By Bryan Caplan
Morally speaking, I think taxation is theft. The government has a lot of bad excuses for taking my money without my consent, but no really good reasons. Still, every year, I pay my taxes.
Why don’t I stand up for my rights? The obvious reason: If I stood up for my rights by refusing to pay and attacking anyone who tried to make me, I would end up dead or in jail. That’s the way the government deals with tax resistors.
Given this bleak forecast, I never openly defy the government. Instead, I practice the opposite strategy: appeasement. I find out what the government demands, I comply, and I resume living my rich, fulfilling life. Yes, my rights have been violated. But I’d rather live on my knees than die on my feet. Indeed, I would consider dying on my feet to be not only foolish, but wicked. Life is a gift, even if the government insists on tarnishing it.
Didn’t the Munich Agreement prove for all time that appeasement doesn’t work? Hardly. Despite its well-hyped failures, appeasement is an incredibly effective social strategy for dealing with the unreasonable and the unjust… also known as 90% of mankind. Whenever someone makes bizarre demands upon me, my default is not to argue. Instead, I weigh the cost of compliance. If that cost is small – and it usually is – I let the babies have their way. If you bump into me in the grocery store, I say “Sorry.”
Doesn’t that open the floodgates to additional demands? Not in my experience. One symbolic gesture is enough to placate most of the unpleasant characters I encounter. After my concession, we usually go our separate ways. And even when I repeatedly interact with the same unreasonable, unjust person, at least my appeasement makes it hard for them to imagine that they have to get back at me for my past wrongs.
Despite their scorn, almost everyone knows that appeasement works. How do I know this? Because everyone appeases to cope with social realities. Recall your day. Did you experience some unreasonable, unjust treatment? Probably. If so, did you escalate the conflict until reason and justice prevailed? Probably not. Why not? Because it would be a Pyrrhic victory, likely to leave you unemployed and alone.
Once people retract the absurd claim that “appeasement doesn’t work,” they finally unveil their real objection: They have too much pride to appease. “Why should I apologize when she’s the one who stepped on my foot?” When people express such attitudes, I usually just appease them and get on with my life. But what I’m silently thinking is: “If you’re truly awesome, you shouldn’t care what unreasonable, unjust people think.”
Does this mean that you should never stand up for what is right? Of course not. But you should pick your battles very carefully. While fighting is far more impulsively satisfying than submitting, you should restrain your impulses in favor of calm reflection. You might be in the wrong. You might be making a mountain out of a molehill. And even if right and proportion are on your side, the real world is not an action movie. You could easily fail – and you have a lot to lose.
Reprinted by permission of the Liberty Fund. The Liberty Fund is a private educational foundation dedicated to increased knowledge of a society of free and responsible individuals.