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An Absurd Anti-Pigovian Argument

By July 2, 2008

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From Growthology:
we should aim to tax the bad things (noise, gasoline, trash, violent crime, evil foreign dictators) and untax the good things (homegrown profits, employment, innovation).
To which Three Sources responds:
I know there's plenty of tongue in cheek going on here, but this is truly the reductio ad absurdum that disproves the Pigou Club. The Government is put in charge of deciding what is good and what is bad. I do not trust them that far.
What the writer fails to realize is the deciding what is good and bad is exactly what government does. Every government decision naturally involves some subjective ethical decision. What the author is advocating here is not some limited government libertarian fantasy - he is advocating for anarchy. I will explain with an example:

Take four actors: Two individuals A and B, a government G, and taxpayer T.

A murders B and is found guilty in a trial. Goverment G throws individual A into prison. Both the prison and the trial are paid for by taxpayer T.

There are at least three "good or bad" decisions on rights here:
  1. Though shalt not kill. Or specifically the government has determined that the right for B not to be murdered trumps the right of A to go around stabbing people in the neck.

  2. The government G can take away the rights of A based on an incident between A and B.

  3. The government G can confiscate money from T because of what A did to B - a situation which had absolutely nothing to do with T.

If you object to governments deciding what is right and wrong, how can you possibly support laws against murder?


July 2, 2008 at 5:53 pm
(1) Gabriel says:

Oh, boy, this is wrong on so many levels…

Do you not see the difference between government exerting the mandate given to it by the constitution (for example), which can narrower or wider, and government being legitimate in forcing me at gun point to wear green shirts?

People used to acknowledge the existence of spheres of unconditional personal autonomy, and it was good. ;-)

July 2, 2008 at 7:17 pm
(2) economics says:

“Do you not see the difference between government exerting the mandate given to it by the constitution (for example)”

Maybe the difficulty here is that I’m from Canada, and as such I naturally have a Canadian perspective.

The U.S. constitution talks about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” whereas the Canadian one talks about “peace, order, and good government” (Section 91 of the British North America act).

“People used to acknowledge the existence of spheres of unconditional personal autonomy, and it was good.”…

Hey, I’m all for autonomy. I’m the guy arguing *for* stronger property rights in the pollution discussion.

July 3, 2008 at 2:27 am
(3) Jon says:

I’m not really following your argument, Gabriel. You seem to be disputing the scope of government authority, but I don’t really see that as the issue at hand. The Pigouvians aren’t, in my view, proposing any new government mandates, they simply want to do a better job of balancing the ones that already exist.

July 8, 2008 at 9:54 am
(4) robertdfeinman says:

All libertarian arguments boil down to the same thing – they do not wish to abide by any rules that they personally don’t like.

They like the idea of private property (no matter how obtained), so generally support a government-run police/military/prison structure to enforce ownership. They see no problem with raising taxes from non-property holders to pay for the police who protect the property holders in his case.

In the case of the rest of the regulations they don’t like, for example zoning restrictions, they fail to understand how democracies work. The people select their government and tell it what tasks they want it to perform. Then the will of the majority gets carried out and those who don’t like the limitations just have to take their lumps.

Opting out of those rules you don’t like is not a choice. If you don’t like some law or other you are free to campaign to have it changed or run for office yourself.

If a democracy is imperfect, so that the will of the majority is being thwarted by a powerful minority, then the cure is not to get rid of the democracy but to make it more democratic.

The cure for bad democracy is more democracy, not anarchy.

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