Are Societies Owned?
Libertarians tend to view taxation as unjustified. It is something associated with statism, a kind of coercive institution that expropriates resources from members of society rather than securing the resources voluntarily. Statists, however, criticize the libertarian view, claiming that in a way taxation is voluntary, only apparently not so. Such defenders of statism as Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, in their book The Myth of Ownership, have made this case and they have done so along lines worth some attention here.
Assume you wish to sell antiques, so you rent space in a building owned by someone and agree that whenever you make a sale, some of what you fetch goes to the owner. Craig Duncan claims this is analogous to the nature of taxation. The country is like the building. "The building's owner ... charges vendors a percentage of their sales intake − say, 20 percent − as payment for the opportunity to sell from one of the building's stalls.... The owner is not stealing [the vendor's] money when he demands this sum from [the vendor]." According to Duncan, it is by comparison to this kind of situation that taxation ought to be understood, not, as I and other libertarians argue, as extortion by some members of society (the government) of the rest who live and work there or, as Nozick claimed, as something on par with forced labor.
But the analogy is a bad one. No one owns a free society. No one who lives in a free society is provided with the opportunity to strike up a deal with some owner of that society or to choose, from among different owners of societies, in which he or she might live and work.
Instead, people would be born into a free society where others, including their parents, relatives, or guardians, own homes, places of work and so on. Other people—the government—would not have the authority to coerce them into paying them "taxes" and to put them in jail if they refuse to pay up, with no chance of bargaining about the percentage, of whether to pay a flat fee (whether they win or lose in their various commercial endeavors), a percentage of some possible take and so forth.
All of these latter options are, however, possible when an antique seller rents a stall from someone who owns a building where customers may seek out vendors. But free societies, unlike the place where an antique vendor may or may not rent a stall, are not anyone's property.
Professor Duncan does, however, correctly describe societies that are not free. In a feudal system, for example, the king or tsar or other monarch owns the society. In a dictatorship the dictator is the owner. In fascist societies the leader in effect owns the society. And in democracies that aren't governed by a constitution that protects individual rights the majority owns the society. These owners then charge a rent from those they permit to live and work on their property.
That kind of system is, indeed, the natural home of the institution of taxation. Such societies are also the natural home of serfdom, where others than those who own it live and work only when permitted to do so. They have no rights other than those granted at the discretion of the owners. Both serfdom and taxation arise naturally in societies that are owned by someone.
In free societies, however, no one owns the society. Individual citizens may or may not own all kinds of things in such free societies—land, apartments, family homes, farms, factories, and innumerable other items that may be found before human beings have expropriated them from the wilds or what has been produced by or traded back and forth among the free citizenry.
Of course, in complex, developed free societies the citizenry will most likely have instituted a legal order or government, based on the principles of freedom—individual rights to life, liberty and property, for example. And they will probably have instituted some means by which those administering such a system will be paid for their work—user fees, shares of wealth owned, a flat sum, or something more novel and unheard of (e.g., contract fees). Citizens can come together, roughly along lines of how the original American colonists came together, and establish a legal order or government that will be empowered, without violating anyone's rights, to provide for a clear definition, elaboration, and defense of everyone's rights. Then, once such a group of citizens has come together and instituted a government with just powers—powers that do not violate but protect individual rights—the proper funding of the work of such a government can be spelled out.
What is crucial here is that such funding must occur voluntarily, namely, as the kind of funding that does not violate anyone's rights. Unlike the case Professor Duncan gives us, where someone has prior ownership over the various items in society that can be owned, in a free society ownership is achieved through various types of free action. This includes coming upon something unowned and appropriating it—land, trees, lakes, whatever—or being given in trade various things by others or, again, being born into the world with various assets or attributes that may well be used to create wealth through production, use or exchange.
A truly free society, then, does not belong to anyone but is a region wherein individuals are free to come to own things. It is one within which those who live there are free to embark on actions that involve, among other things, the acquisition of property. That is part of being free, not being coerced by others to give up what one has peacefully acquired, not be prohibited by others from embarking on various actions, including peaceful acquisition (including production and trade).
In short, a free society is based on principles of individual rights, not on having gained permission from prior owners of the society on analogy with how a renter of a stall in an antique mall comes into possession of that stall. In free societies ownership is a right everyone has by his or her nature as a human being and it isn't granted as a privilege by a prior owner, ad infinitum.
 Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, The Myth of Ownership (London: Oxford University Press, 2002).
 Craig Duncan & Tibor R. Machan, Libertarianism, For and Against (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 46.
 Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974).
Posted by Merridth80 on 12/13/11 07:10 AM
If we are looking into the subject of unjust taxation, let's look at the troubles of Wayne County, Michigan!
The people of Wayne County have lived so long with the yoke of excessive taxes they think this is the Normal. Now that the FBI is involved in the mess, there has been more than a million dollars confiscated.
In the end will the money be returned to the tax payers? I doubt it! The government will usurp that money.
Will any good come from all this disruption? I doubt it!
Can the tax payers of Wayne County Michigan look forward to their taxes being lowered? I seriously doubt it.
Will the taxes in Wayne County Michigan be increased? Of that I am posditive!
Politicians always need more money to Waste, and the sad thing is they think John Q. Public is to stupid to waste that money on his own!
Posted by JohnRyan on 12/12/11 11:41 PM
I don't know about the strawman's role but I came across a claim that the United States is a corporation a few weeks back that provided substantive evidence at Click to view link scroll down to (15)(A).
Such a discovery, presented in the unnecessary to explain style of the US Code, has launched me on a quest for a substantive explanation apart from the one that started it all Click to view link
Input is appreciated.
Posted by NAPpy on 12/12/11 07:25 PM
I'd take a flat tax over the given system.
Eliminating taxes should be the eventual goal, however.
Posted by laceja on 12/12/11 06:57 PM
Correction, "some" men, not all, accept this "Voluntary Servitude". To foist this socialist system upon those, who do not want it, is criminal. It's simply theft from one group in order to redistribute it to another group.
The only really fair way to handle it is for the government to take back it's responsibility of providing the money the society requires to operate and charge a fee (interest or discount) for the privilege of using it. Of course, that needs to be counter balanced by competing currencies (Real Bills, gold, silver, bitcoins, or whatever) to insure the government doesn't just perpetrate the same crime against us from a different angle.
Posted by HA65MPH on 12/12/11 04:07 PM
Dr. Tibor Machan ONE HECK OF A GOOD READ ... REGARDS
Posted by MrRedDawg9 on 12/12/11 03:24 PM
Our Founding Fathers wanted Us to be free. They wrote the most beautiful documents ever produced; The Declaration of Independance, The Bill of Rights, and The Constitution. We were as close to being a Constitutional Law Man of the Land = (FREE) at the production and signing into law these documents. Shortly thereafter we were deceived into becoming a "Statutory Citizen", thus becoming the peonage of the State we are today. If one will seek the true nature of His existence, He will find He is not free but the owned property of the State via voluntary acceptance (by deceit)via an office created by the state occupied by the State created You (known as The Strawman). The truth of this is surreal. I implore you to Google "Strawman" and research it. Your life will never be the same. Are Societies Owned?
Absolutely... ... ... ... .No Question.
This article by Tibor Machan is well written and his conclusion is correct. I question if He knows why? The answer is The Strawman". Find out for yourself.
Posted by Publius on 12/12/11 01:38 PM
I start with the premise there is no such thing as a free society. We are in a Feudal system to this very day. Capital did not manifest out of thin air, nor did the rich become rich out of virtue. The State exists via history. It has roots. The State slects and reward certain parties and selects and punishes others. Tax is a wealth re-distribution and concentration mechanism. Moreover, as a result of custom and authority, men accept this "Voluntary Servitude."
Posted by fabien_hug on 12/12/11 12:56 PM
Duncan analogy or assumption doesn't stick. Nobody rents under these conditions. The landlord is not interested in becoming a de facto partner of all the businesses he leases to and the tenant doesn't want to share its profits with somebody who doesn't share the risks. Furthermore, this one sided profit sharing example is quite ironic because it represents the ultimate state of capitalism; you get the profit and your capital is never at stake. On the other side, if taxation is voluntary, I'm afraid that there is not going to be a lot of volunteers. I think the only way to satisfy both camps is a flat tax system. The principle that when you make more money you should contribute more as a percentage is completely unjust. Time is money and money is time and we all have the same stock of it.
Posted by DwightJohnson on 12/12/11 12:53 PM
I have looked at the US Constitution. It has the form of a contract, and a list of signatures at the end. I looked at the signatures, but did not find mine. Yet somehow I am to believe that the men who signed that contract have encumbered me in some way by their contract. Strange.
Posted by mojine on 12/12/11 12:40 PM
Tibor, I really must hand it to you for your ability to remain civil in refuting an argument of such colossal stupidity.
BTW, among Amazon's readers reviews I found this gem from one Joss Delage of Seattle - The basic idea in this book is that you and I don't own the fruits of our work. Because the Gvt provides us with the infrastructure needed to perform our work (laws), they really own whatever we produce. In short, we should be thankful that they only tax us so little because they could just as well take everything - they own it.
Most of the taxes we pay do *not* provide for the enforcement of laws, national defense, etc. Instead, they are served to pay others, less productive or more needy. Apart from whether this is fair / just, it's very clear to me that the benefit the tax payers get from having their money redistributed to other parts of the population is about nil.
In addition, even when the money is indeed used to pay for services that tax payers benefit from, those services are typically of appalling level of quality. See how much *better* public education, USPS, and Amtrak have become as taxes were raised for the last 50 years as an example. Every economist knows that public services always perform worse than the private sector, that is: payers pay more, and get less.
In short, I can only see 2 goals for the authors of this book. One - they actually believe in what they write, and that makes them a pretty good fit for the technical definition of socialist. Two - they don't actually believe in what they write, but they couldn't get the attention they need as academics by pure good work. They had to write something controversial to attract attention. Pitiful.