Citizenship in the United States, or remaining a citizen, is a choice of a free individual.
Some argue, choosing to remain a citizen and receive the benefits of such an arrangement is an agreement to be governed under the existing laws of the country and therefore is a consent to be forcibly taxed in any amount determined appropriate by the elected Congress of the United States.
Where is the flaw in this reasoning and, if there isn't one, are Objectivists justified in their claim that forced taxation is unjust?
There is a bit of a chicken or the egg argument here, which I think needs unraveling.
Is forced taxation unjust if you agree to the use of force?
I apologize for the multiple angles/questions. For me, they all drive to the same issue/concern.
The question describes a type of "social contract" theory of politics, and then asks for refutation. The most basic flaw is that the theory is presented as an out-of-context "floating abstraction" without any indication of how it relates to, and arises from, any more fundamental facts of reality. I.e., it is a political theory presented without validation. On the onus of proof principle in epistemology, no further refutation is needed unless or until the proposed theory is accompanied by its own positive attempt at validation.
For example, here are some of the issues that the proposed theory fails to consider (due to absence of any deeper context):
...consent to be forcibly taxed in any amount determined appropriate by the elected Congress of the United States.
Does this mean that wealthy CEOs and successful entrepreneurs should have their wealth taken away from them and redistributed to everyone who has less, if Congress votes in favor of it?
There is a Wikipedia article on "Social contract," describing how numerous thinkers over the centuries offered a wide range of very different "social contract" theories. ("Social contract" thus is really a package deal, an exercise in definition by non-essentials.) The article even includes John Locke as the originator of one such "social contract" theory, along with many other thinkers such as Hobbes, Rousseau, Grotius, Pufendorf, and even Immanuel Kant. One can learn a great deal about the American system by studying the political philosophy of John Locke, but not nearly as much from the others. Despite Wikipedia's classification of Locke's view as a "social contract" theory, there is far more to Locke than that, and more fundamentally so (although a fully complete theory of government and its validation has had to wait for Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism to be defined).
If one wants to learn more about how Objectivism establishes the essential principles of political theory from their deeper foundation in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, here are some of the key elements in that foundational context (refer to numerous applicable topics in The Ayn Rand Lexicon for additional details):
The question also mentions that Objectivism regards forced taxation as unjust. That is true but is not the primary basis for opposition to forced taxation. Objectivism opposes all forms of initiation of physical force against others, including forced taxation, as morally evil, not merely unjust.
If some observers have been relying on Libertarian or Conservative sources for guidance on what the philosophy of Objectivism stands for and why (focusing on justice disconnected from rationality, for example), they will find a far more definitive, accurate, and comprehensive presentation in Ayn Rand's original works. The two excerpts in the topic of "Social Theory of Ethics" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon are particularly relevant in opposition to any "social contract" view of politics. So is the Lexicon topic of "Individual Rights."
Update: An Objectivist Perspective
In the comments, the questioner restates the essential argument more concisely, and subsequent comments by Anthony provide a cogent response. Here is the questioner's restated version:
My hypothetical does not include merely existing within the borders [of a country], or staying silent, but actually choosing to be a citizen of the country. 1. Are you choosing to be a citizen here? 2. If so, does that mean you agree to be taxed under the existing laws? 3. If so, then are you consenting to the use of force? 4. If so, then can you claim it to be immoral or unjust? I must answer "yes" to the first three of those questions. I wonder about #4.
This is actually rationalism -- logical inference not tied to reality. What I find most striking about this line of thinking is the complete absence of any concern for the principle of individual rights (and its importance in the founding of America). The Objectivist view is that societies and governments properly exist only to serve the rational self-interests of the individuals who comprise the society. A society and its government are invalid and likely to be destructive of individuals to the extent to which those societies fail to recognize and protect individual rights.
Individuals are free, of course, to renounce their rights and join a society that violates individual rights and subjects its members to mandates backed by the readiness to initiate physical force against them if needed to assure their continued obedience to the "will of society." Today, a disturbing number of individuals from around the globe are freely (though naively) choosing to join ISIS and submit to the massive, brutal physical force that ISIS imposes on all who oppose it in any manner. Some individuals may, indeed, very willingly submit to such a setup, while many others likely will not submit to it if they have a real choice (including an alternative country or territory to go to that is more consistently rational in its founding principles). If societies allow individuals to choose freely whether to remain in the country or leave, that is a good sign. It is a step in the direction of limiting the evil of otherwise oppressive regimes. Vast numbers of individuals worldwide will, indeed, freely "vote with their feet" if given the opportunity.
Societies and their governments do not "own" the land and resources within the country's territorial borders, in the Objectivist view of a proper society. A proper society has no "right" to tell individuals to leave if they refuse to obey government edicts that have nothing to do with protecting individuals who do not voluntarily choose to submit to the edicts nor to abandon the property which they may acquire within the country for their own individual use as they see fit. Governments properly exist, in the Objectivist view, only to protect individuals from attacks by criminals and foreign invaders, and to settle disputes according to fair and objective adjudicative criteria. Such protection is the only proper "benefit" that a government can offer, in the Objectivist view; anything more requires seizing the property of others in the form of forced taxation and endless other methods.
The questioner repeatedly chides Objectivist responses as not responsive to his exact points. The excerpt above, for example, is preceded by:
... the bullet points you cite, although factual, do not highlight flaws in the argument posited in my question.
But the Objectivist responses are attempts to offer a broad Objectivist perspective on the issues raised by the question, not necessarily to take the question at face value on its own terms and limit the response to narrow details and non-essentials that miss the "larger picture." If the questioner seeks an Objectivist perspective, he may be able to find valuable insights here. Objectivism is a comprehensive, thoroughly integrated view of man and existence, including the nature of human societies and their value or disvalue to man.
Objectivism is not a philosophy that will be of much use for individuals who may prefer, entirely voluntarily, to be slaves of an oppressive regime, or to submit fully and willingly to some mixed society that may grant limited freedoms to its members as privileges which the society can rescind at any time if the society deems it to be in "the public interest" to do so. Over time, mixed societies will become increasingly oppressive if their policies and underlying philosophy are unopposed by a better philosophy. Objectivism is a philosophy for those who want to exist for their own sake, in peace with their neighbors, living their lives by rational productiveness and voluntary trade, with protection of their persons and property from other individuals or governments that try to initiate physical force against them. If the questioner isn't interested in what Objectivism has to say on the issues he raises, there are likely to be many others who are interested; there is always a wider audience for the questions and answers that can be found on this website.
Randy Barnett (not an Objectivist, but a generally good legal scholar) has a good refutation of various species of "implied consent" arguments in his book Restoring the Lost Constitution, which are worth reading even if you skip the rest of the book (although I enjoyed the rest of the book too). In essence, his point is that the idea of "consent" is only meaningful if it does not encompass situations in which the person who is supposedly "consenting" did not have a real choice between alternatives. In other words, if we consider a person's action (or inaction) to be implied consent even when the person had no real choice but to take the action (or inaction), then "consent" becomes a meaningless concept because it would apply to every action (or inaction), and therefore does not distinguish anything from anything else.
In the case of "consent" to taxation by the mere fact that you remain a citizen, this clearly does not make the taxation any less of a rights violation. There are at least two reasons why this is so.
First, the "consent" is not actual consent, for the reasons discussed by Professor Barnett. You have no real choice about whether or not you will be taxed by a government. Your only choice is which government is going to tax you, not whether you will be taxed. In other words, you cannot simply leave the US (and your citizenship thereof) and thereby avoid taxes, because you have to live somewhere, and wherever you choose to live you will be subject to taxation by the government that has jurisdiction over that location. Because you cannot take any action or make any choice that would allow you to avoid taxation, it is meaningless to say you have "consented" to taxation.
Second, even if we stipulated for the sake of argument that you have consented to the taxation by staying in the US, that does not mean that the taxation is not a rights-violation, much less that it is moral. When a person consents to an event that would otherwise be a violation of the person's rights, it is possible for the event to become not rights-violating due to the consent. However, whether or not the event becomes not rights-violating due to the consent depends on the nature of consent. In other words, not every type of consent can transform an otherwise rights violating action into a not rights-violating action. For example, if one "consents" to X, but the consent was extracted by the threat of force, then X is still a rights violation. As another example, if one "consents" to X, but the consent was extracted by fraud, then X is still a rights violation. As another example, if one "consents" to X, but the person supposedly consenting is not competent to consent, then X is still a rights violation.
In the case of taxation, the "consent" is clearly extracted by the threat of force. In particular, there are at least two threats to consider--the threat of the US if I don't pay taxes, and the threats of the rest of the world's nations if I try to leave the US. If I elected to not pay my taxes in order to register my non-consent to taxation, the US government would initiate force against me. Moreover, if my choice to stay in the US is considered to be consent, then this consent is clearly extracted by the threat of force from every other nation in the world. In particular, every other nation I could go to is threatening me with the use of force if I come there and don't pay taxes. Thus, however you look at it, my "consent" was extracted by threat of force (whether threat of force from the US or threat of force from other nations), and thus the consent does not absolve the rights violation.
Finally, there is the consideration of what it is right (i.e., moral) for a government to do. Just because an action is not a rights-violation, does not mean that the action is right. A simple example on the personal level is dishonesty--generally not a rights violation, but still immoral. The same is true on the national level I believe. For example, if the people of a nation actually and truly consented, without coercion, to whatever the government decided to do to them, then it would still be morally wrong for the government to say, summarily execute random people. It might not be a rights violation, and thus other nations might not be justified in stepping in to stop the actions, but that doesn't mean that the actions cannot be condemned as immoral and improper for a government to do. In other words, while a proper government should respect rights at a minimum, that does not mean that anything that is not a rights violation is free-game.
Now things might be more interesting if there existed a viable nation out there that actually respected rights (and hence did not have compulsory tax). If people were free to leave their current nations and move to this free nation, then it might be more reasonable to say that those who chose not to have "consented" to their government's abuses. The existence of a meaningful alternative (the free nation) that is within their power to chose may be enough to render their choice to stay actual consent.
answered Apr 28 '15 at 13:52