Arnold Kling  

Vernon Smith on Globalization

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The Missing Martyrs... 34 Postcards About Terrorism...

In a wide-ranging lecture, Vernon Smith says,


No one has said it better than
David Hume over 250 years ago, when he said that there are just
three laws of human nature:
1) the right of possession,
2) its transference by consent, and
3) the performance of promises.
These are the ultimate foundations of order, with or without
formal law, that make possible markets and prosperity.

...Coveting the possessions of others invites an
involuntary state enforced redistribution of the gains from
specialization and trade, endangering incentives to produce
tomorrow’s harvest perhaps as surely as its theft.


Actually, it is difficult to pull excerpts from this talk, because there is wisdom scattered throughout. Thanks to Don Boudreaux for the pointer.

For Discussion. What are the similarities and differences between state enforced redistribution and theft?


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CATEGORIES: International Trade



COMMENTS (49 to date)
Eric Slusser writes:

Two aspects of state-enforced redistribution make it more defensible (in my humble opinion):

1. You can anticipate how much the state will take, thus still allowing individuals to still have some capacity in seeing the future.

2. By speaking of ensuring that incentives to produce are maintained, one implicity accepts utilitarianism. Much that the state does can be accepted in principle then, even though that still leaves the burden of ensuring that this type of "theft" is for the public good.

Randy writes:

Taxation runs on a scale from pure taxation to pure theft. Pure taxation when contributions are entirely voluntary, and pure theft when contributions are entirely involuntary. In other words, taxes are always taxes, but when they cross the line into the involuntary, taxes are also theft.

A constant attack from the left is that the right simply doesn't want to pay taxes, followed by horror stories of what would happen if no one paid taxes. The charge is absurd. The right is not opposed to taxes. It is opposed to theft. The question is whether or not we have crossed the line.

On the other hand, one could buy into the logic that the state, being the source of all wealth, does not take private property when it taxes, but rather allows the servants of the state to keep an allowance as a reward for their service. As a huge believer in individual freedom, I am not a fan of this argument, but I recognize that it has merit.

Lancelot Finn writes:

The difference between state-enforced redistribution and theft is the same as the difference between arrest and kidnapping, or between kidnapping and murder: legitimacy.

The state claims a monopoly on legitimate violence. That is the traditional definition of a state in modern times, articulated by Hobbes and Weber.

Tolstoy, Gandhi, and other "mahatmas" deny the principle of governmental legitimacy in favor of generalized non-violence. A lot of Biblical passages suggest that Jesus Christ may also have taken this view. If you accept this, it leads to what I call pacifist-anarchism, a view I was committed to for a while in high school and my first year of college. There's a strong case for it intellectually, but in practice it poses serious difficulties, to put it mildly.

If you reject pacifist-anarchism, there's really no other entirely defensible place to draw the line on government coercion.

I like the way you provoke big discussion questions. But "what is governmental legitimacy?" may be too big a question to digest in the comments of a blog post, even at EconLog.

Eric H writes:

Ideally, redistribution increases total utility since the marginal value of a dollar to a wealthy person is much lower than it is to a poor one, whereas theft does not necessarily increase total utility. Also, state enforced redistribution is managed/supervised by "society", whereas the thief is only working for him/herself.

However, we don't live in an ideal world. Also, the thief does a lot less damage than the gov't. As I recall, David Friedman adds up the total "theft" committed by the government in _The Machinery of Freedom_, and it comes out much higher than common theft (using FBI statistics, IIRC).

Dave Schuler writes:

The difference between taxation and theft is consent. When one accepts all of the services provided by the government including defense from enemies foreign and domestic and enforcement of contracts, one implicitly consents to taxation.

Free-loading is theft.

richard writes:

If the state is legitimate, then involuntay redistribution is not theft.

At bottom, you're asking whether we should have goverment. Governments are needed precisely because there is not unanimous agreement that something should happen. Is every exercise of state power coersion, theft, etc.? (It's not an exercise of state power if you do it voluntarily.)

Also, modern wealth creation seems impossible absent a state which, among other things, enforces involuntary taxes.

I echo the earlier poster's citation to Hobbes.

Randy writes:

Lancelot,

You may be correct that the legitimacy of government is too big for this forum. But let me press the issue just a bit more...

The problem with the legitimacy argument is that it assumes that the government represents all the people in its actions. The truth is that government actions very frequently advance the interests of some at the expense of others. Legitimacy is not a constant. The government does not exercise legitimacy, it exercises power. Redistribution is accomplished via the government through an exercise of power in the interests of those who recieve the distribution, and at the expense of those who lose their property. In other words, we are back to a discussion of theft.

Tony Vila writes:

Why bring Hume into this and do second hand quoting, when all you want to say is "yay Coase theorem".

In the meantime, let me know when you've found zero-cost contract creation and enforcement.

Randy writes:

Dave,

The use of a service by a taxpayer implies consent to a level of taxation necessary to provide that service. It does not imply consent to taxation for services to which the taxpayer has no access - or for which that taxpayer's contribution is greater than the benefit received. Not that said taxpayer would never volunteer to pay such taxes, just that the use of some services does not imply consent to whatever the government chooses to do.

Boonton writes:

Taxation runs on a scale from pure taxation to pure theft. Pure taxation when contributions are entirely voluntary, and pure theft when contributions are entirely involuntary. In other words, taxes are always taxes, but when they cross the line into the involuntary, taxes are also theft.

A constant attack from the left is that the right simply doesn't want to pay taxes, followed by horror stories of what would happen if no one paid taxes. The charge is absurd. The right is not opposed to taxes. It is opposed to theft. The question is whether or not we have crossed the line.

Randy, this is rather incoherent. What do you mean by voluntary? Income taxes are voluntary in the sense that you are not required to earn income by the gov't. If I took what you wrote seriously then only private charity or church would be able to exercise 'pure taxation' since it is voluntary to donate to them. But then why call it 'pure taxation' instead of 'donating to charity'...which has served very well for quite some time?

In the history of humanity, I'm aware of no gov't that ever had 'voluntary taxation' in the sense that you could opt not to pay taxes. I suppose Randy's idea could be applied to poll taxes which are inescapable in a sense but no one has poll taxes anymore so why care?

To answer Arnold's question, the key difference between taxation and theft is that we implicitly agree to taxation by doing business in the area that a particular gov't is sovereign.

Also, modern wealth creation seems impossible absent a state which, among other things, enforces involuntary taxes.

Which brings up an intersting point, how much wealth has been created because of taxation? Before you snicker, consider the early 90's when Clinton increased taxes on the wealthy and the wealthy got wealthier! Let's assume for the sake of the argument that the wealthy got wealthier because the tax increase spurred the economy by signaling the markets that the deficit would be controlled for the next decade or so. How much 'theft' can you assign to the tax increase? It's kind of strange that a victim of theft would have more after the crime than before!

The problem with the legitimacy argument is that it assumes that the government represents all the people in its actions. The truth is that government actions very frequently advance the interests of some at the expense of others. Legitimacy is not a constant.

Perhaps but I'm not aware of any political theory that says gov't must satisfy all interests all the time. Such a state of affairs is simply mathematically impossible since people have different interests. Being represented is not the same thing as you being there yourself. Implicit in the idea of representation is the danger that your representative may not advocate your interests perfectly. Who does the gov't deny representation to today? Certainly not the bulk of the people who are taxed...they are free to vote & advocate their interests. I suppose you can argue that representation is denied to illegal aliens, underage children, and convicted felons. To a degree at least two of those groups pay taxes but I do not consider it sufficient to declare a legitimacy crises.

El Presidente writes:

The difference is that in a democracy you get to pick the thief whereas in a burglary the thief picks you. Also, the thief has to follow rules in a democracy, rules over which the thief has some influence but not control. The transfer itself doesn't constitute theft (gifts are a notable exception). Collective burden sharing for shared benefits and the ability to enforce ostensibly fair distribution of the costs of society are reasonable if not idyllic aims of government. I make no defense of the taking involved in either instance. It is in effect the same and similarly unpleasant. But, it is what it is. Government is a great and terrible thing.

Randy

Public servants get a salary. That is payment enough for our services. The remaining tax revenue is reinvested, albeit often poorly, in society's economic and social interests. Government has the prerogative but not the personal advantage you might have implied. Tacit Consent (to the system, not the tax) is the doctrine that authorizes government prerogative in taxation and revenue distribution.

Lancelot Finn

I too have an intellectual soft spot for pacifist anarchism but the arguments of Aristotelian Virtue Ethics and Hedonistic Utilitarianism and the numerous instances of divinely ordered war in the Judeo-Christian tradition and other religious traditions lead one to wonder if there isn't some defensible or unavoidable cause for violence if only in limited circumstances. So, if we're going to have violence a monopoly guarantees a high cost and reduced production which should create or encourage an aversion to its domestic employment in unnecessary circumstance. I think you might be sympathetic to this formulation. However, it seems we have become less averse to using violence to further our aims abroad (Iraq, etc.).

Richard

Governments exist precisely because there WAS agreement at some time that something should happen. There is ample evidence through the Continental Congress and it's failures that there was abundant support, enough to create our constitutional system, for government in principle and with it taxation of states if not individuals. There are general thresholds for community action in OUR system as follows:

System:Unanimity
Policy/Law:Majority/Supermajority
Representative:Plurality

They are intentionally descending because they denote order of importance to the sustainability of social contracts. Taxation might arguably belong at the system level but it resides at the policy/law level of our government and is determined by a majority of the representatives elected by a plurality in their respective districts. That’s perhaps why we find them so offensive.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

I'm not declaring a crisis of any kind. Just stating that there is an element of volunteerism in taxation, and also an element of theft. There are government services for which I will volunteer to pay and others for which I must be forced to pay. Your statements indicate that you believe the element of theft to be greater than the element of volunteerism and I tend to agree with you.

The idea presumes, of course, that there is such a thing as private property - and I concede that this is not at all certain. To remove the presumption of private property removes the element of theft - afterall, the government cannot steal what it already owns.

Those who deny the element of theft in taxation, deny also the existance of private property. And again, I cannot say for certain they are wrong. I like to believe they are wrong because I like to believe that I am free.

Boonton writes:

QUESTION: Suppose I know that France has a 25% tax on business profits. I'm presented with an opportunity to set up a small company in France which will yield $100,000 in profits. I do so and have to pay the French gov't $25,000.

Is this theft or simply the rules of the game that I consented to play? Suppose upon returning to the US someone hits me over the head and takes $25,000 cash from me. Is this really exactly the same as the $25K I paid the French gov't?

Boonton writes:
I'm not declaring a crisis of any kind. Just stating that there is an element of volunteerism in taxation, and also an element of theft. There are government services for which I will volunteer to pay and others for which I must be forced to pay. Your statements indicate that you believe the element of theft to be greater than the element of volunteerism and I tend to agree with you.

I don't know what you mean by this? Do you mean something like I pay a $0.05 per copy fee at the library and this is an example of a voluntary gov't service? Or do you mean that if I could be presented with a menu there might be some things I would choose to pay for (police, fire) but others I wouldn't?

Those who deny the element of theft in taxation, deny also the existance of private property. And again, I cannot say for certain they are wrong. I like to believe they are wrong because I like to believe that I am free.

I don't recall denying the existence of private property. Most property, however, has costs associated with it. I cannot own a horse without also having a bill for feed. If I do not feed the horse I will cease to own a live horse and own a dead one...which is considerably less valuable.

In this sense private property certainly exists but so do taxes as a cost which cannot easily be detached from private property.

Boonton writes:

The problem with the menu approach, BTW, is that there is no way to know how people would really behave. Suppose I could voluntarily 'opt out' of fire protection for a savings of $250 a year in taxes. Since the fire department will still come and put out fires in my neighbors houses (and to a degree they will have to still put out fires in my own house if such fire will threaten my neighbors property) am I really opting to not 'volunteer' to have fire protection or am I choosing to volunteer my neighbors wallets for my own protection?

Duane Gran writes:

What are the similarities and differences between state enforced redistribution and theft?

The similarity, which Conservatives and Libertarians fixate upon, is that your pocket book becomes lighter, be it through state taxation or being mugged on the street. The difference, as Liberals and most moderates point out, is that taxation is fairly predictable and stands a chance of directing the funds toward the common good, whereas common theft nearly always is spent ephemerally.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

1. The menu option. Even the most rabid libertarians will confess that some (perhaps many) government programs are in their best interests and will willingly pay those taxes (the element of volunteerism). And even the most rabid liberals will confess that they disagree with some programs (e.g., the war in Iraq), and would refuse to pay for it if they had the option (the element of theft). Again, I'm not proposing we do away with the current system - it works. Just pointing out that there are elements of both volunteerism and theft in the system, and that resistance to the element of theft is not immoral, nor should it be unexpected. By the way, this idea had its origin in being accused of immorality for not wanting to pay higher taxes one too many times.

2. Denying the existance of private property is simply a logical extension of denying the existance of the element of theft in taxation. Either the government is taking my property without my consent or it was never really my property to begin with. There is nothing in between.

Randy writes:

Imagine a rich man and a poor man. Imagine that the rich man gets the government to pass a law which results in the poor man being forced to pay money to the rich man. Does this constitute theft? What if the roles are reversed?

Randy writes:

Pure taxation is a group of guys pitching in for a pizza.

The trouble starts when; Somebody doesn't want pizza, or the big guy wants 2 slices, or somebody thinks he shouldn't have to pay. But most of all when the guys who want pizza decide there's something wrong with the guy who wants chicken, and decide they have a right to force the issue.

Boonton writes:
2. Denying the existance of private property is simply a logical extension of denying the existance of the element of theft in taxation. Either the government is taking my property without my consent or it was never really my property to begin with. There is nothing in between.

It may be an extension but it is hardly logical.

1. The menu option. Even the most rabid libertarians will confess that some (perhaps many) government programs are in their best interests and will willingly pay those taxes (the element of volunteerism). /blockquote>

Even more will discover it is better to free ride & 'opt out' while still enjoying the benefits, either directly or indirectly.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Arnold,
You play Politics with the use of the word 'redistribution'. It implies movement of advantage, as well as Cash. The theory of Taxes states certain Goods and Services are indivisible and no individual is capable of total provisions of these necessary Goods and Services. One must define the Advantage lost, before you can identify it with theft. lgl

Randy writes:

Lawrance,

I like your use of the phrase "necessary goods and services". Especially the word "necessary". Because that's pretty much the crux of the debate.

I also agree that use of the word "theft" is perhaps a bit strong. "Taking without consent" is more accurate. E.g., How did a small group of Democrats in the 1930's obtain the consent of hundreds of millions of persons not yet born?

Jim Wells writes:

Boonton,

Regarding your question re: investing in France, no the two scenarios are not exactly the same but both are theft.

QUESTION: Suppose I know that some of the people living in France regularly demand 25% of other people's business profits and back this demand up with the credible threat of force. I'm presented with an opportunity to set up a small company in France which will yield $100,000 in profits. I do so and have to pay the French money demanders $25,000.

Is this theft or simply the rules of the game that I consented to play? Would your answer be the same if the group of people demanding money referred to themselves as a government?

Boonton writes:
I also agree that use of the word "theft" is perhaps a bit strong. "Taking without consent" is more accurate. E.g., How did a small group of Democrats in the 1930's obtain the consent of hundreds of millions of persons not yet born?

Err they didn't. Did we stop having elections after 1935 or something?


Is this theft or simply the rules of the game that I consented to play? Would your answer be the same if the group of people demanding money referred to themselves as a government?

Does this group have a legal right to demand 25% of my profits running a business on their territory? If so then what right do I have to 'play the game' and then suddenly declare myself exempt from their demands? Is it theft if Microsoft demands that I pay them license fees for the copies of Office XP all my employees use? If I object they will respond that I should have thought of that when I opted to have my IT department put copies of Office on all my computers rather than use Open Office.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

You're right. There have been elections. And more and more people are voting for lower taxes. We are removing our consent for the current level of taxation. Not to mention that non-compliance is at an all time high.

I've never said the system doesn't work. Just that there is an element of theft (or non-consent if you prefer).

Boonton writes:

Randy,

Do you recognize a difference between non-consent and opposition? For example, recently there was an attempt to remove Eisner as CEO of Walt Disney by its shareholders. A vote was taken and while Eisner had a huge number of votes against him he was able to keep a majority of votes.

Many of the shareholders who voted no, I'm sure, consent to the process whereby a majority vote decides the issue yet they disagreed with the majority. So they 'consented' to the system even though they would have rathered the system made a different decision. Likewise there are many examples where one disagrees with a decision but consents to the overall system that produced it. Strong disagreement is not sufficient to indicate 'non-consent'.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

I "accept" the fact that the government is going to confiscate my money "without my consent", because I have insufficient power to do anything about it. That I do not take up arms against it indicates "acceptance", not "consent".

I "oppose" at every opportunity the fact that the government confiscates my money "without my consent". The fact that I do "oppose" does not change the fact that I do not "consent".

The concept of "implied consent" is an absurd rationalization on the part of those doing the confiscating. The British made the same mistake 200 some years ago - and paid dearly for it.

Boonton writes:

Here's another example, a baseball coach doesn't like a particular call by an umpire yet he consents to the process. In other words, he believes decisions should be made by umpires and not, say, 'instant voting' from a secure web site. In the military it is well known that you may disagree with orders yet you must obey them. An officer may disagree with an order but he agrees with the system because he wants to know that his orders will be followed when the time comes as well.

The fact that people may vote for tax relief does not indicate that the system is 'losing consent'. In fact, the system probably has as much consent as it ever did.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

Are you saying that because I've consented to allow the umpire to call the game in accordance with the rules that I have consented to allow the umpire to make up new rules as he sees fit?

As for the military, I served for 20 years in the USAF. I am indeed obligated to follow legal orders, as I agreed (consented) to do so in my oath of enlistment. I am also obligated to disobey illegal orders. Perhaps you think that living in the territory of the United States implies consent to be drafted, and once drafted, that the implied consent extends to obeying orders to rape and pillage? I think not.

Again, the idea that, because I consent to elements of a system, that I therefore consent to anything and everything the individuals temporarily in charge of that system choose to do, is an absurd rationalization.

But why is it so very important to convince me that I have somehow "consented" to all current and future taxation schemes? The answer seems obvious, the more I accept the idea that I have "consented", the more I will be willing to pay. The more I realize that I have merely "submitted", the less I will be willing to pay.

Once again, there is an element of consent (volunteerism) in taxation. The closer the tax code is to the purely voluntary end of the scale, the more likely that the implied consent argument will be effective. And as the tax code approaches the other end of the scale (pure theft), the less likely that the argument will be effective. Push too hard for "unlimited consent" and you risk losing "consent" entirely.

Boonton writes:

Are you saying that because I've consented to allow the umpire to call the game in accordance with the rules that I have consented to allow the umpire to make up new rules as he sees fit?

don't try to prove your argument by taking an anaology too far. You've implicitly consented to a system of a Constitutional Republic.

Once again, there is an element of consent (volunteerism) in taxation. The closer the tax code is to the purely voluntary end of the scale, the more likely that the implied consent argument will be effective. And as the tax code approaches the other end of the scale (pure theft), the less likely that the argument will be effective. Push too hard for "unlimited consent" and you risk losing "consent" entirely.

You are very unfocused on your idea of 'voluntary' and how it relates to the idea of theft. You seem to be saying that taxes are not theft if 100% of the population agrees with them...which is nonsense since 100% of any large population will never even agree that 2+2=4.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

Re; You've implicitly consented to a system of a Constitutional Republic

Maybe you have, but I haven't. I am a free man first, a family man second, and a citizen of the United States a distant third.

Re; You are very unfocused on your idea of 'voluntary' and how it relates to the idea of theft.

No I'm not. Its just that you have a stake in not accepting it. Your idea of "consent" supports unlimited taxation. Mine does not.

Boonton writes:
Maybe you have, but I haven't. I am a free man first, a family man second, and a citizen of the United States a distant third.

Ever get one of those 'we are changing your contract' things from a credit card company. If you read them they usually consist of some irrelevant change & then notification that you can decline to accept the new terms. However, if you decline the instant you make a single new purchase on the card will mean that you have changed your mind and accepted the new terms.

You do business in a jurisdiction that has been built up by a Republican form of gov't. You are implicitly consenting to those rules when you do so.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

This is a definitions game.

Consent;

1. To agree in opinion or sentiment; to be of the same mind; to accord; to concur.

2. To indicate or express a willingness; to yield to guidance, persuasion, or necessity; to give assent or approval; to comply.

I'm using definition one. I do not agree, I am not of the same mind, there is no accord, I do not concur.

But for the sake of closure, I can agree that you are correct by some parts of definition two. For example, I do yield to necessity, in that I am fully aware I can be sent to jail for not paying my taxes. Therefore, I do comply. I would also give such consent to a thief with a gun at my head.

Boonton writes:

Randy,

It's more subtle than that. Imagine you walk into a dinner and order a nice meal. At the end the check arrives for $15. You protest that you never consented to the menu prices! The owner informs you that by ordering you did infact consent.

Most taxes are on income, consumption (sales taxes) or ownership of property under a sovereignity. Since these activities are more or less voluntary you are free to work, consume and own property elsewhere. I might grant libertarians a little bit of merit when they protest that IRS rules make it very difficult to renounce US citizenship and become immune from income taxes earned abroad. However, for most people it is a better deal to do business in America with taxes than in third world nations without taxes.

Randy writes:

Okay Boonton,

Let's assume that we have all consented to pay whatever taxes the government has chosen to levy. Certainly then, we should be able to make paying taxes voluntary. If we have all consented, what need is there for the government to use force to collect?

Boonton writes:

What need is there for the dinner owner to force you to pay for the meal? You agreed to pay for it when you ordered it? Didn't you? So why not make actually paying it voluntary????

Randy writes:

Boonton,

You're saying that by living in the territory of the United States, that I have consented to taxation. This is incorrect under definition one. I do not "agree", and "agreement" is a requirement of definition one. Unless you can produce a paper showing that I have requested to be taxed, with my signature, then you are going to have to take my word that I have not done so.

Were you to say that by living in the territory of the United States, that I must submit to the power of the government and pay my taxes, or be put in jail, then you would be correct under definition two above. I do "consent" to pay taxes in order to avoid jail.

You say it isn't that simple. It is exactly that simple.

Boonton writes:

Randy,

I'm unaware of any taxes that are imposed on you simply for living in the US. For example, look at the homeless in the major cities. I doubt they pay any taxes at all...except maybe for sales taxes when they occassionally purchase things. The only tax that I'm aware of that is imposed on someone 'just for living' is a poll tax which is not imposed anywhere in the US that I'm aware of (or if it is it is trivial).

What you are really complaining about is taxes imposed on 'making a living' in the US. That appears to be defined as 'doing things I want to do but I will say it is a 'need''. In reality you may not have choosen to have been born in the US but you do have a choice whether or not to earn income in the US, to live in the US, to make purchases in the US or to own property in the US.

This may appear to be unfair at first glance but if you think about it you see how complicated the issue really is. For example, suppose you take a job at a medical device company. How much of that income is really 'yours' in the sense that the gov't's actions have nothing to do with it? If 40% of the company's income comes from Medicare/Medicaid what does that imply about your income? Suppose the company has lots of customers who don't pay so it has to use the court system to collect? Who is funding that? Suppose the company has expanded greatly by borrowing, which it could do easier because the Fed had recently cut interest rates and is otherwise doing an ok job of keeping the economy humming without inflation?

It's not so easy to simply declare your $50K a year salary to be independent of the gov't under which it is earned. What is clear, however, is that you had a choice whether or not to take that $50K a year job in the US under its tax laws and its system of representative gov't which you know can increase or decrease taxes or change them as it sees fit. Therein lies the consent.

For most people, the choice is so clear that it doesn't even feel like it is a choice. What other choice can there be if your options are $50K per year in the US with taxes or $10K in some third world nation without taxes (granted a few people are able to earn equal amounts abroad but this is rather rare...if you're smart enough to net $50K in Nigeria you are probably able to get $300K in the US...)

But just because the option of consenting to the US is 'too good to say no to' doesn't mean you don't have that choice. That's like saying you never consented to shop at Wal-Mart because other outlets are not as cheap or as easy to access.

Randy writes:

Boonton,

I admire your persistance :)

But do you honestly think you're going to convert me into someone who believes that because some taxes are good, therefore all taxes are good? - That because I agree with some that I must therefore agree with all? Be happy that I agree that some taxes are good. Most of the "theft" arguments I've heard make no such distinction.

Take my word for it. I think that some taxes are voluntary and others are theft. A great many people think the same way. And the higher you raise taxes, the more people will think as I do. Perception is everything.

Randy writes:

P.S Boonton,

Your last argument is very much the same as the alternative assumption stated in my first post.

"...that the state, being the source of all wealth, does not take private property when it taxes, but rather allows the servants of the state to keep an allowance as a reward for their service."

Again, I cannot truly argue with this. On close examination I must conclude that the power of the state has great control over my existance. You may very well be right. I prefer to think that I am a free man, but if I am not, then obviously the idea that the state is stealing from me is absurd.

Boonton writes:

But do you honestly think you're going to convert me into someone who believes that because some taxes are good, therefore all taxes are good? - That because I agree with some that I must therefore agree with all? Be happy that I agree that some taxes are good. Most of the "theft" arguments I've heard make no such distinction.

How is it that you think that saying a tax is not theft is the same as saying it is good? Like anything else taxes are complicated and it is perfectly possible for what was a good tax rate for 1995 is a bad one for 2005 and vice versa...just like the price in a store may be too high or too low even though it was fine yesterday.

Take my word for it. I think that some taxes are voluntary and others are theft. A great many people think the same way. And the higher you raise taxes, the more people will think as I do. Perception is everything.

I don't know anyone who thinks taxes are voluntary...whether they are hight or low. The problem here isn't that we disagree its that you've decided to redefine words that had perfectly good definitions and didn't even tell us what your new definition is. Hence we are going around in circles trying to figure out what you mean by voluntary (I think it means something you agree with).

Again, I cannot truly argue with this. On close examination I must conclude that the power of the state has great control over my existance.

Which is a distortion of what I wrote. I never wrote that the state is the source of all wealth. I wrote that you cannot seperate the influence of the state (good or bad) from your accumulation of wealth under a particular sovereignity. Suppose you are running a retail store & are renting from a landlord. Can you say the landlord has not effect on your sales? That your sales would be the same if you were selling from a carboard box or the trunk of your car? Does that mean the landlord creates your income? No but you cannot call the fact that he demands rent theft. What you can say is that maybe the landlord is charging too much for rent or too little (well if that was the case I don't think you'd call it to his attention!). If he is charging too much you cannot call it theft since you have the option to go elsewhere (or close up shop entirely). If you complain that you cannot get as good sales elsewhere then perhaps the rent is not as bad as you thought.

You may very well be right. I prefer to think that I am a free man, but if I am not, then obviously the idea that the state is stealing from me is absurd.

Indeed you are free. You are free, for example, to set up a business in France but isn't part of that freedom also accepting the fact that by doing so you are consenting to following the applicable French laws for doing business in their country?

Randy writes:

Boonton,

Please reread Arnold's original post - specifically item (2) regarding consent. My assumption is that Hume is using definition 1 (agreement), as am I. I make this assumption because for Hume to use definition 2 (submission), would totally destroy his argument.

Yes, by voluntary, I mean consent. And by consent I mean agreement.

Your assertion of implied consent is an absurdity in and of itself. Consent (agreement) is by definition a willful act of an individual. It simply cannot be implied. It can only be freely given. If I tell you that I do not consent (agree), then I do not, and that is all there is to it. The government can force me to consent (submit). Indeed it is quite possible for me to imply submission in a variety of ways. But agreement and submission have absolutely nothing in common.

You may have noticed that I have not responded to any of your examples. The reason is that they are all entirely beside the point. I could consent (agree) in each and every example you provide and still not consent (agree) to excessive taxation.

Question; Why does the law not allow a confession made under threat or use of torture? Answer; Because consent not freely given cannot be trusted. It is assumed by law to be a submission to power.

Randy writes:

P.S. Boonton,

Re; Freedom. So what you're saying is that I can be free somewhere else, just not here. Here I must submit to letting the government take whatever it wants. I don't see how that is any different from what I'm saying.

Boonton writes:

Please reread Arnold's original post - specifically item (2) regarding consent. My assumption is that Hume is using definition 1 (agreement), as am I. I make this assumption because for Hume to use definition 2 (submission), would totally destroy his argument.

Reread item #1 regarding right of possession. When you purchase a business in France are you buying something free of taxes or with taxes applicable to it? If the later then the taxes cannot logically be called theft.

Suppose France has designated a certain set of businesses as tax exempt (sort of like how municiple bonds are exempt from income taxes). You purchase two businesses in France. For one that is not tax exempt you pay the owner $100,000...for the other you pay the owner $150,000. Imagine all other relevant information is exactly the same (expected future revenue, costs etc.). The 'right of possession' was freely transferred to you two times. Yet what is it that you possess? In one case it is a business with taxes attached (as well as the uncertainity of future tax changes) and in another case it was one without taxes attached. What is that $50,000 premium you paid for the tax-free business? Was it theft? Who stole it? The owner of the original business? But you freely gave him the $50K premium? The gov't? But how could the gov't have stolen the $50K when only the owner got it???? *

In reality your purchase comes embedded with all probabilities associated with it. This means you pay more for good probabilities (value appreciation, future growth etc.) and less for bad probabilities (unfavorable tax changes, the chance for natural diaster etc.). Quite frankly for the person who purchased the $100K business to turn around and claim taxes are theft is an attempted theft in itself!

Your assertion of implied consent is an absurdity in and of itself. Consent (agreement) is by definition a willful act of an individual. It simply cannot be implied. It can only be freely given.

When you enter a diner and order dinner are you consenting to pay the bill at the end of your meal? In the example of France, is the French gov't in the habit of going overseas and forcing people to invest in domestic businesses or do people do that of their own free will?

You may have noticed that I have not responded to any of your examples. The reason is that they are all entirely beside the point. I could consent (agree) in each and every example you provide and still not consent (agree) to excessive taxation.

In other words you could consent to sell your goods out of the landlords store but not to pay the rent? Yes but life doesn't work like that. If that was your stand the landlord would be free to deny you access whether or not the rent he is demanding is excessive.


* Just like with 'risk free' gov't bonds, there is always a bit of political risk. The gov't may break its promise never to tax the 'exempt business'. The country might be invaded and the victor may not honor the old tax laws of the defeated country etc.

Boonton writes:

Re; Freedom. So what you're saying is that I can be free somewhere else, just not here. Here I must submit to letting the government take whatever it wants. I don't see how that is any different from what I'm saying.

You are free here. Only a Bart Simpson mentality, though, believes that freedom means the stuff on the shelves comes for free!

Randy writes:

Boonton,

Bart Simpson, huh :)

Dude, there are two basic sides of the taxation vs theft debate. One is that taxation is never theft. The other is that taxation is always theft. Your argument is the former, and you keep trying to portray my argument as the latter - which it is not. My argument is simply that both of these extremes are wrong. Sometimes taxation is not theft, and sometimes it is, and the dividing line is consent (agreement).

Your multitude of examples showing that sometimes there is agreement are irrelevant. I have already said that there is often agreement. I only disagree with your assertion that because there is sometimes agreement that therefore there is always agreement. That is simply and obviously not true. If it were true, the government would have no need to enforce tax compliance.

If you're still not getting it, try this example; Does your being a Democrat, presumably agreeing that higher taxes are good, imply that you consent to paying more taxes than are required of you by law? Or does it imply that you are willing to force others to pay more than they are currently required to pay by law? Don't you see that if the taxes are raised, that you and those like you will be paying by agreement, but that the others will be paying only by submission? Do you really not see the difference?

Boonton writes:
Dude, there are two basic sides of the taxation vs theft debate. One is that taxation is never theft. The other is that taxation is always theft.

This distinction is only worth making if it is useful. Is it in your analysis? You seem to mix up taxes that are too high with taxes that are 'theft'. Let's look at the complicated matrix this creates.

Tax Rates.....Randy's Theft Metric
High.........Theft.......Not Theft
Low..........Theft.......Not Theft

So we have four different types of taxes here. By adding to the complication have we added anything to our understanding? I don't see it. We can, perhaps, make this issue much more simple by just asking does the gov't have a right to tax in a particular case? If the answer is yes then it isn't theft if the answer is no then it is.

Your system, though, would appear to mean that we have to ask this question for every individual. Why stop with taxes? Is it theft of freedom if the gov't imposes a 55 mph speedlimit? How about 56? What about copyrights that expire 75 after the death of the author?

Randy writes:

Boonton,

Very good. Now we are on the same page. I never meant to do anything but show that there is an element of disagreement, submission, resentment, etc., which some refer to as theft, within taxation. I certainly am not stating or implying that some sort of system could or should be devised to always satisfy everyone completely. I am simply trying to define clearly what the situation really is.

Now the next time you hear someone complaining about taxes, you will understand that they are probably not complaining about all taxes, just some. You will also understand that their complaints are legitimate, just as your complaints would be legitimate if you didn't want to spend your tax dollars on the military (just an example).

Is this useful? Yes, I think it is. Especially if you are as tired of the polarization of the tax debate as I am. It is important that the extremists on the right understand that there is such a thing as good taxation. It is important that the extremists on the left understand that there is a limit to the taxation that people can withstand without resentment. The greater the polarization, the greater the liklihood that consent (agreement) will break down entirely. And that is no good for any of us.

I'm done here Boonton. Once again, I appreciate the debate. The last word is yours if you wish.

Boonton writes:

I'll never turn down the opportunity for the last word, even though we are probably the only people still reading this list! I think the differences revolve around legitimate taxes versus illegitimate ones and excessive taxes versus non-excessive ones.

A tax can be non-excessive...even very low but still be seen as illegitimate. The infamous 'tea tax' that spurred the Boston Tea Party was hardly very high & it was for what most would agree was a valid cause, defending the American colonies against French and Indian attacks. However the revolutionaries saw it as illegitimate because the colonies were given no proper representation in the English Parliament.

Today most people accept the legitimacy of most types of taxes that we have in place. The real question is one of rates. Most people will accept a sales tax as a legitimate method of taxation by a state, for example, but will balk at a rate of 10%. Libertarians & some others, however, may argue that any sales tax, no matter how low, is illegitimate.

IMO 'theft' should be confined to those taxes that one wants to argue are illegitimate. Not taxes that one thinks just happen to be too high.

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