Monday, November 23, 2009

Taxation, and Social Contracts.

I have stated in the past that taxes are inherently a form of theft, and social contracts are a bunch of bullshit. After thinking on it further, I was wrong.

Let's start with taxes. If you are an anarchist, you believe all government is bad, and all taxation is theft (you cannot run a government without some form of taxation). Many people believe libertarians are anarchists. Some are. Most aren't. I am not; I believe government has a legitimate function; to protect your rights from others, and protect others' rights from you.

The place where taxation becomes theft is when it involves taking your money for the purpose of giving to others. What's the difference, you ask?

Well, first you have to understand what I mean by rights. We have come to associate "rights" with "needs" or even "desires" as in "I have a right to food, shelter, basic medical care, TV, affordable transportation, etc." These are needs, or desires. I do not believe on any respect that they are rights. All rights are freedoms *from* something, not something being given to you for free.

You have a right not to have your things stolen.
You have a right not to be forced into slavery.
You have a right not to be cheated or lied to in business.

I could go on, but these are rights to *not* have things done to you. And that is what government should be there to do. Defense of the borders? Good role. Policing the streets? Good role. A system of courts to administer justice, and jails to house the lawbreakers? Good role. These are all legitimate. And they require taxes.

So no, I don't think taxation is inherently theft. But when it comes to government providing goods and services, then yes. I think it is always theft. Every time. And any government program which involves providing goods and services is funded by theft.

Are all government programs bad things? By no means. I love the space program. I drive on our highways. That doesn't change the fact that I believe they are illegitimate, funded by theft, and should never have been administered by the government. I also believe that the free market (were we to have one) would provide much, much better.

Even the government programs that you love, that I love, if they provide goods or services - even these the most statist among us would admit are hopelessly inefficient, bloated, and poorly run. Government by its very nature is wasteful, since it spends money not its own, generally on people not its own. There is no and can be no incentive to provide efficiently.

So what percentage of our taxes is theft? I don't know; I'd have to
A) analyze our budget exceedingly closely, and
B) trust that the numbers provided are accurate
and neither of those seems like a winning use of my time. But on a guess, I'd say probably 95% of our tax dollars are theft, taking money from one person, then giving it to somebody else, after taking a cut.

When the mob does that, it's despicable. When the government does that, it's somehow supposed to be better. Not in my opinion.

But just because taxes are generally theft, or usually theft, or almost always theft, doesn't mean it's ALWAYS theft, or even inherently so. Where the money is used makes a difference in legitimacy.

So, that takes us to social contracts.

Now, here it's a matter of terminology. Most people use "social contract" to mean something that is accepted by society, and is considered okay because of majority rule. I reject that. The majority is usually wrong. And when I find myself in the majority of almost anything, it makes me immediately question whether I know enough to have a valid opinion.

People will use the term "social contract" to signify a vague thing that allows them to get whatever they want, or feel is just. Nowhere do they have a copy of this social contract. Nowhere can they define this social contract. But they'll use it to push for Universal Health Care, Gun Control, Prayer in Schools, banning Gay Marriage, or any other pet cause they believe either has a majority behind it, or that they believe is a moral imperative.

Again, I reject this. If you cannot show me a contract that I have agreed to live by, it does not exist. If there is nothing spelled out in black and white that I have agreed to, it does not exist.

So what social contract do I believe in? For there is one. I have agreed to it. I have sworn to uphold it. I have studied it extensively. I think it is one of the finest contracts ever devised. It is called the Constitution of the United States of America. By living in this country, I agree to live by its constitution. It is not vague. It does not permit the fickle wind of public opinion to change its fundamental principles.

If this country were to return to the social contract signed on September 17, 1787, we would once again take our place as the champions of freedom that we once were. We could return to the prosperity that freedom brings. And we would be freed of most of the theft that our government currently engages in.


  1. Anonymous4:27 PM

    Well, we don't agree on all of this, but overall you hit the nail on the head. Very well-written. --David

  2. Anonymous5:08 PM

    OK, a little more time to leave a meaningful response.

    “taxation becomes theft is when it involves taking your money for the purpose of giving to others”
    Indeed. I would add, only because you don’t make it explicitly clear, that this includes giving it to others to perform busywork. In China, there were people “employed” at some public restrooms to hand you TP as you go in the door. To me this is roughly the equivalent of a large portion of defense contract management (and no, I’m not joking). Following obscure acquisition rules make up probably half of all actual contract expenses. As much as I dislike excessive welfare (direct handouts, I mean) I’d bet that bureaucratic BS probably dwarfs it in actual no-return outlays 100 to 1. I have no data to back up any of these numbers, by the way (62.3% of all statistics…). I think I read somewhere recently that we have about $144B worth of real value (to the gov’t) from the $787B stimulus with the remainder as direct handouts, Cash 4 Clunkers and such. Don’t know how they got that number, but it’s believable. Cutting even a small portion of gov’t waste could have us balanced in a decade or so.

    Unlike you, I do believe in a social contract based on reasonably shared values (beat THAT for a nebulous statement!) but I don’t think we do a good job of matching up our values to our spending and regulation. I would be interested in actually listing our (desired and actual) rights, starting as you did with theft/slavery/etc, and matching it up with actual money, which means we would also have to list our funded “wants” beyond rights. I think you *might* even have a chance of getting a pretty similar ordinal ranking from lots of different people, with political leanings linked to where they put the cutoff from right/want. Almost by definition, spending on "wants" would qualify into the tax-as-theft column. I don’t know whether or not your 95% tax-as-theft would hold up, but I suspect a disturbingly high percentage. I also think the gov’t should be a regulator more than a spender, and we have that almost perfectly backwards.

    Just as a closing note, “If this country were to return to the social contract signed on September 17, 1787 , we would once again take our place as the champions of freedom that we once were” and “You have a right not to be forced into slavery” are incongruous statements. A few of the signers owned slaves. As an incredible I-just-found-this-out note, Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th amendment until 1995. Wow.
    Enjoyed the post --David
    P.S. I don't know why this is making me post as Anonymous. I'll just take advantage of that!
    Signed, David T. Mills, (whose income for the last 12+ years is directly derived form taxes)

  3. Anonymous5:09 PM

    Holy Schnikes. My second comment is about as long as your original post.

  4. The problem with a reasonably shared values social contract is whether it should be binding on those who do not share its values, and who gets to determine what is reasonable.

    If it so commonly shared that it deserves to be in our constitution, I have no issue with it being turned into a constitutional amendment. For the most part, though, I am much more a believer in determining your own priorities than trying to determine everybody else's. There are ways to contribute to virtually any cause you believe in. And it would be easier to do, if so much of our income wasn't already claimed. I find that much more fair than telling anybody else what they HAVE to spend their money on - even if they agree.

    On your closing note, there was slavery in the beginning of our country. This was the greatest evil we ever perpetrated, in my opinion. But the problem wasn't our constitution, which was the social contract I referred to. The problem was that black people weren't considered to be people at all, but a type of advanced animal.

    This was a problem with the more nebulous "social contract of shared values" of the majority at that time. Slavery went against the spirit of the constitution then, and it is highly unfortunated that it wasn't spelled out that "people" included people of any color. But because the majority of people didn't believe it, a terrible thing was permitted.

    The constitution signed then wasn't perfect. It has been made better by amendments (and in a few cases, made worse). It probably could be made better by more. But most of what we do now simply ignores it while paying lip service to it. And that is a shame. I believe a return to the constitution would be a wonderful, though painful thing for this country.

  5. Perhaps I should say I don't believe in a legally binding social contract based on unspecified shared values. I am actually a believer in change through social awareness, which is a type of social contract, achieved through shared social values.

    I just feel uncomfortable telling other people what to do with their money. And I feel violated that my money goes to things I find morally repugnant. There are venues for helping people out that are far more effective, and completely voluntary. I just don't feel the federal government is the appropriate channel for most of the things it does.

    That doesn't mean I think that every program is inherently wrong. Just that most of them are wrong for the government to be involved in.

  6. You know my feelings on taxation. ESPECIALLY for healthcare. I'm getting frustrated just thinking about it!! Grrr...

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