Slicing the Pie

How can anyone who benefits from government support criticize government?  That is a good question–one that confuses many people about the intentions and logical consistency of limited government advocates.  Let’s start with the source of all the money that supports programs–taxation.

Taxation is coercive.  No getting around that one.  There is no such thing as “we” when it comes to taxes.  “We” do not vote in a tax for ourselves, as a dear but mistaken mentor of mine once said.  The people who vote for it, even if they constitute a majority, force that tax upon those who do not vote for it.  If you doubt that, just try not paying your taxes.

If forced to pay for something, does one have a right to use it?  It may irk me that Amtrak is subsidized, but I use it frequently.  My kids go to public schools.  Is that wrong?  I work for a state university.  Does that somehow taint my libertarianism?

The answer is no, but let’s be careful here.  There is nothing wrong with my using any of these as long as I do not advocate using the power of the state to gain a coercive advantage.  For example, I would be perfectly willing to pay market prices for train service.  If prices were too high, I would drive or fly or walk.  Same with my sons’ education or my employment.  By all means, privatize it top to bottom and let the market find a price for my sons and a salary for me.  If the outcome is not to my liking, I would simply home school and start an exotic male dance revue.  (Note to self: More ab work this month.)

I would be disingenuous if I were to advocate protecting my profession, but not others.  For example, if I were to argue for subsidizing education but not agriculture, one might suspect an ulterior motive.  I don’t.  Farmers pay taxes and thus have every right to get paid for not raising crops.  Professors at state schools pay into the system and thus have every right to seek employment within it.  We will all be better off when neither are tax-supported, but that is not the way it is.

The problem is not conscientious hard-working people who serve as public employees or work in subsidized industries.  The problem is the inevitable slide toward a system that rewards doing nothing.  We all know what happens when everyone starts grabbing slices of the pie rather than baking another one.  We are there, folks, and the pie is just about eaten.


Terry wonders how many of his readers know what chess pie is.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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