LA Liberty has a lengthy and relatively thoughtful response to my post on the growth and importance of federal anti-poverty programs.. Mr. Liberty, predictably, believes that federal anti-poverty programs are inherently bad and that private giving should take their place. Fortunately, this is a place where Mr. Liberty and I can safely disagree. I think it takes a willful belief in a fantasy world to think that private giving can take the place of all our anti-poverty programs. He seems to think it’s realistic. The simple solution is to just agree that he’ll get poverty solved through private methods, and once he’s done with that, I’ll help him dismantle the welfare state. I’ll also bake him some nice ginger cookies.
There is one side point, however, that I want to address. Specifically, it’s the conceptualization of all government action as “at gunpoint.” It is applied specifically to the collection of taxes. There are a lot of seriously-worded form letters and all sorts of liens and garnishments and whatnot involved in collecting delinquent taxes. There aren’t a lot of guns—let alone guns pointed at people. So the concern about taxes isn’t that there are literally guns used in their collection—it’s that the coercive power of the state is used in the enforcement of tax laws, just as it is used in the enforcement of any element of our property regime. (Except stealing a $2 loaf of bread to feed your starving kid is much more likely be met with actual guns than refusing to honor a fifty thousand dollar tax bill.)
I get that taking people’s deserved wealth is bad. Of course, I tend to think people deserve a lot less of their wealth than they think they deserve, particularly if we’re not able to accomplish our basic duties to those less fortunate than ourselves. If we’re going to go around and treat any and all changes in government policy as a “threat of violence,” we’ll sound a bit silly. Afterall, private property is also enforced by government mandate. If I invite you over to dinner and ask you to pass the salt, is that a threat at gunpoint? Afterall, the salt is personal property. Your continued enjoyment of the nice dinner I cooked is implicitly conditioned on you being a reasonably decent human during the meal. If our disagreement over the saltshaker escalated, it could, in theory, result in the police showing up and forcibly evicting you. Except, that’s a ridiculous way to conceptualize a request to pass the salt.