The Circumstantial Injustice of Taxes on Property

One of the interesting things about being a Christian reactionary is that I keep discovering huge unsuspected remnants of my native modernism by means of their sudden collapse. One moment a liberal notion is cooking along as well and as unconsciously as ever, drawing no attention to itself, and the next its incoherence or absurdity are suddenly revealed to my conscious awareness and admitted to my concern by its contradiction – practical, logical, empirical – with other notions I feel sure are true. I never even notice these wrong-headed ideas or policies – call them illogismoi – until this happens. When it does, things appear to me in a new way – or rather, in what generally turns out to be quite an old way, that had never before seemed like a way at all.

I never know what will trigger these mental avalanches. Often it is quite a little thing.

This happened to me again recently when I was mulling Zippy Catholic’s arguments for the inherent injustice of property taxes. I have long thought that such taxes are indeed unjust – have hated them in my guts, together with capital gains taxes, estate and death taxes, business equipment taxes, and other levies against property. So when I read his arguments, my reaction was, “yeah, damn right.”

Now, suddenly, I am not so sure. Or perhaps I am. Bear with me, now, as I explain how consideration of property tax opened a new horizon to my fuddled sight. Or no, wait: a very old horizon, rather.

Property taxes may indeed be unjust. My mind is not closed on the subject, one way or the other. But it is not property taxes themselves that I am interested here to discuss. Nevertheless, to get at what I do want to discuss, I shall have to deal with them a bit first, to lay the groundwork for what will follow. Both the groundwork regarding property tax and the work built upon it are fairly long, so this first post is devoted to the former. A subsequent post will address the latter.

It should be noted first that there are at least two different ways that property taxes could be unjust: namely, either per se, or as administered.

It seems clear that they are at the present time unjust in the second way. As they are now administered, the county assesses the value of your real property, and, in its sole discretion (albeit not, usually, without right of appeal) determines what your tax will therefore be. The real estate market being so imperfect, and parcels nowise much fungible, such assessments cannot but be notional, at best, so that the assessments, and thus the taxes levied, can have but a tenuous similitude to reality, or therefore to equity or justice.

The property tax also discourages the improvement of assets. An increase in the assessed value of property triggered by the approval of a building permit is a significant disincentive to building. A sane and just tax would reward increase, rather than punishing it.

It would make more sense to tax property on the basis of the revenues it had generated in the preceding year, if it weren’t for the fact that lots of real estate generates no revenues at all. Better then, perhaps, for the county to dispense with property tax altogether, and replace the revenues thereof by taxes on business revenues on local sales, which are on the one hand fairly easy to ascertain and account for, and on the other a relatively objective and accurate proxy for the economic value realized by participants in the county’s markets (both locals (including owners and renters of real property) and foreigners) by means of their participation therein – so as to compensate the local sovereign for his costs in giving and keeping of the law, that enable the orderly markets by which such transactions may transpire in the first place.

So much, then, for administrative justice, and – by logical implication – efficiency, that redound to local prosperity (and a larger tax base, and greater revenues to the sovereign).

Is property tax essentially unjust, no matter how perfectly administered? Perhaps not.

It is just here that my thinking suddenly shifted in an unanticipated direction. Under the terms of the sort of society we now inhabit, property tax does indeed seem unjust, if only because it constitutes a coerced taking, rather than an effectual toll or fee for service, as with a sales or revenue tax, that is levied as a condition of transactions freely undertaken. We can control how much sales tax we pay by controlling our purchases. In collecting the sales tax, the publican points a gun at us and says, “You must pay me 8% of the purchase price of that item you are thinking of buying, if you do indeed buy it.” We are free to decide that the item in question is not worth 108% of its price, and forgo the transaction and the tax. The publican will then lower his gun, and walk away. In collecting the property tax, on the other hand, the publican levels his gun and says, “You must pay me 0.15% of the value of your property, now, and again every year, or I shall take far more from you.” Until we fork over the money, he will not lower his weapon and leave us in peace.

As Zippy points out, this absolutely coerced taking has the inevitable effect, over the years, of transferring the whole value of a property to the tax man, and away from us and from our families.

That word, “family” is the fulcrum of the paradigm shift I experienced. The property tax is unjust, and the publican hated, because he is alien to us, and to ours. He is not family. He is a stranger. He is an adversarial counterparty in an atomist polity constituted almost entirely of strangers, abiding together peaceably only in virtue of the operation and enforcement of impersonal laws (not that impersonal law is bad – it is not – but rather that in a thoroughly atomist society it is pretty much the only glue). But what if the publican were rather an agent of our grandfather, say, and himself our cousin and occasional tablemate? What if paying property taxes was an act of filial piety, rather than civic duty? What if the tax were, not a cost imposed upon us by an adversary, but our grateful contribution to the common weal of our clan or tribe, that alone secured the safety of our homesteads from the depredations of aliens?

Such was the origin of the modern property tax. It began as the obligation of each man to provide annual service to his lord in proportion to his wealth or station; where money was to be had, this provision might be made in coin, rather than in kind. In time of peace, each man was obliged to supply a certain number of hours of corvée labor (on, e.g., roads, aqueducts, dikes, temples, castles). In time of war, the obligation of fealty was to provide a certain number of armed soldiers – in the case of the landless peasant, perhaps only himself – to serve his count during each year’s campaigning season. Counts in turn were expected to provide annual labor or armed men to their lords, all the way up the noble hierarchy to the king, each in proportion to the size and wealth of his holdings.

These holdings were all personal property. A man’s property then included the property of his vassals, who held their own property in virtue of their fealty to their lord.

The peasant owned his farm, true; but he owned it thanks to his essentially familial relation to his lord, who was originally the chieftain of his clan, and his relative. He owned it, that is to say, in the truest sense “in stead of” his lord, and ergo of his whole clan. His property was his only in virtue of the recognition by the whole clan – vicariously personified in his lord – of his rightful ownership: of, i.e., the validity of the transaction by which it came to him, whether by purchase, or inheritance, or feat of arms, or gift (perhaps from his lord in return for meritorious service), or marriage, or what have you. And this rightful ownership could be rescinded by the count for the people of the county, whether or not for cause, albeit not usually without compensation; this being the origin of the doctrine of eminent domain. Personal property, then, was rather an allocation by the clan than an appropriation by the owner.

In our atomic society, property tax is a sort of invasion, an act of veiled violence inflicted upon us by an alien adversary whose interests are not coterminous with ours. In a familial society, it would be an act of filial piety, and of love, and of duty, on the part of the owner toward his seniors, and through them toward his own people. It would be more like a tithe than a tax; which is to say, more like an offering in sacrifice than a robbery.

Now, none of this is to argue that a society organized along familiar lines would be immune to injustice. Any system of civil administration is vulnerable to error, to administrative injustice, and yes, to wickedness. Families can be horribly rotten. Indeed, families (like all human institutions) can be haunts of violence and oppression, fonts of jealousy, envy, malice, and falsehood. As scripture makes clear, families are a palmary context of murder, fraud, treason, and indeed of sin. So families are no panacea, and neither would a feudal or clannish hierarchy established upon them usher in the New Jerusalem.

It would be odd indeed for a traditionalist, especially an orthospherean like me, to suggest that there is any merely human way to establish utopia. There is no such thing as an Earthly panacea, or a utopia, anywhere but in the New Jerusalem itself.

Notwithstanding that, some societies and their policies are in fact better than others, and while we cannot fix everything under the sun, we can and should improve this or that, where doing so will improve things overall. That we cannot possibly do the perfect thing does not mean that we should not try to do the right thing.

In any case, all I mean here to suggest is that in a true community – which it seems to me is not really achievable in the absence of a shared interest and commitment to a common genetic heritage (but which in its presence can, indeed, be maintained even though deeply rotten) – property taxes are not takings, but contributions, and are not, therefore, fundamentally unjust.

Now Zippy could well respond to all this, I think rightly, that in a familiar society such as I have described, “tax” would not in the first place be quite an accurate term for an annual contribution to the common weal in proportion to one’s property and station. In such a polity, the annual contribution would not in fact be a tax at all, but … a contribution, pure and simple, no different in character than the constant costly duties we owe in justice and love to our children, siblings, and parents. Thus his arguments against the justice of the property taxes we all endure in this our individualist, atomist society would still stand, not at all touched by what I have here said.

If he were to say that, I think now, having come to the end of this particular preambulatory train of thought (at least for the time being), that I would agree. In our sort of society, property tax seems unjust. But in a proper sort of society, I think it would not.

So much then for the groundwork. In a subsequent post, I’ll get to the beginning of the work.

85 thoughts on “The Circumstantial Injustice of Taxes on Property

  1. Pingback: The Circumstantial Injustice of Taxes on Property | Neoreactive

  2. Pingback: The Circumstantial Injustice of Taxes on Property | Reaction Times

  3. Excellent stuff. I’ve reserved much of ZC’s work for when I sit down to do a formal study of economics from a Reactionary perspective. I would say property ‘taxes’ as you outline them here are very rational, but would be dependent on the actual realities involved. It has a proven track-record with rural living, but how it would play out taking heavy industry and urban centers is a wild card. What constitutes a lord’s domain in an apartment block?

  4. Admittedly, my initial response to this topic is not founded on having the benefit of reading your entire essay; and so, my brief insight might very well be redundant, or on the other hand, irrelevant.

    Thinking of things as they are and not of how we might wish them to be, it occurs to me that in our current environment the only, albeit tenuous, guarantee we have of protecting private property is in our tacit agreement to permit the state to siphon off our wealth (property as an extension of our labor) in a manner not dissimilar to what we hear of as a “protection racket.” In other words, we may be thankful that the state hasn’t come to confiscate our property as Henry VIII and other monarchs have done in ages past, or the example of the Reign of Terror comes to mind.

    Since the forces of collectivization are everywhere arrayed against us, and even more so are these hostile to the mere notion of Christendom, and even more so as we are called to endure persecution and count it all joy to suffer for Christ’s sake, it seems a stretch to hope for a settling of things material in our favor for the duration. We like our Western Civilization, even as we see it slipping away; and we wish — rightly — to preserve it. But that might not be what God has in mind for his church. After all, look at what it’s become: a reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    My fight is for the Kingdom of God; I have little left in me for the fight against a venal state.

    • I don’t disagree with any of that. As may perhaps become clearer with the second post in this series, I am not in it making any concrete proposals, but rather explaining a vision of a different sort of society than I have ever known.

      I don’t expect that the familiar society will be established in the West any time soon. But understanding how such a society might work, at least in principle, might be useful after the collapse of the current Western order.

      How such a society would work in a settlement consisting of apartment towers, I do not know. Like I said in the post, I’m just becoming aware of the fact that it is conceivable, possible, to have a society that is not fundamentally adversarial, as ours is.

  5. A tax on the unimproved value of land, say per acre (Georgism) does not imply any mythical value of the unsold property. It is more like a head tax: “If you want to live in my kingdom, pay $k/yr/acre. Otherwise, sell it to someone who will. Otherwise, I’ll sell it to someone who will.”

    Another view: In a very real sense, the sovereign owns all lands in his domain. Property taxes may thus be seen as rents. Rents may be just or unjust but are not per se unjust.

    • the sovereign owns all lands in his domain.

      Not so, the sovereign possesses his domain. He, as an individual, may own some part of it, as US Govt does own some lands.

      This confusion between property and possession can be seen by focussing on Locke’s distinction between state of law, state of nature and state of war.
      Property can only exist in a state of law but sovereigns exist in a state of nature (by definition of a sovereign, there is no civil law above them).

      • That’s an interesting and helpful distinction. Law supervenes upon Nature; is an operation of Nature. The Sovereign arranges for property within his domains in his Natural capacity, in just the way that he arranges for an orderly, secure market. Both these arrangements are effected by his orderly recusal from taking all goods in his domains as his own personal property. In his Natural capacity, he could just take everything for himself (provided his retainers supported him in so doing). But that would be to destroy the whole economy of his domains, and their ability to generate wealth for him (whether that wealth were collected as rents or as taxes). So he devolves property upon his retainers in his stead, and they then (as sovereigns in their own respective domains) likewise devolve it upon their vassals, and so on down the chain to the freemen. The devolutions are undertaken in return for fealty: devolutions down, fealty up (and brotherhood sideways).

        Provided the fealty upward is duly honored (as, concretely, in corvée labor rendered, military service provided, or property taxes paid), propriety is maintained. If the client has paid his dues to his sovereign, and the sovereign nevertheless violates the bond of propriety by taking direct ownership of the client’s assets without due compensation, then the taking is unjust.

  6. Pingback: The Familiar Society | The Orthosphere

  7. “The property tax is unjust, and the publican hated, because he is alien to us, and to ours. He is not family. He is a stranger”

    He is neither family nor a stranger. He is a neighbor.
    With familism, you miss out on Aristotle’s analysis of the fundamental levels of human organization. The three irreducible levels are the Individual, the Family and the City.
    You are trying to reduce the City to the Family but it does not work.

    By the way, Zippy’s analysis of property tax are defective since he neglects the political dimensions of what property is. That is, he accepts the standard liberal notions of property.
    But property can only exist in a City. Thus, City has just claims on any individual property.

    • You are trying to reduce the City to the Family but it does not work.

      I’m not sure that I am. The City in Aristotle’s hierarchy is the counterpart of the Clan or Tribe in mine. You can have a family without a tribe, but you can’t have a tribe without families. As the family is implicit in the physiology of the human mating pair and their infant offspring, so the clan and tribe are implicit in the filial relations of the family. The implication is analogous to the implication of the cell in the nucleotides, and of the body in the cells.

      Where you have a city that has many completely unrelated families as citizens, things get different, of course. But this is not how cities started out, or until very recently endured. They began as settlements of tribes, all of whom were more or less related, if not by blood then by marriage (the marriage bond being thicker than that of blood, and its origin). Thus we even today want to know each other’s family names, and I am formally called “Mr. Lawson” rather than “Kristor.” My family name literally means “Son of Lars.”

      The nation, too – as may be seen from the aetymology of the term – is implicit in the tribe, and like it and the family, supervenes upon the human mating pair. Citizens of a nation – Akhaians, Israelites, Indians – share birth within a common patrilineal heritage. Nations of this ancient sort are named for their forefathers.

      Sons by adoption are indeed sons, to be sure, so that the tribe can cast its net wide and recruit citizens of the polis from among the strangers who sojourn there; but the adoption is mutual, and faithfully kept, or else it is ruptured, and betrayed. So when an immigrant becomes a citizen, he pledges his allegiance, his fealty, and indeed his very life, which he agrees he shall put at the disposal of the defense of the nation, if need be. The substance of the vow is like that of the ancient vow of the vassal. It is a vow to be bound by a filial relation. The traditional penalty of treason against the mutual pledge of life rendered in the vow of fealty is forfeiture of that life.

      • “You can have a family without a tribe,”
        No you can not.
        The City is the smallest entity that is self-sufficient and maintains itself through generations and generations. This is how City is actually defined.
        Individual families are not self-sufficient and neither they are able to independently maintain themselves over generations.

      • It is obvious that a family can set forth from the settlement of a tribe and make its own way in the wilderness, and found a new tribe. This is what Abraham did. It happened all the time in America. Indeed, it seems still to be our default way of doing things over here. I’ve done it myself. My wife and I came from tribes, but we raised our children alone, foraging in the wilderness of the modern metropolis, which is in almost no sense a coherent polis.

        But note well that to say that a family can survive on its own, and found a tribe, is very far from saying that this is an optimal way of doing things. Indeed, it is a very lonely and difficult way.

      • Nation is a mystical thing, not reducible to birth, clan tribe etc. See the chapter on Kipling in Chesterton’s Heretics.

      • Who said anything about reduction? Implication is not reduction. That the body is implicit in the nucleotides (and, NB, vice versa) does not mean that the body is nothing but the nucleotiedes, or vice versa.

        Proper reduction is in any case not the ontological deletion of one of the poles of the relation, but rather the translation of the terms apposite to the specification of one pole into the terms apposite to the specification of the other.

      • .”But this is not how cities started out, or until very recently endured.”
        Is there some solid evidence for this assertion?
        The most documented evidence we have for birth of a nation is recorded in Genesis where the Hebrew nation is supposed to be born from the sons of Jacob. But Genesis itself omits crucial 300 years in Egypt that transformed the family of Jacob into the Hebrew nation.

      • You have yourself just cited documentary evidence. That some of the later history is omitted from the record does not at all vitiate the witness of the record that we do have.

        Look at the founding myths of cities – Sparta, Rome, and so forth. In every case where the city was not founded as an administrative act of some empire or kingdom (e.g., Sepphoris, Caesarea Philippi), or connected with a cultic establishment (Athens, Thebes, and so forth), the myth stems from one man, or one family that descended from him, or a pair of brothers, or the like.

      • “but we raised our children alone, foraging in the wilderness of the modern metropolis”
        Kristor, this is frankly a Humpty-Dumpty way of using words. You may be alienated from your nation and dislike its laws but do you seriously maintain that there is no state of law in your metropolis?

      • You said that it is impossible to have a family without a *tribe.* I had a family without a tribe. I didn’t say I had a family without a city.

        I maintain also, however, that it is possible to have a family without a city *or* a tribe, in a howling wilderness. That’s how tribes get started in the first place as social organisms distinct from the tribes whence they issued.

      • Living in a great metropolis, enjoying security of property and life, presuably attending a church and utilizing all the cultural and educational resources of the richest civilization, how could you even possibly say that you raised your children alone and found a new tribe?
        Mind boggles at the meanings you give to words.

      • Vishmehr, *you* were the one who responded to my point that the tribe and the family implicate each other by insisting that the polis – a different thing, NB, than the tribe who are all familiarly related – is not reducible to the family as the tribe is (a point I had not made). *You* were the one who suggested – usefully, I think – that it is important to remember the difference between tribe and polis. Then *you* were the one who said it was impossible to have a family without a tribe. I responded by saying that I had done just that, raised a family without a tribe, *in a polis* where no one was familiarly related to us.

        It’s very well, and helpful, to make these careful distinctions. I’m all in favor of distinctions! But it behooves you then to forbear from criticizing your interlocutors for observing them.

      • “it is possible to have a family without a city *or* a tribe, in a howling wilderness.”
        This is precisely what the essential claim of liberalism is. They start with individuals in a state of nature.
        The political nature of man means that it was never so. Man has always lived politically- to be precise
        “mankind is organized into particular, self-ruling, morally authoritative communites that we call cities (or more loosely nations or tribes).”

        You have romantic dreams of the American frontier. Just a small question that you may find interesting–why did American settlers settle only America? Why did they not settle Russian or Canadian wildernesses? And did not American Army accompany the settlers to deal with the local Indian opposition? And did not the settlers took with them their American customs?

      • Romantic, my eye. Americans by the thousand ventured forth into the howling wilderness, at first alone, then with their women, then with their children. When other people moved too close to their homesteads – within, say, five miles – they’d begin to feel crowded, up stakes, and move West. It really did happen. I have met people whose grandparents did it. My sister has a table that came across the prairies in a Conestoga with our recent ancestors. Generally the Army was nowhere to be seen. These days, in the big metropoles of America, the cops are there, but they don’t – can’t – prevent crime so much as show up afterwards to clean up. Back in the 18th and 19th century, the Army might be five hundred miles away, and it might take months for them to arrive and help a frontier settlement, if they ever did. The garrison at Fort Laramie patrolled thousands of square miles of wilderness; it consisted of three companies of cavalry and one of infantry.

        There was no administrative hierarchy governing the pioneers, de facto. They just took off, made things up as they went, and took care of themselves – or failed thereat.

        The American settlers settled only America because they were in America. If they had settled Canada or Siberia, they’d have been Canadian or Russian.

        Yes, of course the settlers took with them their customs. But, to draw another important distinction, culture is not the same thing as polis.

      • “You have yourself just cited documentary evidence.”
        No, I pointed out that there is no documentary evidence.
        Abraham was not a tribe-less person, He carried his ancestral customs and even his extended family (his nephew Lot) with him. Plus he was embedded in the Cannan nation as a resident alien.

        The laws were given to the Hebew nation as they exited Egypt. It is a consequence of the political nature of man that particular groups of people spontenously self-organize themselves into political communities i.e. give themselves laws. And thus political authority arises spontanously in human groups.

      • Abraham was not a tribe-less person, He carried his ancestral customs and even his extended family (his nephew Lot) with him.

        Yes. He brought a few familiars, leaving his tribe and nation behind.

        Plus he was embedded in the [Canaanite] nation as a resident alien.

        Not as himself a member of the Canaanite nation or any of its tribes. A tribeless stranger in a strange land, i.e.

      • The word “tribe” is not very useful esp in modern context. We can only speculate on family relationships. Primitives do not have always have simple marriage laws In any case, the definition of “tribe” does not say that all tribal members must be related to each other.

        In fact, tribe is generally a pejorative word used by advanced people for primitives. It means essentially the same as a nation.

      • The word “tribe” is not very [useful, especially in a] modern context.

        They why do you deign to use it in your categorical assertion that it is impossible to have a family except within a tribe?

        The whole point of the post is that the concept of the tribe – of the familial society – might become again important in a *post-modern* context.

      • “The American settlers settled only America because they were in America. ”
        So they were “In America”.What does that mean? You say that the unsettled territory was “In America”.
        So America existed previous to the settlement? Thus, it was not a howling wilderness but a tamed and pacified territory.

        PS When you want to say “family”, it is not clarifying to use loaded words like “tribe”.

      • So America existed previous to the settlement? Thus, it was not a howling wilderness but a tamed and pacified territory.

        Vishmehr, give me a break, OK? The United States claimed the whole of what is now America, but its administration of that territory was for many years simply nonexistent, for the most part. The only part of the territory that the garrison at Fort Laramie patrolled that was under its administrative control was the immediate environs of the fort itself. Every other acre of it was “Indian Country.”

        Back in 1981 I found and read the typewritten narrative of a young woman who had traveled as a girl across the continent in a Conestoga. Her party was raided repeatedly by Cheyenne and Blackfeet. Members of the party were killed. Arrows thunked into the mattress her mother spread over the children in the bed of the wagon.

        When I read her memoirs, her daughter had just died, of old age, the widow of a prominent San Francisco attorney, whose younger partner had hired me to sort through her effects. Among them I found her mother’s story.

        This stuff really happened.

    • So the settlers went to settle the territory that was already claimed by America.
      And as for banditry, still a common occurence in over-populated India and under-populated Africa.
      not to mention parts of America, only now there may be narcotic gangs.
      The point is that settlement of America was a collective enterprise and not emphatically individualistic.
      If it were individualstic, you need to address the point “Were the individual properties or possessions of the settlers conqured /annexed by the American state?
      It does seem weird-millions of individual settlements and ALL coalesce into ONE American territory. Not even a single exception.

      • So the settlers went to settle the territory that was already claimed by America.

        Usually. It is important to remember that when Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from the French, there were only a few thousand white men between the Mississippi and the string of Spanish missions along the coast of California. It was as foreign as the Moon. The territory was claimed by the US, but not only was there no legal or administrative presence of government in it, but *no one even knew what was in it.* No one even knew if it could be traversed. Lewis and Clark were dispatched to try to find this out (this at a time when the American Midwest was more thinly settled than Alaska or Siberia now are).
        Often, though, the pioneers went outside territory already legally claimed by the US, as in Alaska.

        And as for banditry, still a common occurence in over-populated India and under-populated Africa.

        It wasn’t banditry; it wasn’t criminality. Bandits are criminals. In the Wild West, there were no laws. There were no organs of government, no police, no courts, no soldiers, nothing. Almost the whole territory was just empty. I suppose this is hard for a European to understand. I’ve been all over the intra-montane West; lots of it is still empty, for miles and miles.

        The point is that settlement of America was a collective enterprise and not emphatically individualistic.

        I never said the settlement of the American West was individualistic, or that it was not at all organized. I said only that it is possible for a family to venture forth into the wilderness away from its tribe and make its way in the world, and that in the West this happened thousands of times. Which, tace any fine theories to the contrary, it simply did.

        If it were individualistic, you need to address the point “Were the individual properties or possessions of the settlers conqured /annexed by the American state?

        Yes. As it grew able to do so, the state asserted its authority over territory. This was not a uniformly tidy and peaceful procedure.

        It does seem weird-millions of individual settlements and ALL coalesce into ONE American territory. Not even a single exception.

        How is that weird? Birds of a feather flock together.

      • The word “tribe” has connotations that your point
        “it is possible for a family to venture forth into the wilderness away from its tribe ”
        is unclear. Did these American settlers regard themselves as belonging to some tribe?. Would you regard them so? Could these tribes be named?

        Why not use more traditional words eg. “clan”. Though it is doubtful that most settlers regarded themselves as belonging to clans either.
        “Tribe” is loaded word because it has political connotations.
        A family may venture into wilderness. There have been families that escaped into Siberia to escape Soviet rule. But that does not negate the point–the universal point-that a family is not a self-sufficient entity that could maintain itself over generations.

        AS for your idea of clannish future society– the trend is toward radical individualism in the West. That itself implies despotic rule– despotism being the only way a mass of disparate individuals that share no moral value can be ruled. Even nuclear family is in serious trouble in the West. Where do you see clan-based organization?

      • Thousands of American families left *everyone they knew* – tribe, family, clan, city, church, club, state, everything – and ventured forth into the wilderness, there to carve out a homestead and make a living for themselves. As this continued, and the land was more and more settled, they naturally associated with each other and formed communities. Of course! That’s just what people do!

        And it was never at issue here. You said, “it is not possible to have a family without a tribe,” period full stop. I disputed that statement because history has falsified it. You did *not* say, “a family is not an entity that can maintain itself alone over generations.” If you had, I would have agreed.

        I don’t see the familial society much in evidence anywhere in the modern West. As I said in the post, the whole idea is so new and foreign to me that I barely know how to think about it yet. But I think we can be pretty sure of two things:

        1. The familial society seems to have prevailed through much of human history. It may be the default social arrangment, the natural, organic social structure that will appear when all other social institutions have been gutted. So it must be possible to learn to think about it, the better to propose it should an opportune time arise.
        2. The modern West is doomed. It is likely to collapse, morally if not economically and militarily. When it does, its latter-day atomic individualism is very likely to be discarded and replaced with something different. If it is true that the familial society is something like a default arrangement for humans, then the modern West is likely to be followed by a familial society of some sort. Best then if some people understand how it is supposed to work, then.

      • Mark Twain gives us a picture of well-settled villages on the Mississipi river, a picture entirely unlike your caricature of the damned souls from the Great Divorce.

        “When other people moved too close to their homesteads – within, say, five miles – they’d begin to feel crowded, up stakes, and move West.”

        As for the familial society, you may like to address the point that a man may be your neighbor even though he is not your family. To say, as you did of the tax collector, that he is an alien merely because he is not family is fundamentally unsound. Even the Pashtuns would not say so.

      • Mark Twain wrote of the Mississippi of the mid to late 19th Century. The Louisiana Purchase happened in 1803. In 1803, St. Louis had a population of about 1,000. In 1850, it had grown to 77,860. In 1803, Indianapolis did not exist. In 1850, its population was 8,091 (US Census Bureau).

        A lot happened in those 50 years. You might want to check out the Little House on the Prairie books for a solid memoir of what ordinary life was like on the frontier.

        As for the familial society, you may like to address the point that a man may be your neighbor even though he is not your family. To say, as you did of the tax collector, that he is an alien merely because he is not family is fundamentally unsound.

        I’m not saying that it was that way in traditional society, which was much more familial than what we now have. I was saying that it is that way *now.*

      • A lot may indeed happen but is it plausible that the people that were not putting up with neighbors within 5 miles would in just 50 years form European-style villages?
        Were the Americans really so un-social in 1803?

      • The first pioneers in a region often were, yes. It takes that sort of mind to want to venture into a raw and empty wilderness the size of Belgium in the first place. There are still families doing it, deep in the Alaskan bush.

        The world is full of implausible and extraordinary things.

      • There are always exceptional people and families. Question is what is the norm–was it ever people pulling up stakes and moving out if a neighbor were to appear within their horizon?

      • No. Almost everyone stayed closer to home. Pioneers are exceptional, almost by definition.

        But there are indeed pioneers, who leave behind their tribes and set out into the wilderness with their wives and children.

      • The first settlements, Mayflower etc were organized collective affair. Is there any reason to believe that changed?
        Thoreau complained in Civil Disobedience that “this government does not settle West”. What could he have meant?

      • There were always collective efforts. It could not at first have been otherwise, given the coordination involved in a trans-atlantic voyage. But once the first settlements were established, men started setting out on voyages of hunting and exploration. They discovered beautiful places, good to live, and decided to try to live there. That’s all it took.
        I’m not familiar with that passage in Thoreau. He might have been complaining about how many people there were close by, and wishing the Feds had done more to entice them westward and leave him in peace.

      • One might think that nobody would appreciate having a neighbor than a pioneer for whom having a good neighbor could be a matter of life and death.
        There were wagon trains taking a lot of settlers at once.

      • There was always lots of cooperation. I never suggested that there was not. All I have said is that there were families who struck out on their own, which you had said was an impossibility.

      • It is an impossibility. Any man alone with his wife and children in an un-pacified territory is not going to last long. Even liberals recognize this.Hence in Locke society is formed to ensure security of life and property.

      • Vishmehr, you can argue that your theory disallows the facts till you are blue in the face, but you’ll get nowhere with it. Thousands of families actually did – and hundreds of families now do, in Alaska and elsewhere in the montane West of North America –just what you still insist is impossible: live all by themselves in a wilderness.

        Sorry, but you’ll just have to adjust your beautiful theory to fit the reality.

      • Alaska and entire US is pacified now. and is settled USA territory. We were talking about settling an un-pacified territory which you claim is easily done by a guy taking his wife along while avoiding his neighbors like ghosts from the Great Divorce.

      • Who said it was easy? It was incredibly hard, and dangerous. Yet it was done, by thousands of American families, in territories where they were under constant threat of attack from Indians.

        Why do you resist admitting this plain historical fact so bitterly? What rides upon it? Not your beloved theory that families arise from tribes; it doesn’t disprove that at all.

        I think you are trolling me again. So I am not going to respond to you about this any more.

      • This is a quick response to Kristor’s pioneer mythologizing. The pioneers had regular and frequent congress with Indians who were friendly (often due to “enemy of my enemy” reasoning) but they weren’t actually nearly as socially isolated as people think. And it’s interesting that he moralizes that chasing money at all costs is ok in this particular context, when it’s so very unChristian. They came for the cash, after all.

        The pioneers also were vanguards with technology to save labor costs. They were many things, but they weren’t very good people if one is a traditionalist or reactionary. I also have pioneer letters about the high level of social engagement people had despite “neighbors five miles away”.

      • This is a quick response to Kristor’s pioneer mythologizing.

        No, it isn’t. It’s a hasty response to a bunch of things I didn’t say.

  8. vishmehr24:

    That is, [Zippy] accepts the standard liberal notions of property.

    Anyone who has read my posts on property already knows that that is tendentious nonsense; and not a little ironic considering the source.

    But property can only exist in a City. Thus, City has just claims on any individual property.

    That the authority of ownership is (like all human authorities) limited and is ultimately derived from and referred to the common good is not in contention. What is at issue (though not really rising to the level of contention, since my own posts on the justice of property taxes are explicitly tentative and exploratory) is just specifically whether the sovereign’s authority specifically qua sovereign – which like all human authority has intrinsic limits – can trump the authority of the property owner to such an extent that it justifies a total taking of the property by the sovereign in the ordinary course of things (e.g. not wartime, etc).

    Said differently, what is at issue is whether it is possible at all under any circumstances for the sovereign to commit theft against his own people, or if he really just does himself own everything in his territory.

    As a human authority, the sovereign’s authority most definitely does have moral limits beyond which his authority is exceeded and he has done wrong. The basic issue is what precisely are those limits. If he does not exceed his authority in (during ordinary circumstances) comprehensively confiscating the home owned by a subject who has done no wrong, then property taxes are morally just. If he does exceed his authority when he comprehensively confiscates the home owned by a subject who has done no wrong, then he is capable of committing theft, property taxes are in fact a species of theft, and are therefore intrinsically immoral.

    I haven’t myself resolved what I think of the various branches of “ifs” in the argument. But nobody has shown (that I have seen) the argument to be unsound: that is, granting the premises the conclusion does indeed follow that property taxes are a species of theft and are therefore intrinsically immoral.

    The general idea that the sovereign’s authority is derivative and has intrinsic moral limits is not liberalism. Indeed, it is arguable (though well beyond the scope of a combox discussion) that modern liberalism in its current incarnation was itself a (deeply flawed) intramural reaction against a protestant/muslim triumph-of-the-will concept of dominion/authority.

    • “what is at issue is whether it is possible at all under any circumstances for the sovereign to commit theft against his own people”
      Formally speaking, sovereign assertions are unanswerable arguments. Formally, a sovereign always acts for the common good. By Catholic teaching too, a sovereign is allowed to adjust private properties if it advances common good. Of course, when some govt acts in way that is unjust (such as Soviet State during collectivization),then it delegitimatizes itself and is no longer sovereign in the formal sense (or at least that particular act is not a sovereign act).

      Nothing is greater than long-term survival and flourishing of the City and this is what the sovereign is charged with. But when one adopts the liberal perspective (which is defined by the denial of political nature of man), one tends to derive the City from collections of individuals. And thus, one is faced with puzzles of the sort Zippy raises.
      But just look at the historical and even present day behavior of sovereig , and one finds them acting in a decided traditional non-liberal manner.

  9. Part of the problem is that modern people tend to view authority as monolithic; so the term “sovereign” as we are using it refers to one specific unitary political authority (person or body of persons), and it is simply assumed that this political authority trumps all other human authorities in all circumstances in a given territory, has a ‘monopoly on the use of force’, etc.

    I would suggest that this picture of human authority is itself flawed, even if it admits of a hierarchy – of sorts – within the monolith.

  10. It has not been shown that a property tax constitutes a total taking of the property. Property requires labor in order to be maintained. Without that labor, the value of that property will depreciate to nothing. One aspect of the labor required to maintain property in a world populated by other humans is the protection of that property against thieves, vandals and invading nations. The property tax is just a payment by the property owner to the government for this service rendered. Without this service the property will diminish to nothing. With this service the property can be maintained. Therefore, the present value of the property is actually increased by this relationship.

      • Again, precisely what is at issue is if it is possible for the sovereign to commit theft against his subjects (whether he labels it a “tax” or not), and under precisely what conditions.

        Someone might contend that it is not — that all ownership is merely delegation of sovereign authority rather than a distinct authority in its own right under the natural law. But playing games with labels (“tax”) and declaring taxation licit is just a pointless nominalist rhetorical gambit which attempts to avoid what is at issue rather than addressing it.

      • Yes. I agree. Playing games with labels instead of addressing the point is not helpful, which is precisely why I did not feel your response “Entropy does not justify theft” merited anything other than payment in kind from me.

        Of course, it is possible for a sovereign to commit theft against its subjects. Tradition and the relevant encyclicals clearly teach that excessive taxation is theft. What is really at issue is whether or not property taxes always are instances of excessive taxation. I claim no because:
        1. Property taxes can be viewed as payment for services rendered
        2. The more property a person owns, the more the state can expect to have to pay out in resources to defend that person’s property and prosecute violators of that person’s property rights therefore by the principle of commutative justice the person who owns more property should pay more than one who owns less.
        3. It is implausible for the state to raise enough revenue without employing some combination of income taxes, property taxes, or head taxes. Income taxes discourage productive labor and therefore are destructive to virtue and to economic productivity. Head taxes do not take account a person’s ability to pay and therefore violate distributive justice and clear magisterial teaching. Property taxes discourage the accumulation of wealth therefore encouraging the distribution of the means of production without violating commutative justice (unless excessive).

      • In my third reason I should have included sales taxes in the possibilities. Sales taxes suffer from the same problem as the head tax, a violation of distributive justice if the sole source of revenue. (This is not to say they should not be part of the mix)

      • “that all ownership is merely delegation of sovereign authority rather than a distinct authority in its own right under the natural law.”
        I do not contend thus,. Property derives from the moral axiom that man must eat of the sweat of his labor.
        Sovereign authority is entirely distinct. Indeed, I have been laboring this very point that the Individual, the Family and the City are three irreducible levels of human organization. None can be derived from others.
        For sovereign authority, see the first chapter of The French Revolution by Belloc.

      • Kevin Nowell:

        Of course, it is possible for a sovereign to commit theft against its subjects. Tradition and the relevant encyclicals clearly teach that excessive taxation is theft. What is really at issue is whether or not property taxes always are instances of excessive taxation.

        As was the case the last time we discussed this, you keep changing your story — which makes it frankly impossible to have a discussion. In your first comment in this thread you objected to the mathematical fact that property taxes constitute a levy of the entire value of the property, in effect by saying “entropy does too”:

        It has not been shown that a property tax constitutes a total taking of the property. Property requires labor in order to be maintained. Without that labor, the value of that property will depreciate to nothing.

        But that isn’t the kind of objection it pretends to be: you aren’t showing that property tax does not in fact mathematically constitute total taking, you are suggesting that total taking is justified as payment for services rendered by the sovereign in the fight against entropy. Of course rendering services (involuntarily) to an owner does not justify a total taking in general, so your objection collapses: a thief protecting your car from hail doesn’t justify the thief in stealing your car. So again, there is an underlying commitment to the idea that the sovereign has title to (is entitled to) the entire value of the property, qua sovereign.

        In your latest comment you get closer to addressing the real issue – whether a total taking by the sovereign in the ordinary course of things is or is not justified under a ‘taxation’ rubric. That is indeed what is actually at issue. But it isn’t helpful when you dress up your putative justification for the sovereign doing X as the same thing as the sovereign not doing X.

      • Zippy:
        I do not think I am changing my story. It does not constitute a total taking because property is a depreciating asset and the service the government provides is to limit a part of that depreciation. Thanks to the efforts of the government, my property will be guarded against theft, robbery, fraudulent taking and vandalism. This increases the present value of my property. As long as the present value of my expected payments

        When I pay property insurance premiums, eventually I will pay as much total in premiums as my house was worth to start. This does not mean that insurance premiums constitute a total taking of my home. Since the insurance guards against the risk of damage to my property due to fire, flood, etc, it is guarding my property against a particular type of depreciation. Insurance They do, in practice, tend to constitute a total taking, though, because insurance companies try to make a profit and price premiums so that they will. Most still purchase insurance though because we are risk averse. But one can imagine a mismanaged insurance company where the risk is priced too low. In this case, by entering into this contract I am actually increasing the value of my property. Similarly, property taxes do not necessarily constitute a total taking of my property if they are priced low enough.

      • Kevin Nowell:
        You keep using that word, “taking”. But I don’t think it means what you think it means. You just keep circling the rhetorical drain by suggesting that the taking is justified, because entropy also “takes”, and because a property owner frequently chooses (or not) to expend resources against entropy.

        But I am (again) still on the fence myself as to whether or not property tax is justified, in at least some rather ordinary-looking circumstances. Whether or not a total taking is justified is a distinct question from the mathematical fact that a property tax is in fact a total (and more) taking.

        The assertion is simply that if a total taking of an owner’s home by the sovereign in ordinary circumstances is morally wrong, then property tax is morally wrong. That property tax in fact levies the total value of the property over time is not really disputable: it is a manifest fact of arithmetic, and I don’t know how to have a discussion with people who reject manifest facts of arithmetic.

        Mathematically, with a property tax the sovereign takes away (a “taking”), from the owner, the entire value of the property over time. That isn’t really an arguable point. That you believe the sovereign to be justified in taking the entire value of the property over time (because of entropy, X, Y, and Z) doesn’t change the mathematical fact that property tax (unlike other, one-time taxes like sales and income taxes) in fact involves the sovereign “taking” the entire value of the property over time.

        That entropy makes everything deteriorate and we all die in the end is true, as is the fact that the sovereign does some things that help property owners fight the inevitable tide of entropy (and some things which do the opposite). But those are entirely distinct points — red herrings. They may or may not justify the sovereign in taking literally the entire value of his home from the owner over the course of time.

        But if a total taking by the sovereign in ordinary circumstances is always morally wrong, then property taxes are always morally wrong.

      • OK. I see that I am considering a different thing than you. You are keeping the fact that the government will continue to provide its legal function constant. I concede that, in this case, you are correct that it constitutes a total taking of the value of the property over time.

        I, though, was considering the property tax and government-provided justice as a package deal. If I buy a property I cannot divorce the price I pay from the value that law and order provides nor can I divorce it from the cost that property taxes impose.

        Do you also consider income taxes unjust? If not, then why is the right to keep property one already owns more important than the right to keep all of the property my labor creates?

      • The ontological difference between a property tax and (say) an income tax is akin to the ontological difference between a hole in the bottom of a bucket and a one-time scooping out of a portion of what is in the bucket.

        Folks may or may not believe this ontological difference to have moral implications when it comes to the sovereign’s authority to tax, of course. Some folks may believe it is morally licit for the sovereign to perpetually tap the bottom of every property-bucket in every circumstance, and some may believe that the sovereign’s authority is limited to scooping out a limited portion of what is in a given property bucket. (This weighs especially heavily when the property in question is the family/owner’s home, livelihood e.g. farm, etc).

        But is is impossible to even discuss the moral implications with folks who refuse to clearly acknowledge the ontological difference.

      • We cross-posted, but, fortuitously, my comment addresses the difference between property taxes and income/sales taxes.

      • I’d say the difference between a property tax and an income tax is more akin to a hole in the bottom of a bucket and a hole in the bottom of the scoop I must use to put stuff into the bucket; but, I do acknowledge that difference.

      • Kevin Nowell:

        I’d say the difference between a property tax and an income tax is more akin to a hole in the bottom of a bucket and a hole in the bottom of the scoop I must use to put stuff into the bucket; but, I do acknowledge that difference.

        The ontological difference is that sales and income taxes are a one-time partial levy against a piece of property (that particular paycheck, say). Property taxes are a perpetual levy against the same piece of property.

        This is not a trivial difference, whatever one thinks of the moral implications.

        In order to make a one-time payment of $1000, you need $1000. In order to make a perpetual payment of $50 you need a portfolio of productive assets worth at least $1000, the good luck to not have that portfolio wiped out by misfortune, and the perpetual work involved in looking after it and keeping it productive.

        This is why most lottery winners die broke: because they fail to understand the difference between one-time costs in already-liquid transactions and a perpetual drain on current and future (often highly illiquid) assets.

        The sovereign is more than capable of doing what he needs to do by taxing transactions/economic activity, valued in his currency. Property taxes are a different animal altogether: a perpetual taking of (more than) the value of already-owned property. In effect the sovereign really owns the property and charges “owners” rent in perpetuity.

        And again, when and whether this is ever justified or not is an entirely different question from the ontological differences between kinds of taxes.

      • Yes I see that difference and acknowledge that this is not a trivial difference. I knew that question was irrelevant, yet I posed it anyway. Mea culpa.

        I guess the question comes down to an understanding of what the right to property is. I say that as with all rights it comes with certain obligations. One of those being the obligation to protect those rights and that property. A sovereign can do this on his own. All others have an obligation to pay their governor to do it. If one owns property that one cannot afford to be a good steward for by paying for its protection, then I see nothing fundamentally wrong with being forced to part with that property so that a good steward can take one’s place. (Except, of course, in cases of charity with small, poor farmers whose sole income comes from the land and other charity exceptions).

      • Yes, it does indeed come down to an understanding of what property is, and also of what good stewardship is and what sovereignty is. That is a long conversation, but just for example you seem to be assuming that good stewardship of property necessarily and always means using it to produce income. That seems to
        me to be a pretty anemic, modern, utilitarian view of property – again just as an example.

        Generally speaking I would suggest that not a few people approach this subject (as others e.g. usury) with a lot of unexamined assumptions layered over a very modern metaphysic. I know that I did for a long time, and that like Kristor I still pull those weeds from the garden of my own mind.

      • I don’t believe that good stewardship “necessarily and always implies using it to produce income”; but, that if you use it for private use then you’d better have alternative sources of income or if you preserve it for the public good then that can be decided on a case by case basis and have an exception to the general property tax (i.e. church properties, public parks, preserved wildland, etc).

      • Well, like I suggested upthread, you seem to me to have a very narrow view of all sorts of things and appear to be mostly unaware of it.

      • 2. The more property a person owns, the more the state can expect to have to pay out in resources to defend that person’s property and prosecute violators of that person’s property rights therefore by the principle of commutative justice the person who owns more property should pay more than one who owns less.

        The state spends literally no resources whatsoever to protect your property. It is settled law that there exists no individual, particular right to state protection of even their own life and limb, let alone property. The Supreme Court ruled firmly that even in the case of a violent felony being committed against you and the police having been notified, you possess no claim against the police if they fail–for any reason–to render assistance.

        Now I ask you if that sounds like actually paying for a service or deriving a halo effect for your property merely by virtue of the threat that the police would **likely** respond in the event of being notified.

        It is implausible for the state to raise enough revenue without employing some combination of income taxes, property taxes, or head taxes. Income taxes discourage productive labor and therefore are destructive to virtue and to economic productivity.

        As I noted on Zippy’s blog, my state (Virginia) only spends 6% of state revenue on all law enforcement functions. It spends significant multiples of that on public education and health subsidies. Whatever you may think of the virtue or lack thereof of those expenditures, the indisputable fact remains that the core peacekeeping function of our state government could likely be accomplished by the revenue raised from just our sales tax.

  11. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/06/07) | The Reactivity Place

  12. Income taxes are the least offensive type. It is the only tax that can maintain the dual principle of “ability to pay” with “equitably applied”, as long as it is applied at a uniform rate.

    The tax does not discourage productivity. The basic premise of the tax is that we must all do something, we must be productive at some basic level. If the tax is applied at a uniform rate, it will not discourage productivity: if my pre-tax income increases by 20%, my after-tax income will also increase by 20%.

    Tax rates that increase as income increases (i.e. “progressive” taxes) may in fact discourage productivity at the margins.

    • All taxes discourage the thing being taxed. If the tax is low enough it might not discourage it enough to change behavior; but, one can use the reductio ad absurdum and imagine an extremely high income tax to see that they do in fact discourage productivity.

      We all do something for our daily bread, and the poor will have to continue to work no matter what the income tax level. In fact, a high income tax might actually encourage them to work more since they need to survive. But a high income tax will be much more likely to discourage a rich person whose labor is highly valued by the economy from working.

      And I don’t think an uniform income tax is as equitable as a wealth or total property tax. Think of a wealthy young man who inherited a large fortune and spends his time living in luxury and opulence and does not engage in productive labor. Now compare him with a poor young man who is trying to raise himself and his family out of poverty. It is fair for the second man to pay more in taxes than the first? The first is more able to pay, is receiving more value from the government in the protection of his goods, and yet is paying less because he is just squandering his wealth rather than trying to increase yet. This does not seem fair to me.

      Wealth is the true measure of ability to pay, not income.

      • Why do you want to discourage wealth, since you admit that all taxes discourage the thing taxed and that wealth is the “true measure” of ability to pay? Also, assessing taxes on wealth is far more complex and involves far more intrusion and discretion on the part of the collector – exactly what we want to avoid.

        Most importantly, we shouldn’t have a tax based on envy, and that seems to be your motive with your wealthy young man example. The idle rich man is perforce quite productive because his bank accounts are productive – even if he personally isn’t. And why let an outlier ruin a good plan?

      • Scott, the reason I would prefer a tax on wealth to income is not just because of that outlier case. That was just one example. An income tax also discourages turning otherwise unproductive assets into productive ones.

        Suppose you own many different properties and one is a property with particularly good duck hunting. You rarely use it and are considering building a lodge on it so that others can enjoy it. You expect to make a profit. You value your use of the land now at $7,000 a year. After making your business plan and researching the market, you expect the lodge to make $10,000 a year after expenses. Now imagine that the income tax rate is 35%. So after taxes you would only clear $6,500. Well now its not worth it for you. So you decide just to keep it for yourself. In the case of a wealth or property tax, it does make sense to go ahead and turn it into a public hunting lodge and you provide the public with a service that they enjoy.

        I don’t know that a tax on wealth is that difficult to implement. Banks already must report the amount of interest they pay to account holders, they could just as easily report levels of accounts. Its easy enough to keep track of who owns which stocks, bonds, funds, etc. Real property must be registered already. Same with vehicles, boats, and other high-value property.

        I wouldn’t say a tax on wealth is based on envy. I’d say rather that a tax on wealth is based in commutative and distributive justice.

        It is based in commutative justice because the total stock of property a person owns more directly correlates to the value they receive from the government’s protection of said property, so it is a more equal exchange of value.

        It is based in distributive justice because the total amount of wealth a person has more directly correlates to the amount of tax they can pay than their income.

      • And I don’t think an uniform income tax is as equitable as a wealth or total property tax. Think of a wealthy young man who inherited a large fortune and spends his time living in luxury and opulence and does not engage in productive labor. Now compare him with a poor young man who is trying to raise himself and his family out of poverty. It is fair for the second man to pay more in taxes than the first? The first is more able to pay, is receiving more value from the government in the protection of his goods, and yet is paying less because he is just squandering his wealth rather than trying to increase yet.

        If a man who is living a lifestyle based entirely on consumption is paying substantially less than a poor, productive worker then that is entirely the fault of the government and its tax system. They’re missing ample opportunities to make him pay via excise taxes, particularly luxury taxes. There’s nothing immoral about applying a special tax to an Italian sports car that is not applied to a Honda Civic; a rich man can easily afford to pay a 10-15% additional excise tax on a $200k car.

        This does not seem fair to me

        Life itself is not fair. The poor man could have no genetic predispositions to disease and such. The rich man could have a genetic predisposition to poor health. Is it fair that the rich man could die at 50 from cancer and never see his grandkids into their teens while the poor man dies a great grandfather at 90?

        At the end of the day, a rational tax system will have those with more property to protect paying a higher percentage of taxes in no small part because their productivity which leads to property acquisition will also fuel the treasury. One could also point out that the poor are also disproportionately the cause for police, criminal courts and prisons… to say nothing of drug rehab, emergency room visits for stupid and irresponsible stuff, etc.

  13. A synthetic view – I think consistent with the OP – is that the familial sovereign’s title to taxes is similar to the poor’s title to bread. In neither case does this represent, under ordinary conditions, a justification for taking the entire value of an owner’s home. Property taxes however are, mathematically, a taking of the entire value of an owner’s home over a defined period of time (e.g. a 10% property tax represents a total taking over a 10 year period).

  14. Another prudential reason to oppose property taxes is that they encourage treating all property as liquid and fungible, discouraging ownership of anything illiquid and making ownership of illiquid things into something less than real ownership.

    Property taxes are like the sovereign’s version of usury: the sovereign demands a fixed percentage repeatedly every tax period until the owner is destitute, independent of the owner’s actual fortunes during the period. The sovereign doesn’t care about the owner’s fortunes a bit: he just demands his pound of flesh every year.

    Transaction taxes (sales, income, VAT, etc) on the other hand are one-time levies directly tied to the activities and fortunes of the person taxed — including property owners, because property owners who work, invest, and buy goods and services in the inevitable struggle against entropy pay transaction taxes when they do those things.

    Property tax in contrast is not merely a form of economic double-jeopardy: it is a form of economic infinite-jeopardy.

    None of this excuses the property owner from his duty to steward his property well for the sake of the common good and those more directly in his care, of course — just as the sovereign’s authority does not excuse him from his duty to rule over his subjects well for the sake of the common good and those directly subject to him.

    But it seems to me that deposing kings and stripping owners of all of their property (even when you rent it back to them) are serious matters requiring serious reasons, not to be undertaken in the ordinary course of things. That’s why I think the comparison of the sovereign’s title to already-owned private property (as distinct from transactions) is like the poor man’s title to bread. I don’t think it is surprising that folks who are fond of democracy often tend to be fond of property taxes: they both reflect inherently cavalier modern attitudes about authority — kingship and ownership are both forms of authority.

  15. Pingback: Property taxes: sovereign usury? | Zippy Catholic

  16. Kristor: “Illogismoi” is a good try, but it mixes Latin with Greek; kakologismoi is my recommendation – “really bad [literally, ‘crappy’] ideas.” Singular: kakologismos.

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