Taxes. The mere mention of the word in casual discourse is enough to ignite a holy war between the ultra-right and far left ideologues and polarize the rest of the electorate as well. Some political figures bet their entire careers on the issue and it costs them dearly. How then has this topic managed to elude third rail status for so long?
Perhaps it is simply unavoidable. Even if everyone could coalesce around one vision of government, with all its functions mutually agreed upon, the question mark of how to pay for it would never be erased. As we are nowhere near a transpartisan breakthrough like this nor is one likely in the foreseeable future, the matter is that much more divisive.
Our usual frame of reference is arguing who should pay the most. Depending on which side you’re on, this either makes you part of the trickle-down bourgeois or one of the plutophobic leftists.
As libertarians of the classical liberal tradition (aka minarchists), we have a unique view all our own. But contrary to the absolutist catechisms you may have heard, it is not anti-tax. In fact, unless you are speaking with an ancap, there can be no question that libertarians, to some extent, view taxation as a legitimate exercise of conduct.
What we oppose is unjust taxation, to which there are plenty of examples: the excise tax, the sin tax, the estate tax, the income tax, and the lesser-known inflation tax to name a few specifics.
You will notice the one thing they all have in common is their arbitrary selection of a particular minority to bear extra costs for consuming or producing various goods (e.g. wealth, commodities, or vices). These are not acts of fairness but instances of fiscal tyranny. Additionally, their negative contribution to normal economic growth have been repeatedly asserted by economists of all stripes.
Of course, how we fund government is consonant with how our tax dollars are spent. Despite the explosive growth of government over the last decade, most everyone would probably feel that the return on their tax dollars is steadily declining. Clearly, by eliminating a number of revenue options, some spending reductions are a must, lest we add to an already staggering deficit.
Reports show that only 46% of government revenues are derived from the income tax, for example, and presidential candidate Ron Paul is fond of pointing out that this would leave us with enough funding for a government equivalent in size to that of one we had in 1999.
Are the above steps very likely, however? We must realistically concede they are not. By the same token that government does not triple its size overnight, reducing it by the same amount does not either.
To add, permanently abolishing the income tax would require repeal of the 16th amendment, which itself would demand a tremendous political sea change first. Hence, many of us also support reforming the current tax structure and reorganizing government in a transitional stage.
Now, anyone can plainly see how these proposals are worlds apart from the popular representation of libertarianism, which has been inflated beyond the point of recognition to its target audience and even its original proponents.
But just as our analysis of the anti-government libertarian showed, such hyperbolic statements regarding our ideas cannot pass muster. Taxation, like any other issue, calls for a much more nuanced position than it is implied we hold. The truth is decidedly in agreement.
You highlight certain forms of taxation as unjust - but how is any non-voluntary taxation (especially on production, i.e. income) not unjust?
And what figure or percentage of forced payment is not arbitrary? If something is worthwhile, people will pay voluntarily. The “negative contribution [of taxes] to normal economic growth” you acknowledge exists no matter the tax level.
It is not hyperbolic (or catechismal) to abhor aggression and to recognize the state as an entity that requires non-voluntary acquiescence by threat of force. A lesser man would take offense at such continued dismissal from an expected ally.
With respect, I’m not sure that highlighting the dissimilarity between the different branches of libertarianism is the best strategy to advance our cause.
Perhaps it’s better to emphasize and nurture the vast common ground we (small-government minarchists and anarcho-capitalist / voluntaryists) share instead of calling attention to - relative to democrats and republicans and all other statists - what amounts to (at least for now, with government being as ever-present as it is) a minor divide.