The Taxman Cometh
Philip Goff’s new book Why? The Purpose of the Universe is an outstanding investigation of cosmic purpose written from the author’s panpsychist point of view. It’s an impressive contribution to metaphysics, but, you may ask, why I am talking about it in this week’s column? The answer is that the author includes an appendix, “P.S. Is Taxation Theft?,” in which he raises some very relevant points about libertarianism. You may now wonder why a book on cosmic purpose includes a section about the moral status of taxation, but the answer to this you will have to find out for yourself. If the curiosity leads you to read the book, all the better.
Goff says that many people assume they have a right to all of their income and property. If the state taxes part of what you own, it is stealing from you, in just the same way a thief who absconds with some of your property has done. Libertarians who think this way assume that people have a natural right to property, but this assumption is no more than one of three possible theories of property rights, and moreover the one Goff finds the least plausible. The other two theories are the left-libertarian position that people own the natural resources of the earth in common and the social constructivist view that the people in each society decide for themselves the permissible scope of property rights. Goff leans toward the social constructivist account, though he attaches some weight to the common-resources view as well. Neither of these latter two theories has the consequence that people are entitled to all of their pretax income and property: according to them, taxation isn’t theft.
Goff explains why left-libertarianism allows taxation:
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