Saturday, November 16, 2013

BOOKS TO READ: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice

Adding this one to the stack of books to read: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel.  The book was reviewed in 2002 in the New York Times Book Review by David Cay Johnston.

Johnston writes,
[Murphy & Nagel] assert that a naïve philosophy of ''everyday libertarianism'' infects American politics with a ''robust and compelling fantasy that we earn our income and the government takes some of it away from us.'' This popular myth ''results in widespread hostility to taxes, and a political advantage to those who campaign against them and attack the I.R.S.'' 
This fantasy grows from the acceptance by all sides in the tax debate that gross, or pretax, incomes are presumptively just and therefore the proper moral base line to begin debate. The authors say pretax incomes are morally insignificant, an idea they confess is hard to sell. They argue that ''individual citizens don't own anything except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the state,'' because without government there would be anarchy, an endless war of all-against-one that would diminish incomes and wealth, not to mention life itself. Thus it is after-tax incomes that people are entitled to own. These ideas will encounter a hostile reception from partisans in the debate of the past quarter-century, in which the prevailing political rhetoric characterizes taxes as sheer waste, an unfair drag on the most productive people and an evil.
Sounds about right.  If not for the state, there would be no enforcement of property rights except through the barrel of a gun.  Anarchy would indeed be the only "rule of law" left.

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