[ExI] Is there a potential libertarianism / democracy tension?

Amon Zero amon at doctrinezero.com
Tue Sep 27 11:56:51 UTC 2011

On 27 September 2011 12:22, Dan <dan_ust at yahoo.com> wrote:

> > Because most people wouldn't pay if it was known that non-compliers get
> off
> > scot free.
> This was my point. Amon Zero seemed to be stating that people want to pay
> taxes. If you really want to know if they do, then one must remove the
> penalty for not paying.

Actually Dan, I didn't state that. I just wondered what might happen if
libertarians were able to remove the penalty as you suggest, and then it
turned out that there wasn't a mass abandonment of tax payment. I didn't
claim that people do or don't want to pay taxes, even went so far as to say
that we're all aware of people who'd rather pay less or not see the money

I agree with you that this (whether or not people would pay tax in the
absence of penalities) is essentially an empirical question, although there
are clear confounding factors. If this were an experiment, such factors
would need to be eliminated:

1) Currently the penalties are inextricably entangled with the payment
system. To truly test sentiment, it would have to remain just as easy to
pay, while removing penalty for not paying. That sounds tricky to me.

2) A related issue is the matter of "opt-in" versus "opt-out" systems. As
Judgment & Decision Making researchers well know, the vast majority of
people make the default decision because it requires less effort, even if
there is no other disincentive to take the non-default option. So if you
made tax payment opt-in nearly no-one would pay it, even if you remove all
the emotive stuff about guns and liberty. Simply put, if you made *anything*
an opt-in alternative then it automatically becomes much less behaviourally

Anyway, none of this is directly relevant to my original question, which was
whether libertarians would just accept majority judgment if it turned out
that people *did* want to pay taxes. (Just to reiterate, this is a

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