Monday, April 17, 2006

Form 1040 and 'rational ignorance'

Today, millions of Americans will struggle to bring themselves into compliance with the Internal Revenue Code. Every year the nation goes though the same circus, juggling with its tax forms, groping to find its receipts, and trying to make sense out of a seemingly endless maze of instructions, assessments and deductions. Typically, one overhears people talking about how the whole process is something the government does to us, tormenting us against our will. Such claims forget who it is who ultimately shapes the destiny of this nation.

America is a constitutional republic. Its leaders and the laws they enact are made possible by the will of the majority. Any citizen is free to comment on the affairs of state. So why then do Americans allow themselves to suffer a tax code that is coercive, unfair, needlessly complex, and provides little clarity as to the real cost of government? Because that's precisely what the majority of Americans have chosen to accept.

A just people would demand a government that charges for services rendered and no more. They would oppose the paternalism and retribution of wealth schemes that comprise most government spending today. They would not allow their government to use coercion to pay for the protections government provides. They would demand a moral way to pay for government.

In contrast, the system we have today is a near polar opposite. The government spends money it doesn't have-which only means future taxes down the road. It takes money from producers to give to others. Its taxes are designed to do little more than hide the real cost of government-after all, who, of anyone, knows the sum total they pay the government in income, sales and excise taxes, let alone the cost of the corporate taxes that are passed on to them though the price of the goods that they buy?

What could explain such a tax system? What could explain the seeming inability to reform it even incrementally, such as through the flat tax or a national retail sales tax? Only a moral force could be powerful enough to squelch all debate with the seeming unassailability of its premise and explain the monster that we live with today. Only the morality of altruism explains From 1040.

Altruism holds that the highest moral value is to live for others, and the more that one gives the least deserving, the better. That is why the most productive are taxed at a higher rate than those who are less productive. That is why the owners of corporations-nothing more than people assembled together for a productive purpose-are double taxed.

For such a system to be sustained, two forms of ignorance are required: first, moral ignorance, and second, "rational ignorance." Moral ignorance is simply falling to recognize that you as a person have a right to live your life for your own sake. Objectivism cures that ailment rather quickly.

In contrast, "rational ignorance" is the recognition that the cost of educating oneself about an issue sufficiently to make an informed decision can outweigh the benefit one could reasonably expect to gain from that decision, and so it would be irrational to waste time thinking about it. Rational ignorance applied to intellectual activism is simply recognizing that one can't change the world by oneself, and it explains the people who come to Objectivism, but who are then are content to retreat into their own private worlds. After all, we can insulate ourselves from the world's faults most of the time and be quite happy despite the burdens we have been given.

The problem is, the boot still rests upon each of our necks. It doesn't go away and not to challenge the premise that animates it only allows it to become stronger and more threatening by default. And that's why I launched the Center-to fight back and challenge the wrong-headed premises that nevertheless dominate our lives. But to do it, I need your help. I thought Jim Woods, a long-time supporter of the Center and a frequent commenter on this blog put it quite well:

With the demands of family, work, and taxes, most of us do not have sufficient time to devote to the activism required to insure the justice necessary for our lives. Therefore, financing professional activists is as important to our long term well being as taking out an insurance policy. How much to give? Each of us has to decide for ourselves. I look at it in terms of time; if I contribute an hour of my wages/salary to CAC, then that is an hour that I worked to advance capitalism.
So thinking as Jim does, how much of your time did you spend filing your taxes? How much time did you spend earning the money it took to pay them? In contrast, how much will you dedicate to fighting for your freedom to be released from these burdens?

Or do you instead hold that the battle for freedom is just to big to be won and that there is nothing you can do help change the tide? If that be the case, it is tragic, but it reminds me of a quote by Samuel Adams in 1776, when many in his generation of Americans held a similar view.

If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
I'd rather us be countrymen though. Please, make a donation in the name of your freedom today.

No comments: