Saturday, September 8, 2012

Broken Road Fallacy

A few weeks ago, on Facebook and elsewhere, I asked "Are taxes theft?"  Among the answers I received, one of them was "Only if you don't like roads."  While I feel that response does not actually address the question, as it speaks to economics rather than morality, I have thought about it further.  In essence, I believe it is fundamentally flawed - a victim of the "Broken Window Fallacy".

To briefly explain (longer explanation in the video), the theory goes like this: When a window is broken, it stimulates the economy.  The window must be replaced, which employs the glass maker, and the sand harvester, and the farmers who must feed them, etc.  This is a fallacy because, drawn to it's conclusion, we should employ people to break windows, purely to stimulate the economy.

There is more to it though, especially in regards to the road response.  The reason one would even consider the broken window "stimulating" is to only look at what happens, not what could happen.  Collecting taxes to pay for roads creates a better world, because we gain all the benefits of having a road.  But what would happen without collecting the taxes (breaking the window) in the first place?

While the specifics of any given situation are outside the scope of this post, think about what is removed.  By creating a guaranteed source of road growth, there will be less innovation spent on reducing the need for roads - better or alternate forms of travel such as mass transit or industrial rail.  There would also be less sprawl, as it would be more difficult to drive to work from 3 suburbs outside of city limits.  Less travel distance, so reduced gas consumption, so prices wouldn't rise as rapidly.

In the end, from an economic standpoint, I find the road response (and the general line of thinking behind it) to "Are taxes theft?" still wanting, and lacking any serious persuasiveness.  If individuals and businesses are unwilling to pay for roads on their own, I do not find it economically logical that the population should be taxed en masse to pay for them.

Broken Window Fallacy more completely explained:


  1. You are confusing separate issues. Roads need to be maintained, whether there is expansion or not. Window *cleaners* are going to be necessary. It isn't about economic stimulation, it is about getting our emergency crew from A to B. Sure, it would be nice to simply equip them all with helicopters, but until that time, we need roads.

    As an individual, I am happy to pay for a road to get my brother (a cop) to my house if I am getting killed. An I am also happy to pay a minimal charge across the board to whore him out to my neighbours as well, reducing my personal stake in this venture.

    Would I say it is theft? You have to define theft. It is a system that we cannot opt out of, but then again, we also cannot opt out of having police and fire available 24/7. I am not having money strictly taken from me, I am having money forcibly being spent on services. There is a strong difference. Give us the choice about paying for emergency services, and then we can decide if it is theft or not. In the meantime, it isn't theft, in my opinion, it is.. tax. /end ramble

  2. I think you're saying it would be morally wrong for me to not support roads and emergency crews for the good of my neighbours, and that this is the underlying argument behind the roads comment, rather than general economic prosperity as I had interpreted it.

    If that's the case, then two wrongs don't make a right. I should support roads to help my neighbours, not I should get robbed to support my neighbours. Buying a hobo five bucks is a morally good action, as an example, but giving him my wallet at gunpoint loses any moral goodness to it on my end, and he has committed a wrong. It doesn't matter if he takes the entire contents and donates them to an orphanage - I did not commit a good act, and he has committed a wrong act.

    Further, why is my neighbour deserving at all? Why am I not forced to give the same amount to US citizens, or Mexican citizens, or Zimbabwe citizens? Are they lesser beings, undeserving of my money, or is merely the attribute "lives somewhere around here" good enough? What about Quebec vs Washington, when Washington is just an hours drive away?

    Or what if I disagree with your values altogether, and don't believe anyone, including myself, should bother having access to emergency services, that they don't provide enough bang for their buck?

    Theft, to me: using force to take the property of another person. I have no idea how your definition includes "unless the victim doesn't have a choice." Please share your definition, and what this "strong difference" is.

  3. The fundamental flaw in your argument is that this is something you should have a say in. It isn't. To have a strong herd, you need to have a common support system. The establishment of a taxation system is a natural process of any animal, only we use a monetary function instead of physical function. As an example; birds flying in a V each take a turn at the front. With their contribution, they all get to survive, through a physical taxation. Penguins all take a turn on the outside of the.. uh.. herd.. when they are protecting themselves from the winds of the antarctic. Cows take a turn on the outside of the herd to protect against predators. In this way, it isn't about having it forcibly taken, its about the herd acting on behalf of those too stupid or unable to do it for themselves. It isn't morality, it is evolutionary. The hell with your neighbours, you don't need them to be them, but you need them for you to be you.

    What makes your neighbour, city, or country more deserving than the other countries is simply the scope of the herd you live in. You live in a variety of herds of various size, and owe a certain level of taxation to each. Your family herd has social obligations. Your apartment has observational obligations (you need to watch for your neighbours being broken in to, as they will do the same for you). You have to pay the city to allow roads for food to be shipped to you and emergency services to route. You have to pay the country for roads to ship cross-country, and for international trade to occur (pro tip: That tea you drink didn't come from here).

    Your argument that you don't feel that you get value out of your taxation - I have no solid rebuttle against that. Mostly because it is entirely opinion based. If you don't feel that having people around to prevent you from dying if you get shot is good enough, then I would invite you to move to a place where you don't have to pay for it. You are welcome to go and start your own herd, governing your own resources. Define your own system of taxation by making your co-herdies hunt, chop wood, etc. It is the same as it is now, except, you get to be at the top of it. Or alone, in which case, you are just paying for 100% of the tax instead of only a small part of it.

    Theft, to me: using force to take the property of another person in exchange for nothing. Just because it doesn't feel fair, doesn't mean it is theft. And in this case, you do always have the option to opt out of taxation. Make no money, and you don't get taxed.

  4. You should probably reread my post without omitting the "what if" clauses before assuming that I actually have those values.

    Telling me to do as you say or move out of the country is not anything resembling freedom. It's got some wonderful window dressing, but it's not freedom. If I choose not to pay my taxes, people with guns get involved. My services aren't revoked, I am not blacklisted from trade with the rest of the herd, and I am not told to leave; I am forcibly removed at gunpoint and placed in a little box.

    I do not need to pay for those roads. They are already built, and already maintained. Any other arrangement is passing debt to me from the actions of my parents, or my grandparents, or my great great grandparents, etc. Even future use is not largely by me. I do not ship goods across the country, or internationally, grocers and retailers do. If they have to make and maintain their own roads, and pass that expense on to me, how is that "wrong"? You still get your road, it still gets used, but it's paid for by the people who use it, or people who donate because the appreciate other aspects of it.

    If I or any other individual don't contribute to help society, or any other value you have, then don't give me work, don't sell me goods, and don't buy my products. Punish me for wrongs I have commited, and have the balls to do it yourself. Don't hire other people to do it for you, and do not initiate force towards me for my inaction.

    As for your definition of theft... Say a hobo robs me, takes my wallet, and provides me with any or all of the following: a half eaten sandwich, a used doggy bag (possibly used by the hobo himself), a tax receipt for a donation equalling the total amount in my wallet to a charity. These are not theft?

    If you think it's wrong, but not wrong enough to stop compared to the alternatives, that's a completely different argument than what you are presenting here.