Archives for posts with tag: government

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that taxes are theft. We work hard for our income, and the government just comes right in and takes the money that we earned without our consent! That’s stealing! The government steals. Now, the government can legally do many things that private individuals cannot do. It can confine and relocate people against their will. It can kidnap children. It can even commit violence if it deems it necessary for a safe society. However, the one thing people cannot abide over any other crime is theft. Nobody cares about foster kids, criminals, and immigrants, and so state intervention only matters where my finances are concerned!

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Big Government when it comes to people I don’t like; small government when it comes to me

One of the more prominent libertarian thinkers that popularized the concept of illicit taxation is Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (so titled because libertarianism, as an extreme reduction of state, is inherently anarchistic). Nozick presents a thought experiment which I will paraphrase in order to use really simple maths. You work 40 hours a week, making $100 an hour. You’re doing all right. That’s $4000 a week, but the government decides that it’s going to tax you 10% of your earnings, and takes away $400. What this essentially means is that for the last four hours of your work week, you’re working for free under the authority of the government. The higher the taxes, the more unpaid working hours. This isn’t just theft, it’s slavery! Maybe this is why people just fuck about on Friday afternoons, as a means of sticking it to the The Man for having to endure slavery wages just before the weekend.

While there are certainly problems with this argument, we’ll leave it as is for now.

Let’s turn to the feudal system. The peasant produces $4000 worth of goods, and has to pay his lord $400 each week. Similar to the slavery tax system illustrated above. Now, let’s mix it up a bit. The peasant is still producing $4000 worth of goods, but instead of paying the lord taxes, the lord collects the $4000, and pays the peasant $3600 for his labour. Ha! Ridiculous, right? Okay, let’s be a bit more realistic.

The peasant is still producing $4000 worth of goods, but instead of paying the lord taxes, the lord collects the $4000, and pays the peasant $400 for his labour.

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If that. Isn’t it nice having a say in how taxation will affect the community? Democracy sure is great. I wonder if such a concept has ever been imagined in the second scenario?

If the peasant’s labour really only costs $400 a week, then the extra $3600 is what famed beard-haver Karl Marx called surplus value: money that is added on to the cost of production basically so the person (or minority of people) who own that production can continue to grow their wealth without having to actually do anything. In a word, profit. This money, more or less equivalent to the stolen taxes of our initial example, does not go to community projects, however, but to the pockets of a private owner.

The issue that people are going to take with my examples is likely going to be that of consent. So you might think, well, I didn’t agree to no social contract, why should I abide by it and pay these exorbitant taxes!? And you’re right, that is a legitimate criticism of the social contract theory. Abide by the social contract under which you are born or go to jail is not a meaningful choice in any sense. Social contracts are not inherently just, and resistance against them may be legitimate. Universal acquiescence is no form of morality.

What about our second peasant who is paid wages instead of owning his own labour and paying taxes? Nozick and other libertarians would say that they agreed to this contract with the lord, and if they don’t like it, they could quit and get another job as like a blacksmith or something. Nozick says that not getting a livable wage is like being rejected by the prettiest girl at the dance. Everyone wants to date the prom queen, but if that doesn’t work out, you just keep going down the list of available women until finally you get to the partner that is manipulative and abusive, and you stay with them because nobody wants to die alone. Again, this is a paraphrase of his argument, but he literally says that since it’s fair for women to reject us (he’s big into hetero masculinity), it’s fair for companies to reject us from livable conditions too. Kind of important to consider this the next time the libertarians in the alt-right talk about being entitled to women’s bodies.

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Or the liberal media, apparently

Nozick’s argument makes all kinds of terrible assumptions. For example, ownership is often inherited or influenced by nepotism, even entrepreneurs typically come from already wealthy families, which would be the equivalent of the prom queen being passed down through the generations of prom kings rather than through any merit-based wooing process; women don’t have a systematic incentive to be abusive and manipulative the way profit-driven companies do; and nobody’s child will starve if their parent can’t get a date. If the dating system is rigged so that the suitor has only the most abysmal options available, and they’ll die if they don’t pick one, then the metaphor might be more appropriate. It would also make those dating shows that much more interesting to watch.

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But this time, if you’re voted off, you can’t afford your kid’s desperate medical operation

If we acknowledge that the “choice” between accepting the social contract or jail is not a choice, then it follows that the “choice” between accepting tyrannical labour conditions or death is not much of a choice either. If taxation is theft, it’s not much of a stretch to use the same argument against surplus value. Both involve others profiting off of labour in which they take no part.

Except, in order for a community to function as a community, participation in its maintenance is required. Communities are a collective. It’s not something that’s debatable. Taxation is a fairly straightforward and simple measure to extract funding for that maintenance, and income tax is a fairly equitable way of going about it. Universal acquiescence is certainly dumb, but thinking for two seconds about how a community works and what that would require very quickly reveals the need for public options funded by the collective.

The theft of the ownership class has no other motive beyond personal gain. If you had to choose between one theft or the other, why are we so quick to pounce on taxes instead of the exploitation of labour? Denouncing the community while advocating greed is the whispered maxim of capitalists.

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Maybe not so much whispered as shouted from the rooftops. Remember when unbridled avarice was considered a bad thing?

Or you could abandon both forms of theft and embrace true anarchism. Not the anarcho-capitalism of modern libertarianism, but left libertarianism. Libertarian socialism. Anarchy. Take it for a spin. See how you feel.

As we try to survive the intense heat of one of the hottest summers on record, and witness the dryness that comes with it devastating our province with forest fires, most of us probably recognize the link between the noticeably hotter and dryer days with that whole climate change thing that people have been talking about for decades. Science, you win this round.

In order to combat climate change, however, we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions. One such method, proven to reduce the number of carbon-emitting vehicles on the road, is an improved transit system. Of course, given the choice, a group of peoples, asked to democratically choose whether or not to broaden their transit in an effort to reduce congestion, decrease emissions, and improve infrastructure at the cost of a 0.05% sales tax increase, will invariably choose to let their province burn, because hey, those extra couple of dollars at the checkout line might mean having to wait an extra paycheck to buy your next pair of yoga pants.

So it really does seem most people equate taxation as a fate worse than planetary obliteration. Now, it could be argued that the ‘No’ vote against the transit system was a giant ‘fuck you’ towards the mismanagement and financial corruption that is occurring within the transit administration, or due to a general mistrust of government, but frankly, arguing austerity for the sake of pettiness is the absolute worst reason. Government accountability is determined by elections and activism, not plebiscites.

Or maybe privatization is the answer? However, by definition, any profit-driven entity will always offer as little product as they can for as much price as they can get away with, and so when it comes to public services, it seems inane to privatize them. Think of what it would be like if a company owned the police. Quotas for tickets would be ramped up, and more provisions would be given towards fighting crimes that pay rather than fighting crimes, period. And of course, no one is going to arrest their boss. There’s the example of that fee-based fire fighting service that forbade fight fighters from putting out house fires that ignited outside of city limits, unless the individual had paid a $75 fee. A rate that discriminates based on location, as well as being a burden on those who live in poverty, is patently unfair. And yet another example would be to privatize the roads and see all the toll booths that would pop up at every corner. Also remember that any private company will only provide funding for scientific ventures and research that might ultimately profit them, whereas a government is not bound by the same motives.

Now, in this particular blog post, I won’t advocate a communist approach where the government runs all the means of production, but for many services, it just makes sense to have an impartial, non-profit oriented body managing them. Services for the less fortunate, for instance, or universal services like health care or police that provide a necessary function for society.

What’s a necessary service? Well, that’s up for debate, but I hope I’ve provided enough examples to show that privatizing everything would be egregiously stupid. Why help poor people? Unfortunately, people ask this question because general human compassion apparently isn’t enough, and fine, here are some examples that will convince your “socially liberal/ fiscally conservative” ideals: poor people get sick more because of bad diets and less access to sports, fitness centres, etc.; they commit more crimes because they have less money and therefore less connection with society; they don’t spend as much money at your stores because they don’t have that money in the first place, and if some kid with the potential to cure cancer can’t go to school because he can’t afford to, then that will lead to a deficient society. So helping the poor removes strain on the health care system, reduces crime, improves the economy from a Keynesian standpoint, and provides a society with the greatest potential.

Why rely on the government when we have private charities to look after the poor? First and foremost, a private charity could never undermine the basic systemic principles that are in place to maintain the status quo. A charity could donate food to the food bank, or clothes to a shelter, for example, but it could never provide a welfare system or social housing projects which are a necessary part of getting an individual into a position where they can take care of themselves, rather than rely on liberal alms. In addition, the charitable whims of society are constantly in flux, and follow trends rather than socially just goals with an equitable society as their end game. People also tend to donate to causes that relate to them personally rather than causes that need it the most.

But what if you want to be a selfish asshole? It’s your money, and taxation is theft! Well, actually, all money belongs to the government, since they are the ones printing it. The system of doling it out is arbitrary at best. Adam Smith says that some jobs are worth more based on scarcity and skills required. In regards to scarcity, the diamond industry has shown us that it can be manufactured through hoarding, and scarcity also becomes irrelevant if nobody wants the product. Skills are also fairly subjective, as someone who has dedicated their life to art could be argued to be equally skilled compared to someone who has dedicated their life to medicine, but I don’t need to tell you who gets paid more. The financial value of something is based solely upon supply and demand, and that is subject to the random flux of the market and cultural norms: a mother is tasked with the fate of a child, and a lawyer is tasked with the fate of an alleged criminal, but our culture decided one was worth thousands of dollars and the other is worth nothing, and despite all the lawyer jokes we both know which is which.

So no, it’s not your money. It’s only your money in the sense that it was randomly allocated to you by cultural norms outside of your control. Stephanie Meyers and E. L. James are both rich, while Stephen Hawking and Noam Chomsky live passable lives, financially. If that’s not an indicator of the nature of wealth being arbitrarily decided by cultural forces, I don’t know what is.

As someone who is going into social work, I am repeatedly told that I’m doing good work: taking care of the less fortunate is considered morally righteous. But the minute that I get a job working for the government, I am no longer a good person but a drain on the industrious tax payers of this fine country. I’m still helping poor people, but now they no longer deserve it because it’s the government helping them rather than a private individual. If a private individual donates money to charity, or even if a corporation donates money to charity, then they are lauded as sterling citizens. If the government donates money to the exact same cause, they are wasting tax dollars on frivolous handouts. This hypocrisy of seeing two entities committing the same righteous action but seeing one as the hero and the other the villain is an indicator that people against taxation but for charity are full of shit.

If we realize that taxation is not theft and look at it as charity instead, then we realize an important part of how our civilization is supposed to function. A community does not take care of itself through the work of individuals but collectively, and a government facilitates that. If one thinks of their tax dollars as charity, then you have to look at the government you vote for as the charitable organization you would want to give to. Do you want to donate to the Bomb Children Abroad fund? Probably not. It has a terrible ring to it. A government that advocates lowering corporate taxes is like donating your money to rich businesses; they make more money, and the rest of us get fewer public services because of it. (For you humbuggers, since I really don’t want to get into it, here.) What kinds of causes do you like to donate to? Which party best reflects those values?

Yes, I am aware that governments tend to put the word “fallible” to shame, but libertarian idealism is not the answer for a better society. Like I said earlier, activism and elections are the way to hold governments accountable, and yes, our society falls so far short on both of those elements that it makes me wonder if Ted Kaczynski had the right idea. If you want government to change, great! Be heard; we need it. But we also need taxes, because I don’t think Ayn Rand is going to save us from the forest fires.

Post-Script: Progressive taxation, such as income or corporate tax, can never bankrupt you. They are percentages on profit, and I want to take a moment to clarify the greatest myth against taxation that even Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wasn’t able to quite wrap his head around: if you go into a higher tax bracket, you pay higher taxes on that bracket only. If the taxes up until $100 are 0% and above that they become 50%, and if you start making $110, you don’t all of a sudden only get $55; you get $105 because the 50% only applies to the $10 you make over the bracket line. There is no disincentive to not earn more with regards to a higher tax bracket because there will always be a higher profit if a higher profit is earned.