The modern world being the way it is, if you’re the sort who’d like to see the size of government decrease (no matter by how much) you’re likely to have heard variations on “If you don’t like it, leave” more times than you can remember. Usually it’s said with not only an air of self-satisfaction, but one of finality. So powerful is this phrase believed to be, that uttering it must render any further argument moot; it is the last word in any political controversy. Fortunately, this is indeed true.
I say fortunately because “if you don’t like it, leave” is a double-edged sword, and a pretty handy one, too. Don’t think the State should build more libraries? Go and live in a rainforest, then. Don’t think the government is building enough libraries? Okay, you know where the door is. Think the State is spending too much on single mothers? Go on, move to Somalia. Want the government to spend more on single mothers? Off you pop, what’s keeping you? Assuming – and it is a rather questionable assumption – that the point is valid in the one case, it must be valid in the opposite one; and likewise for every possible case where government acts or refrains from acting.
In short, all criticism of government is at an end. On principle the statist who would like his opponent to go into self-imposed exile must accept that the government can do whatever it likes – not limited to those things that he himself likes and wishes it would do. And, because he is a man of principle, he is duty bound to support the government every step of the way and even when it is standing still.
(Incidentally, there is a parallel non-argument, “if you like it so much, go there”. For instance, gays who aren’t happy that civilians in a country that criminalises homosexuality are being bombed by a country that doesn’t criminalise homosexuality are “stupid”, rather than simply able to distinguish between things that are clearly distinct.)
Now, of course the most common place to hear this type of thing is in arguments about taxation, this being the foundation of everything a government does. So, if you think tax rates, either in general or for particular groups, are too high… well, you should pack your bags and move somewhere else you selfish, heartless bastard.
But, as we have seen, the argument, if valid – and those who make it certainly think it is – cuts both ways. If complaints about taxes being too high are impermissible, so too must be complaints about taxes being too low. Unfortunately for our principled statist, then, neither could he object if the government were to increase the taxes of particular groups he happens to like even up to the level of total expropriation, nor could he object to it cutting the taxes of those whom he happens to dislike even down to zero. Throughout he would have to cheer the government on, whilst simultaneously rebuking any dissenters for their “immaturity”, “dogmatism”, and so on.
If this isn’t obvious to you, reader – and it wasn’t to me until last week – I would suggest that the reason is that we liberals have conditioned ourselves to be overly defensive. Consider the standard practice in arguments about whether or not tax is theft (and this applies to arguments between a man and himself, no less than “real” arguments). Usually the liberal will attempt to prove that the statist, contrary to his own belief, is a victim of the State. All well and good, of course, but not often a roaring success.
In fact, although convincing the statist that his being taxed is theft is far from impossible, it is far from necessary. All that is needed is to ‘prove’ that you do not consent to your money being taken from you. Now, this is a rather easy thing to do, given that that’s why the argument is happening in the first place. Moreover it serves to make the issue perfectly plain: whether or not you consent to my being taxed is completely irrelevant. Morally (and tax aficionados are nothing if not ‘moral’), “I don’t mind my money being taken from me” and “I don’t mind your money being taken from you,” are very different propositions. And “we don’t mind taking your money from you”, whilst certainly more democratic, is not necessarily more persuasive.