On Robert Reich’s blog, aly k wrote:
“And without a normative justification for the State, whether it be in the form of democratic government or a horrific tyrant, taxes can’t be justified (philosophically).”
I responded with the below message:
The most moving argument from the state can be stated in economists’ terms. It is sometimes called “the public goods” justification. Goes something like this (paraphrased from Wikipedia):
A market may allow individuals to create and allocate many goods optimally. But there are some goods — “public goods” — that are not produced adequately in a market system. These collective goods are ones that all individuals want (hypothetically — this is often a normative judgment, but comes from very basic things we consider to be “human rights”) but for whose production it is often not individually rational for people to secure a collectively rational outcome. The state can step in and force us all to contribute toward the production of these goods, and we can all thereby be made better off.
For example, it is true that if we had only private schools, people with a lot of money could ensure the best education for their children without having to pay for both the private school and the taxes necessary to fund the public school. But poor parents will have no choice but to send their children to less well-maintained and more poorly-staffed schools.
Supposedly, for society to progress we would prefer if all members of society had access to good schooling, regardless of the social class into which they were born. (That is, whether my parent is a millionaire investor or a plumber, I should have access to a good education.) Therefore, it makes some sense for us to pay a tax to the state, and for the state to provide good (and equal) schooling for everyone. What’s more, because the state needn’t turn a profit on schools, their overall cost through taxation can be lower than private schools would be.
Schools are one of those things you would prefer not be left to the market, because supposedly it’s good for everyone that everyone else is educated above a certain level. These people, after all, will become your neighbors, employers, employees, clients, etc. They also will be voting in elections.
In other words, if you value a high level of education as a universal right which should be secured for all citizens regardless of the socioeconomic class they are born into, then you are essentially already arguing for the state, because the market, per se, will not secure a high quality education for every individual.
Similar arguments can be made about health care, large pieces of infrastructure (like highways, roads, traffic lights), and certain components of institutional security (like firefighters, police officers, etc.). The state shouldn’t do everything — it should only make the level of quality equal across a market for certain goods, due to moral concerns we have. People shouldn’t have access to worse roads, or worse health care, or less firefighter or police protection, just because they live in a town of poor people.
We are okay with poorer people having less access to shiny new BMWs, bottled water, and Starbucks coffee, because these are frivolous private expenditures anyway. The poor person who drinks less Starbucks coffee than me won’t grow up to be an ignorant, sick, armed and desperate person ready to murder me on the street for the $40 in my pocket. But the uneducated person, without access to healthcare and who lives in a violent neighborhood with no police officers will certainly slay me for the $40 in my pocket.
To bring out the goodness in Man, I choose the state.
(That said, some states are better than others!)