As happens every time any sort of tax change that can be demonized as “tax cuts for the rich” is proposed, the Trump administration’s framework for tax reform has been met with “tax me more” virtue signaling. The latest installment I have seen was “I’m a billionaire. Tax me more,” in the October 6 Los Angeles Times. There billionaire Tom Steyer wrote, “As a billionaire, I would profit substantially from the tax cuts proposed…But I am strongly opposed to even one more penny in cuts for rich people and corporations,” because it would “defund the critical public programs on which American families depend.”
Unfortunately, such a signal of virtue is actually a signal of vice. Higher income earners already pay a vastly disproportionate share of the taxes used to fund government programs. Since those far higher taxes aren’t paying for greater benefits, Steyer’s position is essentially once of coerced charity–higher income people should be forced to pay more so that the government can give more to others, who didn’t earn it—and if other rich people don’t volunteer for higher taxes like I do, it is only because they are selfish (though one wonders why those who want something for nothing aren’t considered more selfish).
Because individual rich tax volunteers would pay only a small fraction of the actual cost of the programs they favor, forcing others to pick up almost all the tab, they provide just one more example of how the immense payoffs to taking others’ property through government lead people to torture logic to justify why others deserve your money more than you do, with government merely the necessary mechanism to achieve the required charity.
However, the coercive charity logic is faulty. Few have made that clearer than F.A. Harper. In Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery, over a half-century ago, he decimated the “charity” excuse for violating liberty.
Tom Steyer and other “rich tax volunteers” are no doubt well-intended. However, the virtue they thereby put on public display decoys attention from the necessary vice of violating others’ liberty it involves. While few today recognize it, F.A. Harper saw that gaping hole in arguments for why charity justifies government coercion of others. He demonstrated that government coercion both undermines charity and creates more “need.” Further, involuntary “generosity” threatens liberty:
About the author:
*Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read.
This article was published by the MISES Institute