Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Social Contract Realpolitik Strawman Justification of State Action

Why is the following a strawman?
Taxation is rent, and anything the government can get away with is worth doing.
Forget about abstract concepts for a while, and just concentrate on the claims implied in what the government does.
Property taxes are rent, if you don't pay they will evict you. While you are within their "jurisdiction", they claim to be entitled to restrict your behavior, just as if it were their property and by remaining you have consented to their authority. What forces actually restrict the government's discretion? It doesn't matter what the constitution says, if you have 5 supreme court justices on your side. Popular opinion sometimes can restrict government action. Even dictatorships prefer popularity, because popular policies encourage compliance among the populace.
We could quibble about how government acquired their ownership claims, but does it matter? Who will sue them or prosecute them for theft?
So land taxes are rents, and zoning laws are their version of a lease. How kind of them to give you a vote, you certainly can use it to lower your rent and demand improved service!
The US federal government also taxes income, as do many states. It is unusual for two entities to own the same thing, but I can adjust. Note that they do not claim to own our labor - I can work all day in my back yard, but if I don't get paid they let me slide. Income is an odd thing to own, very abstract and conceptual. But they are able to deal with complications. Even expatriot citizens must pay US income tax, putting the US in an unusual category. Sales taxes or VAT imply partial ownership of the products sold.
What is the state? The state is more than a bunch of elected or appointed officials, bureaucrats, and an army. It is more than judges, prosecutors, and cops. It contains all those, but also includes the ordinary people who, by conscious choice, delusion, or ideology, reinforce the illusion of legitimacy that perpetuates the magic show. The state does not seek an external, eternal standard of justice, it claims to embody its own standard. If they can get away with it, it is legitimate. If they can't, it's not, at least until they try again. What is, ought to be. What is, must be. Constitutions, morals, principles, and rights form the fig leaf that hides the truth.
So, is this realpolitik social contract a strawman? None dare speak to defend this idea, but the actions of many proclaim it. In this case, actions speak louder than words.

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