Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Few Words About Everyone’s Favorite Subject

     I found this over at 90 Miles From Tyranny:

     It’s not perfectly correct, though the underlying sentiment is spot on. However, it makes a good introduction into the overall subject of taxation: why it’s done, what it’s supposed to fund, how it’s executed, and why Americans have come to hate even the mention of it.

1. The Why.

     The rationale for taxation is moderately complex, but comprehensible by anyone who can read English:

  1. There are things that must be done for the benefit of the entire polity.
  2. Those things must be paid for.
  3. However:
    • No one receives a sufficient individual benefit to volunteer to pay for them;
    • Anyone who avoids paying for them would get the benefit anyway.
  4. Therefore:
    • Payment must be made legally mandatory and enforced;
    • The government must determine the amount and perform collection and enforcement.

     Don’t yell at me. I didn’t come up with it. It’s the generally accepted rationale. It’s been the generally accepted rationale for centuries. It’s been called the “public goods” or “externalities” argument. It says nothing specific about what will be funded or how lavishly. Some fine minds, including those of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, have defended that rationale as inescapable, and have devoted their subsequent attention to the omitted specifics.

     From this point forward, remember that a “rationale” is something employed in the service of rationalization: i.e., composing a post hoc justification for something you’ve already decided to do – something you’re determined to do regardless of any and all other considerations.

2. The What.

     What specific undertakings, as referenced in Item #1 above, “must” be paid for but “justify” taxation by the criteria listed under Item #3?

     Today in the Land of the Formerly Free, there are innumerable such activities and projects. No living man could list them all. And – drumroll, please – if we omit those things under the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice, only a vanishingly small percentage of Americans benefit, directly or otherwise, from any particular one of them.

     However, in aggregate, it is arguable that for any particular American, there’s a measurable chance that one or more of those activities and projects does bring him some benefits. Possibly it’s even a better-than-even-money chance. And that is the version of the Washington Monument Defense that protects the tax system. “It’s good for everybody! What’s that you say? You’re against it anyway? Very well then; we’ll eliminate your slice.”

     Columnist Russell Baker pinned this back in the Sixties, when income tax reform was being hotly discussed. As he put it, everyone is in favor of simplifying the tax code...with the exception of the portion upon which your personal calculations for survival are based.

3. The How.

     Taxation in pre-Enlightenment societies was conducted by the undisguised use of armed force. Soldiers went door-to-door raking in the loot, skimming off some portion, and toting the rest of it back to the King or the local fief holder. Taxation in modern societies is largely deemed “voluntary.” In the American system, you fork it over through “withholding,” and possibly in an annual “adjustment,” because if you fudge your busybody neighbor might tattle on you, after which the IRS will send armed men to your door and haul you off to live in a reinforced concrete box guarded by other armed men, who will shoot you if you try to leave.

     (Why, yes: I did have to send an “adjustment” to Washington this year. A rather large one, at that. However did you guess?)

4. The Hatred.

     The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Even when you make a tax form out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a crook or a martyr. – Will Rogers

     America’s best beloved humorist has nailed it exactly. Everyone knows that taxation is excessive, that the burden is unequally distributed, and that special interests are cleaning up at our expense. Everyone knows that regardless of the legal and pseudo-ethical rationales taxation is indistinguishable from armed robbery. And everyone knows, especially between January 31 and April 15, that the great majority of us have become liars and fabulists in a despairing attempt to keep some of what we’ve earned.

     Why shouldn’t we hate it? It’s made us hate the sight of our pay stubs. It’s made us hate the nameless others who benefit from it. It’s made us hate a government that’s no more “of the people, for the people, and by the people” than any private-sector con job.

     Most terrifying of all, it’s made us hate ourselves.

     Our forebears failed to realize the danger. They were caught in the toils of envy, class animosities, and ersatz “progressivism,” as so many are even today. They failed to restrain the Omnipotent State when it was still within our power. Indeed, many of them cheered as they watched Leviathan burst its Constitutional chains.

     And here we are, in this year of Our Lord 2019, forking over ever more of our pittances to governments that do little more than fatten political insiders and ne’er-do-wells, and make us beg permission even to ply our various trades.

     Perhaps I’ll expand on this later. Just now it’s time for Mass.

1 comment:

Ragin' Dave said...

I would add that a hooker will give you fewer diseases. Or so I've read in books and such.