Tax Injustice Day: Altruism vs. Americanism

by | Apr 15, 2004

On Tax Day consider some basic facts. The wealthiest 1% of the taxpayers pay 34% of all federal income taxes. The top 50% pay 96% of the total bill. This means that the least wealthy 50% pay almost nothing. In short, the income tax system soaks the rich. In the name of justice, the President, […]

On Tax Day consider some basic facts. The wealthiest 1% of the taxpayers pay 34% of all federal income taxes. The top 50% pay 96% of the total bill. This means that the least wealthy 50% pay almost nothing. In short, the income tax system soaks the rich. In the name of justice, the President, Congress and the American public should be demanding a tax cut that lowers the tax bill of the wealthy.

But the opponents of tax cuts do not want justice. They want redistribution of wealth. They want to confiscate the income earned by the wealthy and give it to people who have not earned it. They want the rich–which includes the most productive people in society–to be the servants of the poor.

The moral principle used to justify income redistribution is altruism. Altruism does not mean generosity or benevolent concern for the less fortunate. Altruism means: other-ism. It is the doctrine that it is your moral duty to live for others and to sacrifice your life, property and well-being for theirs. It is the code of self-sacrifice. Under altruism the productive are the ones who must give and the non-productive are those who receive. The inability or unwillingness of the non-productive to create wealth gives them a moral claim upon those who do.

The tax code enforces altruism through coercion. Earning money through voluntary trade is replaced by getting money by force in order to achieve the altruistic goal the government desires. But when the property of some people is seized and given to others, it is an injustice.

The doctrine of altruism induces (and is meant to induce) guilt. It makes the successful feel that they have no right to their achievements. The goal of altruism is to disarm the producers morally so that they will not defend their right to their lives and property. Thus the rich often support higher taxes for themselves. Remember in recent years, just as one example, billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett attacking a repeal of the estate tax.

Most Americans would be shocked to learn that altruism is the moral code that underlies Marxism (and thus Communism). Marx’s credo was: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” Man has no right to exist for himself in this view; he is a servant of the state or society, to be disposed of as they see fit.

No, we have not gone all the way down that road yet, though the progressive income tax has been a step in that direction.

Altruism is the opposite of Americanism. Americanism means you have the inalienable right “to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which includes property rights. It means that your life and property belong to you, not to the state or to society. It means that the government’s proper job is to protect, not to violate, rights. Acting in one’s own self-interest (while respecting the rights of others) is fully moral–it is the fundamental requirement of a successful and happy life. It means that you are not an object of sacrifice but a sovereign being. It means that your property belongs to you. It means that every individual, whether rich or poor, has the same rights. Self-reliance, not self-sacrifice, is the American ideal. On Tax Day support tax cuts by promoting the idea of a truly just society: where each man keeps what he earns and has no claim upon the life and property of others.

Copyright 2004 Ayn Rand Institute. All rights reserved. That the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has granted permission to Capitalism Magazine to republish this article, does not mean ARI necessarily endorses or agrees with the other content on this website.

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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