NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

my new blog at PeoplevState.com

Obviously, I've let this blog go into a state of suspended animation. I see from checking sitemeter, however, that people still do occasionally stop by to check out older posts. I'd like to let anyone who may drop by know that I've started a new blog, at peoplevstate.com. It's subtitle is "the philosophy and practice of law and liberty." Please check it out and subscribe, if you're into that kind of thing.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rewriting the Constitution at The Volokh Conspiracy

I've recently engaged in a lengthy discussion, primarily with one other commenter, in this comment thread to a post on "Human Imperfection and Governmental Legitimacy" by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy. My first comment in the thread was the following:

The truth is that, as Lysander Spooner famously illuminated, in the world as we know it "consent of the governed" is a myth, a total legal fiction, as is governmental authority that purports to be based on such consent. We're better off to the extent that the culture -- including legislators, judges, voters and non-voters -- recognizes that truth. Recognizing that truth should lead to more humility on the part of legislators, should lead them to be absolutely sure that what they're enacting is not contrary to natural rights "retained" by the people, and should lead the public to demand such humility from "their" legislators. (Which natural rights have we "retained"? ALL of them.) "Consent of the governed" is less of a myth in the context of very local governments, and as Thomas Jefferson explained, this is the level at which the bulk of government should be carried on, with the people delegating to "higher" functionaries only what they deem truly necessary and beyond their competence. "Democracy" moreover took a wrong turn in its early infancy when it arbitrarily assumed that a mere majority of 51% was enough to confer legitimacy on measures that limit the freedom of those who have not explicitly consented to those measures or the process by which they were manufactured. The arbitary number should have been more like 90%. I bet you could get 90% of voters to agree that murder is a crime; you probably couldn't get 90% to agree that smoking marijuana is a crime, though.

As for how fallible judges should view "laws" passed by fallible legislators purporting to act on behalf of a fallible public, no one's said it better than Lysander Spooner in the 2nd chapter of his The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1860):

"Taking it for granted that it has now been shown that no rule of civil conduct, that is inconsistent with the natural rights of men, can be rightfully established by government, or consequently be made obligatory as law, either upon the people, or upon judicial tribunals ‑‑ let us now proceed to test the legality of slavery by those written constitutions of government, which judicial tribunals actually recognize as authoritative.
In making this examination, however, I shall not insist upon the principle of the preceding chapter, that there can be no law [*16] contrary to natural right; but shall admit, for the sake of the argument, that there may be such laws. I shall only claim that in the interpretation of all statutes and constitutions, the ordinary legal [*17] rules of interpretation be observed. The most important of these rules, and the one to which it will be necessary constantly to refer, is the one that all language must be construed "strictly" in favor [*18] of natural right. The rule is laid down by the Supreme Court of the United States in these words, to wit: "Where rights are infringed, where fundamental principles are [*19] overthrown, where the general system of the laws is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness, to induce a court of justice to suppose a design to effect such objects." [*20]
It will probably appear from this examination of the written constitutions, that slavery neither has, nor ever had any constitutional existence in this country; that it has always been a mere abuse, sustained, in the first instance, merely by the common consent of the strongest party, without any law on the subject, and, in the second place, by a few unconstitutional enactments, made in defiance of the plainest provisions of their fundamental law."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bringing the Good News of Anarchism to the Distributists

Although I've continued to slack in keeping up with my project of recording and indexing here my comments on various blogs (not to mention shifting my attention over to my new blog at naturallawyer.blogspot.com), I have indeed continued to actively comment, particularly at The Distributist Review. I commented on the problems with licensure laws (re: inter alia, attorneys and doctors) here. The author of the blog, John Medaille, followed up with a post that addressed my comments, titled "A License to Steal?", in which he advocated the guild system as a "middle way." The thread for that post quickly evolved, or devolved, into a discussion of theoretical anarchism. [I won't copy my lengthy comments here, but you can find the discussion by clicking the link.] Interestingly, Medaille followed this discussion with a new post on "Zen and the Art of Traffic Control," where he seemed to imply that he was open to the idea that we don't necessarily need government even to regulate traffic (which is generally considered a pretty radical libertarian position). As you can see from the comments to that post, I evidently prematurely got the impression that he was, at least in part, coming around to a more libertarian frame of mind! Finally, the most recent post at the The Distributist Review is a guest post by Lindy Davies on "Henry George and the Earth Imperative," to which I've already addressed several comments. To my mind, Georgism (the idea that all taxes should be eliminated except a "single tax" on the unimproved value of land) is wholly consistent with theoretical anarchism. Most interesting to me is the following claim I'd found in searching around on the internet and included in my most recent comment (you can find the source by following the link):

"Rent -- in the classical economic sense -- has been estimated at 40% of the national income [7]. If the full value of that ground rent were publicly appropriated, total public revenues would come out around $16 trillion -- a sum large enough to cover the federal budget with no deficit, pay off the national debt, and still have plenty -- as in, trillions -- left over [8] [9] [10]. In fact, conservative commentators have faulted land value taxation precisely because it generates such large public revenues, thus increasing the size of government. One solution is simply to return a dividend to individual citizens, as Alaska does with the royalties from its mineral resources (which, like land, are a common resource whose value should thus be commonly shared)."

Bringing the Good News of Quakerism to the Anarchists

In response to a thoughtful blog post on religion by athiest anarchist Professor David Friedman (son of the late Milton Friedman), I offered the following comment:

"Let me just put a plug in here for my own religion -- the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). What distinguishes Quakers for purposes of this kind of discussion is our aversion to reliance on creedal formulations of belief, a fundamentalist understanding of Scripture or the authority of an institution; and our reliance instead on the Light within. Also attractive to me is our Peace Testimony against war (though not necessarily, as is often misunderstood, against justified coercion in all instances) and our historical role in, e.g., the Underground Railroad and abolitionism. Unfortunately, many modern day Quakers tend to be liberals, whereas you'd think these testimonies just mentioned and our historical objections to such things as taking oaths in court and calling people by customary honorary titles that elevate them above their fellow human beings (e.g. "Your Honor") would have led to more anarchist attitudes."


In response to an earlier post by Friedman on "Ron Paul, Libertarianism and the Constitution," where he said "One of the issues that I do not think I have seen seriously discussed in libertarian literature is the tension between support for strict interpretation of the Constitution and support for libertarian legal outcomes," I said this:

I assume you're aware of Randy Barnett's "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty"? I also find instructive this language from Ch.2 of Lysander Spooner's "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery" (1860): "Taking it for granted that it has now been shown that no rule of civil conduct, that is inconsistent with the natural rights of men, can be rightfully established by government, or consequently be made obligatory as law, either upon the people, or upon judicial tribunals ‑‑ let us now proceed to test the legality of slavery by those written constitutions of government, which judicial tribunals actually recognize as authoritative.
In making this examination, however, I shall not insist upon the principle of the preceding chapter, that there can be no law [*16] contrary to natural right; but shall admit, for the sake of the argument, that there may be such laws. I shall only claim that in the interpretation of all statutes and constitutions, the ordinary legal [*17] rules of interpretation be observed. The most important of these rules, and the one to which it will be necessary constantly to refer, is the one that all language must be construed "strictly" in favor [*18] of natural right. The rule is laid down by the Supreme Court of the United States in these words, to wit: "Where rights are infringed, where fundamental principles are [*19] overthrown, where the general system of the laws is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness, to induce a court of justice to suppose a design to effect such objects." [*20]
It will probably appear from this examination of the written constitutions, that slavery neither has, nor ever had any constitutional existence in this country; that it has always been a mere abuse, sustained, in the first instance, merely by the common consent of the strongest party, without any law on the subject, and, in the second place, by a few unconstitutional enactments, made in defiance of the plainest provisions of their fundamental law."


Most recently, in response to an excellent and insightful Friedman post on "The Ron Paul Affair and Libertarian Culture Clash," I said this:

I think this is the best explication I've heard yet of the Ron Paul Affair. I swear I've thought the same thing but haven't seen it expressed anywhere else (and wasn't inspired enough to say it myself:). While I personally tend more towards "wimp" sensibilities, recognition that this is what was likely going on in the minds of the "boors" leads me to think it's not as big of a deal as those who are ready to throw Ron Paul overboard make it out to be. . . . And as someone who was once, by conversion rather than birth, a very traditionalist Catholic (Mel Gibson style), even though I've changed those friends for Quakers, I still consider myself "friendly" towards those people -- far more friendly than I've ever been with your typical liberal Democrat. I know from experience that us traditionalist Catholics would in social discourse amongst ourselves sometimes revel in our non-PCness. Those are the kinds of friends that the paleolibertarians have made, and I'm not inclined to fault them for it. Indeed, I'm of the school that thinks that a culture that emphasizes self-government of one's own life (through moral virtue and respect for the fundamental importance of family) is vitally important to the project of reducing the perceived need for government coercion and intrusion.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Butterflies of Uganda

I've recently, what with the holidays and all, gotten out of the blogging groove, but fully intend to get back into it. I was blessed to see over the holidays an old high school buddy of mine, Darin Dahms, who now lives out in L.A. and is the Production Manager at the Greenway Court Theatre. He co-wrote Butterflies of Uganda, a stage play about the child soldiers of Uganda that Darin recently directed at the Greenway. Darin put a lot of himself into this project, and I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with my old friend at length about his experiences and impressions, both of Uganda itself and of all the effort that went into making this play a reality.

And, of course, we, along with Darin's dad (also an old friend of mine) and other friends, found plenty of time to discuss and argue the merits of Georgism, anarchism, etc., etc.

I have been spending some time commenting over at The Distributist Review, particularly in this lengthy thread about taxes. Copied below is my last comment in the thread:

I did want to just clarify what seems to me an imprecision in my use of terms in my comments above. I echoed the claim made by some libertarians that "taxation" is theft. However, in my view the Georgist "single 'tax'" on the unimproved value of land does not fit into that category, and is not theft, because it's taking from people what does not really belong to them and rightly belongs to everyone in society equally. The ordinary disposition therefore of what is collected via the "single 'tax'" should be to everyone in society equally, in the form of a "citizen's dividend." The government, however, would be completely justified in skimming of the top its costs in collecting and distributing this "rent," and since this presumably requires some substantial "muscle," this requirement of establishing said muscle goes a long way towards putting in place the machinery for national defense. The (national) government would be legitimately paying itself for in essence protecting property rights (including the property rights of the landless), and this protection could naturally and legitimately encompass national defense, as well as appellate adjudication. Moreover, for reasons elaborated by Hillel Steiner, the estates of decedents are in a similar position to that of the unimproved value of land, and theoretically are subject to the same distribution, and so I would not characterize inheritance "taxes" as theft either. (For good economic reasons, however, and to lessen the temptation of evasion and the inducement to avoidance through gifting or extravagant consumption, it seems that inheritance taxes should not be confiscatory but modest, perhaps in the neighborhood of 10% on all amounts inherited above, say, $50k, without the distinctions between various types of beneficiaries and their relationships to the decedent that are made now.)The national government (and state governments) should learn to live and budget within the above natural limits to what they can legitimately take "involuntarily." I'm not sure that after national defense is paid for there would be much or anything left over for a "citizen's dividend," but funding national defense and appellate adjudication solely from land value "taxes" and inheritance "taxes," while relieving those who own no land and who inherit nothing from all taxation (actually, it's not true that the latter would be paying nothing, since they in reality would be paying out of the dividends to which they would otherwise be entitled), would certainly seem to go far towards distributist goals. Certainly much farther than our current regime. The especially rich and the especially patriotic would be free to donate above and beyond these legitimately compelled forms of "taxation" to national defense (and other legitimate functions of the national government, if there be any) as they see fit. Local governments, which can be seen as voluntary associations because direct participation is more possible and people are freer to leave them than state or national governments, can arrange "taxes" (including, if they think it wise, income and/or other taxes that amount to theft if compelled by the national government) to fund police, schools, libraries, welfare, etc. as they see fit. It is true, however, that long injustice (perpetrated in large part with the assistance of government) has resulted in an unjust distribution of not only land and other natural resources but also capital goods, an unjust distribution which perpetuates itself and seems to result in even greater concentrations of wealth and power as time goes on. On the basis of such considerations, I can see the merit and even the legitimacy of involuntary taxes on, and redistribution of, higher incomes. My hesitation comes from the difficulty in seeing a principled basis on which to designate how high an income should be before it's subject to taxation. I would be happy, e.g., with a flat 10% income tax on all income above the U.S. household mean, but I don't see a firm basis on which to rest my perception of the justice of such a scheme, and in the absence of such clear principles we have found ourselves where we are today, with people of modest means taxed into near or actual bankruptcy. Moreover, I get the strong feeling that the rich and powerful have always had much more influence over what the government does than the less well off, and despite fancy rhetoric have always bent the government to serve their own vested financial interests, and I'm sadly skeptical of that changing in the future. Even now, the relatively high income taxes on high "earners" (i.e. theoretically, both with regard to "earning" and with regard to whether they actually pay higher taxes) are not spent to compensate the poor for what has been taken from them, i.e. towards distributist goals, but are spent primarily on battleships, etc., which disproportionately benefit the rich, who have the most to lose. (Who was it who said, "What need have the poor for battleships?") Better to get rid of income taxes entirely and denounce them as theft than to vainly hope that they might be redirected to distributist ends. This extreme skepticism, justified by history and the historical origins of States including "our" State, about the ultimate intentions and purposes of government with respect to the poor on the one hand and the rich on the other, points to the practical importance of theoretical "anarchism" (which seems to me philosophically sound even if we are quite reasonably unwilling to embrace wholesale all of its practical implications). Indeed, for these reasons, I see in thinkers like Lysander Spooner, Albert Jay Nock, and Henry David Thoreau friends of distributist goals.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rut-Ro . . . Somebody from USDOJ.GOV in D.C. visited my post on tax evasion today

Fortunately, they only stayed for 19 seconds and clicked through to the Becker-Posner Blog post I was commenting on. No indication from Sitemeter as to what brought them here and to that post. Just for the record, I would like at this time to clarify that, despite my fancy talk, I am a big supporter of Justice, and I have never advocated or suggested that anyone should even contemplate breaking any governmental laws that are Just.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Becker and Posner on Tax Evasion

The Becker-Posner Blog has an interesting post on tax evasion. I found this particularly interesting from Becker's comment: "To some extent, people obey many laws, including tax laws, because most other persons are doing the same. If so, their behavior might change radically if they lost confidence that others would pay their taxes and obey other laws."

And I found this particularly interesting from Posner's comment: "Thus far I have focused only on punishment costs. But a neglected point in the economics of crime is the information costs of committing a crime. Evading taxes requires more knowledge than stealing a bike. Most taxpayers probably don't have a clue as to how to evade taxes without being caught. It might seem awfully simple--just list your cat as one of your dependents. But to know whether this would work, you would have to know whether the government has any independent source of information about the number of a person's dependents. You can't just go to a lawyer and ask him what the best way of evading taxes is." A better source of information might be the practical resources available at the website of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.

Posner also says: "Every dollar spent by the Internal Revenue Service on enforcement brings in several dollars in additional tax revenue, suggesting that an expansion in the IRS’s budget would be necessary to equate the marginal benefits of tax enforcement to its marginal costs. But this suggestion ignores the fact that the benefits are, as a first approximation, merely income transfers, whereas the marginal costs of tax enforcement are social costs. If taxes are evaded, the resulting shortfall in tax revenues is made up by increasing the tax rate, and there is no social loss unless the increase has worse misallocative effects than the evaded taxes would have had, had they not been evaded. One reason, therefore, that tax evasion is widespread is that it may be cheaper from an overall social standpoint to have slightly higher tax rates than to devote additional resources to law enforcement, though the first-best solution might be stiffer penalties, especially monetary penalties." These observations point to one of the classic rationales for and advantages of a land value tax: You can't hide land, and therefore the social costs of land value tax enforcement are dramatically less than those for income tax enforcement.

This also is an interesting comment from Posner: "I would be inclined to search as hard as possible for nonmoral costs before concluding that morality is a major motivator of behavior, especially with regard to crimes, like tax evasion, that do not have an identifiable victim." Posner-the-economist-and-federal-judge appears to find the solution in maintaining or stiffening the legal sanctions for tax evasion, without ever questioning the propriety of punishing people criminally for violating "laws" that Posner himself believes most people do not feel a moral duty to comply with. A "law" with criminal penalties attached that the majority does not feel morally obligated to obey? Sounds like the very definition of an immoral and tyrannical "law" to me.