Mankiw on Morality
By Bryan Caplan
Here‘s a great passage from the noble Mankiw:
A moral and political philosophy is not like a smorgasbord, where you
get to pick and choose the offerings you like and leave the others
behind without explanation. It is more like your mother telling you to
clean everything on your plate. If you are a Utilitarian
redistributionist, the height tax is like that awful tasting vegetable
your mother served up because it is good for you. No matter how hard
you might wish it wasn’t there sitting on your plate, it just won’t go
My key caveat: Since you do need to eat everything on your plate, think twice before you put it there. As I explained in my debate with Robin, anyone who commits to a one-sentence grand moral theory like utilitarianism or efficiency-maximization is going to have to eat a lot of dirt. The wiser approach is to begin with concrete, specific cases, and cautiously generalize from there.
Doesn’t this give a carte blance to people who want to tax income but not height? I think not. If you really begin with concrete, specific cases, all taxation looks a lot like theft. Yes, you can argue that there are reasons why government theft is less morally objectionable than ordinary theft. But it still means that taxation operates under a cloud of moral suspicion. And when you actually look at some leading rationales for taxation, it’s more than just suspicious.