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I don’t want to meditate on whether taxation is theft – it is – but rather on a common justification many intellectuals (and citizens) provide for its existence. While, they say, we don’t like taxation, it is the “price” we must pay to have the Democracy we have. And for whatever its flaws, we must accept that this is probably the best that we can do as a people in terms of political representation.

I actually reject the latter claim, as the advance of technology, communications and economic development clearly make possible more representative political arrangements than were possible in 1787 or even 50 years ago. Be that as it may, what gets my knickers in a bunch is the notion that folks view taxes as an acceptable “cost.” This acceptance is wholly ridiculous for two reasons:

  1. When justified as a defense of “Democracy” without defining what Democracy means, or the appropriate limits to what political actors in a Democracy (or more accurately a Republic) might do, then just by labeling something Democratic action opens the floodgates for virtually unlimited taxation and confiscation of property. What, you don’t want your tax dollars used to subsidize the UAW takeover of Government Motors? Too bad, that is the cost of democracy. What, you don’t think we should spend billions of dollars digging tunnels of Boston, sorry Minnesota iron miner, that is the price of living in a wonderful democracy. What hogwash.
  2. But suppose you say we just have to “deal with” #1 above – which clearly reeks of utilitarian expediency, why don’t these folks acquiesce to similar arguments about “market” organizations as opposed to other forms of economic systems? Clearly market systems can deliver the goods like no other system in history. Clearly market systems are less tyrannical than other systems. Clearly market systems are not perfect, and can unleash untold damage on unwitting participants. So why don’t these same people view business creation and destruction, job turnover, price changes, and what-have-you as unavoidable “costs” of a system that is worth preserving? Why are most folks wholly uncritical of democratic forms of government, but cannot help but dissect every minor possible flaw in market systems (even though upon careful consideration, they are only flaws because of government influence in the first place). Why?

Why the inconsistency? Because in my view it has everything to do with power. Under any political arrangement aside from anarchism, having a form of government is to have sanctioned power over other citizens. And people like to romanticize democracy because it somehow makes folks think that all are afforded the same opportunity to acquire this massive power (which any sensible person knows to be wholly untrue). With markets however, recognizing that system forces people to recognize the limits to power, the dispersion of power, and acknowledging that things actually can and do work well with no one person, company or organization in a position of power. And recognizing markets, for all of their flaws, recognizes the fact that when a market arrangement produces power relationships, it is precisely this power that attracts competition – and it is this competition that strikes at the very core of power relationships – and ultimately rips them apart. This is a feature, while many opponents view it as a bug of the system. The problem with modern republican systems of government is that they have steadily seen the erosion of similar competitive threats to their concentration of power – despite the best intentions of the founders of such systems to prevent precisely this from happening.

But if the statists among us were to at least demonstrate a modicum of consistency in their utilitarian notions, then it would seem to suggest that they ought to recognize the “problems” with capitalism as acceptable costs of an otherwise useful system to have.

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