Philosophical takes on taxes/income/wealth?
April 13, 2009 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for philosophical treatises that touch on the subjects of taxes, wealth, income and the like for a blog post I'm thinking about writing. Specifically, I'm looking for philosophical musings on the government's right (or lack thereof) to collect taxes and the right (or lack thereof) of an individual to do whatever he wants with his earnings. It would be more helpful if you could point to a specific chapter/section/passage, rather than saying "try reading Marx."
posted by ekroh to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Chapter 5, On Property, in Locke's Second Treatise on Government is a good rights based start on property and a labor based theory of value, though this may take you toward a more fundamental level than you're interested in.

Try also the first couple chapters in Verbum Sapienti by William Petty and around chapter 8 in On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation by David Ricardo, which can be found here.

Hopefully I can remember some more resources once the coffee kicks in.
posted by Someone has just shot your horse! at 8:22 AM on April 13, 2009

This is probably obvious, but Civil Disobedience by Henry Thoreau is mostly about him going to jail because he refused to pay taxes, and it's short enough to read the whole thing and glean from it what thou will.

Just a snippet:

"It is for no particular item in the tax bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with—the dollar is innocent—but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make use and get what advantages of her I can, as is usual in such cases."
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:23 AM on April 13, 2009

Um, that's kind of a big question. There are kind of a lot of "philosophical musings" on the role and nature of government. If you want some big names from the history of philosophy, you could try Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau....

Here are a couple of overviews of more contemporary ideas about distributive justice & the redistribution of wealth. (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is usually a good starting point for this sort of inquiry.)

SEP's entry on distributive justice
SEP's entry on redistribution
posted by kestrel251 at 8:23 AM on April 13, 2009

Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 169
posted by ewiar at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2009

The "tax denier" arguments espoused in this recent, interesting article are perhaps less philosophical and more legal than what you're looking for. I still found the article to be a good read.
posted by cheapskatebay at 8:33 AM on April 13, 2009

Henry George's Progress and Poverty [wiki] talks a fair bit about this. See especially Chapter 33, Section 4.

The worker's right to income comes from the justification of Nature, which returns wealth to labor. The landowner's claim is a mere fictitious right, created by municipal regulation. It is unknown and unrecognized by Nature. It is a monopoly of natural opportunities -- gifts that Nature offers impartially to all, and in which all have an equal birthright.

posted by Durin's Bane at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2009

I meant to say, and just realized I forgot: Rawls' A Theory of Justice. Probably the most famous & influential piece of political philosophy in the past 50 years.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:40 AM on April 13, 2009

Really, you're going to want to look at the anarchist literature in general -- most of the objections to taxation come from anarchists. Robert Paul Wolff's In Defense of Anarchismis a well-regarded work objecting to government in general (which, obviously, entails objecting to taxes). Also, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, etc.
posted by paultopia at 10:02 AM on April 13, 2009

Try No Treason by Lysander Spooner.
posted by ecmendenhall at 10:15 AM on April 13, 2009

It's maybe not as philosophical as you're looking for, but I would think any discussion of the American government's "right" to tax, or individuals' "rights" to do what they want with their earnings, is going to have to wrestle with the U.S. Constitution, and specifically the 16th Amendment to it. The Wikipedia article has some references to and discussion of a few court opinions interpreting the 16th Amendment, which do get a bit more philosophical on occasion than the Amendment itself.
posted by dilettanti at 10:21 AM on April 13, 2009

Taxation is necessary because government is necessary.

Hobbes argues for the necessity of government in Leviathan (1651). See in particular Chapter 17.

Andrew Schmookler presents a similar argument in The Parable of the Tribes (1984).
posted by russilwvong at 12:48 PM on April 13, 2009

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