A few minutes ago I stumbled upon an interesting facebook status that said the following: Statists like to tout their confiscation and redistribution schemes as noble and caring, but we should ask if theft is ever noble or caring.
This got me thinking about the true nature of taxation and wealth redistribution versus public perception of those things. Those who support wealth redistribution are generally portrayed by government, the media, and the general population as noble and caring; conversely, those who oppose it are heartless, selfish misers who want society to crumble.
But shouldn’t we define what is noble and caring by what one is willing to do voluntarily with their own time and effort – not by the extent to which one is comfortable using a third party to take someone else’s property (the product of that person’s time and effort) and use it for a cause they identify with? To illustrate why I believe this is so, see the following two immensely thought provoking quotes by economist Walter E. Williams:
“Here’s an important question: Would rape become morally acceptable if Congress passed a law legalizing it? You say: “What’s wrong with you, Williams? Rape is immoral plain and simple, no matter what Congress says or does!” If you take that position, isn’t it just as immoral when Congress legalizes the taking of one person’s earnings to give to another? Surely if a private person took money from one person and gave it to another, we’d deem it theft and, as such, immoral. Does the same act become moral when Congress takes people’s money to give to farmers, airline companies or an impoverished family? No, it’s still theft, but with an important difference: It’s legal, and participants aren’t jailed.”
“Three-fifths to two-thirds of the federal budget consists of taking property from one American and giving it to another. Were a private person to do the same thing, we’d call it theft. When government does it, we euphemistically call it income redistribution, but that’s exactly what thieves do — redistribute income.”
And it is important to note that were a private citizen to take someone else’s property without their permission for whatever reason, the moral status of his action wouldn’t change even if he decided to immediately hand all the property over to a poor, homeless person living on the streets. (Isn’t this essentially what welfare is?) Nor would his punishment change because of what he planned to do with the property after he stole it. Such an action might be noble and caring if the giver reached into his own pockets to assist a fellow man in need – this is what we call charity. But, as Williams notes, “reaching into someone else’s pocket to assist one’s fellow man hardly qualifies as charity. When done privately, we deem it theft, and the individual risks jail time.”
Murray Rothbard (For A New Liberty, 1973, p. 55) once asked: Is there a way to define taxation (and by extension, wealth redistribution) so as to morally differentiate it from robbery? I, for one, have never received a satisfactory answer to this question. Most defenders of the status quo, when presented with this moral dilemma, try to make the case that our large-scale robbery system is necessary for society to function smoothly. But this is a different argument entirely, and does not address the fact that taking someone’s property without their permission, whether done by a private citizen or a citizen employed by the government, is indeed theft. To simply say “but it’s necessary” utterly ignores the question at hand.
And besides, is it really true that we need organized theft and coercion in order to successfully maintain society? If government services and wealth redistribution are as necessary as their proponents claim, could we not find a moral way to collect taxes (without force or violence)? Perhaps we could try rational argument and persuasion. After all, if government is really as necessary as most people think, then it ought to be quite simple to convince others to support it (or at least support as much of it as they believe is necessary). Instead of threatening people, educate them. Convince them. Demonstrate why they ought to contribute to government. Threatening them with force is not a way to answer their arguments against paying. Might does not make right.
If those who refuse to pay taxes at all, or who selectively refuse to pay part of their taxes, cannot be convinced, then they ought to be left alone. They ought not to be placed in jail or stolen from as happens regularly in our current system. Simply deny them whatever government services they are not willing to pay for! And in the very worst case, is it not possible that those who do see the importance of funding governments dig deeper into their own pockets to make up the difference, instead of digging into the pockets of those who don’t? As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently stated, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” It seems the author of America’s position on the subject at hand is quite clear.
To me, the reliance of government and its supporters on force, violence, and coercion in order to attain these supposedly necessary revenues seems to be an admission that if they abandoned this method and simply tried to convince and persuade people instead, they wouldn’t attain the revenues to finance the services they deem so vital for society’s well being – which would seem to indicate that those services aren’t really so necessary at all.
If they were as vital as the government claims, the individuals who comprise society would surely figure this out. It’s not as if working for the government gives you some secret knowledge that evades the general populace; members of government are members of society as well, after all, so wouldn’t they be susceptible to the same ignorance, if it were really true that the general population didn’t know what was good for them? If we are all so unable to run our lives that it is decided others must run them for us, who then amongst us is qualified to do so? Government officials may be good at selling themselves and getting elected, but they are members of society as well. So if we are truly incapable of deciding what is good for us, then there’s no reason to think that people who are simply good at getting elected to public office would somehow have the solutions that evade everyone else.
So we have established that a) even if government services were as necessary as its proponents claim, there are more moral ways of attaining them then a system that depends on violence and coercion, b) if using rational argument to try to convince and persuade members of society to pay taxes and “redistribute wealth” failed, this is proof that they are not as necessary as government claims – because c) what do government members know about what’s good for society’s well being that the private citizens who comprise society would be incapable of realizing themselves?
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal with the same natural rights. Most supporters of wealth redistribution would seem to believe that while all men are created equal, some men – those employed by the government and the IRS in particular – are created more equal than others. This is a profoundly inconsistent position that just doesn’t hold up once seriously thought through. Taxation and wealth redistribution are still theft, regardless of the seemingly generous intentions one might hope to use the stolen property for (recall the example of stealing someone’s property and then giving it to a homeless person). One might argue that this system of legal plunder is necessary regardless of its moral nature, but this begs the question of why government and all its supporters wouldn’t simply make the case for its own necessity instead of using the kind of brute force that would score any private citizen years behind bars, deny its services to those who don’t find them worthwhile, and ask those who do to dig a little deeper into their own pockets instead of digging into those of the people that want either no part or a reduced part of the system.