Libertarians (like me) are justly described as trying to maximize Liberty, and less correctly, as trying to minimize the restraints on human behavior. i say less correctly, because there is a sense in which the Libertarian actually believes in restraints nobody else believes in. If you ask a Libertarian and a non-Libertarian “What do you think about one person punching, injuring, or killing another, without the victim’s consent?” the Libertarian answers, obviously, “That is immoral.” And the man in the mainstream answers, “That is immoral…unless the perpetrator is an agent of a government, and the victim is a mere citizen.”
If you ask the two what they think of grabbing another person’s property out of his hands, and pulling a gun on him if he resists, the Libertarian will answer, “That is immoral.” The mainstream answers, “That is immoral…unless the one grabbing it has spoken certain words, filled out certain forms, obtained the approval of certain men, and is the agent of a government. Then it is not only right but noble.”
If you ask them, “What do you think about area bombing of cities, closure of businesses at gunpoint to the benefit of competitors, manipulative deceptions, eavesdropping, kidnapping, assassination, retaliation against criticism with gunfire, and the trespassing, interference, vandalism, and seizure of the property and livelihood of your fellow citizens?” The Libertarian answers, “That is immoral.” And the conventional, everyday, middle-of-the-road, sensible and normal man answers, “Those are horrible crimes, worthy of the strongest condemnation when perpetrated by any citizen…except an employee of a government.”
So as you can see, the Libertarian, far from wanting to lift restrictions on the behavior of his fellow citizens, wants to impose new ones. He wants to see the IRS held to the same standard as anyone else when it comes to grabbing money at gunpoint. He wants to see OHSA held to the same standards as the Mafia when it comes to showing up at your store and threatening you with disappearance if you don’t close your doors. He wants to see the federal agent who throws you in jail for leaking his agency’s wiretaps to the press, treated exactly the same way as a thug who pulls his gun on you for disrespecting his hood. In short, the mainstream has provided for the government a series of exceptions to conventional morality; a thousand things are crimes if the citizen does them, but right if the government does them. The Libertarian (in a shocking turn) wants to take away from these agents of the state their exceptional license to do what would otherwise be considered criminal. If you consider it right to tax a citizen for his own benefit, you and i have something to argue about as far as the ability of a man to determine what is best for him, vs. the ability of another man to dictate it. However, if you consider it right to tax one man for the benefit of another, but wrong for the beneficiary to simply get his own gun, go to the house of the other man, and extract the transfer payment himself…well, you have yourself to argue with. The distinction between taxation for the purpose of transfers [i don’t primarily mean welfare and relief, though they are an element. In terms of magnitude, the greatest transfer payments are made first through monetary policy, and second through ordinary government spending, as when x millions are spent building this or that through taxation and government contracts, to the benefit of this or that contractor or this or that district, at the expense of all other taxpayers] and outright, direct theft, is a matter for serious study in the mind of anyone who believes one to be wrong and the other right. i need not emphasize the fact that a characteristic understanding for Libertarians is simply that they are the same. There is a puzzle in separating “Man A points a gun at man B and demands his money,” from “Agent A points a gun at man B and demands his money,” if you believe them to be actually different. i feel i have solved it, but then, i believe them to be the same, and the puzzle is only hard if you believe the two to be different. The robber thinks he will spend the money better than his victim would, ie. he does not sit at home and laugh about the man he robbed being deprived of medicine or food so that he could enjoy luxuries; rather, he psychs himself up for the robbery by thinking about what a parasitical, greedy, excessively rich bastard the owner of the liquor store is, and how much better spent the money will be in his hands, providing the necessities and small luxuries of manhood to him. In short, the robber of a liquor store is quite as convinced that his actions serve a Social Justice cause as the politician (perhaps more, for politicians decisively exceed robbers in dishonesty) does with his own scheme to take from one and give to another. And of course the robber takes less for himself than the politician does; a man who derives his full income from robbing liquor stores in order to equalize wealth redistributes far, far less from the “rich” to himself per year than the yearly salary of any senator or congressman whose career is based on Social Justice. When a man robs a liquor store, 100% of the funds extracted from the “rich” reach the poor, while the greatest successes of the Democratic party in similar redistribution are first redirected into the salaries of those who have accomplished the political action, whether they were poor or no (do i need to footnote the fact that 0% of the people who received $100,000 every year of their campaigns for social justice were, in fact, poor?).
i say this, not to justify stealing because it is just as good as taxation, but to indict taxation as practiced in modern societies because it is just as bad as theft. If you can, indeed, find a logical reason to disconnect the two practices besides “I like one and I don’t like the other,” you have accomplished a first, and i advise you to spend your Nobel prize money wisely. The rest of us are confined to one of three possibilities: First, you may say with the Libertarians, “To take from someone else what is rightfully theirs is wrong.” Full stop. The fact that you have a gun and another man has money opens up a possibility for you, but that possibility is merely a crime. To take what does not belong to you is an evil deed, and should be resisted by society and any of society’s agents; the law can no more grant the authority to steal (tax) than it can grant a permit to rape.
OR, to answer this problem, you may say with some radical Leftists, that social programs and redistribution are just, because the poor would be wholly justified in seizing the wealth of the rich by mob action, or riot, or legislation, or by complex court actions, or any other means. Under this paradigm, again, there is one right course, whether it is taken by an official agency or a disorganized mass of men (though of course one or the other might be more suitable to the purpose), not a double standard between what the citizens employed by the government may do and what those not so employed may do. i would question the justification of taxation in general by this means, because the justification depends on the guilt of the party taxed, while the tax is applied to whole classes of people; ie. i am taxed to pay for benefits to others a thousand miles away, i protest my innocence in their plight. But the position is not intellectually inconsistent in principle: If a man is right in using the government to obtain relief against man who has wronged him, it is certainly consistent to say that he is right to use his gun for the same purpose, so long as he confines himself to correctly redressing real wrongs. But again, this is a greater restraint than is familiar in taxation; it is normal for tax-funded redistribution to take from a man who has done no wrong, to give to a man he has never wronged. It is normal for taxation to fail the very test that Dr. Arlinsky would use to justify stealing. It is normal for the tax and spend system to take money out of the pocket of an immigrant who operates a laundry in San Fransisco (because the laundry is fortunate enough to generate a profit) to pay for the third generation of a family on welfare in Washington DC. It is the nature of taxes, and spending programs, to be aimed at whole classes of people, but it is the nature of guilt to reside in individuals. If your justification for taxation, or theft, relies on the guilt of the target, you do indeed have a consistent case. But you have a very serious problem as well, for you are only justified in taxing the guilty, and it would be a remarkable coincidence for guilt to align so precisely with class or income that you could impose something like today’s income tax without ever plundering the innocent.
Standing quite apart from these academic, theoretical alternatives, we have the gruff, practical solution that has been adopted by the majority of voters; the normal people with normal opinions, uncluttered by esoteric nonsense and instead ruled by common, good sense. That is to say, the general opinion of the world: “It is right for the tax collector to take money from the innocent, and wrong for the thief to reclaim it from the guilty.” If a young man is cheated out of $620.28 for two weeks pay, which his employer promised him (before taxes lol) for specific work which he afterwards performed, but refused to provide the payment, nobody disagrees that as a last resort a firearm might be involved in extracting what is rightfully due. If we sent officers of the law (with guns) to the employer to demand that he honor his word, or if the whole village showed up at his door with the first man holding the contract and asking, “Isn’t this your signature?” or if the lone wronged worker showed up with his gun and extracted exactly $620.28 and would not accept a cent more, there is something of a consensus that these are merely different means for the righting of a past wrong. There is a difference in terms of efficacy and safety, but there is clearly no difference in the morality of the thing. If the worker extracts from the employer exactly what was promised, he is in the right, whether the means by which he obtained what he was owed was through mob, gun, or city hall, because force was justified.
But of course the mainstream consensus is the opposite of this. The consensus is that the officers of the law, with their guns, are right, while the other methods are wrong, even where the grievance is real and unquestioned. A worker who has been cheated out of his paycheck is a favorite of the state where he reports it to the state and relies on their officials to collect for him; but he is a villain, deserving imprisonment, where he extracts identically just payment through his own defense of his contractual rights. More than that, it is considered right by the mainstream for the worker to extract payment not from the man who promised to pay him, but from strangers all over the country. It is right (again, in the mainstream theory) for the police accompanying an agent of the IRS to point their guns at a man in Kentucky who received some income by selling some cars and say, “Give us $1020.28” and then for a portion of that to go to salaries, and then $620.28 to go to the man who was cheated out of his paycheck. The two men have never met, have no commercial association, the man from whom the money is extracted never promised a dime to the man to whom it will go, nor has even ever met him. But this is taxation, and it is just. Equally certain, in the mind of the mainstream, is the opposite conviction: Though it is right for money to be extracted from strangers a thousand miles away, it is wrong for the victim of the fraud to extract what is owed from the perpetrator, through identical threats of violence as those used by the IRS. In the mainstream mind it is wrong to punish the guilty, and right to punish the innocent. It is wrong to extract from the defrauder exactly what he defrauded, but right to extract far more from an innocent man at random.