By Aleksey Bashtavenko
Suppose you’re back in school and I discover that you have several college papers to write. When I solicit you offering my services, you promptly turn me down because you do not need my help. Instead of respecting your wishes, I employ hackers to gain access to all of your virtual accounts and complete several assignments for you. In return, I’ll withdraw twice as much money from your bank account as was necessary to cover the market fee for the service I’ve rendered. Since I now know that I will always have you as a client, I’ll have no incentive to meet your deadlines or make an honest effort to fully maximize the quality of my work. In this case, you would be justifiably aggrieved, yet this still seems insufficient to show that the government is culpable of the same moral transgression.
This leaves the establishment ideology with just one defense: mandatory government services are necessary to preserve public order. This position can be defended by the premise that a strong centralized government is necessary for preservation of social order and such a politico-economic infrastructure can be supported only by coercive taxation. Indeed, an environment of complete mayhem is often pejoratively referred to as anarchy. The fear that radical decentralization leads to a disastrous pandemonium is comprehensively supported by a plethora of historical examples. In the aftermath of the emergence of the Italian state in the 19th century, the southern territory was embroiled in incessant confrontations between mafia clans. India’s lack of a centralized government has historically been associated with the nation’s failure to achieve stability or economic progress until the British colonization.
Although it is possible for de-centralization to completely destroy social order, that outcome is far from inevitable. History is also fraught with examples of successful de-centralization including the Ancient Greek and autonomous city-states or polises. Even the nascent United States achieved considerable freedom and prosperity in part because of decentralization. Instead of dogmatically accepting the position that decentralization either strengthens or undermines political order, it is necessary to examine this question empirically. The only way to do so is to begin experimenting by slowly introducing minor changes to our politico-economic environment by making some forms of taxation voluntary. It is possible that this practice will engender desirable results where the consumers will opt to support the centralized government services or replace them with superior private services.
In the event where the worst fears of the establishment proponents are confirmed, mandatory taxation can be restored. It would then be clear that this form of coercion maximizes the well-being of the largest number of people by preserving public order in the only way it is possible to do so. In that case, this course of action will be supported by a robust Utilitarian argument that’s corroborated by compelling empirical evidence. Although this would be a paternalistic argument with its own authoritarian undercurrents, it would be much less dangerous than the appeal to Rousseau’s General Will. Here, the government would have a clear-cut rationale for financially coercing the public and it will set a precedent for future policies that will require similarly rigorous justifications for future legislation involving coercion. At the very least, intellectual honesty behooves us to understand that the current institution of taxation is profoundly immoral because it involves theft and coercion. If it truly does serve the public interest, this hypothesis is too important to be accepted on faith and it should be subjected to rigorous social experimentation.