Monday, September 18, 2017


So I was having a discussion with some acquaintances, and the topic of taxation came up. Namely the idea of taxation as a sort of "repayment" to "society" for the perceived benefits of the advantages that society as a whole confers on an individual, sometimes, it seems by merely existing. Interestingly (if tangentially) enough, this case society as a whole as selfish, in that it doesn't provide advantages as a gift, but rather as an investment, and it expects handsome returns from those who parley those advantages into high income and wealth. As often happens with such discussions, the tend to meander, and when the topic of tax benefits for marriage came up, the center of the discussion shifted into the realm of expectations around marriage, and who is allowed to have them. And this is where I began to note an interesting disconnect. Someone had mentioned that their parents had attempted to guilt them into being granted a veto over potential marriage partners by noting the debt that the child had incurred to said parents for the advantages that had been conferred on them over the years. And the consensus of the group was that was a highly inappropriate way for family to act. As the discussion went on, it broadened, and we talked about the expectations that any number of groups to which a person may belong might have for them. And throughout, the general consensus was that none of them had the right to demand repayment for perceived advantage conferred.

Sometime later (I don't claim to be a particularly quick study), it occurred to me that, in effect, the group had concluded that while it was appropriate for society, in this case, the nation as represented by government (or, perhaps more simply, the State) to note advantages of membership over non-membership and extract payment for same, regardless of whether or not any given individual sees and understands a certain advantage in their lives, that one's racial, ethnic, religious or neighborhood community is not granted this same privilege.

Of course, there are substantial differences between a government of any given jurisdiction and the community formed by other people who trace their national origin to the same place that you do. But there does not strike me as any substantive difference between "society" saying to an individual "you have the things that you have, not (solely) because of any personal merit, but because of the assistance that we have given you; and whether you requested (or even acknowledge) that assistance or not, there is a price to paid for having benefited from it," and any recognized community that individual may belong to saying the same thing. Of course, to remain with the topics of discussion I noted before, money and one's choice of significant other are not the same thing, but that doesn't, in and of itself, prevent seeing the requests as similar. Each institution sees itself as a creditor to the individual for services rendered, expects payment for said services and had no intention of taking "I didn't ask you to do anything for me," as an answer.

Without diving too deeply into speculation about what other people may or may not be thinking, I would guess that it's a difference in the way that people understand freedom and obligation - and what obligations that others are entitled to ask of us. Society is justified in demanding resources from us, and staking steps to enforce that demand, in a way that other groups are not justified to demand that we be a resource. Interestingly, I suspect that people who take issue with the idea of involuntary (depending, I suppose, on how one defines "voluntary") taxation would say that it makes the individual into a social resource and that society is no more entitled to demand that an individual be a resource than anyone else is.

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