A treatise on taxation

Ah, spring, when a young man’s thoughts turn to…

…supplicating Leviathan through the offering of the product of one’s labors?

I mean, sure, I could sound a call about the insanity of our tax system, but then I would more than likely be lumped in with all those people that the Department of Homeland Security is referring to anymore under the scary umbrella term of “right-wing extremists“.

…Wait, I’m a libertarian.  Government tends not to like my ilk regardless of what party is in power.  Disregard the above paragraph, then.

As a college graduate student, I hear the arguments all the time — “Couldn’t government do something about <Situation X>?  We could address <Situation X> if only we spent this sum [untold billions] on dealing with it.  It’s only something like Y dollars per taxpayer!”  First off, this makes the pitch sound less like actual serious discussion of government policy and more like a Christian Children’s Fund infomercial; you know, those “for the cost of a cup of coffee a day” things.

At least with helping the poor children of sub-Saharan Africa one ends up with a picture of the child they’re sponsoring and some information about what’s going on in the area.  If the federal government got into the child-sponsoring business, they’d proceed to hold hearings, meetings, discussion panels, “awareness summits”, and fund research studies, while entire villages starve in the process.  Which is pretty much, sadly, what they do at the present time.

We hear all this stuff about private sector this and public sector that, and the similar terms are thrown around with enough frequency to make the uninformed believe that there is little distinction between the two.  The difference, of course, is obvious; if the public sector operated like the private sector does, China would be seeking Chapter 7 liquidation on Washington.  If the private sector acted like the public sector does, the economy as we know it would cease to exist, productivity would fall off the face of the earth, and companies would just send roving goon squads, “Mad Max”-style, to make sure they could “extract” the money they need to stay around and in charge.

Why is it people tolerate kleptocracy from one but not the other, and why do people only expect efficiency from the group that’s not organized theft?  (I would assume the obvious answer to the second is “because they’re organized theft”, but it does nothing to solve the first question.)

The answer to the first of the two questions, however, comes down to results.  Every day we hear of things that government is doing, or trying to do, and it instills a sense of confidence in the whole contraption, even more so when most people look at what’s going on in government, see what they’re paying in taxes, and deem that it is a fantastic deal, all things considered.  Obviously, these calculations don’t actually work out as well as they do in theory due to how progressive the US’ tax structure is, but it’s easy to not realize this when you look at your own tax bill (after all, one’s perception is that their experience, barring some unusual event, is relatively average, even when, in the case of taxes, it’s anything but).

And it doesn’t stop with income taxes, either.  Use taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, fees, excise taxes… the list goes on and on, most of which we never really see, just have them passed on to us.  (For those of you needing something to really get worked up over today, just go as far as your local bar; the average tax bite from a six-pack of beer stands at 56.2%, and distilled spirits hit a rate of 79.6%.  Cheers?)

In time, I would love to see a government that is responsive, principled, disciplined, and takes the concepts of fiscal stability and respect for basic economic principles seriously.  Then again, I also would love to see the Cleveland Browns win a Super Bowl, which, in all fairness, seems far more likely.  As Lord Acton said, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In the meantime, hold onto that wallet; not from the thug down the street in the tattered Fubu shirt, but from the thug in the Capitol rotunda with the $5,000 suit.