When Can Taxation Be Justified?

  • Robert W. McGee


But you might say, if government didn’t do all that it’s doing we wouldn’t have a just society. What’s just has been debated for centuries but let me offer my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you — and why? (Walter Williams)1


Moral Obligation Moral Duty Eminent Domain Toll Booth Commutative Justice 
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    Walter Williams, All It Takes Is Guts: A Minority View, Washington, DC: Regnery Books, 1987, p. 62.Google Scholar
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  3. 3.
    Some authors have disagreed with this position. Writers writing from the Jewish and Baha’i positions have argued that tax evasion is always unethical. For examples, see Meir Tamari, “Ethical Issues in Tax Evasion: A Jewish Perspective,” in Robert W. McGee, editor, The Ethics of Tax Evasion (Dumont Institute, 1998), 168–179; Gordon Conn, “The Ethics of Tax Evasion: A Jewish Perspective,” in Robert W. McGee, editor, The Ethics of Tax Evasion (Dumont Institute, 1998), 180-189; Wig DeMoville, “The Ethics of Tax Evasion: A Baha’i Perspective,” in Robert W. McGee, editor, The Ethics of Tax Evasion (Dumont Institute, 1998), 230-241. Other writers have failed to find justification for taxation in the relevant literature. See Walter Block, “The Justification for Taxation in the Economics Literature,” in Robert W. McGee, editor, The Ethics of Tax Evasion (Dumont Institute, 1998), 36-88.Google Scholar
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    Id., at 6-12.Google Scholar
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    One might argue that one has the right to drive (or to walk, or to speak) without first obtaining a government license. But we will not go into that here.Google Scholar
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    The cost of regulation is not insubstantial. Various estimates have placed the annual cost of regulation in the UA at hundreds of billions of dollars. Robert Genetski, The True Cost of Government, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 1992, at A14, col. 3; Thomas D. Hopkins, Cost of Regulation, A Rochester Institute of Technology Public Policy Working Paper, December, 1991; Ronald Utt, The Growing Regulatory Burden: At What Cost To America, The Institute for Policy Innovation, Policy Report No. 114, November, 1991; George F. Will, Purring Along the Potomac, Newsweek, November 30, 1992, at 96; William G. Laffer, III, George Bush’s Hidden Tax: The Explosion in Regulation, Backgrounder No. 90S, The Heritage Foundation, July 10, 1992. The Cato Institute [], the Heritage Foundation [] and several other organizations have published a number of studies that estimate the cost of various regulations. The U.S. International Trade Commission publishes studies estimating how much its regulations cost the general public. One such study is The Economic Effects of Significant U.S. Import Restraints, Third Update 2002, USITC Pub. 3519 (June 2002), available at []. Also see James Rolph Edwards, Regulation, the Constitution, and the Economy. Lanham, MD, New York and London: University Press of America, especially pp. 166–191 (1998). A good reference on the economic costs of regulation is Alfred E. Kahn, The Economics of Regulation: Principles and Institutions, 2 volumes, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1989.Another good question to ask is whether it is sinful or unethical to evade a regulation. But we will save discussion of this point for another time.Google Scholar
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    It should not be overlooked that the landlord might also have to pay a tax on the $400 received, if the expenses incurred in operating the apartment are less than the revenue received.Google Scholar
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    Id. One wonders whether Crowe, who is a Catholic, would mind being taxed to support a Protestant spiritual or cultural event, or a showing at an art museum that includes artworks of crucifixes or photos of Christ that are soaked in urine, as was done at one art exhibition, with the support of government funds. And one might question whether it is just to impose taxes on Georgia residents to help pay for a monument to General Sherman, who helped to destroy their state during the American Civil War (more properly called the War for Southern Independence).Google Scholar
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    For those unfamiliar with the distinction between mortal and venial sin, Catholic doctrine holds that someone who commits a mortal sin must spend eternity in hell, whereas someone who commits a venial sin must spend some time in a place called purgatory, where punishment is imposed for some temporary period, after which the sinner is transferred to heaven.Google Scholar
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    Murder, for example, is always a mortal sin, regardless of whether the person murdered is rich or poor, pious or sinful, young or old, Christian or not. But some sins can be mortal or venial, depending on the facts or circumstances, such as the amount of the theft and the nature of the victim.Google Scholar
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    This is an important question for people who believe that God wrote the Bible, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For discussions by persons who dispute the divine authorship of the Bible, see William Henry Burr, Self-Contradictions of the Bible, New York: A.J. Davis & Company, 1860, reprinted by Prometheus Books, Buffalo, 1987; C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1995; Joseph Wheless, Is It God’s Word: An Exposition of the Fables and Mythology of the Bible and the Fallacies of Theology, Montana: Kessinger Publishing Co., 1997; Ruth Hurmence Green, The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, Freedom from Religion Foundation, 1999; Michael Martin, The Case against Christianity, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993; Joseph Wheless, Forgery in Christianity: A Documented Record of the Foundations of the Christian Religion, Montana: Kessinger Publishing Co., 1997; Robert G. Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986; Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My reasons for rejecting the Christian faith. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996; Joseph Lewis, The Bible Unmasked, New York: The Freethought Press Association, 1926; Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation, 1992. Additional books of this genre can be found on the Prometheus Books website [] and the Freedom From Religion Foundation website [].. For an author who takes an opposite view, that God really did write the Bible, see John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bibie, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977.Google Scholar
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    The Social Security system is a bad investment for the vast majority of people. Individuals are forced to pay thousands of dollars into the system over their working lives, yet have no right to claim any benefits before age 62 or later. If they die before they collect, their heirs get nothing. And even if they do collect a monthly check, the amount they receive is generally less than what they would receive if they had made equal contributions to a private pension fund. For more on this point, see Peter J. Ferrara, Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction (1980); Social Security: Prospects for Real Reform (Peter J. Ferrara ed. 1985). Volume 3, No. 2 (Fall, 1983) of The Cato Journal is also devoted to this topic. The Cato Institute is conducting a major study of Social Security. Many of these papers may be found at the Cato Institute website, Scholar
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    In many cases, individuals do not have a choice. They do not have the option of either paying or evading the Social Security tax because it is taken from their paychecks before they receive them. But self-employed individuals can evade the Social Security (selfemployment) tax by not declaring all of their self-employment income.Google Scholar
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    These percentages are used only for illustrative purposes. The actual percentages will differ depending on a number of factors. For example, senators and representatives in some states are more skillful in obtaining federal money for their constituents than are others. And some taxpayers derive very little benefit for the taxes they pay, whereas others get a great deal back in the form of services. And those who pay little or no taxes can receive much more in services at all levels of government than what they pay, since they pay so little.Google Scholar
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    Another point might also be made here. The Public Choice School of Economics, founded by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, has been pointing out for several decades that government officials are motivated by the same things that motivate the rest of us — self-interest. They act in their own interest, not the public interest.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. McGee
    • 1
  1. 1.Andreas School of BusinessBarry UniversityMiami ShoresUSA

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