Friday, June 16, 2006

Taxation ≠ Slavery

This report in the Globe and Mail notes that June 19th is the date the Fraser Institute (a Conservative think tank) has labelled “Tax Freedom Day”. In other words, the Fraser Institute claims that from that day forward Canadians will be working for themselves for the rest of the year.

Such rhetoric only further entrenches the public’s hostility towards redistributive taxation and this jeapordizes the aims of distributive justice.

The very notion of “Tax Freedom Day” is incoherent. The assumption is that the income you receive (e.g. from working) would exist in the first place without government. But the natural baseline is not the utopian free market that libertarians and conservatives envision, but rather a Hobbesian state of nature (e.g. war of all-against-all). And a comparison of how we would fare without government versus how we fare with a liberal, democratic government is no contest. All Canadians are better off with government than without government. Look at the turmoil of countries that do not have a stable liberal, democratic government and ask yourself if their situation is what you really aspire for. It’s a shame that so many citizens take the benefits of government for granted. Canadians enjoy a standard of living unprecedented in human history. So the idea that we are in some sense “enslaved” is laughable.

This is not to say that things could not be better. The government should be vigilant to ensure that it spends our tax dollars in a responsible fashion (though citizens must also have realistic expectations concerning what constitutes this). But the mentality of those who trumpet “liberation from taxation!” is that taxation is inherently unjust. As if Canadians have simply been working “for the government”, not themselves. But this is false. Our taxes pay for the protection of our rights (including property!) and freedoms, our healthcare, our roads, our schools, etc; not to mention reducing our debt burden (rather than passing this on to future generations).

A breakdown of how the Canadian government spent taxpayer money in 2004-2005 is available here.

Rather that seeing June 19th as a day Canadians become “liberated” from the leviathan welfare state, Canadians should reflect on the enormous social benefits their hard work confers upon themselves, their family and friends and their compatriots. The Canadian government, and redistributive taxation, are key instruments in fulfilling our democratic aspirations and satisfying basic requirements of social justice. Instead of viewing June 19th as a day we discard the shackles of social justice, Canadians should ask themselves if there is yet more they can do to help improve the quality of life of those less advantaged (within Canada and globally). Perhaps we should postpone “Tax Freedom Day” for a few more days (or even weeks?) so that we promote the real freedom of all.

The Globe story notes that this year Tax Freedom Day comes 5 days earlier than last year. Well I for one do not think I deserve this 5 day reprieve from my redistributive obligations. So reading this story has convinced me that I need to increase my annual donations to charitable causes by at least this same amount to offset this difference. Rather than complaining about taxation we need a public ethic that cultivates both responsible government and responsible citizenship. And the latter will requires us to reject the claim that redistributive taxation is inherently unjust. Rather than complaining that we give too much (via taxation) the question we should really be asking ourselves is- do we give enough?