Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Ethics of Taxation


This is Mitch Daniels, the Gov. of Indiana, addressing CPAC yesterday. (Sorry, I can't find an embeddable video. Here is a non-embeddable one with good sound quality.) One part of his speech I liked very much is this:
We believe it wrong ever to take a dollar from a free citizen without a very necessary public purpose, because each such taking diminishes the freedom to spend that dollar as its owner would prefer. When we do find it necessary, we feel a profound duty to use that dollar as carefully and effectively as possible, else we should never have taken it at all.
This strikes me as the most lucid sort of ethical common sense. When you tax someone, you are coercively taking from then money that they have earned. You should only tax someone for a purpose sufficiently weighty to justify that sort of coercive taking.

Here's another rule that seems obviously true to me: you should only go to war for a reason sufficiently weighty to justify mass killing. More than that: it has to be so important that it justifies actions that you know in advance will kill large numbers of innocent civilians, people who plainly do not deserve violent death.

We can disagree on how weighty a purpose would have to be to justify mass coercion and killing, but it seems undeniable that such actions are morally evil if they do not measure up to these obvious standards, however we might spell these standards out in detail.

It also seems undeniable that, however they are spelled out, these standards are very stringent. If adopted and acted on consistently, there would be few taxes and very, very few wars.
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