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The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (Anglais) Broché – 9 décembre 2004


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Revue de presse

"Murphy and Nagel claim that pretax income is a myth, and, as such, has no moral significance.... The Myth of Ownership significantly increases the sophistication of the discussion [fairness in taxation]." --Michigan Law Review

"The thoughts in this book deserve examination, especially the views of Nagel and Murphy on the self-interest each taxpayer reasonably has in the social justice purchased by hard-earned money....[They] offer ideas that would improve the national debate."--David Cay Johnston,New York Times Book Review

"The Myth of Ownership...should be read by all who wish to enter the discussion regarding taxes."--William Michell Law Review

"The authors very effectively argue that the taxation, such as the benefit and ability-to-pay principles, fall victim to a fatal defect. Justice in taxation cannot be assessed apart from a general theory of property rights."--The Mises Review

"The best book by far on the political morality of taxation. In a clear and compelling analysis, Murphy and Nagel expose the mistake of thinking that individuals own their pretax income and they examine the social benefits of justifiable tax policy. Taking this book's message to heart would transform contemporary democratic politics."--Amy Gutmann, Provost and Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics, Princeton University

"This magnificent contribution from the distinguished philosophers Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel reminds us that fundamental issues of justice lie at the core of often mundane debates about taxation. The provocative thesis of The Myth of Ownership that the tax system helps create, rather than conforms to, the overall system of property rights has profound policy implications. I highly recommend this engaging book and the rethinking of first principles it inspires to anyone interested in taxation and the role of government in society and the economy."--Joel Slemrod, Paul W. McCracken Collegiate Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan

Présentation de l'éditeur

In a capitalist economy, taxes are the most important instrument by which the political system puts into practice a conception of economic and distributive justice. Taxes arouse strong passions, fueled not only by conflicts of economic self-interest, but by conflicting ideas of fairness. Taking as a guiding principle the conventional nature of private property, Murphy and Nagel show how taxes can only be evaluated as part of the overall system of property rights that they help to create. Justice or injustice in taxation, they argue, can only mean justice or injustice in the system of property rights and entitlements that result from a particular regime. Taking up ethical issues about individual liberty, interpersonal obligation, and both collective and personal responsibility, Murphy and Nagel force us to reconsider how our tax policy shapes our system of property rights.



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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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Amazon.com: 8 commentaires
29 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I disagree with the argument, but the book is fairly solid 15 mars 2006
Par S. McCarthy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Nagel and Murphy have missed an important point in not recognizing that although property rights are conventional, Nozick gives a very convinving ontology of property rights that is compatible with the Lockean tradition. In other words, though property rights as they exist are conventional, they arise from the state of nature in a manner such that government enforcement is not an inherent quality of them. Hence, in arguing that individuals do not wholly own the fruits of their labor due to the fact that the possession of such fruits is enabled by government enforcement of property rights, Nagel and Murphy are clearly missing why Nozick comes to hold the entitlement view of property.

With all of this said, this is a pretty good book overall. It is one thing to disagree with the authors and their argument, it's another to outrightly discredit each of them as individuals. Previous reviewers that oversimplify what Murphy and Nagel are doing here seemingly either do not understand the complexities of these issues, or do not have the intellectual honesty and/or curiosity to consider something that is prima facie opposed to their opinion. To question the academic credibility of the authors is simply ignorant, as both are highly reputable and regarded, and to assert that the authors "seem unaware of the Lockean tradition" is dubious, since Locke is clearly mentioned and farily represented in the book.
38 internautes sur 47 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Is Vertical Equity Really Dead? 16 août 2002
Par Russell W. Kessler - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
The main thrust of Murphy & Nagel's claim is that pre-tax income cannot be a moral base for the measurement of the fairness of taxation. Their claim is that the ultimate social justice of the entire economic system is the only proper end, of which taxation is a part, thus taxation and the equity thereof cannot be measured in a vaccum, rather only against the resulting end.
It would seem however that Murphy & Nagel make their claim too strong in that they claim that pre-tax income (and vertical equity) cannot be utilized as even a factor in the measurement. Unfortunately for their theory, pre-tax income is a fact of the market economy and the positive law surrounding such economy. Thus, if we are to ignore everyone's pre-tax income, the only possible result is that all after-tax income must come out equal. To claim any other result must come through the application of a judgment as to vertical equity.
It would seem that their claim would be far more sound if it were limited to saying that vertical equity may only be utilized as a means to achievement of the end of social justice. Murphy & Nagel, however, want to make their claim stronger so as to be able to discount the tax equity argument entirely. Ultimately such an argument must fail due to the reality of pre-tax income, but it is still a very interesting and well written book.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Very Enlightening To This Economist and Attorney 19 novembre 2013
Par Publius - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I found Murphy and Nagel’s discussion of libertarian views on taxes fascinating. It has become common practice for anti-government policymakers to define any form of tax increases or government economic action as tampering with the “natural” order of things. But what I found the most fascinating about the authors’ criticism of libertarianism is the ideology’s implication that market is a natural arrangement that exists independent of government. But I agreed with the authors’ explanation that what makes our market exist as a place for the exchange of goods and services is a government and legal system that protects private property and maintains an elaborate system of defining the terms of relationship among the market actors. In addition, what the authors do not directly mention are all the other benefits derived from government that significantly contribute to wealth creation, such as roads, energy resources and fundamental infrastructure in telecommunications and transportation. What many seem to take for granted is that such a system costs money, and taxes are critical to satisfying that requirement. In other words, while ardent libertarians would argue that any form of government tax or regulation would move us away from some purist notion of a free market, such a market cannot exist outside of a system of laws that would define it and a government that would maintain it.

As both an economist and an attorney, I found this book quite compelling and enlightening. I highly recommend it.
6 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Wonderful Book - The strongest case for a society built by all of us that you're likely to find. 22 septembre 2013
Par Michel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
"A self made man is just not admitting where he got all the parts"

This quote by John Kenneth Galbraith is one of the most succinct and important in regards to the myth of the heroic producer who made every dime of his money entirely on his own, and owes nothing to the society that made his wealth possible.

Do not listen to the reviews that claim the book argues that all that we produce "belongs to the government," along with a parade of other strawmen arguments trotted out by those dissatisfied by its thesis. It does not claim that. It does not make that argument. It's claim is that we do own the fruits of our labor to the extent that we contributed to the creation and production of that production - but that, to some degree, we own back into the society that created the infrastructure that allowed that production to be possible.
The book is the most informative I have encountered in regards to articulating the importance of a system of public goods for meeting the needs of society as a whole. In reality, without some method of collective enforcement of the rights we hold so dear, you wouldn't' have the privilege of arguing on the internet from the comfort of your own own. It is the greatest book I have seen pointing out the flawed and unrealistic religion that is Libertarianism.

This book points out why the alleviation of poverty helps everyone. Why you benefit in a world where the poor are taken care of. Why social goods created by collectively pooled resources allow us all to enjoy more wealth. Why courts, laws, patents, and enforcement make it possible to produce to begin with. Why education is the wellspring of all the progress we hold so dear from the onset.

Until someone can produce for me a person who got rich in a Capitalistic society with no infrastructure, property rights, patents, educated workers, national defense, roads, sewers, water, airports, and countless other public goods woven into the very basic fabric of our wealth creating society, the charges levied against this book our invalid. Someone flippantly said "This book just says without Uncle Sam, you

Please, do not listen to the Randists and Tea Party Right wing nuts who denigrate the book. Read it and come to your own conclusion. Not everything is captured by market signals. The greatest and wealthiest countries learned long ago, that taxes are a way for us to do big, hard things that make us all better off, which cannot be achieved by any one person alone.
It's the Libertarians who want something for nothing. They want to enjoy a society and wealth made possible by billions of investments in Infrastructure, for free. They are the ones wanting welfare. Not the other way around. We do own the fruits of our own work. But we owe some of that, to the framework that made that possible so that wealth creation can remain possible. This book is a beautiful articulation of that fact.

Humans have traded things back and forth for their own benefit since our species has been able to walk upright. No one disagrees with this. A world with no government would be possible - and has indeed existed before. Some would succeed brilliantly in such an anarchistic world. But the price for not being at the top would be far crueler, far harsher than we have today. It would amount to a lottery where he very best and strongest would enjoy a possibly very glitzy and dominant position (To the extent that modern technology would even allow that - basic research, and technology from public funding has contributed to a vast degree of the advancement we have today), but the rest would languish in a terrible, brutish and uncertain world with no way to keep the strong from crushing the under the them. Libertarians and tea partiers recognize only the monopoly of public power. For some reason, the idea of private power as a coercive force is utterly invisible to them.
8 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Brief for Totalitarianism 7 mai 2013
Par Kevin Beary - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
The "dominant theme" of Murphy & Nagel's book is that "private property is a legal convention." They claim that "the modern economy in which we earn our salaries, own our homes, bank accounts, retirement savings, and personal possessions...would be impossible without the framework provided by government supported by taxes." There is no natural right to property because whatever right does exist is artificially created by government. On what seems like every page of their book, they reiterate their "insistence on the conventionality of property, and [their] denial that property rights are morally fundamental."

In the conclusion of their book, the writers dismiss with disdain "the claim that the entire social product really belongs to the government," as if this claim were not the cornerstone of their anti-property rights argument. But they can't make such a disavowal and remain true to their basic principle, which is that pre-tax income doesn't exist, that it is a mere convention. If pre-tax income doesn't exist, how can a laborer be entitled to even a minute percentage of it? How can one be entitled to something that doesn't exist? In Christian theology, defrauding the laborer of his wages is one of the four sins that cry to heaven for vengeance...but how can you defraud a laborer of his wages if wages don't exist?

Though M&N would deny it, once the right to property is seen as a myth, there is nothing to stand in the way of a 100% income tax, provided that government then ensures a minimum standard of living and distributive justice, however it may be defined during whatever reign. State provided medical care, housing, clothes, food, even restaurants, tv and other entertainment...possibly not the best quality of goods in any category but that's the way the hard tack crumbles. One thinks of the canteen in Orwell's 1984 or the people's cafeterias of the Soviet Union with their greasy, tepid goulash. In such a society, there would be no need for left-over, disposable income...at least theoretically. Of course, a black market functioning by barter would soon develop, in which people would trade goods and services directly.

Perhaps not surprisingly, M&N, after demolishing to their satisfaction the right to property, do not go on to their logical next step. For if the right to property is not a natural one, but is only conceded in a very limit from by government, then surely the right to life and liberty are in the same boat. If property rights would not exist without government, then neither would the right to life and liberty. Indeed, the three rights are always bundled together, because without the right to property--that is, without the right to the fruits of one's labor that enable one to sustain one's life--life is certainly impossible, and without life there certainly can be no liberty.

"What sort of life would be led in the total absence of government?" the authors ask. "The non-government world is Hobbes's state of nature, which he aptly described as a war of all against all....(we leave aside the fact that without government...most of us wouldn't exist even in Hobbes's state of nature.)" This is about the closest the authors come to admitting that in their view, the right to life is something given us by tax-funded government.

The authors would certainly not put it this way, but their ideal world is one in which an omnipotent government controlled by a political elite of putative experts expropriate working people and use the wealth to engage in social engineering meant to bring about an earthly paradise in which "distributive justice" and "equity of results" prevail. What distributive justice is they never quite define, but it certainly entails expropriation carried out through heavy and multiple taxation. Since property rights would not exist without the state, the state has the right to dispose of your property as it sees fit. The same disposition can for the same reason be made of your liberty and life, though M&N refrain from articulating this. But following their logic, if I would have no freedom of movement without government, then government certainly has the right to restrict my movements if it so chooses, doubtless in the interests of distributive justice. I would not live very long, if were I able to be born at all, without government, so again government has the right to decide whether I live or die, again in the interests of distributive justice and equity of results.

Paraphrasing Wendell Holmes, we might say that taxes are the price we pay for totalitarianism.

"The idea that it is the function of government merely to provide the conditions for peaceful economic cooperation and competition, without any concern for the equity of the results, is just too minimal," the authors write. They appeal to A Theory of Justice author John Rawls to substantiate their belief: Rawls' "most famous and controversial claim is that differences in natural ability--the inequalities of what he calls the natural lottery--have a morally arbitrary effect when they result in differences of earning power. He holds that ...no one can be said to deserve the genetic endowment they are born with."

Rawls did not include genetic engineering in his Theory of Justice, but Transhumanist James Hughes takes up the distributive slack with Dr-Moreauish delight in his Embracing Change with All Four Arms: A Post-Humanist Defense of Genetic Engineering, in which Hughes asserts that "social domination has some biological determinants. Patriarchy is, in part, based on women's physical vulnerability, and their special role in reproduction. While industrialization, contraception and the liberal democratic state may have removed the bulk of patriarchy's weight, genetic technology offers to remove the rest. Similarly, while racism, ageism, heterosexism, and so on may be only 10% biological and 90% social construction, at least the biological factors can be made a matter of choice by genetic and biological technology.... If there are genetic factors in gender or racial difference, they will most likely be revealed as minor beside the social factors, and the genetic factors will become ameliorable through a technical fix."

Just as government can dispose of the laborer's wages, so too it can manipulate the laborer's genes as it sees fit, in order to bring about the highly-prized equity of results.

In their defense of expropriation, M&N muddy the waters quite a bit by using their invented term "everyday liberalism" instead of saying clearly "a right to property and the fruits of one's labor." Their everyday liberalism consists of two ideas: 1) "each person has an inviolable moral right to the accumulation of property that results from genuinely free exchanges" and 2) "the market gives people what they deserve by rewarding their productive contribution and value to others." Of course, M&N are dead set against the right to property and to one's earnings because, still following Rawls, "to the extent that market outcomes are determined by genetic or medical or social luck (including inheritance), they are not, on anyone's account, morally deserved."

Hard work, diligence, application, effort, sacrifice are the results of good luck in life; laziness, apathy, loafing, improvidence and just general all-around good-for-nothingness are the results of bad luck and are no fault of the idler.

M&N's reading of Aesop's The Ant and the Grasshopper would be something like this: Once upon a time, there lived an ant who, because of his genetic and medical and social luck (including inheritance: it seems that he inherited some grain from his parents), was able to put away a good store of food for the coming winter. There lived near the ant a grasshopper, who because of his lack of genetic and medical and social luck (including inheritance: his parents left him nothing), sang all summer long instead of storing food. When the winter came, the grasshopper appealed to the ant for food, but was refused. Luckily for the grasshopper, however, a new government had just come in with a distributive justice plan that they were keen to try out. They expropriated the ant of most of his grain (for it was not morally deserved by him), gave a bit of it to the grasshopper, then used the rest to set up a bureaucracy through which they could continue to administer their distributive justice schemes.

The nightmare doesn't stop once the laborer's earnings have been expropriated: rather it begins in earnest. The uses of other people's money are infinite, and "a government aiming to improve the justice of social outcomes needs to know whether a given change in the tax law will increase or reduce inequality, the level of welfare of the worst off, equality of opportunity, and so on. The real issue of political morality is the extent to which social outcomes are just, and knowledge of the distribution of real tax burdens is important only insofar as it helps us advance that aim." One can envisage a vast army of government bureaucrats veering from one scheme to another, throwing cash in here, sucking it out there, surveying and evaluating the effects of their schemes on their hundred millions of guinea pigs, the American people, strangling the economic life of the country in a crimson band made in Washington, DC. Should a scheme fail, it's back to the drawing board and the treasury.

In 1882, when Oscar Wilde arrived in NY to start his lecture tour, he famously said to the customs official, "I have nothing to declare but my genius." The official is reputed to have responded with something along the lines of, "You'll find we charge no duty on that in this country." In M&N's ideal world, the official would have said, "We'll evaluate your genius with our distributive justice scale and see how much tax you have to pay on it. After all, if it weren't for taxes paying for this customs office, you wouldn't even be able to get into the country."

Redistribution enthusiasts forget that the name of the statue in NY harbor is Liberty Enlightening the World, not Taxation Expropriating the World.

M&N have not updated their book since its release in 2002, so there is no reference in it to what government actually does with taxpayer money, fine social theories notwithstanding. The TARP grant of nearly a trillion dollars to the Wall Street bucket shops in order to "save the international financial system," under Bush, and the continuation of government subsidy of the financially parasitic entities under Obama, should encourage any reader to take M&N's limitless faith in the beneficence of government with more than a grain of salt.

A much sounder discussion of property rights and trade is found in Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation, specifically in the chapter titled The Gains from Trade, in which Ridley demonstrates that "exchange for mutual benefit has been part of the human condition for at least as long as Homo sapiens has been a species. It is not a modern invention....Government, law, justice and politics are not only far more recently developed than trade, but they follow where trade leads....Modern commercial law was invented and enforced not by government, but by merchants themselves. Only later did governments try to take it over, and with mostly disastrous results....The growing cost and gradual congestion of the official courts soon deprived the system of its speed and frugality....Markets, exchanges and rules can develop before government or any other monopolist has defined their rules. They define their own rules, because they have been part of human nature for many millions of years."

At the end of their book, M&N lament that "taxes are naturally perceived by most people as expropriations of their property...Changing this habit of thought would require a kind of gestalt shift, and it may be unrealistic to hope that such a shift in perception could easily become widespread." But M&N should take heart, for in the ten years since the authors wrote their book, there has been just such a shift in an America in which consumption has replaced creation, an obvious manifestation of the decadence that is the hallmark of the penultimate cycle of a civilization. M&N's idea that men are not endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has gradually become part of the American mentality.

But it remains wrong, it remains absolutely morally wrong to take earnings from the working person, especially from working people with a family to raise and support, and give those earnings to someone who refuses to work. And yet for M&N, such a transfer is desirable:

"The most realistic aim is to try to ensure that everyone in the society should have at least a minimally decent quality of life...that even people who fail to take advantage of reasonably favorable initial opportunities should not be left to fall into destitution," they write. In other words, people who refuse to work should be nevertheless be provided gratis with the standard goods: food, clothing, shelter and more...free for the idler who failed to take advantage of opportunity, a cost for the laborer who saw and took the opportunity to make an honest living.

As Thomas Sowell asks in his essay Apologizing for Civilization (collected in Is Reality Optional?): "Can anyone seriously believe that maintaining an army of idle people...makes for a better society? Or that subsidizing irresponsible behavior is the way to get responsible behavior--either by the people involved or by those who see them getting away with it?"

It seems that at least two professors of philosophy and law at NYU seriously do believe it. And the following of these professors grows daily larger.
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