Conversations on taxes and the state


The other day, I rebutted a piece by the blog Whistling in the Wind (I’ll refer to him as “Wind”) called “Why Taxation Is Not Theft.”  I am always very appreciative when the author or creator of something I critique responds, and Wind did in the comments section.  So instead of replying there, I decided to dedicate a new post to it.

Why the state has a right to the land is a good question. It is important to remember that private property is relatively new, for thousands of years of human history property was communal. The tribe had communal rights over the land even if they did not directly own it. To some people owning land (which of course humans did not create) is as ridiculous as owning air. So when the first states were formed, there was already a feeling that some parts of the land belongs to everyone. For example, many believe that resources and land of Ireland belong to all the people of Ireland. You may own some land but that doesn’t mean you are unlimited in your actions, for example you can’t dump nuclear waste on it.

Private property is not a new concept.  After a caveman hunted down a deer and was dragging it back to his cave, if another caveman came over and took it from him, would he stand there and think to himself, “Well, I guess I’d better go hunt another deer.”  No, he would defend his property.  The same would apply to a caveman who made himself a few loincloths.  He might decide to share them or even trade them for something else, but there is no way he wouldn’t feel some sort of anger toward the caveman who took it without his permission.

As far as communally owning land, there is nothing in the ideas of libertarianism that would suggest there is anything wrong with it.  And if the people who communally own the property decide to create something that resembles a government, they are more than free to do so.  In order for this to be valid, all of the members have to agree.  Can any government in existence claim this?

“Anyway, even if this analogy were correct, it would only justify property taxes. We’ll see if Wind justifies other forms of taxation (he doesn’t).”

Actually the point is to justify taxes, the exact form they take is a side matter.

It matters.  What about taxes on transactions?  What if I agree to perform some labor for my neighbor?  The government claims that it has the authority to tax that transaction, but if the transaction is independent of land and other property (maybe my neighbor paid me to sing for him), if the government has the authority to levy taxes because it owns the property, that would of course imply that the government owns me.

Completely untrue, property cannot exist without a state to enforce the claim.

I would like for wind to explain why he believes this to be true.  I gave a simple example above why this is not true.  There is no reason that there needs to be a monopoly on force in order for private property rights to be claimed.

What if you are sick and I go to your house, take some money (though far less than the cost of medical treatment) and pay your medical bills? Would cry theft and claim you are being treated like a slave?

If I were incapacitated and had no one to whom I delegated this power to, it would be reasonable to take me to the hospital under the assumption that I would pay when I got better.  But again, is that how the government ever functions?  Does it only act on behalf of people when there is no reasonable way to get their permission to use their money and act on their behalf?

Could you please explain why pretty much every Libertarian I’ve met is American and presumes everyone else is too? The American government is pretty dysfunctional, but that doesn’t mean that every government is.

I don’t know why most libertarians Wind has met are Americans.  I can only speak for myself, but I don’t presume that everyone is an American—I often refer to the American government because most of the readers here are Americans and it’s easier to relate to.  Yes, the American government is very dysfunctional, but the dysfunction is not the problem.  The problem is coercion against peaceful people.  This is what every government does.

Except that in most public goods it is not possible to have competition. How should public police, fire fighters and the army compete with private companies? There are also plenty of counter examples. For example here in Ireland, state TV and radio is far more popular than private stations, public transportation is superior to private and while there are several private health insurance agencies, most people choose the state health insurance company.

Why is it not possible for competition for what Wind refers to as public goods?  Why can’t there be private police or firefighting (they actually already exist)?  Why can’t private armies exist?  If a certain geographical area were threatened by some aggressive group, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the businesses in that area to pool together their money in order to pay an army to protect their business interests?

Are the public transportation, state TV, and state health insurance in true competition with the private alternatives?  Private businesses don’t have the benefit of subsidizing their own interests by taxing people.  So of course the public versions of these businesses will be at an advantage considering they don’t have to actually earn their money.  They can spend a lot of money without worrying about recouping it.  As long as the government wants to continue the program, they can pour money into it.

Do you understand that by being in debt, this means that the state pays more than it receives? You’re proving my point, that the state is a “thief” who gives more than it “steals”.

The government claims that the debt is held by the people.  They can pay it off in two ways: they tax or they print money.  While the implications of taxation are obvious (they are directly taking money from its subjects without providing anything in return), by printing money they lessen the purchasing power of each unit of money.  This is inflation.  I used to be able to buy a candy bar for $1, but because of inflation, now it costs $1.50.  Because of this, I am less wealthy.

That’s because the slaves couldn’t vote. If taxation is slavery as libertarians so often claim, then why do most people support taxes and not consider it as theft? If they are slaves, why do they support the need for their chains and oppose all attempts to “free” them? Are they ignorant or is there a flaw in your logic?

Oh, so if slaves are given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they are slaves, it is okay?  Let’s say there were ten non-slaves and three slaves and all of the non-slaves said that slavery was legal.  Would Wind say that slavery was okay?

If others want to be taxed and live by the rules imposed by the state, that’s their business.  That does not, however, give them the authority to impose that on me, especially when I specifically do not consent to it.

Ok let’s use the restaurant example. A libertarian is someone who eats in a restaurant every day but when the bill comes at the end of the year, they claim they are being robbed. When told they can leave and go to another restaurant they refuse and claim they should be allowed stay exactly where they are, but the restaurant must completely change.

A restaurant is someone’s private property, so they are entitled to make rules about how it is used.  Libertarians tend to have an ideology that has a respect for private property, so Wind’s example makes absolutely no sense.  A person would have a proper claim that he should not have to pay the bill if he were forced to eat at the restaurant or the restaurant started to deliver him food without him ever requesting it.

Capitalism is the natural condition? Please read a history book before you embarrass yourself anymore. Capitalism only really dates to the Industrial Revolution, 200 years ago, not ancient times 10,000 years ago.

I would be interested to hear what Wind’s definition of capitalism is.  My definition of capitalism is private ownership and control of the means of production.  This happened way before the Industrial Revolution.  And it amazes me that Adam Smith wrote about capitalism in 1776 before it existed.

Actually they are. If I walk into a stranger’s house uninvited, they would tell me to get out or they will use force (either themselves or through the police). If I claimed that I never consented to their ownership or if the concept of private property, therefore they had no right to use force against me, I would merely be acting like an idiot. Although I never signed a social contract with them, I am still bound to follow the rules, just like with the state.

Private property does not require any sort of “social contract” because one individual’s ability to acquire property is not dependent upon the actions of anyone else.  Wind’s idea that the state is like someone’s house begs the question that the state is the rightful owner of the property.

I am almost forced to partake in capitalism because if I don’t work, I won’t eat.

You’re forced to breathe too.

And it’s insufficient to deal with poverty. That’s why the state stepped in, because private charity was unable to deal with the problem.

I wonder if Wind can identify any states that exist in the world in which the reason they were created was to help the poor and if any such states existed how well they did in accomplishing their goals.

Now you are just making things up. There is no correlation between private property and poverty. America has atrocious poverty rates compared to most of Europe, especially Scandinavia where taxation is highest.

Countries set their own poverty rates.  A person considered poor in one country may not be considered poor in another.  Is there a correlation between tax rates and poverty?  The countries in Scandinavia may pay high taxes, but they also carry a lot of personal debt.  Judging an economy is not as simple as looking at its tax rates.  There are a myriad of other factors that go into it.

Anyway, can Wind explain why a country like Venezuela is doing so poorly compared to countries with more market-driven economies?

“If the state exists to enforce obligations to others and people wouldn’t feel obligated to others without the state, how did the state come into existence since the state is a manmade construct?”

This is another example of how you think you’re asking a deep question when you are really just showing how little you know.

How does this show how little I know?  That is not an answer to the question.

If you don’t like the state, there’s 200 others you can choose from.

Why should I have to leave?  On what authority does the state tell me I cannot live on my property the way I choose?

What about corporations? Are they merely people devoid of extra rights like limited liability?

What about corporations?  Corporations are creations of the state.  Some of them get away with a lot of bad things, thanks to rules created by the state.

The entirety of Wind’s argument is hinged on the idea that the state is the rightful owner of an individual’s property.  His issue, however, is that he is unable to prove such a claim is accurate. With that unproven, the rest of his arguments fall apart.

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Robert Nielsen
“Private property is not a new concept. After a caveman hunted down a deer and was dragging it back to his cave, if another caveman came over and took it from him, would stand there and think to himself, “Well, I guess I’d better go hunt another deer.” No, he would defend his property.” This is hilarious. It is also completely wrong. Caveman generally hunted communally and shared their food with other members. There was an unspoken contract that everyone must share even if they didn’t want to. If they didn’t like the deal, they could leave (sound familiar?). There… Read more »