Trolling for Statism: How not to argue with Libertarians
I can’t be everywhere at once. This means I can’t refute every fallacious argument out there in cyberspace. But once in a while, one person manages to collate several spurious arguments and create a video out of them. Consider amhemsley‘s “Don’t want to pay taxes? Then stop stealing from those who do”.
The video is little more than a tissue of trite arguments; tax resisters are thieves, the government provides us with services, if you don’t love it you can leave it, and so on. Here’s a brief discussion of why the guy in the video is wrong.
State = Society?
One common tool used by the anti-capitalists is the equivocation of fairly distinct and unambiguous terms. State, society, law, order, protection and peace are all mixed together. In amhemsley’s mind, anyone who is against the State is against society, and subsequetly for lawlessness, poverty and chaos.
It is important to challenge this simpleminded view. Stateless socities have existed in the past, even for centuries. Parallel to the history of State-made legislation runs the history of private law provision. Society is nothing more than the lose web of interaction among people who share a common heritage. The State is a territorial monopolist of lawmaking and taxation. Society typically uses ostracism and exclusion to punish those who engage in unlawful or distasteful activities. But society will find it difficult to legitimately use force against you, which is precisely the point of the State.
People who produce things that other people value are actively contributing to society, and are rewarded with livelihoods in exchange. After these people have already produced something, the State then expects to pay taxes as well. Any libertarian who protests this payment is immediately called a thief. But where does such an objection lead? There are groups in society that pay no taxes whatsoever, and are actually paid with taxes. These people include the unemployed, the poor and single parents, and their contribution to society remains doubtful. They benefit from the labour of others yet contribute nothing themselves. I’d love to see a video in which amhemsley chastises the poor and vulnerable for being tax-thieves, but I won’t hold my breath.
That’s Just How It Is
Stripped of the rhetoric, amhemsley’s assertion that tax-haters are thieves ultimately rests on an appeal to tradition: “… these things all cost money and need to be paid for, and the system that we have in place is that we pay taxes”.
Had amhemsley lived a century ago, he could have been making a similar argument with regards to other institutions. Try this one for size: “Food and clothing all cost money and need to be paid for. The system that we have in place in most countries is slavery. Any slave who refuses to work for his master is stealing from society and hence society has a right to use force against him“. If that one’s too vulgar, why don’t we try this one: “The mafia have a legitimate claim to a fraction of the income from all the shopkeepers in a neighbourhood. Any shopkeeper who refuses to pay is stealing from the mafia, and hence the mob are right to use force against her. If you don’t like paying your mafia dues you can simply move your business somewhere else.”
Now I hear you all crying: “But slavery and the mafia are nothing like government. The government provides things we need.” I disagree. Slaveowners do feed and clothe their slaves. Surely this is a much better fate than being left to the unfettered free market! But it’s the mafia that shares a closer resemblance to the government. The mafia have a territorial element; they control entire neighbourhoods. They determine the price of their services unilaterally, and they perform a very important defensive function. Much like my country’s army protects me from your country’s army, my mafia syndicate protects me from other syndicates.
So what would amhemsley say to all this? The same arguments he uses in defence of government can be used in defence of history’s most horrific institutions. The solution to this is to realise that neither the slaveowner nor the mafia are legitimately entitled to the income they receive. Libertarians take this premise to its fullest conclusion. If the small-scale mafia aren’t entitled to their tribute than neither are the large-scale mafias — the governments.
If the mafia and the government were legitimate entities, all of amhemsley’s conclusions follow. Realise that they aren’t and the libertarian positions will soon fall into place.
Free Riding Revisited
Tax evaders are allegedly theives for yet another reason. For amhemsley the concept of theft has nothing to do with property but everything to do with benefit. In another false equivocation, anyone who benefits from something without paying for it is automatically a thief. Now most people would see positive spillover effects as simply a good thing for all involved. And as the saying goes “the free rider didn’t ask for his ride…why should he be forced to pay for it?”
You can take this mentality to its absurd conclusion; since everyone is benefitting from everybody else’s existance, we all have some sort of claim to the property of others.
I’ll provide a simple example. My personal hygiene and friendly manner provides many benefits to those around me. Are my friends and family stealing from me? Can I politely smile at them and expect to be paid? And then there’s the problem of knowing how much benefit I’ve provided. I have little way of knowing whether someone benefits from my actions or not. What if noone likes my cheerful demeanour but everyone is still required to subsidise it?
More broadly, since the rich provide a great benefit to society through their entrepreneurship and far-sightedness, while the poor free-ride off others’ production and savings, should we employ a regressive tax system to correct this imbalance?
As well as leading to distasteful conclusions, we have seen that many of amhamsley’s arguments have proved to be contradictory and absurd.