Can Taxation Be Justified
The philosopher Michael Huemer is usually favorable to the free market, and he is also a strong defender of anarchism. Although I disagree with some of the arguments in his defense of anarchism, The Problem of Political Authority, it is an excellent book.
In a recent blog post, he surprisingly suggests that taxation may in some cases be justified. He offers two examples, Pigouvian taxes on negative externalities and Georgist land taxes. In what follows, I’ll concentrate on the first of these.
He offers the following argument for Pigouvian taxes (named for the Cambridge economist A.C. Pigou).
Sometimes, people do stuff that harms other people, and the people who are harmed don’t consent to the harm. I.e., people “produce negative externalities”, as the economists say….
Example: Pollution. Whenever you drive your car, you release a little bit of pollution into the air, which imposes a tiny expected harm on a huge number of other people and animals, including future generations. I bet you don’t get their consent, either.
On some absolute deontological views, you always need consent before imposing (certain kinds of) harm on others. But that’s impractical. You can’t get the consent of everyone in the world, including the future generations who will be affected by your pollution. So we’d have to say either
(a) “You can’t pollute at all.” This requires shutting down modern civilization. Or
(b) “Pollution isn’t the right kind of harm” (it’s not aggressive, people don’t have rights against pollution, or something like that). But this would mean that it would be fine to completely destroy the atmosphere with pollution (if someone had the ability to do that).
(a) and (b) are both bad. We shouldn’t completely prohibit all pollution, nor should we take no action at all against pollution. While complete destruction of the atmosphere may not be on the table (yet), we would surely have too much pollution if we didn’
Article from Mises Wire