Minor Thoughts from me to you

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How Libertarianism Promotes Civil Society

How Libertarianism Promotes Civil Society →

Jeffrey Tucker wrote, at the Foundation for Economic Education, about the differences between the alt-right and libertarianism. I enjoyed, and agreed with, his descriptions of what libertarians believe.

Creating a Harmony of Interests

A related issue concerns our capacity to get along with each other. Frédéric Bastiat described the free society as characterized by a “harmony of interests.” In order to overcome the state of nature, we gradually discover the capacity to find value in each other. The division of labor is the great fact of human community: the labor of each of us becomes more productive in cooperation with others, and this is even, or rather especially, true given the unequal distribution of talents, intelligence, and skills, and differences over religion, belief systems, race, language, and so on.

And truly, this is a beautiful thing to discover. The libertarian marvels at the cooperation we see in a construction project, an office building, a restaurant, a factory, a shopping mall, to say nothing of a city, a country, or a planet. The harmony of interests doesn’t mean that everyone gets along perfectly, but rather than we inhabit institutions that incentivize progress through ever more cooperative behavior. As the liberals of old say, we believe that the “brotherhood of man” is possible.

Small Acts of Rational Self-Interest

The libertarian believes that the best and most wonderful social outcomes are not those planned, structured, and anticipated, but rather the opposite. Society is the result of millions and billions of small acts of rational self interest that are channelled into an undesigned, unplanned, and unanticipated order that cannot be conceived by a single mind. The knowledge that is required to put together a functioning social order is conveyed through institutions: prices, manners, mores, habits, and traditions that no one can consciously will into existence. There must be a process in place, and stable rules governing that process, that permit such institutions to evolve, always in deference to the immutable laws of economics.

Breaking Down Barriers

The libertarian celebrates the profound changes in the world from the late Middle Ages to the age of laissez faire, because we observed how commercial society broke down the barriers of class, race, and social isolation, bringing rights and dignity to ever more people.Of course the classical liberals fought for free trade and free migration of peoples, seeing national borders as arbitrary lines on a map that mercifully restrain the power of the state but otherwise inhibit the progress of prosperity and civilization. To think globally is not a bad thing, but a sign of enlightenment. Protectionism is nothing but a tax on consumers that inhibits industrial productivity and sets nations at odds with each other. The market process is a worldwide phenomenon that indicates an expansion of the division of labor, which means a progressive capacity of people to enhance their standard of living and ennoble their lives.

Suspicion of Democracy

as many commentators have pointed out, both libertarians and alt-rightist are deeply suspicious of democracy. This was not always the case. In the 19th century, the classical liberals generally had a favorable view of democracy, believing it to be the political analogy to choice in the marketplace. But here they imagined states that were local, rules that were fixed and clear, and democracy as a check on power. As states became huge, as power became total, and as rules became subject to pressure-group politics, the libertarianism’s attitude toward democracy shifted.

Exit Matters

Participation in a democracy is not the most important thing to preserve liberty and promote well being. I don't see much value in showing up at school board meetings or town hall meetings or just showing up to vote. It rarely changes anything. Exit is what matters: the ability to say "If you're not going to make me happy then I'll go somewhere else where I'll be happier".

I bring this up because I was recently listening to Russ Roberts' EconTalk interview of Martha Nussbaum. Dr. Nussbaum was arguing that it's enough to participate, that it's enough to have an accountable government that listens to everyone's input.

Why do I say, 'government represents the people'? Look, you do not need to show that you win to show that government is in some meaningful sense, yours. Of course, if you have a vote, some people will win and some will lose. But having the chance to weigh in on those policies is what I'm talking about. In the era when women couldn't vote, well they might often get what they wanted by wheedling their husbands and getting the husbands to give them what they want. But there's a crucial difference--namely, that they are being dominated. The government is not accountable to them. And in the era where women have the vote, it's different. Women don't always win. No, of course not. But no individual wins all the time. That's what democracy is about. But on the other hand, you are in that process. And it is in that sense, yours. Even the Constitution, which I think does, by the way, command the agreement and assent of a pretty large proportion of Americans at some level of generality, you know, there's an Amendment process. So, you can always work at organized work to amend the Constitution if you don't like it, and see how it goes. You can't expect to win, but you can participate in that process.

I understand Dr. Nussbaum's argument about how government "represents the people". I understand the argument but I don't think that it gives government a moral right to control as much of society as our government controls. I think she places a far higher value on the mere process of participation than I do. Her view would seem to say that it doesn't matter if you often lose. The important thing is that you participated, that you had an opportunity to talk, and an opportunity to cast a ballot.

I think the important thing is whether you were able to do what you wanted to do. Were you able to get the education that you wanted? Were you able to get the medical care that you wanted, in a way that you liked? Were you able to use your property in the way that you wanted? Were you able to exercise your skills? Were you able to not only make a choice but to follow through on that choice?

I think the crucial factor is not one of participation but one of exit. I think the crucial factor is that you can not only express disapproval with a policy but that you can go elsewhere, to find a policy that you do approve of. In the private sector, I have this choice. When I don't like the look and feel of WalMart stores, I can exit WalMart and shop at Target instead. When I don't want the hassle of driving 25 minutes to Home Depot to pick up a bolt I need, I can choose to drive 5 minutes to the local Ace Hardware to pick up the bolt I need. When I don't like the fact that Google makes my personal information available to advertisers, I can choose to search the web through DuckDuckGo, a search engine focused on privacy, instead of through Google. If I don't like the way that Mazda designs the control panel in their cars, I can choose to buy a car from Hyundai instead.

In each of these situations, I had the freedom to participate and to give these companies my feedback. More importantly, when they ignored my feedback I could ignore them and choose to fulfill my needs and wants elsewhere. In the minutes and hours of my daily life, I constantly exercise the freedom to exit something I don't like and to move to something I do like. That matters to me far more than mere "participation".

Participation, whether in education or in anything else, is not enough. You must have the choice to leave, when you don't like the way that you're treated.

Do Republicans Need a Conservative Version of the Welfare State to Win?

Do Republicans Need a Conservative Version of the Welfare State to Win? →

Shikha Dalmia, at Reason.com:

In short, the ideal conservative welfare state would be a libertarian dystopia of even bigger proportions than the liberal welfare state. There is less welfare and more state in it.

A conservative welfare state is a horrifying idea.

Read the whole thing. If big government Republicans try to push the party in this direction, I don't see any future for the party.

Why this libertarian is voting Romney, with enthusiasm

Why this libertarian is voting Romney, with enthusiasm →

First, it is admittedly tempting for a libertarian voter to fill in the oval for Johnson, the former New Mexico Governor. Johnson is far and away the best candidate the LP has ever put forward, and would make an excellent president. But the bottom line is this: Gary Johnson is not going to be elected president on November 6. Either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will have that honor and burden. So I don’t have to choose between Romney and Johnson. I’m choosing between Romney and Obama.

Here’s why I like Mitt:

  1. Obamacare. One reason many libertarians are skeptical of Romney was his introduction of “Romneycare” in Massachusetts. Many people, including the Obama Administration, like to say that this was the genesis of the despised individual mandate. Governor Romney has offered various reasons why Romneycare is different (federalism, substantive differences), which are not convincing to many libertarians.

Fine. But here’s the thing. For most libertarians, this is one of the most important issues in decades. Libertarians worry that Obamacare, beyond being an atrociously designed law even on its own terms and assumptions, will fundamentally alter the relationship between Americans and our government, and cement into place once and for all a European-style social democracy.

Romney has pledged to repeal Obamacare. It is one of his most visible pledges, and therefore – even if one doesn’t trust Romney (I do, although I’m not sure he can get repeal done) – it will be one of the hardest for him to break or ignore. And he has vowed to use Obama’s own weapon – executive branch waivers – to effectively stop implementation of the Act immediately.

So let’s be skeptical. Let’s assume there is only a 10 or 20 percent chance Romney carries through on this promise (I think the odds are much higher, but I’m being cautious and skeptical here). What are the odds of repeal if Obama is re-elected? Zero. Zilch. Nada. None. Nothing. If repeal of Obamacare is truly important – and I think it is – I will not pass up the most (or only) realistic chance to get it done.

2.Taxes. Mitt Romney has expressed a desire for sensible tax reform that most libertarians support – lower rates with a broader base. We’d like to see overall taxes decline, but in the face of massive deficits, with a public unwilling to stand for major cuts in entitlements, that’s probably not a realistic option. But Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have promised to try. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has expressed again and again his desire and determination to raise income tax rates, and, at times, even to do so solely for the purpose of redistributing income. And to add insult to injury, Obama’s Orwellian language about “asking” some “to pay a little bit more” grates every time one hears it.

Walter Mondale campaigned on raising taxes and lost. Bill Clinton campaigned on cutting taxes, won, and promptly raised the marginal income tax rates. Libertarians often like to say that there is no difference between the two major parties. But in my lifetime (and I was reading Reason and walking precincts for Ed Clark before many of those young Reason staffers were born) there have been two Presidents who have substantially reduced income tax rates: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both Republicans. Republicans have delivered on income tax rate reductions, and can do so again.

Romney is clearly the superior candidate.

The Libertarian Case for Mitt Romney

The Libertarian Case for Mitt Romney →

Stephen Green makes the libertarian case for Romney.

Since the father of RomneyCare isn’t exactly an easy sell to libertarians, first we have to look at the man already sitting in the Oval Office. And it’s safe to say that unlike 2008, in 2012 there is absolutely zero Libertarian case to be made for Barack Obama.

... We don’t get to choose this year between “good” and “better’” — have we ever enjoyed that choice? But we do get a sharp distinction this year between “bad” and “worse.”

I’m going with “bad” because I’m not sure we’ll survive another term of the worst.

I think that about sums up my own position. I'm moderately hopeful that a President Romney would moderately decrease regulations. I'm positive that President Obama would not only not roll them back, he'd attempt to increase them.

The Liberal Legal Bubble

The Liberal Legal Bubble →

How could members of the Supreme Court possibly seriously consider the argument that ObamaCare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance is unprecedented and unconstitutional? The quality of the arguments? The presence of a genuine legal debate? No, if you ask the law’s liberal cheerleaders, there can only be one answer: pure partisan politics.

From the beginning, ObamaCare’s backers presumed that the nation’s legal institutions would be on their side—and wouldn’t require much effort to convince. Going into this week’s Supreme Court arguments over the fate of the 2010 health care overhaul, liberal analysts were supremely confident. Since the law’s passage, they’d been predicting that the law would pass constitutional muster with ease. In February 2011, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe reassured readers of The New York Times that even conservative justices would not buy the challengers’ arguments, insisting upon the “clear case for the law’s constitutionality.” Andrew Koppelman, writing in The Yale Law Journal Online, declared the mandate’s constitutionality “obvious.”

Liberal analysts maintained their enthusiasm even after multiple losses in the lower courts. The case against the mandate is “analytically so weak that it dissolves on close inspection. There’s just no there there,” wrote former New York Times legal correspondent Linda Greenhouse a few days before the arguments began.

What can explain liberals’ widespread failure to anticipate the Court’s wariness of the mandate? Research conducted by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests one possible answer: Liberals just aren’t as good as conservatives and libertarians at understanding how their opponents think. Haidt helped conduct research that asked respondents to fill out questionnaires about political narratives—first responding based on their own beliefs, but then responding as if trying to mimic the beliefs of their political opponents. “The results,” he writes in the May issue of Reason, “were clear and consistent.” Moderates and conservatives were the most able to think like their liberal political opponents. “Liberals,” he reports, “were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’”

Anecdotally, this mirrors my experiences in Madison and at the University of Pittsburgh (two very liberal environments). I've found some liberals that I can have rational, political discussions with. On the whole though, most liberals in Madison seem unable to accept that conservatives (or libertarians) act from any motive other than greed, hate, stupidity, or pure evil.

Many of them seem unable to understand conservative rationales or arguments, so they act as though conservatives have no rationales or arguments. It can make for a toxic atmosphere, where the easiest road to peace is the one where you just keep quiet.

But what fun would that be?

This entry was tagged. Libertarian

Government Is Not Society

If I was going to sum up my political philosophy as succinctly as possible, I think this is how I’d do it.

Perhaps the difference that most fundamentally separates true liberals and libertarians from others is that, to one degree or another, true liberals and libertarians are, unlike non-liberals and non-libertarians, dutiful sons and daughters of the Scottish Enlightenment. And one of the great lessons of that remarkable intellectual movement is the refinement of the understanding that state and society are not the same thing. Society is not created by the state, and the state’s activities not only do not define those of society but often diminish society’s activities.

Professor Don Boudreaux says this in the course of pointing out that FDR did much to destroy the private market for unemployment insurance. Prior to governments providing “free” unemployment insurance, many religious organizations, charities, businesses, and private societies provided it. People helping each other, reaching out, lending a hand to a neighbor in need. All of that was blown away and destroyed once the federal and state governments started providing unemployment insurance.

I found out today that it is possible to buy supplemental unemployment insurance to augment what the government provides. That’s welcome news but it’s a far cry from the vibrant assistance provided by society prior to the government’s take over.

Government has not brought us closer together by providing services that the private sector used to provide. Instead, it has pushed us further apart and made us less reliant on each other. That’s the exact opposite of the brotherly love and caring that President Obama constantly claims to want.

If you want a close knit society of caring people that look out for each other—slash government spending and get government out of the business of replacing society with bureaucracy.

Heinlein Defines Our World

Heinlein Defines Our World →

In the course of defending Robert Heinlein’s position on firearms from David Brin, Eric S. Raymond offers up a view on the staggering impact that RAH has had on the world we live in today.

(When time has given us perspective to write really good cultural histories of the 20th century, Heinlein is going to look implausibly gigantic. His achievements didn’t stop with co-inventing science fiction and all its consequences, framing post-1960s libertarianism, energizing the firearms-rights movement, or even merely inspiring me to become the kind of person who not only could write The Cathedral and the Bazaar but had to. No. Heinlein also invented much of zeitgeist of the 1960s counterculture through his novel Stranger In A Strange Land; it has been aptly noted that he was the only human being ever to become a culture hero both to the hippies of Woodstock and the U.S. Marine Corps. I am told that to this day most Marine noncoms carry a well-thumbed copy of Starship Troopers in their rucksacks.)

This entry was tagged. Guns Libertarian

A Washington Power Breaker

A Washington Power Breaker →

CQ has a very nice profile of Randy Barnett, libertarian legal scholar. I’ve been a fan of Randy Barnett ever since I read his 2005 book Restoring The Lost Constitution. (Which, Amazon helpfully reminds me, I purchased on December 26, 2004.)

In less than two years, Barnett, 59, has accomplished what few law professors ever manage to do: make an arcane constitutional argument so compelling and clear that it becomes part of the national conversation.

But what makes Barnett unique is how his influence has extended beyond the elite circle of litigators fighting the health care law and into the grass roots. He has helped members of the tea party movement and supporters on Capitol Hill formulate a proposed constitutional amendment that would authorize the repeal of laws enacted by Congress to which two-thirds of the states object. While its chances of being adopted are slight, that effort, and his work against the health care law, has made Barnett an intellectual favorite of House Republicans.

Selfish Individualist Libertarians?

Selfish Individualist Libertarians? →

Another common formulation of the “libertarianism is selfishness” argument is the claim that libertarians are narrow “individualists” who deny the importance of social cooperation. In reality, however, libertarian thinkers from John Locke to F.A. Hayek and beyond have repeatedly stressed the importance of voluntary social cooperation, which they argue is superior to state-mandated coercion. As Hayek (probably the most influential libertarian thinker of the last 100 years) put it:

[T]rue individualism affirms the value of the family and all the common efforts of the small community and group . . . [and] believes in local autonomy and voluntary associations . . [I]ndeed, its case rest largely on the contention that much for which the coercive action of the state is usually invoked can be done better by voluntary collaboration.

... In reality, however, the available evidence does not support the view that libertarians are, on average, more selfish than advocates of other ideologies. For example, Arthur Brooks’ research shows that supporters of free markets donate a higher percentage of their income to charity, even after controlling for both income levels and a wide range of demographic background variables. ...

Some leftists claim that opposition to taxation or other forms of government intervention necessarily implies selfishness and indifference to the welfare of others. But that assumption simply ignores the possibility that anyone might sincerely believe that imposing tight limits on government power actually benefits the poor.

A Refreshing Sight in Congress

A Refreshing Sight in Congress →

I'd like to see more of this in Congress. Senator Rand Paul harangues the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Efficiency about crappy toilets, low-watt CFL light bulbs, and the desire of busybodies to micromanage our lives.

I think there should be some self-examination from the administration on the idea that you favor a woman’s right to an abortion, but you don’t favor a woman or a man's right to choose what kind of light bulb, what kind of dishwasher, what kind of washing machine.

Sarah Palin in Wasilla

I admit. I'm still intrigued by Sarah Palin. I'm not convinced that she's the blithering idiot that so many of my peers see. Nor am I convinced that she's the great conservative / libertarian hope that many others see. But I'm definitely intrigued by anyone who can attract as much attention as she has attracted.

That's why this op-ed caught my interest: Palin in Wasilla: Resistance to insider assimilation.

Early in the second chapter of "Going Rogue," a chapter titled "Kitchen-Table Politics," you learn everything you need to know to understand why [Palin is so hated].

... Recruited to run for the council in 1992 by local power broker Nick Carney, Palin was seen as an attractive face who would support the usual way of doing business in Wasilla. She wasn't.

In one of the first tests of her independence, Palin opposed a proposal touted by Carney, her political patron, to force residents to pay for neighborhood trash pickup rather than hauling their garbage to the dump themselves, as most did, and as Palin says she still does.

Why was this so important to Carney? Because he owned the local garbage truck company. If you've never had much exposure to local politics -- and this is largely true anywhere you go -- it's a pretty big deal for a young, inexperienced politician (especially a woman) to so blatantly go against the person who recruited you into politics and supported you in your first campaign. You come under tremendous pressure to fall into line. Most cave, right then and there, long before they ever sniff politics at a higher level.

Palin didn't.

During her terms on the council, she consistently opposed heavy-handed community planning initiatives and burdensome taxes.

... Among Palin-haters, one of the most popular canards is that she is an airhead, and clearly not capable of dealing with the intricacies of government. As this chapter demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth.

Palin not only has a keen grasp of the details of governing and budgeting, she also understands the political difficulties inherent in making government responsive. Many of her antagonists at the national level scoffed at the notion that her experience in Wasilla was of any value. Quite the contrary, local government is where a public official's decisions have the most direct impact on the electorate. It's where you really have to understand the ins and outs of what you're doing.

Interesting, no? And, yes, I am planning on reading Going Rogue. I'll pick it up sometime after the Kindle edition comes out.

Re: Fort Hood's Shootings (Joe's Take)

I believe this post finishes our site's libertarian conversion. We now occupy the same portion of the libertarian spectrum that LewRockwell.com occupies.

I don't like America's wars of aggression. The problem, as I see it, is that it can be hard to tell the difference between a war of aggression and a good preemptive defense. For instance, I'm still not convinced that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. I'm not sure what risk we were defending ourselves against.

On the other hand, Afghanistan was a necessary war. You give safe harbor to people who blow up part of a city, you die. It's just that simple. But I think that we should have left a while ago. I'm not sure that we're accomplishing anything worthwhile by propping up a corrupt Karzai government. I know about the fear that that terrorists will get Pakistani nukes and attack us with those. But I'm not sure how likely that scenario is or how fragile Pakistan's own government is. So I'm not sure if what we're doing is preemptive defense against a nuclear scenario or whether we're engaging in blatant imperialism for no good return.

But I am grateful for those who do decide to join the military and protect our borders. I respect their loyalty, their sense of honor, and their dedication. I don't always agree with their mission but I know that I'm not qualified to judge how necessary each mission is. As a result, I do sympathize with them and with their families. For this attack, especially.

The Army, for its own inscrutable reasons decided that stateside military bases should be gun-free zones. That strikes me as absolute lunacy. Had someone removed this nut months ago when it became apparent that he was a nut, soldiers would be alive today. Had someone decided to allow our soldiers to carry the guns that they were trained to carry, more of them would be alive today.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who are hamstrung and betrayed by their own leadership. Incidents like this raise a lot of questions about whether a bureaucratized military is the best way to protect a country. I'm not sure that it is. The institutional Army protects its turf quite fiercely, even when that turf isn't worth protecting. Instead, I'd like to see us get back to the old way of doing things: no standing army and a fully armed citizenry that stands ready to form an ad-hoc army as conditions warrant.

Michael Z. Williamson envisioned a heavily armed libertarian society in his book Freehold. I rather like it. And I can think a large portion of our current military would like it too. I don't think they're in the military because they're thugs. I think they're in the military because it's the only institution we have that will allow them to arm up and stand on the borders, protecting those within. Getting called upon to engage in dubious ventures is an unfortunate cost of being a protector. And that's why I sympathize with them.

And, just for the record, I think this LewRockwell.com post is more than a little nuts itself.

"You benefit from government services, so..."

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"I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

The above quote encapsulates the answer with which liberty activists are often met. We are reminded of how much we owe to our various levels of government. Have you been recently accosted? Of course not, because your tax dollars pay for the police. Did you take the road to get here? The government built our road system. You should pay your taxes because you benefit from the government's services.

The implication is that we are ungrateful... er, ingrates, but it's a silly argument. The position is akin to nothing so much as that taken by the homeless man who sweeps a cloth over your car window and sticks out his hand expectedly (then proceeds to break your wipers if you renege on paying for the service you didn't request).

Benefiting in no way obliges the beneficiary unless that beneficiary has asked. I don't owe the government anything.

Neither do you.

Tactics for Liberty: How Libertarians Can Struggle

liberty-bell-atrophy

Liberty activist Sam Dodson's recent victory over the Cheshire County government in New Hampshire has inspired our own Webmaster Joe - but like many family men, he feels he hasn't the right to jeopardize his wife and two daughters' security by committing civil disobedience.

I'm not sure I agree with his description of illegal activism as "self-indulgent". Most of the men and women who have previously liberated American society from various evils had families; most of the Iranians currently protesting in Tehran's streets and opposing Ahmadenijad at risk to life and limb (God bless them all) likely have them. That they were and are still willing to engage the enemies of freedom underscores their commitment against injustice - and if we all felt such conviction, the injustices of today would likely never have been allowed to take root in the first place.

Which is not to downplay Joe's concerns regarding how civil disobedience might affect his family or to suggest he needs to "man up" and get to chaining himself to fences. No, no - the point deserved to be made, now has been, and I'd prefer to suggest methods by which citizens like Joe might contribute without undue risk to their livelihoods.

Having said that, my first suggestion will probably seem strange: cheat on your taxes. Starve the beast of government by denying it the funds with which to finance its clearly immoral and illegal programs. For the time being this is actually very safe, according to BookKeeperList.com, which writes that in in one recent year "only 2,472 Americans were convicted of tax crimes — .0022 percent of all taxpayers." That's despite the fact that the IRS believes 17% of Americans are not compliant. The IRS just doesn't have the manpower or data-mining equipment to inspect everybody and when it does find suspicious claims it rarely prosecutes. So really, what's the worst that can happen? Paying back-taxes? A penalty, maybe?

But I am am addressing at least one (and probably several, statistics tell me) Christians, so the question naturally arises: isn't that unethical? I've recently reached the decision that it is not. Even if you believe that every government which obtains power over you is legitimate by divine decree (which is stupid - does that mean African-Americans were wrong to protest in the '60's?), to "render unto Caesar" is one thing, especially in a country in which we have a deal with our Caesar; to render unto a known embezzler is another - and it is now undeniable from public information that we Americans are being taken for a financial ride. Even if you accept the idea that they have the right to take money from some people and give it to others, they're not doing that with the money you give them. They're just thieves.

Take for example John Stossel's investigation into the government agency meant to assist Native-Americans in poverty. He's found that $40,000 is purportedly spent on each Native-American purportedly being helped - an amount which obviously would put them all in the middle-class if we simply cut each of them a check for the amount.

Obviously, that money isn't going to those tribes. The government tells us it is, but it isn't - and even the government isn't so incompetent as to mismanage that much moolah. People aren't that stupid, Folks. It's being stolen from you - just as it's being stolen from you inside the Department of Defense (they've been trying to produce a credible financial statement for approximately a decade now), inside the Fed (which hasn't been audited in nearly a century), and doubtlessly inside many other departments.

I'm not saying it's necessarily being stolen from you without being accounted for. I'm sure most of the money that our government officials give to their friends is accounted for on their budget and rationalized, if poorly. But it's still being stolen. The intent of these people is not to help Native-Americans.

A second argument against faithfully paying taxes: I won't declare paying your taxes to be sinful (after all, it's basically the equivalent of handing your wallet to a robber - "Give us the money or else!"), but through your taxes you are funding programs you know to be morally wrong. I can't see that failing to assist evil men in their evil actions can be wrong.

(I wish this conversation was more than academic for me. In my life, the metaphor of the government as highway robber takes on a light-hearted tone. Thumbing through my wallet, the masked menace's eyebrows rise. "Really? This is all you have? Dude, tell you what - just keep it.")

Let's move on to another idea: If you can't be disobedient, fund people who are. The CD Evolution Fund is a charity which financially supports liberty activists in New Hampshire, usually by paying for their legal aid. The fund was instrumental in supplying Sam Dodson with representation during his two-month incarceration.

Obviously, you can also support other liberty-oriented projects. In fact we may want to discuss a libertarian tract of the sort produced by Mr. Ditko; I have $250 in my "Time for another project" account and am currently considering what might eventually pay for itself.

Finally, don't cooperate in your victimization to the extent the law allows. This will still make your life more difficult, as police and government officials don't like it when citizens remind them of their limitations, but freedoms are like muscles - if you don't exercise them, they waste away. Never let a government agent or policeman inside your house without a warrant. Don't tell traffic cops where you're going or where you're coming from if all they stopped you for was speeding.

A number of Free Staters and general libertarians take this tactic to daring levels, openly carrying firearms in areas legal to do so.

Before I close, a note on one tactic you haven't yet heard me mention: voting. To vote for a Libertarian is a harmless enough act, I suppose - and sure, it registers disapproval with the system as it stands - but like Ian on Free Talk Live I'm now wondering if it wouldn't be more productive to deny the legitimacy to our government granted by the electoral process. One of the reasons so few people offer more than token resistance to any government program is that the government is still considered to some extent "all of us", even if it's doing something illegal. But it's not. And perhaps ceasing to play into the pretense that it is would help bring light to that fact.

I think I'm done for now. One thing's for sure, Joe... With people like Sam Dodson doing as much as they are, there's one tactic we can't choose: getting along to get along.

"Mutual Consent/Force"

It's a little-known fact that Steve Ditko, hailed by readers of comic books for co-creating Spider-Man and much of that character's supporting cast, occasionally still publishes new stories.

It's little-known for several reasons. First, all of these new tales can only be found between the covers of small-press magazines with extremely low print runs and sometimes a complete absence of color; Mr. Ditko's refusal to allow any publisher to compromise what he believes to be his artistic integrity has resulted in such publications being his only outlet. Second, the content of Mr. Ditko's stories nowadays is generally unattractive to mainstream audiences, as they adhere entirely to Objectivist principles of morality. All of Mr. Ditko's new fiction is and has now for years been unapologetically and indeed preachily (to the point wherein the narrator often lectures the reader on how to interpret the story) libertarian. Some of his product even eschews the art of fiction entirely and simply serves as visual for his pro-liberty ideas.

The piece of his below, entitled "Mutual Consent/Force", is a great example of that:

"Mutual Consent/Force" by Steve Ditko

I think it's a quite effective presentation; it reminds me of Jack T. Chick's successful series of religious tracts. The Libertarian Party should hire him to produce something similar they can hand out at information booths and conventions... but then, there are many things the Libertarian Party should do.

Anyway, thanks to Dinosaurs Garden's putting it up on their site, an online .pdf file containing the whole of Mr. Ditko's long out-of-print "Avenging World" comic book is now available for your perusal, should you be so inclined. It's an extremely well-drawn presentation of our world's problems and their libertarian solutions, hosted in an endearingly cliche manner by our own beleaguered Planet Earth.

Government Fundamentalists

Economist David Henderson has a great idea.

What do you call people who want government solutions even when those solutions don't work?

In my latest article in The Freeman, I introduce the term "government fundamentalists." Here's a passage:

What should we call people who seem to regard government as the solution regardless of the evidence? I propose the term "government fundamentalists."

This is great shorthand for what the current administration believes in. No matter what the problem is, government is always the solution. This is a label I'll have to use more.

(Via EconLog.)

This entry was tagged. Libertarian

Wal-Mart and the Limits of Libertarianism

Earlier this week, the New York Times took a look at the town of Monsey, New York and how it's responding to plans for a new local Wal-Mart.

Monsey presents a bit of a problem to Wal-Mart.

The thousands of Hasidic Jews who have settled in Monsey, an unincorporated hamlet in Rockland County, since at least the early 1970s are guided by centuries-old religious traditions, which have remained unchanged even in the face of unprecedented growth inside and outside town borders. The streets here are lined with sidewalks, as many of the women do not drive—an activity deemed immodest in stricter Jewish sects. Many boys and girls are educated separately, in private, Yiddish-language religious schools. A sign at the entrance of a kosher supermarket reminds visitors to refrain from wearing revealing clothes.

The city has a lot of concerns about how Wal-Mart would change their community. Some of them seem quite justified.

The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter would occupy a 22-acre site on Route 59, about three miles from access ramps to the New York State Thruway. Route 59, a two-lane state highway lined with strip malls, is often clogged during rush hours and is especially busy on Fridays as families hurry to finish errands before the Sabbath starts. On Saturdays, roads everywhere are choked with pedestrians, including many mothers pushing babies in strollers.

Some of the concerns seem more focused at controlling the community.

When they fret about merchandise, they wonder if frowned-upon items like bikinis and lingerie will be on display for everyone to see. And when they imagine the outsiders who would shop at the store, they worry that their presence could transform the town's pious, sheltered atmosphere.

The Rockland Bulletin, a local Jewish weekly newspaper, ran a full-page ad this spring warning: "An influx of undesirable influences will pollute the spiritual environment." And this month, "Community Connections," a weekly newsletter with 1,300 subscribers, published a call for action of sorts: "Today, it is harder than ever to protect our children from influences that are at odds with the values and morals we try to instill in them," the article says. "It would be naïve to assume that a Wal-Mart Supercenter can open in our midst and not destroy some of which has so painstakingly been built."

Here, Wal-Mart has already agreed to conceal magazine covers that may be deemed offensive, such as the ones picturing celebrities in provocative outfits, "something that's new for us," Mr. Serghini said.

Some of the concerns are understandable, from a family perspective.

"The reason a lot of us came to live in Monsey is because we wanted to raise our families in a safe place, away from the influences of the outside world," said Yossi Weinberger, 30, a father of four who works at a local travel agency. "I'm not sure it will be easy to do it if we have such a gigantic piece of the outside world move to our town."

How close is the outside world moving?

If constructed, it would replace a Wal-Mart in Airmont, a village two miles to the east. Company officials estimate it would add 170 jobs.

Ultimately, this entire story raises a lot of questions about just how far libertarian philosophy should extend. Classic libertarian philosophy states that anyone can sell their land to anyone else, who can then utilize it for any lawful purpose. This new Wal-Mart store would fit into that model.

But what of all of the families who specifically moved to Monsey for the small-town, Hassidic atmosphere? Shouldn't they have a say in how the town changes? Shouldn't they have a chance to protect the lifestyle they painstakingly built?

There's already a Wal-Mart just two miles east of Monsey. So I don't know how much the town would really change and how much would just stay the same. And I don't know whether I support the town's desire to regulate or Wal-Mart's desire to build a new store.

Thoughts?

This entry was tagged. Libertarian

This One's For You, Papa

While I was growing up, my dad frequently mentioned a set of tapes he had once heard. The speaker on the tapes proclaimed that no American truly owed income taxes. He proclaimed that the entire tax code was a fraud foisted upon the American public and that you were free to earn income without paying taxes. The idea sounded kooky, but my dad (and I) was intrigued and, as I get older, asked me to help him investigate the idea.

Well, Papa, I've got your answers in. Reason magazine published a May 2004 article: "It's So Simple, It's Ridiculous": Taxing times for 16th Amendment rebels.

The partisans of the tax honesty movement go beyond complaining that the income tax is too high, or that out-of-control IRS agents enforce it in thuggish ways. They claim, for a dizzyingly complicated variety of reasons, that there is no legal obligation to pay it. The continued life -- and even flourishing -- of that notion, in the face of obloquy, fines, and jail sentences, says something fascinating about a peculiarly American spirit of defiance. It may even say something encouraging about what it means to live in a nation of laws, not of men.

Never has any court anywhere -- much less the IRS -- accepted as valid any of the many arguments the movement offers for how and why there is no legal obligation for individuals to pay federal income tax. In fact, courts will fine you up to $25,000 for even raising them, insisting such arguments have been rejected so often by so many courts at so many levels that they are patently frivolous and time-wasting.

Mr. Harry Browne Dies

Some sad news came down the pipeline today, at least for those of us who count ourselves closest in agreement, of all the United States' political parties, to the Libertarian Party. That is to say, the LP's presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, Mr. Harry Browne, has died. According to an AP article:

[Harry] Browne, an author and investment adviser, died at his home Wednesday night, family friend Jim Babka said. He died of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Browne received 485,134 votes, or 0.5 percent, for president in 1996 and 384,431, or 0.367 percent, in 2000.

A few of you out there may remember (yeah, sure you do) that Mr. Browne wrote How You Can Profit From The Coming Devaluation, in which he predicted powerful inflation and the dollar's losing its power. It's a good book.

While I'm mentioning Libertarian candidates, however, I have to ask: is the Libertarian Party's battle to wrestle one-half of one percent of the vote away from the dominant political parties here in America worth its trouble? Might the resources (and I really am just pontificating here, I don't know) not be better used in securing more and higher municipal offices than in playing the national gadfly?

Consider New York City or Chicago. A large percentage of the population know the names of these cities' mayors; more than know the names of their senators or governors, I'd be willing to bet. What if the Libertarian Party just threw its back one year into getting one of its people in such an office? I know the Libertarian Party's pollsters consistently find that more people would vote for them if they thought the Libertarian Party had a chance of winning. Seeing a viable Libertarian Party candidate-who does not owe his name recognition to celebrity status, like Clint Eastwood-in a serious office would go a long, long way to meeting that goal.

So I suppose what I'm saying here is, maybe an extremely impressive man like Mr. Harry Browne was wasted on a national platform.

This entry was tagged. Libertarian