Taxation is so widespread nowadays people just think anybody should think it is a good idea, irrespective of one’s specific beliefs. I hold this to be false, and suggest that belief in taxation (and it’s corollaries such as redistribution and governmental programs) actually relies on a few underlying assumptions people are not aware of. Most interestingly, if asked directly about these underlying beliefs, most people would disagree with them. Propaganda and brainwashing are very efficient…
Assumption n°1: Consequentialism
Taxation is theft. There’s no rational denying it. In fact, revenue taxation is literal slavery. Indeed, revenue generated by work performed by one person is directly taken by somebody else. And, let’s not forget, this is done under the threat of force – the risk of prison looms for whomever chooses not to pay taxes.
As such, taxation is appropriation of one’s property irrespective of one’s own willingness to give it. That’s theft in my book.
Of course, some will object that they are happy to pay taxes. Strangely, none of the people I have met professing such happiness have taken me up on my offer that they pay mine. I would argue they are just used to it and buy into tax justifications rather than actually being happy about paying taxes.
In any case, even if they are genuinely happy to pay taxes, there’s no changing the fact that they incur legal penalties, including being deprived of their freedom, if they were to not pay taxes. Which still makes that theft.
But, our happy tax payers have a key argument up their sleeve to justify why I should pay taxes despite being unhappy about it and, even better justify the way the government taxes people under threat.
That argument is all the wonderful things government does with my money. “Look, maybe taking your money by force isn’t cool, but it goes to poor people via redistribution”, their argument goes. The only way one can seriously defend this argument is by ascribing to consequentialism. Now, the funny thing about this, is that many happy taxpayers would feel insulted if you told them one of their core beliefs is “the end justifies the means”. But ultimately, that’s what consequentialism is all about.
I personally consider consequentialism a very dangerous form of ethic. And so do those people too, usually, but still…
Assumption n° 2: Materialism
Now, let’s imagine somebody who is fine with being labeled a consequentialist – after all this is a respected philosophy. This person is basically holding that infringing one person’s property rights is ok to materially help out somebody else. After all, all you can ever do with money is spend it. Whether it’s the government who spends it directly “for the common good” (whatever that is), or whether the government give it to somebody they deem worthy of receiving the boon and who will then spend it, all this money can ever do is enhance material wellbeing.
Well, look at that, these happy taxpayers definitely have a thing for money and all things material now don’t they? A very materialistic outlook I’d say.
Yet I’m the greedy materialist in their eyes. Because I care about stuff like a person’s rights and freedom. Go figure.
Assumption n° 3: Magical misanthropy
Now of course, the crux of the belief in taxation is that governments will spend the money well, for the general good, whereas people will only do evil, or at least useless stuff with money. Simply put, people cannot be trusted to care for others. But the government can.
Let me spell it out. The government is made of people. If you can’t trust people, you can’t trust the government. Period. Wiggle as you will, there’s no way around it. A government makes laws, and can amend the constitution (whether it actually takes the Parliament, the government, a mix of both or special majorities is totally irrelevant). So there are no intangible rules that will preclude these people from doing wrong. Just look at the evolution of the USA. A country founded by enlightened minds, with a very decent Constitution that purposefully included checks and balances to avoid powers overstepping.
This is the country that gave us Hiroshima. Guantanamo Bay. McCarthyism. And the list goes on.
Of course, other countries are no better. As a side-note, I am far from being anti-american, if anyone was having doubts – the failure of the US just hurts me more than the failure of other countries precisely because it is the one country that had the most promise at it’s inception.
But all the evidence of governments being full of only human people prone to all the errors mistakes and vices of humanity doesn’t stop our happy taxpayers to somehow believe that a government will do better than your average population.
People are bad, but somehow, governments will be good, despite evidence to the contrary. Magic time!
Assumption n°4: History teaches us nothing, and is probably not true
This one is necessary for assumption 3 to “hold”. See, the problem with history is that it is full of annoying things called facts which derail any attempt to argue in favor of governments. Taxes are necessary, say our happy taxpayers, because the government needs to do it’s job. The annoying thing about history is that it teaches that nothing – absolutely nothing – the government does was the government’s job in the first place. In other words, everything the government does was started out by the private sector. There is no single exception (except, arguably – you guessed, didn’t you? – taxation).
Education? Invented by the Church. Roads? Invented by peasantry. Money? Invented by merchants. Transportation? Invented by, well, lots of people, but mostly merchants. Structurally helping the poor? Invented by the Church (helping the poor occasionally has always existed). Medical science? Invented by scientists. Insurance? Invented by banks, for merchants. Funding research? Invented by patrons of the arts. Justice? Well, that’s a debatable one, but there’s definitely a religious aspect to most early legal systems, and common law needs no government (elected judges anyone?), not to mention the instances of areas with no formal government which do have legal systems (tribal justice relying on elders who do not otherwise govern springs to mind). The list goes on.
Oops, yeah, you got me. There is one thing. Large scale war & conscription. That’s a pure government invention.
Funnily enough, some of the few things (not talking public services as I was in the paragraph above) the government happened to actually invent only started to take off and produce societal benefits once it started being out of the hands of governments. The interwebs obviously spring to mind .
Yet, for some reason, our happy taxpayers hold, as others would a sacred truth, that with no government, we would not know all these things, and that these services would not be produced. Hence, history teaches us nothing, and is probably not true.
In a nutshell
While I am routinely labeled immoral, an egoist, a dreamer, ignorant or a mix of any of those, I will from now on refer to happy taxpayers as consequentialist, misanthropic, ignorant materialists.
Or not. Quite a long label really. But still, you get my point.