Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

September 8, 2009

Taxation And Morality

by Doug Mataconis

There have been plenty of books and policy papers written, plenty of speeches and television and radio interviews, about the economic reasons that high progressive taxation is a bad idea. We’ve heard many times about how it restricts innovation by discouraging investments, or how higher tax rates actually have the seemingly perverse impact of decreasing government revenue, while lower tax rates lead to more money in the Treasury. Those arguments have been made and re-made, stated and re-stated, so many times that most fiscal conservatives can restate them on their own.

What we haven’t seen very often, though, is an argument about tax policy from a moral perspective, an examination of the impact that tax policy has on society in the manner that it punishes good behavior and rewards bad behavior. That is exactly the argument that Leslie Carbone takes up in Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform, and it’s a welcome addition to the debate.

Through a combination of history, economic analysis, and good old-fashioned common sense, Carbone demonstrates quite clearly how tax policies over the past 70 years or longer have succeeded in sending the wrong signals to citizens and helped to encourage behaviors that have adverse consequences for individuals and society as a whole. In one compelling section, Carbone examines the immorality behind the IRS’s tax enforcement mechanism and concludes with this devastating point:

When a government does to people not convicted of any wrongdoing what the people cannot do to one another, the march toward tyranny has begun. When it takes from some just because they have more than others, when it places its interests in self-support above the privacy of its citizens, when its enforcement of unnatural law is identical to its enforcement of heinous natural offenses, when it can’t even understand it’s own laws, it has shifted from enforcing justice to enforcing injustice and sows disrespect for the Rule of Law. It becomes an instrument of the very wrongs it is instituted to subdue.

That’s the America we live in today.

The book concludes with an insightful analysis of the various tax reform proposals that have been made in recent years, ranging from the flat tax to the national sales tax, and makes clear that only reform that allows the people to keep more of what they earn can ever be considered moral.

For a quick read, this is an excellent edition to the voluminous literature condemning the leviathan that has become America’s tax system.

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  • http://msgnet.org msgnet

    I agree with the main thesis, but as a point of detail, it’s a popular myth that lower taxation leads to higher government revenue. There are many reasons to argue for lower taxation, but higher government revenue is a particularly weak one.

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