The Heart of Progressive Liberalism

“I prefer the government to take less from me. I also prefer the government to take less from you.”

I’d like to take some time to respond to a few recent reader comments. I’ve never done this before, but then again I don’t really get all that many comments. Because of the length of my rebuttal to these comments I felt that it would be better to create a new post rather than cram a book into the comments section. First let me say that I have sincerely appreciated the comments I have received. I enjoy the debate. I have especially enjoyed the back and forth with the particular commenter to whom I am preparing these replies.

Comment # 1

“Some free, autonomous, adult, “self-owned” individuals banded together for their mutual defense and their mutual benefit, and negotiated among themselves an explicit, written agreement, binding themselves and their posterity to the creation of a nation.”

Lysander Spooner addressed this assertion far better than I could hope to. The following is a rather large, but extremely persuasive rebuttal from the essay “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority” by Lysander Spooner.

“The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. [This essay was written in 1869.] And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. and the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but “the people” THEN existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves.

“We, the people of the United States (that is, the people THEN EXISTING in the United States), in order to form a more perfect union, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves AND OUR POSTERITY, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

“It is plain, in the first place, that this language, AS AN AGREEMENT, purports to be only what it at most really was, viz., a contract between the people then existing; and, of necessity, binding, as a contract, only upon those then existing. In the second place, the language neither expresses nor implies that they had any right or power, to bind their “posterity” to live under it. It does not say that their “posterity” will, shall, or must live under it. It only says, in effect, that their hopes and motives in adopting it were that it might prove useful to their posterity, as well as to themselves, by promoting their union, safety, tranquility, liberty, etc.

“Suppose an agreement were entered into, in this form:

“We, the people of Boston, agree to maintain a fort on Governor’s Island, to protect ourselves and our posterity against invasion.

“This agreement, as an agreement, would clearly bind nobody but the people then existing. Secondly, it would assert no right, power, or disposition, on their part, to compel their “posterity” to maintain such a fort. It would only indicate that the supposed welfare of their posterity was one of the motives that induced the original parties to enter into the agreement.

“When a man says he is building a house for himself and his posterity, he does not mean to be understood as saying that he has any thought of binding them, nor is it to be inferred that he is so foolish as to imagine that he has any right or power to bind them, to live in it. So far as they are concerned, he only means to be understood as saying that his hopes and motives, in building it, are that they, or at least some of them, may find it for their happiness to live in it.

“So when a man says he is planting a tree for himself and his posterity, he does not mean to be understood as saying that he has any thought of compelling them, nor is it to be inferred that he is such a simpleton as to imagine that he has any right or power to compel them, to eat the fruit. So far as they are concerned, he only means to say that his hopes and motives, in planting the tree, are that its fruit may be agreeable to them.

“So it was with those who originally adopted the Constitution. Whatever may have been their personal intentions, the legal meaning of their language, so far as their “posterity” was concerned, simply was, that their hopes and motives, in entering into the agreement, were that it might prove useful and acceptable to their posterity; that it might promote their union, safety, tranquility, and welfare; and that it might tend “to secure to them the blessings of liberty.”

Comment # 2

“I don’t use the power of the state. The state is us working together for our mutual benefit. We gave the power to tax to Congress through the contract and later, by our explicit agreement, added the income tax in the 16th Amendment.”

In order to bring clarity to this popular belief, I call on Murray Rothbard’s “Anatomy of the State: What the State is Not.” Again, I couldn’t say it better, so why try.

“With the rise of democracy, the identification of the State with society has been redoubled, until it is common to hear sentiments expressed which violate virtually every tenet of reason and common sense such as, “we are the government.” The useful collective term “we” has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life. If “we are the government,” then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical but also “voluntary” on the part of the individual concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that “we owe it to ourselves”; if the government conscripts a man, or throws him into jail for dissident opinion, then he is “doing it to himself” and, therefore, nothing untoward has occurred. One would not think it necessary to belabor this point, and yet the overwhelming bulk of the people hold this fallacy to a greater or lesser degree.

“We must, therefore, emphasize that “we” are not the government; the government is not “us.” The government does not in any accurate sense “represent” the majority of the people. But, even if it did, even if 70 percent of the people decided to murder the remaining 30 percent, this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority. No organicist metaphor, no irrelevant bromide that “we are all part of one another,” must be permitted to obscure this basic fact.

“If, then, the State is not “us,” if it is not “the human family” getting together to decide mutual problems, if it is not a lodge meeting or country club, what is it? Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. [emphasis added]

Comment #3

“And the tax evader may disagree with a law to pay for government services through taxes, yet the rest of us, to secure our right to pay only our share of the costs and not his, will also enforce this rule.”

I’ll shoulder the burden of rebutting this comment on my own. By using direct quotes I will do my best to avoid putting up a strawman to burn, and address the notions expressed  in direct a manor, giving all care to meet the apposing view on it’s surest footing, at it’s sharpest edge, and on it’s most balanced approach.

Let me begin by asking a few questions of my commenter. The answers given are taken directly from this blog’s comments in the course of dialog.

Q. Does the government require you to pay more taxes because some people pay less then their fair share or in some cases no taxes at all?
A. “The tax evader who fails to pay his fair share of the cost of public services is an aggressor against those honest taxpayers who he forces to pay his share in addition to their own.”

Q. Do you prefer lower taxes? See Comment # 3
A. “[Yes. I believe I have the] right to pay only [my] share of the cost of government services.”

Let’s boil these comments down to their essence.

“I prefer the government to tax me less and other people more.”

Bare in mind here that the commenter understands that failing to comply with the State’s demand for tax dollars results in punishment.

“I am morally and ethically obligated to pay my taxes. And I am also legally obligated. But it is not the threat of penalty that makes me pay my taxes.”

So the threat of penalty does exist, and knowing that, the commenter prefers a situation where others are threatened and coerced by the State to pay more than they do so that he might pay less for the government services he so deeply cherishes.

Seriously, how could one misidentify the aggressor with greater error? On one hand there are people who demand money from you and threaten to put you in a cage if you don’t comply. But this is not the enemy? This is not the aggressor? No.

My outlook on taxation is quite different. It goes something like this:

“I prefer the government to take less from me. I also prefer the government to take less from you. Taxation is theft.”

The commenter is convinced that the very people who, in the name of morality and justice for all mankind, demand that the State take less from ALL are the evil, unethical, and immoral villains.  How dare those people say all aggression is illegitimate.

While it may be true that “good and honest men will often disagree as to which are the best laws,” when it comes to taxation, only one side of the issue has a moral foot to stand on.

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15 thoughts on “The Heart of Progressive Liberalism

  1. 1. If you take Lysander’s comments literally, the United States of America would have melted away as those who ratified it died off. That does not appear to be the case. Therefore we may conclude that Spooner was mistaken. In fact, Spooner’s argument may be used to dismiss Spooner himself, since he too has passed. But, unfortunately, that too would be a false argument.

    The institutions created by the Constitution continue to exist, even today. People, like me, go to the polls to elect representatives who sit in Congress to consider and pass the rules that secure our rights (such as the right to affordable health insurance, see F. A. Hayek, “The Road to Serfdom”, chapter 9). And we elect a president every four years, as per the contract.

    And slavery was abolished by an amendment to the contract. And the right to participate equally was extended to all races and both genders by amendments to the contract.

    So it is specious to argue that the phrase “to ourselves and our Posterity” is somehow meaningless and that the Constitution is not a contract between all of us today as much as it was when it was ratified.

    I have but a brief quote from Jefferson for you, “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted”. That answers the question, “why government?” Government is the practical tool through which we reach agreements as to what rights we will respect and protect for each other. And this agreement distinguishes practical rights from rhetorical rights.

    2. Murray Rothbard’s specious rhetoric also fails as an “argument”. His straw man is this, ‘If “we are the government,” then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical but also “voluntary” on the part of the individual concerned.’ Really?

    There is nothing in our Constitution that suggests the majority is “just”. In fact, we have a Bill of Rights, a bicameral legislature, and limited tenures in office which all make the opposite presumption, that the majority needs to be held in check to protect the rights of the individual.

    And Murray’s assertion that “the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion” is nothing more than a BS assertion.

    Our nation and our states exist by our mutual agreement witnessed by written contracts which enable us to work together for our mutual benefit while restricting our ability to infringe the rights we agree to protect.

    Each adult gets but one vote in an election. And, as Mitt Romney demonstrated, no amount of wealth can purchase that vote.

    3. And so we come to you, who prefers to remain anonymous. Which is probably just as well if you are going to misconstrue my words into “I prefer the government to tax me less and other people more”.

    What I have said is that everyone is morally, ethically, and legally obligated to pay their fair share of the costs of government services. You, I, and our representatives in Congress may debate how we will determine what is fair (and they continually do). But once it is decided then you and I have the same obligation to each other to pay what we each owe.

    The tax evader, who makes it necessary for others to pay his share as well as his own, is ethically equivalent to the thief.

    What you have failed to do is to prove there is any ethical distinction between the two. Both steal the property of others. And both may be required by the force of law to return what was stolen.

    And, I don’t think that arguing that the law must be invalid because “government is invalid” and you “never signed the agreement”, etc. or any other elaborate rationalization will win the thief (or the tax evader) his freedom from the jailor.

  2. “What I have said is that everyone is morally, ethically, and legally obligated to pay their fair share of the costs of government services. You, I, and our representatives in Congress may debate how we will determine what is fair (and they continually do). But once it is decided then you and I have the same obligation to each other to pay what we each owe.

    The tax evader, who makes it necessary for others to pay his share as well as his own, is ethically equivalent to the thief.”

    Right. That’s what I said you said. You want the government to force people who pay nothing to pay more then they do now, so you will be able to pay less than you do now.

    Still think I’m twisting your words?

    Frankly, I find your position disgusting and immoral. You can dance around the reality of the situation all day. You are a statist.

  3. And he throws up his hands and resorts to name-calling. I understand you’ve invested a lot in your point of view and that it may not be possible for you to confront the errors in your belief system. Sorry if I caused you any discomfort, but you did ask for comments, and I do try to provide the truth as best I can. What you do with it is up to you.

  4. It’s a simple question Marvin. I understand that you’re hesitant to state your position in absolute terms. You’d much rather avoid this. But it should be very easy to answer.

  5. “Do you prefer a government who demands more or a government who demands less of your money?”

    I prefer a government that raises sufficient tax revenue to pay it’s bills. I’m a deficit hawk, and would like a balanced budget this year rather than ten years down the way.

    As to how the revenue is raised, I believe the income tax is the fairest tax system. It can never be an excessive burden on anyone because it is only a portion of new income. And it is reasonable for those of us who have benefitted most from living in America should also pay the most for its maintenance.

    Any other questions?

  6. I want you to be able to keep more of what you earn Marvin. I think you deserve it. In fact I think you deserve to decide what you do with all your money. I’m sorry if you think that makes me a bad person. How you can’t see that this is the only moral position is beyond me.

  7. “Do you favor a government who taxes you more or less?”

    The only answer an honest person can give is that he wishes to be taxed exactly his fair share. To pay less is to free-load off of others. To pay more is to be taken advantage of.

    Did you mean to ask instead whether I wished government to spend less or more? In that case I want to spend no more than is necessary to effectively and efficiently accomplish each specific public interest that is being address. I don’t want my money to be wasted. And it would be criminal to spend it on matters of private interest.

  8. “I want you to be able to keep more of what you earn Marvin. I think you deserve it. In fact I think you deserve to decide what you do with all your money. I’m sorry if you think that makes me a bad person. How you can’t see that this is the only moral position is beyond me.”

    But I DID decide. I’m an adult. And I had my say (a) when I voted for them and (b) whenever I wrote to them with my opinions.

    There are some things that I want done which I cannot do myself. I can’t build roads and bridges, or run schools, or practice law (well, perhaps I could do any of those things, but not all of them).

    So I helped elect some people to work on this matters of common interest. If they don’t do a good job, I can elect someone else next time.

    It’s called a division of labor. By having doctors do the medicine, and representatives work on the laws, and programmers like me create the software, we can all be a little more expert at what we do, which should result in more efficiency at each thing we do.

    What is your alternative?

  9. Me: “Do you favor a government who taxes you more or less?”

    You: “The only answer an honest person can give is that he wishes to be taxed exactly his fair share….To pay more is to be taken advantage of.”

    So you feel as if you have been taken advantage of Marvin? What does it mean to be taken advantage of? What leads to a person feeling as if they have been victimized?

    Obviously, one who is at liberty to give only what they will to give, and never more, will not experience the pain and frustration of one who has been coerced into giving beyond what they desire. You claim that you give entirely of your own free will, yet you are being taken advantage of? That cannot be. You are either not a victim as you claim, or you do not give all that you give of your own free will and indeed you are a victim. In the case of the latter, what you give above and beyond what you deem to be your fair share can only be attributed to coercion. It is not logical for one who truly gives freely to feel like a victim as there is no one to blame for a less than satisfactory state of affairs but oneself. Can one victimize oneself? Can one take advantage of oneself?

    It has been your contention here, whether you are ready to fess up to it or not, that when someone refuses to kowtow to a authoritarian entity; an entity which threatens some violence against their person or property if they do not do what is demanded, all others subject to the same threatening entity who do acquiesce will likely be victimized to a greater extent than would be the case if everyone were content to be victimized equally or “fairly”. It is on this ground that you claim those who resist aggression aggress on you, and conclude that justice can be found by encouraging the threatening entity to crack down on the resistance so that your own load may be lessened. Can you not see that people who resist this threatening entity, who do not lay down and allow their rights to be trampled, are in fact defending your rights as well. They do not aggress against you. They will only that you may keep what is yours; that you might do with your resources that which you yourself determine to be good and just. You can give all your money to government as far as im concerned. It’s yours to give. I have no right to force you to act one way or the other. The tax collector does not feel the same way. You are a victim Marvin. We all are victims. We’ve all been taken advantage of. All we need is for people to wake up and recognize the true source of the aggression. I promise you it’s not the Libertarians. It’s not the so-called tax evader. It’s not the people. Its government itself.

    When you are not free to act according to your will, in a manor which you alone determine to be in your best interest; when you are not permitted to allocate your resources toward the ends that you determine to be of most value to your pursuit of life, liberty, and property, you are not free – you have been taken advantage of.

    The delusion of freedom is a fare more dangerous state to be in than the realization that you are enslaved; that your actions are not guided by your own will, but rather, by the threat of punishment if you do not comply with what another person unjustly and immorally demands of you. At least the latter is aware of the injustice and perhaps even capable of resisting. It’s just wrong for a person to do this to another human being. That should be abundantly clear. That so many fail to see it baffles me. There is no justification for the initiation of aggression.

    Me: “I want you to be able to keep more of what you earn Marvin. I think you deserve it. In fact I think you deserve to decide what you do with all your money.”

    “I DID decide”

    You can’t have it both ways Marvin. If you decide what you do with all your money and no one forces you to do anything that you would not do of your own free will then it cannot be the case that you pay more than your fair share. When you decide what you owe, what you give is never too much and never to little.

    “There are some things that I want done which I cannot do myself. I can’t build roads and bridges, or run schools, or practice law”

    When you and everyone else is free to control your own resources, every purchase, every donation, every hour of labor, is focused on meeting the most desired ends of society. Such a state of affairs is skewed when authoritarian entities dictate the allocation of resources which they acquire by force. Such acts substitutes the will of the people – the laborers, manufacturers, property owners etc, for the will of a few who take upon themselves the authority to utilize scarce resources on endeavors which they determine to be in your best interest. Oversimplified of course. There are volumes on the free market. suffice to say freedom = prosperity. Market oversight and regulation = waste, misallocation, and scarcity. I don’t have the energy to try and prove all this at the moment. You’ve worn me out Marvin.

  10. Let’s keep it honest and simple. You imagine our government to be run by Nazis. It is not.

    It is run by people like you and me who happen to think they might be successfully employed in politics. Some of them no doubt did a bit of pandering (okay, lying) to get elected and probably will do a bit more to get re-elected. As in all human enterprises, private and public, there will also be some corruption. But a free press that loves scandal and CSPAN helps to keep that in check.

    Frankly, your caustic accusations of enslavement by authoritarian aggressors is a bit out of touch with reality, don’t you think? Your accusations are similar to anti-abortion rhetoric calling abortion doctors “baby killers”. It generates a lot of hate, but it is still false.

    I will not feel taken advantage of so long as I know that everyone is being asked to pay their fair of the tax burden. I do not feel victimized by my government. But I believe we are all victimized by the tax evader, who wishes a free ride at our expense.

    Some goods and services are provided through government. Some goods and services are provided by private businesses. In both cases these goods and services must be paid for.

    We normally use government to provide services that private enterprise either cannot or will not do. But it is useful to acknowledge that public and private solutions coexist for many services. Private schools flourish side by side with public schools. Some prison systems are outsourced to private companies. And now even the space program has several private competitors.

    You believe religiously that “When you and everyone else is free to control your own resources, every purchase, every donation, every hour of labor, is focused on meeting the most desired ends of society.” I think this is one of many erroneous assumptions preached by the extreme right. There are many cases where government provides the coordinated and most efficient approach to a public problem. Sometimes, two heads are better than one.

    We enjoy two options, public and private. Neither is in and of itself a villain. But both, because they are manned by imperfect humans, will act badly sometimes. We just need to look out for these and fix them when they pop up.

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