Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Social Contract Fallacy

Welcome to your life
There's no turning back
Even while you sleep
We will find you
--Tears for Fears

Hoping to increase support for legitimizing plunder of property from wealthy citizens, the Left is rolling out the tired social contract argument. This time around, it appears to have been tendered by a woman from Massachessetts running for Senate.

In the tax-the-rich context, the social contract argument posits that wealthy people get rich by using infrastructure (i.e., workers educated in public schools, goods moved on public roads, etc) that has been paid for by 'society.' Because that wealth was acquired on the back of 'society', then rich people are getting a 'free ride' on society's back unless they surrender a significant portion of that wealth under penalty of force in the name of giving back.

This argument is laughable right out of the gate. The notion that the wealthy are getting a free ride by using public infrastructure is absurd, since the lopsided nature of the current tax code means that rich people have funded the lion's share of public infrastructure. Indeed, a more valid argument is that it is the near 50% of adults that pay no income taxes who are getting a free ride on the backs of the rich.

Another problem with the social contract argument is that society is not a contractual entity. Society is a construct that exists only in people minds. It may serve a legitimate purpose in some situations to support generalization across many individuals. But society is merely an aggregate of individuals, all with different wants and needs. Exchange occurs between individuals. An argument that places a monolithic society on one side of the table and an individual on the other in a contractual context is a fiction contrived to influence weak minds.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with the social contract argument is that there can be no implied contract between any individual and some aggregate entity. A contract is an agreement of exchange made voluntarily between two parties. Proponents of the social contract argue that simply being born into a community activates a contract that legitimizes expropriation of property to some other entity. But this argument merely imposes conditions of despotism and serfdom rather than voluntary contracting. That an individual lives in a community and pays taxes does not imply consent of contract to do so.

Can it be said that slaves who do not attempt escape consent to a contract of servitude?

Moreover, in the tax-the-rich context, it is apparent that supporters of the social contract agreement believe that the terms of the contract, e.g., the rate at which wealthy must surrender their property, can be arbitrarily renegotiated by the 'society' side of the table. Contracts do not permit arbitrary, one-sided revision.

The social contract argument is a rationalization for depotism and serfdom.


dgeorge12358 said...

Even the striving for equality by means of a directed economy can result only in an officially enforced inequality - an authoritarian determination of the status of each individual in the new hierarchical order.
~Friedrich August von Hayek

Michael Hogan said...

Well said professor, well said!