First principles for a low tax society

In talking to people about lower taxes and smaller government, we all use day to day examples.  High fuel taxes, high income taxes, capital gains taxation etc are all examples we campaign against.  Personally, I’d like to share the first principles I take these arguments from, why I work here and why this fight is not only politically just, but morally just.

Taxes are part of a social contract.  The point about contracts is that they’re designed to be mutually beneficial.  Initially taxes are there to pay for national defence, courts and policing, to keep us safe and secure so we may live in freedom.  Isn’t it amazing how far it’s come, how redistribution has been used as a tool to morally blackmail this country into paying higher taxes for add-ons to the social contract that penalise hard working families.  Away from the abstract, look at the past 11 years, how spending has soared yet MRSA and C-difficile ran riot in hospitals and the benefits system has led to all too frequent abuse.

So, I offer you the principle that should refute the redistributive socialism offered to us by government.  It comes from Robert Nozick’s timeless book ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’ and is known as the Wilt Chamberlain argument (to non-basketball fans, Wilt Chamberlain was a famous basketball player Nozick uses as an example in the rule).  Summarised, it reads thus:  Imagine in a socialist utopia everyone is paid £1 a day for their work.  In free time, however, Wilt Chamberlain likes to play basketball.  He offers individuals to voluntarily part with 50p to watch.  You do, I don’t.  At the end of the voluntary transaction, you have 50p, I still have my £1 and Wilt has £1.50.  Through voluntary activity alone, we’re unequal, despite the best laid plans of the socialist government.  No matter what plan laid down, no matter how equal a government plans for us to be in economic matters, through our own voluntary activity we have dispelled a plan for equality.

Now let’s look at this here in 21st Century UK.  We all go to work, expecting taxation to be taken from our pay packets to pay for our safety and security.  Yet, through our labour, why should more and more be taken from our pay packets to offset the voluntary activity that causes others to be poor as a result of voluntary activity?  This argument has received some timely indirect support lately. 

Anecdotally, why do people who can’t afford school uniforms have I-pods, sky plus and other luxuries in place of the basics?  Moreover, should a welfare system be in place to accommodate the purely voluntary activity of those who value luxury over necessity? 

I say no.  Again, from Nozick, what we earn through legitimate, voluntary exchange we should keep on the principle that our individual graft has secured a wage packet.  What we give up in taxation we expect to safeguard our position for future voluntary exchange.  From the basic principle that it is your money, the state should take as much for the protection of security and your rights to future free exchange.  To Nozick, that’s the courts, police and national security.  To this government, it’s a whole lot more.

Moreover, it’s a philosophical and moral case for raising the income tax threshold.  Those who opt to work for a low wage should be rewarded for their work because they have chosen not to rely on state hand outs.  There should be a greater incentive to work through taking low earners out of income tax.  Why is this better for high earners?  It provides a wider market for commerce.  It’s a mutually beneficial contract, a social contract even.

From these first principles – that the money you earn should be spent by government for the safety and security of your rights to freely exchange on the market – lower taxes are, for me, a moral and philosophical requirement to a just society.  Futhermore, voluntary activity shouldn’t be mitigated by arbitrary decisions from government.  What the government can plan for, quite easily, voluntary activity can distort.

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