Today President Obama unveiled a new deficit-reduction strategy aimed at resolving roughly $3 trillion in debt-cycle spending. Apparently he promises to veto any bill that doesn't ask that the rich pay their "fair share"...whatever that dubious phrase actually means in any explicit context. He further added,
We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable...
Now, to the average voter (whether they agree or not in terms of policy prescription), this statement doesn't sound completely outlandish. And, indeed, it's certainly not something that's exactly new in the realm of political rhetoric. But, for the libertarian, there's something awfully distressing regarding the language surrounding the policy-push. If you view the government as having a legitimate claim on the ownership of your labor - or even if you think they have no true ownership thereof, but that taxation is still an unfortunate necessity - then there's nothing particularly disheartening about the statement in question. After all, you're merely a serf living at the privilege of the state. But if you don't cede, conceptually, to the idea that other people (in this case, the state) own you or your work then it sounds like a very vile thing to say indeed.
Walk with me through a hypothetical...
Let us say that, several hundred years ago, you and many people in your town were taken into bondage by foreign invaders. These subjegators now administer every moment of your waking life and that of your family and friends. A small group of people among your town have somehow, through various means, managed to secure their own freedom with regards to their would-be captors - or at least a larger degree of freedom than they would otherwise have. Several seasons pass, and at some point our overlords decide they need us to produce more resources for them so they pressure us accordingly. In the coming months we are addled, bruised, beaten, whipped, and starved into working the fields and quarries of the surrounding area. We quite understandably resent this. Going through much hardship, a contingency among our people begin to form - a contingency that envies the freedom of our freed brothers and sisters. They demand that these brothers and sisters "pay their fair share."
What are we to say ethically or morally about this? Well, obviously the phrase "fair share" is coined in such a way as to pack the premise of "rightness" into the notion at the outset. But is it truly righteous? Well, we have to look at the interaction between moral agents to determine what, in this situation, is righteous and what is not. Regarding taxes, we have a group of people paying different amounts, at different rates, for different services, of which people amongst that group consume differently. It does seem that, prima facie, if there is a group that, say, is contributing nothing but then consuming from this bundle of services then there is something that seems morally questionable if the other participants do not approve of such. If that is the standard of "fair share" then one must produce an in-depth analysis of producers and consumers to find out who is not pulling their weight. And even then you might expect to find that some individuals who have a much lighter burden produce much more for the group, as well as you'd expect to find some who are part of a larger group that is nominally burdened in greater ways who consume quite a bit more than they produce. So while it may seem fair on the surface to point out the privilege of some at the expense of others, a simple class-analysis of any complex human system of interaction would seem wildly incomplete or inconclusive. At the very least it wouldn't warrant wielding derision and hatred upon whole classes of people. And, perhaps importantly, such analysis would ignore intent and moral culpability, as many have little to nothing to do with their level of "burden" as such.
But, at least the above would resemble some kind of moral argument; all things being equal. Unfortunately, in both the concept of taxation as well as our hypothetical, we've already established, as a matter of premise, that these groups aren't interacting voluntarily. They are being physically coerced into participating. If such coercion is morally wrong, and, more to the point, if such coercion violates morally enforceable rights of would-be-victims (in this case, the people of the town in question), then it would seem that people would have every right to remove themselves of such unjust obligations. If one of every twenty people in our town, for whatever reason, managed to shed the yoke of slavery, it would seem very odd, morally, to demand that they be likewise enslaved for the sake of "fairness" or "equality." If we see someone beaten we don't demand that everyone be beaten along with them. Or if someones' son or daughter is killed by a murderer, we don't demand that the remaining siblings be killed to "share" the illegitimate burden placed on that family. These things seem not only odd, but morally repugnant. So why all the (successful) rhetoric about those who manage to escape taxation turning around and handing over what they manage to escape with?
The answer is simple but unfortunate. People have been so brainwashed into believing that our personal moral code doesn't apply to those in government that they don't recognize taxation as theft. And that isn't even to say that they recognize it as such but think that it's necessary - no. They really, really don't see property forcibly taken from them as theft if done by the hand of government. Apparently all you need is democratic support or a badge to turn morality inside out. You'll find more of the same on almost every other issue; from taxes to war to interactions between consenting adults. If someone off the street interfered with us in this way, we'd call those actions crimes. When a group of people with silly outfits and badges do it, we call it governing.
Make no mistake, idiocy abounds in that group we call government. But I will give them this much; how they manage to hoodwink so many people who claim to love and care for the disenfranchised masses into believing that moral principles stop at the feet of a few very powerful, rich men is beyond me. I have a very bad feeling that such dispositions are going to be dominant for a long time to come. The leveraging of technology is beginning to give us traction that we otherwise wouldn't have. But it is still a very long steep climb ahead. This is how it starts.