Sunday, December 16, 2007
This post by Chris Dillow contains an interesting claim, that "[a]ll taxes distort behaviour". Distortions are relative to some standard: to be distorted is to be in some important way not-x. Obviously, the standard relative to which taxes distort behaviour is that of some free market utopia, in which we all have everything we could ever desire, and a pony. But why should that be the standard? Why is that wholly imagined and probably practically impossible structure of property rights the one which we choose to use as a yardstick to measure distortion and deviance? Given its utopianism, it could hardly be described as natural, and given that any scheme of taxes can presumably be represented as a different set of property rights, it is not obvious why we should privilege one such set by using it as the standard from which we measure distortions, as if it were the natural, ordained order of things. The question then becomes why we do use this particular, not-even-contingent, set of property rights as the ideal by which to measure the standards of others. Why reify this impossibility?