Why Paying Your Taxes is Morally Obligatory

There is a considerable body of philosophy–such as it is–that begins with the assumption that any form of government seizure of personal wealth is morally wrong and is a violation of rights. This might bring to mind the libertarian movement, but I want to specifically state right now that I in no manner intend to disparage libertarianism. I believe there is a great deal to learn from that philosophy, though like every philosophical framework I have encountered, it is perhaps not as strictly catholic (read: universal) as they might assume.

Anyway. I want to introduce to you, dear reader, a multifaceted concept: the social contract. It states–to be pragmatic instead of pedantic–that, in order to receive the benefits of a governmental system, the individual gives up some liberties. Much of the time this is discussed in terms like “I can’t steal whatever I want, and in return the government prevents theft of my property and/or punishes those who do so anyway”, and this is quite true, but it is not the entire story.

Let me change tactics here. Each of us is born into a social contract; it is not something we have chosen. Different forms of government have different weights on either side of that contract. Democratic forms of government, for all that they frustrate us, tend to deliver a good balance: the government vies for the attention of its subjects (or at least some subset of its subjects; campaign finance reform may be a subject for a future post) by attempting to acquiesce to their whims, and in return the subjects allow the government to operate peaceably. This is a good system and has done very well for those societies which have adopted it.

But none of us “built that”–to borrow a phrase. We are instantly beholden, at least in developed nations, to the efforts of those who came before and, in fact, those who currently exist. Lets take the power grid: almost none of us, certainly not myself, have had the slightest physical hand in the maintenance of the power grid, much less its initial inception. When we are born in our clean hospitals under our bright lights and machines that go ping, we are actually approximately nine months (assuming normal birth, etc) into our usage of these services. We, in a sense, have been mooching. Our cost is borne by our parents, yes, but also of society. No individual’s parents pay for the vast network of intermeshing systems that surround us all day every day and have for decades, if not centuries.

This is what I mean when I talk about a sort of public debt. In short: you owe it to the rest of the country for the services you used in order to achieve your position. If you are wealthy, you did not become wealthy on your own, no matter how hard you pulled on your own bootlaces. You did not build the roads that transport your workers, or your customers, from place to place, nor the power that allows them to use your product (whatever it is, it’s safe money that electricity is used somewhere in the process), nor the water systems that provide them with safe sustenance, nor the–but you get my meaning, I hope.

And it’s true that a great deal of what exists isn’t paid for by public funds, but none of it would be feasible without said funds. Just see what happens if we stop funding the roads for a while (in the United States, at least, this is federal money that is given to the states in exchange for making the drinking age 21; no more layer cake federalism, my friends).

So yes, you owe your taxes. If you make a lot of money, you owe a greater, though not debilitating, percentage, because your benefit relative to your expenditure is that much greater. And though the wealthy do provide much of the massive investments, as I said in my basic income post, money flowing down from the top does less good than money flowing up from the bottom, and part of that effect is investment in the communal infrastructure upon which all of our great civilization rests. If you make a lot of money because a million people buy your product, you have benefited from the infrastructure that delivered your product (or allowed it to be received, in some fashion) and are responsible, at least a little bit, for each of those million people having the ability to acquire your product. Responsible in praise, and responsible in, you know, responsibility.

But the great thing about taxation is that each of us only has to pay for a tiny part of the whole. Bill Gates needn’t be responsible for the entirety of the Interstate System, but he can certainly be responsible for a greater piece of it than someone who simply drives to work. How else could the computers bearing his software get to stores, or from warehouses to homes? He benefits more; it’s only fair that he be taxed more.

Otherwise you’re, to borrow a phrase, a “looter”, and in my opinion that is the greater of two evils.

One thought on “Why Paying Your Taxes is Morally Obligatory

  1. […] income involves the redistribution of wealth (see my other post for why I believe taxation to be morally acceptable in principle and payment thereof a moral good […]

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