10 November 2006

The Red Herring

Dear Janet,

Thanks for the quick reply. I’ll try to answer your argument that the “tax fairness argument” is an invalid argument and a red herring.

First, you say that the argument is easily dismissed because it rests on the fallacious assumption that there is no such thing as the common good. I disagree that the argument rests on this assumption, although I can understand how you might come to this conclusion. Also, I think we disagree on whether or not the public school system constitutes a “common good.” You think it does, I think it does not.

In my view, tax fairness does not mean that people should only pay taxes for things that directly benefit them. However, federal and state taxes should be reserved for those things that indirectly benefit all members at those levels of society. In other words, the federal government should not impose a tax on all Americans for something that will only benefit New Yorkers. The state government should not impose a tax on all citizens of Illinois that will only benefit people who live in Chicago. National defense and a national highway system are two things that benefit all Americans, either directly or indirectly, and therefore are things that are correctly taxed at the federal level.

The framers of our Constitution were very explicit in what power the federal government could exercise when it comes to taxation; anything not explicitly named in the Constitution was supposed to be left up to the states. It is needless to point out, but I will anyway, that our Federal government abandoned this Constitutional guideline many years ago. I hope that someday Americans will vote people into office people that will return to the principles and guidelines of the Constitution, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this.

This leads me, in a round-about way, back to my point that we disagree on whether the public school system is or is not an example of a common good. I agree that it is in our nation’s best interests to have a well educated populace. If the public school system was fulfilling its obligation in that regard, I would have no problem calling it an example of a “common good” for all America, and I would not be advocating abandoning it.

However, the public school system has proven itself to be an abject failure in its primary mission of educating children. In addition to this, the school room has become a place of anti-religious, secular humanistic indoctrination. So, not only is the public education system failing to properly educate our children, it is actively pushing agendas and philosophies that are morally repugnant to a large majority of the population, all the while draining billions upon billions of taxpayer’s dollars.

Now, I’ll admit that there are a minority of parents who want their children to be indoctrinated with an anti-religious, pro-homosexual, atheistic, hedonistic bias, while at the same time receiving an education that is on par with, say, that of rural Kazakhstan. I think the majority of parents, and definitely most Christian parents, would opt for something better, given a choice in the matter.

So, is it fair to tax all parents for something that, in reality, only benefits a small minority of parents? I don’t think so. However, if the Federal or State government is going to insist on taxing all Americans for something that only benefits a small minority, then I see no hypocrisy in calling for some of those billions to be used for what they are actually intended for: educating children. A voucher system that will allow the tax dollars to actually follow the child, regardless of which school he or she attends, would inject some free-market economics into the system, and perhaps force the public schools to improve. At the same time, parents would be free to send their children to schools that actually educate their children without undermining their values and beliefs.

“A little stringent examination reveals that it rests upon the fallacious assumption that there is no such thing as the common good, and also leads inevitably to the pernicious conclusion that there should be no such thing as government at all. Unless you are willing to defend both of these positions, you cannot defend the argument itself.”

This is a Straw Man argument – you set up a non-existent problem, and then demand that I spend time and effort knocking it down. As you see, my argument does not rest upon a fallacious assumption that there is no such thing as the common good, and does not lead to the conclusion that there should be no government at all. My argument for tax fairness, with regard to public school taxes, rests on how the common good is defined; it rests on the assumption that government should not be collecting taxes for things that are not in the common good; and that the public school system does not fall within the pale of the common good.

I could also make an argument that, a well educated populace being crucial for the common good, the government should provide for a system whereby the most children will receive the very best education, regardless of where that education takes place. I’ll leave that for another letter, however.