Scenario A: You walk into an unfamiliar bar in a bad part of town. You sit down at the bar, and the bartender approaches you and says, “Hey buddy, you look really thirsty,” and slides you a cold beer. You drink the beer, chit-chat with the other patrons for a bit, decide this particular bar isn’t really the right place for you, and announce that you’re leaving. The bartender glares at you and barks out “Hey! You owe me twenty bucks for that beer!” You think this is absurd! First of all, you never asked for the beer, he just gave it to you. Secondly, there was no agreement ahead of time about the price of the beer, there are no prices posted in the bar, and $20 seems incredibly excessive. You try to haggle with the bartender, but he becomes more aggressive: “What? You think you can just come in to my bar and drink my beer and not pay for it? Are you some kind of thief?” The bartender is a very large man with a neck tattoo. He seems to be reaching behind the bar for something. Over in the corner, a bunch of big, gruff-looking guys who seem to be regular stand up and start approaching the bar. Although you still think that this transaction is unfair and you don’t really agree with or consent to paying $20 for a beer you never asked for, you begrudgingly take our your wallet, slap a 20 on the bar, and quickly get out of dodge in order to avoid having your skull caved in.
Scenario B: You’re moving across town. You call up a friend and ask him to help you with your move. He happily agrees. The move takes up most of the day and includes a lot of heavy lifting. It’s not a pleasant task, but your friend helps out cheerfully with whatever you ask him to help with. You don’t offer him any payment for his services, it’s just a friend helping a friend, and at the end of the day, you say to him, “Thanks buddy, I really owe you one!” Two months later, the friend asks you for help building a fence on his property. You had a rough week at work and were really looking forward to just relaxing on the weekend, but you recall how he helped you previously. You feel indebted to him for this, even though you never explicitly agreed that you would help build a fence in exchange for his helping you move. There is no real contract here, he can’t legally require you to help him out, but you feel a moral obligation to “return the favor,” so you assent, and help build the fence.
Let’s call Scenario A the “payment for services” model and Scenario B the “moral obligation” model. In both scenarios, you receive some type of good or service with no specific method or amount of compensation being agreed to beforehand. But in Scenario A, it is made clear that you are paying a certain amount for a certain service, whether you agree with that amount or not. Once you pay, the transaction is complete. In Scenario B, no one ever explicitly states that any one thing is being exchanged for any other thing. There is no real contract involved here. Everything is left fairly vague. But you are expected to comply nonetheless due to moral or ethical reasons. You received a favor, and therefore you should return the favor.
Now for the million dollar question: Which of these scenarios does taxation fall under?
If you ask someone on the left: both! Now they won’t typically admit that at any given moment, but as you get in arguments with these people, both of these scenarios will be used as justifications for taxation, depending on the specific issue being debated.
Object to taxation in general? The argument will usually go something like: “Well, you drive on public roads, don’t you? You were educated in a public school, weren’t you? What gives you the right to refuse to pay for these things!” This sounds an awful lot like the bartender in Scenario A, doesn’t it? Never mind the fact that you never asked for these things, that the price was never explained to you, or that the price seems exorbitant, unfair, and completely disconnected from economic realities. You had a benefit, so now you must pay, and the other party gets sole discretion in deciding what the amount is. Of course, the government is worse than the bartender, who bills you a specific amount and then lets you leave.
Object to transfer payments, welfare programs, and foreign aid? Then Scenario B is invoked: “You received help from the government at some point in your life; therefore you have a moral obligation to return the favor to the less fortunate.” But wait a second; didn’t you already pay for the services you received? Isn’t that what Scenario A was all about? After you pay for something, your “moral obligation” ends. Similarly, you don’t incur the “moral obligation” in the first place unless you received something without paying for it.
But you did pay for it. That’s what your taxes are supposedly for, right? We are now caught up in the circular reasoning. Taxes are equivalent to a bill that you pay for services you received, but you also have a moral obligation to keep paying new bills because you received the services. This makes no sense. Once you pay the bartender for the beer, he cannot call you up two weeks later and demand you come in and wash dishes for eight hours because hey, remember when he gave you that beer?
Which begs the question, at what point do our obligations to the government end? Is there ever an end, or are they infinite? If they are infinite, are we not slaves? If your friend helps you move, do you have a moral obligation to help him with each and every favor he might ever ask of you for the rest of your life? Or is there a certain point where you’re finally even? If you build his fence, paint his house, bail him out of jail, and save him from drowning, is it not possible that after all of those things, he might even owe you a favor?
These are the questions the left cannot answer. Rather, they focus on one scenario or the other, hoping you will be blind to the fact that they are demanding both scenarios at once. They demand you pay what you “owe,” but even when you do, they hold it over your head for the rest of your life, demanding more and more whenever the need arises (and don’t worry, they’re inventing new needs all the time).
This is especially instructive when you consider new government programs that are added every day. While it might not seem unreasonable to say something like, “You benefitted from public schools as a child, therefore you are morally obligated to pay for current children to attend public schools as well,” this reasoning falls short when it comes to, say, government-provided cell-phones for low-income families. Because my family was low-income, and yet, the government never provided us with a cell phone (probably because the free market hadn’t invented them yet). So how can I have a moral obligation to provide something that I myself was never provided? How can I be required to pay for services that I never received? If my friend didn’t help me move, where does he get off asking me to build his fence?
The difference between these two scenarios may seem very subtle and unimportant, but I encourage you to really think about this. The demands of leftists are quite extreme. Not only must you pay for government-provided services, but the fact that you used those services also causes you to incur a lifelong obligation to pay whatever the government demands for those services in the future, as well as any other new services they happen to invent afterwards.
Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. If you want to justify taxation as payment for services used, then the obligation ends with the payment. Furthermore, you cannot be morally obligated to pay for things you never received. If you want to stick with the “moral obligation” reasoning, then that requires you to admit that what you pay is entirely arbitrary, that you will incur this obligation for life, and that it has nothing to do with whether you used the service or not. Stating this outright is scary, because it sounds like slavery (because it is).
Watch for this inconsistency whenever you’re debating the merits of taxation with a leftist. Don’t let them get away with it. Demand they pick one justification or the other, and force them into attempting to defend an indefensible position.