Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Government Without Taxation: Introduction

Death and taxes, we are often told, are two inevitable facts of life. However, a crucial distinction exists between the two—death is a metaphysical fact, while taxes are a man-made fact. As such, death is in fact inevitable, but taxes are not. The metaphysical is absolute and immutable; the man-made is subject to the choices and actions of man.

Taxes—by which I mean the forced payment of monies to the government—are a violation of property rights. Taxes compel individuals to cede their property without their consent. Each individual has a moral right to act according to his own judgment, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others. Taxation, by using force, deprives individuals of their rights. In a free society, all interactions between individuals require the voluntary consent of all involved. This includes support for the government.

A common objection to government without taxation is that citizens will not voluntarily support legitimate government functions. This implies that government provides no value to the citizenry. Yet, citizens voluntarily pay for bread, automobiles, internet service, and countless other products and services. Individuals do so because they value these items.

The same is true of a proper government. Limited to its proper functions—the protection of individual rights—government would provide three services: the police, the courts, and the military. The police provide protection against criminals; the courts resolve disputes between individuals; the military provides protection against foreign threats. The protection of individual rights is a legitimate value, and ample evidence exists that individuals will voluntarily support government.

The costs associated with these functions are significantly less than that spent by the government on improper functions, such as welfare, health care, the regulation of business, and education. A government limited to the protection of individual rights would spend a fraction of the money that it spends today.

In this series of posts, I will indicate the approximate level of spending a proper government would require, as well as provide evidence that individuals will indeed provide voluntary support for government.

America is not yet ready for government without taxation. The ideas necessary to defend and implement such limited government are not dominant in our culture. Any attempt to implement such a policy would fall on deaf ears and be rejected. The battle for government without taxation is not a political battle, but a moral battle, and more fundamentally, an epistemological battle. In other words, without the proper moral and epistemological foundation, individual liberty cannot be achieved or sustained.

A culture in which reason and self-interest dominate would be significantly different from contemporary America. It would be a culture in which virtually everything would be different, from the most mundane to the most important. And because freedom unlocks creativity and opportunities, it is impossible to project precisely what such a culture would look like. We can however, make such projections in a more general sense.

Freed from the arbitrary constraints of government controls and regulations, the economy would invariably grow consistently. Historically, the contrast between command economies such as the Soviet Union and America provides ample evidence of this fact. Even in America such contrasts can be witnessed—cities such as Houston have stronger economies than cities with more regulations and controls.

In a free society, all property would be privately owned. This would eliminate issues such as the “tragedy of the commons”, the curriculum in our schools, and the continual political battles over “public property”. The recognition and protection of property rights would eliminate issues such as debates over land use, vehicle mileage standards, and the regulation of businesses.

In a free society there would be no restrictions on hiring practices—businesses and employees would be free to reach whatever agreements are mutually acceptable. Individuals would be free to offer their services to whomever chose to use them. There would be no impediments to employment.

Freed of the constraints of government, individuals would be able to innovate without restriction. New products and services would abound, as businesses sought to create new customers and retain old ones. The standard of living would consistently rise, while the cost of living would consistently fall.

The shrinking size of government would have commensurate economic benefits. The trillions of dollars consumed by government would become available for investment, further stimulating economic growth. The insidious confiscation of property through inflation would be impossible. The capricious and ever changing mandates of government would no longer impede long-term planning.

Achieving a free society is not an idle fantasy. It is not an issue that is “good in theory” but impractical—a theory that cannot be practiced is not a good theory. It is not an ideal that is impossible because of man’s nature—it is an ideal because of man’s nature. It is not an idea that worked two hundred years ago but won’t work in modern times—principles are not transient.

I hasten to add that the elimination of taxes is a goal for the very distant future. These posts do not mean to imply that we should be advocating the elimination of taxes today. This would be an impractical goal, and we would simply be dismissed as crackpots. However, there is value in understanding how government would be supported without coercive taxation. It is important for advocates of liberty to understand that voluntary support for government is not only moral, but also practical.

Updated on April 8, 2010 with links to all of the posts in this series:
Government Without Taxation: Introduction
Government Without Taxation: The Size of Government
Government Without Taxation:  The Police and Military
Government Without Taxation: The Courts
Government Without Taxation:  Other Revenue Sources
Government Without Taxation: Final Thoughts


Peter Namtvedt said...

Wonderful article. I refer you to an original treatment by a professor of economics at the University of Montana, Dr. Rolph Edwards,
http://www.adabyron.net/FinancingGovernmentWithoutTaxation.pdf In discussing his ideas it turns out he espouses reducing government to the level where it would cost only 5-10% of GDP for three years while continuing current taxation, adding the surplus to an investment fund. Then taxation would be ended. This fund could then throw off earnings as an annuity to cover future government financing.

Better yet, per Dr. Yaron Brook of Ayn Rand Institute, from his lecture on "Capitalism Without Guilt": voluntary contributions. When asked about the practicality at the University of Washington, he replied that we would shun or boycott anyone who did not contribute. Large businesses, who have more at stake, the need for objective laws, police, courts and national defense, would gladly pay more.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for the link. I am familiar with the idea advanced by Dr. Edwards. I suspect that 5% of GDP would be too low, but that is only a detail.

I agree with Yaron on voluntary contributions. In fact, I am working on a book that demonstrates the practicality of such a plan.