Monday, November 3, 2008

Oh, and about taxes...

... I guess you'll just have to put me down in Joe Biden's and jason's book as an unpatriotic asshole.

I wrote in a post yesterday about surviving the next four years:

I'll engage in grey markets, black markets, and cheat on taxes as necessary.


I go first with Justice Learned Hand:

Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Helvering v. Gregory, 69 F.2d 809, 810-11 (2d Cir. 1934).


Taxes are supposed to be about raising revenue for the government. Consider Article 1, Section 8 of the soon-to-be-obsolete US Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;


This article explicitly limits the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises to the function of pay[ing] the debts and provid[ing] for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.

That general welfare portion is defined in the following lines of the Constitution and refers to things like post roads, the militia, coining money, etc. etc.

That Americans understood the difference between taxes for revenue and taxes for social engineering is well-demonstrated in issues like the Parson's Cause and the decline of Sumptuary Laws. So it not fair to say that the idea of using tax codes to promote or reduce certain forms of behavior is a new one.

It is, in fact, one of the two major political dynamics from early American history: the Hamiltonian view that government exists to strategically mold and shape the future of society and the Libertarian view that government exists to protect society from external threats and internal coercion while allowing American citizens to mold and shape the future of their society themselves.

Recently, however, we have seen a Lakoffian push not only to rewrite history, but to revise the meaning of government and taxation into a patriotic duty to provide a portion of what each of us produces to support whatever causes of social engineering the government happens to be in love with that decade.

It's always such a good cause, like keeping those inferior people of color out of public accommodations or attacking the right of American citizens to ingest whatever substances they choose.

And now we're telling the fairy tale to our children that people who don't want to pay more taxes are selfish individuals who wish to have the benefits of all that wonderful government-provided infrastructure and security without paying for it.

What utter [wait for it--a technical term coming here]: horseshit.

We fought the goddamn American Revolution in large measure over the right to keep our own hard-earned money. Shays' Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Dorrite Rebellion, the anti-Renter movement....

We used to teach an American history wherein resistance to tyranny was lauded, and the first two weapons of tyranny were taking the people's money and taking the people's guns.

I need to state this as plainly as possible: people who argue that paying taxes is patriotic are, simply, self-interested beings who desire to use my money for their purposes, and who are seeking a moral high ground for theft.

Don't give me that crap about regressive taxes and hurting the poor. As far as I am concerned you can completely exempt the poor from all taxes--it would be a good first step. But the argument that a system of progressive taxation is necessary to keep wealth from pooling upward only works if the government is engaging in taxation for purposes of social engineering. If the government is simply collecting revenue and not passing out goodies, the business cycle, the march of technology, and even global warming will take care of any necessary redistribution of the wealth.

[And no, Dana, you are not free to read in here the idea that all governmental regulatory authority should go away.]

I will, as an individual do exactly what George Soros does: I will engage in every mechanism to reduce my tax burden open to me: legal, quasi-legal, grey-market, black-market, and outright illegal.

After all, immoral laws have only force and not ethical constraints behind them.

8 comments:

Delaware Watch said...

A rambling piece, Steve. Very hard to follow.

"General Welfare"--sounds like a broad term to me and one whose meaning cannot be established by a few statements by some framers and a few court cases, the latter being an appeal that ASSUME the court got it right in the first place.

I see no reason why "general welfare" cannot accommodate progressive taxation just as you do not see it limiting application to public education, public roads and some regulation--all never anticipated by neither the framers (whose intentions/meanings are nearly moot in any case) nor the ratifiers (whose meaning might matter but, alas, is largely unknown to us).

So you like everyone except a few constitutional Pharisaical nutcases accept the constitution as a living document and not the dead letter of a handful of propertied white guys. Good for you. That's an adult (read responsible) position.

Tyler Nixon said...

Great piece, Steve. Easy to read and succinct.

Trying to make sense of collectivist orthodoxy and utopian social engineering (or as I like to call it - socialism) in practical application is at best to aim at a constantly shifting target obscured by lots of smoke and mirrors.

I think you nailed the essence here. The founders didn't anticipate a lot, but they surely anticipated forcible collectivism and tried to put structural and systemic brakes on charlatan ideologies promising a cosmic free lunch, as long as you submit.

As with all welfare state collectivist schemes, where there is a will they will find a way...including discarding the very fundamentals of a free people in a free republic for which the framers risked it all.

(Hey, Dana....no reference to you as to socialism. How YOU doin?)

Steve Newton said...

Dana: rants are usually rambling--anger tends to do that....

General Welfare in the 1780s-1790s had a very specific political meaning; and throughout the ratification debates the anti-Federalists always said words to the effect of, "Oh, they'll take that and stretch it until Congress can do anything," but the Federalists said, "Oh, you fear-mongers, everybody knows what General Welfare means. It's not going to change.

Dana: you've also got to get over this notion that we don't know what the ratifiers thought: we absolutely do. There are over ten volumes of their writings extant in the Anti-Federalist papers and in the transcripts of the ratification debates.

I don't accept the constitution as a living document for philosophical reasons, I accept it as such for historical reasons. I mean thus: every document is reinterpreted by the people in succeeding generations, whether that interpretation is logically consistent or ethically valid to the original purposes. That I acknowledge that fact is akin to acknowledging gravity: it does not matter if I like it or not.

Bowly said...

Dana: you've also got to get over this notion that we don't know what the ratifiers thought: we absolutely do. There are over ten volumes of their writings extant in the Anti-Federalist papers and in the transcripts of the ratification debates.

Thanks for nailing this. It was the first thing I thought.

Here's a whole page of highlights.

"With respect to the words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."

Delaware Watch said...

"Dana: you've also got to get over this notion that we don't know what the ratifiers thought: we absolutely do. There are over ten volumes of their writings extant in the Anti-Federalist papers and in the transcripts of the ratification debates."

Am I to take it that's 10 volumes of harmonious agreement...a nirvana of shared meaning? Of course not. The debate was filled w/ wide disagreement, meanings weren't generally shared but thinly parsed each according to either the meanings of his camp or peculiar interpretation or both. We don't know what the ratifiers intended because their intentions were so diverse that to suggest for one second that their was unitary meaning is to create a fairy tale. There were not even many records made of the ratification debates in the states.

What you suggest isn't real; it doesn't resemble the real world. And it's not supported by the historical record. These matters were debated furiously before and AFTER the ratification. Even Washington could find no relief from it in the "press" during his 2 terms.

Delaware Watch said...

Hi Tyler. I'm doing OK.

"The founders didn't anticipate a lot, but they surely anticipated forcible collectivism and tried to put structural and systemic brakes on charlatan ideologies promising a cosmic free lunch, as long as you submit."

Wow, these founders were really quite psychic. They knew about a rough and ready threat of "collectivism" before such a concept was fully fleshed out and they even anticipated Milton Friedman's concept of the "free lunch." Very impressive. Could they also levitate objects just by using their thoughts alone?

Here's why I get the impression that Libertarians and Libertarianish Republicans make a FETISH of the founders. I also don't think that outcome would have pleased them.

Steve Newton said...

Dana,
You're beating a really dead horse here, with the issue of the ratifiers' intent. Not only is there a voluminous correspondence extant, backed by transcripts of debates, but historians have been combing over them and analyzing them for years.

We've got an excellent idea about the main issues important to both the advocates and adversaries of ratification, and serious quantitative work has been done on how many people/delegates held which views.

Tyler Nixon said...

Forced collectivism = tyranny.

Sorry, Dana, but case closed on that.

Obviously you don't give the founders credit or respect, nor those who stood/stand on their shoulders since.

But then no one with an agenda of coerced utopianism would.