Stupid Things Libertarians Say IV: FREEEEEDOM!
A brief digression on one popular Libertarian talking point. (By the way, when reading all official Libertarian talking points, it’s best if you imagine the speaker on a cliff, with the sun at their back and their hands on their hips. Season with swords, capes, and banners to taste.) This Libertarian talking point runs like this.
Sensible Person: “Gee, isn’t it nice that we don’t live in a country like Somalia?”
Libertarian: “The GOVERNMENT takes your HARD EARNED MONEY with GUNS! GUNS AND VIOLENCE! And they give it to BLACK PEOPLE who don’t want to WORK FOR THEIR FOOD. It’s robbery, they ROB YOU with their GUNS OF VIOLENCE AND THIEVERY!”
SP: “But taxes are the price we pay for civilization! They maintain our roads and water quality and other such good things.”
L: “Choosing which gangster to pay protection money to isn’t a “choice”. I don’t remember signing any sort of “social contract”.”*
*Actual quote from actual Libertarian.
Now, as a history major, I may be prejudiced towards my chosen discipline, but I can’t help but feel that a more through grounding in history would prevent some of this happy crappy bullshit. Let me spell it out for anyone who isn’t clear on the concept. There are two possible states for human existence. One of them is a mutually collective society of some sort, ruled by more or less rational rulers in some sort of more or less democratic procedure. The possible variations on this are nearly endless, but at its essence, you pay into the society in the form of taxes, and in return receive a peaceful, protected life. You have some degree of say over policies and power, ranging from referendum votes to republics. I.E. Your standard issue modern, civilized state. (Now available in BRAND NEW South American and African editions! Get ‘em before the CIA does!)
And yeah, when you don’t do you part, there are consequences. There are consequences in any group project when someone doesn’t do their part. Remember being in fourth grade doing group work, and there was always that one prick who let everyone else work, knowing full well that in your fourth grade minds, you’d rather do his work than go to the teacher and rat him out? Yeah, libertarians are the grown up versions of that prick.
Ok, but let’s say we did get rid of all that “social contract” bullshit. Well, see, that’s where things get tricky. Because you’ll still be paying taxes. But you’ll be paying a lot more of them. And instead of one centralized government who uses your money to benefit you and your fellow citizens, and does a million jobs to make your life easier (food, water, and drug testing, military etc. etc.) you get to pay your taxes to Warlord Joe. Who will take your hard earned wheat or gold, at a 99% tax rate (the 1% they leave you will be the stuff you’ve already eaten) , rape your wife (or possibly both of you, depending on the local availability of women and/or individual taste) and leave. They may come back the next week. Or they may be displaced by Warlord Steve, who will not care about your excuses that Warlord Joe took all your stuff and lit out for the coast, and will kill you. Hopefully before he rapes you and your wife again.
Now, this may sound flip. This may sound sarcastic. But for the vast majority of human history, this is how people lived. For vast stretches of the planet today (Congo, Somalia, anywhere else on this list) this is more than a historical analysis, this is the way life is. Incidentally, run down that list of failed states. You can pretty much find a direct correlation with level of government. Surprisingly, those places that have people in charge do better than places without people in charge.
As a historian, to listen to someone bitch about having to give up a fraction of their wealth to the greater society is like a biologist listening to someone complain about having to breathe oxygen. It is such a fundamental part of the way the world works that it never even occurred to me to question it. Simply put, with the exception of maybe, MAYBE ten thousand people throughout the entirety of human history (and that is the most inhumanly optimistic number I can come up with) everyone pays taxes. Nobles pay them to the king, the king pays them to the emperor, the emperor pays them to the church. A very few people have not. Genghis Khan didn’t. Hitler, Stalin, the Japanese, Roman and Chinese Emperors did’t. But for the most part everybody pays. (Kings included, or have you never heard the word Danegeld?)
The advent of a modern society is not the elimination of taxation. The founding fathers didn’t think so. They weren’t pissed about taxes, they were pissed that they had no say in how or when or on what they were taxed. Also, tariffs, limits on making rum, free trade and not liking extraneous U’s in words.
The advent of a modern society is that instead of being used to line the pockets of the elite…ok, LEGALLY being used to line the pockets of the elite, taxes work for the people. You pay something in, you get something out. And your taxes are not arbitrarily decided by a standard of “what you’ve got laying around when the men with the swords show up,” but based on your income, with both rich and poor equal under the law.
Essentially, given human nature, given the harsh realities of life, there is no “utopia where no one pays taxes and everyone has jobs.” There is a civilized society with some form of taxation, or there is cowering in your mud hut hoping that the Assyrians (or Babylonians, or French, or English or who the fuck ever) don’t think your stuff is even worth getting off their horses. But if they do, while you’re being violated in a pigsty by the first in a long line of lonely barbarians, you can comfort yourself with the thought that sooner or later someone will come up with the idea of a democratic government funded by reasonable taxes used for the improvement of the general welfare. In between the squealing like a pig, of course.
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