Monday, April 19, 2010

The "Common Good" and Taxes

A recent comment stated that, "Sadly, there are certain costs that need to be borne by society. Therefore, taxation will be a necessity." He doesn't state what costs must "be borne by society" nor does he offer an explanation as to why this might be true.

Such assertions are common, repeated as a mantra that is beyond question and regarded as self-evident. All one need do is look at the world, and the necessity of taxation is directly observable. Without taxation, the claim goes, we wouldn't have roads, schools, parks, libraries, etc. and we can observe this.

Granted, when we look at the world we will indeed see that most roads, schools, parks, and libraries are operated by government. But "most" does not mean "all", and even a casual observer can easily find examples of roads, schools, parks, or libraries that are privately owned and operated. Given that private alternatives do exist, how can one claim that without government these services would be lacking? Given that there is observable evidence to the contrary, why is it claimed that government must provide these services?

We don't have to dig very deep to find an answer. As an example, last week the Chronicle lamented a budget reduction for the city's libraries:
But Houstonians can be forgiven for questioning the city's values, especially when it comes to inflicting such painful choices on our libraries. These are the engines of our democracy, of assuring a more level playing field for all of us, enriching all our lives.
The "justification" for public libraries is the "common good". Allegedly we all benefit from public libraries, and therefore each of us must be taxed to support them. The same "justification" is offered in support of government operated roads, parks, and schools.

This alleged "common good" is as delusive as a snipe hunt. It is an undefined and undefinable term, thrown out with a righteousness intended to disarm anyone who might question a particular policy or program. We must each do "our part". We must each contribute to "society". Above all, we must not be selfish--we must think of the "general welfare" rather than our own self-interest. You may not use public libraries, but others want and need such access, and you have an obligation to fulfill that desire.

That you might prefer to use your money for other purposes, such as books for your children, or a new television, or a vacation, is irrelevant. That you must sacrifice your desires and values so that others may "attain" theirs does not matter. To the advocates of the "common good", this is your unchosen obligation--a moral duty that government may rightfully enforce.

To claim that taxation is a necessity is to declare that the individual's property may be disposed of as the government chooses. But property is the means by which we sustain and enjoy our lives. If our property is not secure, neither is our life.


Jack said...

could you give some examples of private roads or private parks?

Brian Phillips said...

"Public" roads and parks are by far the norm, primarily because it is almost impossible for a private company to compete with the government. However, there are examples of private roads and parks.

Many subdivisions have roads that are privately owned and maintained, at least initially. Often they get turned over to the government because it is easier for the developer. Business parks often have private roads.

Examples of private parks include Henry's Ark (actually a zoo), Thousand Peaks in Utah, and Thousand Trails--a network of 80 private parks across the country.

Mo said...

the common good i hear invoked when it comes to another matter: smoking bans. you know smoking is bad for public health and they usually pass some sort of anti-smoking act to justify it further.,1607,7-132-2940_2955_2973_55026---,00.html

Brian Phillips said...

We are going to hear it even more when ObamaCare starts being implemented.