Sean Edwards

The American Resurrection

Why Taxes Are A Good Thing – Except When They Aren’t

1716, Christopher Bullock said: “Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.”

Taxation, and what should and shouldn’t be taxed, can be a hot subject for many.

People will get very heated about the role taxes play in our lives. Some believe it is your civic duty to pay taxes, while others view taxes as a legal form of theft.

And with something so ubiquitous as taxation, it can become easy to become numb to taxes in our modern lives. They just are. They always have been. And they always will be.

However, no matter where you stand on government issues, the situation is the same: you must pay taxes, or you will go to jail.

That’s it. We can have philosophical discussions about duty and “the public good,” but at the end of the day, taxes are a serious issue. We are talking about the forced acquisition of people’s money.

We can have philosophical discussions about duty and “the public good,” but at the end of the day, taxes are a serious issue. We are talking about the forced acquisition of people’s money.

As we’ve seen in a previous article (Why Money Doesn’t Exist), money represents the time and energy you spend working–time and energy you will never get back.

Because of this, in many ways your money represents a portion of your life (that portion you spent working). And if something is going to take a piece of your life by force, then you need to be sure you understand why.

Whether you think the tax rates are too high or too low, we need to give this subject the gravity it deserves. And most do not.

This article will explore the broad concepts behind taxes. And we will see why, when held to certain principles, taxes are a good thing.

Why Taxes Are A Good Thing – Except When They Aren’t

In its simplest form, taxes fund the government.

If the government needs to fight a war, it will levy a tax to fund that war.

If the government needs to build roads, it will levy a tax to construct those roads.

You get the idea.

Therefore, the question of taxes is really a question of government.

If you believe the government should be the instrument of social change, then “good” taxes will fund things like healthcare, education, and welfare assistance.

If you believe government should insure national security and justice, then “good” taxes will fund the armed forces and justice system.

This means your view of tax ethics depends on your view of government.

Government and Taxes, Like Two Peas In A Pod

Government is a human invention. Government did not predate humanity. And modern governments are based on laws, which are written by humans.

If government is a human invention, then it derives its power (or, more aptly, its moral authority) from humanity.

This means that the government must follow the same rules as people. In other words, governments can’t do things individuals couldn’t.

Governments can practically accomplish things individuals can accomplish. But it can’t morally do things humans cannot.

If government is a human invention, then it can’t have authority that humans don’t.

The government must be restrained by the same moral code that restrains humans.

Think of the government as humanity’s child. When two people have a child, it doesn’t have human DNA along side alligator DNA. It is 100% human, and can’t be anything but human.

The government is a human creation. Meaning its power, authority, and jurisdiction come from the same morals that limit individuals.

The government is a human creation. Meaning its power, authority, and jurisdiction come from the same morals that limit individuals.

If the government had the right to do things individuals don’t, where did that DNA come from? Where did that moral authority originate?

In the past, this “DNA” (or moral authority) came from the “Divine Right of Kings.” It was believed that royal families were God-breathed, which gave them the moral authority to rule over people.

But we don’t believe that today. That is why our government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Our government gets its authority (to exist) from the people. So, I ask again, how can the government, a human invention, have power and authority that humans do not?

Hubris Comes Before The Fall

Some might say, “The will of the people give it that power.” Meaning, society as a whole empowers the government to do things individuals could not.

If the people want socialized medicine, then the government should provide socialized medicine.

However, I would ask, “How many more people did Hitler need to agree with him before the Final Solution became morally okay?”

If we define our government by “the will of the people,” then we are saying that the majority determines what is right and wrong.

Meaning that if enough people agree, then it must be right (or “true” or “good”). However, this ideology just replaces a dictator with mob rule.

If the mob wants to round up all the Japanese and put them in interment camps, they can.

If they mob wants to create a muslim registry, they can.

If they mob wants to enslave Africans, they can.

If they mob wants to kill all the jews, they can.

A group of individuals cannot override the rights of a single individual. This philosophy is known as vox populi vox dei (the voice of god is the voice of the people).

It may produce some good fruit initially, but eventually you end up in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.

The government is supposed to reflect the will of the people, but only to an extent.

There are laws in place to keep the people from committing the same atrocities as dictators.

Vox Populi Vox Dei: The Road to Death

If we agree that the majority can’t determine right and wrong, then it implies we also believe there is another, more objective definition of right and wrong that can override the majority.

If the government doesn’t have any other “DNA” in it, then it must be 100% man-made. Meaning it must operate by the same moral standards as humans.

Groups of individuals do not have rights. And “group rights” (if such a thing could ever exist) certainly can’t override individual rights.

Practically, this means the government cannot violate the rights of individuals.

What does this mean? It means that any action the government takes to violates the rights of individuals is unethical.

If a person can’t do it, neither can the government. Plain and simple. If you can find a way around this, then please explain it in the comments, because I cannot.

If this is true, then taxes collected to fund programs that violate the rights of individuals are by nature unethical.

This is our yardstick to measure the morality of a tax: Does it fund a program or department that violates individual rights? Even if its doing so for the “public good”?

Good Tax, Bad Tax

We need to take an honest look at our government (and our personal political positions) to see if we as individuals could perform those actions.

If we could, then the government is in the clear, and the tax is ethical.

If we cannot, then ethics demands we stop our government from doing it. If its a social program we like, we must find a different way to accomplish the same end.

Lets take Universal Healthcare for example. Do I have the right to go to my neighbor and force him to pay for a homeless man’s healthcare?

Could you grab a gun, go next door, and force them to comply?

No. They would call the cops, and then you’d go to jail. Why? Because that’s called armed robbery.

It doesn’t matter what you intend to do with the money, you don’t have the right to your neighbor’s money.

Let me make this point again: Your intentions do not negate your actions. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to help people, stealing is wrong.

Your intentions do not negate your actions. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to help people, stealing is wrong.

So… why can the government do it? If you believe the government has the right to tax people for universal healthcare, then you must believe that the government has a type of authority people do not.

If that’s what you believe, then you need to defend your position. Because I don’t see how that’s true.

You can’t say, “It’s the right thing to do.” Or, “Society has a duty to take care of the least amongst us.”

Though they reveal noble intentions, neither of these sentiments answers the question, “How can the government ethically do things that individuals cannot?”

We want to take care of the poor. But just because we want something doesn’t make the way we’re doing it right.

Furthermore, if we believe the government has this kind of “divine” power to override people’s rights… is that what we really want?

What happens when someone you don’t like gets into office (like President Trump, for instance)?

If you’ve endorsed policies that gave the government power individuals don’t have, then you’ve left a loaded gun in the White House for someone to use against you.

And it says that in some capacity, you believe vox populi vox dei.

It means that morality can be determined by the masses, and that Hitler only needed a few more people to agree with him to make his actions ethical.

Do you believe that?

The Nefarious Nature of Implicit Beliefs

Many of these beliefs are implicit, meaning they were subconsciously adopted. You didn’t consciously decide you believed them. Which gives you a certain innocent naivety.

But now that you know, you only have 2 options: A) You must defend your position with logic and reason, and explain how the government has the authority to do things individuals cannot, or B) You must openly declare that you desire a tyrannical government, so long as you agree with those in power.

Those are your 2 options. There are no others. Either you believe the government has a divine spark, or you believe you and your political party have the right to violate the rights of individuals (as long as you all agree about it).

If you see a third option, please describe it in the comments.

So, which is it? If you believe the government can do things individuals cannot, can you defend your position with logic? Or are you making way for the next Hitler?

How To Define A “Good” Tax

In an abstract, philosophical sense, we have individual rights. And those are generally defined as the right to life, freedom, and the fruit of your labor.

However, in the real world, you don’t really have any rights. If someone comes along who’s stronger than you, and they want your property (or your spouse), they’ll get it.

In a practical sense, your rights don’t exist.

This is why government exists, to ensure your rights as an individual. Otherwise, you would live at the mercy of those around you.

Since without government I’d be at the mercy of the strongest thug with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, taxes that protect my rights are good.

In this context, taxes are my rent for living in a free country, free from the aggression of other people.

However, I would never pay a thug with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire to be my slave master.

I would never pay a thug with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire to be my slave master.

No rational person would voluntarily give up their freedom to a government that can rob or enslave them whenever the voting majority decided to do so.

The only tax that can be considered good is the tax that protects your rights as an individual.

When you pay taxes, you’re paying for protection from aggressors. But an individual would never pay someone to be their aggressor.

And that’s the line. Once we cross from protecting individual rights into fixing social problems, we’ve made our government immoral.

We have empowered a thug to rule over us, and whenever the masses decide they want my property, or my life, there is nothing to stop them.

Taxes are a good thing because they empower an impartial entity to protect our rights as individuals, and administer justice. Without the government, your rights as an individual wouldn’t practically exist in the world.

Taxes become theft when they go beyond these borders, and force people to pay into programs with which they may or may not agree.

These are the 2 simple questions you can use to determine if a tax is good or not:

  1. “Could an individual do what this tax is doing?”
  2.  “Does this tax actively defend my rights as an individual?”

If an individual couldn’t do it, then it is a bad tax.

But if it goes to protect your rights as an individual, it’s a good tax.

That is how taxes are a good thing… except when they aren’t.

Thank you for reading.

About Sean Edwards

Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.

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4 Replies

  1. This entire argument relies on separating government from economics and is thus invalid.

    Money and wealth aren’t tied solely to the individual. They are a product of the economic system created by society and regulated by society’s government.

    The great deception of the rich is the idea that people have an inherent right to their wealth. Wealth is obtained from an economic system – a system created and maintained by both society and government – and accordingly, society and government have a role to play in how that wealth is taxed.

    I didn’t earn my wealth in a bubble and neither did you. Millions of people played a role in every dollar you’ve ever earned. Whether it was the hospital you were born in, the school you were taught in, the roads you drive to work, the soldiers who died for your freedom, the engineers who helped build the internet, the children who slaved away for your iPhone…

    The idea that taxes are an ethics question is complete nonsense.

    The economic system we live in and earn from is here solely because society built it and tolerates its existence. How we are taxed in that system is thus based solely on what society determines and tolerates.

    1. Sean Edwards

      Jacob, I appreciate your thoughts. However, in logic and rhetoric, this is called a “Red Herring,” and is not a valid argument or rebuttal to my position.

      Here’s the breakdown:
      Argument A is presented by person 1.
      Person 2 introduces argument B.
      Argument A is abandoned.

      You failed to address the the logical argument I presented, and instead introduced another (actually several).

      Before we move onto the topics you raised, you need to logically prove why my argument is flawed. What gives the government the moral authority to do things individuals cannot?

      I have thoughts on what you’ve said here, but this such a wide spread issue in our generation that I feel it is necessary to strictly enforce proper debate. Otherwise we’ll never arrive at any conclusions, and we’ll just be more angry at each other.

      1. “If government is a human invention, then it derives its power (or, more aptly, its moral authority) from humanity.

        This means that the government must follow the same rules as people. In other words, governments can’t do things individuals couldn’t.

        Governments can practically accomplish things individuals can accomplish. But it can’t morally do things humans cannot.”

        This isn’t a proof. It’s your premise.

        I’m not debating your argument. I’m saying your premise leaves out a key variable – economics – and falsely attempts to treat government and then taxation as purely an issue of morality, independent of the subject of economics, income, and wealth distribution.

        That omission invalidates any subsequent arguments.

        Is it moral for you to use an iPhone built from parts made by slave labor?

        That question can’t be answered seriously without bringing economics into the picture, in the same way “Is it moral for the government to tax you on _____?” can’t be answered seriously without bringing economics into the discussion.

      2. Sean Edwards

        You’re right, it is a premise.

        Can you explain this statement: “I’m saying your premise leaves out a key variable – economics – and falsely attempts to treat government and then taxation as purely an issue of morality, independent of the subject of economics, income, and wealth distribution.”

        I’m having trouble following your statement.

        How would you define economics in this situation? And how does that definition take the issue of taxation beyond morality? And finally, how does your argument invalidate my premise?

        What you seem to be saying is that wealth cannot be owned.

        However, that does not invalidate my argument, just my application. The argument was: Since government is a human invention, the government isn’t able to do things that individuals cannot….meaning it can’t rob people to help others.”

        Your assertion doesn’t undermine the basic argument (that the government should be limited to actions only individuals can make), it questions the application by challenging an individual’s ownership of their wealth. But if we move to another area, the argument about how the government should operate still stands.

        However, to answer your question directly, no it isn’t moral to use an iPhone built with slave labor. Fortunately they aren’t.

        Concerning wealth…

        You are correct, nothing is created in a vacuum. Ideas and innovation are built on each other. However, that does not change the nature of ownership.

        If I bake a cake, and sell that cake at my bakery, I am not responsible for 100% of that cake because I did not grow the wheat, and I did not raise the animals that produced the eggs and milk. I did not grow the sugar. I didn’t even invent cakes.

        So, from that perspective, the cake baker is only responsible for a little bit of the cake. For example’s sake, lets say they’re only responsible for the 10% of the components that make a cake, mainly the labor used to make it. This means one could argue that it is ethical to tax the baker up to 90% of their profit because they aren’t responsible for it.

        Here are some problems with this position:

        1. The cake wouldn’t exist without the baker making it.

        It doesn’t matter that he or she did not produce everything that led to the baking of the cake. All of those resources already existed, and they would exist independent of the baker. If the baker didn’t exist, those resources would still exist. But their wouldn’t be a cake. His effort to aggregate the ingredients, bake the cake, and then make that cake available for sale is 100% his doing. The cake only exists because the baker utilized his mind and labor to make the cake. That’s what you’re paying for. You aren’t paying for flour, sugar, and butter. You’re paying for the mind that learned out to bake a cake, and the labor that mind employed to bake it. And that profit belongs 100% to him.

        2. Your argument doesn’t take into account trade.

        The argument says that since the baker isn’t responsible for the 100% of the actions that went into the cake, he doesn’t have a right to 100% of the profit. But he does, because he purchased those other pieces.

        He went to the market and purchased flower, eggs, milk, and sugar. The market purchased those materials from food producers (farmers, value added food producers, etc…).

        Along the entire chain, value is being exchanged by all parties. The farmer sold their wheat to the mill. Which means the mill compensated the farmer for his wheat, and the mill now owns it… as if they had grown it.

        The mill grinds the wheat into flour and sells it to the marketplace. The marketplace now owns the flour, as if they had grown it and milled it.

        The same thing happens when the baker buys the products from the market. He trades, value for value, with the market, and now the ingredients become his… as if he had grown and produced them.

        And then he bakes his cake. Because of trade, all responsible parties have been compensated, and value has been exchanged in every transaction. This means that when the baker baked his cake, he owns 100% of the resources that went into creating the cake.

        Thus, he has a right to 100% of the profit.

        To say that he doesn’t have a right to 100% of that cake implies a few things. Either ownership doesn’t change in a trade, and the original producer still has a right something they sold. Or that someone was robbed along the way, and that robbery aided in the baking of the cake. Or that the farmer didn’t own 100% of the wheat he grew (presumably because he didn’t create the earth, produce the fertilizer, etc…).

        If he did not own his 100% wheat, who did? And if we’re going to say that the portion he didn’t own is taxable (without question), then who gets to decide what happens to the resources “no one owns”? And how gets to determine how much ownership we do have over what we create? We are aggregating a lot of power into a few hands when we do this.

        Why does the government get to do this? What moral authority gives them the power (or the knowledge) to determine who owns what portion of they produce? The government is just a group of people. Are we saying that we should empower a few individuals to regulate an unquantifiable amount of resources that no one owns, claim ownership over those non-owned goods (which someone produced), and then exercise deadly force to collect it?

        Because that sounds very dangerous. Just saying.

        I talk a lot about trade in this response, and I have a more in-depth article about money here: Why Money Does Not Exist.