Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Eight Propositions on Taxes and Democracy

Taxes are not really the price we pay for a civilized society -- in Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s, influential phrase -- for civilization is priceless. Taxes are not, for example, fees for discrete services that might be provided otherwise, nor are taxes a price for which there might be discount alternatives. Taxes, like government bonds, are ongoing public investments in the material and ritual infrastructure of equity-in-diversity, which is the essence of a civilized society for those who are devoted to democracy. Perhaps the true spirit of Holmes' phrase is captured best in a negative formulation: anti-tax zealots would appear to believe that civilization is the only free lunch.
Taxes are not theft, but a precondition for the constitution and intelligibility of the claim to ownership on which notions of theft depend in the first place.
Taxes are not, however annoying they may seem, burdens on our freedom, so much as indispensable enablers of freedom -- and hence they are a precondition for the constitution of the very experience of the "voluntary" on which notions of the involuntary depend in the first place.
Taxes are not forced charitable contributions, since the basic rights secured through taxation cannot be regarded as mere matters of charity else they are not rights in the first place.
Taxes ensure sufficient equity among citizens so that the diversity also valued by democracy does not disable the shared commitment to democratic processes, the preservation of democratic institutions facilitating collaborative expression, criticism, and problem-solving and the ongoing reconciliation of the diverse aspirations of the stakeholders with whom we share the world.
Taxes pay for the maintenance of institutions providing nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes. Taxes pay to secure basic needs to ensure that the scene of consent to everyday association is reliably informed and is non-duressed by the threat of deprivation, inequity, or insecurity. And taxes pay for the accountable administration of commons and public goods for the common good without which these are violated and exploited for short-term profit-taking by minorities at the cost and risk of majorities. Far from representing quintessential state violence, taxes are the enabling condition of a democratic state facilitating nonviolence. 
Taxes coupled to representation itself ("No Taxation Without Representation") ties the maintenance of government as such -- an organization invested with legitimate recourse to force with all the authoritarian dangers inhering in that state of affairs -- inextricably to the maintenance of its democratic legitimacy.
Taxing more those who profit more by their personal recourse to the shared inheritance of knowledge and culture, to the shared inheritance of the limited environmental resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing, and to the benefits of collaboratively maintained infrastructure, institutions, norms, trust, legitimacy, and security is not unfair so much as a basic recognition of the fact of our radical inter-dependence as creative and vulnerable individuals in the world, peer to peer. 


Geoff said...

Did you know that under current CA tax law, I can buy a brand new hummer for our business and get a full write-off on it.

However, if we get a Prius, we don't get any deduction on it because of how backwards AMT tax rules are.

Dale Carrico said...

Quite so. But you do realize the bozos I'm arguing with here are the ones who want to say taxes are theft, not Greens who are making your eminently reasonable point.