Half a Right Is No Right

Q: What exactly goes through the minds of people who rationalize an unwritten “social contract” to justify having to pay taxes and such? It’s quite obnoxious having that same useless drivel brought up again and again whenever I get into a conversation with someone that has a different viewpoint.

A: It’s not so much what goes through their minds. It’s the unspoken, unchallenged premises they hold. When you disagree with someone, you have to identify these premises. For example, “Your belief that government should spend billions of dollars on researching new forms of energy assumes that government is an innovator. When in human history did government ever discover or innovate anything? Did government invent the automobile? Did government invent modern medicine? Did government invent the technology to put man on the moon—or merely purchase that technology from the private sector? I don’t accept your premise. Innovation only occurs in the private sector, in the free market, in a private, voluntary context free of government regulation, bureaucracy and interference.” In this argument, if you didn’t challenge the basic premise that government is the primary moving force behind human innovation and development, you’d be left to argue against new, cleaner, and cheaper forms of energy. That, of course, would be silly.

People who rely on the “social contract” theory should be forced to defend why they want this contract operative in some cases, but not in others. For example: “In favoring the income tax, you assume that everyone has an obligation to everyone else by virtue of being fellow human beings. You empower the government to both make this determination and enforce it. Where do you draw the line? And why do you draw a line at all? For example, you don’t give government the right to, say, 60 percent of your income. But if government has a moral right, under social contract theory, to redistribute as it sees fit 40 percent of your income, then why not 42 percent? Or 50 percent? Or why not all of it?”

The thing about social contract theory, whether applied to taxes or anything else, is that it rests on the premise of collectivism. Collectivism is the opposite view of the individual right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The American Constitution was founded on the right of the individual to pursue happiness. Over the centuries, our government has allowed that right to be eliminated about half of the time. Few fight to restore all of that right, but there are always plenty ready to erode that right away further, as if income—and rights—were somehow infinite.

Rights are not pies, or cakes. They cannot be divided up according to the whims of your fellow citizens and their powerful representatives. You either have a right to what’s yours, or you don’t. If someone implies that you don’t, then call him on it—and make him defend it.