13 November 2011

Some thoughts on Taxation (article link)

In an excellent blogpost titled "How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying)", author Sam Harris talks about reader reactions to a previous post he wrote advocating raising taxes on the very wealthy.

Even - perhaps especially - if you're one of those who is outraged by such a prospect, I'd suggest reading through this article. Harris is reasonable, intelligent, and well-spoken, and he responds with patient moral logic to the most common moral objection to taxation:

Many readers were enraged that I could support taxation in any form. It was as if I had proposed this mad scheme of confiscation for the first time in history. Several cited my framing of the question—“how much wealth can one person be allowed to keep?”—as especially sinister, as though I had asked, “how many of his internal organs can one person be allowed to keep?”

For what it’s worth—and it won’t be worth much to many of you—I understand the ethical and economic concerns about taxation. I agree that everyone should be entitled to the fruits of his or her labors and that taxation, in the State of Nature, is a form of theft. But it appears to be a form of theft that we require, given how selfish and shortsighted most of us are.

Many of my critics imagine that they have no stake in the well-being of others. How could they possibly benefit from other people getting first-rate educations? How could they be harmed if the next generation is hurled into poverty and despair? Why should anyone care about other people’s children? It amazes me that such questions require answers.

Would Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, rather have $10 billion in a country where the maximum number of people are prepared to do creative work? Or would he rather have $20 billion in a country with the wealth inequality of an African dictatorship and commensurate levels of crime?[1] I’d wager he would pick door number #1. But if he wouldn’t, I maintain that it is only rational and decent for Uncle Sam to pick it for him.


If you've got a few minutes (the article is meaty, but not overly long), give it a read.

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