Taxation Is Not Theft

In last August’s post “Spread the Wealth“, I talked about the justifications for redistributive taxation. I felt that some of the issues raised in the comments deserved to be revisited – and since it’s tax time here in the U.S., it’s worth a reminder of why we pay them and what we get out of it.

The centerpiece of the libertarian rhetorical strategy is to refer to taxation as theft, robbery, slavery. I’ve heard these epithets and others like them many times. It’s easy to see what purpose this serves: to make your concerns seem more important, it helps to refer to them not as bloodless policy differences, but as raw issues of justice. “The government is stealing from innocent people!” is a lot punchier and packs more emotional heft than any proposal, no matter how passionately worded, to simplify unnecessary regulations and cut down on bureaucratic red tape.

But this overheated claim is being asked to bear far more weight than it can possibly support. Of all the libertarian policy proposals out there (many others of which I agree with), the equation of taxation with theft is the least defensible. The fallacies in this should be obvious to a moment’s thought, but some people seem unwilling to take that moment, so I’ll go over them again in this post.

Libertarians say that taxation is like theft because it takes property from the unwilling. What they ignore, time and time again, is the crucial role of democratic consent. Taxes are not arbitrary impositions decreed by a faceless government. Rather, taxes are the dues we pay in exchange for membership in a society and access to all the services it offers.

The situation can be compared to a private club that charges a membership fee in exchange for providing benefits and amenities to its members. Obviously, the club is within its rights to charge whatever price it believes fair in exchange for this. If you believe the price is too high, you’re free to renounce your membership and leave the club. What you’re not free to do is to refuse to pay, but demand that you still be allowed to sit in the club and use its facilities. Nor are you free, if the club doesn’t offer this option, to decide that you only use some of its services – only the swimming pool, say, but not the sauna or the tennis courts – and should therefore have the right to pay a prorated membership fee. But these options, clearly absurd in this thought experiment, are the same ones libertarians claim they have a right to exercise in the real world.

The analogy of the club can be transferred in a precise way to society as a whole. Society is the club, and taxes are the membership dues we pay in exchange for the services it provides. If you don’t want to pay, if you dislike its terms, you can leave that society and seek another one. But you are not free to unilaterally demand that society rewrite its terms to favor your particular preferences.

Going hand-in-hand with the fallacious equation of taxation to theft is another libertarian fallacy: the belief that a free market is the natural state of affairs and will spontaneously arise if only the economy is left to itself. This is wrong. A free market is a kind of infrastructure, and like all other infrastructure, it requires investment to create and effort to maintain.

As centuries of history show, the natural state of an unregulated economy is not free competition, but stifled and constrained competition. Large, established powers, if given the chance, will do everything they can to suppress competition – whether through means fair or foul. From medieval guilds to industrial robber barons, the tactics are always the same: seizing the distribution channels, the infrastructure, the intellectual property, or the sources of raw material. Governments want to control vital resources in the name of national security; industry groups may take a hand in designing regulations that make it all but impossible for new players to enter the field. Outright intimidation, fraud and violence are often used against those who refuse to play along. Even the staunchly libertarian Cato Institute admits this:

It is no surprise, then, that throughout U.S. history corporations have been overwhelmingly hostile to the free market.

To maintain the preferable state of a free market, we need structure and regulation from the government. Taxation provides, among other things, the resources that are necessary to keep the free market running.

In my experience, most libertarians concede that some regulation is needed, but argue that they should only be taxed for services that benefit them directly. This is like demanding that businesses sell their goods to you for exactly what it cost to make them and no more. Just like any business, the government is entitled to “turn a profit” on the services it provides. Just as with a business, these proceeds can be reinvested, resulting in greater productivity and efficiency that ultimately benefit all members of society.

Of course, elected governments can spend tax money unwisely, on pork or boondoggles, and we as citizens have every right to complain about this and to oust officeholders who abuse the public trust. But the solution is not to abolish taxation, just as the solution to corporate fraud and malfeasance is not to ban all corporations. Any power can be abused, but that is not a reason to get rid of all power, which is impossible in any case. If taxes are spent unwisely or wasted, the answer is to elect better politicians or put in place more stringent legislative safeguards.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com Sabio

    Happy Tax Day ! Politically-correct Atheism — yuck ! Many, while still atheist, disagree with the taxation mentality.

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    Libertarians often seem to see ‘property’ as a semi-mystical force, naturally permeating the universe, and as such it’s somehow OK for government to use collective resources for the sole purpose of defending this natural magical right but nothing else.

    Which is nonsense, obviously. Property is a human abstraction, requires collective social agreement to function, has no inherent moral direction and would have limited-to-zero value without the active participation of other people.

  • Alex, FCD

    The other problem I see with an anarcho-capitalist system is that some services cannot be provided by any of several competing businesses. Electricity is one example: even if you wanted to compete with the electric company, what are you going to do? Install your own power grid? If a democratic government controls the power supply, at least I can vote against them if they charge me a billion dollars per killowatt hour and send enormous power surges to my house specifically if I complain.

  • Cerus

    When there is better accountability in government for bad/corrupt fiscal policy, I will stop considering these programs (rather, the tax increases that fund them) to be theft.

    I’m not an evil person, I’m not excessively selfish, if I could get a guarantee that 90+% of the taxes I paid were being used as efficiently as possible for truly humanitarian or utilitarian aims rather than to further some politicians power agenda, I would give gladly. I’m unfortunately fairly certain that my guarantee will never come without some serious political reform.

  • prase

    if I could get a guarantee that 90+% of the taxes I paid were being used as efficiently as possible for truly humanitarian or utilitarian aims rather than to further some politicians power agenda, I would give gladly

    Now it remains to figure out what efficience is possible. I consider it impossible that no money be spent on politicians’ personal interests. They are imperfect humans, after all. And don’t forget people often disagree on what’s an efficient solution even when ther are not selfishly personally interested in the problem.

  • Polly

    My only complaint about taxes is that up to half (if not secretly MORE!) of my tax dollars has gone into killing Iraqis, Pakistanis, and others in my name and developing even more weapons to do more damage in the future. Recently, my tax dollars have been going to line the pockets of people who are, by far, more wealthy than I will ever be. All so that we can inflate the economy with easy credit…AGAIN!

    Except for the recent election, on average about half or less of the eligible population votes. You can blame them like many do for being lazy or apathetic. Personally, I see their lack of participation as realism. Out of the 50% that do vote, about half end up disappointed when their candidate loses. So, what we have is system where about 25% of the population elects the president. The situation is probably worse for legislative seats, but I hope not. And it doesn’t matter, anyway because elected officials then do whatever lobbyists tell them. Who else will they listen to? You? me? That’s a joke. NO matter who you elect they mostly turn into the same person. Anyone who proposes a system or plan that isn’t firmly within the current paradigm that favors wealth and industry has little chance of getting elected.

    Because of that, I think democracy in the US is mostly just a sham. We’re the richest country so we can discount the poor as aberrations, and think everything is running at an acceptable level. We admit to faults, but we don’t think they’re systemic. I’d say many voters blame the victim for any faults of the system…
    until their own homes are foreclosed on or illness leads to bankruptcy. Then they find out just how much “freedom” costs.

    The more I think about it, the less sense Libertarianism makes. But, I don’t buy into the democracy argument either. You just have to recognize the fact that we are stronger when we support each other than when each man acts as an island. If you want to be an island, jump in the sea. Civilizations are by their very nature cooperative and you’ve gotta take the good with the bad. Charities are good but they can’t coordinate on large scales. Now, we can talk about ending extensive STATES altogether. But, I cannot think of a workable replacement that wouldn’t be conquered immediately by even a semi-organized state. Ask the native Americans.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    There is a big problem with the “democratic process”. First of all, this country was not intended to be a democracy. The form of government that the Founders originally gave us was a Constitutional Republic. This was not accidental. This was due to the observation that democracies devolve into tyrannies with the intermediate step of mob rule. Now that the electorate has discovered that it can vote itself the proceeds of the general treasury, we are witnessing the final days of what once was a great nation.

    Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • prase

    I have never understood why so many Americans make such a big deal from difference between democracy and constitutional republic. In the rest of the world, these two are almost synonymous.

  • Brian

    I have to agree with TX CHL Instructor and Cerus.

    Most of the money from our taxes go to programs that don’t work (millions of dollars are spent on abstinence only sexual education programs each year, for example) or to funding decisions by the government that we don’t support (the war, for example, as cited by posters before me).

    I have a hard time seeing a difference between an individual taking the money right out of my pocket, and a group of individuals voting to do it. Perhaps, after giving it further thought, there is a difference: it’s much easier to defend oneself against the single theif rather than the group of them.

    Taxes can serve an important purpose, and I would never endorse the idea of abolishing taxes all together. But when the money that I’m REQUIRED to pay doesn’t even go to the programs/services that work, I should have the option as someone with a right to my own property to refuse to allocate money to those programs/services.

    Indeed this problem would not be as salient in a constitutional republic.

  • Wedge

    Ebonmuse,

    Usually I agree with you wholeheartedly, but I have to take issue with two items in this post.

    First, taxation can indeed be theft. There are a number of governments in history who have used it to rob their populations blind. Taxation with representation is not theft.

    The distinction is important, because while some Libertarians may indeed believe the silliness that all taxation is theft, I think many people who support this view or vaguely feel the Libertarians have a point are not so much angry with taxation as with the feeling that the are underrepresented. As you say, it is the issue of democratic consent that is crucial.

    But this was the part that bothered me:

    The situation can be compared to a private club that charges a membership fee in exchange for providing benefits and amenities to its members. Obviously, the club is within its rights to charge whatever price it believes fair in exchange for this. If you believe the price is too high, you’re free to renounce your membership and leave the club…Society is the club, and taxes are the membership dues we pay in exchange for the services it provides. If you don’t want to pay, if you dislike its terms, you can leave that society and seek another one.

    No, no, a thousand times no. Society is not a private club that permits us to live here. This is our home. We create society, and govenment, to make it a better home.

    If society says that I can’t marry another woman, and if I don’t like it I can move to Canada, it is wrong. If someone dislikes any of society’s terms, telling them to like it or leave it is wrong. Under that philosophy, if someone is too poor or too specialized in their job–or just loves their home–then they have given up their right to reject society’s terms. Which is wrong.

    If someone dislikes the terms of a society, the structure of the government, or the color of the president’s tie, they have every right in the world to protest, spout nonsense, make noise, go to jail, or jump up and down and whine. Sometimes what they want is good, sometimes its bad, sometimes its insane but we don’t decide ahead of time what can be challenged and what can’t.

    If some small group or individual hadn’t unilaterally demanded that society change its terms, there would be no gay movement, no racial equality, no amendments to the constitution, no progress. Anyone and everyone absolutely has the right to demand change unilaterally. Whether or not what they get what they demand is another question. But it is the nutjobs and the outsiders who keep us challenging and questioning the government. And the unchallenged government, like the unexamined life, is not worth having.

    Of course, if they’re nutty enough, instead of social change they get a masterly smackdown on a blog. Which is all well and good.

  • Polly

    The form of government that the Founders originally gave us was a Constitutional Republic. This was not accidental. This was due to the observation that democracies devolve into tyrannies with the intermediate step of mob rule.

    Who makes decisions in this ideal Republic? And who gets to decide who makes those decisions? The law isn’t static. Choices have to be made constantly.
    So, for all practical purposes a republic either ends up becoming rule by elites or a “real” democracy. I would prefer the latter as I don’t see how “mob rule” is any worse than “greedy-rich-assholes rule.”

    Now that the electorate has discovered that it can vote itself the proceeds of the general treasury,

    Which country are you talking about? In the USA, I don’t see the majority of the people getting a disproportionately excessive amount of public finds – quite the opposite. I do see them paying most of the taxes and doing most of the work. If it were truly mob rule, we’d see a very different distribution of income and wealth.

    we are witnessing the final days of what once was a great nation.

    What period of the nation’s history do YOU think was better? And why?

    If this nation really is in its final days it might be due to endless expenses coming from pointless wars and from an economy based on smoke and mirrors instead of actual manufacturing of BENEFICIAL goods and services. None of which is the result of the general population’s input.

  • mikespeir

    Representative democracy is like pushing a rope. We can talk about how all we have to do is “throw the bums out,” but it’s rarely that easy, especially when we can’t agree on which are the bums. And, regardless, there’s always a lag between the time when we want to throw them out and when we get our chance. In the meantime the situation can change a lot. We’ve already moved on to the next hot topic. The one that got our representative, or whomever, in trouble a couple of years ago is now largely forgotten. Only now is he up for reelection and he just voted the way we like about something else.

    And, sure, we have to have taxes. Few would disagree. The problem is that they tend to creep up on us. Then, when we start to become uncomfortable, somebody comes along and explains that taxation isn’t a bad thing. Which altogether misses the point; the point being that it isn’t taxes per se that we’re grousing about, but the ever-increasing tax burden.

    Then, how does one opt out of this “club”? (A club, by the way, that most of us didn’t choose to join.) By moving to Canada? Is it better there? Or Mexico? Is it better there? What if they don’t want you there? What if you can’t afford to go there? It’s not quite so easy as disassociating oneself from a club, is it?

  • Chris Mifflin

    First, with all the mocking of (& it seems, of the concept itself, just not the Libertarian view) our right to property, I can’t really tell if the prevalent line of thought is meant to deny that we have property rights at all? Obviously we do. I hope this isn’t because the beginnings of these philosophies found it’s justification from god. It is true that Locke believed that the source of our rights was god, but just as we once cast off god as the creator of the universe in favor of a better, more correct explanation, might we for our conception of property rights? No one here that because we don’t believe in god, that we don’t have a right to our own life, would they? We don’t need god to justify that if I find a piece of wood on the beach a whittle it into something valuable, it is mine. What’s more, it is he who seeks to deprive me of my property who must justify taking it, or a portion thereof, away. This is where the argument falls apart.
    It shouldn’t take long to show how absurd the concept of democratic consent really is in plain terms. Taxes are dues in a private club if that is how you want them. I joined the club and agreed to pay for police, military, roads, and a few other things. The club and I agree on the terms of the contract, the services to be rendered, and the dues to be paid. I joined a swimming club with a pool. Now you want to change the terms of service and raise my dues in order to offer day care, a golf course, and pay for some members who are no longer able to pay their dues. To say nothing of the investment of my private capital that I’ve already invested in this club, your response is to leave if I don’t like it! That’s great if the the U.S. was a private club but it’s not. By the accident of my birth (and a fortunate one indeed!) I am an American. Since everything I am and know is here, not limited to family friends, house, profession, etc., moving isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. Say I decide to move, where? Don’t try to go to another first world country without a Ph.D. If you did, the libertarian would be very disappointed in the available choices: Socialist to the the last one, albeit to varying conditions. So then where should we go? Africa? Not a good place for a libertarian American, much less an atheist. South America? China? Russia? There’s no place to go unless you really unless you, yourself is a first (maybe second) generation immigrant. This is also assuming the party being robbed has enough money left to go anywhere after the government is done shaking them upside down. America is supposed to be the place receiving the poor, tired, and hungry, NOT sending them out. It is what sets our society apart from all that came before us. We are not the meat grinder of a government that takes and takes and takes until there is nothing left but to take the persons life as well. So put aside any notions of your democratic consent. Free thinking atheists shouldn’t have to be convinced of the tyranny of the majority.
    That is why a libertarian idea of taxes is superior. The less taxes, the better. Government should be kept at a minimum for good reason. Libertarians don’t take for granted that business can be exploitive, but business is ALWAYS preferable to government. Business can be boycotted, government can’t. Business can be sued for the harm it creates; government cannot be sued. It’s a choice between big and biggest. Liberal chose to fight the evil of business with inherent coersivnes of the government. Libertarian recognize that in this world you are are forced to fight with one of these entities, we just prefer to fight the smaller giant without enlisting the larger(except when they violate constituted rights).
    In our democratic society we would have a clear choice if republicans were really Libertarians, but alas, they are not. Libertarians are generally very liberal socially and the ultimate fiscal conservatives. Republicans are just as bad as Democrats on the subject of taxation. Most often, regardless of how one votes, they are doomed to a politician who will sell out the rightness of fiscally conservative policy by currying favor with their constituencies the only way they know how: by doling out tax payers’ hard earned money.But we are told “Taxes are not arbitrary impositions decreed by a faceless government. Rather, taxes are the dues we pay in exchange for membership in a society and access to all the services it offers.” This is a fanciful notion at best. First , it is contradictory to claim that taxes are not arbitrary impositions, but dues, while at the same time acknowledging their changing nature. Again, I don’t think anyone denies that we ought to pay taxes at all, the question is how many things should we add to the list? If the tax code is rational and fair, why can’t the average American understand it? So, second, this really only begs the question, what are our dues to pay for and how high do we agree they may go?
    I’ve already mentioned some more general philosophical reasons why taxes ought to remain at a minimum, but there are many practical reasons too. The bigger government gets, the more inefficient it becomes. Government is notoriously difficult to reform. Entitlements given are almost never taken away. Nothing is worse than an oppressive government and perhaps the blatant rights violations of more totalitarian regimes serves this point better than a democracy like our own , but there are real and practical consequences to the loss of legitimacy as taxes get higher. We fought a war against one of the worlds more progressive democracies over taxation. Sure money isn’t everything, but it represents everything. After a hard days work it’s what every American has to fall back on to show that they’ve accomplished something(this is especially true if your profession doesn’t produce a tangible item like a home, building, painting, etc.). It buys the food that sustains their lives and the lives of their children. It pays for the rent for the roof over their heads and it pays for the heat or air that keeps them comfortable when they sleep at night. It is ironic that the analogy of dues is used, because when I use the term, the philosophy lover I am, my mind turns to Justice and fairness. Taking peoples hard earned money for the arbitrary, interest group focused, vote pandering is unfair, unjust, and illegitimate. We’d all be better served by taking this idea more seriously, not less as the author suggests. And to the authors suggestion that unrestrained capitalism exploits and oppresses, this may be better understood by substituting the word humankind for capitalism. The flaw is assuming that business or government must be supreme, but there is a third option. For the Libertarian, the individual is supreme. To stick with the false dichotomy is to trade one master for another. I suppose little has chained since Rousseau noted that man is free, yet everywhere he is in chains.

  • Polly

    @mikespeir,

    Then, how does one opt out of this “club”? (A club, by the way, that most of us didn’t choose to join.) By moving to Canada? Is it better there? Or Mexico? Is it better there? What if they don’t want you there? What if you can’t afford to go there? It’s not quite so easy as disassociating oneself from a club, is it?

    Good point. I took up too much page space, so I didn’t want to bring it up. But, since you did…

    STATES have monopolized virtually all terrestrial territory. So, “opting out” isn’t really viable. I think the fair thing to do (and I mean this) is to set aside some large tract of land adjacent to each nation-state where dissenters can live their lives free from all regulations, laws, fees, rules, etc. in complete autonomy, drilled-down to the individual level. They can build their own infrastructure or none at all. They can have their weapons and fend off other man-islands. Of course, there’d have to be a separation barrier between these tracts and the official nations so they couldn’t try to have their cake and eat it, too. But, there would also be easements to allow them free movement between autonomous regions. (I’ve thought about something like this in terms of a sci-fi civilization.) I might even be one of those who’d try it out – taking my rifles with me of course. :)

  • http://fallofhate.blogspot.com BJ

    Echoing some of the others above, I usually like reading your stuff, but today you are off the mark. Simply because you are getting something in return does not make it any less of a theft. It’s not so much like a private club to which you voluntarily join and contractually agree to pay their fees as it is a territorial gang that runs a protection racket. I was born into the USA, which is run by a violent, inaccessible oligarchy that uses force or coercion to accomplish its goals, including territorial expansion and resource exploitation. I didn’t ask for any of these things (alleged benefits of the “social contract”), I don’t want them, and to tell me that I have to pay for the criminal gangs to continue to enforce their supremacy is absolutely theft. Because they might throw me a bone occasionally does not make it any less of a stick-up. If you stopped paying dues to the private club in your example, would they imprison you and begin to auction your other property to satisfy the fees that you owe them?

    The others above have already pointed out the inability of anyone to opt-out of the system, so the “social contract” is really more of a demand than a contract. After all, one-sided contracts are not enforceable.

    I’ll grant you the free market argument, but only because I’m an anarcho-syndicalist. :)

  • Christopher

    Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

    My thoughts exactly.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Yup. I also want to add this:

    …but argue that they should only be taxed for services that benefit them directly.

    The other problem with this argument (in addition to the one you cited) is that many public services do benefit everybody… just not directly.

    Example: Some people complain that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes for schools if they don’t have kids. But making sure that children are educated so they can grow up to be productive members of society… that does benefit everybody.

    And the other other problem is that “pay as you go” can be extremely inefficient. If you only pay for upkeep on the parks that you spend time in… does each park have to have its own separate administration and budget? That would be insanely inefficient. It’s much more efficient for all the city’s parks to be handled by one Parks Department, and for all of us to pool our resources into that one Parks budget.

    Now, of course, if a particular service really and truly only benefits a handful of people and yet we’re all paying for it, then maybe that service should be transferred to the private sector. It’s often worth debating whether (X) service should be handled publicly or privately, and to what degree its management should be centralized or not. But when one side of that debate is just always reflexively saying “Taxes are bad, mmkay” it’s hard for that debate to be serious or fruitful.

  • prase

    I think the fair thing to do (and I mean this) is to set aside some large tract of land adjacent to each nation-state where dissenters can live their lives free from all regulations, laws, fees, rules, etc. in complete autonomy, drilled-down to the individual level.

    In complete autonomy, the dissenters’ society would quickly develop into new state, probably much worse than the one from which these dissenters came. But I support your suggestion. At least it would let the libertarians test their theories in practice.

  • Jormungund

    I am a libertarian and I support taxes. I think we should keep in mind that most libertarians are mild. They don’t want anarcho-capitalism anymore than you do. I have only once actually met an anarcho-capitalist. I agree that they are nuts. But as I understand it a vast majority of libertarians merely want lower taxes and less government waste. We see bloated bureaucracies and bloated military spending and bloated pork spending and we want to reduce them. We don’t want to dismantle the US government or end all taxation. I personally would like lower taxes and lower government spending on some matters, but I know that taxation and theft and slavery are all very different things.
    Imagine the small-government rhetoric that some conservatives use. That is what libertarians actually want: a small and constrained government. We also want to increase people’s personal freedoms in many of the same ways that progressives do.
    That being said, I will admit that the relatively small amount of anarchist crazies are loud and obnoxious enough to make everyone see libertarians as longing for some sort of Ayn Randian dystopia.
    Please don’t let a few loud anarcho-capitalists pervert your view of us.

  • nfpendleton

    Good show, Ebon. I agree completely. Now, make sure you’ve got your helmet on…

  • http://fallofhate.blogspot.com BJ

    “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” -James Madison

  • Karen

    Interesting article on this very topic by Natalie Angier in yesterday’s NY Times Science section.

    Seems that even non-human species tax their members for the benefits of belonging to the group.

  • Johan

    While I’m not a libertarian or an anarchist (please keep this in mind while you read this), I think you ought to rethink this:

    “Libertarians say that taxation is like theft because it takes property from the unwilling. What they ignore, time and time again, is the crucial role of democratic consent. Taxes are not arbitrary impositions decreed by a faceless government. Rather, taxes are the dues we pay in exchange for membership in a society and access to all the services it offers.”

    What if the “democratic consensus” favors execution of gays? What if the “democratic consensus” demands that everyone wear red socks on Tuesdays? I think these are major issues that any proponent of the social contract view should think about.

    Personally, I find the social contract theory, natural rights theory and utilitarianism – all three of them – deeply flawed. None can be proven. The social contract theory is closest to how things work, but then again, it runs the risks of what I mentioned above. Not to mention that when states formed historically, there was certainly no “social contract” being signed…

    I think we skeptics and freethinkers should subject politics to skeptical inquiry as well. Much of politics is about values, and thus neither true or false, but certain claims made about the world in a political context might be true or false. Let me give an example:

    A socialist might say: “We should strive for absolute equality.” That’s a value, and thus neither true or false. You can’t disprove it, but you can’t prove it either. However, if the same socialist goes on and say that: “Command economies tend to perform better than Western-style market economies”, then he’s making a claim about the world and history. A falsifiable claim that is either true or false.

  • Leum

    Imagine the small-government rhetoric that some conservatives use. That is what libertarians actually want: a small and constrained government. We also want to increase people’s personal freedoms in many of the same ways that progressives do.

    Jormungund, I don’t have to imagine it, I can go there. It’s called Norquist’s bathtub (formerly the city of New Orleans).

    On a fundamental level I do not trust the “small government” rhetoric. It invariably means taking power out of the hands of the semi-accountable (ie the government) and into the hands of the unaccountable (ie corporations or criminals). If small government types talked half as earnestly about curbing the power of multinational corporations as they do about getting rid of government power I might at least be able to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • Curtis

    Theft is an accurate description of deficit spending. We are greedy assholes who are stealing from our children. My daughter will owe $70,000 before she gets to vote for the first time. That is taxation without representation and it is despicable.

    And don’t tell me we are helping the children. As we saddle them with debt, most states are cutting their educational spending. Pathetic.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    I think this is the first serious disagreement I’ve had with this website.

    If taxation is not theft, then why does it need the support of guns and violence to support it? Is that not the exact definition of theft? If I disagree with the way that a company is spending the money I give it(lets say they slaughter babies) then I’m free to take my money elsewhere. This isn’t so with the state. The state makes it illegal for me to not pay, and also in most cases, makes it illegal to set up competition to the government. So I’m not allowed to create less violent alternatives, and I’m also forced to pay.

    Can you explain where I’m wrong?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    I agree with those who say Ebon’s “off the mark” today. Ebon, you seem very concerned about Libertarians and

    …the fallacious equation of taxation to theft,

    but I’m very concerned about fallacious equations of taxation to duty. Blind acceptance of either fallacy entails its own set of maladies, neither any more profitable for the general populace than the other.

    Large, established powers, if given the chance, will do everything they can to suppress competition – whether through means fair or foul. …To maintain the preferable state of a free market, we need structure and regulation from the government. Taxation provides, among other things, the resources that are necessary to keep the free market running.

    I agree with you that “the solution is not to abolish taxation.” I share your concerns about “large, established powers.” I agree that the government should punish crime no matter who commits it. Still, I’d have trouble voting for you. Sure, taxation can provide the resources necessary to keep the free market running – but taxation can also provide precisely the types of fears, injustices and imbalances that stifle the free market. There’s much more to “the club and its members” than I feel you’ve presented.

    Libertarians say that taxation is like theft because it takes property from the unwilling. What they ignore, time and time again, is the crucial role of democratic consent. Taxes are not arbitrary impositions decreed by a faceless government. Rather, taxes are the dues we pay in exchange for membership in a society and access to all the services it offers.

    I’m not a Libertarian, and I won’t agree generically that “taxation is theft,” but I will say that sometimes taxation can be theft. Yes, “taxes are the dues we pay in exchange for membership in a society,” – in theory – but as Polly noted, what about all the taxes I paid to Bush’s war, or that my parents paid to Reagan’s schemes? Does paying for the sporadic whims of shady politicians constitute “membership in society?” Does being an American entail that any politician can extract additional monies or misuse current ones for whatever purpose they want? Of course not. Anyone with even half-a-brain knows that taxes most certainly can become, “arbitrary impositions decreed by a faceless government,” so to me, the question isn’t so much whether taxation is theft, but when.

    The analogy of the club can be transferred in a precise way to society as a whole. Society is the club, and taxes are the membership dues we pay in exchange for the services it provides. If you don’t want to pay, if you dislike its terms, you can leave that society and seek another one. But you are not free to unilaterally demand that society rewrite its terms to favor your particular preferences.

    Yet, those stubborn few who unilaterally demanded precisely such “rewriting of society’s terms” catalyzed the formation of the most emulated document in human history. I think you’re treating the subject a bit naively, Ebon. Yes, as Americans, we’re morally obligated to pay taxes – but the social contract goes both ways – and our moral obligation to pay taxes must be preceded by our government’s moral obligation to handle our monies properly. Sure, if I tell the bouncer at the local boobie trap, “Hey man, I’m only paying half this cover charge because I don’t like Jenny or Sally, only Betty and Jane,” then I grant that I’d be making an unrealistic demand of the club. On the other hand – what if it came to light that monies I was told funded club services really funded the club owner’s personal drug and gang affiliations? Should I incur Ebon’s charges of being an immoral club member by not paying dues? Or should I incur my own charges of immorality by continuing to pay the very same dues that sustain the club’s? Not that easy, is it?

    You seem to be ignoring the moral angles and defending a rather simplified position – that “taxation is not theft because we all owe the club.” That’s only half the story, and is only correct under the presupposition that the club is handling our money morally. Only then is the club justified to ask for more, and that our club is doing the best it can with what it has is not a presupposition I’m willing to grant.

    Cerus,

    When there is better accountability in government for bad/corrupt fiscal policy, I will stop considering these programs (rather, the tax increases that fund them) to be theft.

    Yes, me too.

    Polly,

    Except for the recent election, on average about half or less of the eligible population votes. You can blame them like many do for being lazy or apathetic. Personally, I see their lack of participation as realism.

    Thank you. You’re the first person who’s made me feel good for not voting. I think our current democracy is a sham, too – and following along by the sham’s rules only further empowers the sham.

    Brian,

    I have a hard time seeing a difference between an individual taking the money right out of my pocket, and a group of individuals voting to do it.

    Yes, me too.

    Wedge,

    No, no, a thousand times no. Society is not a private club that permits us to live here. This is our home. We create society, and govenment, to make it a better home.

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes I agree with you.

    mikespeir,

    Then, how does one opt out of this “club”? (A club, by the way, that most of us didn’t choose to join.) By moving to Canada? Is it better there? Or Mexico? Is it better there? What if they don’t want you there? What if you can’t afford to go there? It’s not quite so easy as disassociating oneself from a club, is it?

    Valid points, and I’d like to up the ante: Let’s grant that one day we will all live in a one-world “club” – then where do we run to when the club leadership corrupts?

    Curtis,

    Theft is an accurate description of deficit spending. We are greedy assholes who are stealing from our children. My daughter will owe $70,000 before she gets to vote for the first time. That is taxation without representation and it is despicable.

    Yes.

  • matt foley

    cl — Cheer up. Just do the best you can! If you agree with Curtis, then work to support politicians who won’t increase our debt and require such a huge tax burden. You can’t one up mikespeir now, this is the society of which you are a part. Work to make it better. You can feel better about not voting but you really shouldn’t complain if you can’t decide what option is best or don’t wish to take a stand. The fact is we all deerive certain benefits from the society we live in and therefore should be happy to pay our fair share. What that means is where we need meaningful debate. We should demand honesty and integrity from our elected officials regardless of what party elected them.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    A few remarks:

    First, taxation can indeed be theft. There are a number of governments in history who have used it to rob their populations blind. Taxation with representation is not theft.

    Point taken. I would also add that if my government prevents me from leaving and no longer being subject to their laws, then their taxation of me could be described as theft, even if it’s enacted through a democratic process.

    If society says that I can’t marry another woman, and if I don’t like it I can move to Canada, it is wrong.

    I don’t think that the issue of same-sex marriage is comparable to the issue of taxation. The way I see it, every person, and every society, has the moral obligation to act justly. If my government acts unjustly by discriminating against me – whether because I’m gay, or because I’m atheist, or because anything else – then they are in the wrong and should be changed, even if I could theoretically move to another society where that discrimination doesn’t exist.

    Certainly, there are ways that taxation could be unjust: a majority group could vote for a minority group to shoulder the majority’s fair share of the tax burden, for example. As I said in my post, taxation could also be used for wasteful or immoral ends, such as waging a war in Iraq on false pretenses. But neither of those cases mean that taxation itself is unjust, only that it can be directed to unjust ends. But that’s no different from any other power of the government, even the ones that libertarians agree should exist.

    mikespeir and Chris Mifflin raise a similar point:

    Then, how does one opt out of this “club”? (A club, by the way, that most of us didn’t choose to join.) By moving to Canada? Is it better there? Or Mexico? Is it better there? What if they don’t want you there? What if you can’t afford to go there?

    That’s great if the the U.S. was a private club but it’s not. By the accident of my birth (and a fortunate one indeed!) I am an American. Since everything I am and know is here, not limited to family friends, house, profession, etc., moving isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. Say I decide to move, where? Don’t try to go to another first world country without a Ph.D. If you did, the libertarian would be very disappointed in the available choices: Socialist to the the last one, albeit to varying conditions. So then where should we go?

    I agree that all these are valid problems that a would-be emigrant might face. But the same holds true even within a capitalist society: you might hate your current job, yet be unable to leave because you wouldn’t have any way to support yourself if you quit and you can’t find another. That doesn’t mean that you’ve been enslaved; it just means that being free to choose is not the same thing as always having a choice that you like. And, I would also add, libertarians should ask themselves why it is the case that their version of utopia doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.

  • matt foley

    “………The way I see it, every person, and every society, has the moral obligation to act justly. If my government acts unjustly by discriminating against me – whether because I’m gay, or because I’m atheist, or because anything else – then they are in the wrong and should be changed, even if I could theoretically move to another society where that discrimination doesn’t exist……”Ebonmuse

    But who decides what is moral? What are the standards by which actions are judged as being just?

  • MS Quixote

    I’ll grant you the free market argument, but only because I’m an anarcho-syndicalist. :)

    And thirty-seven years old, I presume :)

  • bbk

    Brian and others with a similar outlook – yes it is true that the government spends money on many unpopular or corrupt programs. Let that be your motivation to change the government and get rid of the problems. Taxation has been one of the strongest drivers of political change in recent history. Seems like a no-brainer to me: taxation encourages participation in the democratic process.

  • Chris Mifflin

    Ebonmuse,
    The answer to your question is simple: a Libertarian utopia doesn’t exist because power absolutely corrupts. Setting aside moments of crises, war of financial, the trend is for liberty to erode and government to grow, these two phenomenons not being unrelated. History offers reams of evidence to this and I think it is uncontroversial. There’s good reason for this too, there is great benefit to having power, not to mention expanding it, and abusing it.
    Moreover, Libertarianism isn’t a doctrine that lends itself to reproduction. Arguably the US was envisioned libertarian by many of the founding fathers, but the bickering began instantly. Since capitalism arose in the only areas mercantilism hadn’t extended its long arm to, and considering the ensuing political history was dominated by monarchies, facists, imperialists, communists, and now Islamists, is it any wonder that a more passive philosophy of government hasn’t dominated? In this respect, Libertarianism is an interesting meme worth discussing. On face, I can tell from reading the comments, our ideas seem strange. However, they are indispensable to the maintainence of a free society, freedom, and progress. History is also rife with examples of how the government has abused its powers and these powers have their source in money. There is a reason all spending in our government must originate in the House of Representatives and it is no accident that it requires more than a simple majority. Democracy and libertarianism can’t keep pace because a politician who can’t bring home the bacon isn’t worth much. The most you could say about a Libertarian politician is (s)he didn’t do anything . . . or that (s)he tried to dismantle the system. You could tout expanded freedom, but most people see freedom as a special interest group issue. People only think about freedom when it is denied to them or they see it denied to others in a way that is relevant to them. So at most a Libertarian would have to achieve success by satisfying a broad coalition of interest groups, which probably puts us right back in the mess we started unless voters fundamentally change what they expect from their government. It’s freedom or a gift bag.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    I used to be a libertarian, but became dissatisfied with it, particularly the insistence of its advocates in turning everything into a commodity.

    For example, I once asked libertarian advocate Jacob Hornberger what he saw as the libertarian solution to littering. His reply, “Privatize the sidewalks.”

    How the hell do you privatize sidewalks? Who would want to own one? What would you do, charge pedstrians to walk on it? Let businesses pay to spray paint advertisements on it?

    That being said, I don’t think all ideas that could loosely be considered libertarian are bad. Going back to Hornberger, I agreed with a lot of what he wrote against the war in Iraq and the war on drugs. I just no longer buy the whole package.

  • Clemens

    An exellent article. But let me add one thought: I live in the center of Europe. As we have heaps of different countries here, we can compare the effects of different policies. We have capitalistic Great Britain, we have the liberal Netherlands and we have the really social-democractic Scandinavian countries.

    As it happens, the happiest people of the world according to UN surveys are Danes, Norwegians and Swedes. All those countries have ridiculously high taxes when compared to the U.S. So how can they be so happy? You must not only look at how high the taxes are, but also at what you get for it. Just an example: A Danish student doesn’t have to pay tuition fees. Instead, the government pays him 500 EUR ($660) a month. See it as an tax-paid investment in the countries future. Other facilities like kindergarten are for free as well and when you get unemployed you don’t get homeless the next day.

    In the private club analogy, you’d say that a very exclusive club with excellent facilities will charge a higher membership fee. If this fee is not much higher than that of a club with significantly less to offer, you will be glad to pay more.

  • Alex Weaver

    For example, I once asked libertarian advocate Jacob Hornberger what he saw as the libertarian solution to littering. His reply, “Privatize the sidewalks.”

    How the hell do you privatize sidewalks? Who would want to own one? What would you do, charge pedstrians to walk on it? Let businesses pay to spray paint advertisements on it?

    I wonder what his solution would be to air pollution.

  • Johan

    “I wonder what his solution would be to air pollution.”

    Maybe privatizing the air? (:

  • Brian Zaboski

    bbk

    Just because we can vote to change some parts of the system doesn’t excuse the current problems.

    With the current system we need a majority rule for change to occur, but look at how difficult that is in a system that rewards (majority) stupidity!

    We are even struggling to get equal marriage rights because the majority (Christians) doesn’t support them.

    Personally, I’m not at all comforted by the fact that if the majority decides to be irrational, then all I can do is try to outvote them.

    Imo, irrationality should not be supported.

  • goyo

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with cl…maybe if our tax money were spent in a more responsible manner, more people wouldn’t be so unhappy about paying it.
    As a libertarian I don’t view taxes as evil, I just resent having my hard-earned money being squandered.
    I’ve also been thinking about the European model lately. It seems like our current administration is trying to move in that direction. I’m willing to consider it. I just want accountability.
    (I’m writing this the day after the nationwide tea parties.)

  • Christopher

    In complete autonomy, the dissenters’ society would quickly develop into new state, probably much worse than the one from which these dissenters came. But I support your suggestion. At least it would let the libertarians test their theories in practice.

    As one who actually lives this lifestyle, I can tell you that there is little danger of that happening: you see, there isn’t enough unity around which anything resembling a national identity can develop – no common goals (other than keeping the social mainstream out of our hair, of course), no common values besides unlimited free trade (much of it based on the barter system – even the computer I use was bartered for) and no common set of beliefs to draw us closer than necessity dictates (folks with this lifestyle in my area range from religious nutters awaiting the end-times to anarchist hippies looking for there next acid score) – I don’t like them, but we get along well enough to do business.

    I’ll admit that this lifestyle isn’t the greatest source of material comfort (not a whole lot of money in this lifestyle, bartered goods tend to be second-hand, etc…), but we do enjoy greater levels of individual liberty than folks trapped in the downward spiral of mainstream society – constantly sacrificing their personal freedoms for “the common good.” Furthermore, we know that everything we have (as little as that is compared to people in the mainstream) is 100% ours: we have our own water (taken from wells we dug), our own power (provided by solar pannels and back-up generators) and our own economy – limiting the effects of mainstream society’s economic recession on us.

    Say what you will about how “right” or “wrong” this lifestyle is – just know that it has advantages over yours and that the dangers (i.e. new state) are blown out of proportion.

  • Curtis

    “[W]ork to support politicians who won’t increase our debt and require such a huge tax burden.”

    I just wish I could find some who think that way while in the majority. One the many reasons I hated Bush was his irresponsible spending. I voted for Obama hoping he would have a Clintonian attitude to deficits.

    Unfortunately, Obama appears to be the least fiscally responsible president ever. According to the CBO, his plans has lead to a deficit of $1.2 trillion (!!!!) in 2019. Check out table 1.1:

    http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/100xx/doc10014/03-20-PresidentBudget.pdf

  • Johan

    “I’ve also been thinking about the European model lately. It seems like our current administration is trying to move in that direction. I’m willing to consider it. I just want accountability.”

    In that case, you must decentralize radically. Many Europeans think that the EU already is too centralized, yet it is much less centralized than the USA.

  • Pi Guy

    Ebon,

    I think that you’re painting libertarians with too broad a brush. I, too, consider myself to be libertarian in philosophy but am not organizing a log cabin pow wow to plan a cessation movement. And I do not think of taxation as theft. Perhaps I should clarify what I, and many who also support the libertarian cause, believe that it means.

    We tend to view the political spectrum as running from liberal to conservative on one axis but this is a gross simplification. There are (at least) two dimensions on the Lib-Cons grid. Most who espouse conservatism are, in theory, both fiscally conservative (minimal government, minimal taxes) and socially conservative (“marriage is b/w one man and one woman”, “one nation under god”). Likewise for a liberal in that they tend toward fiscally (redistribution of wealth, social programs) and socially (pro-choice, gay rights) liberal thinking. But what do you call someone who is socially liberal (equal access and opportunity for all) and fiscally (“stop spending my money on nation building!”) conservative? Polls indicate that many people describe themselves this way and I believe that that’s what most people who call themselves libertarian believe. I am one of them.

    I agree with Greta that programs such as schools and others such as roads that don’t end at the Maryland-Pennsylvania line are worthy and, for the most part, make good use of our taxes and benefit all of us. But BJ’s James Madison quote is also worth bearing in mind when we, the people, pay to support programs such as faith-based initiatives, abstinence-only sex ed, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, et al. So, while I am a libertarian, I don’t believe that all taxes are theft and understand that even the government should be able to turn a profit. It could come in handy for a rainy day. I just happen think that the government has crossed the line into price gouging. We are paying way more for the services that the government provides than they are worth and we, the people, have a duty to call them into check and make them give us value for our contributions. Billions of dollars in weapons, transportation, bribes, and human capital have not brought us or the rest of the world anything close to billions of dollars worth of security or standing in the rest of the world’s eyes. Same for the War on Drugs.

    The root of libertarianism is liberty, or freedom. Nothing more or less. And, more than anything else, many who think like me feel that the Constitution provides the basis for something similar to the Lemon Test. In other words, if it does not further a cause for freedom for all (read “secular purpose”), it’s not to be permitted no matter how many people benefit from even if – or perhaps especially if – they comprise a majority. If taxes pay for something that we say benefits all, then we need to see a better return on our investment. To wit, it must be demonstrated that the service provided contributes to the betterment of society. If not, we are duty-bound as citizens to speak out.

    Lastly, casting all libertarians in the same light is as wrong as thinking that all atheists are baby-killing, amoral, mass-murderers. If it’s wrong for non-atheists to think that about us (atheists) then it’s wrong for you to think that about, uh, us (libertarians).

  • Staceyjw

    I don’t think taxes are unnecessary, but this doesn’t make the amount they take (and they do TAKE)acceptable. The middle and upper middle class bear all the burden, and get the fewest of the benefits. It is a disgrace.

  • prase

    Christopher, if you say this:

    As one who actually lives this lifestyle, I can tell you that there is little danger of that [libertarian societies spontaneously evolving into states] happening: you see, there isn’t enough unity around which anything resembling a national identity can develop – no common goals (other than keeping the social mainstream out of our hair, of course), no common values besides unlimited free trade

    I think that you seriously overestimate the allegiance of libertarians to nonconformity. I am pretty sure that many of these folks you describe would gladly become mercenaries of some power-wanting warlord, if only he pays enough. Money can unite lots of very diverse people. And if there are miraculously no potential tyrants among present libertarians, once you install the anarchy, you will be powerless against infiltration of non-libertarians trying to seize an opportunity. In short, I think you have very idealised incorrect opinion about human nature.

  • Alex Weaver

    I don’t think taxes are unnecessary, but this doesn’t make the amount they take (and they do TAKE)acceptable. The middle and upper middle class bear all the burden, and get the fewest of the benefits. It is a disgrace.

    If they weren’t benefitting from the social infrastructure the taxes support, they wouldn’t be “middle and upper class,” masturbatory pretenses about being “self-made” notwithstanding.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    “I think that you seriously overestimate the allegiance of libertarians to nonconformity. I am pretty sure that many of these folks you describe would gladly become mercenaries of some power-wanting warlord, if only he pays enough.”

    We already have that, it’s call the state. The state uses violence to resolve most of it’s conflicts. Taxation is violence.

    And about taxation without representation… No one can represent me without consent, so taxation for me *IS* theft. If anyone can explain how taxation is not exactly the same as theft, I’ll be persuaded. If someone takes my money without my permission… that’s the definition of theft, is it not?

  • Alex Weaver

    And about taxation without representation… No one can represent me without consent, so taxation for me *IS* theft. If anyone can explain how taxation is not exactly the same as theft, I’ll be persuaded. If someone takes my money without my permission… that’s the definition of theft, is it not?

    You benefit from the infrastructure of society, whether you realize it or not. When the waiter brings you your check after you’ve finished a meal in a restaurant, is that “theft” too?

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    You benefit from the infrastructure of society, whether you realize it or not. When the waiter brings you your check after you’ve finished a meal in a restaurant, is that “theft” too?”

    Do you agree that there’s an objective difference between asking for a service (a hearty meal), and being forced to pay for a service that you didn’t ask for (overseas warfare)? If so, I don’t understand why you’d ask the question in the first place. But no, a waiter bringing you a bill for an order that you placed isn’t theft, it’s a purchase.

  • Leum

    I didn’t ask for overseas warfare, but to reduce the user fee of governance, I agreed to buy government with a large group, and the majority of that group wanted overseas warfare.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    An administrative note:

    In a comment which I’ve deleted, Christopher advocated nonpayment of taxes. This is the second time he’s attempted to post a comment to this site which advocated breaking the law, after I had specifically warned him in e-mail not to do this. Since he chose to disregard that warning, he will not be returning.

    Also, for the record: Christopher’s comments came from IP addresses located in the Dallas metropolitan area. Unless there’s an anarchist commune somewhere in downtown Fort Worth that we don’t know about, which I doubt, I would advise viewing his boasting with skepticism.

  • Julia

    Pi Guy said:

    We tend to view the political spectrum as running from liberal to conservative on one axis but this is a gross simplification. There are (at least) two dimensions on the Lib-Cons grid. Most who espouse conservatism are, in theory, both fiscally conservative (minimal government, minimal taxes) and socially conservative (“marriage is b/w one man and one woman”, “one nation under god”). Likewise for a liberal in that they tend toward fiscally (redistribution of wealth, social programs) and socially (pro-choice, gay rights) liberal thinking. But what do you call someone who is socially liberal (equal access and opportunity for all) and fiscally (“stop spending my money on nation building!”) conservative?

    That is the US, 2 party model, which is pretty limiting from my view up here in the north. Until (relatively) recently in Canada we had the Progressive Conserative party whose platform was (roughly) liberal/centralist on social issues, conservative on economic issues. Their demise and the rise of the Conservative party (con social, con economic) is in my opinion unfortunate for us up here. Well the demise of Progressive conservatives is unfortunate, while the rise of Reform/Conservative isn’t unfortunate (choice is good), but I just don’t agree with their policies.

    If I could suggest just one reform for the US political system, it would be to move away from the 2 party system.

    For example, here in Canada the Green party has never had a member of parliment (except for one person who was independant and joined the Green party after being voted in). However, because we’ve had outsider political parties grow from nothing into serious national parties in less than a decade (Reform/Alliance), and have also had major parties become decimated in the same amount of time (Social Credit/Progressive Conservatives), I have noticed that the mainstream parties still take the Greens seriously (or at least don’t dismiss them entirely) and that is reflected in the policies of those mainstream parties.

    Anyway, I’m off on a tangent, but I just wanted to suggest that imo the 2 party system is hurting the US.

  • staceyjw

    I never said we dont benefit, or shouldn’t pay. Just because the social structure allows for this middle ground to exist, doesnt mean we should be stuck with such a heavy tax burden (as % of income paid out). I dont mind supporting the poor, or social programs- but I DO mind supporting the super rich, esp their tax breaks.
    The middle (and upper middle- NOT upper) class is rapidly disappearing, for many reasons. Sad.

    And Christopher- Im glad I dont live in a world that follows your philosophy. Dallas may be in TX, but its still a city that requires funds to operate.

    Staceyjw

  • Alex Weaver

    I never said we dont benefit, or shouldn’t pay. Just because the social structure allows for this middle ground to exist, doesnt mean we should be stuck with such a heavy tax burden (as % of income paid out). I dont mind supporting the poor, or social programs- but I DO mind supporting the super rich, esp their tax breaks.
    The middle (and upper middle- NOT upper) class is rapidly disappearing, for many reasons. Sad.

    Ah, misread. That changes it a bit, yes.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    We already have that, it’s call the state. The state uses violence to resolve most of it’s conflicts. Taxation is violence.

    Working backwards: taxation is violence only if you redefine violence to be meaningless. Further, you’re correct that states use violence (or the threat thereof), but this really isn’t a big deal. That’s the definition of a state: a community of people who successfully claim a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory (paraphrased from memory from Max Weber). If a “state” cannot enforce its laws inside a territory (regardless of whether those laws are Good or Bad), it isn’t a state, at least not within that territory. This of course doesn’t preclude private citizens from using force, but said force has to be legitimized by the state.

    And about taxation without representation… No one can represent me without consent, so taxation for me *IS* theft. If anyone can explain how taxation is not exactly the same as theft, I’ll be persuaded. If someone takes my money without my permission… that’s the definition of theft, is it not?

    You are a citizen of some country, yes? Then you are bound by the contract that governs relations between us citizens and our government: the Constitution. The usual objection to that is “I didn’t consent to be born into this country”, to which I respond “you didn’t consent to be born, either, but that doesn’t mean your parents committed violence on you by determining what genetic makeup you have.”

    What really irks me about this line of argument is that it’s not a disagreement on how governments should function, what their responsibilities are, what their powers are, or how they should be structured. It’s an argument against the very legitimacy of any government, in any form.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    Taxation is violence only if you redefine violence to be meaningless. Further, you’re correct that states use violence (or the threat thereof), but this really isn’t a big deal.

    I’m not sure the reasoning behind your first sentence. I’ll show you where I’m coming from in my reasoning, and let me know where I’ve gone wrong.

    Taxation is violence because even when the threat of violence is used, it’s still a violent act. Imagine a man with a gun who wants to have sex with a female. If he threatens (and shows) his gun to the female, and says “Give me sex or you’ll be shot”, does this mean it’s not a violent act because he didn’t actually use the gun?

    a community of people who successfully claim a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory

    So, how does this definition differ from, say, a mafia? With this definition, it seems that the government is just the best functioning mafia.

    You are a citizen of some country, yes? Then you are bound by the contract that governs relations between us citizens and our government: the Constitution.

    Can you contract with someone who doesn’t want to contract with you? Contracts are voluntary, or they aren’t contracts.

    The usual objection to that is “I didn’t consent to be born into this country”, to which I respond “you didn’t consent to be born, either, but that doesn’t mean your parents committed violence on you by determining what genetic makeup you have.

    I don’t see the comparison. One is a group of people who want to take my money, regardless of my objections. The other is a group of people who tried to teach me right from wrong and make sure I grew up healthy, and didn’t force me to pay for services that I didn’t want. Maybe I’m missing the comparison.

    A danger of using this line of reasoning is that it gives validation to countries with terrible laws. Let’s say a country has a law that unbelievers are to be stoned to death, and also that this country has a law which says anyone who has a single doubt about the existence of God must turn themselves in. The idea of a social contract must be either valid, or invalid.

    What really irks me about this line of argument is that it’s not a disagreement on how governments should function, what their responsibilities are, what their powers are, or how they should be structured. It’s an argument against the very legitimacy of any government, in any form.

    Why does that irk you, if you don’t mind my asking? It’s just an idea that says the initiation of violence is wrong, no matter who the initiator is.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    So, how does this definition differ from, say, a mafia? With this definition, it seems that the government is just the best functioning mafia.

    So close. Mafias don’t have the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, while (functioning) governments do. This doesn’t say anything about whether a government is Good or Bad (or particular actions are Good or Bad), but that’s what the state, by definition, is.

    Can you contract with someone who doesn’t want to contract with you? Contracts are voluntary, or they aren’t contracts.

    You are free to leave, renounce your citizenship, and so on and so forth. The contract governs the territory encompassing the state, and the citizens (and residents) living in said territory. You are bound by this contract because you are a citizen within the territory governed by it; you work within its territory, you make its money, you use its services either directly or indirectly. Every day you participate in society you are reaffirming the contract (assuming of course consent of the governed; see below)

    A danger of using this line of reasoning is that it gives validation to countries with terrible laws. Let’s say a country has a law that unbelievers are to be stoned to death, and also that this country has a law which says anyone who has a single doubt about the existence of God must turn themselves in. The idea of a social contract must be either valid, or invalid.

    As I said, defining what a state is in no way says anything about whether said state’s claims are legitimate or its actions good. Whether or not a state is legitimate (i.e. SHOULD have the right to its monopoly on legitimate use of force) depends, as I said, on the consent of the governed; representative constitutional democracy is a good example. The actions of a state can be assessed individually by themselves; dictatorships can take good actions, but that doesn’t mean their governments lack true consent of the governed, while democracies can take bad actions, but that doesn’t mean their governments are illegitimate.

    Why does that irk you, if you don’t mind my asking? It’s just an idea that says the initiation of violence is wrong, no matter who the initiator is.

    I want to return to your example of a man pointing a gun at a woman and demanding sex. Clearly, this is Wrong, and he should be stopped; if he isn’t stopped, he should be apprehended and made to pay for what he did (and rehabilitated if possible so he never does it again). How, then, do we apprehend him and prosecute him? I seriously doubt a politely-worded letter asking him to pretty-please turn himself over and accept the judgment of a jury of his peers will work. Enter the state, which has been given by us the ability to use force to bring in suspected criminals if they resist; the ability to hold trials to determine innocence or guilt; and the ability to incarcerate those found guilty for a set period of time. If the state did not have this power, who would do it? Individuals, I suppose your answer will be; but what gives those individuals the power to do that? Do they seize it by brute force, or are they selected by the community at large? Obviously, the fairest method would be to have the community consent to give certain individuals those powers. And now you have a tiny little state. Repeat process until you get large nations.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    So, how does this definition differ from, say, a mafia?

    You don’t vote for mafias.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    So close. Mafias don’t have the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, while (functioning) governments do.

    How does one go about acquiring the “legitimate use of force”?

    You are free to leave, renounce your citizenship, and so on and so forth. The contract governs the territory encompassing the state, and the citizens (and residents) living in said territory. You are bound by this contract because you are a citizen within the territory governed by it; you work within its territory, you make its money, you use its services either directly or indirectly. Every day you participate in society you are reaffirming the contract (assuming of course consent of the governed; see below)

    You’ve still not explained how the contract is voluntary. If you want to state that there is a contract, I’ll be willing to accept it. I just want to see how there can exist a contract with a party that was unwilling to be a part of the agreement or contract.

    If a slave does work for his master, eats the meals given to him and uses the stack of hay to rest on, us he re-affirming the contract that he was born into?

    As I said, defining what a state is in no way says anything about whether said state’s claims are legitimate or its actions good. Whether or not a state is legitimate (i.e. SHOULD have the right to its monopoly on legitimate use of force) depends, as I said, on the consent of the governed; representative constitutional democracy is a good example. The actions of a state can be assessed individually by themselves; dictatorships can take good actions, but that doesn’t mean their governments lack true consent of the governed, while democracies can take bad actions, but that doesn’t mean their governments are illegitimate.

    I still need to see how governments “legitimize” their use of force.

    I want to return to your example of a man pointing a gun at a woman and demanding sex. Clearly, this is Wrong, and he should be stopped; if he isn’t stopped, he should be apprehended and made to pay for what he did (and rehabilitated if possible so he never does it again). How, then, do we apprehend him and prosecute him? I seriously doubt a politely-worded letter asking him to pretty-please turn himself over and accept the judgment of a jury of his peers will work. Enter the state…

    This is why I’ll decline to give a solution to this that doesn’t involve a state. You will only start to think of solutions as viable if you can be convinced that the state is an immoral concept. If I can’t convince you of that concept first, than other solutions aren’t needed.

    Imagine two guys in a room, and lets also assume that the room is split into two, one half owned by Guy A, and the other by Guy B. Guy A says that he is entitled to 50% of Guy B’s income. Guy B refuses. If Guy A still takes Guy B’s money, what circumstances change Guy A’s theft from immoral or illegitimate, to just and legitimate?

    You don’t vote for mafias.

    If that’s what differentiates the mafia from the government, it would follow that you’d have no objection to the idea of a mafia if people got to vote the members in.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    You’ve still not explained how the contract is voluntary. If you want to state that there is a contract, I’ll be willing to accept it. I just want to see how there can exist a contract with a party that was unwilling to be a part of the agreement or contract.

    I’m going to work off what I know, so if you don’t live in the US I apologize. We are governed by various constitutions (state and federal) and local charters of some sort (they vary from county to county and municipality to municipality). These were drawn up, signed, and ratified by the people then living in those areas to be the contracts governing their respective territories; those contracts deal with people who are either citizens of that territory, or are residing in it. These contracts can be changed through various means, usually through an amendment process which, usually, requires some sort of supermajority (although California only requires a 50%+1 majority on a referendum) and possibly legislative action as well, where the legislature is composed of elective representatives. The contracts don’t govern the people explicitly, it governs the territory. This is what I was clumsily going for with my parent thing: no, it’s not “fair” in the Rawls veil-of-ignorance sense that you are born on land that is governed by a preexisting contract, but once you reach full adulthood you have a variety of options to you; you can try to change the contract, leave the territory associated with the contract, cease interacting with others associated with the contract, etc etc.

    How does one go about acquiring the “legitimate use of force”?

    I still need to see how governments “legitimize” their use of force.

    You’re confusing two different uses of the word. In the context of “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”, I’m referring to the state having the power to be the final arbiter in the territory it governs. That’s all. Now, it can obtain that monopoly through a variety of means… as I’ve said, the only “legitimate” method I recognize is through the consent of the governed. So, for example, China and Iran’s governments have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, but I do not recognize them as “legitimate” governments since they lack the consent of the governed.

    Imagine two guys in a room, and lets also assume that the room is split into two, one half owned by Guy A, and the other by Guy B. Guy A says that he is entitled to 50% of Guy B’s income. Guy B refuses. If Guy A still takes Guy B’s money, what circumstances change Guy A’s theft from immoral or illegitimate, to just and legitimate? [emphasis mine]

    No, we aren’t going to assume that, and here’s why. How do we determine that A’s claim to half the room is legitimate, or that B’s claim is legitimate? What if A claims that the whole room is his, but B claims that it’s actually his? What if C enters and claims these two are both trying to rob him of his room? How can we determine if a property claim is legitimate?

    I’ll decline to give a solution to this that doesn’t involve a state. You will only start to think of solutions as viable if you can be convinced that the state is an immoral concept. If I can’t convince you of that concept first, than other solutions aren’t needed.

    You’re bordering on arguing in bad faith here. I asked a question that is, in fact, very important to me: what are your solutions? I consider the problems I’ve posed to have only a few solutions, and they all result in government (or government-like) entities, and I have never been given an answer that avoids this. So here is your chance: show me how society can function without a state or state-like entity. My conclusion, based on the lack of an answer in the past, has been that states are inevitable, and I work from that conclusion to try and determine a “best” state (of course, what is “best”?, etc etc). You give me an answer, then I can compare your solution to the state solution and analyze it, and we can work form there.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    As a side note, it really does amaze me how many libertarians literally seem to be unable to comprehend the concept of “the state”. It really does appear as if centuries of political philosophy have just passed them by.

    If a slave does work for his master, eats the meals given to him and uses the stack of hay to rest on, us he re-affirming the contract that he was born into?

    No, because the slave has no opportunity to withdraw his consent over how he’s being governed. You do, as themann explained: you can vote against the current government, you can start your own political party, you can leave the state, you can renounce your citizenship (in order from less drastic to more drastic). As this post explained in detail, the one thing you’re not free to do is to claim that you should be allowed to make use of the benefits the state provides to all its members while refusing to pay the upkeep the state sets in exchange for those benefits.

  • Alex Weaver

    This is why I’ll decline to give a solution to this that doesn’t involve a state. You will only start to think of solutions as viable if you can be convinced that the state is an immoral concept. If I can’t convince you of that concept first, than other solutions aren’t needed.

    You know, “I don’t have an answer” would have been a lot less typing.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    Something I’d like to contribute to the discussion before continuing the debate here, to put the debate into context. My basic claim is that there is no right that allows one person to initiate force against another. If someone proposes that a right exists that allows one person to use force against another, then it should be up to that person to prove the claim. Like the non-theist who shouldn’t have to disprove God, I shouldn’t have to disprove your claim.

    I can put forward a claim that people have the right to not be aggressed against, but I would only have to do that if we disagree about people having that right. If I need to defend this claim, than any claim that we need a state to protect those rights becomes null.

    I’m arguing that no one has the right to aggress against another. People who defend the state tend to believe this as well, but make an exception for the state. It’s like the guy that believes in evolution, but thinks that God had to create the process. It’s counter productive, right? It’s essentially saying that no one has the right to aggress against us, but in order to ensure that, we need to protect that right by giving one group of people the ability to violate that right. You either have the right or you don’t.

    I also realize that, like the non-theist, I’m of the minority opinion, one that not a lot of people are familiar with. The reason I was putting the “room” idea forward is to extremely simplify things. The basic idea is that if one person doesn’t have the right to aggress, then a group of people (made up of individuals) logically doesn’t have that right. The assumption of owning part of the room shouldn’t need explaining, because without it, the concept of having an organization to protect ownership doesn’t make sense.

    It would also waste time if we don’t agree on concepts like property and right, because without agreeing on what those are, we can’t have any sort of meaningful conversation as to how we can apply those concepts.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    Since I can’t edit my last post to include these (sorry, but they fit in with the idea of debating with theists)

    As a side note, it really does amaze me how many libertarians literally seem to be unable to comprehend the concept of “the state”. It really does appear as if centuries of political philosophy have just passed them by.

    Are you equating that being against the idea of the state is equal to not understanding it? If you’re debating with someone who believes in God, what do you think of them when they say “If you’re against the idea of God, it means that you don’t understand the idea”. Pretty insulting, no?

    You know, “I don’t have an answer” would have been a lot less typing.

    I can’t tell if you disagree with what I was saying or are you’re just attempting to look cheeky. If I can’t convince someone that slavery is immoral, than what good is it to talk about alternatives to slavery with that person? If you disagree with my reasoning behind that, then critique my method. I think you will agree that it makes more sense to attack the beliefs and principles themselves, as opposed to what the effects of those beliefs and principles cause.

  • Alex Weaver

    I can’t tell if you disagree with what I was saying or are you’re just attempting to look cheeky. If I can’t convince someone that slavery is immoral, than what good is it to talk about alternatives to slavery with that person? If you disagree with my reasoning behind that, then critique my method. I think you will agree that it makes more sense to attack the beliefs and principles themselves, as opposed to what the effects of those beliefs and principles cause.

    ….how exactly do you make moral decisions, if you don’t factor in “whether a better alternative exists” to your judgement of whether a course of action is moral or immoral?

  • Alex Weaver

    (Or, more succinctly, do you dispute that “should” implies “can?”)

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    My basic claim is that there is no right that allows one person to initiate force against another.

    Sigh. I had a feeling that’s where this was headed. I’m going to, for the sake of argument, let this slide with just a link and move on while buying into the premises behind your statement.

    The state is not the initiator of force. We give the state the ability to use force to defend our rights and to enforce our laws. Tax evaders (and other law breakers, but follow me here) are “initiating” force, because they have interacted and been a part of society and are refusing to pay the dues society requests. Tax evaders are the one violating a contract; the state is responding by making sure that those of us who hold up our end of the agreement aren’t forced to pay more because of others’ lawbreaking.

    I find it interesting that you basically concede that we fundamentally disagree on the origins of property and ownership (which is why arguing against anti-statists irks me; I knew we’d get around to it). You hold, and please correct me if I’m putting words in your mouth, that your property is yours and yours alone, and your ownership of it is a natural right. I hold that your property is yours, but without a state you would have no right to it. That is, rigorous property rights are a byproduct of a system of laws enforced by the state. I could go on (and on), but I’ll just close with an excerpt from the article I linked to above.

    One way or another, most property rests in its current hands because of coercion and non-consent. You may have worked honestly for your money, and I don’t begrudge you that. But simple work is not enough to obtain money. You can work your ass off arranging grains of sand into little neat lines, but if nobody wants your work, you don’t get a cent for it. Who gets money in the end is decided by who has money in the beginning. Trace any money back far enough and you will find robbery. Someone, at some point, said “This is my stuff, because it’s on my land, and even if this land used to be your land, I have a gun and you don’t, and therefore it’s mine.” This is most obviously true, of course, in the case of North America.

    Move beyond that and there’s a broader issue. What produces property? What forces are there that cause us to live under a system of private property rather than, say, the system of communal ownership used in the Ju/’hoansi tribes of Africa? In short, coercion. You own what you own because the government — or, increasingly these days, a private security force — has decided that you own what you own and it is worth taking measures to keep it in your hands.

  • Leum

    It all goes back to John Locke. In a state of nature all defense of rights is placed on the individual. As more people come together they give that right to the state because it is better able to defend their rights (and provide for the common welfare).

    I’m curious as to what system Kawlinz proposes for the defense of his/her rights. And really hope it isn’t the anarcho-capitalist one we discussed the week before last.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m curious as to what system Kawlinz proposes for the defense of his/her rights. And really hope it isn’t the anarcho-capitalist one we discussed the week before last.

    As near as I can tell from his comments, unless they’re going to correct me on this, I believe they assert that the state is immoral from first principles and the actual outcome of abolishing it WRT the defense of anyone’s rights is irrelevant.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    The state is not the initiator of force. We give the state the ability to use force to defend our rights and to enforce our laws. Tax evaders (and other law breakers, but follow me here) are “initiating” force, because they have interacted and been a part of society and are refusing to pay the dues society requests. Tax evaders are the one violating a contract; the state is responding by making sure that those of us who hold up our end of the agreement aren’t forced to pay more because of others’ lawbreaking… I hold that your property is yours, but without a state you would have no right to it. That is, rigorous property rights are a byproduct of a system of laws enforced by the state.

    A few arguments I have to this line of reasoning. When you say “we give the state X”, who is “we”? I didn’t. If you and 20 of your friends want to give the state these powers, does that make an obligation upon me to give my rights to the state as well?

    I know this example isn’t using income tax, but it’s a lot simpler to work with property tax. Property tax in my area goes toward funding education. No matter how bad I think the public education system is, I have to pay for it. Whether I have kids or not, I pay for it. I’m not allowed to provide an alternative without either getting arrested, or buy paying off the government (in the form of a permit/permission), which funds the schools that I don’t approve of in the first place. Who is the agressor in this case? It’d be like being forced to fund catholic school, and being told that you have to send your kids there, whether you want to indoctrinate them or not.

    I’m willing to fund roads (I find them quite helpful. I’m willing to fund the Post Office, fire department, and lots of other things. I find value in those things. I don’t find value in agressing against other nations, and suggesting that I’m agressing against people because I wish to remove my funds from these actions is incorrect.

    I hold that your property is yours, but without a state you would have no right to it. That is, rigorous property rights are a byproduct of a system of laws enforced by the state.

    With this reasoning, if I lived in a forset without a government protecting me, if someone wanted to violate my property, since I don’t have a government, I don’t actually have a right to my property.

    Either I have a right to property, or I don’t.
    If I have rights to property, then I’m allowed to protect it.
    If I don’t have rights to property, state that. At the same time, don’t try to convince me that government is an organization that protects property rights, since those rights don’t exist.

    ….how exactly do you make moral decisions, if you don’t factor in “whether a better alternative exists” to your judgement of whether a course of action is moral or immoral?

    Just like when someone defends the idea of God because it makes them feel good. I’m not going to provide ways that they can be happy without God, without first having the person accept that God doesn’t exist. It’s a waste of time. Alternatives to the status quo would all be effects of the new principles. Before we decides on the alternatives, we have to agree on the principles first, because if they are wrong, then the effects are meaningless.

    As near as I can tell from his comments, unless they’re going to correct me on this, I believe they assert that the state is immoral from first principles and the actual outcome of abolishing it WRT the defense of anyone’s rights is irrelevant.

    I’m not sure what WRT means, but yes, that seems pretty close to what I’m getting at proposition.

  • Snoof

    WRT == “with regards to”, IIRC.

  • Alex Weaver

    Just like when someone defends the idea of God because it makes them feel good. I’m not going to provide ways that they can be happy without God, without first having the person accept that God doesn’t exist. It’s a waste of time. Alternatives to the status quo would all be effects of the new principles. Before we decides on the alternatives, we have to agree on the principles first, because if they are wrong, then the effects are meaningless.

    I know all these words and I still can’t parse this into a coherent argument.

    You’re not actually saying that we have to agree with you, otherwise you can’t tell us your argument, are you?

  • Alex Weaver

    With this reasoning, if I lived in a forset without a government protecting me, if someone wanted to violate my property, since I don’t have a government, I don’t actually have a right to my property.

    Either I have a right to property, or I don’t.
    If I have rights to property, then I’m allowed to protect it.
    If I don’t have rights to property, state that. At the same time, don’t try to convince me that government is an organization that protects property rights, since those rights don’t exist.

    Rights remain a purely hypothetical construct without an agency capable of consistently defining, enforcing, and defending them. What’s difficult about this?

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    “WRT == “with regards to”, IIRC.”

    Thanks… IIRC I am familiar with BTW, lol :)

    I know all these words and I still can’t parse this into a coherent argument.

    You’re not actually saying that we have to agree with you, otherwise you can’t tell us your argument, are you?

    My argument is that the government is an immoral instituation. Intiating force is wrong. Again, the effects (alternatives) aren’t needed if the arguement (government is wrong) doesn’t stand. I’m not going to discuss alternatives to slavery unless we can come to the conclusion that slavery is wrong, at least no alternatives beyond “no slavery”, which is implied. You don’t have to find paying jobs for slaves before deciding that slavery is immoral.

    Rights remain a purely hypothetical construct without an agency capable of consistently defining, enforcing, and defending them. What’s difficult about this?

    If rights are purely hypothetical, then why have an organazation defend something that doesn’t actually exist? It makes about as much sense as saying that God is just an idea, but we need an agency capable of defining, enforcing, and defending it. Even if we create an agency to do this, that doesn’t make God real.

    In the same way, if rights are entirely hypothetical, then having an agency defend something that is hypothetical is just a matter of preference.

    Thanks for the conversation so far

  • Alex Weaver

    My argument is that the government is an immoral instituation. Intiating force is wrong. Again, the effects (alternatives) aren’t needed if the arguement (government is wrong) doesn’t stand. I’m not going to discuss alternatives to slavery unless we can come to the conclusion that slavery is wrong, at least no alternatives beyond “no slavery”, which is implied. You don’t have to find paying jobs for slaves before deciding that slavery is immoral.

    What reasons would you give for considering [Rhetorical Question]slavery[/Rhetorical Question] ([Serious Question]or, for that matter, government[/Serious Question]) immoral?

  • Alex Weaver

    If rights are purely hypothetical, then why have an organazation defend something that doesn’t actually exist?

    *sigh* how useful is an engine in a world without gears? Does that get the point across?

  • Alex Weaver

    (Oh, right, you don’t consider usefulness to be a necessary prerequisite to adopting something.

    Considering the pseudo-presuppositionalism you’re advocating here, your repeated comparisons to arguments for God’s existence is kind of ironic.

    Any chance you’ll justify the appropriateness of those, incidentally? Or do I need to already agree with you that “the state SHOULD exist” and “God DOES exist” are comparable propositions before you can explain to me why you think that?)

  • prase

    If I don’t have rights to property, state that. At the same time, don’t try to convince me that government is an organization that protects property rights, since those rights don’t exist.

    Could you explain us the exact meaning of the word “right” in your usage, in particular the “right to property”? Given that you clearly think that “A has right to property X” doesn’t have anything in common with the others’ consent that A can do whatever (s)he wants with X, nor it has anything to do with the law (consent of the state) – it is difficult to figure out what “property rights” could ever mean.

    For instance, how do you resolve a disagreement about specific property rights, i.e. if two people agree that property rights are absolute, but disagree about whose property an object X is? Should I remind you an obvious fact that there was never a moment in history when everybody agreed on the contemporary distribution of property? The present property distribution is a result of historical developement during which

    1) libertarians with their interpretation of property rights never formed majority of world’s population (and I think they never formed majority of any single conutry’s population, but even if they did, it is irrelevant since states are illegitimate for you), and

    2) to secure, define and change property rights force was used regularly against those who disagreed.

    Does it matter to you? If not, what prevents you from thinking that the state owns everything and you only hire your belongings under specified conditions, which include paying of taxes? Not that it were an interpretation which I would prefer, but seems perfectly suited for property-rights fanatics.

  • prase

    Well, and instead of “government is an organization that protects property rights, since those rights don’t exist” you should rather interpret A.W.’s position as “government is an organization that defines property rights and without it those rights don’t exist“. It gives much more sense.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I normally don’t wade into these discussions, but:

    I know this example isn’t using income tax, but it’s a lot simpler to work with property tax. Property tax in my area goes toward funding education. No matter how bad I think the public education system is, I have to pay for it. Whether I have kids or not, I pay for it…

    I’m willing to fund roads (I find them quite helpful. I’m willing to fund the Post Office, fire department, and lots of other things. I find value in those things. I don’t find value in agressing against other nations, and suggesting that I’m agressing against people because I wish to remove my funds from these actions is incorrect.

    Do you really not understand how schools are vital to the functioning of our society and that funding them helps you? How about this, if you don’t fund them, then you will be benefitting from them without paying into them. Using previous arguments, this could be considered stealing (or initiating force, violating rights, etc.) and therefore the state would be justified in holding you accountable.

    Either way, the overly simplistic mindset of the anarcho-capitalistic cheerleaders that I run across boggles my mind. Do you really think it’s as simple as saying, “I want to fund this road and that road because I drive on them, I’ll fund a police officer to protect me, and a couple firemen, and I’ll have no part of anything else?” Everything is interconnected. If we all parsed out our money like that, society would crash and we’d all feel the affects of that in a bad way.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Alex and Co: the reason it’s so difficult to parse some of the arguments is because he’s using the Libertarian definition of words. From a piece written almost 12 years ago…

    Libertarian proselytizers will preach some warm-and-fuzzy story such as

    We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships, and that only through freedom can peace and prosperity be realized.

    Now, how many ideologies have you ever heard state anything like

    We believe that disrespect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud are good things in human relationships, and that only through slavery can peace and prosperity be realized.

    Libertarians are for “individual rights”, and against “force” and “fraud” – just as THEY define it. Their use of these words, however, when examined in detail, is not likely to accord with the common meanings of these terms. What person would proclaim themselves in favor of “force and fraud”? One of the little tricks Libertarians use in debate is to confuse the ordinary sense of these words with the meaning as “terms of art” in Libertarian axioms. They try to set up a situation where if you say you’re against “force and fraud”, then obviously you must agree with Libertarian ideology, since those are the definitions. If you are in favor of “force and fraud”, well, isn’t that highly immoral? So you’re either one of them, or some sort of degenerate (note the cultish aspect again), one who doesn’t think “force and fraud must be banished from human relationships”.

    And my favorite part, he quotes an exchange between himself and a libertarian

    Just to pick an example from one public exchange (directed to me)

    Too complicated. All you need is one proposition:

    No person should initiate the use of force against another person. [sound familiar? -ed]

    All libertarian thought flows logically from this. For instance, taxation is undesirable since it is backed by the coercive force of the state. Naturally the key word is “initiate.”

    So, the question is, does Seth agree with this proposition or not? Of course he will say there have to be certain exceptions. This is the difference between him and a libertarian. Libertarians (like free speech advocated!) prefer not to make exceptions.

    Note that this is the only political movement, so far as I know, rooted in one simple ethical statement about human rights. This alone biases me in its favor.

    My reply to this point was to ask if he agreed “No person should do anything evil”. I get to define evil, “evil” is taken according to “Sethism”. The response:

    Seth, you have not answered the question. Do you agree, or do you disagree, that it is always wrong for one person to initiate force against another? If you disagree, then you disagree with the fundamental concept of libertarianism, …

    On the other hand, if you agree with the proposition, yet you still don’t like the conclusions that libertarians draw from it, then we can refocus our attention on the chain of logic that leads to those conclusions and find where you feel the weak link is.

    Observe the aspects pointed out above. It’s an “agree or disagree” where implicitly “initiate force” is taken to be that of the Libertarian ideology. And it’s justified by the axioms, the “chain of logic”.

    Note the rhetoric is made further meaningless by the “initiate force” concept. When Libertarians think using force is justified, they just call it retaliatory force. It’s a bit like “war of aggression” versus “war of defense”. Rare is the country in history which has ever claimed to be initiating a “war of aggression”, they’re always retaliating in a “war of defense”.

    The idea that Libertarians don’t believe in the initiation of force is pure propaganda. They believe in using force as much as anyone else, if they think the application is morally correct. “initiation of force” is Libertarian term of art, meaning essentially “do something improper according to Libertarian ideology”. It isn’t even connected much to the actions we normally think of as “force”. The question being asked above was really agree or disagree, that it is always wrong for one person to do something improper according to Libertarian ideology. It was just phrased in their preaching way.

    I’d also like to point out that most of what you used as “examples” are specific actions taken by governments. If you object to those actions, fine, let’s debate the merits of the state taking those actions. You don’t get to use them to argue against the concept of the state. I made my case for the state with this sequence (reworded for clarity):

    I hold that we need an entity or group of people with the ability, authority, and legitimacy to use force to bring in suspected criminals if they resist; the ability to hold trials to determine innocence or guilt; and the ability to incarcerate those found guilty for a set period of time. If the state did not have this power, who would do it? Individuals, I suppose your answer will be; but what gives those individuals the power to do that? Do they seize it by brute force, or are they selected by the community at large? Obviously, the fairest method would be to have the community consent to give certain individuals those powers. And now you have a tiny little state. Repeat process until you get large nations.

    All solutions to the above and similar problems result in government (or government-like) entities, and I have never been given an answer that avoids this. So here is your chance: show me how society can function without a state or state-like entity. My conclusion, based on the lack of an answer in the past, has been that states are inevitable, and I work from that conclusion to try and determine a “best” state (of course, what is “best”?, etc etc). You give me an answer, then I can compare your solution to the state solution and analyze it, and we can work form there.

  • Julia

    I’ve found this discussion very interesting. I don’t generally hear much about Libertarianism where I live (BC, Canada), but from what I have heard I’ll admit I think it’s a pretty selfish model. Putting that aside for the moment, I have to ask isn’t it already possible for anyone to live as a Libertarian, particularly from an economic viewpoint? It seems a rather simple matter to simply not do work that is conpensated by the government’s currency (that same government that is being regected, anyhow). If you opt out of the government’s money and barter directly with whomever will deal with you, you won’t have any income to be taxes. In fact, you can even be a bit of a jerk and participate in the economy in a limited way, but not so much that you cross the threshold where you are taxed.

    I also wanted to address this:

    I know this example isn’t using income tax, but it’s a lot simpler to work with property tax. Property tax in my area goes toward funding education. No matter how bad I think the public education system is, I have to pay for it. Whether I have kids or not, I pay for it…

    I’m willing to fund roads (I find them quite helpful. I’m willing to fund the Post Office, fire department, and lots of other things. I find value in those things. I don’t find value in agressing against other nations, and suggesting that I’m agressing against people because I wish to remove my funds from these actions is incorrect.

    I would like to ask who in your system is designing the roads? Engineers don’t arise spontaneously, they need years of education! I’m sure your counter argument would be that parents should pay for their childrens education entirely. But by doing that you are depriving yourself of the potential engineers that are born to people who cannot afford to educate their children. This will reduce the number of available engineers and drive up the cost of a road drastically! There is already a shortage of engineers produced via the current system, partially because they are required to fund a (relatively small) portion of their education and also because most people aren’t suited to it.

    I personally feel pretty strongly about this because I came from a poor family and am now a damn good geotechnical engineer. I design those roads you are so fond of. Paying for just a portion of just my secondary education (which in Canada is well subsidized) through student loans (which I am very grateful are offered) was nearly prohibitally expensive. I had to take on a big loan on the chance that I would be good at something that I only had very limited experience actually doing. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to do it. If not for that loan I would be a very unhappy waitress spitting in your coffee instead of an engineer building your roads (among other things).

    By helping people to do what they are best at through subsidized education, all of society benefits by having a skilled labour force. I honestly thought that was a well known and obvious cost-benefit analysis!

  • Alex Weaver

    Julia:

    From Kawlinz’ perspective the state is immoral on first principles. The actual effect of its abolition on human welfare and happiness on the individual or societal level is irrelevant to them.

    Libertarians remind me of people who insist that superconductors do not exist because they would violate Ohm’s law.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    Ok, lots and lots of ideas to work with here, so if I miss anything (or if I’m a bit more brief) forgive me, 8 extra posts to reply to is a handful.

    Oh, right, you don’t consider usefulness to be a necessary prerequisite to adopting something.

    You’re right, I don’t. If slavery proved to be more efficient than not allowing slavery, I’d still advocate abolishing slavery. Again, I don’t argue from effect.

    Considering the pseudo-presuppositionalism you’re advocating here, your repeated comparisons to arguments for God’s existence is kind of ironic.

    Any chance you’ll justify the appropriateness of those, incidentally? Or do I need to already agree with you that “the state SHOULD exist” and “God DOES exist” are comparable propositions before you can explain to me why you think that?)

    If you disagree with a specific metaphor, I’ll only know if you object to it. Give me a specific metaphor that I’ve used in an argument that you disagree with and I’ll try my best to explain it.

    What reasons would you give for considering [Rhetorical Question]slavery[/Rhetorical Question] ([Serious Question]or, for that matter, government[/Serious Question]) immoral?

    For the rhetorical question. Slave owners violate property rights. For the serious question, governments violate property rights.

    *sigh* how useful is an engine in a world without gears? Does that get the point across?

    Are you saying with this mataphor that an engine doesn’t exist unless it has gears, or that it does exist and it’s just not very useful. It seems the latter, which would mean that property rights exist without a state.

    Could you explain us the exact meaning of the word “right” in your usage, in particular the “right to property”? Given that you clearly think that “A has right to property X” doesn’t have anything in common with the others’ consent that A can do whatever (s)he wants with X, nor it has anything to do with the law (consent of the state) – it is difficult to figure out what “property rights” could ever mean.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYpnmwSwQos explains it pretty well. It’s a bit simplistic but it does a great job of illustrating.

    Does it matter to you? If not, what prevents you from thinking that the state owns everything and you only hire your belongings under specified conditions, which include paying of taxes? Not that it were an interpretation which I would prefer, but seems perfectly suited for property-rights fanatics.

    If I as an invidivual can’t own property, but a group of individuals can have a monopoly on property, that’s inconsistant. There’s a reason you don’t agree with that view, it’s called communism. If owning myself and the ability to own prop

    Do you really not understand how schools are vital to the functioning of our society and that funding them helps you? How about this, if you don’t fund them, then you will be benefitting from them without paying into them. Using previous arguments, this could be considered stealing (or initiating force, violating rights, etc.) and therefore the state would be justified in holding you accountable.

    If I voluntarily put stock advice on a sign in my front lawn, and you benefit from that, do you now owe me money for benefiting from my voluntary action? Could it be considered stealing from me if you don’t pay me? If you didn’t pay me for the service that you didn’t ask for but benefitted from anyways, should I be able to use the government to force you to pay me?

    If benefitting from someone else’s voluntary actions is stealing, then there is no such thing as a gift.

    I don’t generally hear much about Libertarianism where I live (BC, Canada), but from what I have heard I’ll admit I think it’s a pretty selfish model… I personally feel pretty strongly about this because I came from a poor family and am now a damn good geotechnical engineer.

    So I’m selfish because I don’t want to pay taxes to fund your education, but is your view point that if I do not help fund your education by paying taxes, I should be thrown in jail? If that’s the case, we disagree on the word ‘selfish’.

    It seems a rather simple matter to simply not do work that is conpensated by the government’s currency (that same government that is being regected, anyhow). If you opt out of the government’s money and barter directly with whomever will deal with you, you won’t have any income to be taxes.

    The government creates currency out of thin air, but the government makes it illegal for anyone else to do the same thing. Money is only suppsed to represent value, and money makes it easier to barter things. Using money is differred bartering. If other companies besides the government were allowed to provide an working alternate currency that didn’t involve tax, that’d be great. Unfortunately, government has a monopoly enforced with violence to control the currency, so these alternatives aren’t possible. It’s not that I don’t want to use it, it’s that anyone who tries to assist in getting a system like this up and running gets jailed.

  • Alex Weaver

    A preemptive point: arguing from effect is not even fallacious in the context of “should” arguments.

    Beyond that, if effects are irrelevant, then why are property rights important or valuable in the first place?

  • Julia

    So I’m selfish because I don’t want to pay taxes to fund your education, but is your view point that if I do not help fund your education by paying taxes, I should be thrown in jail? If that’s the case, we disagree on the word ‘selfish’.

    I probably shouldn’t have bothered saying that. It’s not an arguement, just a personal opinion and distracts from the discussion.

    For this discussion it really doesn’t matter if you’re selfish or not. The important point is that supporting education and promoting a skilled work force benefits everyone by increasing the availability of specialized skills and decreases the cost of providing the same. Do you really believe society would be better off with less education? And/or do you really think that society would maintain its level of education and literacy with a pay per use system?

    It seems a rather simple matter to simply not do work that is conpensated by the government’s currency (that same government that is being regected, anyhow). If you opt out of the government’s money and barter directly with whomever will deal with you, you won’t have any income to be taxes.

    The government creates currency out of thin air, but the government makes it illegal for anyone else to do the same thing. Money is only suppsed to represent value, and money makes it easier to barter things. Using money is differred bartering. If other companies besides the government were allowed to provide an working alternate currency that didn’t involve tax, that’d be great. Unfortunately, government has a monopoly enforced with violence to control the currency, so these alternatives aren’t possible. It’s not that I don’t want to use it, it’s that anyone who tries to assist in getting a system like this up and running gets jailed.

    Yes, I understand the basic concept of money. I also get that it is more inconvienent to barter than to use money. But, you could live you ideals! (at least to some extent) Isn’t that worth the inconvience? It’s pretty unlikely anyone would agree to accept ‘Kawlinz money’ anyhow. But let’s not get bogged down in the details. Why are you participating in the currency based economy when you disagree with it and have an out? It’s not even as extreme as living off the grid, although that’s certainly an option too.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    If I voluntarily put stock advice on a sign in my front lawn, and you benefit from that, do you now owe me money for benefiting from my voluntary action? Could it be considered stealing from me if you don’t pay me? If you didn’t pay me for the service that you didn’t ask for but benefitted from anyways, should I be able to use the government to force you to pay me?

    Not only did you avoid the crux of Julia’s argument (and a good argument) but you’re also avoiding it here. What I’m hearing from you is that you want all the benefits of society: educated workforce, police, fire, good roads, economy, etc. but you want to act as if the things that benefit you are gifts from the state and you should only have to pay what you feel like you should have to pay. Grow up. You benefit from all these things whether you personally use them or not. You benefi from the dollars that you pay into the school system. If you, and others, don’t pay those dollars in, then there goes our educated workforce and there go your roads you like to drive on, and there goes your ability to run a good business, short of having some sort of local farm and bartering, etc. Are you really so short-sighted as to not be willing or capable of understanding this very easy point?

  • prase

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYpnmwSwQos explains it pretty well. It’s a bit simplistic but it does a great job of illustrating.

    I wouldn’t mind it being simplistic if it were at least coherent. It doesn’t explain the meaning of “property right” or “ownership”. I am quite familiar with basic claims of Objectivism and one of the main objections I have against it is that it uses emotionally loaded words in undefined and arbitrary way with their meaning heavily twisted when needed (see also the others’ comments). That’s why I wanted that you explain the meaning of at least the basic terms, I didn’t want to hear standardised Objectivist preaching for the 46th time.

    If I as an invidivual can’t own property, but a group of individuals can have a monopoly on property, that’s inconsistant. There’s a reason you don’t agree with that view, it’s called communism.

    That was not what I proposed. I suggested that you can own property (whatever it means) but the current owner of all property is the state and it is unwilling to sell you it – you can rent it if you want under quite favourable conditions, but if you propose purchase, the other side says “no”. According to Objectivism, you have absolutely no right to make a contract without consent of the other side, have you? If you adopt that interpretation of current world (no communism, I wasn’t even thinking about that), you can be more satisfied with current state of the world since no property rights are violated. It would need to slightly redefine the meaning of “property”, but that’s certainly no problem for us :)

  • Kaltro

    Kawlinz, I’m tempted to tell you it’s pointless to argue with the faithful in this forum. But that’s up to you. I doubt their heads will be moved by argument while their hearts are still firmly invested in the idea of the kind, caring, father-figure state that promotes ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ by progressive taxation and social programs.

    Something to notice is that they see little distinction between a ‘society’ and a ‘state’, and as OMGF puts it, “If you, and others, don’t pay those dollars in, then there goes our educated workforce and there go your roads you like to drive on, and there goes your ability to run a good business, short of having some sort of local farm and bartering, etc. Are you really so short-sighted as to not be willing or capable of understanding this very easy point?”

    OMGF and the others apparently seem to think nobody would build any roads or get an education if the government didn’t provide these services. We are a bunch of helpless idiots who can’t do anything without the state, it seems.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    OMGF and the others apparently seem to think nobody would build any roads or get an education if the government didn’t provide these services. We are a bunch of helpless idiots who can’t do anything without the state, it seems.

    No, it’s actually a rather simple observation that anarchy on a large scale does not work.

  • Pingback: Taxation is not stealing | Dangerous Intersection

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I doubt their heads will be moved by argument while their hearts are still firmly invested in the idea of the kind, caring, father-figure state that promotes ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ by progressive taxation and social programs.

    I call foul. If he were arguing against a government with extensive social programs and progressive taxation, I’d still argue with him, but it would be a different argument. He (and you, presumably) are arguing against having a government at all.

    Further, as I’ve pointed out over and over (and been ignored over and over), states (or state-like entities) are an inevitable outgrowth of human social interaction. This says nothing about whether any particular formulation of a state is good or bad. I’ve also laid out my conditions for a state to be a legitimate state (simplistically, consent of the governed). It is irrelevant whether or not I see the state as a “father-figure” (a laughable idea) that never errs (seriously, I’m giggling over here). We aren’t talking about the actions of any particular state, which will inherently be flawed; we’re talking about the very concept of the state.

    So far, you continually raise your objections to the concept of the state by citing different state actions that you don’t like. By that logic, I object to the idea of football because some of the recent rule changes by the NFL piss me off. So, I ask once again:

    I hold that we need an entity or group of people with the ability, authority, and legitimacy to use force to bring in suspected criminals if they resist; the ability to hold trials to determine innocence or guilt; and the ability to incarcerate those found guilty for a set period of time. If the state did not have this power, who would do it? Individuals, I suppose your answer will be; but what gives those individuals the power to do that? Do they seize it by brute force, or are they selected by the community at large? Obviously, the fairest method would be to have the community consent to give certain individuals those powers. And now you have a tiny little state. Repeat process until you get large nations.

    All solutions to the above and similar problems result in government (or government-like) entities, and I have never been given an answer that avoids this. So here is your chance: show me how society can function without a state or state-like entity. My conclusion, based on the lack of an answer in the past, has been that states are inevitable, and I work from that conclusion to try and determine a “best” state. You give me an answer, then I can compare your solution to the state solution and analyze it, and we can work form there.

  • Alex Weaver

    I doubt their heads will be moved by argument while their hearts are still firmly invested

    Epic projection.

    in the idea of the kind, caring, father-figure state

    Insufficiently related to our actual positions and arguments to even qualify as a “dishonest caricature.”

    that promotes ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ by progressive taxation and social programs.

    For all your posturing you have yet to provide a coherent argument, against the actual position that you’re approximating here, which has not been shredded. This would be a good place to start, particularly if you’re going to say stupid things like “their hearts are firmly invested” of people who have expressed skepticism about your blind faith in the claim that the results obtained in every previous attempt at living without a state would not recur if you had your way here and now.

  • Kaltro

    OMGF:
    “No, it’s actually a rather simple observation that anarchy on a large scale does not work.”

    Spoken like a true believer without anything to back it up. Just because you personally find the idea impossible doesn’t make it impossible in fact.

    Themann:
    “I call foul. If he were arguing against a government with extensive social programs and progressive taxation, I’d still argue with him, but it would be a different argument. He (and you, presumably) are arguing against having a government at all.”

    Aren’t you splitting hairs? An argument against all government implicitly includes an argument against governments with extensive social programs and progressive taxation. Are you saying that your counter-argument is so specialized that it won’t work for both the general case and the specific sort of government you advocate?

    In answer to your quote at the end, I’d suggest that the Free Iclandic State (that’s the name it’s been given, so don’t take the ‘state’ too literally) is a nice example of a society without a state. Of course, when I brought this up before the other commenters wouldn’t accept that it was, in fact, a society without a state.

    Weaver, you’re sounding like an angry old bag-lady screeching at traffic. Give it a rest.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    No, I am not splitting hairs, and you misunderstood my objection. You are attempting to make a claim against the state as a concept, and your arguments FOR that involve objections to specific forms of government, but not the concept itself. I’m saying that the argument for the necessity/inevitability of the state and the argument for which state is “best” are inherently different arguments. It’s like the difference between arguing which variation of the Standard Model is best and arguing that there’s no need for any model.

    I’ll have to look into your example, as I don’t reject arguments out of hand until I’ve read about them. I’ll get back to you.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Ok, some quick googling gets me to descriptions of the Icelandic Commonwealth which existed from the 10th century to the 13th. I assume that’s not what you meant? Some links would be nice…

  • Alex Weaver

    In answer to your quote at the end, I’d suggest that the Free Iclandic State (that’s the name it’s been given, so don’t take the ‘state’ too literally) is a nice example of a society without a state. Of course, when I brought this up before the other commenters wouldn’t accept that it was, in fact, a society without a state.

    This may be because a cursory examination of the available information indicates that it did in fact have a system of government, which was non-monarchical in contrast to what existed at the time but not at all like what you’re proposing.

    Weaver, you’re sounding like an angry old bag-lady screeching at traffic. Give it a rest.

    You have no substantive input to offer at all, do you?

  • Alex Weaver

    PS: on the Icelandic Free System, I’ve found the following:

    Goðorð system

    The medieval Icelandic state had an unusual structure. At the national level, the Althing was both court and legislature; there was no king or other central executive power. Iceland was divided into numerous goðorð (plural same as singular), which were essentially clans or alliances run by chieftains called goðar (singular goði). The chieftains provided for defense and appointed judges to resolve disputes between goðorð members. The goðorð were not strictly geographical districts. Instead, membership in a goðorð was an individual’s decision, and one could, at least theoretically, change goðorð at will. However, no group of lesser men could elect or declare someone a goði. The position was the property of the goði; and could be bought, sold, borrowed, and inherited.

    Court system

    If a person wanted to appeal a decision made by his goðorð court or if a dispute arose between members of different goðorð, the case would be referred to a system of higher-level courts, leading up to the four regional courts which made up the Althing, which consisted of the goðar of the Four Quarters of Iceland. The Althing eventually created a national “fifth court”, as the highest court of all, and more goðar to be its members.

    The Althing was only moderately successful at stopping feuds; Magnus Magnusson calls it “an uneasy substitute for vengeance”. Nevertheless, it could act very sweepingly. At the Conversion of Iceland in 1000, the Althing decreed in order to prevent an invasion, that all Icelanders must be baptized, and forbade the public celebration of pagan rituals. Private celebration was forbidden a few years later.

    In 1117 the laws were put into writing, and this written code was later referred to as the Gray Goose Laws.

    Life within the system

    19th-century interpretation of the Althing in the Icelandic Commonwealth

    The actual operation of this system is a common subject matter in some of the Icelandic sagas. Works like Njáll’s Saga and the Laxdaela Saga give many details, but their accuracy has been disputed. These and other sagas are available in modern English translations. Njáll’s Saga includes the christianisation of Iceland within the framework of the story.

    So, basically, it’s a modified form of feudalism with republic-like characteristics atypical of the time period.

    Good suggestion, Kaltro….

    (Source here. “Huh huh huh ur uzing Wikipedia” is not an acceptable substitute for a refutation of the cited factual claims in the article.)

  • Kaltro

    Themann, the Iclandic Commonwealth is what I meant.

    Also, thanks for clarifying your position. So you want an argument against the very concept of the state? I’ll give it a try.

    The state is founded on the idea that the greater good must be brought about by curtailing individuals to a greater or lesser extent. The most basic ways a state curtails individuals is by taxation and by maintaining a monopoly on coercive force.

    The moral objection to this is that the citizen has certain inalienable rights as a rational and volitional being, including rights to life, liberty, and property. This means that every dollar earned should remain in the hands of the earner unless they use it or give it away voluntarily. It also means that coercion of any kind should not be used against an individual unless that individual has first violated the rights of another.

    These rights, at least in my view, flow naturally from the conscious nature of man.

    Setting aside the moral objection, there is an economic objection as well. The state is inefficient. No government can ever make economic decisions as accurately as free market operations can, and more often than not politicians use the system to benefit themselves either directly or indirectly.

    Institutions like the Federal Reserve, and government actions such as the numerous bailouts only serve to muddle economic calculation. Interest rates, prices, and the money supply are all vital forms of economic communication. When the government influences these things the economic signals get distorted. Bad investments get made, and later have to be purged. We’ll probably see a very unpleasant example of this when all the government attempts at propping up banks and the auto industry come to nothing and the banks and auto companies go bankrupt anyway. The difference will be that the U.S. taxpayers get saddled with a large part of the debt instead of just the banks or auto companies.

  • Alex Weaver

    Oh, also missed this tidbit:

    In the early 13th century, the Sturlung era, the Commonwealth began to suffer from serious internal strife. The King of Norway began to exert pressure on his Icelandic vassals that they bring the country under his rule. A combination of discontent with domestic hostilities and pressure from the King of Norway led the Icelandic chieftains to accept Norway’s Haakon IV as king by the signing of the Gamli sáttmáli (“Old Covenant”) in 1262. This effectively brought the Commonwealth to an end.

    You know, come to think of it, the inevitability of a system with no central authority being conquered by the organized and determined may have been one of the issues that was raised…

  • Kaltro

    “You know, come to think of it, the inevitability of a system with no central authority being conquered by the organized and determined may have been one of the issues that was raised…”

    But it was not inevitable in Iceland’s case. Their system worked for over 300 years–longer than the United States has even been in existence. One of their main mistakes was to make an exception to their disgust with taxation and central authority in matters of religion when the Althing chose Christianity for the whole land. This led to the church taking a mandatory tithe from the Icelandic Christians and allowed it to amass great and unchecked wealth and power. But if the Icelanders had treated religion as they treated government I bet their system would have lasted a lot longer.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Yeah, I agree with Alex here. The Icelandic Commonwealth was a state by the definition I presented above: it had a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Their courts were the final arbiters of disputes. As for this:

    The state is founded on the idea that the greater good must be brought about by curtailing individuals to a greater or lesser extent.

    No. As I’ve said before, the state is a natural outgrowth of human social interaction due to the need of having arbiters in disputes.

    The most basic ways a state curtails individuals is by taxation and by maintaining a monopoly on coercive force.

    I… but… that’s the definition of a state! It’s the entity with the monopoly on the legitimate use of force over a given territory! This doesn’t mean that they are the only power allowed to use force, but the state is the final arbiter over whether a use of force is legitimate (see Castle laws in the US, for example)

    The moral objection to this is that the citizen has certain inalienable rights as a rational and volitional being, including rights to life, liberty, and property…

    These rights, at least in my view, flow naturally from the conscious nature of man.

    Life and liberty, yes, but how do you make a claim to property without a state or state-like entity to validate your claim against counter-claims? The right to “property”, as I stated before, is meaningless without a way to settle disputes over property. If, for example, you live in the United States, you live on property that should not belong to you; there were people here and we stole it from them. What gives you the right to that property? What makes it “your” property? The deed you have? And what makes that deed legitimate? Quite simply, it is the state backing up your claim with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

  • Kaltro

    Themann:
    “The Icelandic Commonwealth was a state by the definition I presented above: it had a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Their courts were the final arbiters of disputes.”

    No. No particular chieftain had a monopoly on force; the chieftains had to compete with each other to win followers. What’s more, the actual chieftainships were literally for sale and were privately owned. However, a chieftain who lost all his followers through bad reputation would find that his chieftainship lost value very quickly. To call this private ownership of offices and competition among chieftains a ‘monopoly’ is to mangle the sense of the word. There were also no taxes of any kind before the church instituted the tithe.

    “the state is a natural outgrowth of human social interaction due to the need of having arbiters in disputes.”

    You don’t need a state to have arbitration. You just need a private arbitrator that both parties see as fair and balanced. There can be more than one private arbitrator who meets those criteria, and in a competitive free-market setting fairness and balance would be encouraged. Few would want to use an arbitrator with a reputation for unfairness and bias in judgment.

    “The right to “property”, as I stated before, is meaningless without a way to settle disputes over property.”

    I question the logic of using a state to defend property rights when the state itself routinely violates those property rights. This is a terrible instance of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Perhaps you mean that the state actually creates such rights like some sort of deity supposedly created the world out of thin air, and thus can do what it likes since it created law and order. Is that what you’re saying? On the other hand, if the state did not create the rights did they exist beforehand? And if they already existed why is a state necessary to validate them? Private institutions could better defend those rights than a monopolistic state. Free competition is a check against corruption and inefficiency, while monopolies create those problems. I don’t see any reason to believe a monopoly on force is different from any other monopoly.

    As well, I do not agree with the actions of past Americans under the aegis of Manifest Destiny; the conquest of Native Americans was a terrible crime. That said, what can I do about that now? The past is done. I cannot undo bad actions from the past, but can avoid present ones. Further, the past Native Americans can hardly have any property claims now if they are dead, and ‘we’ did not steal anything from them because ‘we’ did not exist yet.

  • Leum

    Kaltro, I’m going to make myself unpopular with a lot of people here (especially you), but I don’t think rights exist without a government. In the absence of an overarching structure to define and defend our rights they are meaningless. I suppose it might be possible to have such a system in an anarcho-capitalist society, but I’m not sure how. Seems like you’d be pretty much at the mercy of the business owners, and if none of them said you had a particular right, you’d be pretty stuck. Rights exist because we made them up. Without either universal agreement wrt those rights or an organization overseeing those rights the majority agree we have, rights are worth less than the paper used to describe them.

    You don’t need a state to have arbitration. You just need a private arbitrator that both parties see as fair and balanced. There can be more than one private arbitrator who meets those criteria, and in a competitive free-market setting fairness and balance would be encouraged. Few would want to use an arbitrator with a reputation for unfairness and bias in judgment.

    Suppose I get into an argument about the contract I have with my chieftain. Now, I’m poor and can’t afford a good arbiter, so what happens? Do I get no arbitration because I can’t afford one? Do I buy the cheapest arbiter I can find and hope my chieftain doesn’t bribe him? Having a purchased arbiter is all well and good if both claimants have roughly equal wealth, but if they don’t? Then the richer guy’s going to go to the corruptible arbiter and corrupt him, because that’s to his advantage. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, word will get about that he’s corrupt, but that’ll just make him more popular with the chieftains dealing with obdurate followers.

    And yeah, I can leave, but he can pay the arbiter to find that’s a violation of my contract (even if it clearly isn’t) and have his hired thugs beat me up or imprison me.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    Ok, it looks like I’ll have to bow out soon, simply because of the volume of posts that need replying. I’ve missed one day on the internet, and there are 18 posts since my last one, most of them being objections to things that I’m saying. So again, I’ll be brief.

    Not only did you avoid the crux of Julia’s argument (and a good argument) but you’re also avoiding it here. What I’m hearing from you is that you want all the benefits of society: educated workforce, police, fire, good roads, economy, etc. but you want to act as if the things that benefit you are gifts from the state and you should only have to pay what you feel like you should have to pay. Grow up.

    I have 3 issues with what you’re saying here. First, you’re telling me that I’m avoiding a certain argument which I thought I’d address, but my very first sentence said that I had a lot to reply to, and basically apologized in advance for any missing or brief information. Second, I’ve already stated that I would PAY for the services that I feel are a benefit to me. So telling me that I’m missing someone’s argument while missing that of mine, is very hypocritical. Third, this is a debate about ethics, so if you’re telling me to “grow up” for raising valid concerns, it doesn’t seem you don’t actually care much for ethics. It’s like fat guy telling me how to lose weight. No thanks.

    A preemptive point: arguing from effect is not even fallacious in the context of “should” arguments.

    Beyond that, if effects are irrelevant, then why are property rights important or valuable in the first place?

    I’ll try and explain what I mean by “effects don’t matter”

    If we look at 2+2=X, X is the effect of addition. There’s no point of arguing what the answer in if we can’t agree on what the numbers mean, or what a + symbol indicates. We can argue what X equals until we’re blue in the face, but if we have different definitions of what numbers and addition means, then any number we plug in is going to be irrelevant. If we come across the right answer “4″, it’s only going to be by chance if we don’t understand the numbers and and math behind the number. The answer is just an effect of the application of the principles of mathematics.

    In the same way, what happens in society is an effect of what morality is. if we all have different definitions of morality, then of course the way that issues get resolved are going to be affected, and we’ll never agree on the outcome without agreeing on the principles. I’m not an anarchist because I thinks it’s the best answer, it’s just that when I follow reason and evidence, anarchy is the effect of those principles. If my principles are false and it turns out that statism is the most moral construct for society, then I’ll be a statist.

    For this discussion it really doesn’t matter if you’re selfish or not. The important point is that supporting education and promoting a skilled work force benefits everyone by increasing the availability of specialized skills and decreases the cost of providing the same. Do you really believe society would be better off with less education? And/or do you really think that society would maintain its level of education and literacy with a pay per use system?

    Just like with Alex, I’m not concerned with which is more efficient. If slavery proves to be more efficient than a voluntary work force, that’s not a reason to adopt slavery, even if the majority of people approve of it. Can we agree on this?

    Yes, I understand the basic concept of money. I also get that it is more inconvienent to barter than to use money. But, you could live you ideals! (at least to some extent) Isn’t that worth the inconvience? It’s pretty unlikely anyone would agree to accept ‘Kawlinz money’ anyhow. But let’s not get bogged down in the details. Why are you participating in the currency based economy when you disagree with it and have an out? It’s not even as extreme as living off the grid, although that’s certainly an option too.

    No can accept Kawlinz money, because if I try to make a monetary system, I get arrested, so there’s little incentive for me to convince local services to accept Kawlinz Dollas, when I get a gun pointed at me for doing so.

    Also, I do barter when I have the option. I live my values to the amount that I can. I give to charity (not a lot, I’m not a rich guy) and I paid for my entire tuition myself after working for 4 years. If the state didn’t exist, there’d be lots of charities for education because everyone’s first objection when I advocate anarchy is “What about schools?” if this many people have the concern, then it will be taken care of. If it’s not taken care of, then clearly the people who are paying the tax don’t believe in helping people with education, they just give because they have to (and yes, I give to a few charities for what my income allows. I’d have a lot more to give if I weren’t forced to pay for things like funding an overseas military to shoot people.)

    No, it’s actually a rather simple observation that anarchy on a large scale does not work.

    Government doesn’t work at all. America was founded with some of the best principles in equality, and a few hundred years later is a grotesque entity. If the goal of creating a small and efficient government, that’s failed miserably. Governments grow because having a monopoly on force corrupts people. There has never been a state that limited itself in power for an substantial amount of time before regrowing.

    Weaver, you’re sounding like an angry old bag-lady screeching at traffic. Give it a rest.

    Thanks for the help, but no thanks.

    I will be ducking out. thanks everyone for the conversation it’s just taking up too much time at the moment.

    I’ll just state that since reality is objective, the more objective a moral theory (if morals exist at all), the more it conforms to reality, the more accurate it is. It follows that moral theory where everyone has the same rights is automatically more valid than a moral theory where some people have certain rights, and others have less or more.

  • Kaltro

    Leum:
    “Seems like you’d be pretty much at the mercy of the business owners, and if none of them said you had a particular right, you’d be pretty stuck”

    You’re only seeing one side of the relationship. The business owners can’t do anything without the support of the customers. It doesn’t matter how good a car Chrysler can make if nobody buys the cars. Businessmen, contrary to the regular vilifying of them in the media, are subject to the whims of their customers. Ever notice how any manager at a store will bend over backwards whenever a customer complains? Businesses can’t afford NOT to conform to the wishes of their customers. Any business that does otherwise goes out of business in short order.

    “Suppose I get into an argument about the contract I have with my chieftain. Now, I’m poor and can’t afford a good arbiter, so what happens? Do I get no arbitration because I can’t afford one? Do I buy the cheapest arbiter I can find and hope my chieftain doesn’t bribe him? Having a purchased arbiter is all well and good if both claimants have roughly equal wealth, but if they don’t? Then the richer guy’s going to go to the corruptible arbiter and corrupt him, because that’s to his advantage. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, word will get about that he’s corrupt, but that’ll just make him more popular with the chieftains dealing with obdurate followers.

    And yeah, I can leave, but he can pay the arbiter to find that’s a violation of my contract (even if it clearly isn’t) and have his hired thugs beat me up or imprison me.”

    Interestingly enough, I see what you just wrote as an argument *against* a monopolistic state. And that’s because a monopolistic state all too often resembles the corrupt and wealthy chieftain you describe. Why? Because there is no other place to go if you feel the state has made a bad judgment and you want to appeal.

    about your specific examples, a solution could be this. The poor claimant could offer a portion of his expected earnings after settlement to an arbitrator. The arbitrator would initially work for free with the expectation of getting a chunk of the wealthy but corrupt chieftain’s fine.

    I also doubt that a chieftain as corrupt as you describe would stay rich for long. Few would want to follow him or give him business because they would wonder if he would cheat them as he had cheated others they knew about.

  • Leum

    You’re only seeing one side of the relationship. The business owners can’t do anything without the support of the customers. It doesn’t matter how good a car Chrysler can make if nobody buys the cars. Businessmen, contrary to the regular vilifying of them in the media, are subject to the whims of their customers. Ever notice how any manager at a store will bend over backwards whenever a customer complains? Businesses can’t afford NOT to conform to the wishes of their customers. Any business that does otherwise goes out of business in short order.

    I see the client-chieftain relationship as more like the relationship between an insurance company and a client than a car dealership and a customer. The car dealer is nice to you because he wants you to buy his car. The insurance agent already has a huge hand over you and will attempt to deny you service if he can. Certainly it’s not going to be easy to deal with him, nor will much attention be paid to your satisfaction. You need the insurance now, and leaving just means you don’t get the money you need.

    Interestingly enough, I see what you just wrote as an argument *against* a monopolistic state. And that’s because a monopolistic state all too often resembles the corrupt and wealthy chieftain you describe. Why? Because there is no other place to go if you feel the state has made a bad judgment and you want to appeal.

    I noticed that, too. The main difference that I see, and I admit it doesn’t always work to anyone’s satisfaction, is that the government is accountable via the voting process and that there are organizations set up and already in place to help me if the government abuses it’s contract. Might such organizations exist in your society? Perhaps, but I don’t have enough confidence that the courts wouldn’t run on bribery. Here we have laws already in place against bribery, and they seem to be relatively effective.

    I also doubt that a chieftain as corrupt as you describe would stay rich for long. Few would want to follow him or give him business because they would wonder if he would cheat them as he had cheated others they knew about.

    You’re probably right. But it wouldn’t be much comfort to people who were screwed over.

  • Alex Weaver

    In the same way, what happens in society is an effect of what morality is. if we all have different definitions of morality, then of course the way that issues get resolved are going to be affected, and we’ll never agree on the outcome without agreeing on the principles. I’m not an anarchist because I thinks it’s the best answer, it’s just that when I follow reason and evidence, anarchy is the effect of those principles. If my principles are false and it turns out that statism is the most moral construct for society, then I’ll be a statist.

    So you ARE a presuppositionalist.

    What would you accept as proof that your principles are false?

  • Alex Weaver

    I’ll just state that since reality is objective, the more objective a moral theory (if morals exist at all), the more it conforms to reality, the more accurate it is. It follows that moral theory where everyone has the same rights is automatically more valid than a moral theory where some people have certain rights, and others have less or more.

    I estimate that if the latter claim follows the first, at least three paragraphs have been deleted from the space between them; I certainly don’t see the connection.

    Kaltro, respond to this argument plz.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I have 3 issues with what you’re saying here. First, you’re telling me that I’m avoiding a certain argument which I thought I’d address, but my very first sentence said that I had a lot to reply to, and basically apologized in advance for any missing or brief information. Second, I’ve already stated that I would PAY for the services that I feel are a benefit to me. So telling me that I’m missing someone’s argument while missing that of mine, is very hypocritical. Third, this is a debate about ethics, so if you’re telling me to “grow up” for raising valid concerns, it doesn’t seem you don’t actually care much for ethics. It’s like fat guy telling me how to lose weight. No thanks.

    First, you answered just about everything else she wrote, but conveniently skipped over the one part most damaging.

    Second, what you fail to understand is that the road that you think you should pay for has to be designed by someone, someone who has to have an education. Do you think that people magically acquire the ability to do all the things and provide all the services that you need and take for granted? Without that education (and other things) you wouldn’t have the opportunity to finance the single road that you deem worthy of your patronage. It’s all interconnected, and you either seem too stubborn to recognize this reality or are simply incapable of grasping it.

    Third, telling you to grow up doesn’t violate anything. I’m telling you to stop living in your fantasy world where if everyone simply pays for what they want to pay for, everything will magically fall into place and society will run without snags, No one will have arguments that they can’t solve amicably, etc. This place does not exist and has never existed, and there’s a reason for that. Even people with good intentions can come to an impasse that can’t be solved amicably, and you’ll always need an impartial observer to intervene, and we know from experience that private means don’t work for this.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Kaltro,

    Spoken like a true believer without anything to back it up. Just because you personally find the idea impossible doesn’t make it impossible in fact.

    Save it. When you can point to something that supports your assertions, then we can talk. Until then, continuing to assert the same things over and over even in the face of counter-evidence, as you continually do when it comes to this subject…well, you tell me, isn’t that more of the “true believer” mentality?

  • Kaltro

    Leum:
    “The car dealer is nice to you because he wants you to buy his car. The insurance agent already has a huge hand over you and will attempt to deny you service if he can.”

    Doesn’t the insurance agent want you to buy insurance? Where are you getting this idea of insurance agents having a ‘huge hand’ over customers?

    “The main difference that I see, and I admit it doesn’t always work to anyone’s satisfaction, is that the government is accountable via the voting process and that there are organizations set up and already in place to help me if the government abuses it’s contract. Might such organizations exist in your society? Perhaps, but I don’t have enough confidence that the courts wouldn’t run on bribery. Here we have laws already in place against bribery, and they seem to be relatively effective.”

    What makes you think the courts don’t run on bribery to some extent already? What checks do you think there are against court corruption in our current system? What are the organizations you mention that can help you if government abuses its contract?

    I’m also skeptical of the idea that corrupt government officials of any stripe would uphold laws against bribery except when they avoided getting caught. The government has a vested interest in making you believe that bribery laws do in fact keep bribery in check, but don’t take them at their word. The profit motive doesn’t go away, and powerful government positions are constant temptations. I would be surprised if corruption of one sort or another *wasn’t* prevalent. It isn’t that the politicians themselves start out bad. It’s that the nature of the offices they hold is corrupting.

    “You’re probably right. But it wouldn’t be much comfort to people who were screwed over.”

    As I said, the people could take their claims to private courts. The courts would look to get a chunk of the chieftain’s wealth in return for their services. If a court did not uphold its service agreement with the poor people against the chieftain it would then become the target of another court action.

    Weaver, Ebon’s narrative misses a few important points. First, is he suggesting that the U.S. government owns all the land that geographically makes up the country, and that we are all ‘tenants’ of the government? I protest the suggestion. The government doesn’t own all the land, and so you can’t say we’re all ‘tenants’ of the government.

    Second, states have not usually developed in the voluntary way he describes. More often than not a state forms when a band of conquerors ride in and pillage another group of people, and then decide to stick around as the new overlords because it is easier than coming and going each year. Only after these overlords have been around a while do they start justifying their actions by trying to satisfy the conquered with ‘protective services’ and other opiates. Soon enough the conquered grow servile and complacent by habit. It’s what they know.

    And who says such development is inevitable? Our opinions on the matter are skewed by the fact that we have lived in a state and thus have little experience with other forms of society.

  • Kaltro

    OMGF:
    “When you can point to something that supports your assertions, then we can talk.”

    You don’t want to accept the evidence I offer.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I generally don’t accept “evidence” that is refuted and doesn’t accord with empirical results.

  • Julia

    I paid for my entire tuition myself after working for 4 years. If the state didn’t exist, there’d be lots of charities for education because everyone’s first objection when I advocate anarchy is “What about schools?” if this many people have the concern, then it will be taken care of. If it’s not taken care of, then clearly the people who are paying the tax don’t believe in helping people with education, they just give because they have to…

    I strongly disagree that a system of privatized and welfare education would meet our needs. It was the old way of doing things and I believe the transformative power of public education can be seen over and over in the history of many countries.

    Second, I’ve already stated that I would PAY for the services that I feel are a benefit to me.

    Despite their general uniform appearance, the quality of roads can vary dramatically. Saying that you want a road from A to B is all well and good, but who decides whether you want a road built to last 100 years, a road that will need to be repaired annually, or something in between? Should it be designed for a siesmic event? If so, what magnitude? Is it ok that the people at end ‘B’ may not be able to reach the hospital and that the people at end ‘A’ won’t have fire service if the road become impassible? What if the shortest route goes through a sensitive bog area that is home to an endangered species and acts as the ‘lungs’ of the region wrt cleaning the air? What about bridges? When is it ok for the bridge to fall down? What risk to life is acceptable and under what circumstances? What risk to the economy, food supply, medical services is acceptable? Who decides all these things under a system of anarchy? Should we form a group to look at these issues? Perhaps a committee, perhaps a ministry of transportation and highways?

    If you vote on the issues raised above, there will always be someone who is unhappy but who still needs the services. What about those people that refuse to help build a road but then still benefit from the increased trade and services made available? What if they don’t FEEL they’re benefiting, but they actually ARE? How do you get them to pay for their share? Do you tax them and punish them when they don’t pay those taxes?

  • Kaltro

    OMGF:
    “I generally don’t accept “evidence” that is refuted and doesn’t accord with empirical results.”

    I’ve made arguments. I’ve presented a historical example of a society without a state as commonly defined, and what is the response? The blithe reply that it is really a state even though the Icelanders of the period paid no taxes before the church came along, and even though no particular chieftain or family had a monopoly on force.

    Why are you so hostile to the very concept of a stateless society that you dismiss the suggestion from the start? And please, don’t repeat your “Anarchy on a large scale *doesn’t work*” line. I heard you the first time, and you haven’t really presented evidence to back up your assertion.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    No. No particular chieftain had a monopoly on force

    I find this statement (and your following discussion) very interesting, because it shows you are misunderstanding Weber’s definition. Does any particular government official have a monopoly on force? Does any particular level of government have a monopoly on force? Is the government the only actor allowed to use force? The answer to these is obviously “no”. We, as individuals, are allowed to use force in a variety of situations, usually in self-defense. The government itself does not have full leeway in its actions. It is constrained by any number of laws and regulations, and if it violates them the aggrieved individual can get compensated, and the government representative who did it faces jail time.

    What “monopoly on the legitimate use of force” means is that the final arbiter of whether or not an act of force is justified/allowed is “the state”. If enough individuals stop recognizing their state as a fair arbiter, and reject it, the state loses that monopoly. It ceases to be a stable state and enters “potential failed state” category. Once again, this says nothing about the legitimacy of “the state”, it merely designates what a state is. Even in your system, the “final arbiter” functions, essentially, as a state by Weber’s definition. This ignores whether or not it should collect taxes, fund roads, provide education, police, fire fighters, etc etc etc… If it settles disputes and is recognized as the final arbiter over a given region, it is a state.

  • Kaltro

    Themann:
    “Does any particular government official have a monopoly on force?”

    Government officials are supposed to be on the same team at least in theory. The chieftains would not have considered themselves part of a single organization. That’s a big and important difference. Government officials are all nominally working for a single entity known as the government, while each chieftain would have been working only for his own interests.

    It seems as though you simply can’t imagine a stateless society and have to try and fit every society you do encounter into the mold of a state. Why is that?

  • prase

    Kaltro,

    No. No particular chieftain had a monopoly on force; the chieftains had to compete with each other to win followers.

    Similarly, no particular state has a monopoly on force, the states compete with each other to win citizens. There are about 180 independent states today, not much maybe, but the number of Icelandic goðar was about 40. What’s exactly the core of the difference?

    It seems you are advocating feudalism. In mediaeval Europe states were privately owned by kings and people were more or less free to choose their own landlord (less so in countries with serfdom, but there were always parts of Europe effectively without serfdom). In some situations the kings gathered to agree on a collective decision, for instance you can compare Icelandic Alþing to the Holy Roman Reichstag. But generally, the kings were following their own interests and acted independently. The difference between continental Europe and Iceland were mostly in magnitude, as the Icelandic society never had population greater than about half million (but varied about fifty thousand for most of the history).

    Needless to say, I find the modern democratic society evidently better than feudalism.

  • Alex Weaver

    Kaltro, what’s the magic number of dictatorships one has to cram into one space before you’ll fail to recognize any of them as equivalent to a state?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Government officials are supposed to be on the same team at least in theory. The chieftains would not have considered themselves part of a single organization. That’s a big and important difference. Government officials are all nominally working for a single entity known as the government, while each chieftain would have been working only for his own interests.

    What planet do you live on? Seriously, the amount of in-fighting, back-stabbing, and competition between government officials in the States alone is insane. And I don’t mean between members of the different parties or even jockeying for position within the party. Township/city officials, county officials, state officials, federal officials… they all fight each other to keep some of their power and/or prevent an expansion of the others’ power. The different branches of government, even when controlled by the same party, frequently spar over any number of things. And this isn’t one of those “in theory they wouldn’t”; it was designed that way, and even in states where there wasn’t that intention, it happens.

    It seems as though you simply can’t imagine a stateless society and have to try and fit every society you do encounter into the mold of a state. Why is that?

    I don’t have to try very hard; all your examples have been quite obviously states by the accepted Political Science definition of the term. I’ll admit to having difficulty imagining a “stateless society” that isn’t either very primitive or rife with bloody, lawless conflict, but a large part of that has to do with the lack of actual examples in the real world. That doesn’t prevent it from actually being plausible, so it’s not rejected out of hand, but I approach the idea with some skepticism. You’re making a rather extraordinary claim, so I’d like to see some extraordinary evidence.

  • Kaltro

    Themann:
    “What planet do you live on? Seriously, the amount of in-fighting, back-stabbing, and competition between government officials in the States alone is insane.”

    I’m aware of all that. My point was that most people still speak of one U.S. government, not a dozen or more competing governments. Ever since Lincoln the word ‘United’ has been more important than ‘States’ in ‘United States’. The founders might have intended a separation of powers, but that separation has been melting away more and more lately.

    “I don’t have to try very hard; all your examples have been quite obviously states by the accepted Political Science definition of the term.”

    This is what I mean. The state mentality is so strong for you that you can’t help seeing states everywhere, even where there are none. What other sorts of people do we know of that see patterns or meanings where there are none?

    “You’re making a rather extraordinary claim, so I’d like to see some extraordinary evidence.”

    What evidence can you imagine that would satisfy you? Give me a benchmark.

  • Alex Weaver

    The state mentality is so strong for you that you can’t help seeing states everywhere, even where there are none.

    Either that or you’re drawing lines where they’re convenient to your argument, not where a substantive difference exists.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    This is what I mean. The state mentality is so strong for you that you can’t help seeing states everywhere, even where there are none. What other sorts of people do we know of that see patterns or meanings where there are none?

    ……..

    My impulse here is to snap back with “what sorts of people insist that their eyes are open to the Truth and everyone else is intentionally blinding themselves”, but that would be unfair. To answer your question, for the millionth time, there is an accepted definition of a state. Your example meets that definition, either as one individual state or, perhaps more accurately, a loose confederation of several states. A decent (not fully applicable, but good enough) analogy would be the European Union; the EU is not a state per se, but no one would deny that it is a loose confederation of several states.

    What evidence can you imagine that would satisfy you? Give me a benchmark.

    Barring a real-world example that isn’t actually a state, I would accept a detailed description of your society and how it would deal with various problems, such as some of the ones I mentioned upthread: law enforcement (actually, how do you have laws without a state?); addressing disputes and grievances between two (or more) individuals; planning transportation routes, power lines, water pipes, and the like; dealing with outside threats; tragedies of the commons; preventing the rise of a warlord; trade, currency, and other financial interactions; medical issues; education; and so forth. These are all issues societies deal with, and will always deal with. All states and peoples struggle to address them the “best” way, and whether or not direct state involvement is optimal at every level, the state plays a necessary role at the core of all of these.

    Proponents of different states have to make a case that their state is a good state and defend it by showing how it would deal with real-world problems. So I’m throwing it down to you: make the case.

    I also wanted to add, in a completely different argument, one question. Let’s buy into your premise that statelessness is possible. What if 90-95% of a population desires to form a state to deal with any of the myriad issues I mentioned above? Are they allowed to do this, joining their properties together to form a society? I’ll even be generous and say that the 5-10% who reject this are allowed to maintain their properties independently, but are of course subject to the laws of the state if they enter it. Is this an allowed action? If yes, what makes this state undesirable? If no, why not? Are people not allowed to enter into contracts freely, or are social contracts the exception?

  • Kaltro

    “To answer your question, for the millionth time, there is an accepted definition of a state. Your example meets that definition, either as one individual state or, perhaps more accurately, a loose confederation of several states.”

    Why are you shifting? First you were convinced the Icelandic Commonwealth fit the definition of a state. Now you’re saying it fits the definition of a *confederation*. Make up your mind. Was it a single state, or a confederation?

    “Proponents of different states have to make a case that their state is a good state and defend it by showing how it would deal with real-world problems. So I’m throwing it down to you: make the case.”

    I’m skeptical of whether or not it would matter how good my case was. You’ve been re-interpreting things to fit your view from the start, and you’d probably do the same with any case I made so that to you my case wasn’t satisfactory. As well, there you go again– saying I’m a proponent of a ‘different state’ when I have been arguing for No State At All. You have some sort of fixation on states.

    “Let’s buy into your premise that statelessness is possible. What if 90-95% of a population desires to form a state to deal with any of the myriad issues I mentioned above?”

    It’s fine so long as the association is agreed to voluntarily by all the participants.

    “If yes, what makes this state undesirable?”

    Who says it would be a state by your given definition? I have no way of knowing exactly what such a mass voluntary association would look like in practice. You can’t just assume they would agree to form a society along the lines you find agreeable. It might be very different than you think. There’s no way to know for sure exactly how it would look.

  • Alex Weaver

    Why are you shifting? First you were convinced the Icelandic Commonwealth fit the definition of a state. Now you’re saying it fits the definition of a *confederation*. Make up your mind. Was it a single state, or a confederation?

    Does it make it better for you, somehow, if it was a collection of states attached to each other rather than a single state?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Why are you shifting? First you were convinced the Icelandic Commonwealth fit the definition of a state. Now you’re saying it fits the definition of a *confederation*. Make up your mind. Was it a single state, or a confederation?

    Well, see, I’m not an expert in 10-12th century Icelandic politics, so I don’t want to overstate my case. A confederacy functions similarly to a state, but its reach is much more limited. I included the qualifier because it’s not clear-cut when a nation-state begins and a confederacy of states ends. I try to be precise with my arguments when possible, so I left it open that either might be possible.

    I’m skeptical of whether or not it would matter how good my case was. You’ve been re-interpreting things to fit your view from the start, and you’d probably do the same with any case I made so that to you my case wasn’t satisfactory.

    I’ve interpreted things as they are by political scientists. If you don’t like it, take it up with them. The fact that every non-collapsing society ends up having a state entity, an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, is not my problem. It’s what I keep pushing at, and you keep dodging: who will enforce penalties on those using “coercive force”, and prevent penalties from being enacted on those using “retaliatory force”? An entity with the final say on whether or not an action of force is legitimate is a state. If you have that entity, you are not arguing for a stateless society, you are arguing for a peculiar kind of state. If you do not have that entity…

    As well, there you go again– saying I’m a proponent of a ‘different state’ when I have been arguing for No State At All. You have some sort of fixation on states.

    I know you have, that’s why I was extending you the same courtesy/challenge extended proponents of different states; I was welcoming you to the table.

    And since we’re debating states, um, of course I keep bringing them up? Or would you prefer I make arguments about states without referencing states?

    Who says it would be a state by your given definition?

    Uh, because any entity with the final say (etc etc) is a state

    I have no way of knowing exactly what such a mass voluntary association would look like in practice. You can’t just assume they would agree to form a society along the lines you find agreeable. It might be very different than you think. There’s no way to know for sure exactly how it would look.

    I agree. It could very well be a government that functions on terms I don’t particularly care for. But it would be a state, which is what I’ve been driving at: states are an inevitable outcome of human societies. It could take any number of forms: oligarchies, monarchies, direct democracies, representative democracies, dictatorships of the proletariat… and it could be in a variety of sizes, and it could take any number of different policies. But it is still a state.

  • Kaltro

    Themann:
    “The fact that every non-collapsing society ends up having a state entity, an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, is not my problem.”

    That’s not historically accurate. States are terrible at avoiding collapse. Some of them just last longer. The Roman Empire fell. The Persian Empire fell. Athens fell to Sparta. Sparta disintegrated of its own weaknesses. For a while France was switching its government every fifty years or less. History is full of men trying to build great states–men like Alexander the Great, Caesar, Augustus, Ashoka in ancient India, and so on– only to have their grand political achievements break apart after their deaths. The United States didn’t make it a century before getting nearly torn apart by civil war, and before that it fought in a number of other costly wars. Suggesting that states make society stable is absurd. Any state is a bloodthirsty state to one degree or another; you could count the number of consistently pacifist states on one hand. I hope we can agree that war does not tend to create stability for anyone.

    “It’s what I keep pushing at, and you keep dodging: who will enforce penalties on those using “coercive force”, and prevent penalties from being enacted on those using “retaliatory force”? An entity with the final say on whether or not an action of force is legitimate is a state.”

    But who will watch the watchman? Making a single state the final arbiter gives that state a corrupting amount of power. It doesn’t matter who you vote in. They’ll abuse their power if they have the final say.

    My solution would be to decentralize law enforcement and other such services. Since it is a common need in human society, society will develop local solutions to such problems. Spreading out responsibility is much better, to my mind, than concentrating it in a single entity. You might not find that ‘final’ or ‘definitive’ enough. You’ll have to get religion if you want a more absolute authority to depend on.

    I still disagree with you on the Icelandic Commonwealth. What we know of it doesn’t match your first definition of a state–that is, monopoly on legitimate use of force. Your confederation idea doesn’t quite fit either; confederacies are groups of states, not individuals.

    Prase:
    “Similarly, no particular state has a monopoly on force, the states compete with each other to win citizens. There are about 180 independent states today, not much maybe, but the number of Icelandic goðar was about 40. What’s exactly the core of the difference?”

    The difference is that a chieftain is an individual while a state is not. I consider the individual to be the basic and unalienable unit of human society.

  • Leum

    Surely you wouldn’t prefer 180 dictatorships in place of our current governments, provided you could move freely between them?

  • Kaltro

    “Surely you wouldn’t prefer 180 dictatorships in place of our current governments, provided you could move freely between them?”

    Since I have never advocated for dictatorships I don’t see the relevance of the question, Leum. Dictatorship– whether by the majority, an oligarchy, or whatever form it takes– is what I’ve been arguing against.

    If you’re suggesting that dictatorship is the inevitable alternative to our modern democracies I don’t buy that. For one thing, a democracy is itself a dictatorship by the majority, and fifty-one percent of any given democracy can force the other forty-nine percent to do whatever the majority wants. In our modern political system it is even worse since a large chunk of the populace can’t bring itself to vote in elections, or is too young to vote. In 2008, for example, about 130 million cast votes in a total population exceeding 300 million. Of the votes cast about 70 million went to Barack Obama. So roughly one fourth of the U.S. population decided on the President intended to speak and act for them all. Hardly representative, is it?

    I prefer liberty to every sort of dictatorship.

  • Leum

    I got the idea from your statement that the difference between 40 chieftains and 180 nation-states was that the former were individuals, not societies. Out of curiosity, if it were easier to move between nation-states (i.e. borders were more or less completely porous) would you be less opposed to the system?

  • Kaltro

    Leum:
    “Out of curiosity, if it were easier to move between nation-states (i.e. borders were more or less completely porous) would you be less opposed to the system?”

    Perhaps slightly less. But that wouldn’t solve the problem. The nation-states would take up just as much space as they do now, and there would be nowhere to go that would truly be free of them except perhaps Antarctica. Even there governments have a presence, however.

    On the other hand, freedom of movement might erode our current nation-states. I don’t really know what would happen if such a massive change in policy was allowed across the world. Probably Europe would look a lot more Chinese due to immigrants from China, for starters. What are the chances of every nation-state agreeing to this freedom of movement, though? I’d say pretty much no chance.

  • Steve Victor

    The analogy of government as “private club” is false. Unlike a private club, which owns its property, the US government does NOT own this country. It acts like it does, but it does not. BTW, this is a republic, not a democracy, and the government is supposed to be restrained by the Constitution. The fact that 90% of what the federal government does is unconstitutional should give us pause, but we are so used to the abuses that few people question them. This includes taxes. We’re being taxed at a rate at least triple that of medieval serfs. Yes, all taxation IS theft. The ideal would be a voluntary system; true, many people would pay nothing, but those with more to lose would gladly DONATE, say, 10% of their income to keep “essential” government services going. I suspect that many libertarians would accept this level of VOLUNTARY donations (while still grumbling about it, correctly, IMHO).

  • Andrew

    I have to ask: What club charges its members an average of 40% of their income(when all Federal, State and Local taxes are combined), and charges members extra for being wealthy, or for owning a house(property taxes) or for being single without kids, and then takes dues from one of its members heirs after he dies(estate taxes)?

    I’m not opposed to paying taxes per se, but our current tax system(in America at least) is a mess, and we pay WAY TOO MUCH in taxes.

  • Alex Weaver

    I have to ask: What club charges its members an average of 40% of their income(when all Federal, State and Local taxes are combined), and charges members extra for being wealthy, or for owning a house(property taxes) or for being single without kids, and then takes dues from one of its members heirs after he dies(estate taxes)?

    What club offers its members the range of services that the US government offers its citizens?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I have to ask: What club charges its members an average of 40% of their income(when all Federal, State and Local taxes are combined), and charges members extra for being wealthy, or for owning a house(property taxes) or for being single without kids, and then takes dues from one of its members heirs after he dies(estate taxes)?

    Retirement communities?

  • Polly

    I detest many of the things my tax dollars go to. But that’s a different subject. As far as paying too much, I don’t see it.

    I make a comfortable amount over the median income, and my EFFECTIVE tax rate – which is not the posted tax bracket rates but what one truly pays in taxes as a percentage of gross income – is meager.
    Honestly, I get to live in the world’s richest most technologically advanced nation, enjoy an overall good economy of limitless opportunity for advancement and education, clean streets, safe drugs and food and buildings, and road and freeway systems across a virtual continent for THIS much? DEAL!

    If you’re an American take a look at the rest of the world, how they live and what they live on and their level of personal freedom…and then STFU.

  • vaguelyhumanoid

    There is no “democratic consensus” to taxes. If one does not want government services, they would still have to pay for them. Also, you took Roderick Long’s article to mean the exact opposite thing from what it really does. Roderick Long is a market anarchist, and he associates corporations with the coercive government that you so falsely claim maintains the “free market”. You are conflating free markets and corporate capitalism in the worst possible way. Also, you said that an unregulated market stifles competition without any evidence or explanation, and ignoring the simple fact that a truly free market would be self-regulating.

  • Nihilist

    What kind of atheist could abandon religion, but support the biggest culprit of them all: the government?

    Ever heard of the fact that Americans can leave the U.S but still get taxed? If one does not want the services of a certain agency, and still has to pay for them, then it’s FORCE, THUS THEFT. Do you just ignore logic when it comes to the government?

  • James L

    A civilized society needs some taxes for basic societal functions — police , firemen, sanitation, education etc. The problem arises when we see how our taxes are squandered and used for political gain by the very people whom we entrust to spend taxes. It’s what the politicians do with our taxes that is the problem as well as the seemingly endless thirst for more without accountability.

  • keddaw

    “If you don’t like it you can always leave…”

    Ignoring the illiberal implications of this, it also happens to be completely untrue:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Account_Tax_Compliance_Act

    To leave the country isn’t enough, you have to renounce your US citizenship, but without citizenship you cannot enter another country…

    Even if you left first, then renounced it, you may still be eligible to pay under FATCA. Even if you’ve never lived in the US but have a US parent you might still be liable under FATCA…

    Not all taxation is theft, but income tax is pretty close.

  • Julen Arana

    I think the analogy of the club is good, but I think I wouldn’t compare it to the society, but to the public infrastructure.
    I have to agree that the taxation of a king to the people who work the land to build cities is in fact theft, but the taxation of the city (the club) to the citizens, based on the democratic law (because the city, understood as a planified infrastructure of streets and ways, belongs to all the citizens, not as an accumulation of private houses) is not theft. That’s just like saying that the payment for staying in a hotel is coercitive.
    I think this shouldn’t be defended talking of the State as “leaders who own the land”, but as “representatives who administrate the public infrastructure”. The public infrastructure (initiated by theft by our ancestors, but maintained and developed legitimately by ourselves in the present) is something artificial, and requires obligations, and whoever doesn’t like it can just leave, like Gerard Depardieu. And we all use the public infrastructure, because we have right in front of the door of our house.

    Of course, the last argument of the Libertarians is the Rothbardesque one, that everything should be private, and instead of paying a tax to the State, we should pay a charge to the Propietary. I think this means: I don’t wan’t my city to have a Mayor, I want it to have an Owner… or several.

  • ThoseWhoStayUofM

    The analogy of the club might be a reasonable argument if it weren’t the case that there is no place on land, in the oceans, or in the sky above, that isn’t the dominion of the state. Where one state ends, another one begins. Every inch of the globe is accounted for. The libertarian argument simply states that, if I do not wish to be a member of ANY club, should it not be my right? The American people agree with this sentiment. To require a person to purchase a good or service is unconstitutional. Some may point to automotive insurance, but of course, you are not required to own a car. Others may point to Obamacare’s healthcare mandate, but this is also unconstitutional. Unfortunately for statists, the analogy of the club does not hold up to reason, and let us not abandon reason for madness. There is no justification for the mandate, “Join or die!” and thus there can be no rational to force taxation upon the unwilling.

    “the belief that a free market is the natural state of affairs and will spontaneously arise if only the economy is left to itself.”
    Firstly, this is not a fallacy. This is a claim that is supported by several arguments, which may or may not be fallacious. Simply stating a counter-claim without any reason or evidence is meaningless, worthless, and valueless. The rational behind the libertarian, free-market, claim is that, in a natural state, a non-violent exchange of property is called trade, and when multiple people are trading with eachother, non-violently, this is the free-market. This is all definitionally true. To argue otherwise would necessarily be arguing semantics.

    “Governments want to control vital resources in the name of national security; industry groups may take a hand in designing regulations that make it all but impossible for new players to enter the field. Outright intimidation, fraud and violence are often used against those who refuse to play along.”

    Of course, this is all true. No libertarian would deny such things. But, equally obviously, what you are describing is NOT a free-market. Therefore, it is not a counter-argument to the libertarian claim. Governments regulation, fraud, and violence are the antithesis to the free-market. What grants established powers the ability to crush competition IS THE GOVERNMENT that was put in place to prevent this. What you have presented is not an argument at all. It is a word salad of meaningless rhetoric.

    “In my experience, most libertarians concede that some regulation is needed, but argue that they should only be taxed for services that benefit them directly. This is like demanding that businesses sell their goods to you for exactly what it cost to make them and no more.”

    This analogy is absurd! The first is suggesting that one ought to only pay for that which he/she receives. If I want to buy an apple from the store, then I should not be needlessly charged for an apple, an orange, and a pear. You then say this is analogous to arguing that people should not be able to sell goods for profit. What?! Are you completely insane? This is the second of two VERY POORLY thought out analogies.

    “But the solution is not to abolish taxation, just as the solution to corporate fraud and malfeasance is not to ban all corporations.”

    Although you have provided NO REASONING for why we shouldn’t abolish taxation, you have also not reasoned AT ALL for why corporations should be considered legitimate. Corporations are nothing more than financial risk immunity for the rich. When you establish a company, you are essentially creating a new person, who can buy and sell goods and services on your behalf, as well as take out and issue loans. If this “fake person” fails in any of these regards, the company can be killed and the debts forgiven at no financial risk to the actual individual who owns the company. So even though your analogy is logically incoherent, its premises are also false.

  • ThoseWhoStayUofM

    What you have said is that all of morality is a human abstraction, requires collective social agreement to function, has no inherent direction and would have limited-to-zero value without the active participation of other people.

    The reason why I am telling you this is because morality and property are interlinked. You cannot have one without the other. If property rights do not exist, fundamentally by nature, then there is no morality. There is no tenable sense to any moral theory without some conception of property rights. Without property rights, I can shoot you in the head, and that is totally moral, as you can claim no right to your own life.

  • ThoseWhoStayUofM

    “If you’re an American take a look at the rest of the world, how they live and what they live on and their level of personal freedom…and then STFU.”

    That is the point of this conversation though. The rest of the world is no alternative to arbitrary and unaccountable state power.

    Your comments are analogous to a house slave telling the field slaves about how great it is to be owned by our slave master. Look at all the other plantations and all the other slave masters. Look at their living conditions. Look at how poorly their slave masters treat them.

    Yes, it is true that life in America is filled with numerous pleasures. It is relatively safe here. We are free to do as we please, but this is solely because our slave masters have discovered that the illusion of true freedom pacifies the slaves and increases their yield. I agree that America could be much worse, but that does not mean it could not be better. I don’t need government. I trust my friends, family, and neighbors enough to believe no harm will come to me without their “protection”. The only people I fear are the “protectors” themselves! It is a fact that I am 8 times more likely to be murdered by a police officer than a terrorist!


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