Killing the myth that taxes are anti-democratic

You’ve probably seen this argument against using taxes to pay for social programs: Voluntary charity is fine, but when the government taxes people to help the needy it is taking my money by force and is therefore infringing on my free choice and is fundamentally undemocratic!” Another common form of this argument: generosity isn’t generosity when it happens at the point of a gun.

It’s important for you to understand why this argument is total bullshit.

Let’s talk about the government’s use of force.

If you go over the speed limit, you will be forced to pay a fine. If you are caught stealing from a store, you may be forced to go to jail. Neither of these things is “undemocratic”: we live in a society where we have certain agreed-upon standards for behavior, and “force” is one of the ways that we enforce those standards in a democratic society.

Living in a democratic society means you get to participate in how the standards of our society are set… it doesn’t mean you always get your way.

You may have never voted to pay taxes. You probably have never voted on the speed limit, either. If you don’t like the standards set out in our laws, then the democratic remedy is for you to vote for elected officials who support your views so that they can change the laws that we live by. That is how your voice gets heard; that is the way your freedom manifests in our democratic system of government

But to claim that it is “undemocratic” simply to have the government make you do things you don’t like is both petulant and ignorant: it displays a massive misunderstanding of how democracy actually works.

6 views shared on this article. Join in...

  1. Vox Juan Mo says:

    Wrong. Going over the speed limit and stealing from another are acts that are coercive and aggressive, which makes it undemocratic. Once it interferes another in a harmful way, it’s worth to be penalized. No need to have these acts be agreed upon because they clearly violate someone’s space, security and safety. The laws are there to reinforce its importance and specify the type of penalty for it.

    In the case of taxation, it is claimed to be one of those “standards in our society” that is set, which makes it democratic. Whose standards is it? By a handful of lawmakers (either mindless, with an agenda, helpless or just-go-with-the-flow type)? Is If we say it’s democratic — the “of the people, by the people, for the people” address — what is the face of that people? A people with a State-defined face but not by the individual.

    Stealing and speed limit violation have no need for me to veto because it’s very understandable that it should be enacted to protect me and my family. It needs less of me to volunteer (or decide) to its becoming a law.

    I don’t need another to ask me whether I want my property to be stolen or not. Same with speed limit violation; I don’t need somebody else to ask me whether I want to hit or be hit by another’s vehicle. But taxation? Oh yes, I need the Overlord, his majesty the State, to ask me first if I want to be taxed (deducted) from the bread that I so tirelessly labored on or not.

    This taxation is much like that religion I am baptized with in my babyhood. Done without my consent, something that I just made to embrace without being asked.

    And to be told that if this doesn’t go my way and that I have to elect officials that align with my vision, that this is the “democratic” way, I say that this whole process is just one of the many that the Overlord shove me to follow (or better yet, DO). To elect is still circumscribed in “democratic” terms. Therefore, what is deemed “democratic” is, in fact, not really for all. Democracy is just another play word that the Overlord uses.

    That makes taxation not for all. And as for the electoral system to have my voice be heard, nah! I rather not consent to it either. It’s not for all. 🙂

    • Epiphyte says:

      The problem isn’t the taxes. The problem is that how they are spent doesn’t accurately reflect your preferences.

      Let’s say that you give me $100 to buy you clothes. Is this a problem? Nope. You need clothes. But it would certainly be a problem if I bought you clothes that really did not match your preferences.

      In the private sector there are certainly personal shoppers… but there really aren’t any impersonal shoppers.

      Congresspeople are impersonal shoppers. They really don’t know our preferences. And it doesn’t matter that congresspeople are elected. There’s nothing in economics that says that demand can be revealed by democracy.

      The solution isn’t to eliminate taxes. The solution is simply for people to have the freedom to choose where their taxes go. How you spend your taxes would accurately reflect your preferences.

  2. Epiphyte says:

    Round 2? Andrew Sabl wrote a really thoughtful article… Liberalism Beyond Markets. Unfortunately, he really didn’t provide a coherent view of things. Here’s what I wrote in response…


    Laws are products that are outside the market. Prohibition, for example, was a product that was created because enough people voted for it. They voted for it because they valued it. But of course they didn’t equally value it. The amount of money spent on this product was not determined by voters, or consumers, it was determined by government planners.

    A = society’s valuation of prohibition
    B = the amount of money spent on prohibition
    C = the difference between A and B

    If Sabl wants to argue that C is insignificant, then he must believe that shopping is a massive waste of everybody’s time and energy. He should want the Invisible Hand (IH) to be entirely replaced by a combination of the Democratic Hand (DH) and the Visible Hand (VH).

    If Sabl wants to argue that C is significant, but B is more socially beneficial than A, then he must believe that not only is shopping a massive waste of everybody’s time and energy, but that the IH’s division of resources is less socially beneficial than the DH+VH’s division.


    His only response was that he probably wouldn’t be able to find any intellectual common ground with me because I had referred to laws as “products”. Heh. How convenient for him that semantics saved him from having to address my actual argument!

    It might help to reframe the issue. Netflix has around 100 million subscribers. They give their money to Netflix and Netflix decides how to divide it between all the different types of content. Deciding how to divide limited dollars among unlimited content is the prioritization process. Do subscribers have the opportunity to participate in this process? Yes…

    1. They can unsubscribe if they don’t like the content
    2. They can vote for/against specific content
    3. They can e-mail (and call?) Netflix

    Netflix’s current prioritization process results in the current division of dollars.

    What if, rather than Netflix deciding how to divide subscribers’ dollars among all the content, subscribers could decide how to divide their dollars themselves? This very different prioritization process would result in a different division of dollars.

    A = The division of dollars as determined by Netflix
    B = The division of dollars as determined by subscribers
    C = The difference between A and B

    How significant is C? If it’s insignificant then what’s the point of consumers ever deciding how to divide their limited dollars among unlimited products? If it’s significant, then which is more socially optimal… A or B? If A is more socially optimal, then all markets should be replaced by DH+VH.

    You believe that DH+VH is an effective way to divide society’s limited resources among its unlimited wants. But why do you believe that this system is more effective than the alternative? Is your belief correct? Are you interested in testing your belief? Or do you wish to keep your political belief outside of science?

    Right now Netflix and Hulu both use the same prioritization process… DH+VH. What would happen if Hulu gave its subscribers the opportunity to divide their limited subscription dollars among its unlimited content? What’s your prediction? How confident are you in your prediction? How much would you be willing to bet on your prediction? If you firmly believe that the IH is truly inferior to the DH+VH, then you should be willing to bet a lot of money that Hulu would lose a lot of money.

    Alex Tabarrok, my favorite living economist, observed that a bet is a tax on bullshit. So if somebody is unwilling to bet on their beliefs, then clearly they recognize that their beliefs are bullshit. Same thing if they have no interest in coming up with a way to test their beliefs. My belief is that no idea should be outside the market. I believe that the IH, rather than the DH+VH, should determine the importance/relevance/value of each and every idea. I’m very interested in testing this belief because I’m very uninterested in carrying around bullshit beliefs.

Pings to this post

  1. […] comment I made to a blog post “Killing the myth that taxes are anti-democratic” by Greg […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Trending Articles

Keep up with my writing!You will only be notified about new articles. No ads, no petitions, no digests, no nonsense.