Friday, September 03, 2004

Taxation, Lying, and Arbitrary Redefinition

Last night on the O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly and Bill Maher were discussing taxation. At one point, Mr. O said, disapprovingly: "You are for income redistribution!" Maher replied, "That's just what taxation is!"

Setting aside the minor point that not all taxation is taxation of income, Maher's response amounts to an arbitrary redefinition of a term, a redefinition that obliterates a genuine issue, namely, whether the government, via its taxing authority, should be involved in redistributing income. Taxes are monies paid by citizens for government services. There is nothing in the notion of taxation as such to require that different taxpayers pay different amounts or at different rates. By packing the notion of income redistribution into the notion of (income) taxation, Maher begs the question in favor of a liberal theory of taxation.

My point is not that a liberal theory of taxation is indefensible, but that it must be explicitly defended and not presupposed. Maher's redefinition has all the advantages of theft over honest toil, as Lord Russell might have said.

Here is a second example of arbitrary redefinition. A critic of the reliability of polygraphs urged that what such devices detect, namely, increases in cardiac and respiratory rates, is not conclusive evidence of lying. To this, a defender of polygraphs replied" "That's just what lying is!"