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

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 27 15:17:55 UTC 2011

On Tuesday, September 27, 2011 7:56 AM Amon Zero <amon at doctrinezero.com>  wrote:
> 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 mis-spent.

I'd have little problem as a libertarian if people want to keep paying -- save with them paying for activities that by their nature violate rights. By the latter, I do not mean if most people want to pay for, say, hospitals or roads. These don't essentially violate rights. (They might accidentally do so, e.g., in the case where the road is not only funded with taxes, but also relies on eminent domain to seize property from people who won't sell or sell at the price the state is offering.) But things like bombing foreign innocent people and enforcing victimless crime laws (e.g., laws against smoking pot, playing pokey with real money, or engaging in the sex trade) would still be a problem. This would be no different in my mind, than some people voluntarily putting together money and resources to rob a store or kill someone. But other than things like that, I'd have no problem, again, as a libertarian. (I might have a problem in terms of seeing the
 particular program as wasteful, counterproductive, or just plain wrong, but that's another matter.)
Of course, were people to voluntarily support these things, there really is no problem from a libertarian perspective. And, I hope you'd agree, from this perspective, people would still be allowed to change their minds and not continue funding this or that thing or to adjust the amount they give. (Yup, some might even decide to give more.)
> 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.

The trickiness is just to make it voluntary. Actually, that sounds, to me, extremely simple. The result would, of course, show how many people really wanted to pay. And, as long as the penalties were no longer imposed, one would have to assume people would paying not from fear of suffering the penalties.
> 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
> popular.

While that might be true, this doesn't in my mind mean everyone should be forced to adhere because many or most people do. Once there is an exit option, even if most people don't use it, this doesn't mean the option is invalid. And, yes, some people might stay out of habit, but my guess is were it voluntary, given the level of taxation, people who continued to pay would mostly be those who wanted to. (Also, chances are, the rhetoric and methods to get people to pay would be far different -- moving from threatening to people pleading for specific programs. In fact, absent government, my guess is many of the things would be separated so that one might decide to donate to, say, the local hospital over building a new rec center rather than having someone else make that decision for you.)
> 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.
Do you just mean: if most people want to pay for these things absent coercion, then they should be allowed to. Yes, I'd agree. And that would be consistent with libertarianism as I understand -- with the exception of paying for things that inherently or essentially violate rights. Or do you mean: if most people want to pay for these things absent coercion, then everyone else should pay for these things too? In that case, no. Even if the majority wants to pay, this should no infringe on anyone else's freedom to not pay and to not be coerced for not paying.
> (Just to reiterate, this is a hypothetical).
I have nothing against hypotheticals.
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