17 April 2012

Taxes and Freedom

At Independence Hall yesterday, in an effort to woo Tea Partiers, Mitt Romney said, "Taxes by their very definition limit our freedom" On one level, this is obviously true, since a tax is a compulsory contribution for public purposes. You could just as easily say that government, by its definition, limits our freedom -- and many people do say that. Does that end the discussion? It depends on whether you equate the state of nature with freedom. In one sense, you can do that, on the assumption that, in nature, you are not constrained by anyone else's will. At the same time, and in another sense, your freedom in nature is constrained by the resources available to you, and by the constant imperative of simple survival. You can still call that freedom if by freedom you mean, as many seem to, that no one can stop you from doing what you have to do or make you do the wrong thing. Since Marx, at least, the "left" has drawn a distinction between the "realm of necessity" and the "realm of freedom," implying that if you have no choice but to do certain things in order to survive, you aren't really free. Others disagree with this premise, but they may accept another: that you are more free to do the things you really want to do if it's easier for you to survive -- if you have an infrastructure to facilitate making a living and a rule of law that relieves you of responsibility for your own security. If you concede that premise then you might admit that as government expands, at least to a point, so does your freedom. And since no effective government can run without taxes -- and the distinction between taxes and the fees for services of libertarian dreams is mere sophistry if the fees are charged for public purposes -- it must be conceded that taxes, too, at least to a point, can increase our freedom. Even Romney accepts a minimal level of taxation "to do things that are absolutely vital."  Would he say that those "absolutely vital" imperatives still "limit our freedom?" If so, the question becomes how vital freedom itself -- understood here as economic freedom -- is compared to those other imperatives. Meanwhile, the question of what actually may be deemed "vital" for civilization, absolutely or otherwise, is the constant stuff of politics....and so the debate continues....

2 comments:

Crhymethinc said...

Civilization limits your freedom. Acting like a human being limits your freedom. This whole notion that this idea or that word somehow "limits freedom" is completely and totally ridiculous. Just more empty rhetoric to inflame the terminally stupid.

Samuel Wilson said...

"Acting like a human being limits your freedom." I suppose some would disagree, but that depends on what falls under the definition of acting like a human being. Social interaction limits your freedom, for instance, but it's also acting like a human being. The problem is the habit of seeing politics as some uniquely artificial, unnatural and hence suspect limitation on freedom, when it's just as much acting like a human being as anything else.