I am not a Crank!

There is much talk these days about how Americans seem to be deeply angry and fed up with the way things are run politically, especially by what is termed the “establishment”, be it Republican or Democrat. The rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is said to be emblematic of this malaise.

I maintain that there exist some political ( and indeed moral) principles, that, if implemented, would precipitate the changes needed in the body politic. The four areas of concern are the monetary system, the tax system, foreign policy, and re-examining the functions and role of government. Deal with these and you deal with 90% of all the ills we suffer.

Yet, when I propose my solutions, more often than not, listeners will label me a crank! Someone far outside the mainstream of political thought, someone with a screw loose, perhaps. I regard my proposals as rational, highly principled and consistent. I submit that to the mainstream media a crank is simply someone  whom you do not wish to recognize or to whom you wish to avoid listening.

The Monetary System.  The Principle: non-intervention into the free market functioning of money—backing money with something having intrinsic value and allow interest rates to reflect the true price of borrowing. In practice, this means our version of the central bank, the Federal Reserve, must go.

Tax System Reform. Two Principles govern: (1) Taxes are for revenue, not a means to influence behavior and (2) Government may not legally or morally do what is prohibited to the individual, namely using force to take away someone’s property, or, viewed another way, enslaving people by appropriating the fruits of their labor. The solution is to abolish the income tax and replace it with a modest retail sales tax that is not revenue neutral, one which drastically reduces the funding of government.

 Foreign Policy. Fundamental Principle: Relations between nation-states should be no different than between persons, i.e. aggression is unacceptable as a means to get your way. This means NO intervention into other countries. The military is for the valid purpose of national self-defense and not a means to implement national policies—PERIOD! When Eisenhower warned against the rise of the military/industrial complex, he was not being a crank!

Dismantling the Regulatory State. Operative Principle: if the state is needed at all, it would be primarily to protect the inherent ( i.e. “natural”) rights of the individual to life, liberty, and property which are needed to conduct a successful and prosperous life. Currently, the state intervenes in almost every aspect of the citizens’ lives, enacting thousands upon thousands of laws and regulations which have the force of law. We have adopted a mode of enforcement which is called “administrative law” which reduces the input of the individual to near zero.  This structure must be changed and the huge majority of bureaucratic enforcers must be shown the door.
My proposal to do this is declare ( by amending the constitution if necessary ) that entire categories of federal regulations are to be examined serially by Congress in extended hearings and all regulations not found both valid and urgent will be scrapped. Setting a date certain for each body of regulations to expire if not approved should provide incentives for  the hearing process. Henceforth all regulatory activity should pass through the legislative process with hearings on all the details, allowing for the kind of public input that is currently ignored.

Careful readers will recognize the consistent integrating concept of all these principles—non-intervention!.

It would not misconstrue the situation to declare that neither Trump nor Sanders (or indeed any other viable two-party candidate)  has any of these solutions in mind, most especially any kind of monetary reform. The people who have brought these ideas up for discussion are indeed considered by our “journalists” and opinion-makers generally to be cranks—including Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Gary Johnson ( former New Mexico governor), and a mere handful of congressional  representatives ( e.g. Mike Lee, Jeb Hensarling, Justin Amash ).  There is also a dedicated group of honest-to-gosh academics and political philosophers who share this orientation. Check out YouTube and other sources by Tom Woods, Robert Murphy, Stefan Molyneux, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Tibor Machan, Robert Higgs and Jan Narveson. Historical figures who have passed on include Murray N. Rothbard, F.A. Hayek, and Ayn Rand.

The time is growing short for Americans to get serious about this kind of reform because continuing in the same vein as now with national debt approaching $ 20 trillion, an economy in chains, individual wealth at the mercy of fiat money, and perpetual war for perpetual peace, will be calamitous. Get serious and risk being called a crank.

So, having read and digested the above, what do you think? Are these four major areas enough to address our ongoing mess? Or maybe you think they are too ambitious, or maybe too unrealistic. Spoken like a true moderate. Remember, I take a dim view of half-measures. We have to get to the root of the problem!

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Asking Hillary at the Debate

The following is a question is to be posed to Hillary Clinton during the final one-on-one presidential debates. I am assuming here that the debate format allows candidates to pose such questions to one another.  ( It also occurs to me that it might also be usefully posed to one Donald Trump and/or certain other Republican presidential contenders for 2016.)
The Question: One of the motivations for my candidacy was my concern that a succession of holders of this high office, mostly Democrats, have, over a long period,  subscribed to a  philosophy of governance which historians have called Progressivism. Since the root of this word is “progress”, many people were fooled into believing this was both a desirable and valid approach. Around 1896, Progressivism began to make serious inroads with politicians of all persuasions; this dogma involves forsaking traditional American values regarding our country being a constitutional republic, and instead adopting various schemes in law and politics that, to its adherents, promise progress in their terms, and the justification for the adoption of these measures is invariably an appeal to the acceptance of the methodology as something which is virtuous because it is “scientific” , i.e. it reduces to an argument over the so-called “merits” of a proposal regardless of whether or not it conforms to our constitutional principles.

A prime example of these Progressive policies is the unfettered growth of the regulatory state, where you, as an individual, can be penalized by fines and even imprisonment for violating rules that have been promulgated, not by Congress, but by “experts”, and are promoted as being  scientifically sound, but for which there is no appeal or remedy available if you happen to be the one who is accused, since these are rules largely originated and then administered by unelected bureaucrats.

Now you could take it that I am at odds with this all-encompassing regulatory state, and you would be correct. But I believe that my opponent, based on past support for various programs, has no such objections to this kind of Progressive approach to governing, and in fact would accept Progressive solutions to alleged social problems without sufficient concern for those few of our constitutional protections as may still exist.

To prove my point, I would like to set up a purely hypothetical  “solution” to a social problem and let my opponent weigh in on its acceptability. I believe  the solution proposed does indeed have all the earmarks of the Progressive approach.

Let us imagine  that, contrary to the current data, crime has reached a new high in American society. Researchers who fancy themselves as “experts” in such matters have developed a special method for appraising whether a person who is arrested has a higher than normal  propensity to criminal  behavior and hence is deserving of proactive detention and treatment in order to stem the high tide of crime.

First, let us examine this new appraisal method: it consists basically of a modified version of the MMPI ( that stands for Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory ), a well-known and widely used tool in psychology, combined with a test designed to capture data that is usable with the concepts of Situational Action Theory ( SAT )1 as well as a standardized IQ test. The combined results of these tests will be given a composite score, which, when considered alongside the subject’s past arrest record, if any, will determine his or her eligibility for the detention program. The notion being used here to sell this program is that it is necessary to get out ahead of the criminal trend in order to slow it down.

When someone is arrested, that person will be obliged to undergo the appraisal, and a decision to induct that person into the detention program will then be made based on his or her score. The inductee will then receive treatment and will be periodically re-tested until the authorities in charge have determined that a return to society is appropriate.

Now, for the sake of this example, let us assume that (1) crime really is out of hand, and (2) that there is wide acceptance of the scientific basis for the testing, and consequent detention, i.e. that the “science is settled” , as they say nowadays. We are assuming that many feel there is consequently no legitimate argument against this proposal “on the merits”.

So, the challenge to my opponent is to cite and explain to this audience why this proposal does not pass muster on constitutional grounds and why it runs afoul of traditional American values as expressed by the Founders in the Constitution and  Declaration of Independence.

I am going to stress once again that we have already stipulated  that there are no objections to the soundness and scientific correctness of any of the details of this program. Assume that there is an apparent public  demand to implement it.  I am asking for a reply that deals exclusively  with why, as president, you should oppose it. I am confident that the audience will recognize an unserious  attempt on your part to dispose of the issue, especially if you simply refuse to deal with hypotheticals, or condemn the example as too far-fetched.

The Answer:  I assert that it should center, first and foremost, on the provision of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees no loss of liberty without due process, for clearly the administration of the tests and use of the other criteria do not constitute due process, regardless of how convinced a democratic majority may be in the efficacy of this “proactive” proposal.

Additionally, Article  I, Section 9 of the Constitution provides as follows: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.  Habeas Corpus prevents the state from detaining people without explicit charges, which this program, as described, surely does.

To accept the respondent’s  complaint that the conditions described are too far-fetched, or that we are dealing with totally hypothetical behavior, you should be aware that past presidents of the United States, including Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, among others, have ordered pre-emptive actions which constitute the exact violations  with which we are concerned.

My bet is that, despite Ms. Clinton’s intelligence and legal training, she is so unused to considering objections that relate to constitutional prohibitions on legislative or executive actions, that she will, at best, betray her biases with an evident lack of focus and enthusiasm in her answer, or at worst, fail utterly by declining to cite the relevant constitutional provisions.

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  1. Developed in 2004 by Per-Olof Wikstrom, Situational Action Theory (SAT) proposes a way to unify empirical and theoretical concepts with widely accepted sociological, criminological and behavioral sciences in an attempt to explain moral actions….SAT purports that by systematically collecting empirical data, social scientists can predict behaviors by correlating an individual’s traits and actions to situational factors that serve as the causation of the act and influences the individual behavior.  Situational SAT also identifies the process in which an individual first becomes motivated and subsequently transforms from a law abiding citizen to an individual, who due to the situation, perceives a criminal act as a viable alternative and a legitimate means to achieve a desired result. For more on SAT, see www.http://criminology.wikia.com/wiki/Situational_Action_Theory. []

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Hiroshima: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Inasmuch as Bret Stephens’ op-ed on Hiroshima in the Wall Street Journal (Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, August 3, 2015) was the inspiration for this writing, it is appropriate that I begin it with my emailed  response to Mr. Stephens:

Dear Mr. Stephens:

Your editorial piece of August 3 reveals an unfortunate type of tunnel vision, a point of view that always finds the United States on the right side of things and finds everyone else suspect. It is a view that easily justifies this country’s role as world policeman while simultaneously trying to deny it.

Your writing focuses on the notion that the use of the then newly developed atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was decisive in ending the war and protecting thousands of GIs from having to face death once again in a putative invasion of the Japanese homeland. The tunnel vision comes from a chronic lack of information on your part.

You are either not aware of, or are studiously ignoring, facts which have come to light since August 8, 1945 which suggest that your thesis is false.

The first, and perhaps most important of these, is the existence of multiple peace overtures made by the Japanese with the explicit approval of the Emperor beginning on or about January, 1945. In all of these overtures, the only stumbling block to acceptance was the concept of unconditional surrender, specifically that the Emperor’s position must be protected. All other conditions were acceptable to Japan and identical to those ultimately included in the final surrender.

You say “ …Japan was defeated. Totally defeated. Modern Japan is a testament to the benefits of total defeat [ otherwise known as unconditional surrender], to stripping a culture prone to violence of its martial pretenses.” Wow, and the U.S. has historically no such culture of violence and martial pretenses, no warrior class? All of our hundreds of foreign interventions were somehow pristine. There is no light at the end of this tunnel.

These above-mentioned multiple surrender attempts were totally rebuffed by the U.S. government, including Roosevelt’s refusal to countenance that which was transmitted by none other than General MacArthur, who urged Roosevelt to begin negotiations. No doubt you will spend a lot energy trying to discredit these revelations because their existence suggests a deliberate will by those in high places to persist with the notion of unconditional surrender to the detriment of those who would die at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

I found and read the essay you quote by Paul Fussell, and my impression is that he believes that the immediate life experience in battle of those sent to execute the war should trump any later observations which may be made by others once the dust has settled and a fuller set of historical facts may be in evidence. Such thinking surely short circuits much discussion ( I think that was your intention).

The second fact featured by you is the oft-repeated notion that estimates of anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 American lives would have been lost in the invasion of Japan. There was more than one advisory group that was tasked with making such estimates ahead of time; the primary one was commissioned by the Joint Chiefs, and their conclusion was around 46,000 for all the planned offensives. Although Truman was reputed to have talked about as many as a million lives saved, this was only years later; he had no such input before Hiroshima.

If one is at all concerned, as Paul Fussell seems to be, about the plight of the ordinary soldier or sailor forced to fight and possibly die, then one needs to understand and illuminate the role of those in exalted positions, most especially the President and his cadre of advisors, in creating the conditions which lead to war, and then, once war is begun, to further sacrifice these same souls to some abstract notion like unconditional surrender. One value of historical post-examination is to realize that the insistence in 1919 on unconditional surrender gave birth to the Treaty of Versailles which is subsequently implicated in the rise of the demagogic Hitler, leading to what in retrospect has to be considered a continuation of the first World War. One needs to delve into the deceitful role of Franklin Roosevelt in provoking the Japanese into an incident like Pearl Harbor in order to fulfill his wish to enter the European war. All of these things caused a tragic loss of life and treasure, all because of hubris and personal aggrandizement on the part of our leaders. It is not the people of the United States who owe an apology for anything—it is supposed leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson, and their close compatriots who urged them on.

All of the assertions I make here can be supported by the citations for the main article, of which this email is the preamble. The post is to be found on my blog, www.NotAllRadishesAreRed.org. But you probably won’t bother to read the post or the citations, I am thinking. After all, you don’t have to worry—God  is on your side.

Rob Chrisman
Nevada City, CA


Harry S. Truman was the person responsible for the final decision to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Truman often claimed full responsibility for whatever he did, saying famously “the buck stops here”. So what did Truman know at the time his decision?

First, we have already mentioned that not one, but two advisory groups had studied the issue of casualties ( deaths, wounded, and missing) for a number of invasion scenarios on the different Japanese islands, set to begin around November 1 of 1945. They were known as the Joint War Plans Committee and the Joint Staff Planners. The estimates for lives lost ranged from 20,000 to 46,000. The latter group noted that the situation on the Tokyo plain did not resemble the tight and restricted situations which had prevailed on the Normandy beaches since many amenable sites for landing existed and enemy forces could not be concentrated on all of them. The conclusion from these facts is that Truman and the Joint Chiefs were operating on the basis of these smaller numbers, not a million, and not a half-million.1

Secondly, Truman was certainly aware of the peace overtures which Roosevelt had so summarily rejected while still alive. Apparently, this rejection was enough reduce his credence in the matter to zero. The details on this matter are best expressed by Harry Elmer Barnes from his piece entitled “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe?”:

These Japanese peace feelers were not irresponsible, anonymous, fly-by-night proposals but came from responsible Japanese acting for Emperor Hirohito. Gen. MacArthur urged President Roosevelt to start immediate negotiations with the Japanese on the basis of these overtures, and warned against inviting or urging the Russians to enter the war in the Far East. Roosevelt rejected MacArthur’s advice, and, figuratively, threw MacArthur’s vitally important information into the wastebasket, with the remark that MacArthur “is our greatest general and our poorest politician.” Roosevelt proceeded to Yalta, where he granted the concessions to Russia that made the Soviet Union the dominant power in the Far East and played a crucial role in the later victory of the communists in China. The bloody warfare in the Pacific was allowed to drag on for six more months without any real military necessity. Specifically, the terms of these Japanese peace overtures of late January 1945 were the following:
1. Full surrender of the Japanese forces on the sea, in the air, at home, on island possessions and in occupied countries.
2. Surrender of all arms and munitions.
3. Occupation of the Japanese homeland and island possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
4. Japanese relinquishment of Manchuria, Korea and Formosa, as well as all territory seized during the war.
5. Regulation of Japanese industry to halt present and future production of implements of war.
6. Surrender of designated war criminals.
7. Release of all prisoners of war and internees in Japan proper and in areas under Japanese control.

Bret Stephens and others may hasten to point out that Truman, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek offered a peace plan at the Potsdam Conference in July of 1945, and that said plan was rejected by Japan. In point of fact, the “peace plan” was in fact nothing more than an ultimatum, the form of which in effect said to the Japanese: don’t bother us any more with your peace offers; this is our final declaration on the matter. The last item of the Potsdam Declaration reads as follows:

“We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”2

A third matter of fact that Truman was aware of is the status of the target cities: namely that they were primarily urban areas, and only by a logical stretch could they be construed as military targets. Thus, Truman certainly understood that the decision to use the bombs on the city centers ( this was a military decision) amounted to a kind of terror bombing, as opposed to accomplishing some specific military objectives. The President was lying or practicing deliberate self-deception when he said:

“I have told Sec. of War . . . Stimson to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic . . . [t]he target will be a purely military one.”((Truman’s Diary on the Atomic Bomb, found at:       http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1186))

This brings us to perhaps the heart of the matter regarding the use of these new weapons, namely that their use was similar to what was already happening in Japan, i.e. the use of incendiary bombing to wipe out huge swaths of Tokyo and other cities, in other words, the deliberate targeting of civilian populations to, as various military figures have expressed it, break the will for resistance. Pursuing this strategy in Japan was just a continuation of the mass bombing of civilians in Germany in cities like Dresden, a demonstrably non-military target.

By early 1945, World War II — especially in the Pacific — had become virtually total war. The firebombing of Dresden had helped set a precedent for the U.S. air force, supported by the American people, to intentionally kill mass numbers of Japanese citizens. The earlier moral insistence on noncombatant immunity crumbled during the savage war. In Tokyo, during March 9-10, a U.S. air attack killed about 80,000 Japanese civilians. American B-29s dropped napalm on the city’s heavily populated areas to produce uncontrollable firestorms. It may even have been easier to conduct this new warfare outside Europe and against Japan because its people seemed like “yellow subhumans” to many rank-and-file American citizens and many of their leaders.3

The policy marks a change in the moral outlook regarding the targeting of civilians. Up to a certain point in time, most politicians and military men would have agreed that such a policy was unacceptable. It started early in the 20th century with the decision in the Great War to employ poison gas. (Mr. Stephens—Note Well: ALL the belligerents were guilty of this.) It continued with the mass bombing in WW II of civilians in urban areas that were non-military targets, and, contrary to conventional wisdom, it was not the Germans who initiated it, but rather Winston Churchill, in 1939.4

So the real issue here, as I see it, is how the use of the bombs against civilian targets in a manner that generates terror in the populace, merely a continuation of the breach of the rules of war supposedly accepted in the Hague Convention of 1907. In other words, all the rules are now officially by the boards. The Hiroshima incident seals it. War is now total and there is no turning back.

It more than slightly ironic that Neo-cons and hawkish conservatives of all stripes are making such a big deal out of Islamic and other terrorism, when a moment’s reflection reveals that it is not a new phenomenon and that we have a large conceptual share in its propagation.

For an even more complete view of the issues touched upon here, the reader is urged to read the chapter on Truman ( pp. 577-586) in Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and Decline of Freedom ( John V. Denson, Ed.), an article by Mark Weber, entitled “Was Hiroshima Necessary?” and finally, “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe?” by Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes.

Please observe that none of the arguments here presented bear any resemblance to “leftist politics” and “a kind of insipid pacifism” as alleged in Bret Stephen’s article. They are simply an attempt to catalog and bring to the fore a set of facts in opposition to the conventional wisdom that dropping the bombs was somehow a good thing.

Like so many people of my generation (b. 1945), I was brought up thinking that, of course it was OK to nuke Japan because the Japanese were fanatics. Why not accept at face value the allegation by Truman that maybe a million American lives would be lost in the invasion of the home islands? Could there be some other far less satisfactory explanation  for the need to use the atomic weapons at this juncture, and are these reasons enough to exterminate 100,000 souls? I think I passively accepted all this because no one revealed any of the facts (like those given here) that contradicted the conventional wisdom as described above.  How about you—did this change your mind?

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  1. Bernstein, Barton J., “A Postwar Myth: 500,000 U.S. lives saved”. []
  2. Wikipedia on the Potsdam Declaration: https://en.wikipedia.org_wiki/Potsdam_Declaration []
  3. Bernstein, Barton J.,  “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered” in Foreign Affairs, 1995. For a discussion of American propaganda against the Japanese, see:  https://www.msu.edu/~navarro6/srop.html and the Google images of American posters of the era accessed by entering “american propaganda against japanese” into the search engine. []
  4.  Dr. A.R. Wesserle, “Bombs on Britain” at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v02/v02p381_Wesserle.html []

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Freedom Lovers, Bend Over Because You Are About To…

…get screwed again!  Republicans appear poised to nominate someone who is a certified “moderate”. Someone who absolutely will not do the seriously needed reformation, rollback and restoration that is needed. Someone who will allow the legislation and precedents created in the current administration to persist unopposed and increasingly become accepted as the norm.

I just finished reading the text of Ted Cruz’s speech announcing his candidacy (March 23,2015). A good portion of the speech was an attempt to objectify and promote identification by the audience with significant people in his life. This is a proven technique to sway the masses, but it appeals primarily to emotions as opposed to logical thinking.  His excuse for doing so was to focus on the so-called “promise of America” which these people supposedly exemplify.

Cruz speaks of “the incredible protections [for liberty] that we have in this country” and how the “purpose of the Constitution…is to serve as chains to bind the mischief of government”. These sentiments would be more believable if there were some concrete proposals to restore some the liberty lost since the time of, say, Woodrow Wilson and the “Revolution of 1913″, to wit, the advent of the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax, and the 17th Amendment.

Instead of inspiring personal stories, how about some discussion of SCOTUS decisions like Kelo1, the proliferation of asset forfeiture, the increase in federal prosecutorial overreach and misconduct with both corporations and individuals, the ubiquitous presence of administrative law substituting for conventional judicial procedures, and unelected government enforcement and enforcers becoming further and further removed  from any accountability and direct oversight.

How does candidate Cruz propose to actually reduce the regulatory state? The best his speech can say is that he will hold “government regulators and tax collectors at bay”. I regard this as a holding action, not a call for repeal or the needed drastic reforms.

All things considered, if Ted Cruz, who is considered by many as the most “extreme” of the Republican candidates, cannot articulate a more stringent and curative set of proposals, then what can we expect from the rest of the presidential wannabes? Any decent Republican candidate has to deal front and center with the notions that Hilary is going to push—including especially income inequality and “fairness”. Romney totally bailed on these in 2012. There are good and forceful arguments to be made, but Republicans usually manifest nothing but fear in this regard.

One of the principal aspects of liberty is the right to retain and use for one’s own purposes the fruits of one’s labor, the right not to have it appropriated for the use of others. How does Cruz stack up on this issue? How about the other putative Republican candidates?

Cruz, along with Steve Forbes and others, says he wants to abolish the IRS and implement a “simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard”. Statements like this reveal an astonishing ignorance of how things really work—one cannot abolish the IRS and still have an income tax, no matter how simple the forms are. Advocates of the so-called single rate or “flat” tax are appealing to the individual who works for wages or a salary, and whose deductions are limited; they are not thinking this through: the great bulk of the Internal Revenue Code regarding income taxation deals with how to determine net income, especially with respect to the different types of business entities ( corporations of several types, partnerships, LLCs, sole proprietors, etc.), in particular, a determination as to what can be deducted as expenses, mandated methods of accounting, what expenses must be depreciated over time, and on and on and on…

For example, I operate a small winery and we are required to mimic the accounting methods used by manufacturers—one cannot simply add up all one’s expenses and subtract them from total receipts to get the taxable profit. No, you have to “capitalize” that portion of your costs that relate to a specific product, and these costs are not to be recognized until units of that product are sold. Other costs not related to specific products (e.g. wines) are treated as overhead and can be deducted in the year spent. And, believe me,  the preceding explanation is grossly simplified for the reader. There ain’t gonna be no post-card-sized return for these guys. No, for there to be any simplification, we will have to scrap the whole IRC and IRS in one stroke and go to a national retail sales tax of some sort.

However, as tax plans go, the flat tax is infinitely superior to the recently announced Rubio-Lee plan, which re-casts the rate structure without really lowering rates that much. Worse, it exposes both single and married filers to lower thresholds than currently, e.g. the proposed top rate of 35% ( down precipitously from the current 39.6%! ) would apply to taxable incomes as low as  $75,000 and $150,000 respectively. Some reform.

And there are ( or will be ) other Republican plans for tax changes that emanate from Paul Ryan’s budget plan and from similar efforts by Dave Camp; both of these, plus the aforementioned flat tax plans suffer from the same problem—they are admittedly, even proudly, supposed to be revenue neutral.

There is a very good piece by Laurence M. Vance of the The Future of Freedom Foundation ( see it here), from which I cite his many objections to revenue neutrality using them as both quotes and bullet points:

1) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that the problem with the tax code is its length or complexity.” See my discussion regarding net income determination above.

2) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that the government has a claim to a certain percentage of one’s income.” That this is true one needs only to consider the fact of income tax withholding, i.e. the notion that some significant portion of earnings is transferred directly to a government account without ever being in your custody. Add to this the notion, promoted by some left-wing academics, that you do not have a vested private property interest in your pre-tax income; this is the central tenet of a book entitled: The Myth of Ownership (q.v.).2

Stop for a minute and consider that, if the state has a claim against your pre-tax income, that there is, as far as I know, no constraint, constitutional or otherwise, except perhaps some lame appeal to “reasonableness”, that would prevent the state from ultimately requiring you to surrender 100% of you pre-tax income and to then rebate some portion of it back to you later on, either in cash or in kind once it had made the determination of what were your actual “needs”. The determination of income tax policy is by simple majority; there are no other rules restraining it.  Do not think this is so far-fetched. It is implicit in both Soviet socialism and European-style democratic socialism.

3) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that government revenue should not be decreased. …advocates of tax reform — including conservative Republicans — consider it unthinkable that the government should have less money to spend than it did last year.”

4) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that there is such a thing as a fair amount of taxation.” For an in-depth discussion of fairness, please my posts on “Justice and Fairness” ( 3 parts).

5) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that taxation is not government theft.”

6) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that increased government revenue resulting from lower tax rates is a good thing.” Whenever tax cutting is discussed, the potential for increased government revenues is given as a justification. The real, economic fact is: every single dollar taken from the private sector is a dollar that cannot be used to create new wealth. Government is only an appropriator of wealth, not ever is it a creator. It is a dollar that is likely to be wasted, a dollar that adds to consumption. The so-called multiplier effect of government spending is a fiction.

7) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that congressional spending is not the fundamental problem.”

8) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that the income tax is necessary. There was no regular, permanent income tax in American history until 1913. If government spending were strictly limited to just what is constitutionally authorized, there would be no ‘need’ for an income tax in the first place.” As a start, we could use the Enumerated Power of the Constitution to develop a reduced set of budgets. Also, how about the concept of Zero-Based Budgeting ( see my blog post on this).

9) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that it entails no tax increases. But any revenue-neutral tax-reform scheme can, by definition, only shift taxes, not lower them.”

10) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that the income tax is the most burdensome tax.”
A moment’s reflection will remind you that the almost 50% of income tax filers pay no income tax but they do have the burden of the various payroll taxes.

11) “Revenue-neutral tax reform implies that there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to taxation.”  Both parties want continued, high-level taxation; their differences hinge on what the revenue is to be used for, not the amounts. One simple dichotomy is Democrats spend on Welfare, Republicans spend on Warfare. And there are others.

Adding to the above is the fact that a goodly portion of the Code deals with various incentives which the state uses to control your behavior; the absence of a format for these would make it much more difficult for legislators to implement unconstitutional provisions due to the lack of a funding mechanism.

The author’s conclusion is:

“The tax burden doesn’t need to be shifted, the tax base doesn’t need to be broadened, tax loopholes don’t need to be closed, the “rich” or the “poor” don’t need to pay their “fair share,” and the tax code doesn’t need to be reformed, revised, or replaced — it needs to be repealed.”

This is the kind of conclusion I want to hear from any candidate I could support, but you won’t likely hear it in 2016 the way things are shaping up. Once again, I will be forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils”.

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  1. the Supreme Court decision which allowed eminent domain to be used to take a home so that a commercial developer could build a store, trashing the concept that eminent domain was only for public uses. []
  2. See The Myth of Ownership:Taxes and Justice by Thomas Nagel an Liam Murphy, 2004. []

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Libertarians and Conservatives: The Upcoming Unpleasantness

Most people think that libertarians and conservatives are largely in agreement about political issues and hence, can reciprocally count, in some cases, on mutual support; and, that this is especially true when the alternative to a conservative candidate ( usually a “conservative” Republican) is so odious to both factions that allowing the success of the left-leaning candidate is all but unthinkable. However, as we approach the election of 2016, I am predicting a major breakdown in this putative alliance. This will occur because of the advent of a presidential candidate who may be more acceptable to the libertarians than to conservatives1.

What is the nexus of agreement between libertarians and conservatives? It would appear to me to be pretty much restricted to economic issues, and only a subset of those, in any case. Conservatives characterize their libertarian acquaintances  ( not necessarily friends ) as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, as if the libertarian is some sort of piebald hybrid politically.  The libertarian, because he is not in complete agreement on issues, is seen ( and frequently cited critically)  by the conservative as “inconsistent” in his positions . The truth, as is so often the case with foundational issues, is precisely the opposite: the libertarian totally owns the territory of consistency in principles, politically.

Let us begin with perhaps the most basic statement of libertarian principle: the entire political philosophy of libertarianism hangs on the notion of individual rights—everyone has an identical set of rights to action, which are considered “natural” (I prefer “inherent”) rights in that they are indispensable for survival and/or flourishing as human beings; moreover, the only legitimate purpose of all governmental action and institutions is the protection ( the “securing”) of these rights. It is understood that government does not grant or create rights, but only recognizes and secures them.

All things, then, proceed from the need to maximize liberty. Libertarians assert that the context of rights is basically focused on the individual, and that all that government does is for the sake of individual freedom of choice and action, the only caveat being that one person’s action may not take away, interfere with, or negate another’s  rights.

Since it is non-interference that is paramount in human relations under this political scheme, the only coercion allowed would be in self-defense or retaliation against others who would use coercion to achieve their own ends. Government, when limited in this way, is constrained to use force only when dealing with those who initiate force or are aggressive2 against others.

Unfortunately, this notion of non-interference ( or non-intervention ) brings libertarians into conflict with conservatives, who say they are advocates of liberty, but, in my estimation, fail to view liberty as essential.  For many conservatives, coercion for reasons other than retaliation or protection of rights cannot be ruled out, because conservatives believe that they know in which domains control over human behavior must be exercised, and in which domains humans might safely be allowed free rein. So, it would not be unseemly to declare that the conservative is no friend of liberty, when broadly construed. Let us say that their liking for liberty is selective, at best. One suspects that they tolerate the concept because, they think that, since the Founders used the word a lot, and moreover that was a long time ago ( i.e. through longevity has become traditional ) , it can’t be all bad. Hence, the conservative lip service re: liberty.

This attitude, that there is an elite or a group of anointed ones, who are given special knowledge of what is moral, what is virtuous or desirable, what should or should not be permitted, and that agreement among the populace (especially among those most resembling the elite!) on these matters is widespread is the basis for a developing enmity between conservatives and libertarians.

So, aside from a tenuous agreement on certain economic matters ( e.g. the huge national debt, excessive taxation, onerous regulations, property rights) there is, frankly, not nearly as much common ground as I see it, between libertarians and conservatives as you might think. The result of this is my earlier prediction: a growing unpleasantness, and indeed a growing and caustic intolerance, of any candidate who might realistically stand a chance at the Republican nomination in 2016 if such candidate displays anything other than a minimal interest in libertarian principles.

Thus, there are several areas where conservatives will attempt to pillory any even moderately libertarian candidate: these are (1) foreign policy, (2) drug policy   ( including especially the “war on drugs”), and (3) so-called “social issues”, relating to marriage, the family, and sexuality.

Foreign Policy.  The crucial difference between libertarian and other political philosophies is the emphasis on non-interference in all aspects of the lives of individuals   ( and that includes voluntary associations of individuals ). In the economic sphere, this means that the state should not be permitted to intervene in the economic affairs of individuals and firms, and not dictate or mandate or prohibit any actions which are the purview of the individual to make as long as such actions do not violate the similar rights of other individuals. Because they are often business-oriented, many conservatives find themselves on this same page re: the desire for economic non-intervention and non-interference; I suggest, however, that it is not necessarily because conservatives look at this from a perspective of a loss of liberty generally, but only inasmuch as it affects their bottom line.

Having been exposed to a number of libertarian writers and their ideas, I believe I can state without too much risk of error the following notion regarding foreign policy: libertarians believe that nation-states are fundamentally like individuals ( or, as previously noted, associations of individuals) in that the moral (and, indeed, practical ) treatment of other nation-states requires the same adherence to principles of non-intervention and/or non-aggression as those that apply to relationships with individuals, i.e. it would be improper to be an aggressor in those relationships. The strict avoidance of intervention into the affairs of other nation-states is thus seen as parallel to the need for non-interference by individuals ( or the government)  in the economic ( or other)  affairs of other individuals. Conservatives, however, frequently believe ( or act as though they believed) that all that is required to justify military or other intrusive  interventions3 into the affairs of another country is that some supposed “interest” of the United States is at stake. Especially important is that this need not be some vital interest such as a territorial violation of the U.S. by military forces, or the threat of military action; it could be as simple as some postulated economic interest, such as the need to have long-term access to petroleum or other raw materials. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are many in both the conservative and modern liberal camps who firmly believe that “war is simply an instrument of state policy, to be used whenever it would promote the ends of the state.”4 The libertarian would, by way of contrast, limit war to situations involving our vital security interests, i.e. direct military or terrorist acts or threats to act on American soil or against American property5 or citizens. It is interesting to note that the Constitutional requirement that wars be declared by Congress is totally consistent with this point of view; the increasingly common use of military force by the chief executive in the absence of any legislative authorization at all, or by some alleged substitute ( e.g. the War Powers Act ) is totally consistent with the view of war as an instrument of policy, as expressed above.

That the “instrument of state policy” factions have at most times been in the seats of power and influence when war is contemplated is illustrated by the number of military ( and other covert operations type ) interventions which have occurred over the years.  In the 114 years since 1900, I have noted, after consulting various lists, around 112 such interventions, or about one intervention a year on average. Now, admittedly not all such interventions could be considered major ones inasmuch as many lasted a few days to a few months, and many of them were represented to involve a need to protect American citizens or diplomatic facilities in times of civil strife. But the sheer volume of interventions is such that their frequency tends to inure one to the apparently continuous need for America to manipulate the foreign policy reality using force. If we focus instead on some of the more egregious ventures, the wisdom of such policies is drawn more and more into question.

Of the more than 100 interventions, there are at least ten which merit discussion:

Date Duration Description Declaration of War?
1917 2 years World War I YES
1951-53 3 years Korean War ( AKA "Police Action") NO
1960-75 15 years Vietnam War NO
1969-75 6 years Cambodia NO
1981-90 10 years Nicaragua NO
1989 2-3 months Panama ( Noriega ousted) NO
1991 3 months First Gulf War (Kuwait) NO
1999-2001 2 years Yugoslavia (Kosovo, Bosnia) as NATO NO
2001-2014 13 years Afghanistan NO
2003-2013 10 years Second Gulf War ( Iraq) NO

As suggested above, the only reasonable criterion for military action that satisfies the non-interference requirement as described above is that, if the action were not undertaken, some serious security threat would exist and manifest itself in short order on the homeland or on some specific American property or citizens; in other words, such action to be taken has the character of being defensive and the threat has the character of being more or less imminent. Except for the first several years of operations in Afghanistan, none of the actions cited meet these criteria for going to war.

 It is not reasonable to say that, had the United States not intervened in the first World War, Germany, or some other European powers would have invaded our country, or done significant and continuing harm to U.S. property and citizens. The same is true of the Korean “police action” and the Vietnam war: no foreign power would arrive on our doorstep to threaten us; the alleged justification for these wars, from Korea onward, proceeded from some theoretical constructs concerning the overall threat presented by Communist China and the Soviet Union, or possibly the ideological threat of communism in general. The theoretical constructs included such ideas as the so-called Domino Theory6  and the Truman Doctrine7.

Libertarians do not deny the concept of a “just” war; all such wars are defensive, however. While invoking some theory about the likely future actions of certain nations or organizations may be construed by some as defensive, and hence justified,  such a long-range view does not meet the criterion of immediacy and the required degree of threat to our “vital security interests”. Indeed, we have gone so far down this road as to undertake ( and attempt to legitimize )  war as a strictly  preemptive measure, as with the 2003 conflict in Iraq.

That Libertarians generally accept the just war concept implies also that they are not pacifists, even though often accused as such.  Pacifism involves a complete rejection of force and violence on principle, and one of the more important individual rights that Libertarians recognize is the right of self-defense. And carrying the analogy between persons and nation-states further, they, too, have a fundamental right to make war in defense of their homeland. One also needs to recognize that in every war, there is a party who is the aggressor, and a party forced into the defensive mode; it is never the case that both parties are equally at fault for pursuing  a policy of war.

Also, conservatives frequently claim that Libertarians who espouse a non-interventionist foreign policy as described above are, in fact, isolationists, as if these terms were somehow interchangeable. The lie of this assertion is given by the fact that nation-states which are isolationist frequently have the following characteristics: (a) they wish to isolate themselves from contact with others; (b) they have minimal trade with other countries; (c) they express a wish to become self-sufficient, especially in important commodities and raw materials, i.e  to practice autarky.8 All potential libertarian candidates who could influence foreign policy are great believers in international freedom to trade and diplomatic relations and exchanges with other countries.

Finally, when war is viewed as an instrument of state policy, and not as a last resort to counter aggression, the reasons to go to war are frequently peculiar to a limited set of the ruling class, and pursue goals which, if they were generally known by the citizenry, would result in its unqualified rejection of the idea.  It has been almost universally observed that the common people of a nation are against going to war in most cases, and that it takes massive propaganda, and continuous efforts by the authorities to whip up a fervor against the proposed enemy, painting him in the most grotesque strokes. Those among us against the war are vilified or worse.9

Could it be that ordinary citizens of the lower and middle classes possess a wisdom beyond the usual attribution of limited intellect by the elites, and that they realize that all war is an unmitigated disaster, i.e. a net negative, even when done in defensive mode? It creates goods, only to see them destroyed or used up; the lives of great numbers of innocents and combatants alike are invariably either lost or ruined. When defense is not the motivation, war is the ultimate attempt by one person or group to gain something at the expense, frequently the ultimate expense, of others. Did not Kant suggest that morally this is categorically unacceptable?10

So, to summarize my points regarding foreign policy:

  • Libertarians follow a morality in which non-interference in the lives and affairs of others is fundamental.
  • They also believe that relations between countries or nation-states are fully analogous to relations between individuals or groups domestically; if conservatives believe otherwise ( i.e. subscribe to the notion of the war being “an instrument of state policy” with few, if any, restrictions), then it is incumbent on the conservative to make a rational argument for violating the moral imperative of non-intervention. I have observed that on this they typically are unable to hold forth without resort to rants, diatribes, and other pretty much emotional displays, devoid of reasoning and argumentation.
  • Libertarians are not completely opposed to war if it can be justified as absolutely necessary to defend the homeland and its citizens; they are not opposed to all violence on principle. They simply have a fairly strict interpretation of what a serious threat is to the country’s vital interests.
  • The recent history of American foreign policy is replete with a number of ill-considered major interventions into the affairs of other countries ( as noted in the table above), virtually all of which do not meet the “vital security interest” criterion. They can all be easily shown to have originated in the minds and wills of a select group of leaders and government officials, often based on some questionable theory of foreign relations. In some cases (e.g. the First World War), the real reasons11  for the war were concealed from the populace and justified instead with some bogus imperative ( “making the world safe for democracy” or “fighting the war to end wars”)   In almost all instances, the wars which resulted were not forced by the populace upon the leaders at the top; there was, in most cases, no insistence by the citizenry that we go to war, and, in the case of both World Wars, an extreme reluctance initially when war first broke out to enter these European conflicts.

The conservative who would put himself in the position of criticizing a libertarian-leaning presidential candidate on foreign policy would therefore seem to be required to adopt the following positions:

(1)  Non-interference by one person ( or country) in the affairs of another person (or country) is not a fundamental moral imperative; moreover, there is no significant analogy between persons and nation-states when it comes to what is appropriate to their relationships.

(2) War is an appropriate national response whenever some foreign policy end is desired by the nation-state, i.e. it is an acceptable “instrument of national policy”. All that is required is that we be sufficiently powerful to carry it off.

(3) Wars do not have to be defensive in nature, and leaders should not have to satisfy some super-stringent criteria ( like a direct attack on the homeland, or getting a declaration of war from Congress ) in order expend huge resources and send people to their death.

As I implied above, these positions are not easily defended.  Let us move on to the second issue.

Drug Policy:   Once again, the centerpiece of libertarian thinking places the individual and individual rights in the vanguard, and so, libertarians assert that first among all property rights is the fact the individual owns himself! One of the incidents of true ownership is that the the owner gets to make all the decisions regarding his property, including, in particular, what substances to ingest.  For the state to create a list of “controlled substances” which may  not be possessed or consumed, is, to the libertarian, an abuse of the law and a denial of a fundamental property right.  Certainly, it cannot be said that we own ourselves if others may use force against us for possessing or ingesting a controlled substance because the purpose of the criminal law is to prevent violation of rights and no rights are being violated per se by such ingestion.

Now the conservative, who is quite certain he knows which substances are harmless and which must be controlled, will claim that rights are being violated by using illicit drugs because of the possible or potential criminal ( i.e. rights-violating) behavior of those who take them. The key words here are possible and/or potential—it is hardly a certainty that an individual, having ingested one of the substances in question, will invariably violate someone else’s rights. It cannot be denied that individuals under the influence of controlled substances have violated others’ rights by driving while impaired, assaulting others, and through other forms of negligence. The conservative will argue that the drug, not the person, is responsible for the bad behavior, and hence, the banning of the drug  is justified. Yet this argument fails when applied to the culturally accepted drug, alcohol, which is statistically responsible for much more negligence, violence, and mayhem than all the other controlled substances put together. We tried to ban alcohol but the unintended consequences of that ban forced us to rescind that decision and to take the position that  the individual must regulate his behavior vis-a-vis alcohol, i.e. must choose not to over-indulge, not to drive, not to quarrel, etc.  And we hold him ( not the drug ) responsible for his transgressions, subject to the criminal code.  So, the question is, why accept the premise that other so-called “controlled substances” cannot be used without being abused?  It seems to be virtually mandatory for anyone still arguing for drug prohibition to hold out that every single illicit drug has characteristics that are so much more powerful, so much more  threatening, so much more addictive, that individuals cannot be just casual users, and cannot moderate or control the circumstances of their use. The problem is, if you look about you, poll your friends and acquaintances, or simply stop to reflect on things only momentarily, it could not be the case, given the volume of illicit drugs claimed to be in illegal commerce, that the typical user is  a strung-out addict; more likely he or she uses a moderate amount, perhaps only on weekends, and likely holds down a paying job.  A perusal of a table showing usage percentages for any illicit drug usage broken down by lifetime, last year, and last month strongly suggests that, with respect to any particular drug, users come and users go throughout life. 12

For those not already wedded to the collectivist notion that we do not own ourselves, and who will not uncritically accept the authoritarian pronouncements about what is or is not harmful, and who can understand that drug prohibition per se is a bad idea which has already proved itself to be so in the case of alcohol, the foregoing should be enough for them to at least consider adopting the libertarian position. For those I can still hear cursing me for even suggesting decriminalization, consider these additional, practical arguments against the war on drugs.

First, virtually all of the criminal activity that deserves to be called such ( stealing, violence, etc. ) associated with illicit drugs stems from their illegality; the lion’s share of such activity is either (1) gang violence regarding who gets to be sellers, or (2) burglary and theft by those who wish to buy the drugs. There are some instances of crimes arising from negligence ( child endangerment, DUI, etc.) but they are dwarfed by the property crime and internecine violence. And all of this is because the drugs cost so much!! Their very illegality and the risks in trafficking causes a particular amount of any given illicit substance to sell for anywhere from 10x to 50x its intrinsic worth, i.e. what it actually costs to produce, procure, and transport in an unregulated, fully legal environment. For example, one gram (1/28 of an ounce) of cocaine costs about $ 2.78 if you ignore the costs associated with illegality, while the illicit equivalent costs $ 66.00 per gram to the ultimate consumer. Similar costs are estimated for heroin ( $ 3.00/g and $ 140/g respectively ), and for marijuana ( $ 12.50 per pound versus $ 200 )13.

So, it is the huge profits to be made in the illegal drug trade that are behind the related criminal activity: the extreme violence seen with gangs fighting over territory, the high rate of residential burglary  and other property crime by users who simply do not have the money to pay the exorbitant prices generated by the substances’ illegality. Make the production, procurement and transportation such that one will not be incarcerated for doing so, and the price will quickly come down to something approaching the much lower costs involved; yes, the number of sellers and the general level of competition will ramp up, but this is a phenomenon of the market without which the lower prices will not emerge. What is advocated here is decriminalization, not legalization. Not taxation and regulation, either. To do these once again raises costs, and depending on the taxes and regulated price, may well create black markets in spite of the legalization.  Furthermore, by decriminalizing rather than taxing and regulating, you remove at least some of the potential government imprimatur or tacit approval; it may develop that venturing into neighborhoods where people typically transact for drugs will inhibit the casual experimenter. Many conservative opponents of decriminalization seem to think that hordes of people who now appear to have no interest in taking drugs will suddenly line up as customers just because the fear of arrest has been removed; my own opinion is that this attitude is not too dissimilar to the notion of original sin—everybody has it within them to bad things in the absence of explicit restraints!

If you add to the foregoing the additional societal evils that the “war on drugs” has spawned, including in particular, the militarization of police departments, even in smaller municipalities, the now routine SWAT team raids, many of which have tragic outcomes like the flash-bang grenade that lands in a child’s crib before exploding14, and the advent of prosecutorial tactics like asset forfeiture15.  Add to the preceding the damage done  in the form of an arrest and/or conviction to those whose only crime is possession and its influence on the ability  to obtain gainful employment; add also the huge number of additional incarcerated persons such that the U.S. now leads the world in total prison population per capita, which is indisputably related to the increased enforcement levels of the drug war.

Alas, the conservative who advocates for the punitive authoritarian position in this matter often proves himself to be an enemy of liberty in general and exhibits a willingness to ignore or deny all manner of practical arguments.  Notice, in particular, the vitriol with which he will castigate the libertarian candidate who dares raise these issues.

I now move on the last area of concern, the “social issues”.

Social Issues.   This topic includes abortion, same sex marriage, laws involving various sexual practices, and various proposals to encourage or discourage certain behaviors on the grounds that they either represent the practice of virtue, or when discouraged, the promotion of vice and/or sinfulness.

Libertarian views on the use of force in human relationships require that its use be restricted to self-defense, retaliation, or in response to those who initiate force.  With the exception of immediately required self-defense, we give government a monopoly on the use of force. That being the case, and force being the mode used for enforcement of laws, libertarians want to see the number and scope of laws reduced to the absolute minimum. This would, it seems to me, absolutely preclude laws which are the product of subjective opinions about what is morally or socially acceptable, outside the realm of inappropriate use of force. Laws then, are primarily for the prevention and/or punishment of situations involving people who initiate the use of force.

This is not to say that libertarians do not sometimes ( maybe even often ) wish to discourage or eliminate certain behaviors which they regard as crass, ugly, inconsiderate, unhealthy, etc., etc.  But it is felt that the strong arm of the law is too blunt an instrument to wield, and prefer the sanctions and expressed disapproval found in civil society to mitigate against this type of behavior. Critics of relying on civil society and the various mechanisms of disapproval which it can employ frequently characterize this as a form of interference or intervention and brand the libertarian as a hypocrite. But these critics make the same mistake as those who accuse a corporation of stifling an employee’s free speech rights,  namely that it is only government that can violate these rights because only government can employ the force necessary; civil society can make one a pariah, and corporations can fire you,  but they cannot throw you in jail.

Repeating what was said earlier about non-interference ( or if you like, non-intervention ), there is no way libertarians could tolerate government attempts to control who marries whom, who has sex with whom, what reading ( or media ) materials are allowable,  whether to allow games of chance, and a whole host of similar, personally chosen activities or behaviors that do not directly impact others.

Now, I can hear the conservative saying that the impact need not be direct, it is the myriad impacts of indirect, publicly obvious, and to them, revolting practices that pollute the social environment and we would be better off to be rid of them.  Can you not see how utterly subjective and capricious such an attitude is? So much so, that to give such preferences the force of law is an essential affront to liberty. And this is true, I aver, even when 50% plus one of the voting adopters wish to have it so.  It is the basis for most of what has been called the “tyranny of the majority” and is a major failing of unconstrained democracy.

Perhaps the issue is put more succinctly in this discussion, from an essay by Nathan Schlueter, which attempts to justify the authoritarian mode of government which has become the norm for many conservatives:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” The “harm principle,” first formulated by J.S. Mill, is a moral claim. It cannot be derived from moral skepticism without committing a self-referential fallacy: The argument, “We don’t know what is right or wrong, therefore it is wrong to do x,” is obviously invalid.

As a moral claim, the harm principle is not neutral with respect to competing conceptions of the good. Underlying it is the conviction that the good for human beings is to live according to one’s own conception of what is good, and to live in a society in which that freedom is protected. For the sake of this conception of the good, it requires the repeal of legislation enacted by those with a different conception of the good. It thus deprives them of their right to choose and live according to their own conception of the good. In effect, libertarians wish to compel other persons with whom they disagree to live in a society that these others find, often with very good reason, to be hostile to human flourishing.16

What I would say to Mr. Schlueter is this: you are not in a position to determine what is or is not hostile to human flourishing such that you may make rules that have nothing to do with aggression and compel others to obey these rules. Only the individual can discern what is hostile to him or not. The fact that legislation “was enacted by those with a different conception of the good” does not invest this conception with any special relevance, save that some gang of people got together and mandated it. That is all. To call it the wisdom of the collective, is to give it the name it deserves—collectivism. The only pretense to moral authority in democracy is that of “my gang is bigger than your gang”.17 Furthermore, and more importantly, the so-called “right to choose and live according to their own conception of the good” which depends on supporting legislation is bogus because it can and often does conflict directly with other rights that are inherent to humans, such as the right to own and keep property.  Your right to enact legislation which forcibly removes my income or wealth for the use of you or your kin is incompatible with my right to keep and use my income. Hillel Steiner has noted that rights in a set of rights that conflict with one another are considered not compossible, to use his term. 18

So, I will wrap this up by asking you to reflect on the fact that all three areas where libertarians disagree with conservatives can be derived from a single common libertarian theme, that of non-interference or non-intervention.

  • Foreign policy should be conducted as if individual nation-states were entitled to be treated as individual persons are treated, without interference in their internal affairs. Just wars exist when it is necessary for a nation-state to defend itself and is the only exception to the first norm of international behavior.
  • It is a fundamental truism for libertarians that each person has the right to property and the singular property which all possess is oneself. Ownership of the self implies that all decisions regarding that self normally be made by the individual, including what to ingest.  To  mandate what one may eat, drink, or otherwise ingest, is so basic an interference that such mandates are deemed totally inappropriate and hence, unacceptable.
  • In opposition to the authoritarians among the social conservatives, libertarians believe in “laissez-faire”, which basically means “leave it alone”; let a person live the kind of life he, and he alone decides is appropriate; legislation which imposes positive or negative duties with respect to non-aggressive social behavior is outside its proper realm, and is the height of inappropriate intervention.

On the other hand, there is no such consistency by conservatives with respect to what they believe about foreign policy, drug policy and social issues:

  • On foreign policy, it would seem that most conservatives are not constrained by any moral qualms and are willing to settle for any policies which they, in their infinite wisdom, deem to be “in the interest of the United States”. Some conservatives are willing to appeal to the notion of “the lessons of history”, but my experience is that their assertions are, often as not, contradicted by history.
  • Suggesting an end to drug prohibition ( while failing once again to recall the problem with that other Prohibition ) makes most conservatives apoplectic, such that they are almost disabled from entertaining any logical dialogue on the subject. The primary objection to drug use appears to center on its on being an example of vice rather than virtue.
  •  Conservatives seem to view social issues that relate to the family, sexuality, etc. as being fair game for the coercion inherent in government, i.e. that the creation of laws are perfectly appropriate to mitigate or, better still, eliminate societal problems, and are preferred to the voluntary nature of efforts by civil society to tackle the same problems.

So, in the last analysis, the conservatives would seem to have no central guiding principles which inform their decisions in the three areas discussed ; it’s all pretty eclectic. Like Edmund Burke, though, they aren’t real keen on rationality, on making cogent arguments, relying instead on tradition, religion, and various other sentiments to justify their opinions. I tried examining various lists or collections of conservative “principles” or “tenets” which might be applied to our three areas, but, alas, I found most of them to be simply lists of policy positions or platform planks with little in common to bind them into a coherent whole. 19

For the most part, the items discussed did not qualify in my mind as principles. As I see it, a principle is a statement which can be logically applied to a situation resulting in a solution or resolution. For example, conservatives talk a lot about ‘being in favor of limited government’ as a principle. Limited how? In size? In powers? A limited government principle might be stated as follows: “The role of the federal government is to be limited to certain specific and enumerated powers; the required appropriations should be commensurate with this limitation.” Since when was any conservative you can recall responsible for actually moving in the direction of eliminating those programs, agencies, or institutions that are clearly not provided for in the U.S. Constitution? Fat chance!

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  1. Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky. []
  2. Aggression, as used by libertarians, usually takes in more than simple force or violence—it includes such things as fraud and deception, embezzlement, extortion and threats, etc. In other words, the whole panoply of actions we normally consider as being the criminal realm. []
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_general_election,_1948, for example,concerning the interference by the U.S. in the post World War II Italian elections. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat for information on the CIA intervention that led to the 1953 Iranian Coup d’Etat and the installation of the Shah of Iran. []
  4. Narveson, Jan. Moral Matters, 2nd Ed., 1999, p. 110 []
  5. NOTE: this would by definition include diplomatic missions in foreign countries. []
  6. “The domino theory was a theory prominent from the 1950s to the 1980s, that speculated that if one state in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect.”, Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_theory []
  7. …”a US policy to stop Soviet expansion during the Cold War.  United States President Harry S. Truman pledged to contain communism in Europe and elsewhere and impelled the US to support any nation with both military and economic aid if its stability was threatened by communism or the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine became the foundation of the president’s foreign policy and placed the U.S. in the role of global policeman.”, Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_Doctrine []
  8. Autarky or economic self-sufficiency is a state of affairs where there is no foreign trade at all; every nation consumes only goods produced within its own borders. []
  9. “During wartime, criticism is characterized as treasonous, defeatist, and unpatriotic. Civil liberties are abandoned, censorship imposed, newspapers shut down, and spying on citizens authorized. Fellow citizens are designated enemies, demonized, harassed, arrested, interned, expelled, or killed.”  — Peace and Liberty, Tom G. Palmer (Ed.), p. 13 []
  10. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” —Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals []
  11. The main reasons for the First World War included pressure from the largest U.S. banks who had loaned huge amounts to the Allies and feared for possible losses; also, President Wilson and his advisers were persuaded of the necessity to show “solidarity” with  the English-speaking peoples against the aggression of  the Hun… []
  12. See Table 13 at this URL: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Drug_Usage#sthash.l07iw9gw.dpbs []
  13. These statistics, plus many more, can be found at the website DrugWarFacts.org; see Item #46 under the section titled Economics. []
  14. For a description of this incident, go here. []
  15. Asset forfeiture is a form of confiscation of assets by the state pursuant to law. It typically applies to the alleged proceeds or instrumentalities of crime. Some jurisdictions specifically use the term “confiscation” instead of “forfeiture”. Civil and administrative asset forfeiture, or forfeiture without a conviction and sometimes in the absence of evidence, both draw major criticism. Civil Asset Forfeiture is a part of the Criminal Justice system. []
  16. From  “Why I am not a Libertarian” by Nathan Schlueter, at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/03/5002/; the title is an obvious play on the famous essay by F.A. Hayek entitled “Why I am not a Conservative”. []
  17. I think this can be attributed to Ayn Rand, but I can’t cite the source.  []
  18. The intellectual errors and problems of such misguided rights theory are brilliantly analyzed by University of Manchester philosopher Hillel Steiner in his book An Essay on Rights, the result of years of hard thinking about the topic. Steiner has gained a reputation in the field of moral and political philosophy by his insistence on “compossibility” as a criterion of rights. A set of “compossible,” or mutually consistent, rights means that the actions they legitimate must be jointly performable. Steiner indicts almost all of contemporary rights theory—the kind that has generated the rights explosion—as fundamentally mistaken: “Any justice principle that delivers a set of rights yielding contradictory judgements about the permissibility of a particular action either is unrealizable or (what comes to the same thing) must be modified to be realizable.” []
  19. The most frequently cited source for a set of something resembling  principles is an article by Russel Kirk entitled “Ten Conservative Principles”. (Can be found at  http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/) In brief, they are:

    1) The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.

    2) The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.

    3) Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.

    4) Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.

    5) Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.

    6) Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.

    7) Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.

    8) Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.

    9) The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.

    10) The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.

    For my part, I think this only allows conservatives to make any sort of argument as the spirit moves them; there are no integrating concepts in this eclectic list. []

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Filed under Happening Now

Can We ‘SAVE THE AMERICAN DREAM’ without transforming America?

The Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization which alleges that it is against Progressivism and the programs of the Left, is promoting a “comprehensive plan to rescue our country from a disastrous decline, called Saving the American Dream”. Now, this plan and its positions are pretty much typical, I submit, of the response to statism by Republicans and other conservatives , and illustrates why, in my humble opinion, something much more radical is required.

Here, briefly,  is the Heritage program in outline:

  • Reform the existing tax code: a single rate for all, reduce both corporate and personal rates, eliminate the estate tax.
  • Cut the size of government: go back to 2008 spending levels, etc.
  •  Reform health care: repeal the Affordable Care Act and develop “positive” health care  reforms.
  •  Solve the entitlement spending crisis: revise the entitlement programs to put them on a sound financial footing, “reforms that will protect the system…”

Our current president said he wanted to “transform America” and he is certainly well on his way to doing so; given the kind of opposition  he faces from most Republicans and organizations like the Heritage Foundation, he will likely succeed. I agree that a transformation is needed, but the qualities and content of such a change are much more serious and must go deeper than anything so far proposed.  We need something more than warmed-over platitudes like “limited government” and “individual responsibility”; these have gotten us nowhere over time, even when supposedly anti-Leftist representatives, e.g Ronald Reagan, have been elected. For all their rhetoric, they have served only one function—putting their political finger, as it were, in the dike, stanching the flow, temporarily, of statist programs and proposals, holding the line on expenditures, only to have both the expenditure levels and number of statist programs resume their increase once they have left office.

You need to ask yourself: when, in recent memory, has the temporary ascendance of so-called conservative Republicans ever resulted in such permanent changes as:

  • Elimination of even one cabinet-level department;
  • A balanced federal budget for more than a year or two;
  • Any reduction whatsoever in the total national debt (even in the face of a nominal annual budget  surplus!);
  • The major overhaul of any government sponsored program or entity that was accompanied by an institutional reform (e.g. a Constitutional Amendment) that would ensure its permanency?

The answer is, of course, no you can’t. The reason, I assert, is that none of the “conservative” proposals are seriously focused on the fundamentals, either morally, or practically. (There’s that Moral and Practical business again!)  None of them goes to the root of the problems.
A real, honest-to-God, program that would fundamentally transform America and reverse the all-encompassing trend toward statism would include, at the minimum, the following:

(1) Complete elimination of the Internal Revenue Service and its Internal Revenue Code with both an amendment and mirroring legislation that would forever banish taxation of incomes, either personal or business, and replace it with a smaller, kinder, kind of tax—a national retail sales tax whose revenue stream would be designed ultimately to cover only the functions justified by the enumerated powers according to the Constitution. Emphatically not revenue neutral!

(2) Scaling back the powers and operations of the Federal Reserve Board so that it operates on a rule-based modality for monetary policy until such time that it can be completely eliminated and currency can be tied to some objective standard of value, or that we can return to “free banking” as it was practiced in earlier eras.

(3) An amendment to require a balanced federal budget, which would be enforced by presidential line item veto. Executive failure to enforce would be an impeachable offense.

(4) Rolling back of the Regulatory State: the entire Code of Federal Regulations would be made subject to expiration after a term certain; in the mean time, each category (environmental, financial, etc.) of regulations would be examined by congressional committees set up exclusively for that purpose, and standards, including cost-benefit rules, would be developed for justification of each and every regulation. All regs not justifiable by actual demonstrable harms prevented would be dropped.  All new regulations would be required to be in the form of statutes, with suitably detailed attention in congressional hearings ( no more rule-making by agencies, with “public comment periods” being the only remedy for bad policy).

(5) Repeal all statutes which force employers to recognize unions and to bargain collectively. This is not the same as banishing unions; see below.

These five measures constitute the minimum necessary to begin our return to a non-statist orientation toward governance. Note that items (1) – (3) above are basically identical to the concepts in my Three Plank Platform (q.v.).

In addition, but of somewhat lesser urgency, are the following:

(6) Reconsideration of Procedural ( Criminal ) Justice:

(a) Repealing and otherwise limiting the number and types of federal crimes to conform to the Constitution. The Founders never intended that the federal government should have a general “police power”.

(b) Focusing on the concept of restitution instead of “correction” or rehabilitation wherever possible.

(c) Restoring the historic role of the jury as a body which is entitled to judge both the law and the facts instead of the current notion of the jury only as the “trier of fact”.

(7) Deal with the damage done by years of judicial construction and interpretation of our Constitution; in particular, the ability to simply ignore the enumerated powers concept, the creation of new rights and other expanded legal concepts for which there is simply no basis either in the historical record or the document itself.

(8) Provide a mechanism allowing a way to move  from “government schools” to a fully private, free market supply of education.

All of the above issues I have presented in the most brief form, so as to provide an easily grasped overall idea of the scope of the problems needing solution. Below, I will expand on each of the first five topics, again not exhaustively, as each topic deserves a full-blown post of its own in good time.

( Those who know me know that I have omitted one topic that I feel strongly is of great importance, and have done so in order to avoid the risk of alienating my audience and deflecting it from the huge fiscal and monetary issues that beset us. In line with libertarian notions generally, I am against interventionism; here we deal with domestic intervention by the state  into the economy and life of the people—we also need to deal with our tendency to carry this interventionist mode forward in foreign relations. Sadly, many so-called conservatives who claim to abhor domestic intervention have no qualms whatsoever about intervention in our dealings with other countries. I will take this on in a major post at some future date.)

[ UPDATE NOTE: the future is Now! Latest post re: Libertarians and Conservatives at least begins the foreign policy discussion. Check it out.]

Moving on then, let us consider the positive results which would flow from each of the changes mentioned above.

Radical Measure No. 1 – Eliminating taxation of incomes and substituting a modest sales tax.  Abolishing the income tax and the 54,000 or so pages of the Internal Revenue Code would arguably be the most far-reaching fundamental change that could be made against statism; the benefits are manifold, and include:

●    Lowering by at least half the total amount of tax removed from the private sector and providing both individuals and firms a way to predict cash flows would allow for huge increases in capital formation and increase profits.  Every dollar that is removed from the private sector is a dollar that cannot be used to increase our standard of living. For Progressives, this sounds awful, because in their lexicon, profits are evil, whereas most conservatives and all classical liberals know that economic progress is only possible when there is a surplus created by economic activity and when that surplus can be re-invested. The name of that surplus is PROFIT.

●    All of the historic objections to the income tax and its voluminous code are dealt with including the marriage penalty, double taxation of corporate profits, high corporate tax rates vis-a-vis other countries, the progressive nature of the personal marginal tax rates, the need to consider tax consequences in tandem with or ahead of other investment considerations, income “creep” and the Alternative Minimum Tax scheme, the huge amount of personal and/or corporate record-keeping required, and the cost to hire an expert simply to file one’s taxes.

●    A major benefit is the elimination of tax preferences, the vehicle by which certain classes of taxpayers are benefited by having deductions or tax credits for which others do not qualify. This is one of the state’s principal ways to structure behavior in ways that it construes as beneficial, and a principal way to implement statist policies. This includes the well-known deduction for mortgage interest, which has propped up the housing industry for years, as well as dozens of tax credits for specific economic behaviors, each of which was intensively lobbied for by interests both within and without the government, for example, the following environmentally related tax credits:

Qualified Electric Vehicle Credit
Credit for Alcohol Used as Fuel
Credits for Residential Energy Savings ( IRC Sec, 25C, 25D)

Tax credits (which go directly against tax owed) fall into two categories—non-refundable  and refundable. The former reduces only a positive tax due balance while the latter is available to tax filers even if no tax is owed.

Non-refundable tax credits include:

Child and Dependent Care Credit
Education credits
Credit for the Elderly or Disabled
Child Tax Credit
Foreign Income Tax Credit
Residential Energy Credits
Retirement Savings Contribution Credit
First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Refundable tax credits include:

Earned Income Credit
Adoption Credit
Excess Social Security Credit
Additional Child Tax Credit
Health Coverage Tax Credit
American Opportunity Credit

There are at least twelve personal tax credits, and no fewer than 29 business tax credits which the state can use to program your economic behavior. Remember that tax credits, unlike tax deductions, reduce your final tax liability dollar-for-dollar.

The most egregious of these is the refundable Earned Income Credit, which is nothing more than an income redistribution scheme, a type of negative income tax.

All such credits, together with the hundreds of deductions against income that exist, are designed to structure our behavior in ways that the state favors. More important, the removal of these from consideration also removes the major temptation to corruption by elected officials in that they will no longer have something to sell, i.e. their influence over tax legislation to create credits and/or deductions favoring some special interest. A huge opportunity for abusive legislation is forever eliminated. Moreover, it is easy to see how this field of legislation is the most likely area for violations of the rule of law, which requires that the law be universal with respect to all people ( no exceptions or special cases).

●    Elimination of the IRS and the code also bring with it the elimination of income tax withholding as a concept, which concept surely implies that one really does not own his income if the government can intercept it and appropriate it before it ever even goes into your bank account. ( See my more extensive discussion about the claim that you do not own your pre-tax income made in the book entitled The Myth of Ownership in my post “Justice and Fairness, Part Two”)

●    Exchanging the income tax for a retail sales tax also reduces the compulsory nature of the tax, and gives individuals some leeway in adjusting the amount of tax they have to pay; it also eliminates the most ambitious and over the top enforcement agency we have, the IRS. Enforcement of the sales tax is largely an issue of auditing the retailers’ books.

●    Eliminating the IRS also eliminates all of the issues surrounding tax exempt organizations and in particular the abuses which have most recently surfaced regarding politically influenced withholding of approval for certain non-profit groups.

●    Without the IRS or something equally vicious, the Affordable Care Act’s enforcement mechanism is crippled or eliminated.

●    While there are legitimate objections to the sales tax concept, they pale in comparison to the benefits discussed above. And to many other benefits which exist, but due to space available, are not mentioned here. Yes, there would be an underground economy in which unaudited sales would take place and no tax would be collected. Yes, the rate required to duplicate today’s federal revenue would be excessive, perhaps in the 20-25% range. And there are others objections as well.

As with all truly radical proposals, opposition to this change in tax policy will be huge because far too many people’s oxen will be gored—special interests will not wish to lose their advantages and this includes many so-called conservatives and limited government advocates. It is time that everyone clarifies where he stands—Republicans and other “conservatives” who continue to insist on using the tax system to manipulate people and to benefit themselves as purveyors of special favors need to get out of the way. (This is the motivation, I believe, of the so-called “tea party” movement in its propensity to challenge sitting Republicans at the primary election stage, a strategy which causes the hackles to rise on establishment types. ) It is high time that people generally see that giving up something like a legislated special benefit is not a sacrifice if it means preserving and improving the free market approach, which, even while hobbled with controls, has been the basic cause for our prosperity for more than 200 years. Only by eliminating the ability to satisfy rent-seekers can we move in the direction of a fully unhampered free-market economy. That the establishment Republicans object to this is evidence enough to deny them our support. Having an “R” after your name has been shown, time and again, to not be a sufficient guarantee of proactive resistance to statism.

Radical Measure No. 2 – Reducing the role of, and eventually eliminating the Federal Reserve.

I experienced a serious internal debate over whether to place this measure as my No.1. The damage done to all of us by the Fed over time competes strongly with the tax code as something to be eliminated.

The existence of a central bank, with all of the powers to create new money and manage rates of interest serves only two masters—banking interests in their desire to be protected from the natural risks inherent in their operations, and the interests of the state in supporting and expanding the activities of government through low-cost borrowing instead of taxation. It serves no one else. And the consistent inflation which central bank policies usually foster robs the common people of their wealth through deterioration of the value over time of their savings and assets. Absent the activities of the central bank, there is no reason why inflation would be a continuous feature of the monetary system, and in fact, the more likely occurrence of moderate deflation would be infinitely preferable, to all except debtors, and in particular, mind you, the government, which wants perennially to operate on ever-expanding debt. Note that if debt increases were not so easily available, the state would have to raise taxes much more frequently, an action that draws attention to its profligacy and which statists overhwelmingly desire to avoid.

The Federal Reserve should be reduced to a role that can be administered out of a small office with a personal computer, namely, adjustment of interbank interest rates by a rule-based algorithm such as the one advocated by economist John Taylor of Stanford University. The regulatory powers1 of the Federal Reserve should be eliminated forthwith. Statutes should provide for a study of how best to phase out the entity in its entirety and migrate to a currency which  is backed by tangible commodities, and/or that we are able to return to some form of  “free banking” as once existed in this country.

Currently, the monetary policies pursued by the Fed have all but ruined the income prospects of any one who relies on fixed rate instruments ( savings, bonds, etc.) inasmuch as near-zero Fed rates bring down all rates in tandem: the long-time average2 annual passbook rate for savings of around 5% has been reduced to perhaps 0.25% if you are lucky, while CDs are around 1-3%. This has provided a perverse incentive to those holding cash to invest in equities and to create a stock market bubble as a result. It goes without saying that a stable monetary system based on naturally occurring unregulated interest rates will not give these kinds of results. Furthermore, the elimination of the Fed and its role as “lender of last resort” will end the moral hazard of taxpayer bailouts of failing institutions ( and many still-solvent, but stressed institutions).

Of course, the most damaging aspects of the Fed are (1) the policy of using open market operations3 that, in effect, creates money where before there was none in order to provide an economic “stimulus” and (2) the influence on market rates of the arbitrary setting of interest rates via the interbank lending rate. Beginning in 1913, these policies have resulted in numerous unjustified increases in investment which could not be sustained ( so-called bubbles), which then went bust causing extreme problems for everyone, not just the investors who were fooled into rampant malinvestment. The most notorious of these events was, of course, the Great Depression. The most recent of them was the aptly named Great Recession of 2008-9. One cannot too strongly emphasize that the huge damages caused by these events would not have occurred absent the central bank’s policies; recessions and depressions are not naturally occurring phenomena, as some economists would have you believe; the cause is invariably due to government policy, monetary or fiscal.

That there are literally scores of highly regarded economists, including virtually 100% of those who consult for the government, who both accept and encourage the central bank’s role as legitimate only demonstrates the degree to which even those regarded as experts can be wrong, and the extent to which economics, as a social science, has been perverted by scientism and by the philosophies of positivism and formalism.

Radical Measure No. 3 – Getting to an enforceable Balanced Federal Budget year after year.

Yes, I hear you. I hear you saying that under President Clinton from 1998 to about 2002, revenues exceeded spending, yielding a surplus. Oh, and Mr. Clinton was a Democrat! If this is your line of thinking, I suggest you consult the historical background of this short-lived surplus era and how it came about; it most certainly did not follow the paradigm ( even higher taxes and limited or no spending cuts) that our current White House occupant wants.

Did the “surplus” created in the years of the Clinton administration result in any reduction in the National Debt? No. The amount of debt increase in the years 1997-2003 ( the Clinton years) was $ 1.4 trillion.

The only way that debt reductions can occur is that surpluses are a common occurrence. The only way that is possible is if the general trend is toward a balanced budget, and the notion that deficits are at all acceptable is abolished in the public’s mind, and for that to occur the prohibition on deficits must be institutionalized, i.e. put in the form of a constitutional amendment.

There have been at least 18 varying proposals over the years for a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA). My version differs from most of them in that it includes some special provisions: the president must go beyond just submitting a budget that is balanced— if Congress submits an unbalanced budget, he must use a newly minted line item veto power to trim items until the goal of balance is reached, and, moreover, I suggest that ignoring this requirement and failing to do so should be made an impeachable offense. My proposal (see the Three Plank Platform on this blog) also includes a cap on spending and a super-majority requirement to change the cap percentage, but these or similar provisions are included in other, earlier proposals.

Despite the often extreme opposition of a majority of economists to this idea, acceptance of the notion of not spending more than you take in is growing and the proposal may be the least radical of my three planks, inasmuch as 29 out of the required 34 state legislatures have petitioned for a constitutional convention to take up this matter. The normal path for a constitutional amendment is that a two-thirds congressional majority passes the amendment and it is subsequently approved by three-fourths of the states; the provision for initiation by the states themselves has never been used, but given the recalcitrance of Congress, it may yet happen.

Radical Measure No. 4 – Planned Rollback of the Regulatory State

Republicans and other conservatives rail against the mass of regulations that they insist, rightly, inhibit investment and confound the legitimate activities of most businesses, yet the thrust of this concern is almost never directed at regulations already imposed, nor is there any consideration of reforming the entire regulatory landscape, as a good radical solution would require.  Allowing the huge mass of regulations already promulgated to continue existing is not an option, except in the minds of the 70-80% of Republicans who are unwilling to challenge the status quo; this is yet another reason to challenge sitting Republicans at the primary election level.

The current bloat of federal regulations is the result of 50 or more years of legislation which has created new agencies of the federal government and has given them the charter to continuously generate new rules and regulations in various areas, e.g environment, financial institutions, transportation, food and drugs, and on and on. Every perceived problem has become the subject of a regulatory scheme. This trend has spawned a huge ongoing bureaucracy of overpaid career federal employees who continue in place from one administration to the next, so that, even if the new administration is not as statist-inclined as prior ones, the philosophy and impetus to still more regulations persists, inasmuch as the continuance of these people is not reviewed; only the highest level appointees may change, and the agency simply goes on as before.

The pernicious aspect of this is that the rule-making procedure has become almost totally removed from pushback by those affected. Once it is set up the typical regulatory agency is allowed rule-making powers that consist basically of propounding the rules behind closed doors and then allowing a brief “public comment period” before said rules are implemented and compliance by a whole sector of the economy in many cases is required. The concept of cost versus benefit is scarcely used, and is certainly not a requirement in most cases. More important, there is no necessity that the bureaucrats, having received the “public comments” pay any attention to them, much less provide a rebuttal or explanation as to why they may safely be ignored; the majority of them, the majority of the time are ignored on the march to implementation.

Now to my mind, we elect representatives to our legislative bodies to deal with rule-making, not just to consider the abstract concept of a broad need for regulation and give vast power and discretion to some new agency, an entity that will likely live on forever, and will continue to find new areas of concern to engender additional regs in order to justify its continuation. It is in the nature of such an organization to do so. So, I would propose that we roll back the situation to where the actual, detailed rules and regulations, to the extent they are actually needed , be considered by and voted on individually by our elected representatives, with full congressional hearings, as befitting actual publicly expressed concerns, not concerns manufactured by bureaucrats in their little hovels. Doing so might actually occupy the legislators to the extent that the volume of new legislation on mostly unconstitutional subjects would be reduced due to the needed attention to the details of whatever legitimate regulations were found to be appropriate. The end result would be similar to the current Code of Federal Regulations, but would be in the form of statutes. In many cases, regulatory agencies could be abolished and replaced by expert witnesses at congressional hearings; note that this (i.e. public hearings)  would give a much more viable opportunity for objections by the general public, and to get a sense of just how pervasive is the problem to be solved by the statute.

The beginning of this process would entail a complete re-consideration in the above-described manner of each major section of the Code by special committees of the Congress; given a time limit, each existing regulation should be scrutinized and testimony taken on its need and effectiveness. When the time limit has expired, the slate would be wiped clean and  only those regulations passing scrutiny would be retained; representatives feeling strongly about lost regs could sponsor new legislation to add them back. To repeat, all new regulations going forward should be in the form of a statute with full hearings.

Radical Measure No. 5 – Eliminate Forced Collective Bargaining

Trade unions have become a real problem in this country. The conventional wisdom is that unions came into being to counter the concentration of power and influence that firms and employers were able to wield in the contractual arrangement for employment, i.e. it was asserted that the employer has an innate advantage (greater bargaining power)  over employees when the encounter is one-on-one, and that this advantage is reduced or neutralized through the ability to bargain collectively.

Well, it would appear intuitive that this might be true; the only problem is that it may be true at some times and under some circumstances, but is hardly a general rule. The supply of labor, especially labor of a particular type, strongly influences the individual’s bargaining power in the transaction and the demand for, and/or supply of labor is constantly varying.

As someone who believes in liberty and freedom to contract, I submit that it is almost axiomatic that individuals have the right to band together and seek to bargain for wages as a group, and also to petition the employer regarding safety and working conditions. Many people assume that employers will ignore such employee associations and their requests, but in many situations, it is not in the employers’ best interest to do so. So, unions which are voluntary associations of individuals working at a particular firm are certainly an appropriate type of organization. What makes them inappropriate and damaging is (1) when the association is not voluntary (i.e. all employees are mandated to be in the union, or alternatively provide financial support to the union as if they were members) and (2) when the state mandates that the employer must bargain with the union and may not resort to individual employment contracts once a union has been formed.

No one who believes in liberty can object to people voluntarily joining an association like a union. Also the union should be able to strike, in other words to walk off the job as a group in order to impress upon the employer the intensity of their feelings regarding certain issues. What is not acceptable, and is an elemental violation of liberty is the notion, insisted upon by unionists, that the formation of such a voluntary organization automatically obliges the employer to recognize and bargain exclusively and collectively with it. Employers should be free at all times to replace, in a wholesale manner if desired, all the striking employees with new employees who are willing to engage in individual contracting. Also, liberty requires that no one is forced to join and/or support a union as a condition of employment at a firm.

Yet these issues are at the heart of contemporary labor law, and such mandates have been allowed to stand despite what to me, and libertarians generally, is a clear case of failure to abide by the Constitution’s respect for freedom of contract.

Now I am the first to admit that an examination of the history of labor law in both England and the early United States shows an inimical attitude toward trade unions, to the extent that unions were frequently convicted of conspiracies in restraint of trade, citing English Common Law among other things.4 So, initially, even the transitory existence of voluntary associations whose purpose included attempts to bargain collectively and to raise wages resulted in criminal penalties. This situation did, however, change over time, so that, by the 1870s, labor unions as such had achieved legislation that enabled their unfettered existence, and sanctioned strikes as a tolerable activity under the law. It would not be fair to say that liberty was well served by the attitude of the state up to that time, including numerous instances of the use of government force, inlcuding the military, to break up strikes, and that in many cases it was not civil disorder, or any other legitimate social problems that motivated this, but merely the desire of the state to co-operate with those who opposed the unions, i.e. business interests. So this is an example of reforms needed to rid the polity of what is today called “crony capitalism”, but then was more a product of mercantilist thinking, wherein one of the state’s purposes was the outright support and promotion of the interests of the merchant class.

But the evolution of the trade union from a virtual outlawed status to a tolerated one does not stop with having achieved recognition and that there is essentially nothing illegal per se in its existence or purposes. It has moved beyond that to a position of favoritism by the state which makes any discussion of unions providing a “level playing field” a laughing matter. Assuming there is a need for something to balance the supposed excessive power and influence that employers have, legislation currently in force so overbalances the situation that the tilt in favor of unionism is nearly vertical.

The turning point in this progression is in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935; this act enshrines the requirement that an employer must bargain collectively once the union has been created. It also created the National Labor Relations Board, which promulgates what is termed “fair labor practices” behaving in much the same manner as the regulatory agencies described above in this post, i.e. originates rules which are difficult or impossible to retract. To give you the flavor of the composition of this overarching Act, all of the original “unfair labor practices” cited in the Act were ascribed to the employer.

One can see the one-sidedness of the Act by this one quote describing its intended purpose:

It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

The other major piece of legislation which has changed the landscape of labor/management relations in these United States is the Federal Labor Relations Act of 1978, passed during the Carter administration. This Act enabled union organization of federal employees, and has led to the egregious situation regarding pay and pension benefits which is currently much discussed. It should be obvious that to create a collective bargaining agent (union) for a group of employees which is then able to make contributions to politicians who are ultimately responsible as the bargaining agents for “management”( i.e. the government) comprises an inherently corrupt situation and a built-in conflict of interest. Once again, a quote from the Act serves to show the attitudes involved:

In passing the act, Congress declared that it wished to encourage collective bargaining between federal employees and their employers. Congress declared that collective bargaining is “in the public interest” because, among other things, it “contributes to the effective conduct of public business” and “facilitates and encourages the amicable settlements of disputes between employees and their employers involving conditions of employment.”

In the many years since these acts were passed, the results show how ill-considered the actions were: (1) the membership in private sector unions has dropped precipitately, primarily, I suggest because the supposed beneficiaries of union activities, the members, have perceived that it is not basically in their interest to belong, and (2) public sector pay scales for jobs that compare favorably with similar private sector jobs is as much as 40% higher, and that the pension and benefits burden of public sector employees threatens eventual fiscal insolvency when combined with other egregious government over-spending.

The solution which goes to the root of this problem is to repeal the National Labor Relations Act and the Federal Labor Relations Act. Employers should once again be allowed to avoid mandatory collective bargaining, and all federal employees should contract individually for their employment contracts.

*                                                 *                                               *

So, looking around you, do you see anyone, from either of the major political parties who is advocating a program of this magnitude? Is there anyone who is talking about not just resisting additional moves toward statism, but actually rolling back, repealing or reducing the influence of the state on our lives? Yet, if we don’t do all these things, we move closer to the edge of the abyss—the point where personal freedom is gone, personal wealth is totally commandeered, inflation reduces asset values to a pittance, and the prospects for a vibrant economy are surrendered to the manipulations and interventions advocated by those economists and politicians whose only concern is to further aggrandize the state and its role as saviour.

Well, when I look around I see maybe one, maybe two individuals who are brave enough to advocate as I do.  It remains to see, however, whether they will forsake the safety of the status quo and do so.

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  1. The regulatory powers I refer to include the setting of reserve requirements, and the plethora of regulations regarding how banks (including investment banks) and even non-banking institutions ( like AIG, the insurance giant) are constrained to conduct their business. []
  2.   See the following URL for a chart showing historical passbook rates through 2005: http://www.bankrate.com/brm/publ/passbkchart.asp []
  3. Please refer to the following Wikipedia discussion of Open Market Operations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_market_operation ;  If nothing else, one should thoroughly ingest the following quote from this explanation: The process works because the central bank has the authority to bring money in and out of existence. They are the only point in the whole system with the unlimited ability to produce money. Another organization may be able to influence the open market for a period of time, but the central bank will always be able to overpower their influence with an infinite supply of money. []
  4. A decent summary of historical labor legislation can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_labor_law_in_the_United_States#cite_ref-Tomlins-p111_2-0 []

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Filed under Happening Now, Rectification

Getting Straight on the Constitution

For those needing an unequivocal public example to make a point, every once in a while opportunity knocks. In this case it comes in the form of a recent letter to my local paper which contains in its last paragraph a distilled essence of how and why our body politic is sick—a plurality of its potential voters apparently completely misunderstands our Constitution and the system in which it is embedded. The letter was about the Affordable Care Act and states:

“Health is part of the welfare the Constitution seeks to provide and is a right of and a necessity for an ethically functioning society.”

A similar example of blatantly ill-informed remarks is heard from none other than Nancy Pelosi: the ACA “fully realizes the promise of our Founders of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”1.

Aside from problems of finance(i.e. adequate revenue)  and putting on a unified face to other sovereign nations, the states of the Union were doing just fine under the Articles of Confederation; those who recognized the need for a somewhat stronger central government were also extremely concerned about limiting its extent and the powers to be exercised, hence the meta-law of the Constitution. It is first and foremost a document of RESTRAINT, not one that grants license or makes promises. It does not “seek to provide” welfare, and any such interpretation is both ignorant and perverse. This level of misunderstanding competes with the all-too-common notion that the Declaration’s mention of all men being created equal refers to equality of outcomes, not of opportunity or equality in the sight of the law.

These bogus interpretations of the Constitution can be foisted off on current generations of potential voters due to a fundamental lack of understanding of the history and purpose of the document. This in part can be laid to the failure of the government school system to impart basic constitutional concepts in an accurate, non-ideological manner. In fact, modern education, in civics and elsewhere, owes its inspiration from Progressive thinkers like John Dewey, who essentially turned the notions underlying the American founding on their head—instead of the government operating with the consent of, or at the behest of the people, the people are viewed as being operated on by the government: According to Dewey, “The state has the responsibility for creating institutions under which individuals can effectively realize the potentialities that are theirs. . . .”

On the Democratic side, the thrust of the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns was about the concept that government exists to help people. This concept suggests that if a person has a need, then government should seek to fulfill that need, and moreover, for a need like health care, he should have a positive right to that care. Is this not exactly what the letter writer’s paragraph asserts? That the Constitution and Declaration have completely different notions of individual rights is apparently not germane to Progressives holding these beliefs.

Again, if the founders are to be believed, government does not exist to help people; it exists primarily for their protection whilst they go about their business.

The letter writer profoundly misunderstands the concept of our constitutional rights: they are to be construed as guarantees against intervention and interference by the powers that be, not as guarantees to some sort of benefit. Even our current president realized this and, in a 2001 radio interview, expressed his great regret that the rights in the Constitution were all of this type, i.e. “negative rights”. A fundamental characteristic of any right is that it must be compatible with all other enforceable rights, and the notion of a positive right, e.g to old age security or health care, involves violating others rights in order to implement them. To realize the right to a government benefit one must forcibly take wealth from some who have it and transfer it to the recipients of the benefit; such a taking violates property rights. To realize such a right, you must make some people slaves; it is an odd way to put it, but what else is forcing someone to work for 40% of the time for someone else’s benefit anything but slavery, and a loss of liberty? Did these individuals do anything wrong to deserve such a fate? We have to face it, Progressives, with their advocacy of force and violence against innocent citizens, do not occupy the moral high ground; they are not entitled to lecture others on ethics.

To the contrary, it is absolutely crystal clear, both from reading the documents themselves and comments of the Founders in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere, that government’s intended function was to protect individuals from external dangers, and to recognize and protect naturally pre-existing rights to life, liberty and property which are fundamental to successful individual existence. They would have been scandalized by the current implementation of the welfare state.

Progressives have insisted that by virtue of their alleged concern for the downtrodden, they espouse a universally accepted moral position. I submit to you that no system can be moral which uses force to take wealth from one group whose only offense is to possess it, and use it to fund the benefits of programs for others with fewer resources. Initiating force is always wrong, and most every Progressive proposal or program involves the use of force and violence (or the threat of same) against innocents to enforce compliance. No, the Progressives are not entitled to lecture others on ethics.

Furthermore, if something is a right, it cannot conflict with other rights; forced re-distribution of property fails to meet this criterion. Please see my discussion of Justice and Fairness (Part Two) for a more detailed discussion of rights and the concept of compossibility of rights.

Bottom line here is that we are in this mess, this struggle over budgets and debt ceilings, etc., because those on the right side of the political spectrum, those who are charged with preventing and/or correcting such egregious misinterpretations as those cited here, have failed utterly in their responsibility. They refuse to challenge the ethical position staked out by Progressives. There are a precious few on the right, howling in the wilderness, who are not afraid to say that we have to roll back, scale back, and even eliminate aspects of the welfare state if we are to survive.

I am not saying let’s eliminate programs like Social Security and Medicare overnight, but for crying out loud, let’s not create yet another entitlement program such as the ACA. Let’s reject the nonsense about income inequality and social justice that currently holds sway as totally inauthentic expressions of our way of life and our Founders’ intentions. There are far too many Republicans who have given up on resisting ( or maybe never wanted to) and are going along to get along; these people need to be un-elected ASAP. Moreover, every potential office holder needs to be scrutinized as to his/her position on the moral validity of the welfare state.

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  1.   Please see the YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-6lYUQYIvg []

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How not to stop future mass killings

As things now seem to be developing, various so-called “solutions” to the problem of deranged or mentally ill persons killing innocents en masse are being proposed by lawmakers and others. Without even knowing the details, I can pretty much assert right now that the approaches being considered will have little or no effect. Let’s first agree that there are really only two broad areas to be considered: (1) various changes to gun control laws, and (2) some changes in the way mentally ill people are dealt with. The first area affects the means to an end, and the second affects the motivation for the act itself. If you were our current President with his obsession for a “balanced” approach, you would insist on action both fronts, while in actuality only planning to influence one of them; I leave it to the reader as an exercise to speculate on which is which.

Gun Laws

There are already calls for banning the sale of “assault rifles” on the basis that their firepower is what enables the perpetrator. Similarly, there will be calls to limit the size of ammunition magazines for various weapons, as well as the need to closely regulate and/or restrict the sale of many types of ammunition. None of these will have any serious effect on the frequency or scope of future mass killings with firearms.This is a fairly bold statement to make; one might think that such actions should have some effect, and are at least a “move in the right direction”. I will explain why I believe my emphatic statement to the contrary will hold.

First, there are over 300 million firearms in private hands in this country. Of these, perhaps 1%, or at least 3,000,000 are semi-automatic long guns (rifles) of the type which resemble those in use by the military and might be construed under any new law as “assault rifles”.[1] (A semi-automatic weapon is one that shoots a single shot for each pull of the trigger; if you can pull the trigger fast enough, you can deliver a lot of shots in short period of time, however aiming those very quick shots is another matter.) The most likely legislative scenario is to ban the sale of some subset of these rifles, as was done under the expired Clinton-era legislation; it has already been pointed out that the specific rifle used in the recent tragedy would not have been included in the definition of an assault rifle, and is also not included in the still-existing Connecticut assault rifle ban. The next most likely scenario is that any rifle that even remotely resembles a military type weapon will meet the definition in the proposed law. Going further, the next most likely scenario beyond that is that any long gun that shoots semi-automatically will be considered for banning. And so on up to, and possibly including the type of legislation adopted in Australia [2] after a 1996 mass killing there. Normally, laws of this type apply to future sales and production. But what about the 3,000,000+ so-called assault rifles that are still out there in private hands? So, even if all sales of such weapons ceased immediately, it would still be possible for someone who was determined ( and this is defined by the degree of advance planning [3] involved) to obtain one of the remaining 3,000,000 examples extant, even if, as was the case in the most recent (2012)  incident, it had to be stolen from someone.

So, there are various degrees of additional restrictions on the use and possession of firearms which could be embraced, from re-instituting recently expired laws to the extreme positions taken by the Australian measures. The reality is, however, that nothing short of (1) banning the sales of all types of firearms, and (2) taking severe measures to confiscate or seize the firearms which are currently in the hands of the populace will result in an absence of the type of event characterized as a mass killing at a school, workplace, or public venue. If any significant number of weapons remain in circulation, bad people, deranged people, unhinged people  will get them and cause mayhem yet again. Only the near total absence of weapons which could be purchased, stolen, or otherwise commandeered will prevent such tragedies. It may reduce their numbers somewhat, but it will not prevent them.

Why is it not the case, that if we simply banned all semi-automatic rifles, it would not change things for the better? The reason is, that the exact same amount of damage could have been inflicted with, say, a pair of semi-automatic pistols, and a suitable number of ( say 6-8) 10-round magazines, all of which are easily concealed on the person. So now, semi-automatic handguns must be included. Taking a second look at handguns as easily concealed, why not just go further and ban all handguns? There have been many demands for this over the years. Continuing in this pattern, one really does arrive at the situation which prevails in certain countries like Australia or the U.K., where the number of guns of any type in private hands is vanishingly small.

The other, and more important reality surrounding this, is that if both (1) and (2) above are actually implemented, it would require our conversion to a police state, with all of the loss of rights and liberties that that entails.  Now one could object by saying that Australia, after all, does not appear to be a police state, but there are two prime differences between the implementation of the severe measures cited there and in this country. First, there is more than one firearm for every adult in the U.S.; in Australia, a country of around 22 million, there was approximately one firearm for every five (5) persons before the stricter measures were undertaken, and one firearm  or less for every ten (10) persons  afterwards. Given the fundamental differences in both numbers and likely public support, what do you think would be the result of such an attempted compulsory gun buyback ( or worse, confiscation) in this country? Second, there was and is no existing bill of rights type of protection for the individual right to keep and bear arms in Australia or the U.K.  Third, our Supreme Court has recently found that the Second Amendment rights are in fact individual rights and not contingent upon anything having to do with the militia or military service. Fourth, the attempted  imposition of such stringent measures might finally trigger what should have been observed in first place, that is, that even the existing laws in the various states, and federally, constitute, by any reasonable construction, an actual and considerable infringement on the right to own and carry firearms; so, in order to go much further down that road  we are faced with the need to discard or repeal said Second Amendment in order to proceed to a situation where such tragedies might be somewhat reduced simply due to the virtual non-existence in society of the weapons of choice used by the deranged individuals. There are, of course, some of us, but not many, who want to go this way.

So, I ask you, do you think any of the gun law measures likely to be adopted in this country will make a significant difference in the final results over time? I don’t, but I do know that additional restrictions over those already in place will result in further liberties being denied the vast majority of those who will never commit such heinous crimes. This makes the implementation of such measures one additional instance of the unfortunate prevalence of Utilitarian thinking in our culture, including the notion that individual liberty is not important if it gets in the way of some desired aggregate result, and this is true, I suggest, regardless of whether or not the liberty in question is explicitly protected in a constitution. We discuss this concept at length with regard to distributive justice in our three blog posts on Justice and Fairness (q.v.).

Now before I depart the discussion re: firearms, I want to once again reflect on what the meaning and importance of the Second Amendment is. I cringe whenever I hear either a supposed supporter, or critic, of “gun rights” speak of gun use not being influenced for sportsman and hunters by whatever new measures are being discussed. The Second Amendment is not now, and never was, intended to protect the sporting use of firearms. This is pretty much the case for guns as personal protection, too, although there is some evidence to support its inclusion as an expression of the unspoken natural right of self-defense which we all presumably have.  See the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

What the Second Amendment says is this: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed ”. I am informed that the militia, at that time, was construed to be the whole of the able-bodied male population,[4] who might, on fairly short notice, be called into service in the defense of the country. It is not incoherent to interpret the amendment as guaranteeing that the populace be armed, which, of course, is totally contrary to the disarming which will now be proposed. Moreover, the reason for wanting an armed populace is twofold: first against foreign invasion, and second, as a counterweight to those in government who would exceed their authority and become tyrants. If the second notion is not an issue, why  then would Jefferson say:

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.”
Thomas Jefferson
to James Madison

Or would the Declaration also note that

…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it….

It goes almost without saying that should our government “become destructive” of our rights, it may not sit idly by while we attempt to abolish it, but may well be obliged to restrain itself if the whole of the populace can rise up with arms and resist. It is the height of naiveté to insist that we are somehow beyond this threat; how many bloody dictatorships have come and gone in this world  in the last 75 years?

To now say that the Second Amendment is outmoded, is old-fashioned and behind the times is only a flimsy excuse to do away with a fundamental protection. That the U.K. and Australia are not at this moment in any serious danger of becoming overarching police states does not diminish the necessity of an armed counterweight to the abuse of power. This is even more the case with our instant President, who, in his first term, showed no reticence about ignoring the Constitution, and in his second term, may have no restraint at all in using executive power to achieve what he cannot get from Congress. Hear what one newly elected dictator in the 20th Century had to say about gun control:

“This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!”
Adolph Hitler
Chancellor, Germany, 1933

Had I not already been aware of the author, the tone of this statement suggests to me that it might well have come from our current White House occupant; notice especially the phrases “civilized nation” and “follow our lead into the future”. Yeah. Forward!

A final observation regarding the type of weapons which civilians possess. It is clear that, if one accepts the notion that the Founders intended possible resistance to a government gone astray, then the type of weapons available to the people must bear at least some resemblance to those in general use by the military and other enforcers in government. Thus, the remarks that so-called semi-automatic “assault” rifles are inappropriate for civilian use would seem to confirm the gun control advocates real agenda—the elimination of effective armed resistance to their political aims. [5]

Mental Illness

The general run of comments so far seems to settle on the fact that the mental health system ( if there can be said to be such a thing ) is broken in that individuals who perpetrate mass killings are not being identified, or, having been identified as troubled, are not receiving treatment or other intervention.

Also, it is noted that the state of affairs was greatly worsened during and following the so-called “de-institutionalization”[6] which began in the 1970s and proceeded into the 1980s. During this time, many state mental hospitals closed their doors and the patients were transferred to various types of community mental health treatment centers where the level of supervision and follow-up was minimal. It is said that many of those qualifying as homeless are a direct result of this ineffective arrangement.

The impetus for de-institutionalization can be traced back to problems which existed in the state hospitals, which were viewed by many as simply warehousing institutions rather than curative ones. Failure to accurately diagnose and treat [7], as well as abuse of patients motivated those who pushed for change.

With consideration of the foregoing, the issue to be solved is how to identify, isolate, and , if appropriate [8], treat those in that tiny fraction of the population who may come unhinged and wreak such violence; it is most assuredly not one of reforming, under federal auspices and control, the entire panoply of mental health services, It is because it is this latter “solution” which I fear is the one which will be the most promoted, I again assert that the solution, at least partly because it is so unfocused on the real perpetrators, will not yield the sought-after results.

My explanation for the failure of the proposed overhaul of the “system” is as follows: first, if we revise the entire apparatus so that we encompass all the mentally ill out there on the streets or in homes and schools who are dysfunctional but not inclined to violence, then we are looking at a huge additional taxpayer-funded expansion to provide treatment. If the avowed purpose is to improve the lot of these unfortunate sick people, then fine, but it diverts us from, and obscures what should be the major goal of any changes—the early identification, isolation, and possible treatment of that very small number of potentially violent offenders. The resources for this are not unlimited and there is an urgent need for prioritizing here.

As you have no doubt gleaned from other posts, the thrust of this work ( i.e. this blog) is a manifest concern for individual liberty, and a true and effective modus operandi to prevent mass killings will, unfortunately, involve involuntary confinement for varying lengths of time, and, for those of us who refuse to countenance abuse, an iron-clad procedure to guarantee that the rights of those identified for confinement are preserved to the greatest extent possible.

After reviewing the histories of those individuals perpetrating past mass killings, there certain aspects which these individuals and the events themselves have in common.

First, persons having a close relationship to the perpetrator were frequently killed along with ( and often prior to) others who appeared to be innocent and of no personal acquaintance with the perpetrator.

Second, these latter victims were often construed ( even if by a somewhat tortuous logical path) as being members of some class of people who deserved to be punished.

Third, there appears to be the presence of deep-seated and persistent anger in the perpetrator, and feelings of being the victim of some sort of injustice or unfairness.

Finally, in too many cases, the perpetrator takes his own life, seeming to be unwilling to permit scrutiny of his persona and thus denying us any way to de-brief or learn what was in his troubled mind.

For some subset of past perpetrators, there was some sort of record of questionable behavior, some of which resulted in sanctions of one sort or another. For others, including the instant case at Newtown, there was apparently very little antecedent behavior on which anyone could make a case for intervention.

These problems (i.e. minimal prior record of disturance)  will likely lead to a poorly conceived, shotgun type approach to screening out individuals like Adam Lanza. Already, the current administration is suggesting “universal background checks” that would likely include current gun owners as well as prospective purchasers, with the apparent intent of ultimately defining certain characteristics which might lead to a prohibition on gun ownership, in much the same way as existing laws regarding guns and those alleged of committing, or being considered likely to commit, domestic violence.[9]

*                                    *                                    *

In summary then, I assert that with respect to new gun control laws, no additional laws are justified because they would, in essence, render the Second Amendment meaningless, and would produce no tangible results unless carried to the extreme of the Australian example. Those who want to proceed in this direction should declare their intention to repeal the Second Amendment and stop the hypocrisy of pretending any level of support for it.

I also assert that this tragic event (Newtown) should not be the justification for a comprehensive overhaul under the direction of the Federal Government, of the mental health “system”. I would suggest a call for a group of behavioral specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and others to study intensively the characteristics of all the recent massacres from say, 1960, and their perpetrators to glean what is common to them all, and perhaps raise some ideas for action in identifying this tiny fraction of the mentally ill ahead of incidents like Newtown. I am not aware of any such intensive study, and I think it would be the most focused and appropriate response we could make.

This consists of the limit of what should be done. Laissez-faire? Yes. Radical? Yes. Likely the correct approach? I say yes, again.


[2]. The severe restrictions adopted in Australia can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Australia
[3] With regard to advance planning, were any of the last dozen or so such mass killings (Columbine, Aurora, etc.) done on the spur-of-the-moment? In fact, it was a notable characteristic of most of them that they were planned ahead in great detail.
[4] “A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms.” (Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer (1788) at 169)
[5] The threat of the attempt to ban semi-automatics is made abundantly clear in a short piece entitled “Freedom’s Last Stand.. ” at:  http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/will.you.fight.html
[6] See the extensive discussion at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deinstitutionalization#cite_note-Eisenberg-2
[7] See the Rosenhan Experiment detailed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenhan_experiment.
[8] One needs to face up to the possibility that some of the relevant offenders are not mentally ill in a treatable sense, i.e. that they are incorrigible sociopaths who are examples of unmanageable evil for which no explanation or excuse can be made, but who may give clues to their ultimate behavior in time to be recognized as threats.
[9] See the discussion of the so-called “Lautenberg Amendment” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_Violence_Offender_Gun_Ban.
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Zero-based Thinking

As this is written, the country is embroiled in the discussion over the so-called “fiscal cliff” set to occur in early 2013. The discussion, of course, involves both taxes and spending at the national level, with various proposals that talk about budgets over a period of ten (10!) years. Many people find this discussion unsatisfactory and difficult to follow.

Why is this? Well, the reason is that the federal budgeting process is predicated on something they call “baseline budgeting”.  This is the process that most entities (both business and government) honor and use, consisting of looking at the most recent history available for each budget category and then deciding what incremental percentage to use in increasing said annual budget for the coming year. Notice I said increasing, for it is almost never the case that such a process includes a decreased budget year over year. For the U.S. government, the budget process extends ten or more years into the future, and so when you hear of some sort of cut, you must, in most cases, mentally divide by 10 to get the yearly amount. What is worse, however, is that in the vast majority of cases, what politicians mean when they speak of a amount to be “cut” from a typical long-term baseline budget is that the amount in question is to be reduced from the increased amount already scheduled to be spent in that category. So, for example, if a cut is proposed to defense spending of, say, $ 600 billion, then that means only $60 billion per year against whatever the scheduled increase for that year was to have been. Say the base amount for year 1 is $ 750 billion, and the scheduled increase for year 1 is 9% ( = $ 67.5 billion), then the net result of the “cut” for that year is actually an increase in the budget of $ 7.5 billion to a new yearly total of $ 757.5 billion.

Given the above, I think it is safe to say that the average person listening to arguments about the fiscal cliff negotiations is at a severe disadvantage of not knowing how solid or valid are the numbers being bandied about, making a judgement about who is serious, and who is not very difficult. When you add this difficulty to the uncertainty over how much revenue is likely to result from any given tax increase or decrease, it becomes a fool’s game. On the revenue side, one can adopt either a “static” approach or a “dynamic”approach. Static, in this context, means that if your change tax rates, the new expected revenue is based on a simple projection of last year’s income figures in each bracket subjected to the newly revised rates, and summed up. The dynamic approach attempts to factor in expected changes in behavior by taxpayers that will almost certainly occur, e.g. raised rates result in increased tax avoidance strategies by taxpayers resulting further in revenue realized well below the amounts projected in the static approach,  while lowered rates can result ( and historically have definitely resulted ) in larger than expected increases in revenue, primarily due to increased economic activity. This is not just my opinion; it can be verified from numerous sources, and most any economist will tell you so. Economics is not cut-and-dried math, it is all about human actions, human behavior.

It seems to me that one lesson to be taken from the above is that you cannot necessarily believe any assertions that are made on such grossed-up numerical arguments where the details about the existing, scheduled baseline budget increases are not known or revealed. The uncritical acceptance of these kinds of assertions may very well have been a large factor in voters’ re-electing the Democratic candidate in the 2012 presidential election. In particular, the  insistence on what superficially sounds only reasonable—the idea of  a “balanced approach” involving both revenue increases and spending cuts is in fact prima facie a deception, it seems to me, if the so-called “cuts” are of the type described, i.e.  result in no net decrease in the yearly budget amounts ( or the entire 10-year budget) from their baseline values. To me this means that one party is being asked to accept tax rate increases without any serious concomitant spending cuts to achieve the so-called “balance”. One needs to expose all the details, but the supposed advocates of fiscal sanity refuse to descend from the most general level of detail in their discussions. It is my opinion that Republicans, who are supposed to represent opposition to fiscal imprudence, gave in to concerns some advisors offered about getting down to the details of a proposal, or as some have put it, getting into “the weeds”. There is a tremendous fear that the eyes of the audience will “glaze over” and its attention will be lost.

Instead, what should have been done, is that, immediately following a public discussion of the type described, Republicans should have followed up with one or more nationally broadcast paid “infomercials” lasting 10-15 minutes or more in prime time, laying out in detail, with good spokesmen ( e.g. Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan, or maybe even the eminent black economist Walter Williams) with good graphs, charts, and other such production values, showing why the Democratic proposals were flawed and even deceptive. This could even have been combined with a discussion of how the entitlement programs, if continued apace, will fail and when.

But, alas, the Republicans, as long as the establishment types are in charge, seem to be too wedded to the fears I have described above, or… it may actually be, are not really interested in educating their potential electorate because they only wish to convey the impression that they are the “fiscally prudent, small government” party, while actually wishing to carry on (political) business as usual…

Now there is another approach to budgeting, one which was developed in the private sector, called Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB for short).  This approach is the very opposite in philosophy from Baseline Budgeting in that each and every budget category (and/or sub-category) starts with an assumed budget of ZERO DOLLARS! The budget analyst then proceeds to build up the total budget by examining the functions and justifications for each department and expenditure with the goal of arriving at a suitable, yet minimum cost value for each category or sub-category. This work is typically exhaustive and intensive and requires a significant dedication of intellectual resources to achieve such results on a regular annual basis; this, among other things, has led to criticism of ZBB, particularly when used in the public sector.

What is most important to me is the total difference in mind-set implied by the two budget methods: one assumes that costs increase every year, hence let’s base our new budget on the old budget plus some increment, which increment is the only thing seeming to need justification while on the other hand the ZBB forces you to go through the entire justification and prioritization process in arriving at your number. I ask you, which approach favors the wastrel and the spendthrift? Which approach is better adopted when using OPM (Other People’s Money), i.e. government?

Harking back to our earlier discussion about the fiscal cliff, and about the loyal opposition’s presentation of budgets in general, ZBB represents a golden opportunity to apply a sensible approach that makes use of the Constitution’s several enumerated powers as the basis for justifying either (a) the inclusion/exclusion of, or (b) serious reductions in, various branches and departments of government depending on the degree to which you could, even by stretching things a little, connect it with one or more of those enumerated powers.

Using a ZBB approach, the Federal Budget would accordingly start at zero, and build up from there. Each branch or department or function would then have to justify itself. For example, one could argue for the retention and at least partial funding of the Department of Transportation on the basis that at least the Constitution envisioned the building of “post roads” and mentions them by name. The army is one of the institutions enabled by the enumerated powers, but what about the Air Force? It is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, while the navy is also mentioned. Yet, a reasonable extension of the concept of national defense being authorized allows us to include the air force as one of the armed forces to be funded. So, you can see where I am going with this, I hope.

Under this kind of mental supervision, there are clearly entire departments and functions of our federal government which do not in any sense qualify to be included at all in our national budget. Some examples would include the following cabinet-level departments:

  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Labor
  • Agriculture

Other departments which have functions which could conceivably be funded include:

  • Health and Human Services ( CDC comes to mind)
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Interior.

And so on….

I have no intention at this point of arguing for or against any particular function or agency; I am merely trying to illustrate the broader principle, namely, that one needs to adopt a Zero-based type of thinking about government. One needs to say, for each existing entity that is funded, what would be the impact if this entity were to go away completely? For many of us, its disappearance would actually remove something negative in our lives, some unnecessary infringement on liberty. Those who will object will be those who, having lobbied for the policies in question, stand to lose some sort of advantage they have managed to obtain over the rest of us, e. g. large corporate entities frequently encourage additional burdensome and unneeded regulations over their industries so that smaller firms are discouraged from entering ( or possibly even persisting)  as competitors, leaving the field to the larger, more prosperous companies, whose budgets can more easily cope with compliance issues.

One standard which is suggested by the ZBB approach rises almost to the level of a Bedrock Principle ( see my blog Page entitled Methodology). The principle is: if a function of government does not tend to benefit ( or at least provide a potential benefit) to all citizens generally, then its continuance should be in doubt. Examples of the functions which conform to this would be: national defense, Treasury Department, Federal Courts, the above-mentioned DOT and some agencies relating to infrastructure. Examples which most assuredly do not are the five departments mentioned above: HUD, Labor, Education, Agriculture and Energy.  When I say its continuance should be in doubt, I do not mean to foreclose it completely, but let us say that it already would have one strike against it.

Another principle, which might constitute a second strike, is whether or not the function involves what are benignly called “transfer payments”, the forced expropriation of resources from one person in order to transfer them to another. As I have said elsewhere, and will continue to say again whenever the opportunity presents itself: taxation itself is a legalized form of theft, but if we have to tolerate some level of taxation to protect ourselves, then surely we must draw a line in the sand between those functions which deliver protection ( and maybe some other services) equally to all, and those which simply involve taking from some in order to provide for others; the reason for this is that it violates a fundamental moral side constraint, namely, that it is morally unacceptable for some people to use and/or exploit others for their own advantage. This applies to government actions that are sanctioned by some majority vote just as much as it would apply to the acts of an individual. In fact, the government case is altogether more serious because of its tendency to affect the entire society. Please see my Posts on Justice and Fairness  for Robert Nozick’s discussion of moral side constraints.

Before continuing, I can already hear some of you out there saying, “but what about the General Welfare clause…” which is part of Article I, Section 8. Statists of all persuasions have made the argument that this language somehow overrides the enumeration of powers. There is not space here to deal with that assertion properly, but I will do so in good time.

*                                 *                               *                                  *

The ZBB idea can, and should be extended to other, non-monetary areas. One area that comes immediately to mind is regulation. The amount of regulation at the federal level alone is staggering—just see the volume of it which is published in the Congressional Register. I will not argue here why I believe that most, if not all, regulation could be dispensed with, so let us assume for this discussion that we might look at reducing the regulatory burden using ZBB concepts.

Conceptually, this would involve, I believe, taking each set of regulations for some given area of concern, and subjecting each regulation ( or related set of regulations) in turn to the same question I asked of the agency budgets, i.e. what would be the impact on people ( including both the regulated entities and everyone else as well) if said regulation ceased to exist? The authors of said regulations (usually bureaucrats of some sort) will jump up and down, saying each and every one must be preserved, they all had good reasons for coming into existence!  As with the case of monetary budgets, there is a certain brutality involved in the drastic trimming that will likely be required, and the bureaucrats must be forced to justify each and every one.

Unlike the case with budgets, one can deal with each set of regulations separately, e.g. one congressional committee can take, say,  environmental regulations and examine them over a period of time while allowing the existing regulations to stay in place while drafting an entirely new code from the bottom up in the ZBB manner. Congress could then repeal the agency’s authority, re-institute the agency in some form, and adopt the code of regulations as a body of law, which code could be changed legislatively from time to time.

The above-described procedure goes to the heart of the regulatory problem, namely that lawmakers restricted themselves to legislation which creates an agency and then empowers it to do rule-making, an undemocratic process which is both arbitrary and capricious; about the only remedy for bad rule-making is litigation, for which the issue of standing to sue is required and an enormous expense as well. In most, if not all, cases the agency which puts out drafts of proposed rule-making for public comment is under no obligation to make changes or rescind its rulings; the public hearings are simply window dressing for appearances’ sake.  It takes a veritable storm of protest to move regulators off their determined course.

The answer, as I see it, is never to simply give an agency a regulatory charter which includes rule-making ability; the rules need to be codified and then passed as law by the Congress. I do not accept the argument that this removes the flexibility necessary to the agency to respond quickly to new situations; if lawmakers had standing regulatory committees for those few areas where regulations might be justified, then it would constitute some justification for having a full-time legislature, and might stem the flow of all of the new and unnecessary, unconstitutional output from our representatives. Such standing committees could meet several times a year to revise things as needed. Legislative review is needed as a substitute for the more arduous judicial review; also it provides the opportunity ( although seldom exercised ) to remove legislators who perform poorly at this task, whereas it may not be possible to remove judges for the same reason.

In the final analysis, what makes the Zero-based Thinking idea appealing to me is that it illustrates the radical nature of the solutions we need to move forward—it cannot be the case that a budget, once passed, becomes the baseline for annual increases forevermore, or that a regulation, once promulgated, stays there forever unchallenged. It has to be the case that one has the ability to simply do away with things that cannot be adequately justified. Zero-based Thinking allows us to do that in a reasoned fashion.

So the next time you hear some politician, especially some Republican politician who claims to be for reducing regulations, find out if he has any plan even remotely resembling the above process, i.e. a complete re-examination of all that has gone before and putting everything under the magnifying glass for potential elimination. I don’t know of anyone who even comes ( or ever came) close, not Reagan, not anyone. Yet, we can no longer tolerate the regulatory burden which now exists; just promising to put the brakes on the regulatory process going forward is not enough.



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Justice and Fairness – Part Three


Let’s look again at Rawls’s idea re: natural assets. We have already heard that:

No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society. But that does not mean one should eliminate these distinctions. There is another way to deal with them. The basic structure [of society] can be arranged so that these contingencies work for the good of the least fortunate.

Nozick responds: “And if there weren’t ‘another way to deal with them’? Would it then follow that one should eliminate these distinctions? What exactly would be contemplated in the case of natural assets? If people’s assets and talents couldn’t be harnessed to serve others, would something be done to remove these exceptional assets and talents, or to forbid them from being exercised for the person’s own benefit or that of someone else he chose, even though this limitation wouldn’t improve the absolute position of those somehow unable to harness the talents and abilities of others for their own benefit? Is it so implausible to claim that envy underlies this conception of justice, forming part of its root notion?” [Underline added.]

Lurking in the background of most discussions of social justice is a thinly veiled suggestion that the good fortune, the wealth, or whatever, of the so-called favored individuals is somehow illegitimate— undeserved and perhaps even ill-gotten, and so, society’s imposition of the measures required by Rawlsian or egalitarian distributive justice, as described above, is more than justified, considering that not only may there have been no merit ( i.e. a lack of desert) there may even have been a history of actual injustices involved in the holdings being re-distributed. But, as I have shown, the egalitarian types do not dare go down this road very far because, in doing so, they would have to cite some sort of history for these misdeeds, and that would open the door to an historical explanation for distributive justice, and the reason for the current distributions would be reduced to rectifications for past injustices. For this reason, the suggestion of wrongdoing will always remain an almost subliminal part of the discussion.

This leads us directly into a discussion of entitlement versus desert. First there is an almost direct analogue with our earlier assertion concerning the concepts of “just” and “fair”. Just as something can be just but not fair or fair but not just, one may be entitled to something without deserving it, or deserve it without being entitled to it. One may have a contract to exchange something for a stated price, and one is therefore entitled to receive that price at the time of exchange. It may also be the case that one deserves to get that price, but it would not be because of the existence of the contract, but for some other reasons. In the case of entitlement, one is owed something and there is no option about whether he is to receive it, but in the case of desert it is the case that some other person has decided to bestow or give the thing in question on the basis of some set of reasons for doing so, which the giver has stipulated and which the receiver has fulfilled. It may be that, in a given situation, one may have both the entitlement and deserve the thing in question, but that is not a requirement, i.e. one does not imply the other.

Possibly the most maligned of all things of value which people can receive is profits. For those of the statist persuasion, a large proportion declare outright that they are not legitimate. People are not entitled to profits, nor do they deserve to have them, according to this view. I believe a good case can be made that people are both entitled to, and deserving of profits. This leads us to our second instance of a misconception masquerading as a reasonable and widely held proposition. Conventional Wisdom Re: Profits. Although it would appear that profits are a necessary part of a market based economy, they are considered suspect and must be both limited and controlled to prevent exploitation and the excesses of greed. I will show that nothing could be further from the truth.

Mixed up in this issue are the concepts of property and of ownership. First, consider that everyone has some property—themselves, their own bodies. Second, consider that ownership speaks to the matter of control, that the owner will ultimately be the arbiter what is to be done with his property, and that this decision is not required to be shared jointly with anyone else, unless one agrees to it in advance. To own something is to be entitled to do with it as we please,subject to the restriction that others’ rights to a similar freedom are respected. So, ownership is essentially an entitlement concept. I have already exposed you to Nozick’s Entitlement Theory of (Distributive) Justice as an alternative to the egalitarian theories. The principles underlying the Entitlement Theory deal with property that is external to persons. Is there such a right to “external” property? Many of the objections of the egalitarian theorists center on their problems with the concepts of property and ownership: in truth, they are highly inimical to the level of individual autonomy that these concepts imply. In particular, they object to the reasons given for how ownership of previously unowned things could be achieved. Without going too deeply into this subject, we note four similar, but not identical approaches which individualist thinkers have taken to this problem. The first originates with John Locke, and we have also briefly discussed the justice principles as stated by Robert Nozick and Randy Barnett, both of which are property-centered. Finally, we have the “first-use” principle of Jan Narveson.

In his labor theory of ownership John Locke, a natural rights theorist, that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources. In his Second Treatise on Government, Locke asked “by what right an individual can claim to own one part of the world, when, according to the Bible, God gave the world to all humanity in common. He answered that persons own themselves and therefore their own labor. When a person works, that labor enters into the object. Thus, the object becomes the property of that person.” Locke added an additional condition to the effect that when acquiring an original property right to things found in nature that one must leave “enough and as good in common…to others.” Nozick has elaborated on the condition to create what he called the Lockean Proviso. The Proviso says that though every appropriation of property is a diminution of another’s rights to it, it is acceptable as long as it does not make anyone worse off than they would have been without any private property. This makes strong note of the fact that every appropriation of heretofore unowned property into a private property system has the potential and even the likelihood of making everyone’s situation a little better through the general increase in wealth, i.e. it is the net benefit which must be considered.

Recall that Randy Barnett echoes the labor theory of ownership with his “right of first possession”which specifies that property rights to unowned resources are acquired by being first to establish control over them and to stake a claim.

Seeking, as always, to find principles that are compatible with liberty, Jan Narveson sets forth his “first-use” principle, namely that “She who gets there first and commences to use it, in ways that require ongoing access to it, may use it so long as she wants. No one else may use it without her say-so, so long as she neither sells it or gives it to somebody, dies without leaving a will, or ceases to care.”

What all these property-centered principles have in common is that (a) they respect the principle of liberty, i.e. non-interference with what people are already engaged in, (b) they go a long way toward reducing or eliminating conflict by giving people a way to know in advance how they should behave with respect to scarce resources and (c) they respect human action in that some non-trivial amount of effort is involved in establishing one’s ownership. Narveson illustrates how these are virtues:

Why this rule [“first-use”] and not some other? For example, why not “second come, first serve” or “all comers, no matter when, get equal control”? The answer is that second-comers intervene in first-comer’s uses, and thus violate the general liberty principle. They prevent the continuation of a commenced activity, one which harmed no one when initiated, and in which the initiator invests effort, on the results of which he forms expectations and plans.

One major objection to attempts to define a right to unowned property is that using principles such as those cited above “You can acquire absolute rights over a disproportionate share of the world, if you do not worsen the condition of others” and furthermore 4) It is relatively easy to acquire absolute rights over a disproportionate share of the world.[1]

In response to this objection, focus first on the word ‘disproportionate’; this word is not part of the Lockean Proviso as stated by Nozick, nor is it implied in any of the other property-centered principles regarding initial acquisition, and does not the original condition of Locke almost explicitly state that one cannot take command over such a large share of a resource that little or none is left for others to exploit? Continuing, how does one define disproportionate with respect to some object or resource which may be unowned. Does it mean that, since there is a large population of humans that only a tiny slice of any particular physical stuff is in proportion to what may legitimately be appropriated. How does one know when one has crossed the threshold from reasonable and proportionate to unreasonable and disproportionate? In order to do this in any reasonable way, one would have to know at a minimum (a) the total amount of the resource in the entire world, (b) the number of people alleged to be competing for this resource, and this is only if we assume that the correct proportionate share would be an equal one. We have already suggested that equality as a standard has more than its share of problems. Suppose that land is the resource in question and equality is the standard, then one’s proportionate share would be the total surface area of land divided by the total number humans potentially wanting land. Using known figures for land area and population, this works out to approximately 5 acres as any ones’ proportionate share of land if all the land today were unowned and all the people alive today laid claim to it. If the amount of actually desirable ( for example, arable) land were used, then the figure would be smaller yet. But remember that there would have to be a historical dimension to this inasmuch as much of the desirable land was appropriated in distant times when populations were vastly different. Anyway, for most resources under consideration, the amount of the resource in existence is not known with exactitude. Given how problematic this is, I conclude that trying to come up with an appropriate idea of proportionate is futile. Moreover, consider the following:

If Columbus lands on a new continent, is it legitimate for him to proclaim all the new continent his own, or even that sector ‘as far as his eye can see’? Clearly, this would not be the case in the free society that we are postulating. Columbus …would have to use the land, to ‘cultivate’ it in some way, before he could be asserted to own it…. If there is more land than can be used by a limited labor supply, then the unused land must simply remain unowned until a first user arrives on the scene. Any attempt to claim a new resource that someone does not use would have to be considered invasive of the property right of whoever the first user will turn out to be.[2]

This is certainly a much more rational standard than the equality example cited above, and does not lead to disproportionate appropriation; also, and this is important, to accomplish the utilization of what one has appropriated is not an easy task—it requires a consistent human effort that other possible rules ( e.g. “all comers, no matter when, get equal control”) do not demand. It is certainly not “relatively easy” to acquire title—it does not consist of planting a flag and making a declaration, or even the somewhat more arduous staking out or fencing a parcel of land. Continuous use and development are implied by all of our property-centered principles of first acquisition.

Since the critics of the classical liberal approach to property rights as described here seem to feel that the Achilles Heel of the argument is the issue of first acquisition, we would be remiss if we did not also at least allude to the argumentative proof of the correctness of the first-use approach by social philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Hoppe notes that the problem of social order is purely one derived from scarcity: in the Garden of Eden with unrestricted access to goods, conflict, at least with respect to external goods, is avoided. Ethics is nothing more nor less than the rules which prevent conflict over scarce resources ( including that scarcest of all resources, one’s own person). Hoppe points out that property rights based on first acquisition rules also satisfy one’s initial moral appraisal or intuition, but then goes in a disciplined fashion to actually prove that no other set of rules for dealing with property is appropriate. Here is my paraphrase of Hoppe’s argument:

(a) The definition of ownership includes the exclusive control by the owner of the property in question, and any uses by others requires the owner’s consent.

(b) The principle of first acquisition says that previously unowned property may be appropriated by the first person who, through his own efforts, creates the property, or utilizes the property without interfering with property owned by others. One’s own body is to be regarded as among those things appropriated by the principle of first acquisition.

(c) Assume that the principle stated in (b) is not valid, i.e. that the first person to appropriate property ( including his own body) is not to be considered its owner. Then, one of two situations must be true: first, that some other person or persons is (are) the owner, not only of property which you as first user appropriate, but also your body, or the second alternative, that every person is the co-owner of every other person and their property.

(d) In the first instance above, there are two classes of people, one of which is subservient to the other, and the those in the subservient class must obtain consent from the overlords to use or benefit from the property; since moral rules must apply universally to be valid, the two-class situation rules out that case. In the second instance, since consent for use is required, and all other co-owners must be consulted before anything is supposed to happen, ownership of everyone by everyone else simply cannot be implemented.

(e) So, unless you can come up with a third alternative[3] to the ownership scenarios described above, one must conclude that the first-user principle of initial acquisition of property, in addition to satisfying one’s moral intuition, is also logically valid.

Hoppe’s argument is somewhat more rigorous, and those who are interested may find it verbatim in the note.[4]

Assuming that I may have made at least some headway in getting you to accept that goods can be either “yours” or “mine”, i.e. that ownership ( including self-ownership) is itself a valid concept as the basis for moral discussions, then I can resume the discussion of how one can be both entitled to, and to deserve profits.

Ownership, as I have noted, includes control, i.e. being able to decide what to do with one’s property, as long as doing so does not interfere with the rights of others. So, employing property to create new property which may be exchanged voluntarily for some other type of property, with the incidental result that a “profit” (net benefit of some kind) accrues to the first party is something that the first party is absolutely entitled to do. This is true because, as I have suggested, ownership itself is the result of entitlements.

Whether one also deserves profits is more complicated. Earlier in this chapter, I said “In the case of entitlement, one is owed something and there is no option about whether he is to receive it, but in the case of desert it is the case that some other person has decided to bestow or give the thing in question on the basis of some set of reasons for doing so, which the giver has stipulated and which the receiver has fulfilled.” The consumer, who values a newly created good or service more than he values the amount of money asked for it thus bestows on the creator of the new good or service ( the capitalist) the requested amount. Both have reckoned that they have received adequate value in the exchange and this is the basis for the consumer considering that the capitalist has deserved his profit. He is the final arbiter. He determines the aforementioned set of reasons. So, the entrepreneur is frequently both deserving of, and entitled to profits.

Now historically many of the opponents of profit-making have argued that profits are illegitimate ( and hence cannot be deserved) because the only basis for deserving any material goods is a person’s labor. This is the well-known Labor Theory of Value, and its best known proponent is the well-known Karl Marx. This theory looks at the inputs, which are typically both labor and materials and compares the final price of the good or service less the cost of materials plus other costs and asserts that any wages totaling less than the final price less the sum of these assorted costs,including rent, interest charges, etc., is unjustified and essentially a theft of the worker’s labor. The failure of this theory is that it looks only at the input side of the transaction, how much in the way of time and energy is expended; forgotten is the other side of this value-equation, the consumer who buys the product and whose concept of its value to him sets the price at what it is. The worker is only making a partial contribution to the value: the materials (including assorted costs) and the capitalist are the other factors. Marx, and others refuse to acknowledge that the capitalist has a legitimate role in the production process–the capital, they say, could just as well come from society at large. But, in the market setting, the capitalist is the guy who (a) determines that there is a consumer need to be filled, (b) is willing to take all of the risks of time and capital to create a business entity, and (c) co-ordinates, manages and otherwise brings the project to fruition, to provide a consumer good or service which might not exist but for his activities, his human action . And for all of this, the Marxists have the nerve to imply that the surplus of proceeds of price over cost is some kind of theft! The typical worker has no stomach for doing any of the above; he wishes to take the safe way to getting his compensation by working for wages. The typical worker has no stomach for the risks involved. It is nonsensical that workers would also feel that the price of the of the goods or services produced by the enterprise should be set at the sum of their labor contribution (wages and benefits) plus the raw material costs ( if appropriate) with no residue for the guy that organized the whole thing, who made their job possible!

Political philosopher Jan Narveson summarizes relevant ideas concerning the legitimacy of profits:

The questions of desert concern when such considerations are in order, who applies them, and why. And here our answer is that when someone deserves something he deserves it from someone. No sense can attach to simply “deserving” something all by itself. It takes a minimum of two parties…. And those who bestow the prizes, who hold the goods in which the rewards consists, and so on, are the fundamental wielders of these notions. They apply them on the basis of interests and values they bring to the context. This explains why desert is not exclusively reserved for such things as effort, diligence, and application of ingenuity. It is also available for the exercise of native intelligence, talent, skill, or the display of natural charm, which are not producible merely by effort alone. Nevertheless, those who have the relevant interests in these displays may see fit to reward them.[5]

Reviewing what been said about profits, it becomes clearer and clearer that social justice advocates, in their insistence on the undeserved nature of various forms of compensation, and their refusal to grant legitimacy to the time-honored concepts embodied in the property-centered entitlement theory of justice are really interested in using that relatively small fraction of humankind who are the prime movers and achievers as if they were nothing more than draft horses whose rations, after all, are decided by their owners. They should work for whatever they are lucky enough to get. This predilection, I suggest, does not go very far towards mitigating the basic objections one might have to unalloyed Utilitarianism.

I have spent so much time on John Rawls’s approach for several reasons. As noted earlier, it is one of the few attempts to actually formulate some sort of rational argument for the distributive notions of social justice, instead of just accepting that they should be implemented and proceeding immediately to a discussion of methods. However, Rawls’s work is also important because it accurately reflects attitudes which arose around the time of its writing due to various historical trends—first, what can be called the “rise of the economy of mass consumption”, and second, the “moral drama of the civil rights movement”. These two factors go far in explaining why the Rawlsian and/or simpler egalitarian distributive ideas have been accepted almost uncritically.

At the time A Theory of Justice was written (1971), we had experienced about two decades of unprecedented economic growth, with real incomes almost doubling in the period 1950 to 1970. As early as 1958, economist John Kenneth Galbraith was claiming that “the fundamental issue was no longer how to achieve sufficient production, but how to distribute what was being produced”.[6] Galbraith was an economist of the Keynesian school, which focused almost exclusively on aggregate demand as the motive force for the economy. “In this land of high consumption, moreover, goods were so widely available they seemed almost to be part of the natural landscape. Galbraith believed that the problem of production had essentially been solved and that the remaining problem was how to distribute the available goods and services—to determine who gets what. Political agency existed in this view because policymakers could make decisions about whether to direct spending toward what they regarded as private luxuries [7] or to putative public benefits. Economic agency, though, largely disappeared from view as the economy took on the guise of a vast impersonal machine, automatically cranking out supplies in response to aggregate demand. Seen chiefly as consumers, Americans tended to be understood as passive recipients who contributed to the economy by receiving. Official attention turned to those who received the least because they were the ones least able to play the consumer role in boosting demand”.

At the same time as concern for a certain group which were deemed to be “deprived” relative to the majority was increasing, another phenomenon was developing: the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Whereas civil liberties had been conceived of as providing freedom from regulation or interference by government, the concept of a civil right was focused on government protecting individuals through law and regulation. No one will argue that American citizens of African origin have not suffered historically both from slavery, and then subsequently from racial discrimination in voting, the use of public facilities, and other things we all take for granted; likewise, few will say that correcting these abuses was not a moral issue or not deserving of support. Burning black homes and churches, murder of civil rights activists, and other heinous crimes were and are unconscionable. It has been observed that…social movements require an energizing myth to create group solidarity and to give meaning to collective action. A highly successful myth can move beyond a movement’s adherents and become part of a larger culture. By “myth” I do not mean false or illusory account , but a narrative with enough moral and emotional force to give clarity and inspiration to an account of events. The largely nonviolent civil rights movement worked so well as moral drama in part because of the violence with which it was met and in part because the vision of an oppressed people struggling for freedom evoked themes of existing American cultural narratives.[8]

Using this selfsame narrative, the civil rights movement changed America’s social vision such that Americans began to think of themselves in terms of groups or categories of persons who required protection. Given this attitude, it is not unusual then to see the rise of movements based on discrimination and/or maltreatment of one sort or another, including, but not limited to, other racial groups ( Hispanic, American Indians), those with special sexual preferences ( gay and lesbian), those with one or another type of disability, and finally just “the poor”. Carl Bankston summarizes what happens when groups like these try to co-opt the myth of the black civil rights struggle:

Seeing disabilities or variations in sexuality according to the civil rights model minimizes the differences between these aspects of the human condition and the historical experience of African Americans. Second, social myths oversimplify our institutions and relations by dramatizing them as sharply drawn stories of good or evil. This moral simplification not only reduces social theory to caricature but also invests political positions (such as redistributive arguments) with automatic virtue, Third, a widely accepted social myth imposes a template on thinking that discourages alternative views or the examination of assumptions. In particular, the civil rights myth discourages approaching questions of political economy as matters of competing interest groups or as matters of overall national interest. Instead, it answers these kinds of questions with assertions of irreducible rights. [Emphasis added.][9]

So, we are beginning to see that there are multiple aspects responsible for the largely uncritical acceptance of “justice as fairness” and its distributive consequences—they include unsupported moral intuitions on one hand, as well as the rationales developed by Rawls in his Theory, and the historical and cultural factors noted above. I submit that the actual intellectual substance, in terms of what I would consider a logically acceptable justification for economic or social justice, is very, very thin.


Leaving behind for the moment, issues about the principles of distributive justice, I need to move your attention to what is the normal result ( in an at least partially market-oriented economy) of implementing the Rawlsian type of “arrangements”, and that would, of course, be taxation. Wikipedia [10] defines it thus:

To tax (from the Latin taxo; “I estimate”) is to impose a financial charge or other levy upon a taxpayer (an individual or legal entity) by a state or the functional equivalent of a state such that failure to pay is punishable by law.

My first response to this kind of definition is negative, for I resent its attempt at neutrality, its attempt to avoid making any value judgements about what is really going on here. The fact, the bald-faced fact is that a tax is an expropriation of property, “a coercive, non-contractual transfer of definite physical assets (nowadays mostly , but not exclusively money), and the value embodied in them, from a person or group of persons who first had these assets and who could have derived an income from further holding them, to another, who now possesses them and now derives an income from so doing.”[11] In plainer words, it is a legally-sanctioned form of theft. That it is coercive and non-contractual is what makes it so. It is but one example of how government (the state) violates what I contend is a bedrock moral principle, namely, that if something would be viewed a crime if done by a private citizen, then under no circumstances imaginable, should the state be able to do that same action with impunity. Let me re-state it in a slightly different way, and label it as Bedrock Principle #1 : If some act is a crime for the citizen, and so prohibited, then it is likewise prohibited for the state.[12]

I will go on to assert that, like all theft, all taxation is inherently bad—it has no saving grace whatsoever. It is an unmitigated evil. But I won’t stop there. I will go on to show why I believe this to be the case.

First, there are only three ways a person can realize income from assets: (1) the asset was acquired through the first-user type of appropriation we have previously discussed, (2) the asset was used, together with one’s labor, to create some new asset, or (3) the asset was either acquired or transferred by some contractual arrangement. If some significant fraction of the asset is removed (read expropriated) by taxing it, then the owner loses not only that physical amount, but also its ability to contribute to a higher future income. Hoppe puts it in terms that better explain its economic implications:

… any form of taxation implies a reduction of income a person can expect to receive from original appropriation, production, or from contracting. Since these activities require the employment of scarce means—at least the time and the use of one’s body— which could be used for consumption and/or leisure, the opportunity cost of performing them is raised. The marginal utility of appropriating, producing, or contracting is decreased, and the marginal utility of consumption and leisure is increased. Accordingly, there will be a tendency to shift out of the former roles and into the latter.[13]

In light of the fact that we will be delving deeply into economics in future posts, it is perhaps not too early to introduce some economic concepts of consequence.

Opportunity cost is the “cost” (monetary or otherwise) which is entailed in making a choice between two mutually exclusive alternatives, i.e. it is the cost of doing one thing instead of another, where the cost is based on the value of the thing forgone. The opportunity cost of producing x amount of product A instead of 1.5x amount of product B is the value of the amount of product B. Similarly, the opportunity cost of watching a ball game on TV may be the loss of quality time spent tossing around a ball with your son instead.

Marginal utility has been defined as “a measure of relative satisfaction gained or lost from an increase or decrease in the consumption of that good or service.” For example, the marginal utility of a of having fourth pair of shoes may be relatively high whereas the marginal utility of having a second or third car may be considerably less. Typically, as the supply of items increases the marginal utility of each additional item is seen to decrease. Note that this is not an objective measure, but depends on the situation of each individual.

Using these concepts, we can translate Hoppe’s language above into a simpler set of assertions, namely that taxation changes the structure of incentives so as to favor consumption over production. Hoppe further observes that

by lowering the present value associated with future-directed value-productive efforts, taxation raises the effective rate of time preference [14]…and, accordingly, leads to a shortening of the period of production and provision and so exerts an inexorable influence pushing mankind in the direction of an existence of living from hand to mouth.

In simpler terms, what this means is that when taxed people will tend to adopt methods of production which deliver the desired goods in a shorter time frame despite the fact that a lengthening of the production period by developing and using more efficient or appropriate tools and procedures would ultimately deliver more of the product and possibly at a lower cost per unit. The loss to taxation of the capital required to do this is thus a loss that cannot be recovered from and creates a downward cycle of progressive impoverishment. And, of course, the damage done in this manner is proportional to the amount of capital taken by taxation.

As you will learn soon enough, there are many different schools and viewpoints among economists, and some have declared that taxation either has no influence on standard of living or economic well-being, or that it can be shown to actually increase the same. Yes, some economists trot out empirical evidence that increased taxation can occur simultaneously with increased output, say increased GDP. Now surely you can see through this one: the mere existence of a positive correlation between two phenomena does not prove that one caused the other or is even related to it in some logical way—this is the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. [15] One has to be an inveterate believer in the virtues and efficacy of the state to attribute the relatively high per capita wealth of a country like Sweden to the existence of its high levels of taxation. Whatever has been achieved in such situations is despite high taxes, not because of them.

A less strong assertion by some empirically oriented economists is that, while perhaps not causing increased economic well being, taxation is at least neutral in this regard. To the extent that statistical data might show this to be the case, a fairly simple and obvious explanation is at hand: when looked at over a reasonable time period, we note that concurrent with the damage inflicted by taxation, there is a possible, in fact probable, improvement in methods and technology which causes an increase in output to offset the loss by taxation. If the improvements are sufficiently advanced, it can also answer the question of how increased wealth could go hand in hand with high taxes.

While in most cases, the empirically oriented economist does not expound a theory as to why the phenomenon ( of high taxes and high or steady wealth) should occur, some have suggested that the higher taxation causes the taxed individuals to work harder so as to make up for what was taxed away, i.e. to become more of a “workaholic”, however, “it is still the case that the income of value-productive individuals has fallen. Even if they produce the same output as previously, they can only do so if they expend more labor now than before. Since any additional labor expenditure implies forgone leisure or consumption (leisure or consumption which they otherwise could have enjoyed along with the same output of valuable assets), their overall standard of living must be lower”.[16]

The preceding discussion does not exhaust all the claims made concerning the alleged lack of negative influence of taxation on economic well-being and standard of living. I refer the reader to the work of Hans-Herman Hoppe (see Notes 11-14).

Since it does not appear that we are to be spared from taxation any time soon, I next want to look at the various notions people have developed concerning the types and amounts of taxes being advocated and to the particular idea of “tax justice”. This leads us to a Conventional Wisdom Re: Taxes: Those who have higher incomes should pay taxes at a progressively higher rate than those with more moderate incomes.

Now, as has become a norm with me, the first question to be asked is WHY? And the standard answer is “Because they can afford it” or alternatively, “they have the ability to pay”. (which reminds one of the old saying about why one robs banks—it’s where the money is…). As with most answers in support of liberal-egalitarian propositions, any supposed explanation or justification stops at this point; it resembles the already-discussed assertion that everyone should have equal distributive shares because “it is the only fair thing to do…”. For most egalitarian statists, there is nothing to say beyond that point. They then move on quickly to discussions of how to implement redistribution.

But again, as with our exposition concerning John Rawls, there are several attempts out there to provide some sort of intellectually respectable, or academic justification for the tax schemes in effect, and I will hold forth briefly on the most common.

To begin with, tax schemes are evaluated according to two primary criteria as to being equitable: vertical equity and horizontal equity. Vertical equity deals with how to tax incomes that are significantly different, and horizontal equity relates to taxing people whose incomes are similar.

There are a number of approaches to vertical equity. The most common is the ability-to-pay concept cited above; there are however, three variations to be considered. One approach says that the amount of wealth (“endowment”) should be used to determine the tax; a special case, which is more common in actual use, is the amount of income received. The only apparent justification for this stance is “those who have more, should pay more”. Another approach to the ability-to-pay concept is known as “equal sacrifice”, i.e. the idea that the tax on the wealthier ( or higher income ) person should be set “so as to ensure that each taxpayer sustains the same loss in welfare—so that the real, as opposed to the monetary cost to each is the same”.[17] The equal sacrifice argument ( if it can be characterized as such) relies on the previously mentioned marginal utility idea—the money taxed away from the wealthy person is in dollars that have less marginal utility to him than the same amount to a person of lesser means: the last $10,000 of a $ 300,000 income has less utility than the last $10,000 of a $75,000 income, for instance. The third alternative is called “ability-to-pay as an egalitarian idea”. This notion insists that the equal sacrifice scenario clearly does not conform to egalitarian norms of how to tax those with substantial wealth or incomes because for those who have or receive more, proportionally greater sacrifices are required. Again, when pressed, the only justification for the egalitarian norm is “fairness”, which term is not ever explained.

Another principle sometimes cited for setting rates and amounts of tax is the “benefit principle”. In its simplest form it says that taxes should be adjusted to reflect the benefit that the taxpayer receives in the form of government services. Most tax theorists are unhappy with this idea because of the difficulty in assessing the benefit to any given individual, and to what they claim is a baseline of the level of welfare experienced in the absence of government.

The preceding review of the traditional approaches to tax justice is based on a 2002 book by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel entitled The Myth of Ownership. Messrs. Murphy and Nagel are strong proponents of the virtues of government:

What sort of life would be led in the total absence of government? It would be wrong to imagine life roughly as it is now, with banks, houses, and cars, and lacking only the most obvious government services such as Social Security, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the police. The no-government world is the world of Hobbe’s state of nature, which he aptly described as a war of all against all. And in such a state of affairs, there is little doubt that everyone’s level of welfare would be very low and—importantly—roughly equal. We cannot pretend that differences in ability, personality, and inherited wealth that lead to great inequalities of welfare in an orderly market economy would have the same effect if there were no government to create and protect legal property rights and their value and to facilitate mutually beneficial exchanges. (We leave aside the fact that without government the earth would support only a tiny fraction of its present human population, so that most of us wouldn’t even exist in Hobbe’s state of nature.).[18]

These authors seem to feel that we should be eternally grateful for the benefits the state confers upon mankind. Reading the foregoing, one has to wonder about their priorities, however. Most of us would not put Social Security, the National Endowment, and the police all on the same level. Of course, the legal benefits and protections provided by the courts and various enforcement mechanisms and a certain minimum of infrastructure are important to the functioning of a market economy, but I maintain that social welfare programs, support for the arts, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and a whole host of other government “services” could disappear tomorrow forever and, for many people, never be missed. Life would be much like America in say, 1960, which was not such a bad place (if you were not concerned about the evils of a materialist, consumer-oriented society). The bald truth, as I see it, is that the average person, and more particularly, the above average person who runs a small business or is otherwise one of the producers of things is likely to justifiably view both the operations and demands of government as a net negative influence at this point in time. And, I venture he would say, “we should pay extra for this?”

In short, The Myth of Ownership’s principal pre-occupation is with the idea that we are not the owners of our pre-tax income, and even the ownership of our income net of taxes is considered by the authors as merely a legal convention, which, upon action by the democratic body politic could be rescinded. Murphy and Nagel show a complete and utter disrespect for the entitlement theory of distributive justice that we have discussed. They feel that the matter of tax justice is bound up inextricably with questions of distributive justice, and their attitudes in this regard resemble, if not exceed, those of Rawls and company.

Reading Myth and other treatises on tax justice, one cannot help but get the feeling that all of the discussion, rather than reflecting a notion of fairness that demands equal treatment, and this to me seems most often the central notion that people subscribe to, turns the entire fairness concept on its head. How can you, in good conscience, insist on taking huge, progressively larger sums from people simply because they have it, and for no other reason? The idea that high income earners benefit so extraordinarily from the things that government provides that we can justify a 10-fold or more difference in taxes would be laughable if it were not so sad. No, I submit that the entire treatment of fairness we see around us is perverse, and frankly immoral by the standards we discuss here. Also, what about all of those who in effect are paying no taxes? Economists sometimes fret about the “free rider” problem. Well, we have them in spades—as of this writing something approaching 50% of all U.S. tax filers pay no income tax, and a significant fraction of those, if their Earned Income Credit received is netted against their payroll ( FICA, Medicare, etc.) taxes, their contribution via both income and payroll taxes to our federal government is zero! These are people making $ 30,000 – $40,000 in many cases. Where, from the perspective of those who do pay tax, is the fairness in that? By any standard one could imagine, they are receiving roughly the same or greater benefit from the existence of government than the high income individual who is so progressively taxed. With respect to whatever legitimate benefits government might provide, half the population is supporting the other half. And this is a case of implementing the “fairness” principle of “treating like cases alike”? We are all people, and we all need protection of our rights, which I maintain is one of the primary functions of government. The idea that having a high income is some kind of “relevant” difference between people for the purposes of paying for something is absurd. Prices for items in the marketplace are not set based on how much income the buyer has, and neither should taxation.

Before leaving the tax justice discussion, one should note that all of the schemes of taxation seem, to me at least, to have a strong punitive element; for instance, the “equal sacrifice” requires inflicting economic pain on taxpayers, with greater pain for the reason only that someone, for whatever reason, has more income or wealth to be taxed. Why is it a function of government to punish innocent citizens, especially if those citizens are likely more productive, and for that reason, more useful to the rest of society? One cannot read Myth, for example, without coming away with the feeling that the authors are lording it over those with higher incomes, and rejoicing in “putting them in their places”, so to speak; the entire treatise is an attempt to give intellectual respectability to a theory without using any real substantive arguments.

Now suppose, despite all that has come before, you still think that we are not taxing the rich to the extent required. Since for the likes of Murphy, Nagel, Rawls, et al, property rights are mere “conventions”, then it is possible, indeed as things are currently progressing, likely, for the nature or extent of these rights to be changed politically, i.e. by majority vote. Suppose we were to implement the suggestion of that most revered Democratic president of our time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that no one should be entitled to have a net income after taxes of more than $25,000! Yes, FDR actually said that in Fireside chat No. 21 ( April, 1942) and repeated it again in No. 22 (September, 1942).[19] This figure is equivalent to roughly $350,000 in today’s dollars. There are no doubt many of the statist persuasion who would absolutely welcome such a taxation proposal. Using income tax data from 2007, I have calculated that this would add approximately $ 2 trillion dollars to the actual revenue figure of $1.2 trillion. We have just gone through the so-called “debt crisis” of 2011. Our current president has insisted on new sources of revenue to reduce annual deficits; since the deficit to be dealt with is of the order of $1.3 trillion, or 40% of our expenditures, and the spending cuts proposed were so clearly token, you can see how much and how draconian any new taxes would have to be, how closely any proposal would need to approach the Rooseveltian one to make any difference. But why not go even further, perhaps confiscating all income over say, $100,000? After all, who really needs more than $100,000 to live on?

The point I am trying to make here is that, if you accept the statist/egalitarian argument that they have the monopoly on morality with their putative societal “arrangements”, then there is essentially no limit to the amount which government can confiscate and still be considered morally correct in doing so. The only impediments are the so-called practical issues, i.e. the matter of destroying incentives, etc. Or simply an appeal to “reasonableness”. It then all comes down to who has the votes, and the numbers of producers are always and ever less than those whose only predilection is to consume. Who do you think will prevail in that situation? How does this not resemble a situation of “my gang is bigger than your gang”? How does this have anything to do with morality? Morality is not, and cannot be allowed to be, simply whatever the majority declares it to be. In the last analysis, implementing the statist/egalitarian morality involves the use of force, most especially against those who have done nothing wrong. I submit that the only morally appropriate use of such force is against those who are bent on violating the rights of others, i.e. criminals. To use force just to get your way, which is, after all, what insisting on social or economic justice boils down to, is, I submit, morally reprehensible.


When discussing Rawls and even John Stuart Mill, I touched upon the concept of liberty. Rawls’s Theory calls for a principle of Equal Liberty, even for maximizing (certain kinds of ) liberty. This term, however, needs a definition. Perhaps this will do: Liberty is the freedom to make and then implement the decisions a rational being both needs and desires to make in order to live life as he desires it without interference from outsiders. [20] This definition involves action on the part of the person who is at liberty.. The presence of the concept of interference brands this as a definition of “social liberty”, which is the only kind I have an interest in pursuing here. The terms liberty and freedom, as I shall use them, are essentially synonymous.

As with the concepts of “fairness” and “justice”, one may belabor the concept of freedom by citing various usages of the term. One may speak of not having the freedom to accomplish one’s ends due to various external factors, such as ill health, lack of physical capacity, or other conditions beyond one’s control. This does not fit the social context I am discussing. Yes, one may speak of there being both positive liberty and negative liberty, but this does not lead to the conclusion that many advocates of statism cite as essential to their case. Jan Narveson explains it thusly:

(1) Positive Liberty: we can identify positive liberty with the presence of those conditions, such as the means for doing x, that enable you to do something, if circumstances permit; one way of being unfree to do it would be for one or more of those conditions not to obtain. These conditions can be either internal or external to the body or mind of the agent….The internal conditions are your powers: to have the requisite internal enabling conditions, granted absence of obstacles, is to have, in one main respect, the power to do the thing in question….

(2) Negative liberty: this, by contrast, refers simply to the absence of factors that would prevent you from doing x: you’ve got what it takes to do x, but something stands in your way, blocks your path—interferes, in short. [ This would include physical factors and natural limitations.] [21]

Statists frequently capitalize on the confusion of these two aspects of freedom by insisting that the state must create the conditions that promote or optimize the ability of the individual to realize his desires; this, of course, includes all of the typical welfare measures, like a guaranteed income, the right to a “living wage”, i.e. all sorts of “positive” or welfare rights. The failure to provide these makes one unfree, according to them. Take, for example, FDR’s famous speech on the Four Freedoms:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

The first two are clearly negative rights ( or freedoms) as we have defined them, while the third and fourth are positive rights, and require the action of entities outside the rightholder in order to be fulfilled. By mixing these two together in one presentation, FDR was attempting to give equal status, importance, and credibility to the third and fourth “freedoms” by including them along with rights that are widely and generally supported in that they are incorporated in Amendments 1 and 4 in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. I call this intellectual smuggling, the mixing of apples and oranges in the hope of receiving he listener’s uncritical acceptance, hoping that he will swallow them whole.

Narveson sums it up as follows:

You are at liberty in the social sense when others do not, by their actions, prevent you from doing what you want. You are at liberty in this sense when nobody is interfering with your liberty. Your liberty to do x, on the other hand, is not interfered with when someone else, even if that someone could do so if she chose, fails to provide you with something that would enable you to do x. [Additional emphasis added.][22]

So, it should be clear that “freedom from want” is not of the same order as freedom of expression; freedom from want almost certainly is going to involve, at some point, the forcible taking of something that already legitimately belongs to someone, and giving it to someone else. In other words, to exercise the right to be free from want, it is necessary to violate another right, the right of ownership. Harking back to what Hillel Steiner has said, this is not a compossible set of rights. But, of course, FDR purposely did not include “freedom to own (and/or keep)” as one of his Four Freedoms. He does this for the same reasons that Rawls limits property rights so severely in his scheme.

Why dwell on liberty? Because I believe that “individual liberty is the fundamental and only legitimate concern of any just society”.
[23] Liberty, not fairness, is the basis for justice.

By this time I hope that I have demonstrated to your satisfaction the following points about justice and fairness:

  • The first level of justification for statist/egalitarian proposals for economic or social justice in most cases, involves at most an appeal to moral intuition ( “it’s only fair”); this is the argument from assertion—no further justification is required.
  • Justice has to do with those things which society uses forcible means to accomplish; the historical justification for giving up one’s own right to enforce in favor of enforcement by an entity like the state is explained by appealing to the device of a “social contract” whereby a compact of mutual forbearance of threats, violence and fraud is created between the individual and some sovereign power, who will punish those who would cheat on the terms of the compact. There is a serious question as to whether the use of such force by the state should extend beyond the enforcement of mutual forbearance, and, if so, what is the justification for such an extension?
  • About the only intellectually respectable attempt to justify economic or social justice, i.e going beyond the argument from assertion, is the theory of John Rawls, called “Justice as Fairness”. This theory was a reaction to the philosophy of Utilitarianism which has a primary principle that looks only at aggregate welfare as the standard of the good, i.e. it is a collectivist approach to morality. Because it can clearly sacrifice individual liberty, Rawls tried to compensate for this with his First Principle, the Equal Liberty Principle.
  • Rawls’s conceptual framework is deeply flawed:

(1) The Equal Liberty principle includes only civil liberties; economic liberty is considered unimportant and unworthy of protection. Inasmuch as “Property relations go to the root of any social system.”, Rawls has gone against virtually all previous historical efforts by ignoring its importance.

(2) Although Rawls appears to accommodate capitalism as an acceptable economic system, he makes no commitment to its necessity, insisting that socialism ( including state ownership of the means of production) would be equally good. The fact that he insists that an equal distribution is the default one, unless one can justify some inequality, together with the toleration of socialism, makes this as collectivist as any Utilitarian theory. The best that could be hoped for under Rawls is a heavily regulated mixed economy.

(3) Rawls’s exposition, like most statist/egalitarian theses, suffers from a lack of context, to wit, that distribution ( i.e. consumption) is considered as isolated from production, when the two are actually intimately related. Furthermore, the distributions advocated are all of patterned, end-result type, which defies the real world of existing distributions, and must be continually re-done to satisfy the end-result desired.

(4) Rawls insists that characteristics of individuals which might justify inequality of distribution ( which occurs naturally) are unimportant because they are “morally arbitrary”, which is another way of saying they are undeserved. Our discussion shows that there is a lot of false thinking behind this concept, and that the root of its existence is likely a simple envy of some people by others. We also show that people ( i.e. producers) are frequently both entitled to, and deserve whatever profits they make, and that the Marxian labor theory of value is fallacious. I have suggested that there is an aura of illegitimacy to the existence of inequalities that is never made fully explicit, but nevertheless colors the attitude (and consequently, the conclusions) of the egalitarian theorist.

(5) The bargainers in the Original Position behind the Veil of Ignorance are not well grounded in reality: people who treat objects as if they appeared from nowhere, and without any special entitlements ( i.e. ownership) will treat anything to be distributed as “manna from heaven”. Moreover, the bargainers will be constrained to come up with only patterned, end-state distributions, because no historical distribution is possible to people who have no history, i.e are behind the Veil.

(6) Nozick notes that in Rawls’s and other egalitarian schemes, moral ends are completely embedded in the end goal and such limitations as are placed on accomplishing the goal are included within it. He claims that this arrangement will violate moral side constraints that exist independently. Such an overriding side constraint is the Kantian injunction that “people may not be sacrificed or used for the achieving of other ends without their consent”. For me, the entire argument for individualism versus collectivism hangs on observing this constraint. I submit that no goal is so worthy that this injunction can be set aside to achieve it.

In addition to Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, the attitudes toward social or economic justice have been heavily influenced by certain historical and cultural phenomena—the advocates of redistribution have attempted to justify their demands (i.e. make their claims) on the basis that enforcement of income equality is justified by its semblance to the civil rights model, i.e. the idea that certain groups or categories of persons have been maltreated, and this maltreatment must be continually rectified. If to this, you add the notion that all problems with production have been solved, that America is the Affluent Society, then it is all the more acceptable to deal only with the problem of how to distribute all this largess, to isolate production from consumption.

It is not enough to point out the numerous fallacies, errors, and faulty conceptual underpinnings of the theories behind social or economic justice as currently espoused. There are also alternative theories of distributive justice, theories about who gets what.

These theories rely on the fundamental importance of property in our lives, and so, attempt to formulate rules about entitlements to property, including how unowned property is first acquired. Nozick has his Entitlement Theory of Justice; Randy Barnett propounds a set of justice principles that echo Nozick, but emphasize their relationship to liberty, and the practical importance of how these rules (property rights) are able to solve pervasive social problems that arise when there are disputes about scarce physical resources ( including, of course, one’s own body). Hans Hermann-Hoppe has provided a rigorous proof of the validity of the principle of first acquisition to bolster Nozick’s discussion of what he calls the “Lockean proviso” and Narveson’s “first-use” rule and Barnett’s “first right of possession”. All of these views converge on the notion that people may justifiably acquire an initial title to unowned property, and that, in so doing, a fundamental theoretical problem with property rights is resolved.

Our final discussion in relation to what rules should govern property involves taxation, which, in the form of income taxation, is the ultimate means of implementing the kind of redistribution called for by social or economic justice. I discuss the various forms of taxation with respect to their supposed degrees of equity, and I note that, because of its negative influence on accumulated capital, it can never be anything but a negative influence on the general increase in wealth. I note particularly that some contemporary economists claim that taxation can either be said to increase wealth, or that taxation could be considered as neutral in this regard confuse the situation by relying on empirical data unsupported by a corresponding a priori theory as to why this should be the case. One of the more well-known works on tax justice (The Myth of Ownership) goes as far as to claim that no one has any property right in his pre-tax income; this is quite a remarkable claim, and dovetails nicely with the need of economic justice advocates to command whatever sums they require for their income-leveling plans. The authors do not answer the question of what limits, if any, are imposed on determining how much of a person’s income is included in the “pre-tax” portion; one can justifiably assume, then, that the final rate of tax is subject to political adjustment and that 100% of one’s pre-tax income is not out of the question.[24] I note that there is no moral principle whatsoever that appears to operate to limit this amount, other than majority rule.

With regard to liberty, I note that its primary earmark is the lack of interference by others with a person’s desired actions. However, interference is not, and can never be, construed as the failure to provide or facilitate some action that I would wish to take.

So what would I have you believe on the strength what I have said so far? I would hope that:

(1) You would reject all claims that justice is synonymous with fairness.

(2) You would realize that the arguments in favor of social justice are at best weak, and at worst almost non-existent, especially in comparison with the relatively robust and rigorous treatment accorded to the entitlement theory of distributive justice I have elaborated here. More important, I would hope that, regardless of what you may have thought in the past, you would come to agree that there is a moral imperative of not ever using other people to achieve one’s goals, and a recognition that the social justice theories of all sorts require one to ignore that imperative.

(3) The entitlement theory represents ideas that are thoroughly grounded in reality, have stood the test of time, and answer the need that principles be based on human nature; it is in the nature of human beings to be motivated primarily by their self-interest ahead of the interest of others, and thus the rules of justice need to take this into account. Property is essential to life, and issues about who gets what are the source of pervasive social problems; the entitlement theory provides solutions to these problems and has provided the basis for our commonly accepted legal precepts and the rule of law. Egalitarian notions of social or economic justice run counter to human nature, and require the more or less continuous use of force for their implementation, whereas the entitlement theory only invokes the sanctioned use of force against those who would violate rights, a huge difference, as I see it. In short, based on all these reasons, you would reject the content of my statement of Conventional Wisdom Re: Justice and Fairness.

(3) You would regard taxes as having nothing beneficial about them, and that their minimization should be an overriding goal; in particular the method of taxing incomes should abolished as too coercive, and replaced with some form of consumption tax, since income taxation is a wholesale violator of our Bedrock Principle No. 1 (q.v.). Realizing that the steeply progressive taxation that is required by social justice, you would reject my statement of Conventional Wisdom Re: Taxation.

(4) The existence of anything other than the “minimal” or night-watchman state, consisting largely of agencies which protect property rights and administer justice is probably the most extensive state that is morally justified. Given that it is unlikely any time soon to achieve this status with government, one should at least draw a secondary line which defines a sphere of government activity which eliminates all programs or activities whose intention is to transfer wealth from producers to non-producers. If there is to be any type of “safety net” for those are unable to help themselves, then the redistributive aspects of such programs should require proof of need, and be recognized as the form of charity which it is, and not a matter of entitlement, and the scope of such programs should be a tiny fraction of what is currently in effect.

(5) Having considered my arguments regarding profits and whether people can be either entitled to, or deserving of profits, you would reject my stated Conventional Wisdom Re: Profits.

(6) Last, you would realize that, despite having heard it for most of your adult life, the frequent claim that the statist/egalitarian advocates have morality on their side is patently false; their program is both impractical and morally bankrupt. This is true because it relies on violence, it ignores human nature, it requires a degree of deceit in order to persuade adoption, it denies that there is any historical[25] entitlement to property, and it sacrifices the liberty of some people in order to provide benefits to others. The welfare and, more important, the plans and aspirations of the individual might as well be trash if they interfere with the statistically relevant welfare of the group. Contrast, if you will, all of these characteristics with the entitlement theory principles and what flows from them.


                               Notes for Part Three

[1]. This is part of what is called Kymlicka’s Objection to the Lockean Proviso as stated by Robert Nozick. See Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2002) p. 104.

[2]. Murray N. Rothbard in Man, State, and Economy, Chapter 2, Sec. 12. 12. Property: The Appropriation of Raw Land

[3]. Two additional possibilities present themselves: (1) that some central authority (the state?) owns everything, or (2) nobody owns anything. With respect to (1), I fail to see how that provides any kind of moral solution to the pervasive social problems involving conflicts over scarce resources. Alternative (2) denies the concept of ownership and property entirely; this would seem to take us into another realm altogether.

[4]. Here is the verbatim argument from Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, pp. 383-384:

In light of widespread moral relativism, it is worthwhile to point out that this idea of original appropriation and private property as a solution to the problem of social order is in complete accordance with our moral “intuition,” Isn’t it simply absurd to claim that a person should not be the proper owner of his body and the places and goods that he originally, i.e., prior to anyone else, appropriates, uses and/or produces by means of his body? Who else, if not he, should be their owner? Isn’t it also obvious that the overwhelming majority of people, including children and primitives, act according to these rules, and do so unquestioningly and as a matter of course?

As important as it is, a moral intuition is not a proof. Yet there does exist proof that our moral intuition is correct.

The proof can be provided in a twofold manner. On the one hand, such proof can be provided by spelling out the consequences that follow if one were to deny the validity of the institution of original appropriation and private property: If a person A were not the owner of his own body and the places and goods originally appropriated and/or produced with this body as well as of the goods voluntarily (contractually) acquired from another previous owner, then only two alternatives exist. Either another person B must be recognized as the owner of A’s body as well as the places and goods appropriated, produced or acquired by A, or else all persons, A and B, must be considered equal co-owners of all bodies, places and goods.

In the first case, A would be reduced to the rank of B’s slave and object of exploitation, B is the owner of A’s body and all places and goods appropriated, produced, and acquired by A, but A in turn is not the owner of B’s body and the places and goods appropriated, produced and acquired by B. Hence, under this ruling two categorically distinct classes of persons are created—Untermenschen such as A and Ubermenschen such as B—to whom different “laws” apply, Accordingly, such a ruling must be discarded as a human ethic equally applicable to everyone qua human being (rational animal). From the very outset, any such ruling can be recognized as not universally acceptable and thus cannot claim to represent law. For a rule to aspire to the rank of a law—a just rule—it is necessary that such a rule apply equally and universally to everyone.

Alternatively, in the second case of universal and equal co-ownership, the requirement of equal law for everyone is fulfilled. However, this alternative suffers from another even more severe deficiency, for if it were applied, all of mankind would instantly perish. (And since every human ethic must permit the survival of mankind, this alternative must be rejected.) Every action of a person requires the use of some scarce means (at least the person’s body and its standing room), but if all goods were co-owned by everyone, then no one, at no time and no place, would be allowed to do anything unless he had previously secured every other co-owner’s consent to do so. However, how could anyone grant such consent if he were not the exclusive owner of his own body (including his vocal cords) by means of which his consent must be expressed? Indeed, he would first need others’ consent in order to be allowed to express his own, but these others cannot give their consent without having first his, etc.

Although it is not discussed in the body of the argument, the need for consent cited flows from the notion of ownership—the idea that control and the power of decision over property resides with the owner, i.e. this is definitional. Co-ownership therefore requires consent of all owners, first had and obtained.

Some will object to Hoppe’s assertion that mankind would “instantly perish”; I would agree that this is perhaps overkill, but it does convey the desired impression, i.e. the obvious impossibility of complying with the manifold requirements of consent in the everybody-owns-everybody scenario.

[5]. Narveson, Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice, p. 159.

[6]. Bankston, Carl L. III, “Social Justice, Cultural Origins of a Perspective and a Theory” in the Indepedent Review, Fall 2010.

[7] Galbraith’s main argument is that as society becomes relatively more affluent, so private business must “create” consumer demand through advertising, and while this generates artificial affluence through the production of commercial goods and services, the public sector becomes neglected.

[8] Bankston, “Social Justice…”, paraphrasing Georges Sorel in Reflexions sur la violence (1908).

[9]. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann in “The Economics and Sociology of Taxation”, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p. 35.
[10]. On-line Internet encyclopedia.

[11]. Some will immediately object that citizens commit a crime when they deprive someone of their liberty, as in kidnaping or detaining someone under false arrest; the state, they may say, deprives someone of liberty when they incarcerate him. The difference here is, of course, the matter of due process—the crime for the citizen is the arbitrary decision he has made. The state is entitled to do so providing due process requirements are met. The basic thrust of Bedrock Principle #1 is that the state should not be aggressing against its own innocent citizens, which it does in two cases in particular—income taxation and military conscription. Only those who have crossed the line and used some form of aggression (force, fear, or fraud) against others (i.e. are no longer ‘innocent’) should be the subjects of government compulsion. To do otherwise is a holdover from feudal or even pre-feudal times.

[12]. Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p. 35.

[14]. Time preference pertains to how large a premium a consumer places on enjoyment nearer in time over more remote enjoyment. High time preference means you want goods or service in the near term, while low time preference allows for deferred gratification.

[15] Literally, this means “after this, therefore because of this”.

[16]. Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p. ??

[17]. Murphy, Liam and Nagel, Thomas, The Myth of Ownership, p. 24.

[18]. Murphy, Liam and Nagel, Thomas, The Myth of Ownership, pp. 16-17.

[19]. Roosevelt said “I have told the Congress once more that all net individual incomes, after payment of all taxes, should be limited effectively by further taxation to a maximum net income of ($25,000) 25 thousand dollars a year. And it is equally important that corporate profits should not exceed a reasonable amount in any case. “ Fireside Chat No. 22 – September, 1942.
Furthermore, when Congress refused to act, FDR attempted to bypass them and establish his solution to “income inequality” by fiat, using Executive Order No. 9250!! The only reason we are not now living under this draconian principle is the Supreme Courts voiding of the order.

[20]. This means non-interference from both persons and institutions.

[21]. Narveson, Jan, The Libertarian Idea, pp. 22-23.

[22]. Narveson, Jan, The Libertarian Idea, p 13.

[23]. I am assuming here that at the 100% level, the taxpayer would probably receive in exchange a standard cash stipend of some sort representing a minimum level of sustenance and perhaps conditioned on need; this, in addition to a myriad of government “programs” tailored to specific situations regarding health and welfare.

[24]. We are not necessarily speaking here of long time periods, but rather that a person has a personal history with respect to ownership of property, i.e. that it did come into existence spontaneously.

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