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How Much Do You Deserve to Keep?

September 16th, 2011 by Myrhaf · 19 Comments · Uncategorized

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was asked a tough question: “Out of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think I deserve to keep?”

I have a smidgeon of sympathy for the Congresswoman. From a statist politician’s point of view, the question is impossible to answer. If they were honest, they would say 0% — the money should be appropriated by disinterested philosopher-kings who would then redistribute it to each according to his needs.

But statists can never be entirely honest. They know that in America you have to fool the selfish voters in order to attain and keep power. Oh, the contempt for the unwashed masses this must breed in the political elite! 

For me the answer is easy: 100%. All taxation is theft. Funding the government should be voluntary.

Rep. Schakowsky says we tax to fund things we as a nation do together. As an example she cites looking for a cure for cancer. The state takes your money to find a cure for cancer. What could be wrong with that?

You know why I don’t want the state taking my money to find a cure for cancer? Because I want someone to find a cure for cancer. Health is an important value to most people.

To find a cure for cancer we need more wealth creation, and we need to spend our dollars efficiently. This means we need to be free. Freedom creates most wealth and uses it most efficiently.

Anyone who really cared about curing cancer would want to dismantle the welfare-regulatory state and let capitalism create wealth. That wealth would be spent by free individuals according to their values, and certainly some of them would value a cure for cancer. The last thing you would want is for appropriated wealth to be wasted by bureaucrats who would lose their sinecure if cancer went the way of polio.

It looks to me like Rep. Schakowsky does not really care about finding a cure for cancer — not as much as she cares about power. I think she really lusts for control over the benighted masses to whom she must grovel and lie every two years.

19 Comments so far ↓

  • Kyle Haight

    I’d been thinking about writing a blog post about this myself. It’s a fantastic question because at root it isn’t about economics. It’s about the extent of the individual’s moral sovereignty over his own life. To ask “Out of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think I deserve to keep?” is really to ask “How much of my wealth do you think I am morally entitled to dispose of in accordance with my own judgment?” And since wealth is the product of thought, effort and time, asking that is to ask “How much of my life do you think belongs to me?”

    This question is uncomfortable for politicians both left and right precisely because answering it honestly draws out the political implications of the altruistic premise they share. The only logically consistent answers are “All” or “None”. Anything in between just sounds incredibly arbitrary — can you imagine a politician trying to defend a specific percentage answer to this question?

  • Inspector

    “Oh, the contempt for the unwashed masses this must breed in the political elite! ”

    And the contempt for *America,* which practically seeps from their every pore these days.

  • Inspector

    “Out of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think I deserve to keep?”

    It strikes me: this is a ray of hope in these dark times, that such a question could even be *asked.*

  • L-C

    I especially like that the question involved the term “earn”. The questioner points out the fact that earning and “deserving” are pitted against each other, and that the latter (a dubious concept in comparison) is taking precedence.

  • Richard

    Peter Schiff at his recent testimony before Congress asked a similar question. The opposing testifier next to him advocates raising taxes on the wealthy, which makes him ask “what percentage of my money should the government be taking?”

    The segment starts at 8:52 in the video but the whole thing is good.

  • RnBram

    What average temperature, for all of Earth, should governments coerce citizens to maintain?

  • Inspector

    Oooo, good point, RnBram. That works in the exact same way and for the same reason: they’re the underlying premises that wouldn’t stand up if stated publicly.

  • Steve D.

    “can you imagine a politician trying to defend a specific percentage answer to this question?”

    The answer is obvious: 63.4%. Seems pretty easy to defend to me.

  • Kyle Haight

    Were I a politician, I would try defending a ceiling rather than a specific number, e.g. “In the middle ages the serfs were not taxed above a third of their income, and surely in America we can keep ourselves freer than medieval serfs. Nobody in America should have more than a third of their income taken from them by government. We should reduce the total tax burden — state and federal income taxes, social security tax, sales tax, property tax, the lot — below that level and keep it there.”

    Left unsaid, of course, is exactly how far below that ceiling the tax burden should really be reduced: all the way to zero, eventually.

  • Steve D.

    May I change my answer to 73.4% then; to keep myself above those serfs and selfishly take home more money?
    It seems to me that if you set the tax burden to zero you must depend upon voluntary contributions, which by definition could cease. At least in theory, there would be an instability/anxiety inherent in any government whose existence would never be guaranteed.
    Now this is not necessarily a bad thing – a government which depended upon voluntary contributions, would have an effective check on its power, but you could make the argument that it could no longer assure the protection of rights, and therefore was not technically a government anymore.
    Am I missing something here?

  • c andrew

    Steve D.,

    Here in our state, the Fish and Game were supported by license fees and did not have access to the general tax fund. They screwed up game management to the point where it wasn’t worth going hunting, so license purchases dropped and the Fish and Game were having financial problems.

    Instead of rectifying the management issues, they just went to the legislature and got access to the general fund. And they never did change the game policies until a new governor cleaned house.

    Perhaps, if gov’t were more accountable, less intrusive and actually doing the right things, I wouldn’t be so invested in making sub-units nervous about their funding. As it is, I think that the more nervous they are, the better. Maybe if we give them enough panic attacks about their paychecks, they’ll go out and get an honest job. /end wishful thinking/

  • North Bridge

    Steve D:

    It is a difficult topic to discuss, because a voluntarily financed government is so far from anything we have any real experience with. It easily gets into a clash of floating hypotheticals and counter-hypotheticals without any tie to concrete reality — basically a contest of who has the better imagination.

    I believe Ayn Rand said that financing of government is the kind of issue that would have to be resolved at the end, when men have managed to implement a free political system in all other regards. That is probably the most sage approach — to acknowledge that it is not an issue that can be discussed very meaningfully in our current context.

    That being said, your argument sounds to me like “If everybody stopped buying insurance, the insurance business would cease to exist.” In some disconnected, theoretical sense that may follow, but in actual reality it is never going to happen.

    If all government did was protect individual rights, who would not want to pay for it? Even in today’s context, with massively Big Government and widespread loathing of politicians, bureaucracy, and taxes, most people respect (even admire) the police and armed forces and understand that they are performing a vital function. If they had to rely on voluntary contributions, and if I wasn’t paying half my income in taxes already, I would happily and proudly contribute. A majority of people would.

    Here is another analogy: “If we do away with the draft there is no guarantee that anybody will volunteer for the armed services.” I think the error is to look for some kind of advance, out-of-context guarantee that people will act in a particular way. It is not the right way to approach this kind of issue.

  • North Bridge

    Here is a broader formulation:

    “If we allow people to voluntarily arrange their affairs according to their self-interest, what is the guarantee that they will act in their self-interest?”

    The implication being that, since it is “theoretically possible” that all men simultaneously decide to self-destruct, complete laissez faire is unstable and dangerous.

    This is clearly a paradoxical approach. Once you establish that it is in any rational person’s self-interest to live in a free society, you have to leave it at that.

  • Steve D.

    North Bridge:

    You bring up some good points and your analogies work to a degree. I agree that the principle at stake (zero taxes) is more important than the implementation BUT doesn’t mean implementation is not important. And it’s a question people are definitely going to ask.

    Yes, there is a certain amount of speculation involved in all of this. Still the government is not like an insurance company because presumably the insurance company has some competition. The draft analogy is closer I think, and historically getting people to sign up for military service voluntarily has not been difficult, suggesting that voluntarily funding a government is plausible. There is of course never any guarantee that enough people will join the military if it’s voluntary. It’s certainly plausible that a free country, especially a small one could be overrun by a more zealous, less free neighbor.

    Of course funding the government is not the only issue. We need people to run it as well and that might be a bigger issue – in a truly free country we can’t force anyone to be a politician, judge, jury member etc.

    But this type of speculation is still valid, provided we recognize it for what it is. Having a good, well thought out answer or plan to how a government might be funded, might very well encourage people to think more about these issues and help you nail your point that taxes really are not necessary. Also if you take a graduated step toward reducing taxes at some point before you get to zero, you will need to introduce the voluntary method.

    c andrew

    I agree that that not having public officials a little nervous about their continued pay is a good thing.

  • Kyle Haight

    Well said. It isn’t as though government having the power to take people’s wealth by force guarantees anything either — what if people just stop producing wealth? _Atlas Shrugged_ showed the result of that.

  • Kyle Haight

    One proposal for implementation — which I think Rand mentioned in her essay on government financing in a free society — would be for government to charge a percentage fee for the enforcement of contracts. You can still sign a contract without paying the fee, so it’s voluntary, but you lose access to the government’s enforcement powers in case of a dispute. Under such a system I think most businesses would choose to pay the fee because it would obviously be in their self-interest to do so. Any business which did not would have difficulty raising capital, making arrangements with vendors, suppliers and distributors, etc. That would provide a solid core of reliable financing for the government unless its performance became so bad that it effectively lost the consent of the governed — in which case the society would have deeper problems.

  • Steve D.

    Why not just ask people to contribute? Send them a tax form; let them choose the amount they wish to pay, down to zero if they desire. (Just don’t call it a tax form)

    I think a proper government would likely cost very little. In fact, even many of the government’s legitimate functions would be partially farmed out to private concerns. (Arbitrators, private security, private detectives, deputizing private citizens etc.) All the government really needs to do, to protect people’s rights is to serve as the final arbiter of disputes, when all else fails. It simply needs to retain the authority and the power to intervene when necessary; nothing more.

  • Kyle Haight

    The exact details of government financing are not a philosophical issue. Philosophy tells us that it is wrong for government to finance itself through the initiation of force. Beyond that, all we can say is that government should be financed in whatever non-rights-violating way is most effective. I’m skeptical that the “send everybody a form” model would be effective but in the end that’s a debate for political scientists, not philosophers.

  • Steve D

    I don’t think anyone here is arguing about what philosopy is telling us. That’s settled. I agree, the best way to fund a government is a debate for political scientists, but its still a very interesting one.