Voluntary Government and Taxes

I consider myself a panarchist, but I am open to other ways of governance in society.  It is a commonly mistaken belief that libertarians (particularly anarchists) do not believe in law.  It is just that some libertarians do not think that it is necessary to have government in order to have laws.  Every libertarians I know does not accept murder or theft in society.  It is just whether they think it should be handled by government or by private enterprise.

Libertarians generally advocate the non-aggression principle.  You are not supposed to use force or the threat of force, unless it is for defensive purposes.  But it has bothered me that it seems you cannot agree with this principle and be a minarchist (advocating very limited government) at the same time.  Even if the government were to only run the courts and police force, it would still need to collect taxes for this purpose.

I’ve been thinking about this though, and I see no reason that it wouldn’t be possible to have a government and have it funded through voluntary taxes only.  When Hollywood liberals talk about how their taxes should be higher, libertarians and conservatives often respond that they are free to write a check if they want to pay more.  We can say this mockingly, knowing almost nobody will knowingly pay more than they are legally required.  But we know this because taxes are so high already.

The federal government alone spends about 25% of national GDP right now.  State and local governments spend another good chunk.  If you live in a place like California or New York, you are easily paying over half of your income towards taxes in one form or another.  If some rich guy is already paying about 60% in taxes, do you really think he would ever voluntarily pay more?  Maybe you could convince one in ten thousand to pay extra.

Let’s imagine that we did live in a world designed by minarchists.  Let’s say that the government was only in charge of defending people and property and enforcing contracts.  It would need courts and police and maybe a few other minor things.  The total tax to fund this would be less than 1%.  If you put government in charge of roads also (which I don’t think is a good idea), maybe the total tax burden would be around 1% or even slightly higher.

If taxes were only around 1%, you could get most people to pay voluntarily.  You wouldn’t need to track people’s income and have them file forms.  People could simply send in money as they felt appropriate.  Perhaps a few big corporations or donors could pay for it all.  Maybe Coca-Cola and Toyota would donate large sums, just to put advertising on courthouses.  Or maybe they would just donate so that they could brag about funding our government, just for good public relations.

The possibilities are really endless.  The point is, you won’t get voluntary donations when people are already forking over half of their income because of the threat of force.  You don’t hand extra money over to a criminal if you don’t have to.  On the other hand, people donate to charity all the time.

There are other little things that are still debatable, even amongst libertarians.  What about jury duty?  Nobody should be forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, especially without some kind of a contract or agreement.  If someone refuses to serve on a jury, then maybe he doesn’t get the same benefits from the police and court system.  Or maybe there will be enough volunteers that it wouldn’t matter anyway.

We are miles away from this.  The details will be worked out if we ever get that close.  If we get down to a government that only protects people and property and enforces contracts, then the minarchists and panarchists and anarchists can argue all day long about the details.  But if the government were extremely limited, perhaps even I would be willing to pay a miniscule tax each year to fund it, even if it were completely voluntary.  We can all dream a little.