Taxation
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

What is it

How is taxation different from stealing? What right does the government have to take some of our money? No taxation without representation? What difference does representation make? John and Ken pay their dues with Barbara Fried from the Stanford Law School.

Listening Notes

What right does the government have to tax at all? What difference is there between taxes and theft? Taxes can be seen as fees for services, such as road construction. What justifies any taxation? What's the best tax scheme? Ken introduces Barbara Fried, professor of law at Stanford. Why should the government get any part of the profit from selling something I own? Fried says that it helps to think that we are in a joint venture with the government, so the government has a right to some of our money.

Why should the government get a part of, say, an athlete's fortune? Fried says that while the talent belongs to the athlete, the value he gets from it comes from the government. Is it legitimate for the government to use taxes to redistribute wealth? Fried says that a maximum income provides a powerful disincentive to working. A flat tax is a tax that requires everyone to pay the same percentage and a progressive tax requires different income groups to pay different percentages. Fried points out that even proponents of the flat tax include a progressive tax clause. Do programs funded by taxes primarily benefit the wealthy?

Should the tax rate be the same for everyone? John Stuart Mill supported the idea that the sacrifice everyone endures should be equalized. Ken counters that equal sacrifice would not make sense to a libertarian unless there was also equal benefit.  Fried argues that a good tax system has to balance disincentives created by taxation and goods made possible by tax revenue. Should corporations pay nothing in taxes while normal citizens pay a lot? 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:40): Amy Standen interviews Susan Quinlan, a woman who stopped paying her income taxes.
  • Conundrum (Seek to 48:00): Anna from San Francisco calls to ask if it is theft to create a realistic painting of public images, say, from photographs taken by someone else.

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Barbara Fried, William W. and Gertrude H. Saunders Professor of Law, Stanford University

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