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Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Libertarian Attack on Egalitarian Values

In my first foray into the Prawfsblawgosphere, I thought it might be interesting to consider in some detail the brand of radical libertarianism that gives near- absolute priority to existing property rights and related liberty rights.  One can imagine a radical libertarian asserting that most or all government should be abolished, from public schools to the Center for Disease Control, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the SEC.  They might laud gated communities and contractual arbitration without recognizing that each of these icons of free association can, in fact, be viewed as a form of government realized on a local scale.  (The wealthy in gated communities establish a local executive with their own security (police), under-the-table cash payment systems for nannies and other workers, border control, and association constitutions.  Powerful corporations and employers create and sustain a form of judiciary external to the regular public law system, with their own privately arranged rules determined by pseudo-courts that are unencumbered by public law and precedent.)

Supporters of a radical libertarian approach might also praise contractual "freedom" to labor, by which they would generally support the right of powerful and wealthy corporations and oligarchies to contract with employees to work under severe or difficult conditions, so long as the employees were willing.  After all, they might say (in echoes of 'let them eat cake'), employees are not coerced to work, so let them walk away if the contractual conditions of labor don't suit them.  Overall, such a radical libertarian approach shows little concern that such private arrangements and the limited institutions they support may be unavailable to, or provide inadequate redress for, people of color, the poor, or the powerless.

A favorite target of radical libertarians is the Treasury and the federal income tax.  To hear proponents tell it, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would best materialize in a state of near anarchy.  Privatization is cast as God's chosen mechanism for freeing His people; government, as the Satanic evil-doer; and taxation, as Satan's pitchfork.  And if there must be government, then they are not beyond eliminating the basic 'one person, one vote' rule of democracy so that those with property may have the biggest say.  Robert W. McGee, a quintessential example of this radical libertarian thinking, supports a weighted voting system where "each person would be entitled to one vote for every dollar of taxes paid since the last election" as a fair system that would have the 'advantage' of keeping people who are on welfare off the voting rolesRobert W. McGee, The Philosophy of Taxation and Public Finance (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), at 270.

This anarchic libertarian approach poses considerable danger to America's democratic institutions and, indeed, to America's liberty. 

Let's consider, for example, the views espoused by Robert McGee in the book cited above.  McGee is a professor in the Andreas School of Business at Barry University who has also written a series of articles on the "ethics of tax evasion." 

The recipe for the McGee book is simple.  Start with a sloppy writing style that tends to repeat similar paragraphs of text ad nauseum throughout the book.  Add conclusory argumentation that relies on singular studies from right-wing think tanks to validate far-reaching conclusions.  Give short shrift to a wealth of contradictory data and analyses from other perspectives.  Throw in assertions that taxpayers have no moral duty to pay taxes. Id. at 24.  Suggest a moral right to evade taxes similar to the asserted "universal" right of secession.  Id. at 25.  The result is a dogmatic manifesto for reviving nineteenth century perspectives on markets, the environment, labor, and the power of the wealthy.

Take, for example, the analysis of views of taxation within Christian, Judaic, Baha'i and Islamic religious traditions. Id. at 44-74.  Although many of these religious faiths find value in taxation as a means of addressing moral obligations of society to care for its members, McGee casts these arguments aside.  For instance, he concludes that Jewish recognition of a moral obligation to fund societal costs of caring for the poor is wrong because society "does not exist"--it is merely a linguistic term connoting collectives of individuals and cannot have moral obligations towards its members.  Id. at 46.

There is no hint of the literature on institutions or norms, nor any discussion of the possible ways that individual norms and moral values can be transposed into societal norms and obligations.  McGee discards the Jewish argument for tax support for societal needs based on his prior assertions that (i) taxation involves coercion of individuals and thus can never be just and (ii) government expenditures for the poor, the sick, and the old are 'special interest' expenditures that can never be legitimate.  Id.  Although Jewish thought apparently considers the necessary lies that accompany tax evasion themselves morally indefensible, McGee merely counters with his claim that taxation is theft and his assertion that falsifying records to prevent theft is not unethical.  Id. at 47. 

He then delivers what he considers the coup d'etat.  If tax evasion might be justified in the case of non-democratic regimes such as Hitler's Reich and Stalin's Russia, he asserts that evasion is justifiable in respect of any regime and any tax system.  The justification for evasion is not the dictatorial nature of the regime, but the notion that taxation itself is per se theft by government.  He therefore considers unnecessary the use of legitimate means of protesting taxes within the system--by ballot, political campaigning, open dissent and possible imprisonment.  Going to prison is "a rather high price to pay."  Id. at 48.  He discards the theory of a citizenry's implied consent to a tax system based on the possibility of 'voting with your feet' because of totalitarian regimes where flight may not be possible.  He fails to engage critical issues such as the relation between the legitimacy of taxes and the type of regime, totalitarian or democratic, imposing the taxes.

Throughout the book, words are taken at face value, with minimal attempts to define or explain them, to give them scope, or to establish the particular contexts in which they are to be understood.  For example, McGee attacks the question of 'just distribution' without ever establishing a foundational concept of justice in general or distributive justice in particular.  Id. at 17.  The closest he appears to come is a statement that neither opinions nor majority preferences determine justice.  Id. at 18. 

The word 'fair' is used the way a three-year-old uses it to complain to a parent about another child's actions--no analysis, just assertion based on a focus on self.  Government construction of a bridge in Oregon with tax revenues collected from people across the country who may or may not ever use the bridge is "unfair."  Id. at 174. Progressive distribution of the tax burden is "grossly unfair."  McGee neither provides a theory of fundamental fairness nor mentions philosophers such as  John Rawls or economists such as Amartya Sen who have made strong arguments, since at least 1971, for resource distributions directed towards a more egalitarian society. See, e.g., John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971); Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famine (1971). 

McGee's theoretical foundation rests on a presumed priority of property rights:  a person has an inherent right to control whatever property he possesses and to dispose of it as he voluntarily chooses.  Based on this blindered emphasis on 'primordial' property and related liberty rights, McGee views people (or entities) as having a similar ownership interest in any pre-tax profits or income that they 'earn.'  Accordingly,"there is no such thing as a just tax."  McGee, supra, at 37.  Taxation is merely governmental theft, and any obligation to comply with tax law is questionable, since taxes are merely a coerced taking of property to which the taxpayer is entitled.  Although McGee uses the term 'taking,' he does not bother to provide even a summary explanation of either Takings jurisprudence or the lack of a conflict between the Takings Clause and the Sixteenth Amendment's authorization of a federal income tax.  See, e.g., id. at 17 and 17, n.11.

Exploring potential justifications for a governmental tax claim, McGee first aggregates conclusory consequentialist arguments against any duty to pay taxes.  He claims, for example, that elimination of taxation would result in less theft, more justice, a smaller government, religious freedom, freedom for pacifists fom supporting wars, and freedom for consumers through the elimination of protectionist legislation.  While some of those consequences are likely, others are not so clear.  Governments would generally shrink with less tax revenue, but borrowing or other means of funding could compensate. Consumer protection groups would argue that removal of government regulations would leave consumers at the mercy of powerful corporations, not free them to purchase as they wish.

McGee concludes, however, by discounting the utilitarian analysis in favor of a property-rights based libertarian argument:  taxation is theft because it violates rights because all that one earns is one's sole property.  Id. at 26. 

McGee does purport to assess two widely used concepts of tax fairness (ability to pay and benefits received) from utilitarian and rights-based perspectives, but he does so at a very generalized level.  He condemns the ability-to-pay rationale for taxation as both inefficient and unethical.  Id. at 113.  He asserts that progressivity destroys incentives to work, leads to leisure substitution, decreases risk taking, causes deadweight loss to the system through exploitation of loopholes that require costly administration, and increases animosity between rich and poor.  While the cost of enforcement is real, each of the other purported negatives of progressive taxes is speculative. 

He ultimately relies on Kant's categorical imperative to claim that the ability-to-pay rationale leads to the exploitation of the wealthy for the benefit of the poor.  Id. at 113.  Note, however, that this view of rights depends on the initial state from which rights are assessed, something nowhere addressed.  Compare Rawls' concept of a hypothetical initial state from which determinations of fairness can be made, termed a "veil of ignorance."  Rawls, supra, at 11, 17, 118-23.  Surely it is not theft, even in a system of strong property rights, when government takes something that is not owned by a current holder in order to restore it to the rightful owner.  A libertarian rights-based theory ought at least attempt to explain conflicting claims of ownership, including the viability of tax transfers that compensate Native Americans for loss of their property. 

Furthermore, commentators such as Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel have argued against the anti-government presumption in favor of retention of reousrces acquired in the market typically put forth by "unreflective" libertarians:  they note that the amount that a person has earned cannot be determined independently of the legal institutions and tax system applicable to the person's activities.  See Liam Murphy & Thomas Nagel, The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (Oxford Univ. Press 2002), at 15, 5, and 8.  Under this approach, a property right in earned income applies to after-tax income, not pre-tax profits.  Society has a claim against a portion of the profits, because it makes the acquisition and possession of additional property possible by establishing a stable economic context governed by the rule of law based on appropriately developed concepts of individual and group rights and obligations. 

Frank H. Knight, one of the founders of the Chicago School of Economics, was clear that economic analysis, from Adam Smith on down, should not be viewed as "doctrinaire advoca[cy] of a hands-off policy by governments" but rather must recognize the way that social institutions empower individual achievement.  See, e.g., Frank H. Knight, On the History and Method of Economics (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1956), at 9. 

Moreover, an egalitarian understanding of distributive justice offers a strong but distinct rights-based approach, in which the rights and obligations that matter most--encompassing at least the right to equal respect, equal treatment, equal opportunity, and equal initial access to economic resources--are necessarily at odds with the preeminent property and inheritance rights asserted by libertarians.  McGee does not even pretend to deal with contemporary arguments from distributive justice.  He merely asserts that progressive taxation represents an "inherent injustice."  McGee, supra, at 114.

Although McGee explicitly states in more than one place that all current governmental functions should be private, see, e.g., id. at 58 and n.19, he does suggest that utilitarianism (in the form of Kaldor-Hicks cost-benefit analysis) provides some support for a benefits-received theory of taxation based on the quid pro quo of services received for taxes paid.  This is deemed fairer "because it is based on equity rather than exploitation."  Id. at 37.  Presumably he is asserting some form of horizontal equity, though there is no attempt to make clear how that concept fits in his overall view of government and taxes.

McGee ultimately concludes that any taxation is necessarily an "extraction of money by force," so that the only appropriate means for financing government is through voluntary user fees, lotteries, or charity.  Id. at 122.  Given this approach, it is unsurpising that he considers tax evasion as likely not unethical, and penalizing attorneys or accountants who help clients evade taxes as "perpetrating an injustice."  Id. at 43.    In fact, McGee claims that advisers' promotion of tax evasion is protected under the First Amendment.  Id

Carrying the anti-government principle to its extreme conclusion, McGee sets forth a list of means that might be used to restrain governmental powers of taxation.  Included among the bizarre suggestions for restraint mechanisms are an automatic federal government default on its debt once in every generation, id. at 271, and legalized private executions of any politician who pledges not to raise taxes and then raises them, id. at 273.  He does not appear to be aware of the harm that periodic governmental defaults would do to the value of individuals' properties, perhaps because he thinks that the mere threat of such a system will lead the government to abstain from debt.  Recognizing, however, the severity of his call for political executions, he also suggests a less draconian measure--any acquiescence in raising taxes would result in per se resignation from office or loss of federal pension benefits.  Id.

While the support for legalizing murder of any politician that doesn't agree with the anti-tax position of radical libertarians is alarming, an equally jarring section of the book is McGee's discussion of Social Security.  He suggests America's guarantee of a minimum income in old age and upon disability be abolished immediately, without any remedy whatsoever for those currently receiving benefits.  Id. at 159-60. Social Security is cast as a pure transfer system to unworthy recipients who do not work, without any acknowledgment of the tax-paying history of almost all workers in the country.  Id. at 60.  The approach demonstrates a callous disregard for the effect on communities or those who depend on benefits as their primary or even sole source of support.  His argument, again, is simply that taxation is theft by government of property that every taxpayer earns on its own and has a right to keep inviolate.  The fact that a significant percentage of elderly and disabled populations would be left without any income receives no more than a passing murmur of pseudo-sympathy.  They are considered mere exploiters or robbers who benefit from government theft by receiving stolen property.  Id. at 4. Just as schools in an era of no public funding could ask corporations for support or otherwise depend on the goodwill of the wealthy, the old and disabled could rely on private charity for their survival needs.  Id. at 149, 4.  In the course of the various allusions to Social Security woven through the book, McGee neglects even the admittedly self-centered arguments for helping the least well-off in society--i.e., that a wealth-center, user-fee society where the wealthy live in enclaves of sanity set apart by their private security forces from the squalor of the rest of humanity would likely threatn the wealthy with death by revolution.  Think of the world of the poor portrayed by Charles Dickens.

What is most discouraging about reading a book like this is the realization that it may express a philosophy not unlike that of many of those governing America today.   Pity for those less fortunate is hardly present, except for the rare global attention to a crisis such as the tsunami disaster in Asia.  The goal of tax policy is relieving the rich, cast as the entrepreneurial class, from the burden of taxation.  Accumulated wealth is seen as resulting from skills, acumen and overall worthiness of the entrepreneur, rather than from the political and economic stability, cultural diversity, and human capital available to help the entrepreneur's enterprise because of the legal institutional framework within which the enterprise is defined and shaped.   The enormous power provided by inherited wealth is disregarded. Opposing positions are slighted, misrepresented, or simply condemned as supporting parasitical systems that fleece the wealthy.  See, e.g., id. at 58, 105, 115.   The worst aspects of a profits-at-all-costs culture are elevated to central focus, and the best aspects of American caring, cooperation and community are made irrelevant.

Under a regime directed by this sort of philosophy, the loss of an endangered species may be viewed as vaguely lamentable, but certainly not worth interfering in any way with the rolling market juggernaut driven by wealthy multi-national corporations.  The loss of pristine wilderness areas may be sad for those who in the future cannot even imagine them, but the snowballing wealth accumulation of current oligarchies comes first.  In this view, government is bad when it brings the resources of the entire community to bear on the survival needs of a few and the overall peace and prosperity of society in general, and good even when it permits a distorted concept of ownership to empower itself at the expense of the downtrodden or the greater public interest. 

The society this view would establish bears uncanny resemblance to pre-New Deal, pre-progressive era America going back as far as the Industrial Revolution, when children labored for hours on end in unhealthy factories, women were locked into death chambers for the benefit of shirtwaist company managers who didn't want their workers taking costly potty breaks, and company owners hired thugs to protect their property by teaching laborers to toe the line. 

Nothing here suggests an educated nation at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when incredible wealth, technological progress, and enhanced information about the world at large should make it possible, perhaps for the first time in human history, for us to work together to end poverty and deprivation.

Posted by LindaMBeale on February 19, 2006 at 11:14 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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For a more thoroughgoing explication of this Ethic you might wish to visit www.titanians.org.http://www.titanians.org/CONSTITUTION.htm

It's as if Tony Kennedy wrote a manifesto for Lyndon LaRouche...

Posted by: Simon | Feb 23, 2006 8:44:50 AM

I have read dozens of Dr. McGee's books and scores of his articles, including the book under discussion. The only intellectual weakness I have discerned in his thinking is his tendency to assume his reader understands more about the basics of Ethics than is usually the case. Your blog is a case in point. Just because McGee credits you with more intelligence than you have, by leaving out some of the logical steps in his analysis, doesn't mean that he is wrong. You are expected to fill in the gaps, which you could if your understanding of Ethics was on a par with his.

The Libertarian Ethic, usually defined on a Rothbardian property rights basis, can be defined in more understandable terms by properly defining an ethical act. For a more thoroughgoing explication of this Ethic you might wish to visit www.titanians.org.

More generally, instead of attacking an idea that you clearly don't understand, I would suggest that you start asking Dr. McGee, "What makes you think that?" I don't doubt he would be happy to respond. He is a very thoughtful open-minded man, very open to discourse with those who are equally open-minded.

Posted by: Odoka | Feb 22, 2006 12:51:24 PM

Unlike most of the others that have commented, I know Robert McGee and many libertarians, radical and otherwise...none of them resemble the banal and uninformed image depicted in this blog....
Professor McGee may disagree with some or many, and certainly you, but he is neither a fringe character or some ideological Osama Bin Laden that would use physical force or violence to bring down the Twin Towers of the state....
Ms Beale, it would appear you have done yourself a very large disservice in punching above your (intellectual) weight...or at least in revealing a depth of ignorance and obdurance in grasping the views of others'....
As you seem to have revealed, ignornance often makes one oppose ideas that challenge one's inclinations about supporting intrusions into the private space of others....
Ironically, the comment that is most compelling is the last (cumbersome) sentence that seems to summarize your attempt to express yourself:

>>Nothing here suggests an educated nation at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when incredible wealth, technological progress, and enhanced information about the world at large should make it possible, perhaps for the first time in human history, for us to work together to end poverty and deprivation.<<

That was a wonderful summary of your blog...!!!

It turns out that libertarians believe that respecting private property that includes self-ownership is the basis for a harmonious community that will also reduce the likelihood of protracted poverty...the only groups whose interests are not supported are those that would steal or otherwise expropriate the property lawfully held by others...of course, this includes grasping bureaucrats and politicians....

Posted by: EconProf | Feb 21, 2006 8:16:53 PM

Perhaps this thread reveals the problem of using labels such as "libertarian." The word "libertarian" can be used to mean anything from the most radical anti-government types to centrists that generally think markets often work and that the government should stay out of our bedrooms. Whether McGee's views are representative of a paricular group depends on what group we have in mind, and the label doesn't give us a very good idea of how big the group is.

Posted by: thelawjoe | Feb 20, 2006 8:51:39 PM

I must say that I think the critics are being a bit overly sensitive here. I had never heard of McGee before this post either, but he did, after all, publish a book on tax policy, through a legitimate academic press no less. Having put his views out for public consumption, Prof. Beale is entirely within her rights to write a review of it. It is not as if prior academic fame is a condition of having one's work critically reviewed. Whether McGee is representative of libertarian thinking generally is a separate question, but nothing I've seen in the comments suggests that he is not. Indeed, if it is true that "pretty much all libertarians" would assert that the government should be largely abolished, as one commenator claims, then McGee seems to be highly representative of a certain strain of anarcho-capitalism. If his views seem kooky, then perhaps there is something amiss with anarcho-capitalism. This might also explain why Beale did not bring Hayek or Nozick into the discussion, as another commentator suggests, since neither was an anarchist. To the contrary, Hayek is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for advocating a fairly robust welfare state, including a guaranteed minimum income (the humanity!), and Nozick was notoriously ambiguous about whether his entitlement theory of acquisition and exchange could ever get off the ground in the absence of a transfer paynments to establish a just baseline of holdings.

Posted by: Sam Morison | Feb 20, 2006 7:41:49 PM

As the author of the post, I appreciate the perspectives represented by the various commentators. I chose to write about McGee because, as a tax lawyer, I have noticed an increasing number of articles of his posted on SSRN having to do with the "ethics" of tax evasion. Several of the articles report empirical research in the form of a 15-question survey to students in various disciplines in various countries about tax evasion. Wondering what his philosophical foundation was, I found the answer in the book that I chose to highlight in the post.

As to the gated community analogy, I am admittedly challenging the category distinction between public and private by asserting that such communities represent mini-governments. Once a person buys into a gated community, they have obligated themselves to abide by the rules of the community. Those rules generally are developed through a committee or assembly process, and the community's obligations are funded through assessments on each member. A member of the community can sell out and leave and no longer be liable for the property-based assessments, just as a member of a local municipality can sell the property and leave and no longer be liable for the municipality's tax assessments. Certainly there are differences of degree, but this web of relationships and obligations functions similarly to government and has similar consequences. I am not convinced that the divide between public government and private association is not a fuzzy one.

Posted by: Linda Beale | Feb 20, 2006 7:07:21 PM

Ms. Beale writes, regarding contracts and gated communities (?!): " ... These icons of free association can ... be viewed as a form of government on a local scale." No, they can't, that's just not true, and the cynical view of the wealthy in parentheses that follows does not make it true. Just because people get together and create some form of association, for whatever purposes, does not make them mini-governments.Indeed, because the fundamental difference between a voluntary organization which is conferred certain governing powers and a government is that if you don't like the form of government in a gated community, you can easily leave. I would have thought that this was obvious.

Posted by: Simon | Feb 20, 2006 4:15:34 PM

Prof. Beale, this post is way too long for a blog post. Moreover, your critics above are correct. I strongly disagree with the first part of this comment; I think that within reason, a blog post can be any length necessary to do justice to the subject at hand. I do, however, unrepentently join the lynch mob where the content is concerned.

Posted by: Simon | Feb 20, 2006 4:13:00 PM

Echoing comments from others, I’m also familiar with many libertarian thinkers and writers and had never heard of Robert McGee before reading this post. Considering the volume of libertarian literature out there, both "radical" and otherwise, it would seem easy to find a more representative radical than McGee to shoot at. Whether one agrees with them in full or not, libertarian intellectuals have made important contributions to philosophy, economics, history, law, and politics. There would be value in presenting and debating some of their ideas, rather than extracting and erecting an obvious "straw man" just to turn around and demolish him.

Ms. Beale writes: "One can imagine a radical libertarian asserting that most or all government should be abolished...." No, sorry, not a RADICAL libertarian, but pretty much all libertarians would make this assertion. In doing so, they are deriving a desired political result ("most government services do not need to be managed by governments, and would be more effectively managed by private institutions") from an ethical position ("you do not force some people to pay for stuff that other people want"). Admonition against the use of force, in the physical AND economic realms, is central to libertarianism, not just to some imagined radical version.

Ms. Beale writes, regarding contracts and gated communities (?!): " ... These icons of free association can ... be viewed as a form of government on a local scale." No, they can't, that's just not true, and the cynical view of the wealthy in parentheses that follows does not make it true. Just because people get together and create some form of association, for whatever purposes, does not make them mini-governments.

Regarding Ms. Beale's comment about libertarians supporting "the right of powerful and wealthy corporations to contract employees to work under severe or difficult conditions, as long as the employees were willing." Well... seems to me people do that every day, they work in all sorts of very dangerous or difficult occupations, much more dangerous even than writing these posts. Just about anything outside the walls of an office, for example. Or the armed forces or police. Again, that's not radical libertarianism. Now, one could have an interesting discussion about what libertarian theory says about worker exploitation, or about whether or not private or public institutional arrangements provide better support to (by Ms. Beale's definition) marginalized groups. But apparently the preference here is to just beat the theory, or the wealthy, and be done with it.

I would like to comment on Ms. Beale's take on McGee, but I haven’t read his book. Normally, I could make some inferences (and even some intelligent remarks!) from a writer's review of a book, but Ms. Beale displays such an inadequate understanding of libertarian theory in general, that it seems unlikely she would be able to give the book a proper treatment. I will say, however, that -- without a doubt -- an individual who advocates political execution because of some economic failure is not a libertarian.

Posted by: Dale | Feb 20, 2006 3:45:38 PM

Prof. Beale, this post is way too long for a blog post. Moreover, your critics above are correct. You insult people who disagree with you, claim the moral high ground with no particular justification, present a comically simplistic view of history, and generally don't make yourself look very good.

Posted by: LawProfCommentator | Feb 20, 2006 1:58:36 PM

This post is NOT up to the usual standards of this site. Strawmen, etc. Is the poster going to respond to the comments. I certainly hope so.

Posted by: ChiLois | Feb 20, 2006 1:47:27 PM

Like JP, I don't think I understand this post. I'm a libertarian who is skeptical of the regulatory state, and I have never even heard of Robert McGee. Instead of attacking nutty people no one has ever heard of, why not critique leading scholars like Richard Epstein?

Also, you might be more persuasive if you avoid using such loaded language. Your post paints your oponents as "radicals" who don't mind having women locked into "death chambers," while you are a wonderful person who believes in ending poverty. I'm glad you see yourself in such a favorable way, but your readers are going to wonder why you can't just let the arguments speak for themselves. We're all acting in good faith here: we don't need to stack the deck with rhetoric. Your style is up to you, of course, but I think toning down the rhetoric will let your arguments speak to a broader audience.

Posted by: Pat Wilson | Feb 20, 2006 1:11:00 PM

I'm curious as to why Robert McGee of the Andreas School of Business at Barry University is a "quintessential" example of the school of thought you are attacking. Why not address the serious arguments put forward by Nozick, Hayek, Friedman, and others? Maybe they aren't "radical libertarians," (a redundant term if I've ever heard one), but why attack a lunatic fringe as a comment on contemporary society? I might critique any of the plentiful communistic tropes out there that advocate 100% public ownership of everything to lament the (harmful, in my view) collectivist and redistributivist impulses in modern American society, but why waste my time, when there are serious liberal arguments (by Rawls and others) to address? I might understand if this book was popular, or some politician claimed to keep it on his nightstand or something, but that doesn't seem to be the case with this book....

Posted by: JP | Feb 20, 2006 12:09:53 PM

McGee's reliance on Kantian moral theory is especially incompetent, since Kant anticipates Murphy and Nagel on the justice of taxation. Notwithstanding his classical liberal credentials, Kant holds that because a regime of enforceable property rights can only fully exist within the legal structure of civil society, which is a socially cooperative venture from which everyone derives economic benefits, and because there is no rational warrant for supposing that free and equal individuals would consent to a social arrangement that permitted them to become destitute, a wealthy citizen has an obligation, qua citizen, to contribute to the maintenance of “those members of the society who are unable to maintain themselves.” Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals 101 (Mary Gregor ed., 1996) (1797). “[T]he government is therefore authorized,” he says, “to constrain the wealthy to provide the means of sustenance to those who are unable to provide for even their most necessary natural needs. The wealthy have acquired an obligation to the commonwealth, since they own their existence to an act of submitting to its protection and care, which they need in order to live; on this obligation the state now bases its right to contribute what is theirs to maintaining their fellow citizens.” Id. Indeed, if there are any genuine public goods whatsoever, then the the financing of such goods through taxation is arguably a legitimate exercise of state power, because it aims at preventing their partial theft by those who would otherwise refuse to make voluntary contributions.

Posted by: Sam Morison | Feb 20, 2006 12:00:04 PM

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