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.