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.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Love, the Testimony of Integrity, and the Government

In my last post I broadly referred to the government as a "criminal gang" and to those who use government to promote and protect their or others' illegitimate financial interests as the "robber class." In the interests of charity, some clarification is in order. Quakers have traditionally voiced support and respect for the "civil magistry," while at the same time being one of the most conspicuous of Christian denominations in their insistence on "obey[ing] God rather than men," e.g. in their opposition and conscientous objection to war, in their refusal to swear oaths in court, and in their refusal to adhere to customs bestowing honorific titles upon some individuals (including those holding government office) which elevate those individuals above their fellow human beings. In light of this, I think the traditional Quaker emphasis upon respect for the laws and the government should be understood as respecting the fact that people don't have the right to aggress against the persons or rightful properties of others and the role of the government in enforcing that fact. Moreover, as a pragmatic and prudential matter, early Quakers may have been quick to respect publicly the laws and government authority where they conscientously could because they so often were finding themselves in trouble with "the law" for violating specific ordinances that they could not conscientously respect. On the other hand, my understanding is that early Quakers were also unfortunately all too ready to petition the government to outlaw and attach criminal penalties to things that in their opinion were obviously immoral and impure, e.g. alcohol.

One of my oldest friends is a police officer. I highly respect his willingness to put himself in harm's way to protect the public in apprehending murderers, rapists, robbers, thieves, etc. The police officer has as much of a natural right as anyone else to apprehend such criminals, and is being paid to take on the duty of doing so. On the other hand, the Testimony of Integrity compels me to assert that when a police officer arrests and jails somebody who is merely in possession of marijuana, it is the police officer who is committing a crime and not the possessor of marijuana, even though the police officer is acting pursuant to laws and orders which purportedly require or legitimize the arrest. Though the analogy of Nazis who vainly tried at the Nuremberg Trials to excuse their murderous crimes by saying they were just following orders is wildly disproportionate, the same principle applies. (For the record, I do not myself smoke marijuana, and I regard the use of marijuana as morally imperfect, but no more imperfect than the use of alcohol, which I do occasionally imbibe.) Anyone contemplating becoming a police officer today should carefully consider the kinds of orders and laws he or she would be agreeing to enforce.

Do I regard those who advocate or support such things as federal and state funding for public libraries and public education (and local police departments, for that matter) as members of the "robber class"? In light of our present unjust system of tax collection, the Testimony of Integrity compels me to say "yes." I was going to qualify this by writing "albeit in a Robin Hood sort of way," but upon reflection refrain from doing so because our present tax system steals not only from the rich but also, more egregiously, from the poor. The only taxes which government has a right to levy is the Georgist "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land (in fact it has not only a right but a duty to collect such tax), and arguably inheritance taxes, gift taxes (more tenuously), "luxury" taxes (much more tenuously), and "use" taxes (e.g., sales taxes on gasoline and automobiles to pay for street and highway building and maintenance). But you then run into the very important issue of how such tax money is to be spent, because the forementioned taxes (primarily the Single Tax) are justified by the fact that what is collected really belongs to the community, and so the first and most natural disposition of these funds would be directly to the members of the community in the form of a "citizens' dividend." The government may legitimately skim off the top its costs in collecting the "tax" (more precisely this is called the "community collection of rent," or CCR), because without its operations the tax could not be collected, but it has no right to dispose of a citizen's right to his or her dividend out of what is left over without that citizen's explicit consent. As imperfect and artificial as democracy as we've known it generally is (because a majority has no magical right to do what an individual has no right to do), I think its use is justified and can be quite salutary on the very local level (i.e. more local than the State level), where citizens can meaningfully consent to and actually participate in the democratic process, and can more easily dissent from the majority by picking up and moving to another community which is more congenial to their values. This is the level at which public goods such as education, libraries, poor relief, police protection, etc., etc., should be funded out of the citizens' dividends in a manner to which they've meaningfully consented. Indeed, on this very local level, there is not much of a problem with additionally imposing ordinarily unjust taxes such as income taxes, when the community has by a democratic process agreed to such taxes and when individual members of the community are free to leave the community in favor of other communities. Ideally, local communities would freely contract with higher levels of "government" for such things as military defense from large-scale invasion. Arguably, communities which decline to contract for national defense present an economic "free-rider" problem. I'm not convinced that the free-rider problem justifies non-consensual uses of the citizens' dividend, but if it does, national defense is about the only thing that might justify it and should be the sole function, along with appellate judicial functions, of the federal government. Even so, national defense can only be justly funded out of the aforementioned legitimate forms of taxation. (A truly defensive military would be much cheaper than the one we have now.)

The Testimony of Integrity has compelled me to assert that a police officer who arrests and jails someone for possessing marijuana is acting criminally, and that someone who, even with the best of intentions, supports unjust forms of taxing and spending is de facto a member of the "robber class." It's necessary to put things that strongly to give things their true names. Indeed, not only the Testimony of Integrity, but also the Testimony of Love, leads me to tell it like it is and like I see it, and to point out where real harm and real injustice are being done. Nevertheless, and accordingly, I have much love for police officers and political activists who are trying to do the right thing, even those whose own measure of Light has not led them to the same conclusions that my own measure of Light has led me.