Voluntary vs Collective Action

The conflict between democracy and individual freedom

In any human society there is challenge in where to put the boundary between what should be decided collectively and what should be decided individually.

It is embodied in the terms democracy and freedom. Democracy implies collective action. We decide something collectively by the will of the majority. Freedom in contrast is more about what sort of choices and individual may do.

Communist and Libertarian philosophy represent two polar opposites in this regard. The former wants to leave almost everything to democratic decisions while the latter wants almost every decision to be made by the individual. One can read about the Kibbutz organized around communist ideas how say going on a distance travel would involve the community voting on financing it or not, as individuals were in possession of much private property.

As I’ve alluded to before I am not a fan of extreme positions. I think societies work best by finding a pragmatic middle between individual freedom and democratic collective action.

With this in mind, let me answer respond to your statements.

When people (across the political spectrum) use the word “taxes”, it implies that the revenue being raised is done so involuntarily.

Specifically what you mean is that paying taxes is not done on an individual basis. However one could argue that taxes are voluntary in a collective sense. People have chosen collectively through elections to pay taxes. Whether you find that acceptable of not depends on how your political philosophy values individual vs collective action

The only real distinction there is that “fees” are voluntary and apportioned in relation to actual use. “Taxes” on the other hand are involuntary and almost always end up being completely disconnected from actual use.

I get the point you are trying to make, but I think there are some cases you are not considering. You compare taxes to the situation where you pay for a specific items such as a hammer or a dinner. However a lot of things you can buy, does not give you specific concrete items or services in return.

However an insurance policy costs money and gives you nothing concrete until an event which triggers an insurance payout happens. For most insurance holders, that will never happen.

What taxes pays for is in nature usually comparable to buying insurance. Paying for health care insurance or paying for health care through taxes is not that different. Each payment does not result in a tangible thing being returned to you.

People that support the current tax structures generally don’t care about use. They focus taxation on who has money that they can take from to fund projects that they want but can’t afford to pay for themselves. There is a sort of default presumption everything will work itself out evenly in the end so it magically becomes “fair”.

I do support the current tax structures, and that is not how I think at all. In fact I think we should avoid making too strong assumption about what motivates people prescribing to different political philosophies. I try my best to avoid characterizing people favoring low taxes as selfish people who don’t care about the poor and sick and just care about themselves.

You will always find people who are like that. However I don’t think e.g. you are motivated by greed or selfishness to support many libertarian ideas. I read that you say you are not libertarian, but at least you seem to be sympathetic to many libertarian ideas.

Anyway let me get back to why I support the current tax system. I have to speak from my own context which is Norway. It is high tax society with extensive welfare services. I am a fairly high paid professional, so why do I support high taxes on people like myself? Why do I not want to keep the money for myself and spend it on the things I care most about?

It is simple really: I am paying a premium for one of the best insurance schemes in the whole world. The taxes I pay means that I’ve insured myself against:

  1. Unemployment.
  2. Chronic illness or disability.
  3. Unable to get a well paid job in the future.
  4. Retirement.
  5. Increased expenses due to having children.

There is also an element of paying back for the services rendered onto me as a child and young adult. I got much of my education financed by the government. It gave me an opportunity to study almost anything, anywhere I wanted and enjoy that time greatly. I want my offspring and those of other parents to enjoy the same bliss.

It is very hard to achieve any of this when these services are sold as products to individuals in a market. For instance in the US it is not uncommon that people go bankrupt from serious illness such as cancer despite insurance. The co-pays and deductibles get too high. Some loose their jobs due to being too sick to do them. Without job they don’t have the money to keep paying their insurance. In short private insurance is not very capable of dealing with very serious conditions.

Private solutions are rather inflexible because they cannot adjust to your economic situation. They may be relatively cheap while you hold a high income job, but in periods with a low paid job, you may not be able to keep the insurance. Government taxes on the other hand adjust to fit your economic situation.

That is something you can achieve with collective solutions. Insurance bought on an individual level in a private market however cannot operate on these principles. They cannot spread the risk the way government.

Look at the problem with health insurance. Either it is largely unregulated and thus insurance companies will deny customers with pre-existing conditions to avoid that people avoid paying insurance until they actually need it. However for a society as a whole that is a terrible solution. It means large swats of society cannot afford to get health insurance. You end up with problems with asymmetric information in the market. That tends to drive prices up, and drive customers away.

The alternative is to require everybody to buy health insurance. But then it is no longer a voluntary choice, so then what advantage does it hold over a government scheme financed by taxes? You just end up with a system that has higher overhead than a government solution.

I could go on, but the point is that a lot of services are bettered delivered as a government funded service than as an out of pocket paid service from the private sector. You may not agree that it is, but don’t just assume those of us who favor such an arrangement, do so because we are looking for free handouts.

We support this system because, we belive it is a better way of solving many of societies challenges.

And, btw, for the record, I’m not a libertarian. If you had asked me 15 years ago I would have identified as one but, while I like a lot of libertarian ideas, the overall philosophy is unworkable in the present world.

I used to be a quasi-libertarian as well about 15 years ago too! I abandoned the idea when I developed a better understanding of economics and human psychology. Libertarian philosophy just did not seem to have practical solutions to the free rider problem, tragedy of the commons, prisoners dilemma or whatever you may want to call it.

I also think having the rational individual as the starting point for a philosophy is fundamentally flawed. If humans we really rational individuals we would not overeating, binge drinking, shot up on drugs and gamble away our money by the millions. As individuals we do a lot of stupid things, but in groups we are often wiser. As a community we can make up for each others flaws: we can pass laws to limit gambling, drinking and drug abuse e.g.

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