A Philosopher's Blog

Citizen, Consumer, Taxpayer

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 23, 2011
united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web

Image by kevindean via Flickr

Once upon a time, people were subjects of a ruler (in some places, it is still once upon a time). In democracies (or republics) people could be citizens of the state. Crudely put, a subject can be seen as a sort of political property-the subject is subject to the will of the ruler. In contrast, the citizen is a member of a community and has, at least in theory, a vote and a stake in the matters of said community.

In the not so distant past it was common to refer to people in the United States, the UK and other democracies as citizens. However, there was an interesting change in vocabulary in that the term “consumer” began to gradually replace the term “citizen.” This change in terms reflected economic changes-after the second World War the United States (and some other countries) became a consumer country. This change in terms reflected this shift. Whereas once an American was a citizen who was, at least partially, defined by his or her membership in a community, Americans became primarily defined as consumers of economic goods. This resulted in a comparable change in values and virtues and the economic virtues of consumption, ownership, and production became important focuses. As such, it was hardly surprising that after 9/11 Bush said, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” He did not, as some claim, actually tell people to “go shopping.”

With the rise of the Tea party, there was also another change. While Americans are still referred to as “consumers”, there was (and is) a new emphasis on Americans as taxpayers. While the consumer view of Americans focused on Americans as purchasers of goods and services, the taxpayer view focuses on Americans as payers of taxes (obviously). While the consumer model made a virtue of consumption, the taxpayer model seems to make a virtue of selfishness. The idea, put roughly, is that people should focus primarily on the taxes they pay and what they personally get in return. Whereas a citizen is enjoined to be concerned with the general welfare and to ask “what can I do for my country?” , a taxpayer is told to be self focused and enjoined to ask “what’s in it for me?”

This sort of attitude is, of course, a classic view put forth by various ethical egoists from Glaucon’s unjust man to Thomas Hobbes to Ayn Rand. This view is also the model of what can be considered the dark side of capitalism (selfishness and greed).  Not surprisingly, the concern some people express about paying too many or too much taxes is also often accompanied by concerns that tax dollars are being spent on various aid and assistance programs, such as welfare, student loans, and medicare. This is, of course, perfectly consistent with the view that a person is a taxpayer rather than citizen. After all, a citizen is a member of a community and, presumably, has a stake in that community and a fellowship with other members. A taxpayer is, essentially, in an economic relationship of paying taxes and getting (or not getting) goods and services in return. In short, this is a business sort of relationship.

It can, of course, be contended that the taxpayer relationship is the realistic and practical view of the world. After all, as Ayn Rand argued, the way to be happy is to be concerned solely with your own happiness. The altruism needed to be an actual citizen is not compatible with this-it is every man, woman and child for himself. Only a fool would concern himself with others or, god forbid, love her neighbors as herself.

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

13 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. FRE said, on December 23, 2011 at 3:02 am

    I read Atlas Shrugged decades ago and also concluded that the author was encouraging total selfishness as a virtue. What we really need is a reasonable balance. Of course people should be concerned with their own interests, but not to the exclusion of the welfare of others.

  2. Anonymous said, on December 23, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Mike,

    You’re arguing against a dead Ayn Rand, and almost no one else. Did you know that Rand and WF Buckely were mortal enemies?

    I don’t like Ayn Rand, though she made some decent points, her overall message is repugnant, and you only create strawmen when you try to say that the Republican Party’s line in one of selfishness.

    Paying taxes is not always altruistic. Finding someone truly in need and helping them is altruistic.

    Rand approached Buckely at a gathering of conservatives and said: “You’re to inttelligent to believe in God.” Buckley of course was a devout Catholic.

    Later on, Buckley’s closest friend Whitaker Chamber, later the editor of TIME magazine, penned a devestating critique of Atlas Shrugged in the National Review, called, “Big Sister is Watching You”. Rand hated Buckley after printing the review. Chambers was famous for being an ex communist spy for the Soviet Union and testifying in the Alger Hiss case.

    Here’s his rip on Rand: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/222482/big-sister-watching-you/flashback

    Magus

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm

      Rand, though dead, still has living followers. Also the idea of ethical egoism is not limited to Rand.

      I didn’t claim that paying taxes is always altruistic. My main point is that how we are described and how we describe ourselves says something about how we are seen and see ourselves.

      I don’t claim that conservatives are all ethical egoists. Obviously, a person can be a conservative and an altruist. There are also people who profess liberal doctrines, yet are selfish (yet generous with other peoples’ money).

  3. T. J. Babson said, on December 23, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I think Mike has achieved escape velocity from planet Rationality with this post.

    • magus71 said, on December 23, 2011 at 9:54 am

      I often find so many arguing points I lose track and end up only knowing that I disagree with the whole mindset that generates the posts.

  4. magus71 said, on December 23, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Rejecting the cult of Ayn Rand.

    http://www.redstate.com/leon_h_wolf/2011/04/13/rejecting-the-cult-of-ayn-rand/

  5. magus71 said, on December 23, 2011 at 10:15 am

    And since when have Americans not fought against rising taxes? Yet King Charles’ taxes have nothing on today’s.

    Mike–turn off the news for the holidays.

    You’re still a socialist in denial. You’re making age-old socialist criticisms against systems that have done more for the middle-class than any other.

    Here, Hayek makes the point that in our “abstract society” which seeks to serve people not known to most doing the serving, altruism is reduced and is much more inefficient than when people help in their local communities.

    I believe the idea of taxes as altruism destroys the true sense of responsibility for fellow man and pushes it off on the government to do the job individuals should do.

    The highest levels of charitable donations in America occured in the 1930s–during the evil reign of the greedy capitalists.

    http://library.generousgiving.org/page.asp?sec=4&page=161

    • anon said, on December 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm

      Pre America was against “Taxation without representation”, not against taxes.

      “You’re making age-old socialist criticisms against systems that have done more for the middle-class than any other. ”
      Which criticisms are “socialist” and systems have done more than any other?

      “The highest levels of charitable donations in America occured in the 1930s–during the evil reign of the greedy capitalists. ”
      Did they areally give more? That link provides no evidence for that statement. If they did in fact give more during that time period, then why did they do so? Who was actually doing the donating? Lets see what happened around that time as well:
      1929: Stock market crash
      1930s: The new deal
      1930s: The dust bowl

      • magus71 said, on December 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm

        “Pre America was against “Taxation without representation”, not against taxes.”

        The colonies wanted representation so they had a chance to vote down taxes.

        “Many colonists considered it a violation of their rights as Englishmen to be taxed without their consent—consent that only the colonial legislatures could grant.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765

        Taxes in the Anglo/American cultures have almost always been considered a matter of majority consent.

        “Lets see what happened around that time as well:”

        Yes absolutely a bad time. And yet people still gave. The givers had less money too. Yet again, you prove my point. Thank you. You’re a genius and put it better than I could have.

      • magus71 said, on December 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm

        “Which criticisms are “socialist” and systems have done more than any other?”

        Apparently you didn’t watch the video.

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 24, 2011 at 9:00 am

    “The question, of course, is whether subjects shall be assumed to be dependent upon rulers, as children must be dependent upon their parents, or whether they shall be assumed to be responsible and self-governing.” ~ George H. Sabine – From: A History of Political Theory, Third Edition, by (Holt, Rinehart, Winston, Inc., 1937, 1950, 1961) pp. 72-73

    I agree: “the idea of taxes as altruism destroys the true sense of responsibility for fellow man and pushes it off on the government to do the job individuals should do”

    This is not to say government shouldn’t regulate wages or institute a healthcare plan, but it does mean we need a balance between liberty and paternalism. Right now we need to swing back toward reminding people of their responsibility to take care of one another, because it’s not the federal government’s job to do so.

    The major problem, as I have said before, is the WASTE of tax money via duplicated federal programs, unmonitored federal programs, fraud in federal programs, six-figure federal salaries, Military spending, and expensive CIA off-the-books programs.

    We have more than enough money for everything we need…..it’s just that way too much of it is going down the Washington/Pentagon/CIA rat-hole.

    America is no longer a democracy, it is more like a military dictatorship via the court and congress defering to the executive and his secret, private army.

  7. magus71 said, on December 24, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    “Whereas a citizen is enjoined to be concerned with the general welfare and to ask “what can I do for my country?”

    Just like Occupy Wall Street, right?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      Some of them are no doubt selfish or just looking for something to do. However, the ones who express a concern about such matters as the corruption in government and so on do seem to be a bit concerned about their country. Some Tea Party folks also seem concerned about this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,011 other followers

%d bloggers like this: