On \"How not to complain about taxes\"

God does not play dice with the universe.

That's Albert Einstein, the great discoverer of quantum mechanics, writing. It pays for theorists of quantum mechanics to listen to Einstein, so as to avoid silly theories about uncertainty in quantum physics.

The above is blatantly wrong, yet it is exactly the same construct used by Elizabeth Anderson over at Left2Right to chastise conservatives and minimal state libertarians about using Lockean natural rights arguments against taxes. Locke's contributions to classical liberalism that are still accepted by natural rights oriented people are that a monarch has no rights that a serf does not also enjoy, that by nature we have the (negative) rights of life, liberty, and property, and that unowned resources can be rightfully claimed as property by use and improvement. For these insights to be true, the quotes that Ms. Anderson points out must be wrong.

Ms. Anderson is correct to point out the contradiction in conservatives and minimal-state libertarians using this natural rights approach in complaining about taxes. For those who insist on involuntary contributions to an organization to provide certain services, claiming that someone does not have a right or claim to another's property seems rather awkward at best. The differences between the modern left and right are ones of degree not principle.

The libertarian line on valid claims against another's property is drawn between voluntary and involuntary. There are many who rightfully may claim my property, the banks and utilities who have provided goods and services to me based on my voluntary promise to pay them in the future, my investors who I have voluntarily promised to make my ideas marketable products, any future children I might have, etc. But there is only one theory I have heard advanced for why the organizations at City Hall, Sacramento, and D.C. have any claim to property and I find it lacking. It is the claim of a social contract. Under existing legislation and administration, we are under this social contract from the moment of birth, and there are severe restrictions on departing the contract. So we have at least two problems, one that existing legislation places "contractual claims" on those incapable of entering into contracts, and two that the normal right of exit is limited and includes heavy penalties. All of this for a "contract" that is not consented to by one of the parties. This is can not be a contract.

Locke's insights accepted by some classical liberals are at odds with both the modern left and right. Locke's greatest contribution to liberalism is incompatible with the modern liberal's policy prescriptions.

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One wonders, if the power to

One wonders, if the power to tax arises from the social contract, shouldn't those who, in the eyes of the state no less, cannot enter into contracts be exempt from it? To wit, shouldn't anyone under the age of 18 be exempt from any and all taxes, or at the very least have the nominal incidence diverted to his or her guardians...?

It pays for theorists of

It pays for theorists of quantum mechanics to listen to Einstein, so as to avoid silly theories about uncertainty in quantum physics.

Except that if you put the quote in context, you get a very different picture. What he said was "I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe." Einstein had a philosophical objection to Heisenberg's principle that showed otherwise, but admitted that he couldn't find the hidden variables necessary to prove Heisenberg wrong.

So in fact, to the best of our knowledge today, God DOES play dice.

Personally, I think Turing's halting problem is a more elegant proof of the philosophical concept, but physics always gets more attention than computer science.

Digamma - Einstein was well

Digamma - Einstein was well known for his refusal to accept many theories derived from his early work - both in relativity (black holes) and quantum physics (uncertainty). All that I want to show here is that great thinkers can and do contradict themselves.

By the 1700s, social

By the 1700s, social organization had evolved from the tribal band to the kingdom to the empire, and information about how people had been able to get along in the state of nature was scarce. Civilization had a primitive understanding of how cultures more or less still in a state of nature functioned. Social contract theory is an analogy, like rawls' original position. Rawls isn't saying when we were in the original position, we decided x. He's saying, what sort of rules might we have agreed to if we were in the orginal position? Hobbes and Locke did something similar.
Hobbes said, I've heard it's pretty bad in the state of nature, and we wouldn't like it. So we would probably have agreed to an absolute dictator to keep the peace, and be willing to pay taxes to the dictator, to avoid a war of all against all.
Locke's big innovation was to say, there's a better option. Given a choice between a stalin and a jefferson, we would choose the jefferson -
enough government to resist stalin and burglars, but not much more than that.
Locke is important as a pioneer of this approach.
It's not shocking that his views have been refined and polished, and that minimal state theorists do not view locke as gospel.
Similarly microeconomics has been refined from adam smith, and perhaps there were errors in darwin which have been corrected by modern darwinists.
If this were a longer post I would talk about how the conceptions of god and natural rights were also analogies, useful explanatory myths.
Anderson's critique is silly and trivial. David V's concerns are more substantive. If I understand him, he left libertarianism over concerns that our theory of first ownership of goods doesn't work, and because of concerns for equality. Those are reasonable concerns, where our current body of theory is unpersuasive to some, with room for improvement.

Is the following an adequate

Is the following an adequate characterization of your argument?
"Locke said a lot of things, some of which don't imply the others, and some of which are in tension with the others. The things in Locke which we really like, and which give foundations for antitax arguments, are in tension with the things in Locke that Liz is citing. So there can be a Lockean argument against taxation."

On a totally different issue, utilitarians like me will have a whole 'nother set of reasons why the state has a claim to your property.

Masten, You say that the


You say that the only theory of why "organizations at City Hall, Sacramento, and D.C. have any claim to property and I find it lacking. It is the claim of a social contract."

I'd hate to reiterate Anderson's arguements, but people only enter the state to protect thier property. To protect property, one must have a set of known laws, a judiciary, and penal system. Locke stated this was the fundmental reason for entering the state.

Regardless of tacit consent, the state would have claim to your property regardless of where you were. Any state has claim to property, as how else could it fulfill its fundamental duty? Locke pushed the need for taxes, as he realized the importance that the City hall in Sacramento or DC fulfill its duty.

Ethical Werefolf - That

Ethical Werefolf - That seems a reasonable assessment of my argument.

Then we can discuss at length the bad consequences of taxation. :argue:

Matt - I would willingly

Matt - I would willingly enter into a contract with an organization that provided defense of life, liberty and property. Just as I have entered into contracts for food and shelter. But I do not have the option. Show me where I signed up for this service. The "social contract" does not meet the criteria of a valid contract.

I present no argument that organizations meeting the needs of providing adjudication of the law, or defense of property are not necessary. Such organizations are necessary. But the only moral (i.e. in accordance with natural law) way such organizations can exist is by provision through the market, similar to how we get food (from farms to the grocery store) and shelter (rent or purchase real estate from another). That means that I can do without if I so desire, or provide my own, or pick and choose from the organizations willing to sell such services.

David- Yes, you have not

Yes, you have not signed any contract at all. I understand that you have expressed your displeasure with the several barriers in choosing to leave such contracts as well.

However, by leaving the state of nature, which I would assume you would inevitably do, one forgoes the arbitrary right to all property in order to maintain society and fulfill its purpose: to protect ones property.

I think what Locke was getting at was that the state has the right to levy taxes, as long as they are known and for the public good. If this were not the case, the people have every right to alter the government to fulfill the former clauses.

As soon as you enter into any society, you have entered a valid contract: to protect your property from others.You have not signed anything, yet admit you have tacitly consented to it.

"but people only enter the

"but people only enter the state to protect their property" from the government. Submit, or be killed, or jailed, or have all your property taken. Social contract theory: the government has taken out a contract on us. It's made us an offer we can't refuse.
Alexander conquered the world, but died. After a confused period, Rome took over the world-conquering business. Rome invaded england, england invaded north america, france beat the english at yorktown and handed yorktown etc to the united states. at manassas, the federal government beat the states, so dc is dc. mexican war establishes sacramento. sacramento enables city hall. historically, might makes right. it's a bit more complicated than that - governments rely more on the long con, including social contract mythos, than, on brute force.
Robert Paul Wolff's "philosophical anarchism" is an antidote to the long con. He takes the position that there are no governments, only rulers.
It's useful conceptually, similar to Locke's first treatise of civil government which exposed the fallacy of the divine right of kings.
A smart ruler understands the laffer curve. If the takuru (citizens/slaves) are able to keep 3/4 of the stuff they grow or make,
the overall net take to the ruler will be maximized.
A smarter ruler understands that, while keeping 1 part in 4 will maximize the take to him, it will impose a drag on the economy, so that a competing ruler, who takes only 1 part in 10 during peacetime, will have a larger industrial base, able to be mobilized in wartime.
England built an empire with 10% taxation.
Mexico has a decentralized system - 10% goes to taxation, 10% goes to bribes/user fees. In the US, taxation runs about 40%, high enough that the economy is crippled and productivity is moving to anywhere where the tax burden is less.
For a long time, the US had a comparative advantage where some of the people enjoyed civil liberties and a market-friendly system. By now, enough other places are catching on to this idea, that the comparative advantage is being lost. Similarly, there was a time when california was seen as offering a better package of civil liberties than say mississippi or oklahoma. This is less true now.
An offer one can't refuse works both ways. The better the deal is, the less it will be evaded or resisted, and the more it resembles the kind of uncoerced deals that happen in the marketplace. Over time, governments and organized crime syndicates can evolve into "legitimate businessmen" providing win-win packages of goods and services. The more it simulates an actual market economy, the more people would be willing to overlook the violent origins,and be less likely to opt out.

Matthew - when departing the

Matthew - when departing the state of nature for one of civilization one could also assume that I would enter into contracts to provide for food and shelter, yet our natural rights are not violated in doing so. No grocer or landlord has legal privileges or rights that I do not also enjoy - I can also become a grocer or landlord if I choose to use my property and life in that manner. Nor can the grocer or landlord compel me to use their services instead of another's. The grocer and landlord cannot take my property if I do not use his services. Yet all of these are characteristic of governments. There is no need to violate natural law to protect our rights in the natural law.