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Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

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Chapter 4—Binary Intervention: Taxation (continued)

    (4) The Benefit Principle

     The benefit principle differs radically from the two preceding  criteria of taxation. For the sacrifice and ability-to-pay principles depart completely from the principles of action and the accepted criteria of justice on the market. On the market people act freely in those ways which they believe will confer net benefits upon them. The result of these actions is the monetary exchange system, with its inexorable tendency toward uniform pricing and the allocation of productive factors to satisfy the most urgent demands of all the consumers. Yet the criteria used in judging taxation differ completely from those which apply to all other actions on the market. Suddenly free choice and uniform pricing are forgotten, and the discussion is all in terms of sacrifice, burden, etc. If taxation is only a burden, it is no wonder that coercion must be exercised to maintain it. The benefit principle, on the other hand, is an attempt to establish taxation on a similar basis as market pricing; that is, the tax is to be levied in accordance with the benefit received by the individual. It is an attempt to achieve the goal of a neutral tax, one that would leave the economic system approximately as it is on the free market. It is an attempt to achieve praxeological soundness by establishing a criterion of payment on the basis of benefit rather than sacrifice.

       The great gulf between the benefit and other principles was originally unrecognized, because of Adam Smith’s confusion between ability to pay and benefit. In the quotation cited above, Smith inferred that everyone benefits from the State in proportion to his income and that this income establishes his ability to pay. Therefore, a tax on his ability to pay will simply be a quid pro quo in exchange for benefits conferred by the State. Some writers have contended that people benefit from government in proportion to their income; others, that they benefit in increased proportion to their income, thus justifying a progressive income tax. Yet this entire application of the benefit theory is nonsensical. How do the rich reap a greater benefit proportionately, or even more than proportionately, from government than the poor? They could do so only if the government were responsible for these riches by a grant of special privilege, such as a subsidy, a monopoly grant, etc. Otherwise, how do the rich benefit? From “welfare” and other redistributive expenditures, which take from the rich and give to the bureaucrats and the poor? Certainly not. From police protection? But it is precisely the rich who could more afford to pay for their own protection and who therefore derive less benefit from it than the poor. The benefit theory holds that the rich benefit more from protection because their property is more valuable; but the cost of protection may have little relation to the value of the property. Since it costs less to police a bank vault containing $100 million than to guard 100 acres of land worth $10 per acre, the poor landowner receives a far greater benefit from the State’s protection than the rich owner of personalty. Neither would it be relevant to say that A earns more money than B because A receives a greater benefit from “society” and should therefore pay more in taxes. In the first place, everyone participates in society. The fact that A earns more than B means precisely that A’s services are individually worth more to his fellows. Therefore, since A and B benefit similarly from society’s existence, the reverse argument is far more accurate: that the differential between them is due to A’s individual superiority in productivity, and not at all to “society.” Secondly, society is not at all the State, and the State’s possible claim must be independently validated.

     Hence, neither proportionate nor progressive income taxation can be sustained on benefit principles. In fact, the reverse is true. If everyone were to pay in accordance with benefit received, it is clear that (a) the recipients of "welfare" benefits would bear the full costs of these benefits: the poor would have to pay for their own doles (including, of course, the extra cost of paying the bureaucracy for making the transfers); (b) the buyers of any government service would be the only payers, so that government services could be financed out of a general tax fund; and (c) for police protection, a rich man would pay less than a poor man, and less in absolute amounts. Furthermore, landowners would pay more than owners of intangible property, and the weak and infirm, who clearly benefit more from police protection than the strong, would have to pay higher taxes than the latter.

     It becomes immediately clear why the benefit principle has been practically abandoned in recent years. For it is evident that if (a) welfare recipients and (b) receivers of other special privilege, such as monopoly grants, were to pay according to the benefit received, there would not be much point in either form of government expenditure. And if each were to pay an amount equal to the benefit he received rather than simply proportionately (and he would have to do so because there would be nowhere else for the State to turn for funds), then the recipient of the subsidy would not only earn nothing, but would have to pay the bureaucracy for the cost of handling and transfer. The establishment of the benefit principle would therefore result in a laissez-faire system, with government strictly limited to supplying defense service. And the taxation for this defense service would be levied more on the poor and the infirm than on the strong and the rich.

     At first sight, the believer in the free market, the seeker after a neutral tax, is inclined to rejoice. It would seem that the benefit principle is the answer to his search. And this principle is indeed closer to market principles than the previous alleged canons. Yet, if we pursue the analysis more closely, it will be evident that the benefit principle is still far from market neutrality. On the market, people do not pay in accordance with individual benefit received; they pay a uniform price, one that just induces the marginal buyer to participate in the exchange. The more eager do not pay a higher price than the less eager; the chess addict and the indifferent player pay the same price for the same chess set, and the opera enthusiast and the novice pay the same price for the same ticket. The poor and the weak would be most eager for protection, but, in contrast to the benefit principle, they would not pay more on the market.

     There are even graver defects in the benefit principle. For market exchanges (a) demonstrate benefit and (b) only establish the fact of benefit without measuring it. The only reason we know that A and B benefit from an exchange is that they voluntarily make the exchange. In this way, the market demonstrates benefit. But where taxes are levied, the payment is compulsory, and therefore benefit can never be demonstrated. As a matter of fact, the existence of coercion gives rise to the opposite presumption and implies that the tax is not a benefit, but a burden. If it really were a benefit, coercion would not be necessary.

     Secondly, the benefit from exchange can never be measured or compared interpersonally. The “consumers’ surplus” derived from exchange is purely subjective, nonmeasurable, and noncomparable scientifically. Therefore, we never know what these benefits are, and hence there can be no way of allocating the taxes in accordance with them.

     Thirdly, on the market everyone enjoys a net benefit from an exchange. A person’s benefit is not equal to his cost, but greater. Therefore, taxing away his alleged benefit would completely violate market principles.

     Finally, if each person were taxed according to the benefit he receives from government, it is obvious that, since the bureaucracy receive all their income from this source, they would, like other recipients of subsidy and privilege, be obliged to return their whole salary to the government. The bureaucracy would have to serve without pay.

     We have seen that the benefit principle would dispense with all subsidy expenditures of whatever type. Government services would have to be sold directly to buyers; but in that case, there would be no room for government ownership, for the characteristic of a government enterprise is that it is launched from tax funds. Police and judicial services are often declared by the proponents of the benefit principle to be inherently general and unspecialized, so that they would need to be purchased out of the common tax fund rather than by individual users. However, as we have seen, this assumption is incorrect; these services can be sold on the market like any others. Thus, even in the absence of all other deficiencies of the benefit principle, it would still establish no warrant for taxation at all, for all services could be sold on the market directly to beneficiaries.

     It is evident that while the benefit principle attempts to meet the market criterion of limiting payment solely to beneficiaries, it must be adjudged a failure; it cannot serve as a criterion for a neutral tax or any other type of taxation.

     (5) The Equal Tax and the Cost Principle

     Equality of taxation has far more to commend it than any of the above principles, none of which can be used as a canon of taxation. “Equality of taxation” means just that—a uniform tax on every member of the society. This is also called a head tax, capitation tax, or poll tax. (The latter term, however, is best used to describe a uniform tax on voting, which is what the poll tax has become in various American states.) Each person would pay the same tax annually to the government. The equal tax would be particularly appropriate in a democracy, with its emphasis on equality before the law, equal rights, and absence of discrimination and special privilege. It would embody the principle: “One vote, one tax.” It would appropriately apply only to the protection services of the government, for the government is committed to defending everyone equally. Therefore, it may seem just for each person to be taxed equally in return. The principle of equality would rule out, as would the benefit principle, all government actions except defense, for all other expenditures would set up a special privilege or subsidy of some kind. Finally, the equal tax would be far more nearly neutral than any of the other taxes considered, for it would attempt to establish an equal “price” for equal services rendered.

     One school of thought challenges this contention and asserts that a proportional tax would be more nearly neutral than an equal tax. The proponents of this theory point out that an equal tax alters the market’s pattern of distribution of income. Thus, if A earns 1,000 gold ounces per year, B earns 200 ounces, and C earns 50 ounces, and each pays 10 ounces in taxes, then the relative proportion of net income remaining after taxes is altered, and altered in the direction of greater inequality. A proportionate tax of a fixed percentage on all three would leave the distribution of income constant and would therefore be neutral relative to the market.

     This thesis misconceives the whole problem of neutrality in taxation. The object of the quest is not to leave the income distribution the same as if a tax had not been imposed. The object is to affect the income “distribution” and all other aspects of the economy in the same way as if the tax were really a free-market price. And this is a very different criterion. No market price leaves relative income “distribution” the same as before. If the market really behaved in this way, there would be no advantage in earning money, for people would have to pay proportionately higher prices for goods in accordance with the level of their earnings. The market tends toward uniformity of pricing and hence toward equal pricing for equal service. Equal taxation, therefore, would be far more nearly neutral and would constitute a closer approach to a market system.

     The equal-tax criterion, however, has many grave defects, even as an approach toward a neutral tax. In the first place, the market criterion of equal price for equal service faces the problem: What is an “equal service”? The service of police protection is of far greater magnitude in an urban crime area than it is in some sleepy backwater. That service is worth far more in the crime center, and therefore the price paid will tend to be greater in a crime-ridden area than in a peaceful area. It is very likely that, in the purely free market, police and judicial services would be sold like insurance, with each member paying regular premiums in return for a call on the benefits of protection when needed. It is obvious that a more risky individual (such as one living in a crime area) would tend to pay a higher premium than individuals in another area. To be neutral, then, a tax would have to vary in accordance with costs and not be uniform.[80] Equal taxation would distort the allocation of social resources in defense. The tax would be below the market price in the crime areas and above the market price in the peaceful areas, and there would therefore be a shortage of police protection in the dangerous areas and a surplus of protection in the others.

     Another grave flaw of the equal-tax principle is the same that we noted in the more general principle of uniformity: no bureaucrat can pay taxes. An “equal tax” on a bureaucrat or politician is an impossibility, because he is one of the tax consumers rather than taxpayers. Even when all other subsidies are eliminated, the government employee remains a permanent obstacle in the path of equal tax. As we have seen, the bureaucrat’s “tax payment” is simply a meaningless bookkeeping device.

     These flaws in the equal tax cause us to turn to the last remaining tax canon: the cost principle. The cost principle would apply as we have just discussed it, with the government setting the tax in accordance with costs, like the premiums charged by an insurance company.[81] The cost principle would constitute the closest approach possible to neutrality of taxation. Yet even the cost principle has fatal flaws that finally eliminate it from consideration. In the first place, although the costs of nonspecific factors could be estimated from market knowledge, the costs of specific factors could not be determined by the State. The impossibility of calculating specific costs stems from the fact that products of tax-supported firms have no real market price, and so specific costs are unknown. As a result, the cost principle cannot be accurately put into effect. The cost principle is further vitiated by the fact that a compulsory monopoly—such as State protection—will invariably have higher costs and sell lower-quality service than freely competitive defense firms on the market. As a result, costs will be much higher than on the market, and, again, the cost principle offers no guide to a neutral tax.

     A final flaw is common to both the equality and the cost theories of taxation. In neither case is benefit demonstrated as accruing to the taxpayer. Although the taxpayer is blithely assumed to be benefiting from the service just as he does on the market, we have seen that such an assumption cannot be made—that the use of coercion presumes quite the contrary for many taxpayers. The market requires a uniform price, or the exact covering of costs, only because the purchaser voluntarily buys the product in the expectation of being benefited. The State, on the other hand, would force people to pay the tax even if they were not voluntarily willing to pay the cost of this or any other defense system. Hence, the cost principle can never provide a route to the neutral tax.

     (6) Taxation “For Revenue Only”

     A slogan popular among many “right-wing” economists is that taxation should be for “revenue only,” and not for broad social purposes. On its face, this slogan is simply and palpably absurd, since all taxes are levied for revenue. What else can taxation be called but the appropriation of funds from private individuals by the State for its own purposes? Some writers therefore amend the slogan to say: Taxation should be limited to revenue essential for social services. But what are social services? To some people, every conceivable type of government expenditure appears as a “social service.” If the State takes from A and gives to B, C may applaud the act as a “social service” because he dislikes something about the former and likes something about the latter. If, on the other hand, “social service” is limited by the “unanimity rule” to apply only to those activities that serve some individuals without making others pay, then the “taxation-for-revenue-only” formula is simply an ambiguous term for the benefit or the cost principles.

     (7) The Neutral Tax: A Summary

     We have thus analyzed all the alleged canons of tax justice. Our conclusions are twofold: (1) that economics cannot assume any principle of just taxation, and that no one has successfully established any such principles; and (2) that the neutral tax, which seems to many a valid ideal, turns out to be conceptually impossible to achieve. Economists must therefore abandon their futile quest for the just, or the neutral, tax.

     Some may ask: Why does anyone search for a neutral tax? Why consider neutrality an ideal? The answer is that all services, all activities, can be provided in two ways only: by freedom or by coercion. The former is the way of the market; the latter, of the State. If all services were organized on the market, the result would be a purely free-market system; if all were organized by the State, the result would be socialism (see below). Therefore, all who are not full socialists must concede some area to market activity, and, once they do so, they must justify their departures from freedom on the basis of some principle or other. In a society where most activities are organized on the market, advocates of State activity must justify departures from what they themselves concede to the market sphere. Hence, the use of neutrality is a benchmark to answer the question: Why do you want the State to step in and alter market conditions in this case? If market prices are uniform, why should tax payments be otherwise?

     But if neutral taxation is, at bottom, impossible, there are two logical courses left for advocates of the neutral tax: either abandon the goal of neutrality, or abandon taxation itself.

d. Voluntary Contributions to Government

     A few writers, disturbed by the compulsion necessary to the existence of taxation, have advocated that governments be financed, not by taxation, but by some form of voluntary contribution. Such voluntary contribution systems could take various forms. One was the method relied on by the old city-state of Hamburg and other communities—voluntary gifts to the government. President William F. Warren of Boston University, in his essay, “Tax Exemption the Road to Tax Abolition,” described his experience in one of these communities:

For five years it was the good fortune of the present writer to be domiciled in one of these communities. Incredible as it may seem to believers in the necessity of a legal enforcement of taxes by pains and penalties, he was for that period . . . his own assessor and his own tax-gatherer. In common with the other citizens, he was invited, without sworn statement or declaration, to make such contribution to the public charges as seemed to himself just and equal. That sum, uncounted by any official, unknown to any but himself, he was asked to drop with his own hand into a strong public chest; on doing which his name was checked off the list of contributors. . . . Every citizen felt a noble pride in such immunity from prying assessors and rude constables. Every annual call of the authorities on that community was honored to the full.[82]

     The gift method, however, presents some serious difficulties. In particular, it continues that disjunction between payment and receipt of service which constitutes one of the great defects of a taxing system. Under taxation, payment is severed from receipt of service, in striking contrast to the market where payment and service are correlative. The voluntary gift method perpetuates this disjunction. As a result, A, B, and C continue to receive the government’s defense service even if they paid nothing for it, and only D and E contributed. D’s and E’s contributions, furthermore, may be disproportionate. It is true that this is the system of voluntary charity on the market. But charity flows from the more to the less wealthy and able; it does not constitute an efficient method for organizing the general sale of a service. Automobiles, clothes, etc., are sold on the market on a regular uniform-price basis and are not indiscriminately given to some on the basis of gifts received from others. Under the gift system people will tend to demand far more defense service from the government than they are willing to pay for; and the voluntary contributors, getting no direct reward for their money, will tend to reduce their payment. In short, where service (such as defense) flows to people regardless of payment, there will tend to be excessive demands for service, and an insufficient supply of funds to sustain it.


     When the advocates of taxation, therefore, contend that a voluntary society could never efficiently finance defense service because people would evade payment, they are correct insofar as their strictures apply to the gift method of finance. The gift method, however, hardly exhausts the financing methods of the purely free market.


     A step in the direction of greater efficiency would have the defense agency charging a set price instead of accepting haphazard amounts varying from the very small to the very large, but continuing to supply defense indiscriminately. Of course, the agency would not refuse gifts for general purposes or for granting a supply of defense service to poor people. But it would charge some minimum price commensurate with the cost of its service. One such method is a voting tax, now known as a poll tax.[83]A poll tax, or voting tax, is not really a “tax” at all; it is only a price charged for participating in the State organization.[84] Only those who voluntarily vote for State officials, i.e., who participate in the State machinery, are required to pay the tax. If all the State’s revenues were derived from poll taxes, therefore, this would not be a system of taxation at all, but rather voluntary contributions in payment for the right to participate in the State’s machinery. The voting tax would be an improvement over the gift method because it would charge a certain uniform or minimal amount.


     To the proposal to finance all government revenues from poll taxes it has been objected that practically no one would vote under these conditions. This is perhaps an accurate prediction, but curiously the critics of the poll tax never pursue their analysis beyond this point. It is clear that this reveals something very important about the nature of the voting process. Voting is a highly marginal activity because (a) the voter obtains no direct benefits from his act of voting, and (b) his aliquot power over the final decision is so small that his abstention from voting would make no appreciable difference to the final outcome. In short, in contrast to all other choices a man may make, in political voting he has practically no power over the outcome, and the outcome would make little direct difference to him anyway. It is no wonder that well over half the eligible American voters persistently refuse to take part in the annual November balloting. This discussion also illuminates a puzzling phenomenon in American political life—the constant exhortation by politicians of all parties for people to vote: “We don’t care how you vote, but vote!” is a standard political slogan.[85] On its face, it makes little sense, for one would think that at least one of the parties would see advantages in a small vote. But it does make a great deal of sense when we realize the enormous desire of politicians of all parties to make it appear that the people have given them a “mandate” in the election—that all the democratic shibboleths about “representing the people,” etc., are true.

     The reason for the relative triviality of voting is, once again, the disjunction between voting and payment, on the one hand, and benefit on the other. The poll tax gives rise to the same problem. The voter, with or without paying a poll tax, receives no more benefit in protection than the nonvoter. Consequently, people will refuse to vote in droves under a single poll-tax scheme, and everyone will demand the use of the artificially free defense resources.

     Both the gift and the voting-tax methods of voluntary financing of government, therefore, must be discarded as inefficient. A third method has been proposed, which we can best call by the paradoxical name voluntary taxation. The plan envisioned is as follows: Every land area would, as now, be governed by one monopolistic State. The State’s officials would be chosen by democratic voting, as at present. The State would set a uniform price, or perhaps a set of cost prices, for protective services, and it would be left to each individual to make a voluntary choice whether to pay or not to pay the price. If he pays the price, he receives the benefit of governmental defense service; if he does not, he goes unprotected.[86] The leading “voluntary taxationists” have been Auberon Herbert, his associate, J. Greevz Fisher, and (sometimes) Gustave de Molinari. The same position is found earlier, to a far less developed extent, in the early editions of Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, particularly his chapter on the “Right to Ignore the State,” and in Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience.[87]

     The voluntary taxation method preserves a voluntary system, is (or appears to be) neutral vis-à-vis the market, and eliminates the payment-benefit disjunction. And yet this proposal has several important defects. Its most serious flaw is inconsistency. For the voluntary taxationists aim at establishing a system in which no one is coerced who is not himself an invader of the person or property of others. Hence their complete elimination of taxation. But, although they eliminate the compulsion to subscribe to the government defense monopoly, they yet retain that monopoly. They are therefore faced with the problem: Would they use force to compel people not to use a freely competing defense agency within the same geographic area? The voluntary taxationists have never attempted to answer this problem; they have rather stubbornly assumed that no one would set up a competing defense agency within a State’s territorial limits. And yet, if people are free to pay or not to pay “taxes,” it is obvious that some people will not simply refuse to pay for all protection. Dissatisfied with the quality of defense they receive from the government, or with the price they must pay, they will elect to form a competing defense agency or “government” within the area and subscribe to it. The voluntary taxation system is thus impossible of attainment because it would be in unstable equilibrium. If the government elected to outlaw all competing defense agencies, it would no longer function as the voluntary society sought by its proponents. It would not force payment of taxes, but it would say to the citizens: “You are free to accept and pay for our protection or to abstain; but you are not free to purchase defense from a competing agency.” This is not a free market; this is a compulsory monopoly, once again a grant of monopoly privilege by the State to itself. Such a monopoly would be far less efficient than a freely competitive system; hence, its costs would be higher, its service poorer. It would clearly not be neutral to the market.

     On the other hand, if the government did permit free competition in defense service, there would soon no longer be a central government over the territory. Defense agencies, police and judicial, would compete with one another in the same uncoerced manner as the producers of any other service on the market. The prices would be lower, the service more efficient. And, for the first and only time, the defense system would then be neutral in relation to the market. It would be neutral because it would be a part of the market itself! Defense service would at last be made fully marketable. No longer would anyone be able to point to one particular building or set of buildings, one uniform or set of uniforms, as representing “our government.”

     While “the government” would cease to exist, the same cannot be said for a constitution or a rule of law, which, in fact, would take on in the free society a far more important function than at present. For the freely competing judicial agencies would have to be guided by a body of absolute law to enable them to distinguish objectively between defense and invasion. This law, embodying elaborations upon the basic injunction to defend person and property from acts of invasion, would be codified in the basic legal code. Failure to establish such a code of law would tend to break down the free market, for then defense against invasion could not be adequately achieved. On the other hand, those neo-Tolstoyan nonresisters who refuse to employ violence even for defense would not themselves be forced into any relationship with the defense agencies.

     Thus, if a government based on voluntary taxation permits free competition, the result will be the purely free-market system outlined in chapter 1 above. The previous government would now simply be one competing defense agency among many on the market. It would, in fact, be competing at a severe disadvantage, having been established on the principle of “democratic voting.” Looked at as a market phenomenon, “democratic voting” (one vote per person) is simply the method of the consumer “co-operative.” Empirically, it has been demonstrated time and again that co-operatives cannot compete successfully against stock-owned companies, especially when both are equal before the law. There is no reason to believe that co-operatives for defense would be any more efficient. Hence, we may expect the old co-operative government to “wither away” through loss of customers on the market, while joint-stock (i.e., corporate) defense agencies would become the prevailing market form.[88]


[80]This does not concede that “costs” determine “prices.” The general array of final prices determines the general array of cost prices, but then the viability of firms is determined by whether the price people will pay for their products is enough to cover their costs, which are determined throughout the market. In equilibrium, costs and prices will all be equal. Since a tax is levied on general funds and therefore cannot be equivalent to market pricing, the only way to approximate market pricing is to set the tax according to costs, since costs at least reflect market pricing of the nonspecific factors.

[81]Blum and Kalven mention the cost principle but casually dismiss it as being practically identical with the benefit principle:

Sometimes the theory is stated in terms of the cost of the government services performed for each citizen rather than in terms of the benefits received from such services. This refinement may avoid the need of measuring subjective benefits, but it does little else for the theory. (Uneasy Case for Progressive Taxation, p. 36 n)

Yet their major criticism of the benefit principle is precisely that it requires the impossible measurement of subjective benefit. The cost principle, along with the benefit principle, dispenses with all government expenditures except laissez-faire ones, since each recipient would be required to pay the full cost of the service. With respect to the laissez-faire service of protection, however, the cost principle is clearly far superior to the benefit principle.

[82]Dr. Warren’s article appeared in the Boston University Year Book for 1876. The board of the Council of the University endorsed the essay in  these words:

In place of the further extent of taxation advocated by many, the essay proposes a far more imposing reform, the general abolition of all compulsory taxes. It is hoped that the comparative novelty of the proposition may not deter practical men from a thoughtful study of the paper. (See the Boston University Year Book III (1876), pp. 17–38)

Both quotations may be found in Sidney H. Morse, “Chips from My Studio,” The Radical Review, May, 1877, pp. 190–92. See also Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, pp. 801–03; Francis A. Walker, Political Economy (New York: Henry Holt, 1911), pp. 475–76. Smith, in one of his most sensible canons, declared:

In a small republic, where the people have entire confidence in their magistrates and are convinced of the necessity of the tax for the support of the state, and believe that it will be faithfully applied to that purpose, such conscientious and voluntary payment may sometimes be expected. (Smith, Wealth of Nations, p. 802)

[83]The current poll tax began simply as a head tax, but in practice it is enforced only as a requirement for voting. It has therefore become a voting tax.

[84]See below on fees charged for government service.

[85]Voting, like taxation, is another activity generally phrased in terms of “duty” rather than benefit. The call to “duty” is as praxeologically unsound as the call to sacrifice and generally amounts to the same thing. For both exhortations tacitly admit that the actor will derive little or no benefit from his action. Further, the invocation of duty or sacrifice implies that someone else is going to receive the sacrifice or the payment of the “obligation”—and often that someone is the exhorter himself.

[86]We are assuming that the government will confine its use of force to defense, i.e., will pursue a strictly laissez-faire policy. Theoretically, it is possible that a government may get all its revenue from voluntary contribution, and yet pursue a highly coercive, interventionist policy in other areas of the market. The possibility is so remote in practice, however, that we may disregard it here. It is highly unlikely that a government coercive in other ways would not take immediate steps to see that its revenues are assured by coercion. Its own revenue is always the State’s prime concern. (Note the very heavy penalties for income-tax evasion and counterfeiting of government paper money.)

[87]Spencer, Social Statics; Herbert and Levy, Taxation and Anarchism; and Molinari, Society of Tomorrow. At other times, however, Molinari adopted the pure free-market position. Thus, see what may be the first developed outline of the purely libertarian system in Gustave de Molinari, “De la production de la sécurité,” Journal des Economistes, February, 1849, pp. 277–90, and Molinari, “Onzième soirée” in Les soirées de la rue Saint Lazare (Paris, 1849).

[88]These corporations would not, of course, need any charter from a government but would “charter” themselves in accordance with the ways in which their owners decided to pool their capital. They could announce their limited liability in advance, and then all their creditors would be put amply on guard.

     There is a strong a priori reason for believing that corporations will be superior to cooperatives in any given situation. For if each owner receives only one vote regardless of how much money he has invested in a project (and earnings are divided in the same way), there is no incentive to invest more than the next man; in fact, every incentive is the other way. This hampering of investment militates strongly against the cooperative form.  

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