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December 02, 2009

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Not too long ago while watching the Discovery Channel or somesuch I snarked at the poor ancient Egyptian bastards who labored for months each year on the Pharo's [sic] monuments.

Then I remembered what percent of my taxes got taken out every month.

But yeah, I'm with the democratic socialism camp above, my reading of history is such that libertarianism leads to dystopia -- and I think Canada, Scandinavia, and other semi-Socialist states have pretty good things going.

The funny thing about taxes -- the Physiocrats postulated that all taxes come out of rents.

AFAICT, if we had minarchy-level taxes, land rents would simply expand in the vacuum. High taxes are good, not bad!

"Would an evil be done to your son as well if the grant which led to a cure was paid for by saddling the country with debt, the interest on which he will repay in taxes? "

Well, yeah, of course.

"Aside from that, I wonder who is freer, the man in our society who has relatively complete freedom to choose between McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King, but has never read a Russian novel, for example, or the man under Stalinist rule in the old Soviet Union, who would be executed for suggesting that he have a choice of bacon cheeseburgers, but whom finds and reads and rereads a novel by Gogol, Dostoyevsky, or Tolstoy in his cell."

If you really wonder that, you're an idiot. Possibly a dangerous one. And I say that in all sincerity.

Look, if you don't care for Gogol, just say so.

Tastes vary.

"if you don't care for Gogol"

I'm going to wait for the movie version to come out -- it will be shown in the Gogol-plex.

Brett: What I'd really like, of course, is to start the evil on a downward trajectory, rather than the current upward one.

The odd thing is, when I say something like that, I mean I would really like the US to quit making aggressive war on other countries, to stop kidnapping people and holding them for years in extra-judicial imprisonment, and quit torturing people.

When Brett says something like that, he apparently means he would like his son to grow up in a country as much like 21st-century Afghanistan as possible - that is, a country without government, and therefore without any of the benefits of government - peace, security, education, healthcare... and indeed the Internet.

I would simply note that aggressive war on other countries, kidnapping people and holding them for years in extra (Or NOT extra!) judicial imprisonment, and torturing people, are among the distinctive "benefits" of government. They are, in fact, more characteristic of governments than any of that nice stuff. Which, when done by government, rests on a foundation of the nasty.

Haha, yeah, because that stuff NEVER happens without governments around.

I mean, for someone who claims to be a hard determinist re: evolution and human behavior, you don't really have a handle on this, do you? Hint: Things are pretty much always worse without Leviathan than with it.

Of course that stuff happens even when governments aren't about; Government just does systematically, on a large scale, what small time crooks and bullies do retail.

What? I've never, ever claimed to be a hard determinist. I am, believe me on this, a soft determinist, of the same school of determinism as Aristotle: Freedom is compatible with determinism, because freedom consists of ones action being determined by one's own nature, rather than externally compelled. Indeed, one's 'free will' IS the internal workings of causality within your mind/brain. The only alternative to that internal causality is randomness, not free will.

I'm not sure how determinism can be reconciled with wanting something, though I guess you didn't really have the choice NOT to want something, but that's a side point.

Yes, the government has a monopoly on force. That's because the alternative, a competitive free market in force, with violence decided by the highest bidder, is WAY worse. Government, in a democracy, is designed to represent the will of the people, ALL of them. When it doesn't, that's a reason to criticize the government, because it's failing in what its duties, not because it's evil.

It would be AWESOME if people and the world were different, and we didn't have collective action problems, and every activity that's socially beneficial was profitable, and nothing had externialities. But people and the world aren't. The "free market" only values money.

I've never understood how a theoretical libertarian community (if such an oxymoron can be considered) would deal with something like a company putting a toxic waste dump upstream from them. Without the dreaded government to prohibit it, what would they do? Wait for enough people to get sick and/or die to make a PR stink to have people stop buying the company's stuff and drive them out of business? Resort to actual violence, rather than the govenment's threat of violence? Buy imported water and air from private sources? Decide how much they valued their lives and their children's lives to figure out how much to pay someone else to remove the toxic stuff before it got to their town? All move away, and abandon their homes and property?

No, Nate, they'd take to the internet and threaten to hump the Chrysler Building again and again with perfect, righteous sincerity and maybe visit the target range and go home, watch a little T.V., go to bed, and get up tomorrow and start the effing insincere conversation all over again.

Meanwhile, I'm happy with rolling through the fascist stop sign tomorrow morning on the way to work (to make my group health insurance payment {Whaddaya mean "group" whine the other members of the "group", we don't recall the word "group" in the Constitution, what the hell?) sneaking a look both ways to see if the cop is sitting in his car dreaming of the yeoman farmers and fingering the dogeared copy of Atlas Shrugged and hoping for gods-sake that I haven't taken the libertarian NRA to effing seriously as he punches the siren button.

"Let us give our President the Benefit of the Doubt and here is why . . .

"After great Deliberation and Agony, Pres. Obama called for an Escalation of the 'struggle' but he also Coupled it with an End date of this Struggle by military might and because of that (end date), I have Hope that soon the Long Nightmare of the twin wars, ignited by the twin towers will be over.

"I saw in Pres. Obama a heart that bleeds for this decision for anyone whose heart center is open . . . I also heard the great Urgency he feels to bind up all loose nuclear threats and to prevent them from getting into those hands within Afghanistan and Pakistan which might annihilate the world as we know it. He has not made this this 'call to arms' for Oil or for profit based upon a lie but a heartfelt desire to keep safe the people in the world . . . That in this way we are Standing up for Peace and that somehow we must go into Hell for a Heavenly cause."

angellight: You wax Poetically. But I Dare say you give President Obama Too Much Credit.


I would simply note that aggressive war on other countries, kidnapping people and holding them for years in extra (Or NOT extra!) judicial imprisonment, and torturing people, are among the distinctive "benefits" of government.

Aggressive war on other countries - correct: that needs a government to organize. (You could argue that's a wordy distinction between acts of terrorism, undertaken by a non-government group, and acts of war, undertaken by a military unit, but fullscale war clearly does take a government to make.)

Everything else on my list of evil things I wish the US government were no longer doing - kidnapping, torture, extra-judicial imprisonment - can and will happen, if you live in a country without government. As you would know, if you had ever made any effort whatsoever to study countries doing without the "evils" of government.

"Everything else on my list of evil things I wish the US government were no longer doing - kidnapping, torture, extra-judicial imprisonment - can and will happen, if you live in a country without government."

Yeah, and arson and shakedowns occur without the Mafia being in town, but that doesn't mean the Mafia don't do them. Like I said, these things happen retail without government, government does them wholesale.

You were aware, I hope, that more people died at the hands of their own governments during the 20th century, than at the hands of foreign governments?

Brett, your argument is "Government is evil! I want to live in a country without government!" As I understand it, at least. Of course, since you have no notion what it's like to live in a country without government, and therefore are operating in a little fantasy world of your own that probably somewhat resembles the inside of David MacKinnon's head pre-"Coventry": except MacKinnon was smarter and better-informed.

It's actually more productive to point and laugh at you, as John Thullen does.

No, Nate, they'd take to the internet and threaten to hump the Chrysler Building again and again with perfect, righteous sincerity and maybe visit the target range and go home, watch a little T.V., go to bed, and get up tomorrow and start the effing insincere conversation all over again.

*applauds*

Brett seems to be doing the cost analysis of government (i.e. a cost-benefit analysis, sans the benefit part).

I'm sure, in addition to the things Jes mentions, that there a many, many things the federal government of the U.S. does that many, perhaps most, of us, certainly including Brett, would agree that it shouldn't be doing. Some of them are terrible, immoral things and some are just kind of stupid, pointless and wasteful. So I think there is some common ground, though not accessible by interstate. (I mean, roads, seriously?)

AFAICT, it's a matter of where you draw your lines, not whether there should be lines. So where does this idea of "evil" come from, as a matter specifically of government as opposed to one of human beings generally, regardless of how they do or do not organize themselves? To what level of taxation does the reality object according to the Laws of Nature and the Will of God, constituting a timeless, ever-present upper limit that is weaved into the very fabric of the universe? Is this information on stone tablets that God gave unto Mises on the mount? You know, I'm starting to think Mad Max might be the libertarian Jesus. I don't recall him paying any taxes in Road Warrior.

I can't help but sense some pointlessness here. But that's common in arguments over religion.

"Brett seems to be doing the cost analysis of government (i.e. a cost-benefit analysis, sans the benefit part)."

Nah, I'm pointing out that, all too often, the left does only benefit analysis.

You start out by justifying some evil act under extraordinary circumstances. Then, considering it justified, PERIOD, you resort to it whenever you find it merely convenient.

Having justified hot wiring somebody's care to get a dying man to the hospital, "hot wiring cars" gets filed as ethical, and when you do a cost/benefit analysis the next time you need a car, the only cost you figure in is the gas you burn, not the fact that you're stealing somebody's car.

A dollar in taxes doesn't cost just a dollar. It costs a violation of somebody's rights, too. Anybody who figures in that latter cost is going to be a lot more opposed to doing things through government which might be better done in some other way, or even better left undone, if their FULL cost was accounted for.

Having justified hot wiring somebody's care to get a dying man to the hospital, "hot wiring cars" gets filed as ethical, and when you do a cost/benefit analysis the next time you need a car, the only cost you figure in is the gas you burn, not the fact that you're stealing somebody's car.

I quite like "hot wiring somebody's care" as a complicated metaphor for paying taxes so as to build and run the hospital and ancillary medical services which will save a dying man (or woman's) life.

A dollar in taxes doesn't cost just a dollar. It costs a violation of somebody's rights, too.

Yeah, yeah, you're the real Mr. Pink.

Pretty soon we'll have huge, evil-smelling flocks of ugly, soiled budgies, flying out of people's lavatories and infringing their personal freedom.

Brett, taxes are not per se the same thing as theft. Sure, government has the monopoly on authorized force, but that does not make it inherently illegitimate. It's just a hazard. There are other hazards too, including collective inaction in the face of a looming disaster.

ral: Brett, taxes are not per se the same thing as theft.

You will never get a wannabe freeloader to admit to that. Internet libertarians always come back to that: they love living in a country with all the benefits of government: they just regard having to pay their share as a form of theft.

Fred at Slacktivist, who was plagued for a while with an Internet libertarian called Scott, identified these people with Mr Pink: quite happy to sit at table and enjoy waitress service, but self-righteously angry at the idea that he should have to pay his share. (The Brett Scene from Reservoir Dogs)

Technically, of course, most taxation is extortion, not theft. There are occasional exceptions, of course, like the government seizing inactive bank accounts.

Ral, the point I'm trying to make is that the use of coercion is a moral cost, which deserves it's own accounting, quite in addition to financial measures. If you had to tax somebody to pay for something that 'cost' a dollar, it didn't really cost just a dollar: It cost a dollar, plus an evil act. All else being equal, it would be better to have funded whatever it was by a voluntary mechanism.

We shouldn't blind ourselves to that. Or else you end up resorting to the evil of taxation as a convenience, not a necessity. You end up not even bothering to explore the possibility of doing things in the private sector. Possibly in not quite as nice a fashion, but without any extortion involved. Or considering whether something is really worth doing in light of the rights violations necessary to accomplish it.

Now, of course, ethics and morality are kind of incommensurate with economics, you can't do rigorous calculations to determine which course of action costs more. You can't even run calculations comparing kicking one person in the shin, and lifting another person's wallet. (That's part of why utilitarianism is such a complete crock.) But if you don't at least keep parallel sets of economic and moral books, you're blinding yourself to an important dimension of what you're doing.

If you deliberately blind yourself to the inconvenient moral implications of what you're doing, you ARE going to be acting immorally.

"I quite like "hot wiring somebody's care" as a complicated metaphor for paying taxes...

It isn't a metaphor for paying taxes. It's a metaphor for collecting them. "Having your car hot wired" would be a metaphor for paying taxes. Let's not conflate the car thief and his victim here.

If you deliberately blind yourself to the inconvenient moral implications of what you're doing, you ARE going to be acting immorally.

This is a good and reasonable point. And, in fact, it *is* possible (and not unusual) for governments to forget that tax revenues ultimately come out of individuals' pockets, one way or another. Or that printing more money devalues the money in individuals' pockets. Or that borrowing money in vast amounts can simply be a way to kick the can of difficult choices down the road for someone else to deal with.

Where I differ from you is in the following:

I think you conflate inherently evil things with legitimate things done badly.

IMO you fail to recognize or account for the levers that private individuals bring to bear on government, at least in this country.

Also IMO, you fail to recognize or account for the very real extortion, coercion, and immorality in the private sector.

For instance here:

You end up not even bothering to explore the possibility of doing things in the private sector. Possibly in not quite as nice a fashion, but without any extortion involved.

I think there's some merit to the first sentence.

The second sentence assumes a private sector of perfect choice and freedom, with no threat of coercion or extortion. That isn't something that exists in the real world.

Or, it only exists with the same caveats that one might apply to the public sector. It's only achievable by dropping off the radar.

russell/Brett,

"You end up not even bothering to explore the possibility of doing things in the private sector. Possibly in not quite as nice a fashion, but without any extortion involved.

I think there's some merit to the first sentence."

I don't. Doing things through the private sector is not something that has never been tried. It's something that was tried for millenia. It's something that was ultimately rejected, as it led to abuses which endangered people.

Abuses like the meat packing methods described in The Jungle. Abuses like the Triangle Shirt Fire. Abuses like patent medicines which did nothing to cure patients, and lots to kill them. Abuses like contaminated drinking water from factories allowed to pollute without consequences.

Brett may want to return to the days of laissez faire, but I sure don't.

Way back in the beginning of this thread I made a comment regarding how lucky Brett was never to have shopped at the company store in the old mining town. I guess we're back to that. See my last comment noting a sense of pointlessness.

Doesn't the evil (or lack thereof) in collecting taxes have anything to do with the legitimacy and form of government doing the collecting and what the taxes are spent on? I don't buy this conclusion that taxes = evil, which also happens to be the premise of this libertarian argument.

hsh,

"Way back in the beginning of this thread I made a comment regarding how lucky Brett was never to have shopped at the company store in the old mining town."

Another good example. Or even the conditions in the mines themselves. Years ago, I was at a conference in Phoenix, and having some time to spare went to a re-created silver mine from the 1890's. The guide indicated that the average time from the time the worker first went into the mine until they died was about 2 years, during which time they typically would both go blind (from going directly from the pitch black mine to desert sunlight every day) and deaf (due to being in close quarters to the explosive charges).

And yet there were lines of people waiting to be hired, as the mines paid better than working on ranches or subsistence farming.

In theory, I could agree with the libretarians' whole "Taxes are theft!!!!11!" lines, except for two things. The first, as mentioned time and time again, is that the "free market" they idealize doesn't work like they claim it does, not even private transactions are perfectly rational exchanges between two people of equal power and information. The same power disparities that Libretarians use to label taxes as "theft" exist in the private sector as well. I've not often seen Libretarians pushing to equalize the power and information discrepancies of private markets, or explain how people would always decide rationally, or even put forward proposals on how to get to this more perfect market without having some collectively acting body to set the standards and enforce them, at which point, hey, government!

And second, our government at least somewhat represents the will of the people. That's different than say, a dictatorship, or a monarchy. "Consent of the governed," anyone? All too often, yes, it only or mostly represents the interests of politicians and/or wealthy/powerful factions, but again, nothing the Libretatians suggest would do anything to change that, in fact, they would mostly change things from the wealthy/powerful mostly getting their way to the wealthy/powerful almost always getting their way. The "freedom" of indentured servitude, poverty, and aristocracy is not any kind of freedom I can call freedom.

Which somehow never comes up in the Libretarians' moral calculations, either. Nor do the deaths that would happen if we left things to the "invisibile hand". Food safety, for instance, people might stop buying tainted food from a company, sure, AFTER people have gotten sick and died from it. If you can even track back where the tainted food came from without some kind of giant beuracracy that tracks where food comes from and is processed and so on, but then we're back to government, or some kind of thing where only people who can afford to pay for inspections on their food get safe food, which ALSO would cause plenty of deaths, but that's okay because those people "chose" to eat tainted meat because they couldn't afford inspected meat.

Or, of course, the example I've given and Brett has yet to ever address, of a factory that sets up upstream from a town and starts dumping cancer in the river. How would this Libretarian town deal with that factory, when they're not the major market for its' stuff? How do Libretarians deal with externialities at all? Nobody's ever explained that.

Money is minted by the government. People's ability to buy and sell, and be paid for labor or services, is dependent on the government. The government is integral to a modern economy. As russell states, it might be possible for someone to live off the societal grid, but the grid's not going away.

The idea of taking what is "mine" requires that we all think about where the original "mine" comes from. I work and I'm paid according to what society values my work to be. Someone's real property was probably given or sold to someone else's ancestor as a government land grant. Etc. Everything we do is in the context of our society, and government is just how society organizes itself. It's ridiculous to think of taxation (as long as it's assessed fairly among citizens) as an unjust taking.

On of my favorite posts on this topic is Brad Delong's No Libertarians in the Seventeenth-Century Highlands.

Besides the amusing imagined conversation, it has the distinction of pointing to the origin (as far as I know) of "and a pony."

Brett, forgive me for piling on.

"Money is minted by the government. People's ability to buy and sell, and be paid for labor or services, is dependent on the government."

Yeah, and first class mail is delivered by the Postal Service, not Fedex. The fact that it's illegal for anyone but the Postal Service to deliver it might have something to do with that. Likewise, try minting money some time; Perhaps they'll give you a nicer cell than average.

Uh, alternate currencies exist all over the place, and there are even markets for them. Look for people selling SecondLife currency on eBay, for example. So far as I know, nobody's ever spent a day in jail over it.

Can you buy, say, a car with SecondLife money? No. But you also can't buy it with crops or barter or any number of other things. (Although you can if the seller agrees to sell it for that.) BFD.

All else being equal, it would be better to have funded whatever it was by a voluntary mechanism.

It's cute how you argue as if your personal axioms are cast in stone. My 12 year old niece does that, too.

You know what I hate?

Death

The weather right now, too.

But I really hate the "collected letters ... of" ....well, just about anybody. I'm reading Edmond Wilson's Collected Letters (Literature and Politics) right now, and on behalf of my grandparents, may I say the idea, the idea I say, that my grandmother had to subsidize the schlepping of these letters all other the place, to and fro, through rain, sleet and dog danger (dogs grrr at mail carriers for a reason; dogs are libertarians; as Bob Dylan croaked, "Dogs run free, why not we?) is a little difficult to handle for me -- even though some of the letters express his dislike of the income tax -- still ...

... and all that accursed licking of the stamps my grandmother was forced to do all those years -- the least the government could have done for the money is furnish a stamp licker for every taxpayer in America.

Without the cushy pensions.

Worse than death.

But not worse than when someone hotwires and steals my car .. and then ... can you believe this, (do they do this where you guys live?) government agents fan out over the city and countryside and look for the car through various taxpayer funded methods.

That rankles. That's a burr under my saddle and let me say there's not much more room under my saddle for too many more burrs.

I've noticed the private sector hasn't come up with a burr-less saddle yet.

They do sell 50-lb. bags of nutricious lentils which can double for a pretty comfortable pillow during the bad times, but I found out recently there are various government interferences in lentil production and distribution so I'm off the lentil grid now .... but we've been through all of this.


"My 12-year old niece does that."

Sarah Palin is your niece?

Somehow Brett equates funding the government with a violation of his rights. Absent government, I wonder what meaning those (unprotected) rights would have.

Oh, well ... why bother? (Is "acontextual" a word?)


Oh, I should mention: I got the news today that my prostatectomy was successful. I'm cured of that cancer, anyway. I still haven't decided whether having a second, unrelated cancer discovered in the pre-operative physical is bad or good luck...

Shit, Brett. Sorry to hear about your other cancer. I hope the early detection turns out to be good luck.

Brett: Oh, I should mention: I got the news today that my prostatectomy was successful. I'm cured of that cancer, anyway.

Unqualified good news, that. May you be around to annoy us all for decades to come.

I still haven't decided whether having a second, unrelated cancer discovered in the pre-operative physical is bad or good luck...

Well, too early to tell, perhaps - but if it means they caught the other cancer early-early and easily treated, good news.

Isn't it great that governments all over the world have funded medical research and provided medical researchers with education, training, resources, and a stable safe country, to enable their collective intelligence to save your life? I think so. You can grouse all you like about government, and be as ungrateful as you please: your life is preserved to do so by its benefits.

I still haven't decided whether having a second, unrelated cancer discovered in the pre-operative physical is bad or good luck...

I think it gets filed under "Crap, does that ever suck".

Sorry to hear about this Brett, hope your docs can nip it in the bud.

Take care -

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