so corrupted that in a time when we need to do drastic cuts, we have people on both sides refusing to cut their pet projects. AARP is running commercials stating that the retirees have “earned” their benefits. In reality, no they have not. They did not pay much for Medicare over the years, and they paid nothing to pay for Part D. Unions are greedily fighting to maintain their power, even if it means state or federal budgets crash.

    We’ve forgotten the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We have forgotten true charity, because government takes care of the poor. We have forgotten honesty and hard work. Why work hard, when government will provide the means to live decently (compared to 90% of the world), with a house,food, a cell phone for your kids, cable and PS3?

    This shows too much influence by government into our lives, when everyone expects or lobbies for a handout. This is why I am so concerned about a federal income tax. It is destroying our nation and its greatness.

  74. User fees are moral, by the way, because they that incur the cost bear the freight. That is not only fair, it is economically efficient. Properly designed user fees lead people to economize on the activity concerned, reduce the free rider problem, and promote the general welfare.

    High or punitive tariffs would cause far more harm than good. Tariffs that are directly tied to the reasonable cost of protecting international trade, however, are economically efficient and to the benefit of all.

  75. Bruce, sure, the customary laws that the common law eventually rose from were enforced. But no one claimed a monopoly on that enforcement. There were multiple enforcement entities, and the enforcement was not funded by taxation. By definitions provided, not a state.

    The truth is, stateless systems of government are not unicorns. They actually exist, and have existed. To blind yourself to those possibilities and foolishly cling to one of many solutions to the coordination problem (a state system of monopoly on force and confiscatory wealth) is rather irrational, when you look at actual history.

  76. Also, our present system is most decidedly not a system of spontaneously evolving law. The difference is as big as the difference between the gold standard and fiat paper money. Gold became the commodity of exchange spontaneously, through the aggregate actions of many, many people. Nobody sought to enforce gold as a commodity of exchange on anyone else. In contrast, fiat paper money, and the value of it, is declared by fiat by the actions of a few. Customary laws of Britain and other stateless systems arise spontaneously, and no one sought to make it the universal law of the land. Communities spontaneously adopted customary laws because they worked, not because they were enforced upon them by a central authority. Our current system of law is established by force and fiat by a central authority, whether communities want it or not.

  77. Adam G, A practical problem with using income taxes to fund various things is that they leave individuals no opportunity to economize or avoid various cost incurring activities, meaning there is no market discipline.

    Public schools are a form of socialism, and an unusually inefficient form at that, because no one involved has the tiniest incentive to economize on anything.

    If instead of operating public schools funded by state income taxes, we privatized the school system across the board, and funded it through tuition and private charity, the quality of education would skyrocket and the cost would drop in half.

  78. Again, agreed. In particular, I agree with your (implied) suggestion that we directly tie the US costs of maintaining international public order to tariffs.

    But there are secondary benefits to these things that user fees don’t capture. So even if I buy domestic products, I’m benefited in that competition from abroad keeps domestic prices down. Plus the navy and the diplomatic corps make travel safer and help protect the nation from invasion, which are real benefits but not ones that correspond to tariffs. Similarly with the courts. A great many cases never come to trial because the mere existence of courts and a system of enforceable laws makes people adhere to contracts, pay for real estate, make insurance payments for torts, etc. But none of these benefits are captured by fees for filing civil suits.

    And them some user fees are pretty rough and ready. Gas taxes, for example, are really, really approximate. If two cars of equal weight have different mpg, their ‘user fee’ is different while the cost they incur on the roads is the same. A real user fee would track your car via GPS and charge you per mile at a rate based on the cost of construction and maintenance of that particular mile of road. But that’s horribly intrusive and administratively inefficient.

    And then there are public goods like national defence and law enforcement where its impossible to evaluate how much ‘cost’ any one person imposes on the system and impossible to quantify how much ‘benefit’ any one person receives.

    That’s why I’d say user fees aren’t the only form of taxation that is just, IMHO. We should definitely use them where possible though.

    Also, as far as your income efficiency argument goes and your argument about public schools, (1) I’m a supporter of vouchers but I don’t predict the revolutionary results that you see. Its possible, but I’m only a one-cheer for capitalism kind of guy. In my opinion most of the problems with our schools are problems with our culture and our human material. Vouchers would mainly reduce the costs, or at least cap them, which is itself a valuable benefit. Plus I see parental freedom as itself valuable even if it doesn’t lead to much improved educational outcomes. (2) Every tax has distortionary effects and disincentives. Plus there are transition costs (and political difficulties) from switching over from one system to another. There’s a large literature on the question, and nothing I’ve read convinces me that a pure VAT or excise tax system is superior enough to a more rationalized income tax that its worth fighting for the former instead of the latter. I’m a *conservative* after all.

  79. SilverRain, aggression is not some vague thing, hard to define. It’s very simple. Aggression is the forceful invasion of another’s property boundary. It’s justified when it’s in response to the forceful invasion from another. It’s unjustified when it’s an initiation, not a retaliation. The state necessarily employs initiatory aggression when it defends it’s monopoly on the use of force and taxation.

    It’s even simpler than that. The state is a group of people acting on behalf of other people (presumably, more often it’s on behalf of themselves). They have no power that wasn’t delegated to them, and the only power one can delegate is the power that one possesses. I have no power to monopolize the use of force, thereby initiating aggression against all would be competitors, therefore I cannot delegate that power to “the state”. But here they are, wielding it. Obviously they are wielding illegitimate power.

    A few more resources should put this to bed:

    Anatomy of the State –
    Our enemy, the State –
    The State –
    Anarcho-capitalism bibliography –

    You’ve got some studying to do.

  80. So, correct me if I’m misunderstanding, but your issue is not that “the state” uses force, but that it keeps others from using force? That “the state” is the biggest bully on the playground, and you think there should be more bullies with less individual power?

    And you haven’t addressed the issue of ascribing a moral judgment on a neutral tool, nor the inherent problem with defining everyone who doesn’t agree with you as amoral. And now I can add “ignorant” to the list of dehumanizing characteristics of those who do not agree with you.

    So, assuming I’m not going to be able to read even one of those books in time to continue this conversation before it dies, how about you sum up the salient persuasive points for me here? If they have merit, you should be able to explain them. If not, perhaps providing a long list of books in an effort to “educate” me was a thinly disguised attempt to shut me down.

  81. But your system, Skyler, breaks down before it even gets off the ground, falling to pieces on the definition of “property.” How can we even begin to argue that someone has invaded another’s “property boundary”–whatever that is–unless there is an agreed upon definition of property and property rights in the first place.

  82. I’m happy to read it, some of them I have already read. But simply stating that the state exercises unrighteous dominion doesn’t explain how you feel it exhibits it, and it certainly does nothing to prove that it necessarily MUST, which is the part I disagree with.

    But your repeated failure to support your stance in your own words inclines me to believe that one of two likely cases exist. Either you feel you are above explaining your stance to me, which would support my belief that you and many others who share your views are caught up in pride, or you realize on some level that your views are unpersuasive to anyone not already inclined to believe them.

    Either way, I am presenting myself as one who is honestly willing to attempt to be persuaded, and you are not bothering. Which is precisely the reaction I have most often received from others with similar positions, and is why I question the motivations of those views as well as the views themselves.

  83. Yes, the state must exercise unrighteous dominion, or else it’s not a state. It’s a voluntary government based on mutual consent. Read Rothbard’s “Anatomy of the State”. Actually, start with his “Ethics of Liberty”, that’s a better foundation for the rest.

    I learned these truth this same way. Nobody ever short-changed me with inadequate summaries of the argument. They have depth and deserve to be studied. I won’t short-change you either. Study it out. Take 6 years, as I have done, and learn line upon line. You’ll come to the same conclusion that I others have, if you’re intellectually honest with yourself.

  84. Rothbard’s Crusoe theory should be especially interesting for latter-day Saints ( based on our experiences with the temple endowment). “Ethics of Liberty” discusses this at length.

  85. And you have also bought yourself six years of not having to recognize me as an educated human being, so you don’t have to condescend to actually support your opinions. Tidy for you.

    Sigh. This demonstrates nicely why I don’t like politics. I prefer to keep my religious discussions to the realm of actual religion, where the Spirit has a chance to testify. Politics are patently ridiculous, “testimony” masquerading as rationalism.

  86. SR, this is more a discussion of social philosophy than anything else. Definitely not for everybody. But notice that nobody commented on my Thanksgiving story regarding reading scriptures to my kids, and we have 99 comments on this so far. Anyway, have a great Thanksgiving. I will be turning off comments on this thread because I cannot monitor them over the Thanksgiving holiday. Everybody spend time with family, friends, etc, and I’m sure we will find something new to discuss in a few days.

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