Saturday, July 16, 2011

Regarding Tax Breaks

Libertarians are often accused - no less by the writer of this blog - of twisting reality to suit their warped agenda.  To borrow a phrase from the trades, a "mickey mousing" of political philosophy.

Tyler Cowen attempts to do so in a recent response to the notion that a tax break is not really a break at all, and to consider it as such implies that the natural state is total-taxation.

People who use 529 programs and who think that they have not used a government social program are not willfully ignorant, they are demonstrating a healthy if fading appreciation of the distinction between civil society and government.  What Rampell et al. implicitly imagine is that the natural state is slavery and any departure from that state a government benefit. Thus, if the government taxes your saving for a college education less than your other savings, you should be grateful for how government has benefited you and your children.

And if the government doesn’t jail you today, you should be grateful for how government has granted you the benefit of liberty.

This is the attitude of a serf not an American.

One of the big issues I see right now is the confusion over tax breaks versus taxes. Heck, taxes in general.

The principle of a tax break is that there is a basic rate of taxation we have agreed to (remember - in principle), so as to pay for our agreed-upon services. The tax break is a forgiveness of that tax due to special circumstance. In other words, you are essentially not being required to pay for that service. It would be as if you got a discount on a country club for some reason, and although you are still using that service, you don't have to pay some portion of the fee.

Now, some might argue that taxes in general are unfair, that you don't use the service, etc. That's fine, but as long as we accept the principle of taxation, and its requirement that we allow for it to be democratically distributed, we can't pick and choose which expenditure we'll be required to pay.

I'm not sure if I'm making myself clear. I mean to make a distinction between the existential principle of taxation and the debate over specific expenditures. For instance, just because billions of dollars are spent on things I don't like, it does not mean that a particular tax break "was my money to begin with". No, it was a special privilege.

It seems to me the Cowen argument - a classic libertarian trope, I might snarkily add - is to oppose taxation in principle. This is just seems profoundly undemocratic and, well, self-absorbed. It leads to all sorts of fallacious picking and choosing of what government services one is within one's rights to deny payment for. In the end, it's a of rule of law issue, where one gets to consider one's self the ultimate arbiter of what is fair.

Returning to the country club, each member is certainly not within their rights to pay according to what they each think is fair. They either agree to club rules (American citizenship), or they do not. Your discount is a privilege, not a sacred right accorded to you by your superior accounting skills.

1 comment:

  1. Super Vid is too kind. The quote he responds to above is not that of a true American, it is simply reflective of the view/feelings held by many citizens of the United States. (Americans live everywhere between the northern reaches of Alaska and Tierra del Fuego)That is the completely selfish,less than civil and undemocratic view that we, as individuals, have little or no responsibility to others, at least beyond family and friends. Most would claim that their disdain for our government, as presently practiced,does not mean such disregard for the common good.I assert that it means exactly this.
    As S.V. points out, "each member is certainly not within their rights to pay according to what
    they each think is fair." The shameful looting of the public treasury over the last thirty years(with the exception of Clinton's years and the clear surplus of funds accrued under his administration)by those manipulating the "invisible hand" to their own ends,thanks to magic "tax-cuts" passed with the supposed intention of "boosting the economy," has left us with income disparities rivaling those in third-world countries. It is no coincidence that these disparities also mirror those extant between our coasts before the United States instituted an income tax in the first place.
    The problem is not the "Government" in the abstract. WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT. Unfortunately, too many of US, especially many who claim to be libertarians, refuse to insist that ALL the people pay their fair share, ALL of the time to support All of the people of this country.It is time that the wealthiest 1% of us admit that "class war" is precisely what they have been waging, unconsciously or no,on the rest of us, rather than complaining about the use of that term. WE need to be a government that insists on
    encouraging and supporting rights for ALL of us.]