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Holmes and Sunstein are not Marxists. They vigorously defend property rights and the value of a society that “encourages personal initiative, social cooperation and self-improvement.” But they also note that public programs commonly described as “redistributive” are essential to the social stability on which property owners depend. Welfare rights, they argue, “compensate the indigent for receiving less value than the rich from the rights ostensibly guaranteed equally to all Americans.” And, especially in the case of education, government expenditures promote both initiative and self-improvement.
I doubt that anyone who wrote a big check to the government in recent days will suddenly feel wonderful after contemplating how much the rights we enjoy depend on the taxes we pay. But they might at least consider that the old saw “freedom isn’t free” applies at least as much to paying taxes as it does to the other ways in which we protect and defend our liberties.
The welfare system compensates the indigent? The lesson of welfare reform appears to be that the welfare system worked to keep them indigent, preventing them from getting good “value” from their rights. Welfare is, rather, an example of government creating social instability.
More importantly, this argument is misleading because it focuses only on those government functions which are, arguably, essential. It ignores how much government we actually have. This is a link to a Louisiana State University website that provides a list of government agencies, boards, and commissions. There are more than 1,300, and that’s just the federal government! While conservatives would not argue the social benefits of a military, schools, or roads, we are on solid ground in questioning the merits of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Dairy, Livestock and Poultry Division, or the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.
This year’s version of lecture had an addition to the template:
4. Use Iraq as an example.
According to the Register:
Oh, maybe Iraq would need a little government. Just enough to prevent looting, keep the electricity and the water running, rebuild the roads, etc.
If you think government is useless, evil and unnecessary, ponder those pictures of looters in Iraq ransacking homes, hotels, even hospitals. Feel for that sobbing official of the National Museum of Antiquities, aghast at the destruction of irreplaceable historical artifacts by an angry mob.
It’s telling that one of the first things some liberals see when they look at Iraq is a reason to pay our taxes. One might look at the secret police, the torture chambers, and the imprisoned children in Iraq and see a powerful warning about the tyrannical potential of government. One might even consider ways to limit its power. But not, apparently, liberals still wedded to the idea of government as a tool to cure all of society’s ills.
Now that April 15, 2003, has passed it will be nearly a year before most Americans have to worry about paying their taxes again. It will, fortunately, also be a year before we have to endure another liberal lecture about how we should be happy about paying taxes.