My previous post on taxation generated a number of comments, many of them focusing on worries about coordination problems and free riding. Over at Big Think, Will Wilkinson makes a similar argument:

Suppose I’m a utilitarian convinced that human consumption of meat causes a huge amount of animal suffering. And suppose I love meat, and giving it up would leave me worse off.  I would happily comply with a no-meat-eating rule if I thought others would likewise comply. But in the absence of a mechanism (whether internal/moral or external/political) to enforce compliance, I rationally believe that my compliance with the no-meating-eating rule will have zero effect on market demand for meat. And suppose I rationally believe my heeding the rule will only make me worse off while making no animals better off. In that case it is perfectly rational to continue to eat meat even if I believe that it would be immoral to eat meat under conditions of general compliance with utility-maximizing rules. I think Matt’s voluntary taxpayer case is exactly analogous.

Will doesn’t address a question I raised in the comments thread of my original post. If a coordination problem allegedly discourages people from giving money to government, why doesn’t it also discourage them from giving to private charity? My donation to the American Heart Association isn’t going to do much, by itself, to speed progress in medical research on heart disease, just like my donation to the Federal Government isn’t going to do much to speed progress in paying off the debt. But people give abundantly in the former case, and not in the latter. Appeals to coordination problems can’t explain why.

Glen Whitman and Arnold Kling point out another problem with Wilkinson’s argument.  Here’s Kling:

I have a hard time coming up with a model in which it makes sense for Warren Buffett to refuse to contribute more to the government unless the rest of us also are forced to contribute more. In order to come up with such a model, I would have to assume some extreme “lumpiness” of public goods. That is, at the current level of government revenues, the marginal dollar produces no public goods, but a huge “lump” of new dollars would create a threshold effect that suddenly would produce a lot of public goods. That model strikes me as totally unrealistic relative to where we are today.

I tried to make this point in the comments thread of the original post too, but Kling has done a much better job putting it succinctly, and Whitman fleshes out the details nicely.

It does seem to me, however, that there might be at least one public good that is suitably “lumpy” to make Wilkinson’s argument work. Suppose what you want from taxes is not just for the government to provide people with education, or medical care, or whatever. What you want, instead, is for us all as a society to chip in together to guarantee these goods. In other words, it’s not just what you buy with the taxes that you’re aiming at, it’s the fact that we’ve all bought these things together. If that’s Buffett’s goal, and maybe it is, then his giving money to government voluntarily isn’t going to move him any closer to it. Universal, coercive taxation seems like the only answer.

But how attractive of a goal is that, really? Even if it has some attraction, it would seem a bit perverse to prioritize method by which aid is provided so far above the actual aid itself that you make your contribution contingent upon getting the method right. Government and the taxation used to finance it are, at best, a means for making people better off. They are not ends in themselves

 

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  • j_m_h

    Will wants to create a political issue out of a private moral dilemma without identifying what the dilemma should be a public concern.

    I don’t doubt that some moral dilemmas that confront a person represent issues that will need some form of public/political resolution. The only one that springs to mind is that of acting as my own judge and jury in addressing harms other’s have done to me. Especially in the moment of the event I have little doubt that my passions will overrule my rationality and ability to act impartially.

    The question then is how do taxes meet the test — at what point do personal dilemmas that some face regarding the actions they want government, on their behalf, to peruse legitimately become a political responsibility that we all must be forced to fund?

  • Michael Zigismund

    All good points.

    I think your last two paragraphs can be replaced with a more streamlined argument.

    They are immediately irrelevant because collective contributions to the Treasury are a means, and not an end. Although you call collective contributions a public good (thereby implying an end), it is only the means of paying for the public good that you are referring to. And because you’re talking about a means, you’re not talking about the utility Wilkinson is looking for. You might as well not even mention it as a potential concession.

    However, I think it is important to highlight the moral difference between coercive taxation and voluntary contributions, as you seem to do by the end. Once the consequentialist argument is decimated, the moral case is available for the taking, and I think this post, as it is written, buries that golden opportunity.

    • 3cantuna

      To people who self identify as public reasoners– all actions, including withholding exchange voluntarily, are coercions.  It is only through public deliberations (or empathetic thought experiments- since no real tangible contracts are necessary?) that moral qualities are attributed to specific acts.  So coercive v. voluntary contribution have no immediate moral definition. It is this open-ended definition that let’s Hayek champion conscription and other forms of involuntary servitude with a free conscience. After all, they are a means to public goods.

      • 3cantuna

        and/or if coercion is bundled with a negative moral connotation, the action it applies to may be almost anything, depending on the contractual determination.

  • Anantharaman Muralidharan

    Seriously? You can’t think of how public goods could be lumpy in some ordinary case? Here is a typical example. Since I used to solicit donations for the Singapore Heart foundation for the living, I am very familiar with people only wanting to donate if other people also did.

    Here is one way to characterise the view

    1. People don’t just care about donating to the poor for the sake of helping the poor as if helping the poor was merely a personal preference. People think about helping the poor as a moral duty. i.e. everyone should be doing it. People will often feel that while they don’t mind helping out, they don’t want to have to take care of everybody. So even if I donated enough to take care of one guy or a few guys only, I may feel that because they have alleviated the urgency of the problem somewhat, I have reduced the  moral burden on others without them having to lift a single finger.  That could make me feel like a sucker.

    Alternatively

    2. Let us suppose that the Heart Foundation needs $2.5 million a year. Let us also suppose that I am prepared to part with $500/yr if I believe that it will help. However, $500 hardly makes a dent in 2.5 million. The heart patients are not helped and I am $500 less. And while I may be willing to part with $500 if it will help people, I am not willing to part with $500 if it won’t do any good.

    We can push this further just a bit. In reality, charities work by adopting patients. So, it is not that my $500 is going to  be divided among all the patients. Rather, the Heart foundation adopts patients depending on its annual projections of revenue. Already on this level, there is some uncertainty about whether my $500 will help since I do not know if the charity will meet its projections. My confidence in the charity meeting its projections is predicated on my confidence in everyone else donating. If I am not confident that sufficient number will donate, the projected income will not be achieved and my money will be at at least somewhat less helpful.

    As a matter of fact, a patient on average needs about $1500 a year to survive. Anything less and he will lack access to meds, treatment or even food and basic supplies. Since I want that patient to live, I will not donate unless I can be sure that the other $1000/yr is secured. Or else I will be spending $500 without getting what I want (a surviving patient)

    i.e. how things like charitable donations can seem chunky is fairly intuitive. Such models may not ultimatelysquare with how charities actually work, but whether or not a person donates depends not on how charities actually work, but how the potential donor thinks they work. And given that intuitive models are preferred independent of their truth, lots of people are likely to go with the intuitive  models under which it doesnt make sense for them to donate.

    Murali

    • geoih

      Qoute from Anantharaman Muralidharan: “Seriously? You can’t think of how public goods could be lumpy in some ordinary case?”

      This is exactly the flaw with all collectivised utility arguments. Interpersonal marginal utilities cannot be quantified and used for calculation. Is a dollar from a rich man less valuable than a dollar from a poor man? Maybe, if you’re only talking about spending a single dollar on something that might be priced at a dollar, like a sandwich. But what if that dollar is the difference between a house payment, or paying for a roof on a homeless shelter, and two thousand sandwiches? Which is more valuable? What if it’s the difference between a heart transplant and 100,000 sandwiches? Which is more valuable?

      The whole utility argument is a red herring. It’s a distraction from a flawed premise.

      • Murali

        I’m not doing any sort of interpersonal utility comparison. I’m just saying that a person’s own utility function can regard certain public goods as chunky.

  • Richard Chappell

    Agreed that the “coordination” objection misses the point in this case.  I’ve taken a shot at spelling out what I take to be the better objection, here:
    http://www.philosophyetc.net/2012/04/individual-vs-political-feasibility.html 

  • red_anonymous

    Matt,

    Very good points! I also agree with you that most people who have tried challenging your arguments have missed one of your strongest points: why is Buffet giving to charity and not to the IRS while calling for higher taxes?I think you’re making the assumption that he’s giving to charity and paying taxes for the exact same reason. In fact, he might be doing it for completely different reasons: He give to charity to feel good, out of religious commitment, recognition, or for any other reason, but pays taxes in order to provide public goods that improve society or fix society’s problems.And even if he’s doing both in order to fix society’s problems, he might think that problems A and B (say rehabilitation of drug addicts or scholarships to select students) are better fixed through smaller targeted charities while problems C & D (say infrastructure and roads) are better fixed when everyone is coerced to chip in (as Will was trying to illustrate in his article).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      Buffet “might be doing it for completely different reasons” all right.

      Maybe I’m too cynical, and I don’t know all the facts surrounding Buffet’s ownership of railroads that deliver oil and gas to the lower states, but it strikes me as no coincidence that the Keystone pipeline gets put hold while Buffet comes forward to help the president fight for higher taxes.

  • good_in_theory

    “If a coordination problem allegedly discourages people from giving money to government, why doesn’t it also discourage them from giving to private charity?”

    % of US GDP spent on private charity?  2% (2006)
    % of US GDP spent on government expenditures?  35% (2010)
    To be clearer: Why should one assume that charitable giving does not suffer from a coordination problem from which states do not suffer?  Why assume that people are not discouraged from giving to private charity because of coordination problems?  How do we know private charity isn’t, in fact, stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium?

    Yes, taxation could be crowding out charity.  But then again, tax policy also incentivizes charitable giving.  What’s the ‘natural rate’ of charitable and philanthropic giving/redistribution?  How does it compare to the rate achievable by state-backed (“coercive”) redistribution (laying aside questions concerning the *quality* of that redistribution)?

    • geoih

      Quote from good_in_theory: “But then again, tax policy also incentivizes charitable giving.”

      If people give to charities in order to avoid paying taxes, are they really giving to charity for moral reasons, or because of the state’s manipulation?

      And is this is an argument in favor of taxes? If taxes are just as good as charities, then why would people go to such lengths to give to charities instead of paying taxes?

      • good_in_theory

        “If people give to charities in order to avoid paying taxes, are they really giving to charity for moral reasons, or because of the state’s manipulation?”
        Yes, exactly.  If people give to charity because of state manipulation, why expect charitable giving to rise with elimination of the state?

        “And is this is an argument in favor of taxes? If taxes are just as good as charities, then why would people go to such lengths to give to charities instead of paying taxes?”

        Go to what lengths?  2% of income is not a very far length.  The question is whether or not they are actually going to much of a length at all.

        • geoih

          Quote from good_in_theory: ” If people give to charity because of state manipulation, why expect charitable giving to rise with elimination of the state?”

          People do a lot of things due to state manipulation, including participate in mass murder.

          Why would we want charitible giving to rise, with or without state manipulation? Is your premise that all charitible giving is automatically good, that all state manipulation is automatically good, or that state manipulated charitable giving is automatically good?

          • good_in_theory

            None of those are my premise.

            My “premise” is that we do not know whether or not there is a coordination problem in reaching the socially desired level of charitable giving.  This does not assume anything about whether or not what society desires is good or bad.

            I’ll repeat myself:

            “laying aside questions concerning the *quality* of that redistribution”

          • geoih

            Quote from good_in_theory: “…  the socially desired level of charitable giving.”

            What does that even mean?

          • good_in_theory

            I’m not sure why I’m bothering, but ok, I’ll pander to this
            Free riding can be seen as a species of Prisoner’s Dilemma.  PD and coordination problems are kinds of collective action problems.

            Collective action problems represent situations where, for various reasons, the jointly preferable outcome (the pareto optimal outcome)  is not the only, or not even, an equilibrium outcome.

            The ‘socially desired level’ is the level which is pareto optimal.

          • geoih

            And how do you determine what is the “socially desired level” of anything? Values and utilities are purely subjective and ordinal. You can’t calculate with them in any meaningful manner.

            Your “socially desired level” is a fiction in your mind, but one which you are apparently willing to force on others who don’t agree with it.

          • sigaba

            “People do a lot of things due to state manipulation, including participate in mass murder.”

            Does that count as Godwin’ing the thread?

            I can’t imagine where libertarians get their reputation as maximalist and doctrinaire.

          • j_m_h

            not yet.

          • geoih

            I suppose you can either recognise the extreme actions the state is capable of taking, or you can pretend it doesn’t exist.

            I can’t imagine where statists get their repuation as deluded and ignorant.

      • good_in_theory

        So as to prevent the narrowing of the debate, I’m responding to the latest comment up here:

        Let me spell things out for you, since apparently I cannot trust you to infer the stakes of the argument:

        Matt implicitly made an argument, in the passage which I quoted, which goes like this:

        P1. Excepting the use of coercion, charity is like government.
        P2.  Government fundraising uses coercion
        P3.  Coercion can solve collective action problemsP4. Charity does not suffer from a collective action problem.

        This gives us two contradictory inferences…

        By abduction…P2 + P3 -> I1: Government fundraising uses coercion to solve collective action problems.
        By deduction…P1 + P4 -> I2: Government fundraising does not suffer from a collective action problem.

        Logical deductions trump logical abductions, therefore I1 is false. Conclusion?

        I2 + P2 -> C1:  Coercive fundraising cannot be done to solve a collective action problem among taxpayers.  (Or, to use Matt’s own words “Appeals to coordination problems [CPs] can’t explain why [people don’t give to government voluntarily]. ”
        I reject this argument.  Why?  Because I reject P4.  Why? Because Matt reasons like this:

        Pa: People give money to charity.
        Pb: The amount of money people give to charity is a lot.
        Pc: If people give a lot of money to something, it is not undersupplied.
        Pd: If something suffers from a collective action problem, then it is undersupplied.
        Pb + Pc (via modus ponens) -> Ia: There is no undersupply of charitable giving
        Ia + Pd (via modus tollens) -> Ca (P4): Therefore charitable giving does not suffer from a collective action problem.

        What happens if we reject Pb or Pc?  No Ia.  Which means no Ca.  Which means no P4.  Which means no I2.  So we’re left with I1.  What does that I1 get us?

        C2:  The government may use coercion to solve a collective action problem. (inferred by abduction)  

        To put it otherwise, (If we assume that CPs exist and are identifiable then…) appeals to CPs may explain why people don’t give to government voluntarily.

        You want to reject P3.  Or, more generally, you probably want to reject collective action problems on either ontological or epistemic grounds (either that they do not exist or that we cannot know whether or not they exist.)  But that’s an entirely different argument.  And it’s an argument which rejects Matt’s explicit assumptions in developing his hypothetical (“If a CP allegedly discourages…”  assumes both A. CPs exist and B. we can know when & where they exist).

        But I was arguing with Matt’s hypothetical, not with your account of the knowledge/calculation problem.

        There’s no place for your ‘No because “complexity” you hubristic socialist fascists’ argument here.

  • Damien S.

    We’re still talking about this?  I figured the comments in the last thread settled it.

    “why doesn’t it also discourage them from giving to private charity?”

    As good_in_theory says, you’ve hardly shown that people aren’t discouraged from charity by coordination problems.  You seem to be resting this on people giving more to charity than to the government, but as noted before:

    * charities spend a lot on fundraising to solicit donations, the government spends nothing and most people probably have never even thought of donating to the gov’t as a thing
    * Similarly, charities give feedback like praise and little gifts to donors, or name things after big donors.  The gov’t doesn’t even recognize big taxpayers.
    * People like to donate to specific causes, often more specific ones than is utilitarianly rational; the gov’t is the exact opposite of that, since you can’t earmark.
    * The gov’t is primarily social insurance, us helping each other, not a charity helping the worst off, so general donation is a bad target for charity.  One could as well ask why people don’t donate money to Microsoft or GM.

    Whether people give to charity a socially optimal amount is an entirely different question.  Standard economics would lead us to expect that they don’t; one has to go to psychology to explain why people donate anything at all, really.

    • geoih

      Quote from Damian S.: “The gov’t is primarily social insurance, us helping each other, …”

      Really? Social insurance? Contribute to this social insurance, or we’ll kill you.

      This is the basic reason there is any argument about this. Some people believe it is fine to coerce, threaten violence, even perpetrate violence, to promote their own concept of utopia.

      • Porkramen


        Contribute to this social insurance, or we’ll kill you.”

        No risk of sounding like a radical there…

        • geoih

          Reality is what it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1536547021 Kevin M Bailey

    Buffett’s primary goal is not to pay more in taxes.   His goal is to make the tax system more fair.  Writing a check would not move us closer to that goal.

    Those who want the “47% who pay no income taxes” to pony up, could just as easily write a check to pay taxes on behalf of those people.  It doesn’t move them closer to their goal either.

  • Snafu

    Umm, hello? You state: 
        “But people give abundantly in the former case, and not in the latter. ”
    Everyone knows that, which is precisely why we act as we do. You just disproved the crux of your own point: That IS coordination. Duh.

    This whole line of argument is a transparent justification for condescending snideness that is best contained in a 4th grade class room, along with: “Well, if you don’t like what corporation X does, why don’t you move to Russia!” You know it’s specious, but go on and on and on defending it. Why?

  • MBunge

    The amount of brainpower wasted by people who want to challenge a principle, progressive taxation in specific and taxation in general, which was thoroughly discussed and more or less settled generations or even millenia ago is truly staggering.  This nonsense is always predicated on the idea that NO ONE has ever considered this stuff before and there is NO EVIDENCE on how taxation principles and policies work in the real world.  Yeesh.

    Mike

  • Matunos

    Donations toward the federal deficit are not taxes. This may seem like pedantry, but the distinction is important. One is voluntary and the other compulsory. Someone advocating for higher taxes is not the same as advocating for charitable donations, to the federal government or otherwise, and you guys are deliberately confusing the two.

    In an environment where

    • 3cantuna

      Game theory is about games, not real situations.  The experience of reality is complex and humans have ideas that change and vary. Interesting how real data on experiments do not always fit game theorists’ predictions? Nonetheless, even if e.g. Prisoners’ Dilemma is at play in the real world, it does not make the state form of government– and its taxation– an optimal remedy.  The sacrificing of competition for monopoly comes with extreme costs.

      • Matunos

        Spoken like someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.

        Experimental data doesn’t match theory? Citation needed! While you’re looking for one, read up on the Ultimatum Game.

        I have to admit, though, it is entertaining to hear someone I presume to be a libertarian lecture on the failure of theories when applied in the real world, without a hint of irony detected. Good show, sir!

        • 3cantuna

          Ha ha! I’m busted. Take away my badge.
          Well I gotta admit I don’t know very much- especially on game theory.  But I do know that economics does not equate libertarianism.

          I cite on game theory, for starters, this from Prof. Robert Murphy:

          “The trouble is, in experimental settings real players consistently fail to conform to the unique equilibrium strategies. What is worse, in many games the choices of actual players yield higher payoffs than what would happen if everyone followed the orthodox game theorist’s advice, making it seem as if the human players aren’t so “irrational” after all.” 

          From here: http://mises.org/daily/1404

          You not only believe in “collective action” problems, but also in the state as remedy? 

          • Matunos

            You’re trying to get into a debate about collectivism versus individualism, but that’s not the topic at hand. As I said in my original comment, if folks want to argue against raising the effective tax rates on the super-rich, I’m sure they can muster arguments to support that position. My objection is that the argument Mr. Zwolinksi is attempting to employ is invalid. Taxes are not the same as charitable donations, so the comparison is invalid on the face. 

            Further, I offer a study of game theory as an explanation for why his apparent suggestion- that people who believe in paying taxes should just donate more money to the government- is ridiculous. 

            If you take the time to actually look up the case I mentioned, the Ultimatum Game, you’ll see that your argument is in perfect alignment with mine: humans diverge from the mathematically prescribed strategy of accepting any distribution. I won’t go into details explaining the setup, because I assume you know how to use the internet enough and can read it yourself if you’re so inclined.

            It’s exactly the divergence from the apparent optimum strategy in the Ultimatum Game that is the interesting bit. We don’t like to feel shortchanged, and we’re willing to damage ourselves to some extent in order to punish those who we feel have shortchanged us. This directly contradicts the argument that someone who’s goal is to see the federal deficit reduced (which, by the way, I’m not convinced is Buffet’s primary goal anyway), should just donate more toward that end rather than advocate for everyone to be taxed more toward that end. We are much more likely to accept a cost toward a shared benefit if the cost itself is shared.

          • 3cantuna

            It looks like Matt Z. added the not well known option of voluntarily donating to the government.

            I agree Buffet has mixed motives that are open to speculation. As a rich dude with political ties that enrich his investments, Buffet crafts a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation concerning taxation. A psych profile of Buffet could draw a parallel with a new crystal meth user, modified for political power.

            Further note, if your defense of state collective action  is based on what looks like a deterministic behavioralism model, as your comments suggest in several places, then what is to stop you from advocating 100% government technocracy of all human endeavor?

        • 3cantuna

          There may be constant strings of prisoner’s dilemmas going on all the time in real life- I guess-  but how are they identified empirically, either at all, or without encumbrances of so many other factors (infinite?) accompanying experience?

    • 3cantuna

      Those nukes aren’t “ours” are they really?  Can I sell my shares? 

      • Matunos

        I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.

        • 3cantuna

          Addressing the collectivism in your language. 

  • Basilisc

    Here’s why the argument “a wealthy person who advocates higher marginal taxes on high levels of income but does not voluntarily make donations to the government is a bad person” is total horsepucky.

    1. In a democracy, an elected government makes decisions about how the government’s resources should be spent. These expenses are paid for by taxes on its citizens (either immediately or, in the case of deficit finance, in later years). You advocate a system where at least part of these expenses are financed through voluntary contributions from the wealthy. This is problematic in terms of how we would like a democratic government to function.
    Consider what would happen if contributions from the wealthy fell short of the expected level in a given year. This would mean either: a) government spending has to fall; b) taxes on all citizens have to rise; or c) the money has to be borrowed, with debt repaid at some future date through either taxes or voluntary contributions. And of course the inverse of a, b, or c would have to hold (taxes would have to fall, etc) if contributions from the wealthy turn out to be greater than expected.
    All three of these options are assaults on democracy. Under the system you advocate, the wealthy would have the power to determine spending policy, and/or tax policy, and/or borrowing policy, for society as a whole. I would not want to live in a society where my government’s spending decisions, or its taxation decisions, or its borrowing decisions, are determined by the whims and prejudices of a handful of very wealthy people – would you?
    2. In a democracy, an elected government decides how to allocate the burden of funding its activities. A charity functions differently. A charity seeks out donations, usually focusing its efforts on those with spare resources to contribute. If the charity is successful in raising money in a given year, it can do more; if it does not raise enough money, it does less. If someone doesn’t like what a charity is doing, they’re free to withhold their donations and/or start a new one. In effect, donors “vote” for or against the charity’s activities by giving or withholding money. This system works well for charities – for example, when the Susan G Komen Foundation recently announced a decision that upset some of its donors, those donors threatened to withhold their funding, and the foundation reversed its decision.
    The question is, do we want to run our government this way? I would emphatically say no, and I think most Americans would as well. We want our government’s decisions to reflect the priorities of its citizens more or less equally (the “one-man-one-vote”  principle), not to be based on how much money specific citizens have and how much of it they intend to give. By the way, this is not an argument for a flat or lump-sum tax – society may still choose to allocate the tax burden according to who is most able to pay. But this decision needs to be made by voters, through democratic, constitutional procedures, not by wealthy individuals with their influence weighted by their wealth.

    3. Arguments of the form “Person A should not advocate position X if his/her personal circumstances are Y”  are problematic in terms of what we would like to see in democratic discourse.  Position X should be judged based on its merits, not on the personal circumstances of its advocates. And person A should be judged based on his/her behavior towards other people, not on whether or not he/she advocates a  certain position. (There are exceptions – we judge people prima facie based on racist or sexist statements – but this is (or should be) because of what those statements say about how that person is likely to behave.) I would not want to live in a society that mandates that my beliefs and opinions be automatically determined by some aspect of my personal circumstances – would you? Hypocrisy is a different issue. Someone is a hypocrite if he/she advocates behavior X but does not follow this behavior, or condemns behavior X while doing behavior X. In the case of a policy that can only be enacted by the government – such as increasing marginal tax rates on high levels of income – hypocrisy is not an issue because no one who advocates it can actually adjust tax rates unilaterally. Someone who advocates that the wealthy give more to charity, is wealthy, but does not contribute, is indeed a hypocrite – but to advocate donation to charity is not at all the same as advocating a more progressive the tax code.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1091737052 Chad Horne

    For the second time, writing a check to the US government only makes the deficit smaller, the debt smaller; it doesn’t mean the government starts any new programs, or helps any people that it wouldn’t otherwise help.  Spending is fixed by Congress, not by the amount of money in the treasury.  So unless you believe that the good done by the government issuing slightly less debt would exceed the good that could be done by giving to a charity that would actually help people with it (people who wouldn’t otherwise be helped, I mean), it’s totally irrational to give money to the government.  And that’s true regardless of your political persuasion.

    (Now you might say, if enough people gave enough money to the US government, then perhaps Congress would decide to start some new programs or bring more people under the umbrella of existing programs.  But that’s a pretty big “if,” especially compared to the certainty that if I give my money to a charity, that money will definitely be used to help people who wouldn’t otherwise be helped).

    The prisoner’s dilemma/assurance problem stuff is cute but it’s totally beside the point in a world where government spending is fixed independent of government revenue.

  • LIBIntOrg

    Thanks for the article. The LIO in fact focuses on encouraging dialogue on making  taxes voluntary and towards creation of self-sustaining endowments in e.g. Operation Dignity. See what people are doing at http://www.LibertarianInternational.org

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