Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tax Collectors

From a post at the Mises Economics Blog titled Conserving conserves nothing, which in and of itself is worth a read, but it is the following comment appended to the post, by one Ned Netterville, which I reproduce in full below, which really caught my attention.

I have a libertarian-teaching routine that I use with cashiers at retail establishments almost anywhere—except in New Hampshire and a few other locales. It goes something like this:

Clerk: Your total is sixteen fifty, sir.
Me: No it isn’t.
Clerk: (Looking at the cash-register tape or computer screen). What do you mean?
Me: The prices marked on the shelves are six dollars for this screw driver and nine for for the propane torch.
Clerk: That’s right.
Me: No, that’s wrong.
Clerk: (looking perplexed): What do you mean?
Me: I mean the total you gave me is wrong. Six plus nine equals fifteen dollars—not sixteen fifty.
Clerk: (reviewing the register tape for a few moments before understanding suddenly dawns): Oh, yes, that’s right, fifteen dollars plus ten percent tax is a dollar fifty which adds up to sixteen fifty, like I said (looking rather relieved and sounding a bit condescending).
Me: Oh, no, you’re still wrong. The prices marked on the shelves are six and nine dollars. There is no mention of any tax.
Clerk: Everything is taxed; everybody pays.
Me: I don’t.
Clerk: (agitated): Sir, I have to collect the tax. You can’t have the items if you don’t pay the tax.
Me: Oh, so you’re a tax collector.
Clerk: No sir, not me. The state gets the tax,; the computer adds it to every transaction.
Me: Who is going to collect the money from me; who do I have to give it to?
Clerk (now sheepishly) I guess that’s me.
Me: If you are collecting the tax, you are the tax collector, are you not?
Clerk: If you say so.
Me: What do you mean, if I say so? If you don’t collect it from me I won’t pay it. Isn’t that so?
Clerk: I guess so.
Me: How much of the tax do you get to keep?
Clerk: I don’t get any of it; it all goes to the state.
Me: How much does the state pay you to collect its taxes?
Clerk: The state doesn’t pay anything.
Me: So you do the state’s dirty work for nothing?
Clerk: Yeah, I guess so.
Me: Hmmm. Very interesting. Do you know what Jesus said about tax collectors?
Clerk: No (sounding defensive).
Me: He likened them to prostitutes, but said both were entering heaven ahead of the scribes and Pharisees. You’re not a Pharisee too, are you?
Clerk: No.
Me: Well, I don’t want to get you in trouble so here’s the sixteen fifty. The extra dollar fifty is less than a prostitute would charge. Have a good day.

Actually, I’m usually less blunt, more polite and conclude by smiling and saying, “I’m just teasing. I know it’s not your fault that you have to work for the state for free.” In my experience it is the rare clerk or cashier who had ever thought of himself or herself as a tax collector until it was brought to their attention.

Posted by John Venlet on 12/23 at 11:41 AM
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