Matthew Bruenig Dismantles the "Taxation Is Theft" Slogan

Here.

Note the libertarian in the comments. He never addresses Bruenig's argument, because he can't: it would make nonsense of a view central to his self-image. So what he does do is keep changing the subject: "You haven't put forward a better theory," etc.

20 comments:

  1. Gene, weren't you a libertarian until very recently?

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    1. By 2006 or so I was having doubts. I'd say by 2009 I definitely was not a libertarian any longer.

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    2. Do you think it is correct to classify Hayek as a libertarian? (I think not.)

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    3. These labels are never exact. Walter Block considers Hayek a socialist! But he is more libertarian than, say, Rawls or Oakeshott or MacIntyre. It all depends on where one wants to draw the line.

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    4. Well, if "libertarian" is just a comparative term, meaning that the person to whom it is applied favors less government intervention than somebody else, Barack Obama & Co. are "more libertarian" than, say, the Castro brothers or the North Koreans. I don't think the word serves much of a purpose if that's all it means. Taking the concept, I understand it be the position of people like Robert Nozick. A contemporary example would be Bryan Caplan. I have never understood the appeal of that sort of libertarianism, which is far from a general preference, all things being equal, to allow the (relatively) free market to take care of the production and distribution of goods and services without intervention by the government to favor particular producers or consumers. Not an ironclad rule but a default position, and not necessarily applicable to issues that are not purely economic.

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  2. Under Bruenig's definition it would be impossible to objectively define anything as theft.

    All statement's about theft ("taking people's wallets without their consent is theft") would be subject to the same criticism as the ones he raises against taxation being categorized as theft.

    He is correct that the real argument is about entitlements.

    But what difference does it really if we frame the discussion as "is the government entitled to tax me?" rather than "is taxation theft" ?

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    1. "Under Bruenig's definition it would be impossible to objectively define anything as theft."

      Only if it is objectively impossible to define what one is entitled to!

      'But what difference does it really if we frame the discussion as "is the government entitled to tax me?" rather than "is taxation theft" ?'

      Because now we are discussing the right issue!

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    2. But if we conclude that "the government is not entitled to tax me" then "taxation is theft" become correct (and vice versa) - so in my opinion it seems like its the same discussion.

      But its probably one of those semantic things that aren't worth spending too much time on. If we agree what he real issue is (entitlements) - we may as well just discuss that.

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    3. But the point Bruenig (I think) and I would make here is that "taxation is theft" assumes what must be proven: that the government is not entitled to tax!

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    4. Exactly, it's just a rhetorical move. That's largely why people find ancaps and the like so annoying - they often use emotive, manipulative and obfuscatory rhetoric like "stop stealing from me at gunpoint you violent thug!!!" in the place of honest, clear, rational argument and analysis.

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    5. Philippe,

      From now on I'll be sure to say:"stop taking my entitlement away from me at gunpoint you violent thug!!!"

      (This is meant as a joke BTW).

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    6. Rob, there is a difference between, "am I entitled to this particular widget, at this time, considering the circumstances?" and "taxing me is theft" the first allows a discussion of relevant rules and history. It is particular, not an abstract claim.
      Saying I am entitled to this widget is logically a weaker claim than "taxation is theft." If you cannot settle a weaker claim you cannot settle a stronger one. Your refusal to discuss the weaker one shows your inability to actually defend the stronger.

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  3. Well, I'm convinced now. "Aggression" is not a helpful argument framework. I would still love to get a takedown of libertarianism, though, because I still don't see the problem.

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    1. iamallears, this is a demonstration that argument X is bad. Now we are on the issue of "Who is entitled to what." That is a separate argument, but one that has been made any number of times.

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    2. We have a success! Even this is a large step forward in your deprogramming!

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  4. What was with the reference to the calculation problem? Why do they think that's at all relevant? If I went up to a communist and screamed "But…but…but you can't solve the calculation problem!", they'd be like "What the hell are you talking about?".

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    1. Interestingly, at least the more theory-minded Marxists are usually well aware of the work of Mises and Hayek in this regard.

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    2. Bait and switch. Start with one argument and then move to another when the first one doesn't work out.

      The extreme inefficiency of centrally-planned soviet economies is a very good reason to not try that form of social organization again... but it's not a good argument, either moral or practical, for ancapism.

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    3. The extreme inefficiency of centrally-planned soviet economies is a very good reason…

      No, no, no. You're getting it just as wrong as they do. The "calculation problem" cited is nonsense in that it's irrelevant in some situations. So, for instance, there is no "calculation problem" involved in a state of res nullius with the oceans or Antarctica or whatever.

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  5. There was a second libertarian responding to you who said that you needed to put forward a theory because of justification or something. Then he was claiming Matt's "grab what you can" world had property rights. What's with that bizarre claim?

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