Rand Paul: “If we tax you at 50%, you are half slave, half free”

Rand Paul didn’t have much to say in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality. He did not issue a statement the day the ruling was issued, staying silent until the following week. Even then, writing in an op-ed in Time, his position was the typical Evangelibertarian talking point: commitment both to marriage being between one man and one woman and the idea that the government shouldn’t prevent people from entering into contracts.

Of course, Paul would rather not talk about marriage because it isn’t in his wheelhouse. His position on marriage draws lukewarm responses at best in both primary and general electorates. Getting the government out of the marriage business altogether, as he would have us do, doesn’t pack the theological punch necessary to engage conservatives, who absolutely do want the government involved in deciding who you’re eligible to marry. It also doesn’t square with the legal framework surrounding marriage, which makes the position tenuous at best in a general election setting.

No, Paul would much rather talk about his “fair and flat” tax plan, which he released in April. To be clear, this plan is neither fair nor flat; despite Paul’s claims to the contrary, it keeps major loopholes while taking a far greater “tax bite” from lower-income workers. It would also carve out a $15 trillion hole in the federal budget over the next decade.

That isn’t the point, though. To hear Paul tell it, drastically lowering tax rates has little to do with whether it would improve outcomes for those it affects and more to do with the philosophy of taxes in general — well, at least Paul’s philosophy of taxes in general. From Buzzfeed:

Rand Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

Rand Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, speaking last week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said he believes a 50% tax rate leaves individuals “half-slave, half-free.”

…“I’m for paying some taxes,” continued Paul. “But if we tax you at 100% then you’ve got zero percent liberty. If we tax you at 50% you are half slave, half free. I frankly would like to see you a little freer and a little more money remaining in your communities so you can create jobs. It’s a debate we need to have.”

Paul also cited Thomas Paine to call government a “necessary evil.”

The very way in which Paul phrases the structure of taxation shows how badly he misunderstands the basic principle behind the justification for and proper use of taxes. The implication behind pegging your degree of slavery to your degree of taxation is that taxes are, by definition, involuntary. And by framing taxes as something that someone else does — “if we tax you at 100% then you’ve got zero percent liberty” — he rips apart the social contract altogether.

Paul’s a fan of theorizing about why and how states exist, so game on:

In his Leviathan, Hobbes described the state of nature — a world before laws — as being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. People in the state of nature quickly realize that, while they can only use as many resources as they can hold and defend when acting as individuals, they can band together in groups and gain greater utility by acting collectively. I help you — maybe I give you food or help you defend your food from an attacker — on the assumption that you will do the same for me down the road. Continued reciprocity generates trust and social capital, but reciprocal action is vulnerable to cheating; I can choose not to return a favor and reap benefits at little to no immediate cost.

In the business community, cheating (failing to honor a contract, for example) is either rewarded by being ignored or punished by a lawsuit, along with other businesses being wary of entering into similar agreements. That doesn’t work in a society, though; citizens are constantly forced into collective situations, but are unable to choose whether to buy the product offered by the state without leaving it altogether. Governments are set up to manage the incentives and constraints that deal with larger-scale reciprocal actions to prevent failure to reciprocate.

So Paul is right to imply that if the Internal Revenue Service was abolished tomorrow and taxes became optional next April, no one would pay. Of course, disaster would ensue when our society would be unable to maintain its military, schools, highway construction and other basic governmental functions. While all of society is obviously better off when taxes are collected, few members pay their dues willingly. Therefore, government is required to impose collective action.

However, that imposition isn’t “slavery,” it’s the general will superseding individual interest. The government isn’t a singular, whip-holding, personified master; the government is us. We, together, by nature of being citizens, have entered into a social contract in which we agree to reciprocate in order to do more together than we could on our own. In this sense, the government doesn’t “own” us to the tune of whatever our highest marginal tax rate happens to be; we commit to each other.

Necessary? Absolutely. Evil? Only if you don’t like community.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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25 Responses to “Rand Paul: “If we tax you at 50%, you are half slave, half free””

  1. cinorjer says:

    “If only half the time you open your mouth something stupid comes out, you are still a hundred percent idiot.”

    You may quote me.

  2. 2karmanot says:

    Randbot swarm

  3. charade says:

    I comment with my own mind heart and words.The truth is the truth. playing with the race card which is increase and create more hatred among Us We The People. The eternal dream came true to our Leaders and Media they are so happy seeing us in conflict with each other, and this’s a evidence……Have a great day.

  4. So, now Freedom is free?

  5. nicmart says:

    Does that contradict what I wrote? Not that I can see.

  6. nicmart says:

    Well, then we should forgive him for the enormous number of lives ruined by his DOJ and DEA.

  7. zeke says:

    Excellent response!

  8. Jon Green says:

    not for nothing, Obama’s said some pretty encouraging things on marijuana lately: http://www.ibtimes.com/obama-marijuana-legalization-congress-could-reschedule-pot-more-states-decriminalize-1849042

  9. kstech7 says:

    So what ! Eventually a clear majority of people will vote for bread and circuses too, free lunches and anything goes, leading us to our own demise.

  10. kstech7 says:

    All is hear is the wind blowing.

  11. Indigo says:

    Burning question: is a troll paid by the hour or by the word?

  12. Jim Shier says:

    This is how the left needs to answer something for which they have no answer – a candidate from the other side, has the ability to reach over and have Democrats and Independents flock to him in droves…and it drives them crazy!!! When he finally gets on the debate stage with Hillary and shows the country that he can offer more fairness and prosperity and less war…it is over before it has begun! He has pretty much most of what the American people want and those of us who can see it are a tireless group of individuals who won’t rest until he has the nomination and ultimately The White House. Rand Paul is at the head of a movement. Who else can say that? No one! President Paul 2016!

  13. Cody Wendt says:

    Green’s tone of condescension and intellectual superiority toward Paul is belied by the weakness and obtuseness of the actual argument he offers after spending more than half of the article heaping rhetorical scorn on his subject. He begins by citing “Leviathan”– in which Thomas Hobbes used the postulated “nasty, brutish, and short” state of nature as a justification *for totalitarian government of unlimited powers*– but starting with the very next sentence and continuing through the end of that paragraph, he segues into what is more like an unattributed (and somewhat skewed) summary of John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government,” which offer a radically different (and far more libertarian) conception of the social contract from Hobbes’. Locke (on whose theses, let it be noted, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are largely based) held that people band together into a state of society, not so that “the general will can supersede individual interest,” but to defend and secure the pre-existing natural rights (life, liberty, and estate, all of which cannot morally be arbitrarily taken) of the individual from the depradations of neighbors or foreigners, and that taxation is justified to the extent that it is necessary to thus defend natural rights. This establishes a sharply limited government of specific ends and powers, which becomes illegitimate and oppressive when it exceeds its boundaries and directs its energy toward violating natural rights instead of defending them (as, among other things, a great many Progressive “collective action” policies certainly do).

    I am not a slave under such a social contract of limited and pre-specified terms whereby I surrender a small portion of my substance for the sake of the protection of the rest, along with my life and liberty. On the other hand, an arrangement under which a governing authority may effectively take as much of my substance as it sees fit, for whatever purpose it sees fit (or so long as it cites some theoretically positive goal)– including purposes which are in themselves directly destructive of my natural rights– is indeed wrong according to the same principle by which slavery is wrong. The fact that a collective, rather than another individual, is asserting an arbitrary, generalized plenary power to coercively disregard the individual’s natural claim over his or her self and labors simply does not whitewash the act of oppression. Chattel slavery itself, as the law of the land and a State-protected institution, once reflected the “general will” superseding the individual interests of the slaves, whose coerced and stolen labors were, in fact, instrumental in maintaining the economy and were thus held to serve the common good, but the institution was nevertheless a moral evil ***because it utterly disregarded the natural rights of the slaves.***

    Now, note that I am *not* claiming that modern Americans– who live under a large and oppressive federal government which devours their substance at an alarming rate and uses its overblown budget to violate their rights in a plethora of ways– are the practical or moral *equivalent* of chattel slaves, who were under far worse material oppression and moral grievance. Rather, their grievances fall under the same basic moral principle that justifies grievance against slavery, in the same way that, for example, American women who protest unjust local dress ordinances are aggrieved under the same principle as are foreign women who protest being forced to wear burkhas. “X% taxation=X% slavery” is certainly an oversimplification, but as it is a stump speech talking point appealing to a general principle and not the thesis of a rigorous academic paper, I think this can be forgiven.

  14. nicmart says:

    Democracy endures because voters are endlessly credulous. Imagine all the Dems having had an epiphany in the past few years that gays deserved to legally affirm their love. Maybe they will also eventually discover that their constituents don’t deserve to be jailed for ingesting marijuana — when the polls show that 70 percent of the people believe that.

  15. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    You realize that the rest of us can’t hear the voices in your head, right? I’ve looked around, and I can’t see where you said anything about not playing the race card. Perhaps you said it to one of your head buddies.

    BTW – proofreading can be your friend.

  16. charade says:

    And a few years ago, a lot of people believed in slavery. Some still do, but the rest of the world has moved on –… And you should do to!!!!! like i said stop playing the race card please!!!!!!!!!!!!……Good that Senator Rand Paul keep given us more reason to vote for him.Go Paul for President 2016.

  17. nicho says:

    And a few years ago, a lot of people believed in slavery. Some still do, but the rest of the world has moved on — and so should Paul.

    The problem with anyone in the Paul clan is that whenever they talk, they make sense for about five minutes — suckering in the weak minded. Then, the go completely off the rails.

  18. Indigo says:

    I am beginning to doubt that Rand Paul’s proclamations are anything more than the hot air coming out of a wind bag. He doesn’t have a whole lot of coherence going, and he does have a sufficient number of misunderstandings about taxation, government accountability, and the relationships between people to disqualify him from serious consideration, let alone the veneration offered by essays attempting to decode his message. There is no message. There is hot air and nothing more beyond the adulation of nihilists.

  19. Jon Green says:

    It doesn’t. Democrats were on the wrong side of government involvement in marriage years ago, and then they gradually shifted. First with half-measures like civil unions and defensive opposition to state-level marriage amendments, and then with support for marriage equality. Paul’s position — that the Court is wrong to invalidate the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman while at the same time arguing that the government shouldn’t be involved at all — is self-contradictory and fantastical. It conflates the secular, legal rights afforded to married couples by the state with the religious service that often accompanies that legal event, which then allows him to (incorrectly) say that the government has infringed on religious liberties.

    In other words, Paul both wants the Courts to recognize a religious definition of marriage AND to get rid of the legal framework surrounding marriage — starting with tax breaks but extending to hospital visitation rules, inheritance and custody rights. Not sure that lines up with any major Democratic figure of late.

  20. 2karmanot says:

    Didn’t Mencken go on to say that missionary meat was stringy, sour and didn’t taste like chicken at all?

  21. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I think I got your point. I just think it’s more important to be able to make an appropriate change instead of being unable to reconsider previous held beliefs. We can guess at the politician’s motivation, but we don’t usually know their thinking. I really don’t have much faith in politicians.

  22. nicmart says:

    I think you miss the point. This is comparable to slavery abolition, and the Dems were on the wrong side until it became politically expedient.

    “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” –H. L. Mencken

  23. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    There’s probably not a lot of difference, but we are not living a few years ago.

    I’m certain that Barney Frank didn’t feel that way in recent years.

  24. nicmart says:

    How does Paul’s view on SSM compared to those of leading Democrats a few years ago?

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