Saturday, December 11, 2010

Smart People With Impractical Ideas

Here is a great example of an otherwise smart person saying something really silly, by Arnold Kling, who got his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
I think it will be a great day when government has to hold a bake sale to achieve any purpose whatsoever. That is, I would like to see most public goods funded by private donations rather than forced taxes. 
Lets think about this for a moment. There are two things to think about. (1) What is motivating this desire for taxes to be voluntary and (2) how practical would such a system be.

Lets talk about motives first. Basically, the motivation is a dream of living in a utopian world where autonomy is maximized. We have no duties to society; we only do as we please. In this sense, this idea is based on an extremely self-centered vision. Basically, there is a desire to free ride at the expense of society. We expect that society will protect our life, liberty, and property using coercion against private parties who would kill us, enslave us, or steal from us. But we do not think we have and duties to society in exchange for these basic protections.

As far as practicality, I don't think it needs to be discussed. If our government were funded through voluntary donations, it would have been overthrown long ago. And we would be living under another government that was not so foolish as to depend on voluntary donations. That Kling does not recognize how utterly impractical his idea is shows just how much he takes for granted.

So, the argument overall has two things going against it. First, the motivation is to avoid basic duties to society and instead act as a free rider. Second, even if the motivation were perfect, the idea is entirely impractical. No government that made taxation voluntary could survive.

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