McCloskey on Self-Ownership, Taxation, and the Corruption of Virtue
By Art Carden
I’m working on a book I’m co-authoring with Deirdre McCloskey on the economic history of the last few centuries. Here is a choice passage from page 44 of her 2006 book The Bourgeois Virtues:
The tempting shortcut of taxing the rich has not worked, for two reasons. First, I repeat, taxation is taking, and as the philosopher Edward Feser puts it, “Respecting another’s self-ownership…[reflects] one’s recognition that that other person does not exist for you…The socialist or liberal egalitarian…rather than the Nozickian libertarian…is…more plausibly accused of ‘selfishness.'” No left egalitarian has explained how such takings square with Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative: “So act as to use humanity, both in your own person and in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end, never simply as a means.” Taxing Peter to pay Paul is using Peter for Paul. It is corrupting. Modern governments have been encouraged to think that any abuse of Peter is just fine, that Peter is a slave available for any duty that the ruler has in mind. A little like nonmodern governments.