The Corner

Your Stuff Is Yours, and Your Government’s Stuff Is Yours, Too

Including its debts.

Forgive me for picking a late-afternoon fight with John Hood, but I’m having a little trouble getting my head around his argument that taxes are more a moral issue than a fiscal issue. John writes:

The Right and Left differ on tax policy primarily because of a difference in values. Broadly speaking, the Right believes that your stuff is yours. The Left believes your stuff doesn’t really become your stuff until the government says it is. So the Right sees taxes as a way to pay for necessary government services. The Left sees taxes as an instrument of social control and redistributive justice.

True so far as it goes. Our stuff is ours — but so is the government that is spending our money on our purported behalf. If you don’t want the government seizing your stuff, you have to stop it from spending money, the act of which necessitates the seizure of your stuff. Whatever reason we give for spending the money, the accounts ultimately have to be balanced, and the fiscal issues are, in my view, currently a hell of a lot more pressing than the philosophical questions. We can debate the moral foundations of government for the next century, but we’re headed for a major fiscal crisis in less than a decade.

I’m skeptical of this kind of moralization of politics in general. One might as easily write that the military budget isn’t about national security, it’s about the moral virtues of martial life. (And one would be, at some perverse and despair-inducing level, absolutely correct in saying that our military budget is not about national security!) But you know what? To the extent that military spending is not about national security, I want that spending cut.

If we’re going to make this a question of values rather than one of fiscal discipline, the fact remains that we’re still governed by our (increasingly qualified) consent, so we have a moral duty to pay the debts our government runs up in our name. I agree that the federal budget is a moral abomination, but I do not see much evidence that the project to improve the moral fiber of the human race has met with much success in the past few millennia — but we do know how to balance a budget, and that should be Job One.

We’re a republic, and we don’t need a state that is awesome, august, or infused with moral meaning. We need potholes filled and the border patrolled. (And I’m pretty sure we can contract out the potholes to the private sector. Maybe the border policing, too.)

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