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“A Moral Idiot”: Rand Paul Compared Taxation To Slavery And Betrayed The Emptiness Of His Political Philosophy

Rand Paul brought some libertarian philosophy into the Republican presidential primary this week, in the form of the old “taxation is slavery” bumper sticker. He even indexed it to a handy percentage scale! Andrew Kaczynski has the tape: “I’m for paying some taxes. But if we tax you at 100 percent then you’ve got zero percent liberty. If we tax you at 50 percent you are half-slave, half-free.”

Paul is probably getting his argument from Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which famously argued: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor.” (Note that not even he went so far as to say taxation was literally identical to slavery.) His book was probably the most convincing case that can be made for this stone-cold form of libertarianism, where all “redistributive” policy is morally abhorrent and only the night watchman state is permissible.

Nevertheless, it’s still garbage. Nozick’s book constructs a detailed procedural account of justice, arguing that redistributive taxation is theft because it is a coerced transfer. He was a smart guy, and it’s very hard to get one’s hooks into his argument. The weakness, as with all extremist accounts of property rights, is not with the logic but the premises — particularly when it comes to the very beginning of property.

Go back far enough in history, and there would have been no property of any kind. The moment somebody fences off a piece of land, it necessarily destroys the liberty of everyone else in the world, since they no longer have the right to access that land. Nozick admits this is the case, but still wants to set up initial property rights. So he embraces a concept that he calls the “Lockean proviso.”

This proviso allows appropriation of unowned things, so long as it does not worsen the situation of anyone else. And what about people last in line, so to speak, who can’t appropriate anything because everything is already taken? Well, they will benefit from the general prosperity brought on by market capitalism.

Note what kind of argument this is: It rests on the overall welfare-enhancing consequences of adopting Nozick’s ideas.

The whole point of the “taxation is slavery-ish” argument is that infringing liberty to increase general welfare is morally impermissible. Yet here is Nozick, leaning on a boon to general welfare to justify a violation of liberty so he can get property rights going. This is no different from taxing the rich to provide food stamps, or from the kind of single-payer health insurance system that socialist Bernie Sanders endorses.

The upshot is that the austere libertarianism implied by Paul’s statement is fundamentally unworkable. The horse stumbled right out of the gate, and has to be put down. Neither Milton Friedman nor Friedrich von Hayek went nearly so far. Even Nozick himself apparently abandoned it after a few years.

Let me also comment on Paul’s gruesome tin ear on display here.

What is slavery really? In the U.S. context — and given the reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, this is clearly what Paul was getting at — slavery was full property rights in human beings.

It was also incomprehensibly brutal. Owning a person presented a challenge to Southern capitalists, since slave labor has no monetary incentive to work. They solved this problem neatly, with daily violence. Set a steadily increasing daily work quota (pounds of cotton picked, typically), and if it was not achieved, make up the difference with an equal number of stripes with the whip.

In this way, Southern slaves were forced to increase their labor productivity by some 400 percent from 1800 to 1860, achieving a level that was not matched until the development of the mechanical cotton picker. Southern slavery thus robbed both the body and the mind, using systematic torture to force slaves into inventing and spreading techniques of extreme manual dexterity (picking cotton by hand is very difficult).

So if Rand Paul really believes that 1 percent taxation is exactly equal to 1 percent slavery, why doesn’t he sound like an abolitionist? Why not seize one of the federal armories in an attempt to start an all-out war against a monstrous injustice? Indeed, by this measure there would be more slavery today (about 27 percent of GDP taxed) than in in 1860 (1.4 percent taxed, 12.6 percent of the population enslaved).

Only a moral idiot would think to make such an equivalence.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 9, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Libertarians, Rand Paul, Slavery | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Libertarianism’s Achilles’ Heel”: Circular Hypocritical Logic That Avoids The Messy Choices

In politics, we often skip past the simple questions. This is why inquiries about the fundamentals can sometimes catch everyone short.

Michael Lind, the independent-minded scholar, posed one such question last week about libertarianism that I hope will shake up the political world. It’s important because many in the new generation of conservative politicians declare libertarianism as their core political philosophy.

It’s true that since nearly all Americans favor limits on government, most of us have found libertarians to be helpful allies at one point or another. Libertarians have the virtue, in principle at least, of a very clear creed: They believe in the smallest government possible, longing for what the late philosopher Robert Nozick, in his classic book “Anarchy, State, and Utopia,” called “the night-watchman state.” Anything government does beyond protecting people from violence or theft and enforcing contracts is seen as illegitimate.

If you start there, taking a stand on the issues of the day is easy. All efforts to cut back on government functions — public schools, Medicare, environmental regulation, food stamps — should be supported. Anything that increases government activity (Obamacare, for example) should be opposed.

In his bracing 1970s libertarian manifesto “For a New Liberty,” the economist Murray Rothbard promised a nation that would be characterized by “individual liberty, a peaceful foreign policy, minimal government and a free-market economy.”

Rothbard’s book concludes with boldness: “Liberty has never been fully tried in the modern world; libertarians now propose to fulfill the American dream and the world dream of liberty and prosperity for all mankind.”

This is where Lind’s question comes in. Note that Rothbard freely acknowledges that “liberty has never been fully tried,” at least by the libertarians’ exacting definition. In an essay in Salon, Lind asks:

“If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early 21st century is organized along libertarian lines?”

In other words, “Why are there no libertarian countries?”

The ideas of the center-left — based on welfare states conjoined with market economies — have been deployed all over the democratic world, most extensively in the social democratic Scandinavian countries. We also have had deadly experiments with communism, a.k.a Marxism-Leninism.

From this, Lind asks another question: “If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world?”

The answer lies in a kind of circular logic: Libertarians can keep holding up their dream of perfection because, as a practical matter, it will never be tried in full. Even many who say they are libertarians reject the idea when it gets too close to home.

The strongest political support for a broad anti-statist libertarianism now comes from the tea party. Yet tea party members, as the polls show, are older than the country as a whole. They say they want to shrink government in a big way but are uneasy about embracing this concept when reducing Social Security and Medicare comes up. Thus do the proposals to cut these programs being pushed by Republicans in Congress exempt the current generation of recipients. There’s no way Republicans are going to attack their own base.

But this inconsistency (or hypocrisy) contains a truth: We had something close to a small-government libertarian utopia in the late 19th century and we decided it didn’t work. We realized that many Americans would never be able to save enough for retirement and, later, that most of them would be unable to afford health insurance when they were old. Smaller government meant that too many people were poor and that monopolies were formed too easily.

And when the Great Depression engulfed us, government was helpless, largely handcuffed by this anti-government ideology until Franklin D. Roosevelt came along.

In fact, as Lind points out, most countries that we typically see as “free” and prosperous have governments that consume around 40 percent of their gross domestic product. They are better off for it. “Libertarians,” he writes, “seem to have persuaded themselves that there is no significant trade-off between less government and more national insecurity, more crime, more illiteracy and more infant and maternal mortality . . . .”

This matters to our current politics because too many politicians are making decisions on the basis of a grand, utopian theory that they never can — or will — put into practice. They then use this theory to avoid a candid conversation about the messy choices governance requires. And this is why we have gridlock.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 9, 2013

June 10, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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