You can’t have your cake and eat it too

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 23.9.2020

Like many other articles of The Telegraph, this beautiful one by Allison Pearson, where she criticizes the government for violating liberty too much rather than too little, would be almost unthinkable in any Italian newspaper.

However, the very concept of violating liberty “too much” is part of a paradigm which itself is incompatible with liberty (scientifically defined) and which, in the long run, inevitably contributes to increase (and not to decrease) the legal violations of liberty.

For the same reasons why you cannot logically steal “too much” or “too little” (you can steal a lot or a little, but either you steal or you don’t), you cannot violate liberty “too much” or “too little”. Either you violate liberty or you don’t. Either you are in favour of a social structure in which the government can legally do things that individuals cannot do without committing a crime, or you’re against it. It’s not about seeing the world in black and white: it’s about applying logic where logic is needed.

The mentioned article expresses a conservative approach which on the one hand is not against taxation per se but, on the other hand, is against the arbitrary coercion of the UK government’s Covid policies.

The problem is that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You can’t have unlimited coercive power and at the same time be protected from arbitrary, coercive power.

It is (was) generally assumed that the constitution is the limit to political power. What is happening now is empirical evidence of the fact that this is not true: in UK as well as in Italy, governments could violate the constitutions with a comfort and lack of resistance which have surprised even many of those who are in favour of these arbitrarily coercive measures.

Such empirical evidence, however, is not necessary. Logic shows a priori that it is not the constitution that can limit arbitrary coercive power (as De Jasay famously wrote, for example, the constitution is the chastity belt whose keys are in the hand of the person who wears it). Only strict adherence to the principle of equality before the law can protect from arbitrary coercive power. And the only rule of just conduct which never (without exception, ifs or buts) violates this principle is the non-aggression principle (NAP), i.e. the principle according to which taxation, for example, is a crime.

In other words: if in principle you agree to taxation (as conservatives and liberals do, for example), then you cannot complain about some specific forms of arbitrary political power without being logically inconsistent.

Of course, in the foreseeable future the probability to see a country without taxation is less than zero. However, this does not alter logical truths (both moral and economic).

Recognizing logical truths cannot bring a world without taxation, but it can change the direction of movement (and make it harder for legal, arbitrary coercion to be used in the future, also as a response to Covid).

 

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