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Are taxes theft (and so what if they are)

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Wheylous replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:09 AM

First of all, at the very least half the population has this same concern (assuming a 50/50 Dem/Rep split with the Dems being the good guys). And the split crosses all income brackets, so it's not like only the poor care.

Hence, half the nation cares about the poor. Why steal property from people when you have half the nation willing to help voluntarily, with the funds to back it?

Furthermore, let's extend your train of thought - what if to save a life you had to rape someone? Would it be justified then? What if absolutely the only way you could save a poor person from starvation is to rape a 5 year old girl. Would you consider that "justified"? After all, you've only violated her right to her body - you haven't even taken anything from her!

This points to the larger problem of trying to reconcile "rights" - interpersonal utility comparisons do not make any sense. You cannot show that society is better off by violating the right of a person to satisfy the want of another.

Our proposal is simple - Let every man keep his own production and any contractual transfers he receives. You want to help the poor? Then by all means - help them. But do it without violating people's rights.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:27 AM

Welcome to the forum, Buzz Killington.

Buzz Killington:
Well, it's true. Taxation is theft. Taxation is robbery. Taxation is the taking of another person's property without their consent. But is that ALWAYS wrong?

I think that's an inaccurate question to ask. "Right" and "wrong" aren't inherent properties that we observe in things. They're value judgements that we impute to things.

Anarcho-capitalists don't think that taking another person's property without his consent is always wrong. They just use a very different set of justifications for it from that which the government uses. To be more specific, anarcho-capitalists' set of justifications is much more limited than the government's set.

Buzz Killington:
Consider welfare. Consider food stamps. Consider medicare and medicaid. Many people currently LIVE off these programs because they cannot support themselves. Is it really that wrong to highly tax people who are making 6-7 figures a year because it's "theft"? Those rich people are not starving, THEY'RE not struggling to survive, yet somehow this redistribution of wealth is considered such an absolute evil by AnCaps and Libertarians.

Since there's no real right or wrong (see above), I can only offer my own judgement. As long as the people making 6-7 figures a year are doing so without aggressing against anyone, then I think any amount of tax imposed on them is theft and thus wrong.

Buzz Killington:
Why is theft ALWAYS wrong?

Anarcho-capitalists think that theft is always wrong because they think it's a form of aggression.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:34 AM

Buzz Killington:
Actually, I sort of am. Where do you derive these "rights"? How did you reach the conclusion that people have these "rights"? What if I'm not a libertarian, why should I believe in these "rights"?

I personally derive certain rights from the self-ownership and non-aggression principles. However, those are first principles, or premises. No one is obligated to believe in those principles (i.e. assume their validity). Just as there is no "correct" price for something, so there is no "correct" moral value for something. As value judgements, those things are subjective.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:35 AM

Buzz Killington:
True. If we have a society wherein everyone is held to the exact same standards as the Government complete chaos would transpire (which is why this idea of rights must be instilled in the masses).

With all due respect, I can't help but wonder whether you're implicitly advocating such a double-standard between the government and "the masses".

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:36 AM

Buzz Killington:
What if I prevent that starving child from dying with that fruit? All I've took is ONE fruit from a stand of dozens and dozens of fruit, and I've saved a life.

I would say that you're nevertheless liable to compensate the fruit-stand operator for the fruit that you stole from him.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:40 AM

gamma_rat:
If I have been a professional car thief for years, then I would literally live off the proceeds of my crimes.  Maybe I have a wife or girlfriend and kids, and they live off my ill-gotten proceeds too.  People who drive cars aren't typically in desperate poverty, such that they're struggling to survive...  Maybe I make a point of stealing nice cars, which are almost certainly insured against theft.  Drivers of such cars are not struggling to survive.

What's wrong with being a professional car thief?

I think there are two aspects to consider. One is outlined in Frederic Bastiat's parable of the broken window. The other is what I talked about earlier in the thread - the fact that moral value, like all value, is subjective. So there's nothing inherently wrong with being a professional car thief - but there's nothing inherently right about being one, either.

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Clayton replied on Wed, Apr 4 2012 10:42 AM

+1 MaikU

Wheylous, I hereby confer upon you the Bastiat Award - this award goes to anyone that I deem to have channeled, if only for a moment, the spirit of Frederic Bastiat.

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Buzz Killington:

Taxation is inefficient, and involuntary -- it has bad consequences and violates what many libertarians believe to be natural rights.  By any libertarian ethical standard, its "wrong."  I don't know what more you want.  It seems like you're saying "sure, but whats wrong with bad consequences and rights violations?"

Actually, I sort of am. Where do you derive these "rights"? How did you reach the conclusion that people have these "rights"? What if I'm not a libertarian, why should I believe in these "rights"?

 

Do people just hand over whatever collectivists/socialists want from them? So what if you believe that the fruits of other peoples labor belong to you, does the laboreres in question agree with you?

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Buzz Killington:

You could certainly say that stealing an apple from a fruit stand in order to give it to some starving child is morally good.  I would not nessarily agree with that statement.  But to say that it is justified is to misunderstand what justice is.  By stealing the apple, you have taken something to which you had no legitimate claim - you were in the wrong.  The fruit vendor has the legitimate claim.  Stealing the apple would be an unjustified action, even if your end goal is meant to be honorable.  But here's the thing, the fruit vendor has a tort against you now.  You stole from him, and now he has a dispute with you.

What if I prevent that starving child from dying with that fruit? All I've took is ONE fruit from a stand of dozens and dozens of fruit, and I've saved a life.

 

Is it just that one time/fruit, or are you going to systematically redistribute all the produced goods in the society?

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Buzz Killington:

If it is good my must it be coerced?

Perhaps because the possessor of that money is too greedy to give it away?

 

 

How has the rich person gotten the money, through redistribution in a regulated fiat-economy ets. or through homesteading etc

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Andris Birkmanis:
If I understood you correctly, your point is that the structure of capital that supports luxury watches is much smaller than that supporting potatoes. Fine.

First, it only affects the degree but not the principle - the increased spending on potatoes in long term increases investment and raises the supply curve (and not only the supply at the current price).

Second, the watchmaker getting less money affects other industries, as well - because the watchmaker now spends less on clothes, transportation, food, etc. And the owners of those business now spend less, too. So profits in the potatoes industry grow a bit, while profits in other industries shrink a bit - and not all of these other industries have such a shallow capital structure as watchmaking (assuming it is in fact shallow), so it is possible to bid tractors, oil, etc. away from them.

Exactly. The rich, almost by definition, spend their money on goods that require a smaller structure of capital. in other words, tax revenue has declining utility as it comes from richer people. This is why it's not possible to tax our way out of the budget deficit or to make health care any more abundant by just taxing the rich enough. Along with the economic distortion, it may well turn out that redistributionism is counter-productive even if judged in a purely utilitarian way. The moral argument isn't really necessary.

To quickly respond to your points. The first one: Yes, but the supply curve of potatoes can only be raised by additional resources. Designer watches will likely stil be profitable if they cost half or a third as much, so the same amount of resources goes into producing them. And if few resources are released by taxing the rich, then the supply of potatoes is not influenced very much.

The second one: As the watchmaker spends less, the potato farmer can spend more. They cancel each others out.

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, Apr 5 2012 12:04 PM

Wrong to whom?

Taxation will always be considered wrong to libertarians because it violates what they believe to be fundamental human rights.

The real question is: do libertarian values matter to you?

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 5 2012 1:09 PM

@bloomj31: Do you live in the Northwest?

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If I remember correctly, bloomj31 believes in might makes right.

 

To paraphrase Marc Faber: We're all doomed, but that doesn't mean that we can't make money in the process.
Rabbi Lapin: "Let's make bricks!"
Stephan Kinsella: "Say you and I both want to make a German chocolate cake."

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No I live in the South.  

And I believe in a version of might makes right.  

EDIT:  But it really doesn't matter what I believe in I was just trying to help the OP understand who he/she was talking to in case he/she didn't already know.

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bloomj31:
No I live in the South.  

And I believe in a version of might makes right.  

EDIT:  But it really doesn't matter what I believe in I was just trying to help the OP understand who he/she was talking to in case he/she didn't already know.

What "version" is that?

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Something like this:

"… consider an ethic according to which there are no rights at all; everyone is morally free to coerce everyone else whenever he can get away with it, but many people succeed in defending themselves well enough so that they control much of their own [property]." 

The way I think of it is "might makes possible."  Or "might makes relevant."

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 5 2012 3:43 PM

- David Friedman ;-)

whenever he can get away with it

I think the importance of this phrase is easily overlooked - clearly, there is something restraining the coercive impulse and it is that restraint - whatever you want to call it... morality, law, decency, whatever - that is responsible for social order.

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Yeah I got that from your paper.  I very much enjoyed it.

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bloomj31:
Something like this:

"… consider an ethic according to which there are no rights at all; everyone is morally free to coerce everyone else whenever he can get away with it, but many people succeed in defending themselves well enough so that they control much of their own [property]." 

The way I think of it is "might makes possible."  Or "might makes relevant."

Why would anyone defend himself if he thought that everyone is morally free to coerce everyone else whenever he can get away with it? This kind of "ethic" leads directly to the Hobbesian notion of "the war of all against all". As far as I can tell, that actually isn't human nature.

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Autolykos:

Why would anyone defend himself if he thought that everyone is morally free to coerce everyone else whenever he can get away with it? This kind of "ethic" leads directly to the Hobbesian notion of "the war of all against all". As far as I can tell, that actually isn't human nature.

I think he means that you are morally free to attack me and I am morally free to defend against you.  I don't agree with this position because it has nothing to do with morality.  It doesn't really describe morality so much as it describes capabilities of people.

I also agree that it is not human nature.  Obviously, there are people who aggress against others when they can get away with it, as well as even when they cannot.  But there are far more people who prefer to get along than criminals.

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gotlucky:
I think he means that you are morally free to attack me and I am morally free to defend against you.

On second thought, I think you're right. After all, aggression and defense are both forms of coercion (at least how I define it). So I stand corrected. smiley

I agree with the rest of your post.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 5 2012 5:03 PM

It doesn't really describe morality so much as it describes capabilities of people.

I also agree that it is not human nature.

yes

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I do not pretend to know what human nature actually is.  I know what I perceive it to be.  

I did not intend to derail this thread.

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I don't perceive human nature as Hobbesian. And I have no idea why you apparently do.

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I'm not sure that I perceive it as Hobbesian.

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And I believe in a version of might makes right.

 Everybody does.  Mises, Lachmann, Hayek or whomever you want to pick knows this.  This is no reason not to consider the proposition of anarchy if all we are looking at is the nature of grammer, the imperative to act, utility functions, and what the nature of subsidy is.

 

We could say in a certain sense we are always in a state of "anarchy", and all we are doing is looking for grammer errors along the way.

This is kind of the reason why I think there are 2 main reasons "right liberterians anarchists" will never be reconcilled with "left libertarian anarchists".

1) We (right libs) adopt the language of "left libs" as it is more mainstream (rights, anarchy, etc) and hence more intuitive to grasp on to at first - which causes all types of confusion with people and within ourselves.

2) What we (right libs) really are talking about is probably something closer to Egoism/ subjectivism as it manifests in obvious reality when we say "anarchism"; a leftist is actually talking about some abstract form of government and aesthetics that don't make sense as a "thing in itself" (hence a left wingers obsession with justice, a certain kind of utilitarianism, rights, maybe even "science", etc in the abstract) - rather than actual factual affirmation of human action and it's consequences (the market process - not the market as a thing).

So when you say "might makes relevant" we could just say it is a tautological fact in the social sciences,that asocial behavior is irrelevant / weak behavior - no matter what - "social behavior" must be relevant / correct. 

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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Esuric replied on Thu, Apr 5 2012 9:10 PM

  Consider food stamps. Consider medicare and medicaid. Many people currently LIVE off these programs because they cannot support themselves.

The problem with theft, at least in my opinion, is not that it is immoral but rather that is extremely inefficient (some would claim that it is immoral precisely because it is so inefficient). The two social welfare programs you cite, namely medicare and medicaid, perfectly highlight this fact.

Neither medicare nor medicaid have made healthcare more affordable, nor have they made the goods and services produced by this industry any better. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Both have directly contributed to the rapid acceleration of healthcare prices over the last 6-7 decades. Additionally, both programs literally have trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities and will inevitably cause some sort of fiscal catastrophe in the (near) future. The fact that individuals have become dependent on such inefficient programs is not sufficient justification for the continuation of their existence. 

These sort of programs are entirely redistributive as opposed to productive, and because they are coercive, they yield negative externalities/create an incentive structure which actually limits productive activity rather than promote it. The government simply lacks the mechanisms required for efficient economic calculation and coordination. So again, most individuals oppose this sort of social engineering on both moral and scientific grounds.

"If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion."

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hashem replied on Thu, Apr 5 2012 9:43 PM

Buzz Killington:
Many people currently LIVE off these programs because they cannot support themselves.

That is why theft is wrong. Consider a rephrasing: Many people cannot support themselves because a system based on theft is currently destroying LIVES.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect. —Mark Twain
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bloomj31:
I'm not sure that I perceive it as Hobbesian.

Are you sure whether you perceive it as anything? If so, what exactly do you perceive it as?

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autolykos:
Are you sure whether you perceive it as anything? If so, what exactly do you perceive it as?

This is most certainly a subject best left for another thread.  

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I'd be happy to start a new thread, but I'd call it "BloomJ31's Perception of Human Nature" or something similar. Are you okay with that?

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tunk replied on Fri, Apr 6 2012 2:12 PM

I think most libertarians would maintain that by entering a store, you agree to pay for any items you take from the shelves. What would you all say to someone who says that, similarly, by living within the territory of the state, you consent to paying for the services which the state renders unto you? As long as the state makes  it clear that you must pay up or else be sent to jail, what makes it different from any other voluntary association - a country club, insurance company, etc. - that demands service fees?

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I'd say that means the state owns my land and I don't. But the state says I own my land, so...

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Andris Birkmanis:
EmperorNero:
Andris Birkmanis:
EmperorNero:
So there aren't more goods available for the "poor" if we get more money from the rich. All this does is inflating the price of goods which they would have had anyways.

Care to explain? I would expect the poor to bid some goods away from the rich using additional money.

Say a rich person would have bought a luxury watch for 1 million. Now half of that million is expropriated by the state to buy food for the poor, how many more potatoes for poor people are available?

Sure, very short term consequence is just higher prices for potatoes, but in a bit longer term increased profits in potatoes industry will lead to more investment in this industry, leading to growing supply of potatoes. While the opposite happens to the luxury watch industry.

EDIT: so, in effect, bidding on the consumption goods changes the whole structure of capital to better acommodate the needs of poor.

But notice how this completely changes the argument. From "welfare creates a free lunch out of thin air" to "socialism gears production to better accommodate the needs of the poor". The latter argument is much weaker and can easily be refuted by looking at history or the world. It's just not the case that free market economies allocate huge chunks of their GDP to producing luxuries for the rich. Actually the opposite is the case; capitalist production is geared towards mass-producing cheap goods for the masses first.

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