How Responsible Are You for Where Your Taxes Go?

A conservative talking point you’re bound to hear, if you haven’t already: “Why should my taxes pay for baby killers?”

The shallow liberal response: “Planned Parenthood already can’t spend federal money on abortion.”

The shallow conservative counter: “Money is fungible. Whatever they don’t spend on other things just pays for more abortions.”

Make no mistake — Planned Parenthood can’t spend federal money on abortion. And money is fungible. But my dear, dear pearl-clutching conservatives. You’re hardly alone. In a sense, we all pay for baby killers. Pro-life and pro-choice alike. Bracket the question of fetal personhood. Bracket the question of fungibility. Killing is what the government does: Adults. Babies. Puppies. Grandmas.

What — you haven’t noticed?

Ask a Quaker. Seriously. Principled pacifism distills the entire no-taxes-for-killing argument, setting aside all the usual points of contention. And Quakers pay taxes.

Quakers. Pay. Taxes.

Conservatives, perhaps you’re fully justified. Or perhaps the Quakers are. Logically, you might both be right. But if “taxes for killing” is the real issue, then we have to account for the disparity between their claims and yours.

Now, there’s been proposed legislation that would let Quakers pay taxes without funding any wars. It’s called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act. And it’s not a terrible idea, even if, as we’ve already conceded, money is fungible. The act does no harm to anyone; it eases some people’s minds, which is never a bad thing; and if pacifist religions grow popular enough, they might see their beliefs enacted in policy without, erm, firing a shot. This is just how things should be. Isn’t it?

Likewise, perhaps we should start a “Religious Freedom Pro-Life Tax Fund.” All those who are pro-life will never have to see their money go to any organization remotely connected with abortion. Neat parallel, huh?

Only the naive would think our work is done, however. I pay federal taxes just like anyone else. So why should I have to pay for the DEA to raid peaceful marijuana growers and consumers? To me, this might be the single most evil thing our government does to its own citizens on a regular basis. I’d happily, even eagerly contribute my taxes to a “Cognitive Freedom No-Drug-War Tax Fund Act.” I’m pretty sure I’d sleep easier at night, even if money remains fungible.

In theory, we could go on and on — continuing, in fact, until every taxpayer earmarked every cent of his taxes specifically to one purpose, or another, or some unique constellation of them. Legislators would set tax rates — you must pay so much — but not tax destinations.

Would that be a better world than ours? I wish I knew. It’s such a radical change that I find it hard to guess. Liberty would increase on many, many dimensions, but there would probably be some terrible collective action problems too.

Is this a world you’d want to live in? I’m curious.

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