Latest: Voluntary Tax Payments & Tax Policy

Some people advocate higher taxes. These people tend to pay only what they are obligated to pay. In response is this sentiment:

People who like high taxes pay surprisingly little over the mandatory amount.

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard repeated in one way or another for a long time, about the apparent hypocrisy of people who support policies of higher taxation. If they believe higher taxation is a good thing, giving more money to the government, then why don’t they already do that? Obviously they’re hypocrites.

Without addressing whether higher taxes are good or not - that’s besides the point here - it’s worth digging into this critique. There are two facets to examine, tax as virtue and the end result supported.

The first aspect is that this critique assumes some kind of virtue in paying higher taxes. Not that this is a virtue, but that people who support higher taxes must view this as virtuous. “People are arguing for higher taxes because they think paying higher taxes is a good thing, therefore they should want to give their extra money to the government.”

Unfortuantely, for this critique at least, there are few people, if any, who are going to view paying money to the government, extra or otherwise, as virtuous. Well, you counter, it’s not that the critique assumes a virtue, a per se good, but that paying higher taxes results in benefits that they support, so if they support these additional benefits and government expenditures, they should pay extra!

This is a bit more accurate than the virtue argument, but still misses the point. The argument for higher taxes is still one not of higher taxes for just anyone but higher taxes in cooperation. Cooperation here in the sense of a strategy. The argument for higher taxes is generally an argument that a cooperate strategy (albeit enforced with a threat of violence!) of paying higher taxes is better for the desired ends than a cooperate strategy of lower taxes.

If you play a ‘winning’ cooperative strategy as an individual in a non-cooperative game you don’t win.

Let’s consider a version of the prisoner’s dilemma where the prisoners have at least some information about what the other prisoner chose. The argument for higher taxes is an argument that both prisoners should hold out, not that holding out is necessarily a virtuous position. The complain that advocates of higher taxes don’t pay more voluntarily is the first prisoner confessing, the second following suit with knowledge that the first confessed, and then the first prisoner saying, “Gotcha! If you thought holding out was so great why didn’t you do it when you had the chance!”

There are very good arguments against high taxes, but they’re actual arguments not flippant critiques.


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