The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes: two things of which we can be absolutely certain we will experience.

Yesterday, I filed my taxes. As has been the case of late, I had to pay above and beyond what was collected from me throughout the year. I’m sure it’s simply a case of needing to perform some basic arithmetic so that more is collected with each paycheck and less, if any, will be due as a lump sum in April.

That is hardly the point, though, is it?

One of my favorite films is Will Ferrell’s Stranger than Fiction. In the film, there is a scene where Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) explains to Will Ferrell (or Harold Crick, as he is known in the film) why she knew she’d be audited. She explains that she paid her taxes, but withheld a percentage of it, and attached a letter explaining that the percentage she withheld was withheld because she was not interested in supporting those particular government expenditures. Miss Pascal, as Harold addresses her, explains that she only paid 78 percent of her taxes because she’s not so big a fan of “national defense, corporate bailouts, and campaign discretionary funds.”

While I’m certain Miss Pascal is appropriately named “Pascal”–think Blaise Pascal–it is a different point to be made altogether. The point here is that Miss Pascal is identifying what we all seem to know: there are things for which we each believe the government to be necessary or at least desirable. And insofar as they work within those constraints, we are willing–generally–to support them financially. Miss Pascal is fine with potholes, swing sets, and shelters, but she is opposed to the government funding the other endeavors previously mentioned.

I, on the other hand, would oppose even what she supports, but I suppose I’d be less inclined to fight them if the only thing they wanted my taxes for were potholes and shelters. Instead, they want our money for everything, and so I am inclined–rightly or wrongly–to fight them on everything.

If only the government operated on market principles. If I believe them to build the best and safest roads, then I voluntarily give them tax dollars instead of another firm attempting to build roads. If I believe them to provide the best security services for my family, then I I voluntarily give them tax dollars instead of another firm. If I don’t, I withhold those dollars and give them to someone else.

Some might say this is untenable. Others wouldn’t compete for my money to provide those services because too many people could take advantage of the services without having paid for it. Miss Pascal, for example, lives in a country that is safe precisely because others are paying for the national defense she objects to. But is it true that companies wouldn’t compete for those funds anyway?

The objection, while seemingly sound, isn’t necessarily so. Men have written multitudes of books explaining how the most necessary and basic governmental services could be offered by the market. Books like Chaos Theory by Robert Murphy or Anarchy and the Law by Edward P. Stringham explain quite effectively how it could work.

The question shouldn’t be whether the government is the only one who can do it, but rather if the government has the duty to do it. Rights, after all, exist only insofar as they are connected to our duties. I have a duty to protect my family, therefore I have the right to bear arms. I once heard a Constitutionalist explain: I have the duty to protect my family, therefore I have the right to either perform it myself or delegate it (along with my neighbors) to an organization–the police department–to do it in my stead. I have the duty to feed the poor, therefore I have the right to perform it, but I do not have the right to make someone else do it for or with me. My question to the Constitutionalist is, “Why, though, do I have the right to make my neighbors help fund the police department to which I am delegating my duty to protect my family, but not to make them help me feed the poor?”

What are the government’s duties and what rights does it have in order to execute those duties? This is the question of the hour. So long as we aren’t answering that question–and maybe even if we do–the government will continue to assert its duty and right to do whatsoever it chooses. And so long as that continues, it will be death and taxes for us.

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