Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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.

32 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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    5. Doesn't have to be one or the other. One can say that Hillary Clinton is "more progressive" than Ted Cruz, while also noting she's not "a progressive" - "libertarian" can be used the same way. And of course it's applicable to non-economic issues: "civil libertarian" has been in use a long time.

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    6. "Well, if "libertarian" is just a comparative term..."

      Of course it must be!

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

      Actually, I'd say the problem is the opposite. Under Bruenig's original definition, all property is defined as theft. That's what makes adding 'entitlement' necessary: with that definition, some sort of trump is needed to prove that any ownership of anything is not theft. 'Entitlement' is used as precisely that trump.



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    8. Gene Callahan: "'taxation is theft' assumes what must be proven: that the government is not entitled to tax!"

      No; by Bruenig's definition (corrected), "taxation is theft" assumes only that the government is (1) using force or fraud to (2) take money (3) from people to whom it belongs. If (1) and (2) are stipulated (and both Bruenig and his antagonists say they're both true), we have to debate (3). But we're not debating 'entitlement' in general, but one particular sense of entitlement: to whom does the money taken from the taxpayer belong? To him, or to the government?


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    9. "To whom does it belong" is the SAME question as "Who is entitled to it?"

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    10. No, it isn't. "Entitled" is a subjective belief, while "To whom does it belong" (or, "whose property is it" is a matter of intersubjective convention. I don't consider Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian "entitled" to their inheritances - YMMV - but it's a matter of fact that it's their money, not mine.

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    11. You're just quibbling over words at this point: in ordinary usage, if something belongs to me, I am entitled to use it! You want to make up fussy little definitions in which they are not the same, then I recommend you go do it elsewhere, as I am a busy man.

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    12. I don't think it's quibbling, in discussing an argument by definition, to point out that the word in question is being misdefined. And Bruenig does misdefine theft twice: by using 'exclude' rather than take, and 'entitled' rather than 'belongs to' (or 'property'). Those words aren't equivalent: it's true by definition that if something belongs to you you're entitled to use it, but it's not true that if you're entitled to use something, it's your property.

      But I recognize this can sound like semantics, so I'm happy to close off this debate here. Anyone who wants to read more can look at my article, "Matt Bruenig on 'Taxation is Theft' https://www.nolanchart.com/matt-bruenig-on-taxation-is-theft

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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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    4. Sure; the 'calculation problem' only applies to economies. I don't think anyone ever said it applied to anything else.

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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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    1. Not bizarre at all. Everyone in Grab World has a 'liberty right' (not a 'claim right') to appropriate, use, control, and exclude others from (IOW, to own) anything non-human.

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    2. As for needing to put forward a theory: Bruenig himself says (in "Violence Vouchers") that "you have to actually make an independent case for why your own theory of entitlement is correct, not just assume it in the background.” So it's quite in order to call him out on that omission.

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    3. He wasn't putting forward a theory of entitlement in the background either. George, just stop: you've become an annoying bore, and I'm not going to post this nonsense anymore.

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