David R. Henderson  

Milton and Rose Friedman on High Taxation

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The old rules still apply (Wha... Even When More Isn't Merrier, ...

I have a special course I'm leading this quarter for students who did well in a previous course on Cost/Benefit Analysis. We work our way through articles--sometimes technical articles from economics journals and more often articles by economists in the more-popular literature. I thought it would be fun and enlightening to work our way through a modern classic, Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman. I hadn't read it cover to cover in over 30 years. I hadn't remembered how good it was.

In the next few days I'll quote passages from it. One passage caught my eye because I knew Milton pretty well and I always thought of him as someone who would advocate obeying even fairly bad laws. I don't know why I thought that: I never heard him say it.

Now I think he wouldn't have advocated obeying fairly bad laws. On what basis? This passage:

When the law interferes with people's pursuit of their own values, they will try to find a way around. They will evade the law, they will break the law, or they will leave the country. Few of us believe in a moral code that justifies forcing people to give up much of what they produce to finance payments to persons they do not know for purposes they may not approve of. When the law contradicts what most people regard as moral and proper,
they will break the law--whether the law is enacted in the name of a noble ideal such as equality or in the naked interest of one group at the expense of another. Only fear of punishment, not a sense of justice and morality, will lead people to obey the law.

Notice that Milton and Rose are simply stating facts. They don't come out advocating that people break the law. But it's hard to read this passage and not conclude that they would be very sympathetic to those who try to evade high taxation on their income.


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CATEGORIES: Taxation



COMMENTS (8 to date)
LD Bottorff writes:

I didn't remember them saying that, but it must have made an impression on me. I apply that philosophy to immigration. Our laws state that people cannot cross the border to get jobs that people are willing to pay them for. But those laws will not prevent workers from seeking work. The laws will not prevent parents from seeking better lives for their children. And it is not reasonable for us to expect them to.

Andrew_FL writes:

Evading paying the rates themselves isn't even illegal, the tax code itself provides for many ways of doing so. Mind you, there are limits to what you can achieve in that way.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Andrew_FL,
The usual distinction is that evasion is illegal and avoidance is completely legal.

MikeP writes:

LD Bottorff,

You can take Friedman's recognition of illegal immigration as not blameworthy as more than just an impression.

Excerpted from a lecture by Milton Friedman:

Look, for example, at the obvious, immediate, practical example of illegal Mexican immigration. Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal.
Thomas Sewell writes:

Would you blame a resident of Cuba, or or North Korea for doing what they can to escape the economic control of their government?

If not, then you may start seeing other less restrictive government taxation regimes as a matter of degree as compared to another moral plane entirely. It's an interesting spectrum and exercise in line drawing...

Shane L writes:

As it stands drugs like cocaine are illegal to sell, so the only people doing so are criminal gangs. When Americans buy cocaine they are not simply taking responsibility for their own bodies, they are funding brutal criminal gangs to murder and terrorise innocent people in places like Mexico.

Hence it seems important for Americans to obey the law here and never buy illicit drugs (unless they can be confident the drugs were grown in a friend's garden or something). They might argue that drug prohibitions should be lifted, but as long as such laws stand the purchase of drugs empowers mass-murderers.

That's just one example. I know those on the left who don't believe in property rights. Should they also abandon the law and squat or loot where they please? I think we may underrate the benefits of a law to which most people conform, however little they like it.

Andrew_FL writes:

@David R. Henderson-Right. Unfortunately most people use them interchangeably.

vikingvista writes:

For most citizens of the former Soviet Union, routine violation of state law was not just widely accepted and practiced, it was necessary for day-to-day survival. Contrary to causing chaos and violence in the streets, it is likely the only reason that society could function at all. I dare say Americans would do better with a similar irreverence toward the imposed laws of men.

Further, mankind would fare better if it were commonly accepted that the most that imposed laws of men deserve is to be ignored.

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