Tuesday, August 02, 2005
I haven't been posting a lot lately. My blogging adress apears likely to change soon, as I may be joining a group blog. I will have more details when this is finalized.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I have responded to kevin carson's comment in the comments section of the Deontology post.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
My Flag Amendment Protest
So, how can a true freedom-loving American patriot protest the desecration of a symbol of freedom by means of limiting freedom in its name? I have seen several people declare that, although they have never burned the American flag, they will if this amendment passes. I absolutely refuse to do this. I do not endanger my life to protest freedom-restricting adult seat-belt laws, and I love America and the American flag too much too much to burn it just because some assholes tell me I can't. Hell, one of the many things I hate about this amendment is that I know it will just cause FAR more American flag burnings than it has any chance of preventing, and that disgusts me.
So here's my plan: If this evil amendment passes, I will, as publicly as possible, burn the Confederate battle flag. And I will repeat this on every July 4th until the amendment is annulled or I die. The Confederate battle flag is, by its very existence, the antithesis of the American flag, and yet this amendment would never have any chance of passing if the eleven states of the Confederacy had succeeded in seceding. It is the fascist impulses of those stupid enough to revere both the American flag and the flag of violent revolt against America to maintain slavery that is pushing this amendment. The Confederate battle flag ACTUALLY represents everything evil about the United States that some mistakenly think the American flag stands for. The only way bring America back to being the beacon of freedom in the world is to rid it of its Confederate impulse, and I will do that symbolically by burning their flag, which will thank god still be legal even if this amendment passes. Those bullies I grew up with may think they are succeeding in turning the American flag into the Confederate flag, but I plan to demonstrate to them that those who truly love what America stands for hate what the Confederacy stood for.
I told my wife this plan, and she said, "Why don't we start now?"
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
A deontological moral theory states that certain actions are right or wrong in themselves, or that the justification for whether an act is right or wrong depends on something other than the consequences of the act. If a deontologist believes it is immoral to tell a lie, they may justify that belief by claiming that lying violates a principle of respect for the person to whom the lie is told, or simply that God commanded them not to lie. What a deontologist will not do is justify the immorality of lying by pointing to all of the bad things that happen when people lie to each other. Lying is always wrong, even if it sometimes makes life easier for everyone. (Note here that I am using lying merely as an example, and an anti-lying provision need not be in any particular deontologist's moral code.)
Deontological libertarians justify their political position as the result of a commitment to a belief in the non-interference principle, or a prohibition against the initiation of force. This principle states that it is immoral to interfere with the actions of other people through the initiation of force. Coercion is wrong. You may comment on the actions of others and try to persuade them to stop what they are doing, but if you threaten the use of force against others in order to get them to comply with your requests, this is coercive and wrong. Deontological libertarians thus believe in a form of "natural rights", that humans, by their nature, have the right to do as they wish without the interference of others.
How is this ethical belief a political belief? Well, all laws are by definition coercive. If you disobey them and get caught, people with guns will do bad things to you, such as forcing you to live in a prison with other people who disobeyed laws. If laws were not coercive, they would be called "suggestions".
A deontological libertarian socialist believes that it is coercive to allow some people to control the property used by others to produce things. Productive work is what most people spend most of their waking hours doing, and to let someone else to own the property they work with is to allow their lives to be controlled by others.
A deontological right libertarian believes that an individual's right to self-ownership mandates individual ownership in external property in order to effectuate the freedom promised by self-ownership. Property rights in external objects can arise by creation or appropriation, and these rights are absolute and eternal.
A deontological left libertarian agrees with the right libertarians that individual property rights are necessary to effectuate freedom and that these rights arise from creation. However, left libertarians believe that there are natural limits to individual property rights. There are many different left libertarian theories and each theory has a different combination of limitations on property rights. Some typical deontological limitations on property rights in left libertarian theories include:
- Property rights do not arise from appropriation.
- Property rights that arise from appropriation must be accompanied by a responsibility to compensate the dispossessed.
- Ideas cannot be owned.
- Property rights arising from creation terminate at the death of the creator.
Problems with deontology:
There are two huge problems that all deontological theories, including non-libertarian ones, share. The first is, do deontological rules actually exist? That is, does a statement such as, "Stealing is wrong," actually describe a fact about the universe in same manner as the statements "This flower is yellow," or "Force equals mass times acceleration"? This problem is best epitomized by Jeremy Benthem's famous remark that talk about natural rights was "nonsense on stilts."
The other problem is that deontology usually leads either to bizarre counter-intuitive results, or justifications and exceptions are made based consequences, making the system one of rule consequentalism rather than actual deontology. For example, suppose we decide that it is deontologically true that lying is wrong. What, than, should a person in 1939 Germany hiding Jews in their house do if Nazi officers ask him if he knows where any Jews are hiding? Sure, we can make an exception for lying to save a life, but then aren't we really modifying right and wrong based on consequences?
Each specific form of libertarianism has its own problems when justified by deontology. Libertarian socialism, in preventing excess wealth from being invested as capital, has to try to explain how it is consistent with freedom to prevent people from mutually agreeing to exchange their claims on certain property. Why are they interfering with what Robert Nozick rightly referred to as "capitalist acts between consenting adults"?
Deontological right-libertarians have to explain how the positive right to exclude others from "your" property is consistent with formal negative liberty. How does that piece of paper you have called a "title deed" give you the right to prevent me from swimming in this lake that existed when both of our ancestors still lived in trees? How am I at all interfering with George Lucas's freedom by downloading "Revenge of the Sith" from the internet?
Many deontological left-libertarians think they have solved the problems mentioned in the above paragraph by requiring payment of the market value of rent to the community in exchange for exclusive rights to use certain resources, but they have not. They have merely instituted a system of forced sales. This is certainly more fair than forced taking, but it is no less involuntary. What if I did not want to sell my right to walk across the mountain? Is it alright for you to walk into my house and take my stereo if you leave behind its fair market value in cash?
The most logically consistent form of deontological libertarianism is that of the "individualist anarchists" who stated that ownership of property was established by "occupancy and use". These are the rules that govern how children play with toys at pre-school. You can play with any toy that no one else is playing with. You can not take a toy away from anyone who is playing with it. When you are done playing with a toy, you let someone else have a turn. You can exchange your toy with another child who would rather play with yours. Children who wish to play together can share their toys in a way that they all agree to. There are really no logical flaws in the individualist anarchist system, but it leads to many counter-intuitive results and practical difficulties. What do you do with your house if you want to be away for a while? Benjamin Tucker, perhaps the most prominent individualist anarchist, is reported to have answered that the last user and occupier would not only lose his land, but his personal property as well. How free would you feel in a society where you could never go on an extended vacation if you wanted to keep your house? (Assuming it was even possible to travel. I am not sure how to compensate anyone for building roads in such a system.)
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
How bad is U.S. Inequality?
During her lifetime, Ayn Rand approved writings from only two other people to be included in the "cannon" of works that made up her egoist philosophy, Objectivism. One of them was Alan Greenspan, current Federal Reserve Chairman. Greenspan opposes helping the poor on principle. His inegalitarian credentials are second to no one else alive.
So, when Alan Greenspan tells Congress that the income gap between the rich and the rest of the U.S. population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it threatens the stability of democratic capitalism, perhaps it is time they admitted there is a problem, no?
Of course, his proposed solution is exactly what I described in my article for The Free Liberal as the conservative solution: Better education. As I stated in my article, the problem with that is that better education just provides more increased value from the labor-capital exchange that capital can take for itself. (Which is why conservatives, who represent the capitalists, like it.) Want proof of my claim? Consider the Flynn effect on IQs. Political scientist James Flynn did a survey of IQ scores all around the world over the last hundred years and discovered that they are increasing steadily everywhere for every type of intelligence. Rates vary, but some scores are increasing by as much as one standard deviation per generation. For one type of test, he concluded that someone who scored among the best 10% a hundred years ago, would nowadays be categorized among the 5% weakest.
Now, apparently there are reasons to be suspicious that education is the cause of this increase, and I certainly agree that our education system fails many children - particualrly the poor - miserably. But despite this, the population is apparently getting smarter anyway. But the average person in the lowest 5% of IQ today is probably still much poorer than the average person in the top 10% of IQ a century ago, despite their equal intelligences. And when given modern equipment and production methods, the modern "moron" is probably MUCH more productive than his equally intelligent "bright" counterpart a century ago. So if he is equally intelligent and more productive, why is he poorer? Who is getting all of that excess wealth that he is producing?
Friday, June 17, 2005
Kevin Carson at Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism has written a post incorporating and in part responding to my article for Free Liberal. Instead of a basic income, he suggests reform of money and credit monopolies, an issue that I have yet to wrap my head around. The colusion between government and banks may be another way in wich the government enforces rules designed to futher enrich the already wealthy. So far I am hip to the need to socialize land rents, inherentences and the market value of corporate advantages. I need to study more to determine if socializing - or is that "freeing"? - money and credit should be on my list of left-libertarian priorities.
At any rate, as I explained in his comments, I do not see a basic income as being at odds with his proposed solution, and it addresses some of the theorical points he raised.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Part 3 of Elizabeth Anderson's series on free societies is up. It's a freedom-based defense of private property. The important issue is that she points out that private property is a coersive measure that interfers with formal freedom, but it enhances the formal freedom of those who use it. She analogizes to traffic regulations, which violate formal, non-interference freedom, but which make real freedom on the road - the ability to drive to places you want to go - possible. I discussed this analogy in an earlier post.
Also at Left2Right, Don Herzog reviews a pro-liberty statement of principles from the past that eriely predicts the beliefs of 21st century progressive liberals. "It's the 1964 Republican Party platform. Right, the one Barry Goldwater ran on."
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Basic Income has No Effects on Marriage
Blimpish wrote a long post opposing a Basic Income from a conservative point of view. Overall, I was suprised how good it was: Very few of his factual assertions about a basic income were misleading, he rather argued that what is known about the effects of a basic income are likely to be bad according to the type of society conservatives want. For example, he pointed out that results of negative income tax experiments show that they encourage single mothers and mothers with working husbands to stay home with their children rather than enter the workforce. Apparently, this is something conservatives do not want. Growing up in the seventies listening to debates among adults about feminism, I got the opposite impression of what conservatives wanted women to do, but apparently I was mistaken.
At any rate, Blimpish make one factually incorrect assertion about the effects of a basic income that I want to correct. But let me emphasize, this is not his fault. He takes his information about the effects of a basic income from the final U.S. government report on the findings of the Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment (SIME/DIME), and links to the report. Blimpish states:
SIME/DIME seemed to have a major negative impact on 'marital' (the couples didn't have to be married) stability. Amongst both black and white (less so Hispanic) families in the sample, the rate of 'marital' dissolution increased by over 40%, with the rate only reducing where there were high (and therefore labour-reducing) basic payments.
chris dillow responded to several of Blimpish's points. As to the marriage instability issue, dillow wrote:
4. CBI would increase marital break-ups.
The SIME/DIME, cited by Blimpish, seems to have done this.
And this is one of its many advantages. In giving women a guaranteed income, it increases their ability to leave abusive relationships.
As it happens, I was on a panel for a roundtable discussion on the economics of a basic income at The Fourth Congress of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, where one of the presenters was Robinson Hollister, a professor of economics at Swathmore College, who discussed the findings of various negative income tax experiments. His presentation was essentially the same as his remarks chronicled here from a similar, earlier roundtable. As to marriage stability, he states:
The most commonly mentioned of the non-labor supply results was an erroneous finding by some sociologists from the initial analysis of the Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiments that the marriage-dissolution rate for black families in the experimental groups was 57% greater than the control group and 53% greater for white families. When these results came out in congressional hearings, Senator Moynihan, who had been a backer of Nixon's Family Assistance Plan, and who had written a very controversial report about instability in the black family, recanted his support for the guaranteed income. Those particular findings greatly contributed to killing the Carter administration's effort for a guaranteed income scheme. In the 1980s, Glen Cain carefully reanalyzed the data from Seattle-Denver experiment. The results were quite technically quite complicated, but there was basically no family dissolution effect. Some of the results were suspect from the beginning, because the effect seemed to occur in the sector of people with the lowest guarantee rate, the lowest incentive to strike out on their own; the recipients who had the least to gain from breaking up showed the largest amount of marital breakup. Cain's study appeared in the American Journal of Sociology in 1990, with a rebuttal by the authors of the original findings, but subsequent studies (and those from the other NIT experiments) also found no effects on marital stability.
He also states:
The Minnesota experiment found positive effects for marital stability and reduced domestic abuse. In the Canadian experiment, we found an increase in marital stability in New Brunswick and a decrease in marital stability in British Columbia.
In my comments, I got a laugh from the crowd by stating that I was disappointed to learn that the NIT experiments showed no decrease in marital stability, because one of the reasons I supported a basic income is because I thought it would make it easier for poor women to leave abusive relationships. But regardless of what dillow and I desire and Blimpish fears, it apparently did not happen. There is no effect on mariage stability from an NIT.
As to the negative effect on work by husbands shown by the NIT experiments, the way Blimpish descibes the form of the disincentive is very different from the way Hollister describes them, but the overall effect of the disincentive is about 10%, as he states. One response I would give is to point out that most basic income proposals suggest giving the basic income to everyone, regardless of income, while the the SIME/DIME was an NIT experiment with a 50% take-back rate. It should be unnecessary to explain to conservatives how a 50% income tax rate can create work disincentives.
The last two substantive paragraphs of Blimpish's posts:
My point is this: as much as the public do, rightly, care about social justice (however you define that), equalising economic outcomes for all isn't what they're driving at. There are big social problems in this country, and in many cases a lack of income and assets is one part of it - but the lack often isn't the problem, but a symptom of it. Giving the Left CBI opens the door to egalitarian solutions that we oppose not only because we object to the idea of an unconditional right to share the wealth, but because it's a cop-out to actually dealing with those social problems.
Rather than passing a family a bit of cash in the hope that they'll feel included in our 'community', while the child's mum can't stay off heroin and their dad flits between their house and those of his other children, and prison because he keeps getting into fights down the pub... maybe we should try to do something to help these people sort their lives out? Not to sound like a Leftie, but wouldn't it be nice to try to get to the 'root causes' here, rather than hoping a few quid might fix it?
Some further findings of the NIT experiments, as reported by Hollister:
The rural experiment in North Carolina and Iowa collected data on educational attainment. In North Carolina there were significant positive influences in grades 2-8 in attendance rates, teacher rating, and directly on test scores. The literature on education shows that it is nearly impossible to raise test scores through direct intervention. Yet, BIG had large desirable effects for the test scores of children in the worst-off families in the rural South. The New Jersey experiment didn't collect data on test scores, but there was a very significant effect on school continuation; that is, BIG was an effective anti-drop out program. And again, if you look at programs that are trying to reduce dropouts directly, it's a pretty dismal scene. In Gary, there were positive test score effects for males in grades 4-6. In Seattle-Denver, there was a positive effect on adults going on in continuing education.
Some of the experiments collected data on low birth weight, nutrition, and other quality-of-life effects. Low birth weight is associated with very serious deficits later on in life, and programs that try to reduce the incidents of low birth weight have been largely ineffective, but the Gary experiment found that the NIT reduced the low birth rate in the most at-risk categories. The rural experiment showed significant effects in various categories of nutritional adequacy. Homeownership showed significant effects in New Jersey, in the rural experiment, and in the first year of the Gary Experiment.
Score more points for giving people, even the poor, freedom instead of trying to micro-manage their lives.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Hey, Wow, I've been book tagged by Redneck Feminist. I will do my best, but some of these answers are difficult or embarrassing.
How many books do you own? Not a friggin' clue. Not even sure how to count or estimate them. I have been an avid but inconsistent reader all of my life, often reading one book after another in quick succession, and often going long periods without reading any books. Also, I have ADD, Inattentive Type, which means that I can not remember most books I have bought or where I put them, and any place I have control over is a total mess. I currently have books scattered all over my office, in my mother-in-law's house, in my house, at my parent's house, and in storage in a couple of different locations.
Last book you bought? The World's Worst: A Guide To The Most Disgusting Hideous; Inept, And Dangerous People, Places, And Things On Earth by Mark Frauenfelder of boingboing. A lot of fun.
Last book you read? Taking this to mean the last book I finished, that would be Bone, by Jeff Smith, the one volume edition. A truly amazing work. Originally published serially over the course of twelve years, I could not believe how tight the end work is. It really is one epic story, every chapter advances and is important to the main story, and there are less than a half dozen extraneous characters. The setting is a fantasy world with a rich history and mythology, the story is action packed and compelling, and the characters are well rounded and funny, and three of the most important characters - for non-relationship reasons - are women. And I especially enjoyed how the Bone cousins looked appropriately incongruent with how the rest of the characters and background were drawn, as if they had wandered in out of another comic book. Oh, did I mention Bone is a comic book?
Five books that are important to you?
1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Embarrassing to admit, especially for publicly funded attorney who represents welfare recipients for a living, but reading this book really was a life-changing experience. In my defense, I was a socially awkward white male in high school when I discovered it. Still, the passionate defense of relying on reason and living one's life for oneself and being proud of your accomplishments is something that was impossible to resist and has never left me. As a philosopher, I have ironically come to think of her as many defend Karl Marx: The positive philosophy she advocates is flawed beyond redemption, but as a critic of her enemies, she is as devastating as a nuclear bomb.
2. Progress & Poverty by Henry George. God, how I wish when I was an evangelical libertarian in college, unsuccessfully trying to convince those around me of the soundness of (right) libertarian philosophy, someone would have said, "Actually, you're half right. Here, read this," and handed me this book. Now, I have gone far beyond the narrow "geolibertarian" reading that many have (wrongly, in my opinion) ascribed to George. But the approach of recognizing that there can be a shared community commons that is logically consistent with and even supportive of individual liberty is how I attack all political questions now.
3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. I included them both in one numeral because they really are one book, separated by the author's inability to meet publishing deadlines. A hilarious introduction to thinking philosophically about life.
4. Informal Logic: A Handbook for Critical Argument by Douglas Walton. The best guide to critical thinking I have ever seen. Walton dispenses with the "fallacies" approach to critical thinking and discusses the importance and limits of abductive reasoning along with the "traditional" inductive and deductive models of reasoning. It turns out that most "fallacies" are actually arguments that are not inductively convincing or deductively valid, but have various degrees of abductive plausibility.
5. The Player's Handbook by Gary Gygax. I have not played Dungeons & Dragons for over a decade, but the ways in which my time spent in this hobby have affected me are too numerous to count. Yes, I am a geek.
Who do I tag? Unfortunately, other than Redneck Feminist, I do not know who regularly reads my blog who has their own blog. So, if you are reading this, have your own blog, have not been book tagged in the past, and there are less than five response in comments to this post, please consider yourself tagged and leave a comment letting me know where you are on the web.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Will a BIG Lead to Freedom?
Thinking further about chris dillow's post that I blogged below, I realize how badly I wimped out responding to Robert Capozzi's skepticism about a BIG. Capozzi agreed that a BIG would be superior to the hodgepodge of welfare programs and labor regulations that currently exist. However, he doubted that anyone in government would propose a "Install a sufficitarian BIG and remove all welfare programs and labor regulations" bill. Instead, what will happen is that a BIG will just be added onto the existing welfare and regulatory state, and there is no reason to hope from experience that the government will remove programs and regulations that are no longer needed. I conceded the point. I suggested that a BIG would de facto reduce or eliminate the welfare state by reducing the number of people who qualify for welfare programs, but I offered no empirical hope for the regulatory state being eliminated after the institution of a BIG.
dillow's post lays out the real answer to Capozzi's question: A BIG may not be sufficient to automatically cause the state to wither, but it is likely necessary. While it is empirically true that government programs rarely or never go away just because they are no longer needed, it is also empirically true that libertarians have totally failed to sell their economic agenda to the public, despite the takeover of this democratic republic by a party that professes to be fanatically committed to economic freedom. This is because whenever a libertarian is asked, "What about all of the people who would starve under a libertarian regime and the multiple more who would be exploited by their employers?", libertarians usually try to deny that this would happen or claim private charity could take of it. And the questioner then shakes their head and walks away convinced that the libertarian is either a deluded utopian or simply does not care if poor people starve. Introducing a basic income into the agenda up front on both humanitarian and power-inducing grounds addresses these concerns convincingly. And if a BIG were introduced, fears of what could happen if we allowed economic freedom would diminish. It would allow us to begin making the case for economic liberty.
So, the short answer to Capozzi is: No, I cannot guarantee that freedom will arrive with a BIG. But I can guarantee that freedom will not arrive without a BIG.
What Justifies Libertarianism?
The three basic approaches to justifying libertarianism are the same as the three basic approaches to justifying any ethical or political system. They are:
3. The Social Contract
I will briefly describe each of these approaches and how they have been used to justify libertarianism in future posts, and then link to each of those posts through the list above.
Liberals for Freedom
Elizabeth Anderson at Left2Right has recently written a bunch of posts attacking the (right-) libertarian moral case against taxation. I have not read enough of these to respond properly, but I have read her latest post, and it is truly fascinating. Having blasted away the case for a right-libertarian conception of freedom, her new task is build up a new case and plan for a free society. Most of her post discusses Hayek's ideas about the need for distributed power and decision making, the informational functions of markets, the advantages of a procedural conception of justice, and, most surprisingly, his admiration for and agreements with Rawl's Theory of Justice. It is compelling and she promises that it is just a beginning and further posts are forthcoming. She sets herself up to make the case that procedural constraints on both the floor and ceiling of wealth are not only consistent with but necessary for a conception of justice that emphasizes individual freedom without concern for individual outcomes. I am of course a HUGE fan of income floors through such mechanisms as a NIT or a BIG, but I am extremely skeptical of ceilings on either incomes or wealth. However, as impressed as I am about this post, I will be interested to see if she can overcome my skepticism.
Also, Part 2 is here.
Friday, June 03, 2005
Libertarian Views of Government
There are three different "levels" of possible government compatible with libertarianism. Libertarians will usually be discovered arguing for one of these as "the" appropriate libertarian view, but all are compatible with self-ownership.
1. Anarchy. Zero. Government is evil. If less is better, none is best. Government commands are not voluntary suggestions; all government is the use of coercion, and all coercion is morally wrong or ineffective (zero or negative sum games as opposed to positive sum games in voluntary cooperation).
2. Minarchy. Government is a necessary evil. A monopoly on force is needed to protect individuals from violations of their rights by other individuals. In minarchy, the purpose of government is to prevent government.
3. A Rights-Respecting Government. Government can be good. There is no imposed limit on the size or functions of government, but it must respect the self-ownership rights of individuals just as any other entity. If I am forbidden from using a piece of property, it does not matter whether that property is owned by Bob Smith, Intel, or the government. Likewise, I cannot be abused, killed, enslaved, or deprived of my rightful property by either Bob Smith, Intel, or the government.
Who noticed me?
I have discovered that several people have reached this site starting with the "Three Libertarianisms" post. This indicates someone has linked directly to that post, but I do not know who. If you do, please email me or leave a comment with a link to the page that links to my post. Thanks.
Free Markets and Labor, er Labour, Exploitation, Take 2
chris dillow has a post on the same topic as my article for The Free Liberal - and comes to the same conclusion. His reasons are very similar to mine, and his discussion of Hayek's views is informative and interesting. dillow's conclusion:
I suspect that a basic income is not only consistent with reasonable libertarianism, but actually necessary for it. In increasing people's bargaining power, such an income can replace minimum wage laws, working time directives and other regulations.
In this sense, equality doesn't undermine a free market - it actively promotes it.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Apropos of my post below about Government & Freedom, Robert Capozzi has a post on the (current) "blog" of The Free Liberal responding to an article they posted online by Jonathan David Morris . Morris is explaining the libertarian Non-Aggression Principle, and writes that libertarians believe that for "every single public policy issue - from speed limits and seatbelt laws to national IDs and steroids - there exists the barrel of a gun." Capozzi is skeptical about including speed limits:
The states, operating as stewards in the public trust, establish rules of the road. They are effectively the owners. It's not entirely different than Disney telling its patrons how they must line up to go on a ride. Speed limits help to make the streets reasonably safe places to drive, and it seems to me a perfectly appropriate rule. Maybe they should be higher in some rural places, I don't know. But I certainly don't feel coerced in any way when I see a speed-limit sign.
Test this back against common sense: Can we really imagine no speed limits on Broadway in Manhattan? Or even downtown in Anytown, USA? Anyone, at any time, can drive as fast as he or she wants?
With all due respect, I find this notion ludicrous.
Now, in a technical sense, Morris is the correct one here: In point of fact, Capozzi *is* coerced by the speed limit sign, regardless how he feels, because the speed limit sign *is* enforced at the barrel of a gun. If you doubt this, try driving 90 mph down Broadway in Manhattan and then ignor any cops that try to pull you over. (Or try it on the freeway instead, if it turns out that traffic makes it physically impossible to reach 90 mph in Manhattan.) As Morris states in his article, "You may think it's a rational use of force, and that's fine. You're entitled to your opinion. But the fact that it's force cannot be denied." Morris would say, correctly, that Capozzi is just arguing that speed limits are a rational use of force.
The practically correct person here, however, is Capozzi. Opposing speed limits everywhere in the name of freedom is ludicrous. Further, speed limits are a freedom-enchancing use of coercion. Without them, most people would feel too unsafe on the roads to use them, and a greater number who did use the roads would end up dead. And note here that I not refering just to a "positive" freedom to have free use of a service called the roads, altough that is true, but I am also refering to the libertarian "negative" freedom to have practical access to the land the roads are built on.
And anyway, what would the right-libertarian solution be? To actually let people careen down Broadway in Manhattan at any speed they are able to reach?
Well, no. As any theory-knowledgeable right-libertarian will tell you, the roads should be privately owned. That is, the roads should be owned by actual people, instead of "The People". Well, proabably corporations, actually, but despite what lestist anti-capitalists want you to believe, corporations are not evil, faceless entities, but instead are actual people, unlike the evil, faceless government. Being owned by private entities, the roads will be run in a much more efficient manner. Instead of paying high taxes to a wasteful government to use Broadway, the users would only have to pay for the more efficient costs of the private operator, plus a monopoly premium profit for being the only way to get to the Ed Sullivan Theater to see a taping of Letterman. And don't worry about safety: In order to have reasonable insurance rates to pay out to people injured due to pot holes that the oporator failed to fix, you will be required to drive less than 10 mph in the city and 25 mph on the freeway and always wear protective gear currently used for NASCAR drivers.
And are private roads free of coersion? Morris might think so, I don't know, but the answer is no. Careen down "Private Broadway" without the owner's permission, and they will call the same government to enforce their "right" to eject you from the land on which the road is built. The options are to allow some drivers to coerce others not to use the roads with their reckless fast-moving metal smashing machines, or use guns to coerce everyone to obey certain rules of the road. Whether the decision between the two is made by the government or a private entity that can call the government for enforcement, those are the options.
Personally, I will stick with "The People".
Capozzi ends his post stating:
"Maybe I need a new label..."
I am using "left-libertarian", but I am open to suggestions.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Freedom - It's Good for Women, Too!
chris dillow wrote a post endorsing compulsory abortions for young women who cannot prove they have the means, both economically and socially, to bring the children up right. He cited a famous study by Steve Levitt that showed that legalizing abortions in the U.S. in 1970 lead to a sharp decrease in crime in the 1990's. He then quoted a long exert from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty that said, in part, "To undertake this responsibility - to bestow a life which may be either a curse or a blessing - unless the being on whom it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being." I wrote the following in the comments:
The above said, I still disagree with this post. The quote from Mill is in a sense technically correct - restrictions on reproduction are not violations of individual liberty because there are other individuals directly (the children) and indirectly (the society that must share the earth with the new person) affected.
However, Mill is here forgetting everything else in On Liberty about the benefits of diversity of lifestyles and distributing decision-making to the individuals with most direct knowledge of the particular situation.
Levitt's work makes no argument at all for compulsory abortions. Levitt's work shows that the abortion policy of the U.S. in the 70's and on lead to less crime than the abotion policy of the U.S. prior to the seventies. What was the old policy? Restrictions on abortion by most states. What is the new policy? Individual choice about abortion by the woman having the abortion. Levitt's work shows that when women are given a choice about abortion, they make better choices than when abortion is restricted.
AT MOST, this would support experimenting with compulsory abortions in limited jurisdictions as an emprical study to determin if compulsory abortions produce better outcomes than individual choice. But for someone who regularly complains (usually correctly) about "managerialism" in economic policy to describe a study showing individual choice produces better outcomes than government regulation as "a respectable utilitarian case" for government regulation in the opposite direction is bizzare. Maybe, just maybe, what the study indicates is that the belief that individuals tend, as a general rule, to make better decisions than central planners applies to the social realm as well as the economic.
Update: chris write in comments that he opposes utilitariansim and agrees with me about compulsory abortion. He goes on to state, "If we had a sensible welfare state - a basic income with no extra support for parents - the problem of teen mothers would diminish, as I suspect would the numbers of them." Well, I support a basic income, and the parent thing I will not go into for now, so good for him. Presumably then, his post was meant, in part, to impune utilitarianism. I am not a utilitarian, so that's okay by me, but I think even the utilitarian case for compulsory abortion is weaker than he suggests.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Government vs. Freedom?
I wrote the folloeing in the comments section to this post by Matt Welch:
Everybody here who can not see how the Democrats could ever be moved in a libertarian direction is clinging to a traditional (right) libertarian assumption that is emperically untrue. Braodly speaking, the libertarian project in America has been about aiming toward three over-arching goals:
1. Greater economic freedom
2. Greater social freedom
3. Less government
How is it going? In my lifetime:
1. Economic freedom has increased dramaticly. Lots of deregulation, no more wage & price controls, much greater free trade.
2. Social freedom has increased dramaticly. Women and minorities make gradual gains every year, there is more sex in every media each year, and gays can marry in one state.
3. The government has increased dramaticly, both in real terms and as a percentage of the national economy.
I have seen optomistic libetarians point to the first two accomplishments and predict the eventual whithering away of the government. And I have seen pessimistic libertarians point to the last "failure" and predict we will soon be living in a totalitarian theocracy.
Now, I do not necessarily believe that bigger government caused the gains in freedoms, but the emperical evidence proves one fact beyond a doubt: Big government is not necessarily incompatible with freedom.
And I would definately argue that some forms of big government could certainly cuase greater freedom. Matt can lecture the rest of you about how national health insurance can promote freedom. I argue that a basic income would promote freedom when compared to the current Nanny Welfare State. Heck, the highway system, people? Don't you like being able to drive to anyplace you want?
Are some government programs EVIL? Of course. (Poster child - The Drug War) Can some goverment programs be administered in a more pro-freedom fashion? Again, yes. (My basic income vs. welfare state example) But a vision of libertarianism that recognizes that government is not always the emeny - and can even, on occasion, be an ally - is a vision of libertarianism that can gain power in the Democratic Party.
Cool! Ampersand "elevated" one of my comments to the introduction of another post.
I should probably write more about this from a left-libertarian POV, but I am really am confused about this at the moment. I am fat, I support government health research, I am skeptical of the current anti-fat research, I want to lose weight, I need to eat healthier and exercise more regardless of my weight, I think health and safety issues offer the best argument for overcoming libertarian presumptions, and I do not want the government regulating what people eat.
So I really am confused about this. Worse, I really was eating Pop Tarts.
Friday, May 20, 2005
Homophobia used to be a good idea
I wrote the following in the comments to this post at Alas, a Blog:
This is a good post, but there is a word I was surprised not to find in it - rape.
I did an independent study in law school on this subject, writing what amounted to a master's thesis. I was specifically looking for the origins of legal repression of homosexuality. It turns out there was very little repression of lesbianism prior to the 20th century, and all of the repression of male homosexuality had to do with sodomy. At one point in my research, I read Dowrkin's Intercourse and got the epiphany. My understanding of Intercourse was that Dworkin thought that sex was natually rape, but more importantly, that this was not radical, but the TRADITIONAL view of sex. Consider the famous statement of the California state Senator to the feminists lobbying to criminalize marital rape: "But if you can't rape your wife, who can you rape?" Was this traditionalist's view of sex any different from the view conservatives "smear" Dworkin for having?
Foucault's History of Sex Part I revealed that while male homosexuality was common in the Greco-Roman culture, it always involved a man of superior status "using" a young man of inferior status, and writers of the time considered this a big problem for someone who would eventually be a citizen to be used this way for sex. The Greco-Roman view of sex was also very violent, with rape being Zues's favorite hobby.
Essentially, the development of homophobia in the West was a cultural advancement: Its purpose was to protect men from rape.
Feminism is therefore a necessary precusor to gay rights. We have to accept that no one deserves to be raped before there is no longer a cultural need for homophobia. Otherwise, we risk going back to the Greco-Roman view of sex, which was worse than what the American tradtionalists are defending.
Would reporters have treated Clinton this badly?
Shorter David "Not Rush" Limbaugh: Waahhh!! Reporters are asking question of the Presidential Spokesman that are not properly differential to our magnanimous overlord!
At least Republicans are not hypocrits
Shorter Rich Lowry: It is okay for Republicans to promote conservative women and minorities for political advantage, because they admit to being racist and sexist. But when Democrats target conservative women and minorities for the exact same reasons, they are being hypocrits because they are betraying their ideals.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
The Creative Commons
I have added a Creative Commons license to this blog. I doubt it will have any effect at all on anyone publishing my stuff, but I want to add my "vote" to the millions who have supported the concept. Plus, Larry Lessig's wife is an attorney in my firm. I believe the version I picked, attribution, non-comercial, share alike, will eventually become a standard for digital media, and will be where artists and writers start off, with the most famous then perculating up into for-profit commercial venues.
We can also pause here and consider the problem that all intelectual property poses for deontological right-libertarianism. One of two positions are logically possible.
The first is that intellectual property should not exist. There is no "thing" that can be owned, and the government creation of a monopoly on the use of an idea is close to mind control. But than how do you compensate creators for the good that they add to the world? And how to you provide for economic support for the creation of arts and inventions? Sure, eliminating intellectual property would have little effect on the creation of new music, short stories, and political commentary. But how could you fund the next Hollywood blockbuster or the next treatment for cancer?
The second possibility is the other extreme. Unlike objects made from material that existed in the universe befor humans arrived, intellectual property represents a pure creation of the labor of a sentient being. Therefor, intelectual property rights should be absolute and last forever. We have a moral duty not to publish or perform the works of Sophocles unless we track down his decendants and pay them royalties for the use of his works. (Unless some intermediate decendant voluntarily transfered those rights to others, and then we must track down the decendants in interest of Sophocles' intellectual property rights.)
Some deontological left-libertarians may have such problems as well, but most would say that your labor gives you only a life estate in the property you create and therefore declare that intellectual property terminates when the creator does. (A corporation being a creation of laws, if the left-libertarian believes they should exist, she can just state that there is no problem in legislating the length of corporate copywrite, if she also believes copywrites should exist.)
I am not a deontologist, I am a consequentialist social contractarian, so I have none of those problems.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Bruce Bartlett took a hit of LSD
That's the only explanation I can think of. Bruce Barlett is one of the more lucid conservative commentators out there. But the following is the opening paragraph of his new column:
I don't believe in coincidences in politics. When I see the Wall Street Journal and New York Times both running big front-page stories within two days of each other on a subject that isn't remotely time sensitive, I know that something is going on. More than likely, it signals the beginning of an organized campaign by the liberal media to gin up an issue for the Democrats.
Okay, he is entitled to the general conservative belief that the mainstream media is the "liberal media", a fading-but-still-slightly-true characterization. And he is certainly entitle to call the New York Times "liberal". In any other industrialized country it would be "centrist", but here, okay, "liberal". And he is also entitled to present his (probably wrong) case against the thesis that there is little class mobility in America.
But the Wall Street Journal is part of "an organized campaign by the liberal media to gin up an issue for the Democrats"?!?!?
He took a hit of LSD. Or some other hallucinogenic drug. It is the only possible explanation.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Ginivan promises further response
Matt Ginivan has taken note of my reply to his commentary. Predictably, he responds to my taunting him about his Ivy-League education rather than any substance, although he promises more to come.
My real take on Ginivan's motives and mistakes: Ginivan is a passionate young idealist with a dangerous amount of knowledge in political economy. (Ref: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.") Some political economy text assigned in one of his classes presented the (entirely reasonable) price-setting and wage-setting fomulas he used in his response to me. Then in the middle of some discussion, in a certain context, the text stated that "x", which refered to the manufacturer's mark-up percentage based on their market power, the text stated that x is a constant. Matt misinterprets this to mean that x is a constant in all circumstances. Then he read my article, which offended his right-libertarian ideals. Energized by his idealism and misunderstandings, he does some calcuations which seem to prove that my plan will not help wages rise His blindness to his ideology makes him miss that he is begging the question and the absurdity of claiming that a manufacturer can continue to charge the same markup percentage in the face of rising costs. Being someone who is smart enough to get into an Ivy-League school, he is good at writing convincing-sounding B.S. - especially when he believes it. So he does, and it sounds good enough for The Free Liberal to post it.
My prediction for his response: His best stategy, I think is to track down whatever text states that x is a constant, then cite that statement out of context, noting the eminence of the author. He can also accuse me of being jealous of his education, or maybe of harboring egalitarian hatred of meritocratic institutions. I will probably just ignor such charges or make fun of them, but I am somewhat perplexed about what I would do about a citation. I am not sure I have the resources necessary to track down his source to view the context. But I am sure I will think of something. Capozzi's comments lead to conceessions on my part because he was being thoughtful and reasonable. Ginivan, whether he knows it or not, is just spouting bullshit, and I have never had any trouble exposing bullshit.
Friday, May 13, 2005
Left-libertarianism agrees with right-libertariansim that strong property rights and economic freedoms are esential to individual liberty. However, left-libertarians seek to create mechanism that will empower all individuals with their own property or income. This is usually accomplished through either direct redistribution or a recognition of certain forms of property as held in common ("Predistribution"). The forms of property held in common depend on the particular left-libertarian theory, but the form of property included in the largest number of left-libertarian theories as held in common is land. Property held in common refers to equal rights of access, and is distinquised from collective rights, where everyone must agree on uses. Use of property held in common can be tansfered by the community to individual entities, but the community must be compensated. Direct redistribution theories rely on recognition of the marginal utility of money.
Resourses for left-libertarianism on the web include Progress.org, The Free Liberal, Mutualist.org, and Left-libertarianism: A Primer. Classic left-libertarian theorists include Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, and Henry George. Modern left-libertarian theorists include Hillel Steiner, Peter Vallentyne, Philippe Van Parijs and arguably Amartya Sen. The most successful politician who was relatively left-libertarian was probably Thomas Jefferson, although obviously many of his social veiws would be considered worse than fascist by today's left-libertarians.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
More on the Basic Income Guarantee
The Free Liberal has posted my reply to the Princeton punk, and Robert Capozzi has posted another response. In his response, Capozzi hits the best left-libertarian objection to the basic income, "My real fear is that the basic income would be additive, not a substitute. That tends to be the way of Washington. Realpolitick and history indicate that strong tendency. Until I see that the basic income could be a substitute, I'm not saluting."
This fear is justified, and I do not have a great answer, except to say that I stongly believe that the masses desrve compensation for the goodies passed out to the rich by the current system. The mixed-economy neo-liberals / neo-conservatives are in charge, and getting them to accept a basic income would be a matter of evolution, not revolution. So, the basic income would need to be phased in first, and proven to work, before we could discuss dismantling the old welfare state. This offers no assurances to Capozzi, who is right to point out that the history of government programs does not suggest that it is easy to get rid of those that have outlived their original purpose. The best compromise that is practically achievable would be to have the basic income, as it is phased in, considered to be "earned income" for purposes of welfare payments, and thereby slowly eliminate welfare programs by slowly eliminating the number of people who qualify for them. This still does not address issues like the minimum wage, and Capozzi is right to be skeptical about eventual repeal.
Note: The article includes a reference to "Figure 1", but the Free Liberal does not seem to have posted the graph. Unfortunately, I can not post graphs on this blog to compensate.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Contest: What Radical will Conservatives Steal Next?
Okay, Thus far we have seen conservatives claim:
Martin Luther King Jr. would oppose Affirmative Action.
Ceasar Chavez would support the Minutemen Project.
And my personal favorite:
Jesus Christ opposed Estate Taxes.
So what's next? Today, in a column by Brian McNicoll, a Senior Writer for The Heritage Foundation, the most prestigious conservative think tank in America, McNicoll complains that scientists need to learn a humility, and accept that the uninformed opinions of people who have never studied biology beyond high school might be just as valid as the consensus view of every biologist with a Ph.D. Such closed minded scientists believe, according to McNicoll, that "all issues regarding the origin of life are settled."
How does McNicoll respond to this?
When I hear such talk, I can't help but think of the distinguished members of the scientific community who killed George Washington by using leeches to cure him of what amounted to a bad case of the flu. Or the study that came out just this week saying that a procedure performed a million times a year in this country on women during childbirth not only doesn't help them but makes things worse. Or the sad treatment of Galileo, a distinguished scientist who spent the last years of his life under what amounted to house arrest because he'd been convicted of heresy for asserting that the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way around.
That's right folks. The fate of Galileo, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Catholic Church for reporting his scientific findings about the sun and the earth, demonstrates that we need to teach religious theories of biology as being equally valid to those offered by empirical scientists.
Proposed contest: What radical thinker will next be used to support the conservative agenda? I will start with my own prediction:
We must invade Iran (or Syria, or where ever)! It's what Gandhi would have done.
Remember, given the above examples, this isn't satire, it's merely speculation.
Right - Libertarianism
Right-Libertarianism is the philosophy that in the United States is usually just refered to as "libertarianism". The idea is that self-ownership is best expressed in the world though strong property rights held by individuals or voluntary associations of individuals. Capital should be owned and controlled privately, just as all (or virtually all) other property should be owned and controlled privately. Right-libertarian theorists disagree as to the full extent of ways which property rights can arrise, but all agree that they will arrise when an individual "mixes" her labor with unowned property. The property rights gained this way (and possibly other ways) are eternal, even though the individual is not. Strong or absolute property rights include the right to transfer these property rights to other individuals for whatever reason the transferor wishes, including the receipt or promise of labor or other property in exchange. Thus, distribution must be allowed through free markets.
Right-libertarian theorists include Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Robert Nosick, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, and Frederick Hayek. Excelent Web Resources include reasononline, The Cato Institute, and LewRockwell.com. Dispite many more recent pretenders, the only famous political leader who could reasonably be described as a right-libertarian was Barry Goldwater, although his foreign policy views were too agressive for most libertarians.
Friday, May 06, 2005
This is the form of libertarianism I know the least about. Two great indroductions on the web are this one from flag.blackened.net and this one from Wikipedia. Libertarian Socialism was what was first meant by the term "libertarian" when the term arose in the later part of the 19th century. Libertarian socialists want to free individuals from both the state and the boses. They believe that property is theft, and see the state as the agent of the bosses, the coersive muscle who enforce the boss's "right" to extort labor and profits from the masses. They want to liberate the masses through socialism, which is defined, according to the blackened flag site as "the workers democratic ownership and/or control of the means of production". Some go beyond production, and advocate democratic control of distribution, such as Michael Albert in Paracon: Life After Capitalism. (Albert actually rejects the term "socialism", but his beliefs fall squarely within the libertarian socialist tradition.) The blackened flag site states of libertarian socialist theorists, "Aside from the significant number of anarchist theorists such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin and Alexander Berkman, some important contributors to libertarian socialist theory and philosophy would be Noam Chomsky, Daniel Guerin, and Murray Bookchin. " The most successful political leader who could reasonably be described as a libertarian socialist was probably Mahatma Gandhi.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Democrats vs. Republicans
Via Democratic Freedom we find a study from CATO on the massive spending of the Republicans. Bottom line: "Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years."
Meanwhile, a week and a half ago, Matthew Yglesias wrote a post that began by quoting Andrew Sullivan quoting Barry Goldwater complaining about the Religious Right trying to legislate morality. Then Matthew writes:
He then goes on to "wonder if Goldwater could even exist within today's Republican establishment." Well, of course he could. In Maine or Rhode Island or New York or California. But as a national leader? No way. Indeed, probably most Democrats would hesitate to speak so disrespectfully of the people in question, though they might privately agree. The way in which the rhetorical center of gravity has shifted to dramatically to the right freaks a lot of people -- certainly Andrew Sullivan -- out a great deal. But what about the policy substance? Well, abortion has moved slightly to the right since '81, mostly as a result of things done during the Reagan years. School prayer has moved somewhat to the left, and the GOP platform has moved left on the subject as well. Gay rights have moved way to the left in the past 25 years. And there's every reason to think that the next Democratic administration will push the gays-in-the-military issue further left (note that Bush hasn't tried to roll Clinton's steps on this back), offer federal funding to stem cell research, and make Plan B contraception much more widely available. I don't really understand how it is that the rhetoric and policy have moved in such different directions, but that's the reality of the situation.
Okay, I am left-libertarian, and so I have less of a problem with many types of government spending than right-libertarians. But at this point I really cannot see how a right-libertarian could possibly prefer the Republicans to the Democrats. In fact, I fail to see how a right-libertarian would not possibly prefer the Democrats by a large margin. The Republicans spend more money than the Democrats, AND they are worse on social issues. Even a Democrat who is lousy on social issues (Lieberman, or any Dem from the Confederacy) is not going to do any real damage in that area since, as described by Matthew, the government's efforts to legislate morality are impotent. But the government is quite competent at writing checks, and the Republicans write more than the Dems. Is it because of the tax "cuts"?!? Is merely shifting taxes to children and the poor really what right-libertarianism is all about?
Friday, April 29, 2005
Self-Ownership is a definitional issue for libertarians. It is what unites the three libertarianisms and makes each libertarian. The idea behind self-ownership is that each individual human owns herself. She owns her mind, her thoughts and her physical body, and has final veto power over what is to be done with her mind and body. This is what makes the individual free. This is liberty.
I defined self-ownership here in an EXTREMELY negative fashion on purpose. "Negative liberty" is usually described as the "the right to be left alone", but my description here is even more narrowly negative - "veto power". This is because the inherent problem of what to do with external objects that multiple persons may want to use results in restrictions on positive freedoms. Who makes these restrictions, how they are made, and the content of these restrictions are what separates the three libertarianisms. It is impossible to define liberty as more than veto power over you body because any of the three broad theories can develop restrictions on the use of external objects logically consistent with self-ownership that can effectively prohibit an individual from doing anything. A libertarian socialist system can be set up that prohibits all private use of external objects for production of goods or services, and forbids the acceptance of money, goods, or services in exchange for performing any labor. A right-libertarian system can be set up such that all external objects are already owned by other individuals when you are born, and none of the owners ever chooses to sell anything other than immediate consumables (such as food and entertainment), and instead leases all land, transportation, furniture, and clothing with severe contractual limitations on their use. A left-libertarian system could declare all atoms external to live humans to be owned in common, and require a democratic consensus for any proposed use. Almost nobody actually supports any of these extreme and unfree versions of the three libertarianisms - they are usually conjured up in the heads of libertarians of the other two stripes (and sometimes by non-libertarians) as a way of claiming that form of libertarianism to be UN-libertarian. But they work as criticisms because each is a logical possibility under that libertarianism's premises.
However, while each form of libertarianism can be stretched to restrict actions to a very unfree degree, what NONE of them allow is to COERCE an individual to do anything. Slavery, forced labor, rape, assault, and military conscription are forbidden under ALL forms of libertarianism. Libertarianism does not require society saying "Yes" to everything an individual wants to do. But libertarianism does require that the individual be allowed to say "No" to anything.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Over the next week or so, I plan to write posts/essays defining the three broadest forms of libertarianism, in order to provide a basic description of the goals of the emerging left-libertarian political movement. For a good background on left-libertarian political philosophy, see Left-Libertarianism: A Primer by Peter Vallentyne. My definitions will be briefer and broader, attempting to describe the goals of the practical activist side of each movement. I will focus on how each movement relates to self-ownership, property rights, economic production, and economic distribution. I plan to write them in the following order:
1. Description of self-ownership, common to all forms of libertarianism.
2. Libertarian Socialism
Update: I have completed the planned posts, and they can be reached by clicking on them.
Update 2: What do libertarians think of government? Click here for three possibilities.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
My Corporate Tax Rant to Libertarians
I just posted the following in the comments section to this post at MaxSpeak, in response to an earlier post by Jane Galt suggesting the elimination of the corporate tax:
God**** it, Jane, why do corporations exist?!?
Please, please, please, get this through your libertarian head: Corporations DO NOT exist in nature. They are created by the GOVERNMENT. They are given rights and powers in the ecconomy far beyond what individuals or partnerships are capable of - including, but a lot more than, limited liability.
These extra rights granted by the government to these government-created legal fictions have vast amounts of ecconomic value. This is obviously true, or no one would bother to create them, and they would not have come to dominate the ecconomy.Thus, the EXISTENCE of corporations is a MASSIVE GOVERNMENT HANDOUT. Why the f**k should we allow this?
There are only two legitimate libertarian reactions:
1. We should not allow this, and all corporate codes and corporate charters should be repealed.
2. Corporations should exist only to as a means of maximizing their net positive externalities, which include being a voluntary way of raising revenue for the government - remember, no one put a gun to anyone's head and forced them to form or invest in these government handouts. Therefor, they should only exist if we tax them at whatever rate will compensate for their negative externalities and generate a maximum amount of revenue for the government.
As far as why we should tax the revenue in the corporation instead of when received by the investor:
1. Morality: The corporate tax is a voluntary fee for taking advantage of a government creation, while taxes on individuals are theft from natural people.
2. Practical: Any time the corporate tax is lower than the individual investment taxes, the corporation is a tax avoidance scheme by its very existence, since it allows for tax-deffered reinvestement.
Update: I reworded the second legitimate libertarian reaction in response to futher comments to Max's post.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Yum! Ivy League Punk Steaks for Dinner!
So, in addition to the fairly reasonable cautious response from one of its editors, The Free Liberal has now posted a second response to my article from the captain of the Princeton University rugby team. Basically, it's bullshit with formulas. Strip away his bullshit formulas, and the criticism is nothing but question-begging: One of his premises directly contradicts my argument without explaining WHY I am wrong, so of course his conclusion contradicts my conclusion. Computer programers call this "GIGO" (Garbage In, Garbage Out).
Therefore, I am now working on a reply which will explain exactly why his argument is bullshit, hopefully with graphs. Writing replies is one of my most enjoyable tasks as an attorney. It is usually fairly satisfying to feast on the meat of a stupid critic, but Ivy League meat tastes the sweetest.
Friday, April 15, 2005
For those interested in learning about abstinence, check out the Abstinence Only site for proper abstinence education.
(P.S. I am participating in googlebombing, for whatever a link from my site is worth.)
Republicans On Drugs
Via Hit & Run, we learn:
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has rewritten his Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act (known by the catchy acronym DAMV:SADTCPA), which he introduced before the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Booker. Apparently Sensenbrenner decided DAMV:SADTCPA wasn't draconian enough. The bill, which has been passed by a subcommittee and will soon be considered by the full House Judiciary Committee, retains the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone over 21 who supplies any quantity of any drug to someone under 18, with a life sentence for a second such offense. In addition, according to an analysis by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the bill would:
* make the sentencing guidelines mandatory again, forbidding downward departures in almost all cases;
* virtually eliminate the "safety valve" provision for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders;
* create a three-year mandatory minimum for parents who see or hear about drug dealing targeting or near their children and fail to report it;
* create a 10-year mandatory minimum for parents who sell drugs when their children are nearby; and
* increase the mandatory minimum for selling drugs in "drug-free zones," which in practice cover almost anywhere within many cities, to five years.
Umm, what was that middle one again?
Okay, so I take my four-year-old to the park, let him run on the playground while I read the paper. I look up, and see a local gang member sell pot to someone while leaning on the poles holding up swings my son is swinging on.
My choices are now:
1) Do not report this to the cops, and risk a mandatory 3 year minimum sentence in Federal prison, or;
2) Report this to the cops, and risk a gang member blowing me full of holes.
I suppose we should be lucky that they only limit this dilemma to people who are responsible for the care of children...
Libertarians for Socialized Medicine
The Democratic Freedom blog has a post arguing that libertarians in the Democratic Party might consider compromising on socialized medicine.
We left-libertarians who believe in the right to a basic income will almost all agree that health insurance is an item that can be provided as part of the in-kind basic income. If EVERYBODY needs it, and the government can provide it cheaper than the market with at least the same effectiveness - as can be shown by comparisons with the many countries that have socialized health insurance, why not?
The first comment there, by Kevin Carson, is also excellent: Essentially we do not have a free market now, we have a crony corporate socialism system. Generally, it is best if the government does not screw around with markets. Either the government should just provide the service itself in an extra-market fashion, or it should just give the people the money to buy the stuff on the market theirselves.
Great Achievements of the Suffragists
I responded to a somewhat tangential statement in a post by Amanda at Pandagon in the comments with the following:
Suffrage for women is a prime example of this. Feminism got hung up on one issue--the vote--but once that goal was achieved, it blew the doors wide open and women finally had the social status to start achieving all sorts of change.
No, no, no! Why does EVERYONE, liberal, conservative, sexist, or feminist, forget the other great success of the suffragist movement - equal property rights. The suffragists got married women the right to own property and had inheritence laws changed to treat all children equally without regard to sex. In a democratic capitalist society, equal property rights are just as - if not more - important as voting rights to achieving other forms of change.
The difference between the late 20th century black civil rights movement and the feminist movement was that the blacks, having been freed a century earlier, were finally trying to seise equal power in society. The feminist movement was not about seising power, it was about trying to convinence women to exercise the power that the suffragists had seised a generation before.
Really, with over half the votes and probably over half the money, if feminists only succeeded in bringing all women around to their cause, it really wouldn't matter what we men think at all.
Does the Estate Tax force Small Business closurers?
No. To know why, read this response from Stuart Levine to a post by Matt Yglesias. Short Version: The IRC already allows business passed at death to pay the tax as a loan, and the interest rates are awsome.
Edwards on Tax Fairness
From John Edwards' mass email:
Yesterday, at the New School in New York, I am joining a group of leaders from around the country to discuss the issues of fairness in America. To me, there is no place where fairness is more at risk today than in America's tax code. The reason I started talking about two Americas is that this administration wants our great country to run off two sets of books: one for those at the top who get all the breaks, and one for the rest of you who do all the work. That's wrong. If we're going to be one America, not two, we must have one tax code, not two. Not only is the current system already stacked against working Americans, but our opponents want to make it even worse. Our opponents want to shift the tax burden from unearned income straight on to the backs of working people. They want to give the wealthy more favors and call it reform, and they want working people to foot the bill. This radical notion turns on its head the very values that built America - rewarding hard work. This is the time to stand up for the great American value: work. This is the time to say that a stockbroker should never pay a lower tax rate on wealth than a secretary pays on work. This is the time to say that the wealthy and powerful shouldn't have access to special shelters and loopholes that regular people can't use. And this is the time to say that we want a tax code that rewards everyone's work to build everyone's wealth. We must take away the biggest shelter in the current tax code: the fact that the very wealthiest are able to shelter capital gains and dividends from the Alternative Minimum Tax. The very purpose of the AMT is to make sure the very wealthy pay their fair share and leave the middle class alone. But thanks to this administration, the AMT is doing exactly the opposite. It is increasingly hitting middle class families all over the country. President Bush likes to talk about himself as a tax-cutter, but the truth is that the AMT is a big tax-raiser on many middle-class families. At the same time, the AMT is not taxing many of the multimillionaires it was meant to tax. Why? Because the wealthy have the sweetest shelter in the business: their capital gains and dividends get special breaks from the regular rate in the AMT. Doing away with tax shelters for multimillionaires is just the beginning. We have to also make it easier for working middle class families to pay their taxes, and I present some ideas for making filing your taxes and saving for the future easier to do in the full the text of my speech, which you can read here. I hope you will read it, and let me know what you think by visiting my blog to continue the conversation. Your friend, John
Thursday, April 14, 2005
From Rule of Law to Mob Rule
Via Atrios, I actually clicked through and read the real quote because I figgured that Atrios was changing it to make an exagerated point, but no, here is our actual House Majority Leader:
Mr. DeLay: Not zealous. I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.
Wow. Just, wow.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Response from Free Liberal
Robert Capozzi, one of the editors of the Free Liberal, responded to the article I wrote for them.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Would a Free Market periodical publish an article that claims that Capital exploits Labor?
Check out this article at Free Liberal by Timothy Roscoe Carter.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
The Coming Bush Tax Shift
The following article by me apeared in the San Francisco Daily Journal a couple of weeks before the last presidental election:
Recent federal tax laws have continued a quarter-century trend of shifting taxes from wealth to work, primarily benefitting the top 1% income bracket. Even among the top 1%, the tax burden is heavier on those who work for their money than on those whose money works for them.
Last month, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculated the change in the share of total federal taxes due to the Bush tax laws. The CBO, a nonpartisan government agency headed by a former senior economist from the Bush administration, clearly shows who benefits.
The highest quintile is the only income bracket that has a reduced share of total federal taxes in every year up to 2010, when the Bush cuts sunset. The reduction in share of the federal tax burden due solely to the change in laws for those in the top 1% is three times the average reduction for those in the top 20%.
The tax burden has been shifted to wage earners. From 2001 to 2010, the change in the share of the tax burden for those in the lowest 20% income group is 0.0%. If your income is between the bottom 20% and the top 20%, the tax burden has been shifted to you.
Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) calculates that without sunsets, the top 5% income bracket would see a reduction in their share of the tax burden, with the reduction greatest for the top 1%. Without sunsets, the bottom 95% income bracket would see an increase in their share of the tax burden in 2010.
Why this disparity? CTJ released a paper in May 2004 showing that total federal personal taxes paid on wages and other earnings now average 23.4%, while federal personal taxes on investment income average only 9.6%. Taxes on earnings are almost two and half times taxes on investment income. Plus, taxes on investment income are only 11% of total personal taxes, while investment income makes up 22% of total income.
Does the tax shift to working people matter if taxes have gone down for everyone?
First, it is simply not true that the Bush tax shift has reduced everyone's total federal tax rates for more than a few years. According to the CBO, the total effective federal tax rates for every quintile are lower in 2004 than they were in 2001, when Bush's tax shift was enacted. But beginning in 2005 and continuing through 2010, the total effective federal tax rates for every quintile in the bottom 80% will be higher than in 2001. And in 2009 and 2010, the total effective federal tax rate for even the average person in the top quintile will be higher than it was in 2001. For those in the top 5%, their total effective federal tax rate will still be lower.
This is current law. Reality may be worse. Bruce Bartlett wrote in National Review Online that taxes will likely increase beginning next year, regardless of who is elected President. The reason is that the heavy spending enacted while tax revenues were reduced has resulted in a huge public debt that will have to be paid. Bartlett writes, "Since fiscal year 2000, the federal budget has gone from a surplus of $87 billion to an estimated deficit of $675 billion. In the last four years, the national debt has increased by almost $2 trillion and will continue to increase for many more years even under the most optimistic scenario, absent legislative changes."
The CBO reported this month that under current law the national debt will increase by $2.3 trillion over the next decade, and that could double if Bush's cuts become permanent. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified that without legislative changes, government borrowing will eventually crowd out private borrowing and drive interest rates higher. The government would have to pay higher interest, increasing the debt even more, creating a downward fiscal spiral.
Could the necessary legislative changes include reductions in federal spending? Only in theory. John Kerry wants to maintain the occupation in Iraq, increase troop levels by 40,000, protect Social Security entitlements, and expand healthcare to more of our nation's 44 million uninsured. Any spending he may want to reduce must be minuscule in comparison to these commitments.
Those who want to vote for someone who talks a lot about restraining government spending can vote for Bush. Bush claims that Kerry is someone who has been in federal government for 20 years and has decided that it is not big enough.
However, in his first four years in federal government, Bush himself has increased non-defense federal spending more than the five Presidents before him. According to the Cato Institute, Ronald Reagan was the only President of the past eight (including Bush II) to serve a full term and reduce nondefense federal spending in his first four years in office.
In ascending order of free spending, Clinton increased nondefense federal spending 0.7% in his first four years, Carter increased it by 7.6%, Bush I by 13.9%, Nixon by 22.5%, and Bush II by 25.3%. Only Johnson, pursuing a War on Poverty, beat Bush II, increasing nondefense federal spending by 34.2% in his first four years in office. Bush II's achievement here does not even count the War on Terror or the Wars on Iraq or Afghanistan.
Bush II is not alone in his party. According to Reuters, on November 30, 2003, over a year after the Republicans won the midterm election for both houses of Congress, Republican Senator John McCain stated, "Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor." The Republican Party Platform adopted at their convention this year only states, "...our leaders must make sure that the growth of the federal government remains [sic] in check." Actually reducing federal spending is not a stated goal.
If taxes do rise next year, who will pay? John Kerry has proposed repealing the tax cuts for those making over $200,000 per year, and his running mate consistently condemns the current administration for shifting taxes from wealth to work. But Kerry also wants to lower corporate income taxes by 5%.
Bush and the Republicans seem convinced that it is bad for the economy to tax investment income at the same rates (or higher) as wage income. And they seem committed to ending the estate tax. Currently the estate tax is levied only on those who leave multimillion dollar estates. If eliminated, and the revenue is replaced, it will be difficult to find a new tax that does not fall on people poorer than those who currently pay the estate tax.The challenger this election has called for tax increases on those making over $200,000 and campaigns against shifting taxes from wealth to work, but admits he will increase spending and wants to reduce corporate taxes by 5%. The incumbent talks about restraining spending while fighting two wars and increasing nondefense spending more than three times faster than Jimmy Carter, and talks about reducing taxes while merely shifting them into the future and onto workers. Bartlett ended his article for National Review Online stating, "Therefore, taxes will be on the table. Voters need to ask themselves which party they prefer to manage this process when the time comes."
Friday, April 01, 2005
Smash the Nanny Welfare State!
The following article by me was first published in the San Francisco Daily Journal on August 13, 2004:
A review of the various federal programs designed to provide assistance to the poor in the United States reveals a definite pattern with regards to who should be and who should not be recipients of public generosity. The term "Nanny State" is often used to describe paternalistic government actions that control citizens for their "own good", making decisions for individuals that adults should make for themselves, such as whether to use seatbelts or eat junk food. We are running a nanny welfare state, not designed to free or empower the poor, but rather to use cash and services as rewards for those deemed worthy, and depravation of necessities as the punishment for those who are not.
The program that in the popular mind is most closely associated with the term "welfare" is the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the famous federal welfare reform act passed in 1996. TANF is a cash benefit program designed primarily to help families whose parent(s) is/are out of work. Employable recipients are required to participate in vocational programs intended to help them become employed or transition back to work. There is a 60-month lifetime time limit on the receipt of benefits for most parents.
Another program popularly associated with the term "welfare" is Food Stamps. Broadly available to people who meet the income and asset requirements, this program does not provide cash, but it provides vouchers that can only be redeemed for specified food.
A larger welfare program is the one usually referred to in common usage as being "on disability": Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI provides an income for people who meet the income and asset requirements and are either over 65 or are incapable of working due to permanent disability.
The largest welfare program run by the U.S. federal government, in terms of both money distributed and number of recipients, is usually not thought of as "welfare", primarily because it is administered by the Internal Revenue Service. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides a supplemental benefit for low-wage workers with little income. There are minor benefits available under the program for the poorest of poor workers who have no children, but the lion’s share of the benefits go to low-wage workers with minor children. The EITC is a "refundable" credit on a person’s individual income tax, and is administered through the process of filing tax returns. When the EITC is referred to as "welfare program" in the popular media, it is usually by a critic of the program who intends the statement as an insult.
What all of these programs, and the many other smaller ones that make up our federal government’s welfare state, have in common is the attempt to distinguish the "deserving" poor from the "undeserving" poor. A table inside the recent book, Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference, by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, reveals that 60% of Americans believe that the poor are lazy. Our welfare state is meticulously crafted to prevent any of these "lazy" people from getting a dime of our tax money.
The nanny welfare state forces the poor to prove they deserve our charity. They have to prove their income is low. They have to prove they have little or no assets. If they can also prove that they are old or too disabled to work, we will give them SSI. If they are working and have children, we will help them with EITC. If they are not working and have children to take care of, we will reluctantly help them with TANF, but only if they can prove that they are trying to go back to work, and only for a short time. If they are starving, we will pay for their food, but only with strict limitations (we aren’t giving them cash to go out and buy just whatever they want). We make the poor fit into little boxes. Those poor outside of these little boxes are deemed unworthy.
But snug boxes can be difficult to escape. Means-testing encourages dependency. Needs based assistance programs provide incentives for poverty, and punish attempts to rise out of it. Disabled persons with savings and investments must spend themselves into poverty to obtain an income. Those receiving SSI who have a big windfall ask their representatives for advice on "spending down" the money to the maximum asset level. Even the attempts to push those who receive TANF to go to work can create generational cycles of poverty. Cutting a mother off of TANF and forcing her to work two minimum wages jobs to feed her children who spend all of their waking hours in overcrowded daycare, if available, may be good for the employment numbers, but children who rarely see their parents do not grow up to be productive and well adjusted citizens. They usually end up stuck in poverty, just like their parents. And after the 60 month limit is up, if the now forever disqualified from welfare parent becomes unemployed, the consequences to the children will be even more dire.
But the Nanny Welfare state is flawed not only because of counter-productive results. Nor is it flawed simply because the belief that the poor are lazy is factually inaccurate. The philosophy upon which it rests is unjust. The idea that welfare is a form of charity is predicated on the belief that some people have no natural right to an income. Some people, due to laziness or bad luck, do not have any rightful claims to any property in the world. The rest of us, who do have rightful claims to property, are therefor justified in choosing to voluntarily share our wealth only with those folks who can prove to us that their poverty is due to bad luck, not their laziness. We deserve our wealth, and can therefor share it or not with the poor as we see fit.
This view has merit. The traditional justification for property ownership in Western thought is the labor theory of property. Those who earned their wealth through their own efforts deserve to keep what they earned. People who have worked and received wages, or self-employment income, or who receive investment return on their savings from their wages or self-employment income, rightfully deserve every penny of their money.
But much of the wealth of our society was not earned by living people. Much of the wealth of our society is due to people claiming rights to the products of nature, such as land, water, air, and minerals, that no one produced through their efforts. Much of the wealth of our society is based on the luck of inheritance. And much of the wealth of our society is the creation of society itself, through laws that create wholly fictional forms of property such as corporations. There is no justification for the private control of any of these forms of property without full compensation to the public. Created by none, land and natural resources should be the equal property of all. A society is not free if the living must obey the commands of the dead through instruments such as wills and trusts. And when society creates corporations for private benefit, like any rational entity it should charge as much for the service as it can get. The private appropriation of these forms of wealth is not earned or deserved, it is theft from society.
Which brings us back to those "on welfare". Welfare recipients are not receiving charity from the more deserving members of society. Rather, what they are receiving is part of the dividend that all citizens should receive as equal members of a wealthy society. Society has no right to wag its finger at them and tell them to conform to certain rules if they want their income. A basic income is their right as a citizen, as it the right of all of us as citizens. Part of the reason that means-tested welfare programs breed resentment among the working and middle classes is a rational feeling of being left out: We are all citizens, and we all deserve our equal share of society’s bounty.
A basic income for all, as a right of each citizen, would eliminate the humiliating derogation of the poor as they apply for aid, it would shrink the bureaucracies that manage their lives, it would eliminate the disincentives to individuals raising themselves out of poverty, it would allow mothers to stay home with nursing children, it would eliminate the resentment of the working and middle classes, and it would give the poor a stake in society and a stake in the future. A just society would not scrutinize the poor to determine which are deserving of the alms they receive. A just society would ensure that all citizens receive their equal share of the wealth created by society.