Other People Are Not Your Property

Ah, what the hell, one more blog post inspired by another comment from a Will Wilkinson comment thread.

Grumpy Realist writes:

Would all those of you who don’t want to pay income taxes please move to a country that doesn’t have them and STFU…..

This argument is circular. It assumes that the imposer of income taxes (the government) is the legitimate owner of the geographic territory that is called United States and has carte blanche discretion to impose whichever policies it pleases. This legitimacy is entirely what is in question; it cannot be shrugged off with a “like it or leave it” bromide without begging the question.

Look, you nitwits–we’re living in a democracy. A DEMOCRACY, capisce? If you don’t like the level of taxation that’s imposed get together with enough of your neighbors and vote to a) cut the programs, and b) cut taxes. If you can’t get enough of your neighbors to vote the way you want them to do, then tough noogies–go back to the drawing board and get better arguments.

Again, this is circular argument question begging. Grumpy Realist is trying to justify the legitimacy of democratic decision making by appealing to… democratic decision making. Democracy does not justify itself.

What Libertarians are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of government programs as they do.

This is correct. The central libertarian insight is that Other People Are Not Your Property.

They are not yours to boss around. Their lives are not yours to micromanage. The fruits of their labour are not yours to dispose of.

It doesn’t matter how wise or marvelous or useful it would be for other people to do whatever it is you’d like them to do. It is none of your business whether they wear their seatbelts, worship the right god, have sex with the wrong people, or engage in market transactions that irritate you. Their choices are not yours to direct. They are human beings like yourself, your equals under Natural Law. You possess no legitimate authority over them. As long as they do not themselves step over the line and start treating other people as their property, you have no moral basis for initiating violence against them – nor for authorising anyone else to do so on your behalf. ...

Nor is this requirement lifted merely because you happen to be a police officer, or an elected legislator, or a member of a majority of citizens casting their votes.

John Markley also had a really good response to the complaint about libertarian "bellyaching" in the original thread:

Well, yes. This is what any political group or ideology in a democratic country that does not currently have its program in place is “bellyaching” about. What antiwar activists are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of war and militarism as they do. What socialists are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of government ownership of industry as they do. What members of the organization Stop Prisoner Rape are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of stopping people from being raped in prison as they do. Do you have some sort of point beyond “People who disagree with me should shut the fuck up”?

Arguing against (i.e. "bellyaching" about) democratic results is absolutely necessary if one is to argue against the status quo. Otherwise, one is simply a reactionary, standing athwart history yelling "Stop!", on the grounds that conserving the status quo is the necessary consequence of respecting the "will of the people".

Well, sometimes the "will of the people" gets it wrong. Even more than that, "the people" have no business waving their will around in public in the first place.

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