Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Voluntary Government

My very creative and anarchist professor Peter T. Leeson talked about condominium associations as voluntary governments yesterday. He said that government is force, and unjust in the sense that we never signed a constitutional agreement with the American government, yet the IRS takes our money and does many things that don't directly benefit us. He then presented his condominium association, with the association fee he hates but agreed to when he signed his contract as an example of voluntary government.

But is this a distinction without a difference? Leeson talked of how condominium fees go only to condo improvements, where taxes provide numerous government services he never asked for. But a road built on the far-side of a condo complex seems about as useful to a near-side resident as a bridge to nowhere.

Leeson also mentioned that the "if you don't like it, move" argument does not imply consent to government because it places the burden on people simply for living where they are born. But certainly a son who grows up in a condo and then inherits it from his parents would likewise be expected to pay the condominium fees unless he sold his childhood home to move somewhere else.

Further, what about people who immigrate? Consider a person from the Alaskan tundra, unknown to the IRS, living in complete negative liberty. If he finds himself tired with wilderness life and wishing to move to New York, would his migration imply consent? Could his choice to move be viewed as a constitutional moment where he agrees to pay local, state and federal taxes?

It seems to me like real difference between the federal government and a condominium association is simply their size. It is easier to opt out of a condo than a country which is why the association fees seem voluntary and American taxes involuntary.


Zachary Piso said...

I agree with you that the difference between the two examples is only size. Too often I hear people treat an inconvenient choice as if it was not an available choice. Just as you can leave a condominium if you disagree with the association fees, you can leave the country if you disagree with the taxes.

I have found that when people can't work around an argument such as "If you don't like it, you can leave", they resort to simply refuting the argument heuristically, and often, inconsistently. There have been some very interesting experiments in epistemology of psychology that show frustration leads to the adoption of irrational excuses. If an individual dislikes taxes, but thinks that leaving the country would be going overboard, he has many other options, but he does have options. Definitionally, this contrasts with the commonsensical understanding of "involuntary taxes"

Tim Moreland said...

I agree as well that size is the main difference. It would probably be more useful to think of a voluntary/involuntary spectrum than as two distinct classifications. Government would be closer to the "involuntary" end of the spectrum and the condo would be closer to the "voluntary" side, but neither are completely one or the other.

Josh Knox said...

If viewed as a spectrum though, at what point is coercive force unjust? I doubt anyone here supports robbery at the barrel of a gun, though victims are almost always given the choice, "your money or your life."

Government revenue is seldom collected with the barrel of a gun, but it could be for a theoretical well armed tax evader.

And what about a social organization? Due paying in a social organization would seem to be both voluntary and just, the only way for an organization to enforce its dues is by withholding membership privileges. But if participation in the group had repercussions extending far beyond the organization itself, at what level of consequence would due payment no longer be considered "voluntary enough" to be just?

Or is there also a spectrum of justice?

Tim Moreland said...

I will try and respond to the rest of your comment later, but I want to single out one of your statements:

"Government revenue is seldom collected with the barrel of a gun..."

In a sense, ALL government revenue is collected with the barrel of a gun. Most citizens of the U.S. willfully pay their taxes every year. Collecting taxes is seen as a "legitimate" function of the government in our society, which means they do not have to use force to collect taxes. Yet, if a person decides not to pay his taxes, then they are breaking a law. Behind every law is the implicit recognition that force will be used to uphold the law. True, the government seldom has to resort to violence when enforcing the law, but that does not mean the threat of force is not backing every law.

If you don't believe that the government would resort to force in collecting taxes, watch this:

Josh Knox said...

I think we can agree that government revenue is derived from force, whether actual or theoretical, but the more interesting issue is that force's legitimacy.