The simple reason you can’t be against taxes and for human rights

For the purposes of this conversation, a human right is something that we, as a society, have agreed that everyone should have access to, and that this access cannot depend on the person’s wealth, or status, or connections, or popularity, or anything else. Sometimes people argue over what should be included in this category, so I’m going to stick to some of the obvious ones that everyone who operates in the context of Western Culture tends to agree on, for example: the right to not be killed, and the right to not have someone come in off the street and just take your stuff from you.

For the purposes of this conversation, a tax is what happens when the government asks you to give it money, where the amount of money you give isn’t directly related to the amount of any given service you receive from the government. It’s a kind of economic exchange that results in wealth redistribution, because the people who pay the most in taxes are not necessarily the people who receive the most of any given government service that is being financed by those taxes.  The argument I’m going to lay out here is that you cannot be against taxes–and you cannot be against the redistribution of wealth in general–if you believe in human rights.

Let’s say you live in an isolated little home in the country. There are mean, nasty people about who may want to either kill you or take your stuff. We, as a society, have decided that you have a basic human right to not have that happen.  So how do we, as a society, act on this belief and ensure that your rights are not infringed?

“Hang on!” some people might say, “You should just own a gun and protect yourself! People should be self-reliant! Personal responsibility!”

I think it’s wonderful when people can be self-sufficient, and they should strive to be as self-sufficient as possible.  However, some people are too poor to afford a gun. Some people are disabled and don’t have the physical means to protect themselves. And if you believe that the right to not be murdered is a basic human right, then by definition it applies to everyone… not just people who have enough money to buy a gun, and not just people who are not disabled.

So, there are some situations (at least) where there is a burden on other people to protect the people who cannot protect themselves. How, as a society, do we get this to happen?

One obvious answer is that we can have people whose job it could be to protect people! We could call them “police”, and give them special training, and tell them that it is their duty to protect people from being killed and robbed. They can make a living that way.

But of course this means we are asking them to do work, and they need to get paid. If they protect people all day but get no income from it, they will not be able to support themselves or their families. They will inevitably decide to go off and do work that does pay, instead.

So how do they get paid?

In the standard libertarian, free-market model of the world, people would pay for their own protection. That would work perfectly, if we didn’t believe in basic human rights.

But demanding that people pay for the protection they need to not get murdered means that not every human has access: your protection from being murdered now depends on whether you can afford to pay. Which means, it is not being treated as a basic human right. It is contingent.

So you have a dilemma. If you believe in human rights, you believe you need to protect people even if they are poor. But for someone to actually spend their days protecting others, they need to get paid to do it.

So who pays?

The answer: society, as a whole, pools some money together and pays. The people who can pay, pay for everyone to be protected. That’s the redistribution of wealth. That’s what taxes are for. And the only way to have a society where there is no redistribution of wealth is to give up on the idea of a society that believes in basic human rights.

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  1. Greg, another great one, broken down in the most accessible terms. Love the reference to theft as “take your stuff.” B.

  2. Lloyd Meeker says:

    Good opening premise. I’d go a step further, and conjoin human rights with rule of law — that is, you can’t be against taxes and for the rule of law, because the rule of law as we know it runs (with the exception of election campaigns) on taxes collected and laws exist fundamentally to protect human rights.

    Without taxes and the rule of law that taxes make possible, a cattle baron simply hires the gunslingers he can afford, and the sheep farmer putting up fences to protect his grazing land comes to an unfortunate end.

  3. Karen says:

    Say, good food-for-thought so early in the a.m. but you made it easy….
    This is your art work too?
    OMG…no one has the right to be so talented. 😉

    My fav is def the ‘shroom.

    Will tweet your work to my friends….
    Thanks for going to the trouble of writing….I find it painful, most often. Just wrote an article for a Cannabis nursing magazine. 1200 words. Not really my cup of tea. Would rather stand up and explain, describe and give tools away that help people learn, esp those over 55.

    Hats off to you. I’m impressed. For whatever reason this early in the morning, this work reminds me of Brenda Euland, whom I adore.
    Say…have a great day….

  4. John Thomas says:

    As a college perfesser might say, this section needs expansion – particularly the use of the word “contingent”.

    “Which means, it is not being treated as a basic human right. It is contingent.”

    You could write entire encyclopedias on those contingencies. They’re important. It’s a simple word with an absolute boat load of meanings. It’s those contingencies that complicate the hell out of things you’d think would be simple.

    Might be a thought to tackle this subject….

    Thanks for your consideration!

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