Objectivism and Paul McKeever's Theory on Taxation

April 3, 2008 by · 11 Comments 

In response to my reply concerning the issues of government employment and government hand-outs, my facebook friend wrote, in part:

…I was also inexplicitly referring to your YouTube video on taxes and government where you, as far as I can remember, argued that charging people for protecting them could not be considered immoral.

I replied as follows:

I think I know the video (youtube title: “In Defence of Ayn Rand #4: Rand, Anarchism, and Taxes“) to which you are referring [NOTE: my facebook friend might have been referring, alternatively, to my Freedom Party video titled “Taxes, Justice and Wolfe“, in which I discuss the difference between sales taxes and other taxes]. In it, I briefly outlined some thoughts I was having (and continue to have) about whether there is a kind of tax that is not immoral. The general thrust of the rationale there was that:

1. According to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, one is likely not to make an objective assessment of the facts, evidence, guilt/innocence, and nature/degree of penalty where one is a victim of the wrong in question. Hence, government has a monopoly on law-making (and, as a result, on the justice system), thereby putting the retaliatory use of force under objective control. According to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, you should not go after the guy who you think is responsible for the theft of your TV. You should instead call the police and file a report.

2. Because Ayn Rand’s philosophy regards it as wrong to take the law into your own hands (except in the case of defending yourself from immanent harm/loss), it is right for the task to be delegated to others who have no personal involvement in the wrong in question; people who will be more likely to judge objectively and dispassionately. The people who fill those roles, in Ayn Rand’s philosophy, are part of the government.

3. According to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, it is wrong to trade the value of ones productive efforts for (a) a disvalue, or (b) no value at all. Therefore, it is wrong to act as police officer, judge, or warden without getting paid, and it is wrong to force someone so to act. In short: members of government should be paid to do the work that morality requires be done by them instead of by the victim.

4. This is where my theory of taxation/government finance enters the issue:

(a) if the victim can choose and pay for his own police officer, judge/jury, warden etc., those people’s continued living will depend upon delivering results that their payors – i.e., victims – want. The police, judge, warden etc. – to whom their tasks are delegated only because they are presumed to be unbiased, impartial, dispassionate, reasonable, etc. – would be paid in a way that discouraged them from being unbiased, impartial, dispassionate, reasonable, etc.. In legal lingo: they would be place in a conflict of interest (I use that phrase to represent a different conflict than that discussed by Ayn Rand in her essay about “conflicts of mens interests”). In short: if the victim is the person paying the delegates, the purpose of delegating is defeated.

(b) if, on the other hand, the police, judges, etc. are paid from a single fund, controlled by the government, then the purpose of delegating is not defeated: the police, judges, etc. have no particular reason for being biased in favour of the alleged victim or the alleged criminal.

(c) if it is morally required that we delegate; if it is morally wrong to require delegates to work without being paid; and if the purpose of delegation is defeated when the victim pays the delegates, but not when the government pays the delegates, I propose that it is right to pay into the government fund that pays the delegates.

(d) It is wrong, in Ayn Rand’s philosophy, to mooch or loot. To receive the value of policing, judiciary, etc. services without paying into the government fund that pays them would be morally wrong.

(e) Therefore, in the video, I propose the germ of a theory that it may be morally right to use force to obtain from such a moocher/looter his portion of the monies paid to the judges, police, etc.. This does NOT imply that it would be right to use force to require a person to pay for non-justice matters (e.g., health care, education, etc.): such use of force would be wrong.

(f) Finally, in the video in question, I discuss what sorts of taxes might achieve that result without resulting in an injustice. In that video, I exclude every tax except one: a sales tax. The reason: every sale involves the formation of a contract, and it is wrong for the contracting parties to take the law into their own hands should a dispute arise concerning the contract. In other words: it is a proper function of government to resolve such disputes (i.e., in the courtroom, pursuant to objective laws). Therefore, a sales tax amounts to a fee paid for the right to use the government’s services to resolve any dispute that might arise concerning the contract of purchase and sale. If one buys little, one creates few contracts and fewer possible demands upon the court’s services, so one pays little. If one creates a great many contracts, or creates contracts that are more likely to be litigated (e.g., purchases of land are more likely to be litigated than purchases of bubble gum) one pays more. Yet the “more” is achieved without arbitrary rates: a sales tax typically involves a single rate being applied to any price.

(g) For the greatest certainty: Ayn Rand did not make the argument I propose here in point 4. If it is a rational implication of Ms. Rand’s philosophy, it is to my credit. If it is not a rational implication of Ms. Rand’s philosophy, it is to my discredit alone, not to hers and not to the discredit of her philosophy.

Tribalist/Conservative Watch

April 2, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

As reported by Canadian Press, just the latest bit of tribalist ideology from the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario:

Critics say the McGuinty government has done little beyond giving lip service to the issue. Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the initiatives so far are just the “bare minimum to look like they’re acting.”

That would create thousands and thousands of jobs and produce hundreds and hundreds of millions in revenue that could be applied to a whole variety of things,” he said. “They’re doing none of that.”

That’s right folks. According to conservatives in Ontario, the purpose of a strong economy is: to raise more revenue for the government to seize and spend on “a whole variety of things”.

Tribalist/Conservative Q&A

Q. Isn’t the improvement of my own standard of living the purpose of improving my own income?

A. Don’t be silly. The purpose of improving your productivity and income is to give the government more money with which to buy your vote.

Q. Don’t I try to earn more partly to secure myself a fund for rainy days?

A. Nope. Taking care of you in bad times is the government’s job.

Q. Don’t I try to earn more so as to pursue my own happiness?

A. How can you think about your own happiness when others are in discomfort?!

All of which self-serving altruism brings to memory this excerpt from Ayn Rand’s “What is Capitalism?” (the first essay in her book Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal):

Now consider the alternative – the tribal society, where all men throw their efforts, values, ambitions, and goals into a tribal pool or common pot, then wait hungrily at its rim, while the leader of a clique of cooks stirs it with a bayonet in one hand and a blank check on all their lives in the other.

Tribal Pot

…to be continued…and continued…and continued…

Government Employment and Hand-outs

April 2, 2008 by · 5 Comments 

A facebook friend asked me:

What is your view on accepting governmental jobs outside the sphere of what a small state would comprise of, for example worikng as a teacher in highschool or as a nurse or doctor?

On a realted issue: what is your view on using government funded services or accepting subsidies one’s “entitled” to?

I responded as follows:

With respect to your first question:

If not considered carefully, your question might be considered as one that assumes a host of unstated facts. And, if one is not careful, ones answer to your question might wrongly be determined by the unstated assumptions, rather than by the stated facts.

Two unstated assumptions seem likely to be made by a person considering your question:

  1. that the government is funded in an immoral way (e.g., with income taxes); and/or
  2. that the government has a monopoly on the services in question (or has set itself up with laws that give it an advantage via coercion).

If you assume either of those while considering your question, you will be more likely to conclude that working for a government as a teacher, nurse, or doctor would be wrong. Note, however, that the real issue there is not “jobs outside the sphere of what a small state would comprise” but: evil government funding, or evil protectionism/monopoly.

To properly answer the question you do ask, therefore, be careful not to make assumptions such as 1 and 2. Instead, assume:

  1. that the government is not funded immorally (e.g., it is funded voluntarily); and
  2. that the government has no legislated monopoly or protection with respect to its educational and medical services.

The issue then becomes clear: is it wrong to work for such a government as a teacher, nurse, or doctor? Clearly, the answer is: “no”. If nobody is forced to pay for the government’s educational or medical services, and if everyone is free to compete with the government’s educational and medical services, then there is nothing morally wrong in the government offering such services, and there is nothing morally wrong in accepting employment from the government in respect of those services.

If, instead of just answering the question you actually asked, we assume that the government is funded immorally (e.g., with income taxes), then the issue is not really “jobs outside the sphere of what a small state would comprise”. Rather, if one assumes immoral funding, the issue is: should one accept any form of employment from a government that is funded immorally (e.g., should one accept employment from such a government even in the role of police officer or warden?).

Similarly, if instead of just answering the question you actually asked, we assume that the government has passed laws that give it a monopoly on health care (as is the case in Ontario), then the issue is not “jobs outside the sphere of what a small state would comprise”, per se. Rather, the issue is: should a person accept employment with an employer that holds an immoral monopoly? Consider as an example whether, in that situation, it is moral to accept a government job as a police officer when your job might require you to arrest the owners of private (i.e., illegal) health clinics. Does the fact that policing is inside “the sphere of what a small state would comprise” make it morally right to accept the policing job, but morally wrong to accept a job as a doctor in the government’s health care monopoly?

Finally, consider that not all legislated monopolies are government-owned. That includes doctors, lawyers, trades, etc., each of which has a guild and a monopoly: a non-lawyer cannot do most legal work; a non-member of a college of physicians cannot do most medical work; et cetera. Thus, the issue of whether the employer is a government is a red herring if what you really want to know is the morality of working for an employer that has an immoral and state-imposed monopoly.

In short, it is very important not to confuse the issue raised in your question by making such unstated assumptions. If, on the other hand, your question was mis-stated; if what you really intended to ask was a question not about “jobs outside the sphere of what a small state would comprise”, but about working for an immorally-funded government, or for an immoral monopoly, then you should re-formulate your question.

With respect to your second question:

If you pay taxes, use those tax-funded government services and take every penny the government will give you. Imagine that it is your birthday, and you are visited by the neighbourhood crook, who we’ll call Tony Soprano. Soprano obtained all of his money by stealing it from others, including yourself. Tony hands you a $100 bill and says “happy birthday”. Assuming that he has stolen at least $100.00 from you in the past, is it immoral for you to accept the money? Answer: no. If, on the other hand, Tony has never stolen from you, it would be immoral to accept the money (unless your intention is to return it to the people/person from whom the money was stolen). Unfortunately, it is unlikely in the extreme that you are not a Tony Soprano victim (i.e., a taxpayer) and, accordingly, it is very unlikely that it would be immoral for you to use government services or take government hand-outs.


Paul McKeever

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