In the Eye of the Beholder

Someone posted a comment to one of my previous blogs to the effect that taxation is theft. This is a not-uncommon complaint of the far right–that government is using its coercive power to steal the fruits of honest labor from its citizens.

I see a different picture. I see whiners who want to steal from their fellow-citizens–people who accept and use the services provided by government with our tax dollars, but who are indignant at the notion that they should pay their fair share for those services. They drive on streets paved with tax dollars, call on police when assaulted, employ workers educated in our public schools, put their garbage out for pickup, are protected by the National Guard and armed forces…No matter how loudly they complain about “socialism,”  I know of none who refuse to accept their Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Talk about your “makers” and “takers”…People who want the benefits of our public infrastructure but get indignant when asked to pay for those benefits sure seem to me to fall into the “takers” category.

The issue confronting thoughtful citizens is not “how do we avoid paying for what we get?” The issue is “how do we insure that government is operating efficiently and fairly, that it is doing those things that are properly its job and not others?” “How do we ensure that we are paying a fair price for services we really want government to provide?”

Of course, addressing those (much more complicated) questions, and monitoring our governing institutions takes effort and a modicum of civic understanding. Fixing those institutions when they are malfunctioning–or not functioning at all, which seems to be the case now–will require real effort. It’s easier to whine.


  1. The “taxation is theft” crowd are usually self-styled ultra-adherents to the Constitution — I remind them taxation is expressly authorized in both the US and Indiana Constitutions…

  2. There is no property without government. Taxation is ultimately a trade for property. Without taxes, there is no government. With no government, you don’t have property rights — only stuff you have managed to acquire which you can keep so long as no one stronger comes along to take it from you.

  3. Funny …

    237 years have passed since 1776 and still some American’s do not get taxes.

    Ironically …

    Earlier this week, the Daily Telegraph (UK Newspaper) reported that since 2008. The number of American Citizens, renouncing US citizenship and becoming British Citizens has tripled, due to a 2008 tax change.

    Before you ask, I did not explore the details of the tax change.

  4. O’Malley: I’m not sure what change occurred (possibly to the way we tax expats living abroad?), but if one were making a straight-up choice to live in the US versus the UK based on income taxes, it would be an easy choice: US tax rates, which are more gradual, with lower rates at higher income amounts, and where the top rate is lower, seems to be the easy choice. At least according to a quick google search, Britain’s tax rates are:

    –20% on incomes of £0 to £35,000.
    –40% on incomes of £35,001 to £150,000
    –And 50% (45% from 6 April 2013) on incomes over £150,000

  5. Thanks. A part of this is the unending grumbling that CERTAIN parts of government must “Pay their own way”. Roads and Airports are never subjected to this test but Railroads and Public Transit MUST pay their own way. Why is that? Our railroadlines must be rebuilt. Just like we keep rebuilding the roads. The RR’s are much more efficient means of transport than over the road trucks. I do not have the numbers at hand but every train takes hundreds of Semis off the Interstate. I for one like that idea a LOT. Drive I-70 and imagine a large reduction in truck traffic. GREAT. What I don’t want to pay for is more roads to make it easier for the “R”s in Carmel & Fishers to drive into our city. Let them pay for their OWN roads. As good Republicans, they would want it that way. 🙂
    The Post Office Too: They want that to “Pay its own way” and compete with FedEx and UPS. Well, In order to make it a fair fight, PLEASE pass a law requiring FedEx and UPS to prepay retirement for all their employee 75 years in advance and do it in a just a few years. Oh…don’t they do that? Huh. Wonder why.

  6. Taxation is the price you pay to live in a civilized society. US tax rates are the lowest in the world yet our health care costs are the highest, by far, of any other country. Not to mention, our military is THE best funded military in the world which Jon Stewart even mentioned this week – over 16 other nations COMBINED. We also have the worst public transportation network in the world as traffic chokes every city in this country. The I69/465 corridor in Indy has been that bad for 22 yrs that I know of.

    Mr. O’Malley, I wonder what the demographics of those citizens renouncing were…tax dodgers (doubt it) or maybe they wanted to be with their same sex partner which isn’t allowed in this country (nationwide discrimination???). Or maybe they got tired of being felt up at the airport TSA screeners? Or maybe they love socialistic Europe and decided to be much closer to their favorite destination? Or maybe, they wanted some of that ‘free’ healthcare? Let us know if you look it up!

  7. Kudos to AgingLittleGirl! You said it so well there is little to add except that our discouragement with taxes is often based on the wasted amounts that could and should be used to improve education at all levels, public safety everywhere and repairing collapsing infrastruction in our cities. Nobody likes paying taxes but they would be much more dissatisfied where there is no tax structure; look at conditions in many third world countries, then look around your neighborhoods.

  8. It’s inconsistent to rail against corporate welfare and not understand why some consider taxation theft. Note I didn’t say agree, but to not even understand the fruits of those arguments kinda sorta rings hollow.

    What you’re doing is lumping the anarchists in with people who pay attention to issues and believe taxation and government should play a different role in society than that which they are currently serving.

  9. We need something concrete and specific. I always think about schools, roads, making sure that what I drink and breathe is O.K., enforcing the Constitution, being able to rely on the police and fire departments for assistance, and things like that. What roles should be different? Whatever they are, do you intend to play a part in government?

  10. Right JoAnn Green. It was President Reagan that said Gov’t is the problem. Gee, say it ain’t so! Privatizing every thing that the gov’t handles is NOT working. First they privatized our military and look what that got us. Now, they try to privatize our education system and that is going to fail as well. Our education system was set up in 1912 or so and it’s time to fix it but privatizing isn’t the way to go. One of my biggest beefs in Indiana was the vouchers that allowed parents to send their kids to private schools. I didn’t pay property tax to send kids to private schools. Make the public schools better and you wouldn’t need private. Don’t even get me started on the transportation or rather lack of it in Indy. After living abroad for 3 yrs without a vehicle, I realized how pathetic our public transportation is in this country.

  11. I assume you’re talking about me. So, tell me, what the hell is my “fair share”, and why is it fair? Who has the authority to decide how much is “fair”, by what interpretation of fairness? (There are many, and MINE, for example, doesn’t include stripping people of their property by force.)
    You say “They drive on streets paved with tax dollars” – well, sure, but I don’t exactly have a choice, do I? The thing is, you are not entitled to give me a service and then demand my money for it. You can name a price up front and then let me choose whether or not to accept it, and you can refuse to provide the service for any reason you like, but demanding money (effectively at gunpoint, since the demand is backed by the implicit threat of police action) for services already rendered is extortion.
    Your claims, on the other hand, that I “call on police when assaulted, [and] employ workers educated in our public schools” are completely untrue. I don’t employ anyone at all, and I’ve never called the police in my life. I don’t need or want police protection, and I have no intention of asking for it. But even if I did, the criticisms above would still apply – with the additional point that, if I were to employ workers educated in public schools, I would be paying for that education in their salary. Demanding that I pay again for this alleged ‘service’ when I do not even directly benefit from it is obviously wrong. As for being “protected by the National Guard and armed forces”: I never asked for their protection and I don’t want it. I don’t feel that my safety is so threatened by any other countries that I need our Global Morality Force to torture random middle-eastern citizens for me.
    And I absolutely have never accepted “Social Security and Medicare benefits” – I’m in my 20s. Now, I am not the kind of person to turn down money being offered to me, especially when I’m being forced to pay for it anyway. But I would be more than happy to see those things go away, or at least become voluntary.
    If taxation was voluntary, I would be more than happy to pay for the services and infrastructure I use, as well as for things like education (which I believe is very important). I would also be able to choose *not* to pay for things such as more police officers to violate the civil rights of brown people or emergency services that will never be able to reach me in time because I don’t live in a city. However, it is simply morally wrong to use force to demand that people pay you, no matter how right you think the payment is – that’s nothing more than a mob racket.

    By the way, I’m not a member of the far-right. I’m an atheist, pro-choice, pro-drug, pro-LGBT* civil-libertarian who votes mostly Democratic and cares about things like *human rights* and governments that don’t violate them in order to fund another new agenda. I’m not “just whining”, either – I’m politically involved in my community, because I believe in my convictions and want to see real change. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear any of that, because it might make you have to reevaluate your stereotyped assumptions. It’s OK, though, I’m used to getting that from people who are supposed to be allies.

  12. JoAnn Green :
    Ah youth! Oh, to be young again and know it all.

    Good to hear you found a new stereotype to rely on. Wouldn’t want you to have to actually think about anything when you have a nice shortcut on hand instead.
    Of course, I assume you believe that all the other people sharing their opinions also think they know it all? Or is that only the case for those who commit the crime of having opinions while under forty?

  13. I suggest most taxation IS theft. The only point in having a government is to protect people from harm, which can take various forms:

    1) Defense of the country from invasion, via the military
    2) Defending people from others, via police and courts
    3) Defending the earth from pollution, via the EPA, etc
    4) Defending those who cannot defend themselves from starving or freezing to death, via welfare
    5) Defending those who suffer because of what body their souls inhabit – stopping racism, sexism.
    6) Creating and enforcing fair ground rules for the economy through the SEC (hahaha) and such

    In the theft category, I would put subsidies for pro sports, most of what’s spent on education, regulation of the size of soft drinks, Solyndra, most of the defense budget, pensions for government employees, most of the Congressional staff, and a lot of other stuff. IMO more than half our taxes go for things that don’t fall under points 1-6 above.

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