A Matter of Degrees

We have been critical of Paul Craig Roberts in the past based on his claim that the Law of Comparative Advantage does not hold into today?s world. Eugene Volokh has been rightly critical of PCR for another reason: his statement that ?[19th century American slaves] were freer than today?s American taxpayer.? As Eugene points out, slaves would be ?beaten, maimed, or killed if caught? and were at the mercy of their owners in purchasing their freedom. Certainly, I would not want to trade places with a 19th century slave.

However, I think it is important to emphasize that the difference between the slave and the taxpayer is one of degree and scope, not category. Both the slave and the taxpayer have things performed to their person or property without their consent. If consent is sacrosanct, which the writers of the Declaration of Independence certainly believed, then taxation is not morally justified. As Eugene points out, today?s taxpayer has more options for escape and has the opportunity to meet his 'obligation'. However, this "freedom to leave" is used in response to something he does not give consent to, and does not equal liberty.

Among the justifications often given for the continued existence of slavery was that it was a necessary evil because there were not enough free laborers as needed for the agricultural economy and that the lack of economic output would result in disastrous consequences for society. However, history has shown that those predictions were profoundly wrong, and that if anything, free men and voluntary exchange give rise to greater economic growth and a more prosperous society than one based on slavery.

In the same fashion today, the justification for taxation given even by those who admit that it is a rights violation is that it is necessary for society to function. ?Sure it?s happens without the consent of the taxpayer,? they say, ?but without taxation, society would fall apart.? It is a consequential argument that taxation is a necessary evil, and to think otherwise is ?utopian?. Key arguments for this necessary evil are among other things, public goods problems and negative externalities, both of which I find unimpressive. I think it?s vital to challenge any and all beliefs, no matter how widespread, that say that individuals? consent must be violated for consequential reasons.

Share this