But some people reject the 'reasonable alternatives' view of freedom. They want to hold that workers do indeed voluntarily consent to their labour. Funnily enough, they also want to hold that taxation is forced. I argue that this combination of views is inconsistent:
In making a market transaction, you consent to the conditions of that transaction -- one of which is taxation. Presumably one could avoid taxation altogether by refraining from participation in the market economy, never acquiring possessions, and so forth. This is a "choice" on the order of "choosing" to starve rather than work. If you believe the latter to be an uncoerced choice, I'm not sure on what basis you deny the same status to the former.
Indeed, they might even come down to the very same choice. Let us imagine a man with no possessions, and two broad options:
(1) work at a taxed wage
or (2) starve.
Let us suppose he ends up doing #1. Is it an uncoerced choice? If so, he chose to be taxed. If not, he was forced to work. Take your pick.
Jason then responded:
I believe that starving rather than working is an uncoerced choice. Coercion is something that humans do to one another; it is not something that nature does to us.
The man who chooses to work at a taxed wage rather than starve may, if given only these two alternatives, prefer to work at a taxed wage, but this in no way means that the taxes -- apart from the wage itself -- were at all a voluntary contribution on his part.
To which I in turn replied:
I'm still not convinced you're being consistent here. Compare:
The man who chooses to work at a taxed wage rather than starve may, if given only these two alternatives, prefer to work at a taxed wage, but this in no way means that the work -- apart from the wage itself -- was at all a voluntary contribution on his part.
Now, I do think Jason is quite right that taxation isn't really voluntary. We have no reasonable alternatives: if we want to live in modern society, then we're forced to pay taxes. But the same is true of the proletariat's work. If he wants to live in modern society then he is forced to labour. It's no different, and the consistent libertarian ought to concede this.
Some libertarians (e.g. Nozick) adopt a moralized conception of freedom, whereby you are free if and only if nobody has violated your rights. This analysis of freedom is very implausible. It implies that the justly imprisoned criminal remains free (since none of his rights are violated), when surely imprisonment is a paradigm case of unfreedom. (I mention some other objections to this view here.)
But even this desperate move might not save the libertarian from my current argument. The moralized conception may indeed imply that the worker "freely" chooses to labour. But, by parity of reasoning, he also "freely" agrees to pay tax. That was the point of my earlier exposition on how the market agent "consent[s] to the conditions of th[e] transaction". One of those conditions is that the proletariat performs manual labour. Another condition of the transaction is that his wage will be taxed. It isn't clear what grounds there are for treating these conditions differently, for thinking that one but not the other is a violation of the worker's rights. Any suggestions?