Rob Chrisman: Individual rights, not redistribution of resources
March 11, 2018
Political decisions and policies inevitably have a moral dimension to them.
Let's take taxation as an example and examine some underlying assumptions about taxation and its relation to the individual.
Let's consider the case of something that belongs to you, and of someone else using force or threats to relieve you of this thing (hint: this thing is called property and the action described is called theft). Most people don't condone theft, consider it immoral, and support laws against it.
Some people, however, reason that it is not always wrong to be a thief, i.e. if government does it, then suddenly it's acceptable.
Hey guys, it is still property, and it is still the naked use of force in taking it, so how does this morph into something morally acceptable?
The standard answer seems to be that the theft now has the imprimatur of being legalized by a vote of the majority, e.g. a law is passed to require the payment of taxes.
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So, I ask, how does the existence of a majority vote alter the situation?
Is it the case that the majority has a special, mystical wisdom when the vote is 50 percent plus 1? Is it the case that what is being implemented with the seized property is so important that the rectitude of this action should not be questioned? Does the magic of 50 percent plus 1 make it so?
Haven't majorities sanctioned undeniably immoral actions historically?
What about the internment of Americans of Japanese descent and seizure of their property? What about the majority vote (of the Supreme Court) that declared that slavery was "involuntary servitude" while conscription was not, and thousands of conscripts died in wars like Word War II, Vietnam, and Korea as a consequence. What about the historical treatment of Native Americans?
I maintain that the only meaningful thing about 50 percent plus 1 is that "my gang is bigger than your gang …"
The second most common justification is that, harking back to Hobbes, we all somehow agreed to some sort of "social contract" that requires us to give up some fraction of our resources in exchange for protection by the Sovereign.
To this I say: (1) I personally didn't agree to anything and refuse to be bound by ancestors long dead who might have; (2) my failure to get up and leave the country does not constitute a tacit acceptance of the contract, and (3) advocates of this position insist on construing the contract as involving hugely more than just "protection"; they insist on defining what it means.
The final indictment against government theft is that there is no statutory limit as to the amount of your income, from whatever sources, that the State may take supposedly in exchange for its promotion of your protection and welfare. There is no constitutional protection against the taking of 100 percent of it. Is there?
The only thing preventing this is the failure, as yet, of the 50 percent +1 to mandate it.
That I am not imagining this can be confirmed by reading one of the few academic attempts to justify the leviathan State and its prerogatives: a book entitled, "The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice" by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, whose authors argue that none of us have any property right in our pre-tax income! Go back and re-read the previous paragraph; there is nothing, absolutely nothing, except perhaps some notion of "unreasonableness," preventing a 100 percent confiscation of income if the majority were to will it.
So, for me, acceptance of majority rule as equivalent to a moral sanction is completely out of the question.
I maintain that anyone who says that an action is wrong when done by a citizen, but is morally acceptable when the State does it, is suffering from an incurable internal moral contradiction. Can you provide convincing answers for the five major questions I have posed here? The most important of these is, of course, how to justify the change in moral status when the same action is done by the State, not an individual.
Wholesale acceptance of the use of force in human relationships that sanctions the State as the legitimate user of force against its non-criminal citizens spells a return to the Dark Ages.
So, as a consequence I am suggesting that we all should re-think our blanket approval of taxation, move towards a more voluntary system, like a sales tax, and strictly limit use of the revenue to protection of individual rights, not redistribution of resources.
Robert Chrisman lives in Nevada City.