"[If Parliament] may take from me one shilling in the pound, what security have I for the other nineteen?" ~ Richard Henry Lee
How Much Do You Value Government?
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
I was reading Mama Liberty’s recent blog post about downsizing government. It occurred to me that it could be determined how much any given individual valued government, by asking them how much they would pay in taxes for it, if taxes really were voluntary.
For example, Joe Blow pays a total of $20,000 this year in taxes. If asked what he’d pay if he had the choice, he might think about it some, and then say, “I’d pay $4,000.” He might be thinking that some money really should go for schools and some for cops, and some for a few other things, and he tells me that. So at least initially, his valuation of government is 20% what he gets from them unwillingly. I suspect this is not too far off from how most people would respond. They value government services, but not as much as they are forced to pay for them; and some government services are not wanted at all.
But then I’d ask him, “Why give money to government for schools? Wouldn’t it be better to give it to your local school directly? Or support local private schools? Wouldn’t your money go further then, by cutting out the middleman?” Almost certainly he would agree, as this is hard to deny. However, he might say he prefers to give a single lump for convenience sake, not doling out bits for this and that.
The next question is of course, “Don’t you think that organizations would form, or already exist, that could dole out your one lump contribution appropriately--groups such as United Way?” In fact, in this day and age, there’d probably be an app for his smart phone that would easily control how much of his contribution for whatever groups he is interested in, that he could instantly modify as his interests changed.
I might bring in information such as The Voluntary City, showing that all the things we think of government doing, already have been provided voluntarily in the past.
Of course, what I am trying to do is get his valuation of government down to zero. But somehow, it never quite gets there, because the conversation grinds to a halt.
I think this is too much for most people. They “don’t want to go there,” for whatever reason. And to be honest, it’s too much for me as well, any more. I don’t really think it’s even my business to convince people not to value government. It’s only my business to get them to leave me alone.
I’d rather just say to Joe, “Let’s assume you believe government is of some use to you, or maybe you think it is inevitable. And let’s assume I disagree--perhaps because I think services are better provided voluntarily. Our disagreement doesn’t actually matter, as we no doubt disagree on all sorts of things. All that matters is, are you willing to stick a gun in my face, to force me to comply with your beliefs? Are you willing to condone others doing the same thing?”
And then I’d walk away, and let this churn around in his brain for a while.