Re: `capitalist' character values

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Tue Jul 24 2001 - 07:05:24 MDT

On Tuesday, July 24, 2001 1:04 AM Russell Blackford
> Well, hold on, though. Taxation is not literally theft. Within the norms
> the legal system, taxation is justified by law. You may say that such laws
> are immoral or whatever, but the issue isn't whether tax is *actually*
> theft. It's not. The issue is surely whether such taking by the government
> is *morally equivalent* to theft, notwithstanding that it is underpinned
> legislation etc. I think you have to agree with me on this just as a
> of fact (if you don't, we probably can't take it much further). However,
> you'll probably think I'm nitpicking. I could understand if that were your
> response, but I'm not sure that it is just nitpicking. The fact is that
> decisions have been made through the legal system as to what is theft and
> what isn't and a lot of people would assume that there are pretty good
> reasons for the distinctions that the system makes.

Wading in to the middle of this one...

Legal is different from moral, but this does not speak to the issue. Theft
can only be defined when there is some level of property defined. Theft is
taking someone else's property without consent -- usually wittingly so,
e.g., when someone steals your car, knowing it belongs to someone (not
thinking it's just out there). Since inside Lockean or Randian and most
other theories of property rights or even more generally just theories of
property without necessarily rights, there is no need for a state to define
property -- something becomes property or the title to it can be transferred
without need of a state to define it as such -- then the state is not
necessary to define theft.

If you accept this, then it is possible for the state to steal. Since the
state does not define theft or property, there's the possibility that state
actions can conflict with property.

That many would prefer the legal definition -- because it makes life less
complicated, because they equate "legal" and "moral" or "law" with "right"
or "legal recognition" with "ownership," because they don't have an viable
alternative to it -- is no argument here. We could go over the extreme
examples that most people would agree where it's right to break the law, but
that would violate netiquette on the Nazis.:)

> Well, no, it isn't stolen money (see above). Again, what counts as
> "stealing" is defined by the norms of the legal system. The issue is
> those laws are open to moral criticism, whether having laws that allow for
> taxation is immoral, whether it is morally acceptable that the legal
> does *not* count taxation as theft. So far you haven't given me an
> as to why you consider these things to be the case. I can *think* of
> arguments, but I can't see anywhere where you put one.

This is another point. The law must be critiqued from some basis. From
that of economic efficiency, taxation distorts the economy. It must take
something away from what people would otherwise do, leading people to make
less efficient choices. (E.g., the whole industries of tax accountants, tax
lawyers, tax consultants, and of tax shelters exists merely to deal with
taxes. If there were no taxes, these efforts could be devoted to other
things. E.g., the whole industry of currying for government grants -- for
whatever reason -- exists merely to go after money taxes have taken from
some. If there were no taxes, these efforts could be devoted to making more
wealth instead of chasing after taken wealth. See, e.g., Larry Sechrest's
"Rand, Anarchy, and Taxes" in _The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies_ 1(1) as well
as the follow up discussion of the issue in 2(1) of that journal. See also
Sanford Ikeda's _Dynamics othe Mied Economy_ and Murray Rothbard's _Power
and Market_. The last book has a chapter devoted to taxation.)

>From that of individual freedom, taxation must necessarily restrict freedom,
since it reduces the taxpayer's choices. She must figure into projects she
would undertake -- if she has foresight -- that taxes will affect the
outcome -- either directly, as in a profits tax, or indirectly, through
others being taxed. Some projects might not even be undertaken simply
because the tax pushes them from being profitable to be only break even or
unprofitable -- from an ex ante (from beforehand) position. Some projects
thought to be profitable ex ante might be found to not be so ex post
(afterward) because some a tax makes them less so. (As happens to people
who earn more income and then get less total money back because they're
pushed into a new tax bracket.)

>From a social stability point of view, taxation reduces social coherence
because it separates people by force, into tax payers and tax payees. Some
benefit, however modestly or greatly, from the collection of taxes (e.g.,
actual tax collectors -- who's job it is, the aforementioned tax industry,
people who receive any wealth redistribution (including not only subsidies,
but government contracts), and those who indirectly benefit because, say,
their competitors are harmed more than they are by taxes). Some are harmed.
This creates or adds to antagonisms already existing in society. In time,
people come to see each other as predators or victims. (See part three of
Chris Sciabarra's _Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical_ for more on this form of
social conflict. See also his _Total Freedom_. His web site is at

> Yes, but it's "your logic". :-) I doubt that I could convince you that
> taxes are, or can be, morally permissible, but I'm just trying to
> why you are so sure they are not. I would think that you'd have to start
> with a theory about when something becomes your property in a sense that
> precedes the norms of the legal system (after all, those same norms allow
> for taxes (!!!), so you have to rely on something deeper).

See above. Remember, too, that while we live in a society with both
government and property, this does not mean that one is necessitated by the
other. We also live in society with food and government, yet no one would
argue, I hope, that government is necessary in order for us to have food.
Also, Locke's, Rand's, Rothbard's, and many other theories of property have
no need for government to define property as property. So, it's at least
theoretically possible to split the two.

You might also want to read Robert C. Ellickson's _Order Without Law: How
Neighbors Settle Disputes_ for some historical examples of how people deal
with property in the absence of government.

Finally, the legal norms for property in the US, at least, came from earlier
social customs, not earlier laws. After all, the government could not,
initially, just insert itself into the process as naked aggression but had
to legitimize itself. (Surely, some governments have ruled through plain
old naked aggression, but this does not make for a long rule. Nor would it
go down well in more civilized areas.)

> And do you say
> there can never be a civic *responsibility* to give up some of your
> (as defined) to contribute to the infrastructure of the society as a whole
> or to care for people in need?

I think you're missing the point here. Let's say there is such a
responsibility, it would still be an individual one and not one for some
agency to force on individuals. Nor would such an agency have any more
knowledge or incentive to get it right -- to be sure that taxes actual go
toward the right projects or the right people in need. In fact, once such
an agency had an individual at its mercy, the only limit would be not
whether it actually helped people out but how much could it extract before
they rebelled. History seems to show us this is what happens.

As for social infrastructure and charity, it remains to be proven that
government provides these better than people would voluntarily, e.g., in a
free market. I've already cited sources on private road provision. (See
Daniel Klein's papers on the subject at You have to ask yourself,
how did these things happen before the government took them over?

> Do you say that there are never any values
> that can override your right to hang on to your property, no matter what
> moral catastrophe may be involved (you gave an example of someone about to
> physically melt down with a new form of cancer not having any moral claim
> over you)?

This would still be a personal and individual matter. How come people
naturally help out others in need? How do parents put their kids through
college? Why do some people give money to the homeless? Etc. Bringing the
government into the process does not guarantee the outcome you want.

Okay, I'm going to do my best to stay off this thread...:/


Daniel Ust

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