Imagine a pedestrian is walking down Broadway on his way home from work. He encounters a beggar. He doesn't want to give his money to this beggar. He is saving up his hard-earned money to send his daughter to college. One could reasonably argue that the beggar is in more "need" of the money, but it's the pedestrian's money, and he should be able to keep it. He passes the beggar and is about to enter the grocery store to buy food for dinner. But in his way is a man with a gun. Jingling his handcuffs, the man with the gun demands that the pedestrian give him a large portion of the money in his pocket. "It's for the beggar," the gunman says. "He needs it more than you. You need to pay your fair share." The pedestrian has few good choices. He could give the money to the modern-day Robin Hood and lose a lot of the money he worked for. Or he could refuse, run away, and risk being mugged by the gunman. The pedestrian will most likely choose to give the gunman his money. But after acquiring the pedestrian's money, the gunman does not give it to the beggar right away. Instead, he keeps part of it for himself, using it to buy himself some food and toiletries. He gives the remainder to the beggar, who has no understanding where it has come from. But even worse, imagine that the pedestrian did want to give his money to the beggar, but before he could do so, the gunman interferes, saying, "I know which beggars really need the money." "But I wanted to give my money to this beggar," the pedestrian protests. "I know he'll use the money wisely on what he said he's use it for." "Shush, I know what's best," the gunman replies, as the pedestrian reluctantly hands over his money intended for the beggar. The gunman keeps part of the money, and gives some to a different beggar, whom the pedestrian does not know at all. The pedestrian walks away, disgruntled and less inclined to give away his money to those in need in the future. This anecdote might seem a little ridiculous. When was the last time you saw a gunman outside Morton Williams who demanded that you give him your money for the purpose of giving it to a beggar? But insert "government" instead of "gunman" and "taxpayer" instead of "pedestrian," and you get our modern-day tax system. Under the threat of IRS audits and jail time, the government confiscates income at the point of a gun and reallocates it as our elected officials see fit. For many politicians, the goal of this reallocation of resources is the sole purpose of wealth redistribution, to even out the pieces of the pie, often at the expense of the size of the pie. The government steps in and tries to take the rightful place of private charities because it thinks it knows best how to allocate private citizens' money. Our tax system is as absurd as a gunman forcing a pedestrian to hand over money for a beggar. Ronald Reagan once described taxation as a "daily mugging." Those words are as true today as they were in 1985. While government taxation and subsequent spending can have legitimate purposes such as national defense and a judicial system, one of them is not forcible wealth distribution. Wealth redistribution is an infringement on freedom. Burdensome taxation limits citizens' choices by interfering in voluntary transactions between individuals. Many students, though, are shielded from the effects of taxation. While some students have jobs with taxable salaries, many rely on their parents to pay for their living expenses, or they work as babysitters or dog-walkers and don't pay taxes on their income. Because of this, many students are more likely to advocate taxation for the explicit purpose of wealth redistribution. As Morningside Heights residents, we are used to seeing beggars on the streets of our neighborhood frequently asking us for money outside of local grocery stores. Some people choose to give them money out of a sense of guilt or responsibility because they think it's the right thing to do and the best way to help people. I personally don't give beggars money. I don't agree with these motivations, and I think there are better ways to help people. But if people want to give their money away to beggars, it's their right. After all, it's their money. But what if every time you cashed your paycheck from work, someone tried to mug you on your way home. Would you be more or less likely to give to a charity? How would it affect your work ethic? This is our tax system, as absurd as it may seem. Lauren Salz is a Barnard College sophomore. She is the executive director of the College Republicans, the communications coordinator of the Columbia Political Union, and the communications director of Columbia Right to Life. Check Your Premises runs alternate Wednesdays.
Columbia Spectator Staff