Jun 17, 2015

Wed Review (Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel - The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice)

A common criticism of philosophy is that it concludes with statements that are obviously deluded and false or it ends with statements that are trivially true.

This book is victim of the latter, but it benefits in that most people don't recognize the truth. Take this statement from the concluding paragraph:

"The state does not own its citizens, nor do they own each
other collectively. But individual citizens don’t own anything
except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the

That's trivially true, but not top-of-mind stuff. We live with the psychological belief that the stuff that I own I just simply own. The truth, however, is that the only reason you're confident enough to leave your property every morning is because the rest of society respects the private ownership system enough to leave "your" property alone (we've also invested enough resources, as a society, to prevent illegal takeover of property).

What follows are some quotes that I think adequately express the thesis and conclusion put forth in this volume.

"Taxes are naturally perceived by most people as expropriations of their property— taking from them some of what is originally theirs and using it for various purposes determined by the government.


It isn’t that people are unwilling to pay taxes, but they tend to think of taxes as an incursion by the government on a prior distribution of property and income by reference to which expropriation and redistribution has to be justified.


the right question (that we should be asking concerning fair taxation) is: “How should the tax system divide the social product between the private control of individuals and government control, and what factors should it cause or permit to determine who ends up with what?”

(back to me now:) The fundamental change is that 'private property' is just property that belongs to everyone that you've sort-of been given.

I was thinking about this the other day: the only reason we allow people to have private property is because we think society as a whole benefits from maintaining the system that allows it - the system that allows people to own stuff without fear of others taking it.
Nagel's psychological switch makes the awareness that you don't "own" it, at least not in the way you think you do.

Like all good philosophy books, I didn't really care about what the author's own conclusion was; I'm more interested in the affect it had on my own thinking, and how it's altered my (still in progress) conclusion.

That concludes the theory and practice of taxation. The next major conclusion concerns the political arena of taxation and everyone's self-interest (the rhetoric, versus the prior's reason and in-depth debate).

Nagel claims that too much emphasis on taxation fairness is put on what can be attributed to self-interest. Politics favours the rich, morality favours the poor.

I think in the end these two self-proclaimed amateurs of tax and law over-simplify the issues. They present a good view for the people to adopt as regards their property, but this is stuff that policy makers already know. These ideas may have an effect on how policy makers view the 'moral' side of taxation laws, but I wonder if that has had an effect on the laws and methods themselves.

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