"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for…You built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."In yesterday's CNN Republican Presidential Debate, Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently made similar comments about the 47% of Americans who currently don't pay income taxes:
"I believe absolutely that every American benefits by this magnificent country, so absolutely every American should pay something, even if it's a dollar, everyone needs to pay something in this country."The point both women are making, and the point I disagree with, is that taxes are somehow your contribution for living in society.
Now, it's certainly true that everyone benefits from living in a society, especially a society as advanced and free as America. We benefit not only from the technologies and economic opportunities offered by society, but also by more basic things that others invented which we can use--language, mathematics, social norms, etc. Without these, human cooperation would be impossible and life would be as barbaric as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago.
But that doesn't have anything to do with taxes. Government is not society, it is a leech on society. It fills a few essential functions and, even in my ideal world, a government does exist. But the vast majority of what government does hurts society.
Your contribution to society is the value that you add through your productive work. Taxes are your involuntary contribution to government, a bloated, inefficient behemoth that starts unnecessary wars in foreign countries, imprisons Americans for victimless crimes, stops people who love each other from getting married, bails out big corporations with your money, redistributes your wealth upwards and downwards, and fails to do the few things we expect it to do, like educate our kids, maintain our infrastructure, keep us safe from foreign enemies, and establish an efficient, fair and objective justice system.
Given this, when I hear Michele Bachmann say that 47% of Americans don't pay taxes, I don't demand that those people pay up. I say, "Good, that's 47% down, 53% to go!"