Thursday, April 16, 2009

How much is too much?

Unfortunately, this list is incomplete.

"The government taxes you when you bring home a paycheck.
It taxes you when you make a phone call.

It taxes you when you turn on a light.

It taxes you when you sell a stock.

It taxes you when you fill your car with gas.

It taxes you when you ride a plane.

It taxes you when you get married.

Then it taxes you when you die.


This is taxual insanity and it must end."


-- J. C. Watts, Jr. (1957- ) US Congressman from Oklahoma (R), former quarterback in the Canadian Football League


(HT Liberty Quotes)

7 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

I wonder if the question "How much is too much?" isn't committing the fallacy of the loaded question. Such a question assumes an idea the listener might reject, but to answer the question immediately he must seemingly concede that idea.

In this case, the idea is that there should be a tax. The alternative is that every tax is morally wrong.

But even if one accepts the idea that taxation is morally right, another question arises: "Too much for what?" In other words, what would be the standard for deciding what degree is appropriate?

Beth said...

Ah yes. I did think about all that before I used the title--except that I didn't have a name and definition for the fallacy, which helps make it more clear. (thank you)

I do not think that taxes as currently constructed are moral--but most people are not willing to even consider that stance. Yet, even someone not adverse to taxes per se should be able to see that the degree to which we are currently taxed is absurd.

This strikes at the core of my current struggle--how to stay true to my beliefs (principles not pragmatism) while not closing off the potential for dialogue. I want to look for areas of agreement---taxes are too high--in order to actually have a conversation in which taking it to the next level--taxes violate property rights--can occur. To make a statement that will be dismissed out of hand will end a discussion before it can begin.

I think the answer lies in how to apply principles to a particular context. It is important to correctly identify the essential elements of the context, and then to be sure that in my attempts to meet people part way, I do not end up compromising the principle. I don't think the answer to this problem is simple, obvious or the same in all cases.

Burgess Laughlin said...

The nature of debate, discussion, and the dissemination of ideas are at the core of my interests.

I hope you will explain more about your quest. Questions below.

> "This strikes at the core of my current struggle--how to stay true to my beliefs (principles not pragmatism) while not closing off the potential for dialogue."

1. Dialogue with whom and for what personal purpose?

2. I do not understand how adhering to one's principles -- all of them -- would ever close off the potential for dialogue with rational people. Could you explain?

Beth said...

Great questions which deserve more thought, which I intend to give them.
Short answers:

1. Dialogue with friends, family, acquaintances, blog readers with the purpose of getting them to at least question some assumptions, or at least look at them in a new light. The ultimate goal is for them to agree with me so I have more allies in creating a better world to live in.

2. I do not advocate abandoning my principles--any of them--but this post title provides a typical example of the dilemma I run into. I could title it "All taxes are Immoral" instead of as I did "How much is too much?" The first seems truer, and definitely is more in line with what I fully think. The second seems somewhat duplicitous by its implication that come amount is ok. The first title will be dismissed out of hand by many who could still be engaged by the second. So is framing the subject the second way inappropriately expedient?

Your emphasis on "rational" in the second question is triggering a multitude of questions in my mind. I can think of examples (too many unfortunately) when I continue in dialogue when based on the criteria of "rational" I should have ended it some time ago. I will have to watch for that.

But I think there is also the temptation to unfairly dismiss those who disagree with us as irrational. Rational people can disagree--especially in this culture steeped in misinformation (e.g. climate change) and historical misinterpretation (e.g. causes of the Great Depression)and sloppy definitions (e.g. characterization of our mixed economy as capitalism, or our republic as a democracy.)

What I have to say often is a direct challenge to the other person's world view. No matter how rational a person is, questioning one's world view, especially if it is aligned with the dominant culture, is difficult. It can be psychologically painful, even a heroic act.

I know I wouldn't listen to someone who made what I considered to be outrageous off-the-wall claims--and given today's context, many of the things I believe in would be experienced by others in exactly that way. I enjoy talking with people who agree with me, or who differ by only one or two degrees, but real progress will entail being able to engage the thought processes of those who are several steps away from my beliefs. To engage them, or in the case of some of my friends with whom I have already had multiple conversations--to keep them engaged, I need a way of stating things so they can be heard.

This isn't very specific. I will continue to think about this and see if I can come up with more examples.

I appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

Burgess Laughlin said...

A few comments to wrap up from my end, unless I have said something that is unclear:

a. > ". . . this post title provides a typical example of the dilemma I run into. I could title it 'All taxes are Immoral' instead of as I did 'How much is too much?'"

I don't think "All taxes are immoral" is the only alternative. In the first place, you want to raise questions, so why not ask a question as you have already done, but one that would lead an active-minded (=rational) person to be intrigued by the possibility of a new principle?

I am unsure what you were aiming for with the Watts quote, so I am unsure what to suggest. Perhaps: "Should there be a limit to taxation? Why?"

Personally, I wouldn't use the quote at all -- "taxual insanity" implies "taxual sanity," that is, that there is some level of taxation that is mentally (or ethically) healthy. There isn't. Some low levels are tolerable, but still not right -- just as some levels of corvee labor are tolerable but still not right.

Maybe the proper procedure is to identify what principle you want potential allies to adopt and then figure out which question would lead to that principle through principles your audience already holds. If you don't share with them the fundamentals underpinning your target principle, then the task is hopeless.

b. > "Rational people can disagree--especially in this culture steeped in misinformation (e.g. climate change) and . . ."

Yes. The examples you name are examples of ignorance. A rational person can be ignorant -- but he observes, thinks, and verifies.

However, I would say there is no way to reach a person who has spent decades accumulating experiences that seemingly confirm his principles. No one should be expected to check every premise again and again, down to axioms. This is why appealing to young people is generally more rewarding. They haven't yet solidified their principles with life experiences and are more open to checking their premises.

I try to always remember the nature of influence: the act of giving an idea to someone who wants that idea in order to help him achieve his goals in life.

An example is a sculptor who works in a romantic-realism style. He can teach techniques a romantic-realist artist would need. But he will have no influence over a "sculptor" who welds together random bits of metal because he feels like it.

My conclusion is that working with individuals whose principles are more than one "floor" away from mine is generally hopeless. For that reason I generally try to find people who already agree with me except on the one principle under discussion.

Of course, there is also another complication: sometimes an individual holds objective principles implicitly, but not explicitly. But that is another problem.

Beth said...

Thank you for your thoughts. I particularly like these:

"identify what principle you want potential allies to adopt and then figure out which question would lead to that principle through principles your audience already holds."

and

"the nature of influence: the act of giving an idea to someone who wants that idea in order to help him achieve his goals in life."

Thanks again.

Doug Reich said...

this is a really good conversation - definitely made me think and gave some good ideas - where do I get more? Thx for taking time for thoughtful dialogue