The Corner

Taxes & Tyranny Cont’d

From a reader:

Jonah:

This is about taxes as tyranny, and though I likely won’t articulate this as well as I could, I think you’ll get the point. When folks equate taxes with tyranny or stealing their productive labor or whatever, they seem to me to be missing a fairly important point; namely, what would be the value of their labor if there were no government or the government were not a democracy? You can argue about how much value having a democratic government adds to your labor, but I don’t see how you can argue that the level of that value isn’t very significant. For example, what do you suppose the difference in wages would be that you would have been paid or would be paid in a totalitarian government as opposed to the amount of wages that you earn right now? I would guess that the difference is pretty significant and that even if you have to pay 25% of your income for the benefit of the democratic government that we live in, it’s well worth it.

Me: While I agree with the basic point, I think the reader steals a couple bases here.

Most libertarians — and all conservatives — aren’t anarchists. They believe in some minimal form of government to ensure what the reader calls democratic government. I would have no problem whatsoever paying 25% of my income to ensure democratic government, if that is what it cost. The problem is that democratic government doesn’t cost anywhere close to that. It is deeply misleading or dishonest for liberals to argue that we need high taxation to pay for the security of our democratic liberty while that taxation goes to paying for things that have nothing to do with those liberties and, in many cases, goes to pay for things that are inimical to liberty.

Taxes are a necessary evil, but they are an evil. Taxes are tyrannical simply because they are not voluntary. The state takes money from individuals whether they like it or not. (If you prefer, we can say that taxes restrict liberty.)

At the same time, poisons are alwas determined in the dosage. Censoring kiddie porn is a restriction of liberty, but it is a necessary one. Censoring political speech is a restriction of liberty and an unnecessary one. I see nothing wrong with making such distinctions.

Update: From a longtime liberal reader:

Government DOES cost “anywhere close to that”

To what part of the pie do you object? Are you really saying, “We should not have Medicare”? Are you saying, “We should not have Social Security”? Are you saying, “When people are laid off, they should not get unemployment benefits”?

Do you think that’s what the pissed off teabaggers are saying?

If so, please just go ahead and say it. Say that government costs way too much because we have Social Security and Medicare and unemployment benefits and we should get rid of those programs.

Me: Umm, no. When I hear the first reader saying that democratic government costs 25%, I hear him saying that a reliable system of democracy (constitutionalism, etc.) costs that much. It doesn’t. Today’s government costs that much (actually it costs far, far, far more, which is why we have such deficits) but generic liberty-protecting “democratic government” costs far, far, far less than what we pay for today.

A minarchist state isn’t very expensive. A welfare state is.

Now if these two readers mean to say that “democratic governments” means whatever government program people vote for — or decline to vote to get rid of — that is a different argument and they should be more explicit in what they mean. Moreover, simply because people vote for something doesn’t mean it isn’t or can’t be tyrannical. In a pure democracy, a majority could vote for me to be burned at the stake or to make a certain class of people slaves. It’d be democratic government, but I wouldn’t want to pay for it — at any price.

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