British writer and politician Daniel Hannan pens a piece in the UK's Telegraph that makes ten strong points about what conservatives believe and why the claims of the Occupiers are flawed. All are good, but number 10 makes a point that we need to reemphasize time and again when we are told that support for lower taxes and smaller government is evil or unChristian.
10. Letís not forget ethics, either. There is virtue in deciding to do the right thing, but there is no virtue in being compelled. Choosing to give your money to charity is meritorious; paying tax is morally neutral (see here). Evidence suggests that, as taxes rise, and the state squeezes out civic society, people give less to good causes.
That is spot on.
When i finished grad school, I spent a couple of years working in a homeless shelter, actually living on premises with them. I did so to do something good for others who were less fortunate than I was -- and I'd like to argue that there was something virtuous in that choice. On the other hand, paying taxes that go to help the homeless has no virtue in it -- I do so lest I be fined or imprisoned for not paying the taxes. There is nothing charitable about those tax payments -- I'm not making them out of self-less love (the Latin caritas), but out of self-interest that is the very contradiction of charity.
Now there are those who would argue that the Robin Hood-esque in taking from the rich to give to the poor -- and superficially, they are right. But a closer examination of their model shows that they really have the story backwards. Robin Hood did not use the power of government to extract wealth from the rich to care for the poor. He actually did quite the opposite -- his targets ("the rich") were actually those who profited off the illegitimate use of the wealth-extracting power of government at the expense of the tax-paying classes who were literally taxed into poverty. The poor were poor precisely because they were over-taxed by government run amok and operating without restraint. In the end, the return of King Richard and the displacement of Prince John sets it all to right. The message of Robin Hood is therefore one of limited government and the freedom to prosper that exists when the proper restraints on government are in place.
So the difference is clear. If i write a $500 check and drop it in the Salvation Army bucket outside my local supermarket, I have done a good and charitable deed. When I write a check for the same amount to a taxing body, there is no virtue involved because I have not made the decision to do so with a free will -- even if 100% of that money will go to help the poor (which we all know it will not) A compelled good deed is therefore not really good because of the lack of volition on my part.