A Creation Myth for Government and Taxes
The following is a narrative that occurred to me while thinking about anarcho-capitalism (aka libertarian anarchy), which involves the idea that government is an unnecessary and immoral imposition on human society, and that people should have nothing but voluntary associations with each other.
Imagine an ancient tribe who live in an isolated mountain valley. They have an idyllic existence, a high-trust society and they have never gone to war. Maybe they have a leader, but he doesn’t do much except preside on feast days. They have a few weapons, but nothing too sophisticated.
Then one day a barbarian tribe invades their valley, murders a bunch of people, steals their stuff, kidnaps a bunch of their women, and burns down their homes. The tribesmen fight bravely, but their efforts are disorganized and futile. None of them are terribly proficient at fighting, never having felt the necessity to practice.
The survivors gather together and decide, “Well, we can’t let that happen ever again!” So they choose a Mayor and recruit a bunch of soldiers who are then trained and set about patrolling the territory. They build a few walls and watch towers along the boarders. They fortify the central village. They employ a blacksmith to make armor and weapons. They build roads and bridges so that the tribes-people can get to the village more quickly if they hear an alarm.
Somewhere along the line someone asks, “Hey! How are we going to pay for all this?” Not stumped for long, they realize that they’re going to have to start collecting taxes.
For a while the preparations and the tax collection go along smoothly until someone notices that not everyone is contributing. One fellow, who lives in the central village, has been refusing to pay his taxes. The Mayor takes a few of his men to confront the man and demand an explanation, which he readily provides, saying “I didn’t ask for a wall! I didn’t ask for fortifications! I think we could have got along just fine without any of this new stuff! We should have just told everyone to get a sword and practice with it!” The Mayor says, “No, we need an organized response to these barbarians if they come back. We need these things, these soldiers and these fortifications; and you benefit from them, so you’ve got to help pay for them!” The man tries to disagree, but the Mayor’s men punch him in the face and force him to pay his taxes.
Another fellow, who lives on the far end of the valley, has also not payed his taxes, so the Mayor and his men go pay him a visit too. He tells them, “Me and my family weren't affected by the barbarian attack. They didn’t make it this far up the valley. And if they come back, they’re not likely to come this far! Why should I have to pay for all this new stuff? They don’t help me any!” The mayor thinks about it for a moment, then responds, “You trade in the village. You’re part of our society, and you have to help pay for its protection!” The man disagrees, but he too gets a punch in the face and is forced to pay. He shouts, “You’re robbing me! You’re no better than those barbarians!”
The Mayor is flabbergasted by this accusation, but remains firm in his conviction, replying “Well, you’re free to move to another valley, but as long as you live here, you will contribute to the common good. You have an obligation to the tribe. If you don’t pay, you’re the robber.”
Other versions of this story could include a member of the tribe himself who goes rogue and decides to become a serial killer and an arsonist. This threat to society would necessitate the formation of a police force, a fire brigade, and a court system.
There are simply some threats that individuals cannot hope to deal with on their own, requiring an organized response, and this organized response will inevitably evolve into government and necessitate forcible tax collection. For this reason I don't think anarcho-capitalism is a viable possibility. It's just as Utopian as communism.
It is not that Utopian visions of human society are impossible. It is just that they would require human nature to change. They would require all humans everywhere to simultaneously start thinking more like ants or bees, and that's never going to happen.
In my opinion, an exceptionally high-trust society could exist for a brief period without government, but the introduction of any societal threat, whether internal or external, would almost immediately necessitate the formation of government and the imposition of taxes.