This is a little rambling, so my apologies for the lack of composition. Just some thoughts from an article I read this morning.
While he at least outlines the libertarian case against selective tax breaks, I disagree with his conclusion. I just cannot find much sympathy in me for big oil. Those cartel-pricing bastards have benefited disproportionately from government interference in the market on their behalf, just like the rest of the elite.
At the same time, though, it’s not like increasing taxes on big oil would actually benefit the common person. It doesn’t go directly into the average person’s pocket, but rather into state coffers. Now, with the political climate as it is, they’d probably raise taxes and still slash social programs, while leaving all the less savory things the state does, like the military-industrial complex, completely untouched. The taxes would just go to state mischief.
That’s one area where the argument about taxes as paying back society, or reflecting duty to the common good, falls flat for me. I’m sympathetic to the idea that we all owe each other help. My debt to BroadSnark for these quotes:
Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.
– Jean Jacques Rousseau
I blame Rousseau, myself. Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases).
– Katherine Whitehorn
The problem is that people move from that to justifying taxation–they skip the whole step of establishing that the state is actually the agent of the people and the common good. That to me is not at all trivial. Even a democratic state acts with its own will. I’m thinking here of this article comparing America’s war-making to the autocratic French court. The state acts more frequently on behalf of the specific good of particular groups than for any sort of definable common good. If you look at the state as selectively benefiting certain groups, you’ll have a lot more explanatory power than if you look at it as serving the common good.
While I’m a proponent of the belief that the non-aggressing individual should be free to secede from society to whatever extent they please (I find any social order that wants to criminalize the hermit perverse), I don’t go that Ayn Rand route of abstracting the individual. I don’t go in for Egoism with a capital E. So OK, I’ll go with you and say individuals in society might owe each other help. How do we provide for that common good while maintaining liberty?
Well, anarcho-communism is one solution: holding capital in common, working for each other and living in a condition of total mutual aid. Anarchist geoism has another–everybody who owns land pays a land tax (the amount differing depending upon the amount of land you have, I think) that goes to the community. Some geoists say it goes straight to funding services, while others (in my opinion a fairer route) say it goes back to the people of the community in equal portions and it’s up to the individual how to use that tax revenue. Mutualism deals with it by allowing for the ownership of capital and land, but saying you can only own as much as you can occupy and use by yourself. So if you need a lot of land or capital–if you want to expand–you have to partner up with people. Everybody gets a sort of equal right to land–no one person can own more land and capital than he or she can use/occupy. No one gets to lord property over others. And there are other ways beyond these. I like anarcho-communism and mutualism best of the options, myself.
I can believe in a duty to the common good, and I can agree with the idea of positive liberty. I think it’s unfortunate that people are so unimaginative as to think both have to be done through the state. I think it’s an error to see the state as an agent for both, and I’ve never understood why positive liberty should require infringement of negative liberty. Anarcho-communism is a great elaboration of a system with robust positive liberty that retains the essential quality of negative liberty: the right of association/secession.
And as a disclaimer, I don’t think any potential society would be a utopia. It’s not a matter of OK, do this and everything will be perfect, just a matter of do this and things could be better. Why shouldn’t we aim for a freer, fairer, and more peaceful society? I feel like most of the constituent aims are goods in themselves–for example, anti-authoritarian approaches to education or coops or mutual banks and time stores. Things we can do right now that have a positive effect.
Anyway, just a ramble…