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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

The Deeply Crazy In Virginia’s Obamacare Lawsuit

As  my Philadelphia Phillies idled through a two-hour rain delay Thursday night, I  curled up with some light reading: a Texas  Review of Law & Politics article by the legal team, led by Virginia  Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, that’s challenging the new healthcare individual mandate in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

It’s  fascinating stuff.

Cuccinelli  and co. follow a long trail from the 18th century British jurist  William Blackstone to the Dred Scott  case to the New Deal to the present  day. The conservative team, at  first, makes a tight, prudential case against  the Obamacare mandate  that I, in my nonprofessional capacity, happen to favor.

In  their words:

No  existing case needs to be overruled and no existing  doctrine needs to be  curtailed or expanded for Virginia to prevail on  the merits. Nor does Virginia  remotely suggest that the United States  lacks the power to erect a system of  national healthcare. Virginia  expressly pled that Congress has the authority to  act under the taxing  and spending powers as it did with respect to Social Security and  Medicare, but that Congress in this instance lacked the political   capital and will to do so. No challenge has been mounted by Virginia to  the  vast sweep and scope of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  Instead, only the mandate and penalty were challenged  because the claimed power  is tantamount to a national police power  inasmuch as it lacks principled  limits.

In  plainer, get-to-the-point English: We grant you the social safety  net  established under the “Roosevelt Settlement.” We recognize  Congress’s power to  regulate interstate commerce. We even grant that  this power could conceivably  deliver universal healthcare. But for  Pete’s sake, don’t try to include  “inactivity”—that is, not buying a  health insurance plan on the private  market—under its purview.

Because,  once you regulate the act of doing nothing, what’s left to regulate?

Er,  nothing.

Thus,  does the state’s power to tax and police become theoretically unlimited?

But,  later in the body of the piece, Team Cuccinelli begins to play  other, more  presently familiar cards. Glenn Beck fans will recognize  the faces in the rogue’s  gallery: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes,  progressive philosopher John Dewey, and  others who, this argument goes,  created the post-New Deal legal and  philosophical edifice.

Wouldn’t  you know it, this welfare-state stuff constitutes a violation of natural law—which, ipso facto,  means economic laissez-faire—and a lurch into moral chaos.  Echoing the  newly popular Hayek, Cuccinelli’s article asserts the primacy of   economic rights while characterizing as relativistic the   not-exclusively-liberal jurisprudential argument that personhood and  dignity  precede the marketplace. (Last I checked, I’ve never seen an  unborn baby sign a  contract.)

Come  conclusion time, the piece sounds eerily like it’s not merely  advocating the  curtailment of an otherwise defensible attempt to  advance the national  interest, but rather like a full-throated  libertarian manifesto:

The  Progressive Meliorists had argued that they should  be accorded constitutional  space in which to make a social experiment,  agreeing in turn to be judged by  the results. The New Dealers carried  the experiment forward. Seventy years  later, results are in suggesting  that the experiment is living beyond its  means. The statist heirs to  the experiment say that it cannot and must not be  curtailed, so now  they claim this new power.

Social  Security and Medicare—an experiment! Just a temporary, 70-year blip on the  radar!

So,  in 46 pages, we proceed from modest and reasonable to deeply crazy.

It  behooves us to ask, what’s Cuccinelli’s endgame?

I  think we’ve seen this movie before.

 

By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, August 18, 2011

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Consumers, Democrats, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Reform, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Public, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, States, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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