In Chapter 1, attempting to “rescue equality” from the “incentives argument,” Cohen keeps talking about the choice of the more talented to work harder at a 40% tax rate than at a 60% rate.
He claims essentially that the “threat” the talented make to reduce their output if the tax is high amounts to blackmail or even kidnapping. The talented are morally in the wrong by holding the welfare of the “poor” hostage to their selfish demands.
We’ll deal with that argument later. For now consider the following problem: by exhibiting displeasure over the lowering of the tax, Cohen shows that he is fully aware that people will not continue paying the higher tax voluntarily. He realizes that in order to get people to pay more tribute to the state, taxes have to be kept high or raised. In this case, the taxpayers are motivated by fear of punishment from the state for tax evasion. Cohen is not outraged or scandalized by this entirely normal and human response. Why is he so uptight about their being motivated by promise of reward by working harder at the lower tax?
Why is it Ok for an individual to be motivated by fear of punishment, but not Ok by promise of reward?
Cohen might reply that if the “rich” worked harder without pay voluntarily, perhaps imbued with his “egalitarian ethos” (to be evaluated later), then both the incentive of the lower tax rate and the disincentive of punishment for non-payment of taxes could disappear. There might still be some sort of “law” that 60% and not 40% of income is to be remitted to the state, but the enforcement apparatus could “wither away.”
Very well, we may grant Cohen for the sake of argument that choosing to work less hard at a higher income tax is morally dubious. But it’s hardly a violent crime to be punished by the state. Taxation, on the other hand, is extortion and theft, to be abolished posthaste. Cohen should work with the libertarians to eliminate taxes and then embark on a campaign of teaching and preaching to persuade the “rich” essentially to tithe to the state.
He may even take his fancy to its ultimate conclusion. “Let there be 100% tax,” he’ll proclaim, “but you, the people, shall not as a result quit working altogether and all starve. Nor, remarkably, am I requiring that you be enslaved by the state and forced to work. No, instead, you shall work just as hard and be just as dedicated to your jobs as at 0% tax, because you want to be holy (according to my, Cohen’s, understanding of the moral law). All the goods thereby produced shall go into a common stockpile to be then distributed equally.” If he can convince people to do that, then an important obstacle to socialism, namely, the question of who will take out the garbage, will have been successfully resolved.
The solution will note that the person who will take out the garbage under socialism for free is the same person who would take it out under laissez-faire for money, mysteriously working with identical zeal and eagerness to outshine his competition.