Ah, no, not quite understanding the argument

If you don\’t pay your taxes, men with guns will go all Charles Bronson on your oppressed ass!  O, cruel fate, why must you mock etc. and so on and so forth.


I mean, even the crankiest right-wingers accept that there are just some things that the state is better at providing.  If I recall correctly, even Hayek – being a man of reason as opposed to a meths-drinking, compulsive public masturbator – thought some state activity, such as basic medical care, was at least acceptable.

Once you admit that the state should provide some services, you accept that it must levy a mandatory tax on those capable of paying for it.  If that\’s the case, then the idea that taxation backed by coersion represents some frightful, totalitarian affont to liberty is worse than a bad argument.

Ah, but, you see, that isn\’t the argument at all. Here it actually is, in all its glory.

Taxation is indeed backed, in the end, by the agents of the State getting all Charles Bronson on your ass. Taxation is also entirely necessary for some tasks. Those things which must be done, can only be done by the State and perhaps, if we\’re to extend ourselves a little bit, are best done by the State.

But what this little thought experiment about Bronsonian violence is all about is that we need to consider what must be done, can only be done by the State and possibly what can be better done by the State in the light of that Bronsonian violence.

Would we, in isolation, say that this particular task, this action over here, justifies Chuck capping you? If you refuse to hand over the dosh that is?

National defence from the Gallic Hordes just ready to infuse our stout Yeoman food with garlic? Yup, pull the trigger Chucky!

Outreach diversity advisors not so much.

We are trying to define a limit to what the State can righteously use violence against us to fund, not claiming that all such violence to fund all such things is unjust.

8 thoughts on “Ah, no, not quite understanding the argument”

  1. I actually think that in a true free republic, it should not be necessary to use the threat of violence to get people to pay for certain common services necessary for said republic to exist (such as courts, some enforcement of the law, external defence). The trouble starts when we talk about certain “public goods”: it is far from self-evident that many of the things that communitarians assume could only exist via the state do so. Take healthcare, for instance, or education, or even roads (various examples of private provision of said). It is not even self-evident that a state needs the power of compulsory purchase to provide such things.

  2. So taxation for military spending is fine and dandy, but diversity advisors are oppressive?

    I mean, this doesn’t even make sense in its own terms. I can get with the idea that you want minimum government – knock yourself out with that one. What I can’t understand is why people think ZOMG Men With Guns will shoot you in the face with a howitzer if you don’t pay up for gay outreach programmes/halal meat inspectors etc. and so on is such a devastating argument.

    It isn’t, and it’s particularly non-devastating if you yourself actively support a system of face-shooting Bronsonian howitzer Men in circumstances that please you. Waving the face-shooters at the awful Commieliberals as if they were the most totalitarian EVAR in these circumstances is surely deranged.

    The formula must be Things I like = Legitimate State Activity, Bronson Time! and Things I Don’t Like = Stalin. It’s a particularly teenaged equation, isn’t it?

    I mean sure, if you were advocating anarchy, then fine – face-shoot away. If you’re not an anarchist, then the pretence that health and safety or smoking bans are OPPRESSION MAN while, say, ponying up to bomb the shit out of Wherethefuckistan is a patriotic duty, looks like an exceptionally silly effort to have your cake and eat it.

  3. ‘So taxation for military spending is fine and dandy, but diversity advisors are oppressive?’

    Clumsy rhetoric aside, that is exactly it.

  4. FR, it’s rhetoric designed to encourage a particular value judgement. That’s all it is. In this sense, Tim’s claim that he’s ‘trying to define a limit’ indicates that he’s uncertain where the limits of his personal ‘I will shoot people to achieve this goal’ list lie. He would claim that he’s using economic pragmatism to determine the extent of this list, but even within that is a value judgement of the value of growth and technological advancement.

    This debate, and the voting that goes alongside it, cuts right to the heart of democracy: the ‘winning’ argument determines the scope of legitimate state activity, and hence the use of force. To misquote, elections are civil wars carried out by other means.

  5. I think you are rather deliberately misunderstanding Tim’s case:

    National defence = necessary thing probably best done by the state.

    “bomb(ing) the shit out of Wherethefuckistan” = not something that is necessary and therefore the state shouldn’t be doing it.

    [I heartily apologise if Tim does support “bomb(ing) the shit out of Wherethefuckistan” and I have got his views wrong on this.]

  6. Falco, shifting the terminology to ‘necessary’ doesn’t change the fact that it’s a value judgement. I imagine plenty of Labour people would view a state-provided healthcare as a ‘necessity’.

    Tim adds: Or, in my terminology, in the terminology of this little thought experiment, state-provided health care is something which justifies getting Bronsonian on those who will not contribute towards funding it.

    Entirely a value judgement, as you say. All this thought experiment about is trying to make people think about what is worth the level of compulsion required.

    After all, Lenin and Stalin thought (or at least claimed to think) that the dictatorship of the proletariat was a goal worth killing all the bougeoisie to reach. A value judgement, one which few share today (we hope). Hitler thought that the manifest destiny of the Aryans justified killing all the Jews.

    This is a thought experiment remember, the point of which is, in the end, the coercion of the State comes down to gaining money through menaces by men with guns. So, what ends, what activities, are worth such menaces?

    I would argue that a sufficient welfare system to stop the poor starving in the streets is: public provision of dance troupes for the mythical one legged black lesbian sisterhood probably isn’t.

    OK, so, where do you draw that line?

  7. I don’t think Falco was shifting the terminology; he was differentiating between national defence and foreign adventures.

    Only the most wilfully stubborn would pretend that national defence is not necessary.

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