Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taxation and Liberty

There are a couple of things that are disturbing about this clip, taken at one of the nation's many Tea (= "taxed enough already") Party protests today (Wednesday).

As a political philosopher, I suppose my reaction might seem eccentric. -- What disturbs me is: "liberty ... what does that have to do with taxes?"

Okay, here's the thing. Paying taxes is not the same thing as giving gifts. Nor are taxes membership fees. I cannot resign from the USA, as I can from a club. A tax is an coerced payment, extracted via the threat of a prison sentence and, unlike a membership fee, it is unconditional. There is no good or service that I get if I pay my tax but otherwise not. My government will not withhold from me protection against invasion by the Canadians or the Mexicans if I don't pay my tax, as a club would withhold the privileges of membership were I to fail to pay my dues. No, I am forced to pay, whether I want to or not, and whether the benefits are worth the expense or not.

The only way I can avoid a tax is to leave family, friends, and home to travel to a land where ... I will also have to pay taxes.

If you think that freedom is abridged when I am coerced ("negative freedom"), then every increase of taxes is a reduction of freedom.

Of course, you may think of freedom as the capacity to choose between options ("positive freedom"), but in that case the same result follows. Before my money is taken from me by the government, I have the power to choose how it is spent. After it is taken, the government makes that choice. Now, some of the things it chooses to spend my money on are in my interests, so I don't perceive these choices of theirs as a reduction of my positive freedom: things like punishing violent criminals, building roads, or maintaining the air traffic control system. These are things that I would choose to spend my money on if I could. But, as far as I can tell, by far most of the things the government throws my money at are not like this at all. They include:
  • Maintaining a national "defense" establishment larger than those of the entire rest of the world combined.
  • Maintaining a government schooling gulag that my wife and I tried to escape from by sending our son to private schools that better suit our educational philosophy, while being forced through taxes to pay for the government system at the same time. After three years and a second mortgage on our house, we ran out of money.
  • Keeping over half a million people in prison (mainly for possession of marijuana) to make sure that I don't take any drugs the government doesn't like.
Taxation has a great deal to do with freedom, but mostly not in a good way.


Unknown said...

It is so difficult to comprehend how much is paid into the Federal Government by individuals and they get basically nothing in return. I like to quiz people as to what they actually receive back from the federal government, not state government, and am greeted with a blank stares. When I get my property tax bill, I can see how much I am paying and where the money is going, and have very few complaints. On the state level, I have less understanding, and a few more complaints. On the Federal level-I am numb. It's amazing that these issues are even debatable.

Ann said...

Very well put, Lester! Too bad you weren't there to answer that airhead CNN reporter. She clearly already had an agenda and totally blew her cool as a 'reporter'.

The lefties resent the tea parties. It makes them really angry that a grassroots thing like this (lot of it communicated through oh-so-hip Twitter, btw) is not about one of their collectivist movements about what everyone should be doing on behalf of a chosen group or issue, but an impromptu assertion of individual rights and freedoms. People are out there speaking on behalf of themselves.

Governments fear an empowered and 'wired' populace, and for good reason. IF anyone follows Twitter, search #teaparty to see the discussion. Like many web phenomena, it's all over the map in terms of quality and view, but it's definitely a forum.

Lester Hunt said...


Deborah was at the Madison Tea Party (Rep. Paul Ryan spoke) and when she brought up the leftosphere's charge that these things are "underwritten by large corporations," people laughed. What expenses were they supposed to have paid? Most of the placards there were obviously hand made.


Interesting point about the progression from the local to state to federal levels. I think it means that as one goes up the ladder taxation becomes more and more destructive of positive liberty -- I have less and less assurance that what they are doing with my money is what I would choose to do with it if I could.

Unknown said...

The best part about the video was when the reporter said the guy was going to get a $400.00 stimulus check from the government. 400.00? That guy probably coughed up and paid $30,000 in taxes last year alone. Now he gets $400.00 back - how generous.

Lester Hunt said...

She seems to sort of interrupt herself at the end of that comment, like she suddenly realizes that it's not too bright.

Ann said...

Some interesting further interaction with the CNN lady after the CNN camera shut off. The following link is at The video clip contains the portion Lester showed here, and some further interesting remarks. I tried twice to bring up this clip via a tiny url from a Twitter post, and the clip had a blocked sign on it. Not sure what that meant. I think you can see it below, though. Really worth watching.

Anonymous said...

I watched the link, and I felt embarrassed for the tax protesters. The reasoning is simple against taxes (thanks Lester), and the people on the video have difficulty expressing themselves. The man swears while holding a two year old in his arms. He seemed passionate, but a bit crazy too. The lady interviewed by CNN is in the video is just plain silly.

Matthew Allen said...

Great post. It reminds me of Rothbard's challenge to give a definition of taxation that didn't also describe theft.

But what bothers me is that the tea partiers are being reduced by the media (and even certain members of the federal government) to strawmen: resentful Republicans, racist Obama-haters, and rich folks who resent paying taxes. It's inevitable that plenty of misguided individuals will have attended, but the notion that there are very legitmate concerns is dismissed. But maybe I'm wrong---economists on both sides have reached a consensus. (And did I hear right that Obama claimed not to have been aware that these events were even taking place?)

It's also worth noting that Republican politicians were denied permission to speak or play any leadership roles at many of them. But I guess I can't overgeneralize about a decentralized spontaneously emerging set of events (who'd have thought individuals were capable of doing it on their own?).

Ann said...

Dear Anonymous,

How courageous to put your name out there. :-) I thought the CNN reporter looked like a manipulator and a pretty stupid one, at that. Every question she had for that woman, the woman answered her, clearly and succinctly. The reporter was left mumbling to herself. The woman points to a huge sign that says 'Republicans suck, too' and the CNN response? Oh, it was not in our field of view. How lame can they be? The fact is, the left is both angry and scared by this 'movement'. Of course they know it was 'a happening' of sorts, fueled by our new wired world - they are just in denial about this. It's too scary a sea change for them to realize they don't own these technologies.

pappy d said... anti-CNN rally?!

I couldn't make out the organisers' speeches but judging by the placards, there didn't seem to be anything in that protest that would upset a leftist. The demonstrators' main bone of contention was that the federal govt. has undergone a massive privatisation that promises to make life just a little more feudal for the bottom 99% of the population.