This post is part of the series Why Government?
Other posts in this series:
In a previous post, I explained that a common anarchist argument against taxes fails. But that does not mean that taxes are moral. It just means that one argument against taxes fails. This is my positive argument for taxes (or something like them). I will say upfront that this argument does not justify the taking of any tax whatsoever. Nor does it mean that taxes ought to be paid in all circumstances. All that this argument proves is that taxes are sometimes moral. Taxation is sometimes justified because there are cases when the common good requires taking money from the populace in order to preserve the natural goods that give rise to ownership rights.
Let’ s suppose that there is a community of a few hundred people that are isolated from any other community. Let’ s further suppose that this community has one rich person who has barns full of enough food to feed everyone in the community (including himself) with enough left over to plant enough crops for everyone for the following year. Let’ s further assume that through no fault of their own the community, when excluding the holdings of the rich man, cannot feed itself. Due to the isolation from other communities, it cannot buy food from others either. Let’ s finally suppose that the rich man refuses to share his food, even knowing the plight of others in his community. In this situation, either the community will take legal measures to obtain the food and distribute it or they will starve. I think that it is obvious that it is morally acceptable for the community to take that food and distribute it to the community. But my argument does not rely on intuition.
If you do not find the preceding story convincing, then consider this argument. The reason why we have a right to our property is because our property serves our natural needs including those of freedom and creativity. But without enough food to eat, we cannot use our property for any of the higher purposes. Furthermore, since the right to our property depends on our natural rights to exist, it is never moral to violate natural rights to preserve property. Therefore, there is no right to protect the starving from our food. Further details on this argument can be found in my series on property.
In this article, I explain what justifications can be given for taking another’ s property. First, it must be a final option. In this case, there is no other way to get the food. Second, it must proceed first by asking and only second by taking. In this case, the government (community) will do this through a legal process. Third, the taking is only justified to the extent that the natural goods underlying property are preserved by this taking. In this case, life is threatened because of starvation. Since all three conditions are met, the taking of the goods is justified.
But this taking is an instance of taxation. The community is preserving the life of its members. This is an instance of the common good. Since we are acting on behalf of the common good, the actions are those of a government. If the government takes money, then that is a tax. Since the taking was justified, then the tax is justified. But this is a particular case. Therefore, taxation is sometimes justified.
Continue reading this series:
Coercion and Rights