Shoot the B*tch?

Consider a lady called Phoebe.

Notwithstanding a few flaws and foibles, Phoebe is basically a decent person. She leads a contented and well-adjusted life, working hard, but equally enjoying the fruits of her labour. Happily, the work she does benefits others: we know this because they keep paying her to do it. That work, moreover, involves nothing immoral. Thus, Phoebe makes an honest living. And it’s a good living. Each year, she earns a handsome income, testifying to how much she has benefited others.

Every year, too, an institution called government—democratically elected by a majority of voting citizens—commands her to contribute to its coffers some portion of her honestly earned income, specifically, whatever it unilaterally determines to be the appropriate price for the services it renders onto Phoebe and her fellow citizens. This portion typically amounts to about 30% of Phoebe’s income. Every year to date, Phoebe has dutifully complied with this command.

This year, however, Phoebe has chosen to defy the command.

Phoebe has her reasons. Many of them eminently defensible. Some are even widely endorsed. For example, she holds that the government misspends much or most of the money that it manages, carelessly casting it hither and thither, using it principally to bribe the electorate, and only secondarily to aid the deserving. She also holds that the government, through its reckless policies of progressive monetary debasement and sovereign debt accumulation, may well be setting the stage for an eventual and catastrophic economic collapse. She furthermore holds that people in government generally consist of a motley crew of box-ticking bureaucrats, insufferable narcissists, and power-hungry opportunists—none of whom deserve her fiscal tribute.

So this year, Phoebe has alternative plans for the 30% of her income that she has heretofore relinquished. Some of these plans are selfish—like going on holiday to the destination of her dreams. Others are selfless—like paying for a poor friend to have a much needed operation. At all events, she has made up her mind: she is not, under any circumstances, going to comply with government’s command that she give up 30% of her earnings.

At some deep level, she regards her earnings as entirely hers—not anybody else’s—which means nothing more or nothing less than that she, and not anyone else, gets to decide what should done with those earnings. What else could the “her” in “her earnings” mean? Has she really been earning other people’s money, and not her own, for 30% of the time she has been working, every year? Try as she might, Phoebe just cannot get her head around this strange idea, any more than she can get her head around the strange idea (which she read on a bizarre blog one day) that her 30% of her sexual life might belong to someone else, rather than entirely to herself.

Phoebe duly informs the relevant governmental authorities, by formal letter, that she is refusing to pay the taxes they demand of her. As a courtesy, she gives her main reasons, and outlines her alternative financial plans.

Some weeks later, Phoebe receives a formal reply in writing. In that reply, she is warned of the severe consequences that would attend going ahead with her proposed illegal course of action. Unless she pays the amount specified, and by the date specified, she will have to pay yet more. Moreover, if she still refuses to pay the principal and the penalties, a band of men in suits will come, with an authorising document, and attempt to confiscate some of her property. Furthermore, if she gets in the way of these men taking her valuable property, another band of men will come—this time with uniforms, badges, and guns—and attempt to subdue her by force. In the event of her continuing to resist physically—say by parrying the aggressive force used to subdue her with a matching defensive force of her own—the level of force used to subdue her may be progressively escalated, such that the risk of her being injured or killed comes to markedly exceed zero. One way or another, sufficient force will be applied such that she will be rendered harmless. If she is still alive, she will then be conveyed to a cage for a lengthy spell. Many of her neighbours in nearby cages will be sociopaths, some of whom will have been convicted of stealing from and/or physically assaulting other innocent human beings—sometimes as part of an organised gang of thugs engaging in extortion.

Phoebe ignores the formal reply.

One month later, a band of men in suits duly come by her house, and demand entry. Phoebe doesn’t let them in: she keeps the front door shut and locked. Their verbal demands going unheeded, the men in suits instruct one of their burly assistants to break down the front door with a battering ram. But Phoebe anticipates them by opening the door and brandishing a large club a menacing manner. (Not for nothing is she nicknamed “Feisty Phoebe”!) Unaccustomed to dealing with such self-possessed and indomitable ladies, the men in suits scarper, shouting back indignantly that they will report this outrage to the police, and that there will be a heavy price to pay.

Early the next morning, as promised, another band of men appear outside Phoebe’s house. Their metallic badges glint ominously in the crepuscular light. They have come for her and her property. Phoebe, however, does not intend to let them take either. For her, it’s just the principle of the thing. This time round, the men readily breach her front door, and flood ferociously into her house. They have guns in their hands—portable machines designed to propel bits of metal at great speed into human flesh. They point their guns at her, and tell her she has to come with them—or else. Phoebe knows going with them means going to the cage, and leaving her property behind for the taking. But there are too many men, carrying too powerful weapons, to repel. So she tries to flee. At the backdoor of the house, however,she encounters a large man already waiting for her, blocking her exit. The man lunges at her, toppling her over, and pinning her to the floor. Another man arrives, and attempts to put handcuffs on Phoebe, so as to render her defenceless. But Phoebe still has a free hand. She reaches for a knife in her pocket, and strives desperately to stab the man on top of her, to get him off her. She succeeds: he screams, bleeds, lets her go. The other man, seeing his colleague stabbed, takes no chances: he draws his gun and fires at Phoebe. The bullet strikes her head, enters her brain, and kills her.

Question: In this scenario, whose side are you on?

Did Phoebe, by shirking her obligations to a preposterously unreasonable degree, have it coming? Did she, by her perverse intransigence, culpably predetermine her own demise? Are people like Phoebe—who do not give when the government says that they must, preferring to satisfy private desires rather than public ones—so unforgivably selfish, or so socially pernicious, that they must, if push comes to shove, be liquidated?

Alternatively, do you suspect that there might be something amiss with Phoebe’s largely sealed fate at the hands of the state, should she have the audacity to act as if her earnings were entirely her own? Would you be personally prepared, as a human being, to hurt Phoebe, and if necessary to kill her, if she adamantly refused to materially support some society-wide endeavour to the degree that some of her fellow citizens said she should? Or would you only be prepared to countenance such violence if an organisation called democratic government—which supposedly gains its legitimacy from the Divine Right of the Masses—does your dirty work for you? In other words, are you guilty of a form of indirect and cowardly psychopathy towards your fellow human beings, unless they do the bidding of the sovereign power you happen to identify with? Are you essentially prepared to condemn your fellow human beings to extortion, incarceration, or even execution by proxy, just because you lack either the imagination or courage to conceive of an alternative to the status quo? Are you as morally blinkered today as supporters of slavery were in their time—blithely but falsely taking yourself to be a decent human being—when you are in fact fatally morally compromised?

Is Phoebe completely right and you completely wrong?

Nah. Just shoot the b*tch.


  1. Gough (0riel Oxford) in his book on John Locke (published almost 70 years ago now) points out how slippery John Locke is in his move from INDIVIDUAL consent to taxation and MAJORITY consent to taxation. In the Middle Ages, Gough points out, the distinction between individual consent and majority consent was well understood (the old texts that Locke studied as a student and a scholar were quite clear that individual and majority consent were different things – but Locke totally conflates them) .

    Also the tradition that the “King should live off his own” (i.e. that the government should be small enough to be financed by the profits of the Royal landed estates) is absent in Locke – taxation, not in exceptional circumstances such as invasion, but as a normal thing is ASSUMED in Locke. It is also ASSUMED in Locke that Parliament (the “legislature”) should MAKE law – rather than law be discovered (justice found) by individual cases before judge and jury (as with the Common Law tradition). In short John Locke is more like a Classical Greek or Roman writer than a Medieval English one.

    In American States in the Founding Era (indeed up to modern times) taxation was limited (mostly) to the land tax and only land owners had the vote – including in some States (such as New Jersey) female landowners (this has been shoved down the “Memory Hole” – few people know that female property owners once had the vote). Federal taxation (other than the tariff on imports) was almost entirely absent from the time of President Jefferson to the 20th century (the Civil War aside) – so America was the land where “the tax collector is not seen” – but that is all forgotten now.

    “But why should a property owner even pay a local property tax even if only property owners have the vote – this still conflates individual and majority consent!”

    I do not deny the force of the anarachocapitalist argument – I just doubt that perfection is to be had in this world.

    As for Britain – perhaps the low point of central government taxation was 1874 (there was free trade, very few excise taxes – and income tax was TINY and only paid by a handful of people), and the low point of local property taxes may well have been about 1869-1870 – before the Education Act of 1870 and the Disraeli local government Act of 1875 started to shove local taxation up and up.

    In France the high point of freedom (the low point of taxation and so on) was certainly 1869 – under the much attacked Napoleon III.

    The German and Italian lands? “Unification” (from the end of the 1850s onwards) led to an increase of taxation and other forms of statism (such as conscription and language and religious persecution).

    It should be remembered that even as late as 1928 all Federal taxation in America put together only amounted to about 3% (three per cent) of the economy. And adding in State and local taxation only shoved this to 12% of the economy (again all taxes – not just income taxes).

    Even as late as 1950 total taxation and government spending in the United States (Federal, State and local) was still under a quarter of the economy. And government regulations did not require vast buildings to store them all in – making it is impossible for the people to even know what “the law” is, let alone obey it. As Ayn Rand pointed out (echoing Tacitus) – governments like endless laws, as endless laws means that we-the-people are ALL criminals (the government can destroy any of us, at any time, simply by punishing us for breaking one of the endless “laws” of which “ignorance is no excuse” for breaking).

    With something like nine tenths of the economy remaining out of the hands of the government things seemed, if not just, at least tolerable in 1928 – that is NOT the case today (even in the United States).

    The sociologist T. Parsons argued that in the 1950s the United States was a “functional” society – “functional NOT good” replies the anarchcapitalist (or even the Classical Liberal – as in the 1950s America was already a big government society).

    However, the “liberal” Big Government “reforms” of the 1960s to the present day (SUPPORTED by the Parsons) have made the United States radically “dysfunctional” in everything from health care to housing – and all large countries in the West are now so Big Government that they are radically “dysfunctional”.

    There will either be a roll back of statism – or there will be a collapse of civilisation, a collapse into a new Dark Age.



  2. Thank you for your typically erudite comment, Paul. It’s an article in itself! I’m always struck by how little historical detail I know in comparison.

    You stated:

    “I do not deny the force of the anarachocapitalist argument – I just doubt that perfection is to be had in this world.”

    Is the abolition of taxation really tantamount to achieving perfection? I still think we’d be a long way off!

    I would, of course, agree that the abolition of taxation is highly unrealistic in the short-term in most jurisdictions.

    In general, however, I don’t see any contradiction between asserting what is ethically right in principle while striving to achieve what possible in practice.

    What I think is fallacious is inferring that the impossibility of achieving some end in practice necessarily implies the its ethical desirability in principle is suspect. It might imply it—because a scheme might be genuinely Utopian (cf. communism). But whether a tax-free ideal is Utopian under all conditions is far from certain, although I think that the conditions would be quite strict.



    1. Let us walk together down the road whose logical end would be no taxation at all A,A, (I do not know your real name) – I may doubt (I do doubt) whether the end of the road can be reached, but I am happy to walk down that road with you as far as we can go.

      In a military march one does not ask people whether they can march to some distant place (the answer would always be “no, that is impossible”) one says “walk with me over this hill – and let us see how far we can go together” – when the helicopters were destroyed in the Falklands War in 1982 (by the ship they were on being destroyed) then men ended up walking all the way to Port Stanley (from the other side of the island) “not possible” if one thinks in terms of the whole march, but possible if one thinks of putting one foot in front of the other – and then again, and again. Any enterprise (not just military enterprise) that says “forward” rather than “follow me” is worthless.

      Of course I am a pathetic moderate (who feels a thrill if I even stop taxes going UP) – but even pathetic moderates can dream, and people like yourself do not let us forget that the dream (the moral objective) should be to not take money by force at all, not just pat ourselves on the back for robbing people a bit less than our political opponents.



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