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.
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.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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."
Posted at 2:24 AM
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Posted today at the Althouse blog, in response to her post titled "Will the secular left soon attack the religious right for being pro-science?" My comments:
"Reason is reason and logic is logic. Just as you don't need to go through 3 years of law school in order to "think like a lawyer," you don't need a PhD in science to spot logical contradictions and weaknesses in "scientific" claims. For an example of good and bad legal and scientific reasoning by lawyers, scientists, and judges, all in one place, see the briefs and court opinion in Kjolsrud v. MKB Management dba Red River Women's Clinic, a false advertising case dealing with false claims by an abortion clinic re: the scientific evidence linking induced abortion with increased breast cancer risk, available at http://www.court.state.nd.us/court/calendar/20030023.htm
Your ordinary powers of reasoning should allow you to sort out which is which."
"When One Hundred Authors Against Einstein, a collection of essays by 100 physicists attempting to discredit relativity theory, was published in 1930, Einstein reputedly responded to a reporter's query about the book with the remark: 'Were my theory wrong, it would have taken but one person to show it.'
This is why I'm not automatically convinced by claims that a purported "consensus" exists on some scientific question to accept that purported consensus. Some day I hope to have the opportunity to really dig into the debate between the Darwinists on one hand and the critics of evolution / the Intelligent Design movement on the other. But not yet having had that opportunity I reserve judgment. That doesn't seem to stop many liberal partisans (all of whom can't have truly engaged with the scientific debate), whose knee-jerk reaction to any critique or skepticism re: evolutionary theory is to accuse such skeptics of being fundamentalist neanderthals. (Notwithstanding the fact that natural intuition and common sense is arguably on the side of design rather than evolution, and that believing in evolution without actually engaging with the science is therefore itself a leap of faith, a blind trust in the "scientific community.")
On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to personally read and engage with the scientific literature on the link between induced abortion and increased breast cancer risk, and have had the dubious pleasure of personally cross-examining so-called scientific "experts" in this area on the stand and exposing their ignorance, contradictions, and deceptions. When I therefore read on the National Cancer Institute website that a "consensus" of scientists (who risk losing all that taxpayer money for their research if they don't toe the NCI party line) agree that there is no link between induced abortion and increased breast cancer risk (translation: "ladies, don't worry your pretty little heads about this, nothing to see here"), it carries zero weight with me. All it suggests is that if you have a few extra dollars lying around you're inclined to donate to philanthropic causes, you're better off directing it in some other direction than breast cancer research."
Posted at 9:20 PM
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
In an earlier blog post I set a goal of more or less daily blog posts but sort of committed to at least one a week, suggesting that if you haven't heard from me in a week that just might mean that They have finally come to take me away. Well, Thanksgiving week went by quickly, and I noticed that my last blog post was a week ago today, so despite not having much to say or comment upon after my daily perusal of my blogroll at the right, I'm checking in so that my regular reader(s) know I'm still at large. (According to Sitemeter, I seem to have a few, including now my brother and maybe my dad after letting them know about this blog's existence over turkey last Thursday.) But by all means, if you want to contribute to my legal defense fund which I suspect I'll need someday in the future, buy one of those "Recommended" books through the Amazon links at the bottom of this page.
A couple items of note: this review over at the excellent blog The Distributist Review of the new movie No Country for Old Men, which I look forward to seeing soon; and this recent post at The Volokh Conspiracy about "a little scandal brewing in South Carolina over the state Supreme Court's decision to eliminate the results from one [bar exam] question, allowing several people to pass who would otherwise have failed, including the daughter of a influential local pol." A related post in my mind is this one, also at The Volokh Conspiracy, on "Why You Shouldn't Go to Law School." The biggest argument against going to law school is the time and expense involved. After the all, the "legal jobs and other attorneys suck" part of the argument is highly dependent upon personality and particular circumstances, and really not a big deal if you're not carrying on your back a boatload of law school debt and three years of missed opportunities. In the absence of these costs, you could simply learn on the job or in an apprenticeship and find out for yourself whether you like and are suited for the practice of law. If you find out that you're not, you simply move into another field, no big deal, nothing wasted. You could become a teacher, if that profession hadn't also set up draconian entry barriers around itself to protect its salaries. What a wonderful and freer world this would be if we were properly outraged and scandalized by these transparent conspiracies between various professions and the government to protect their turf and jack up prices at the expense of consumers through these licensing schemes. These schemes are not only a serious infringement on the very fundamental right to earn an honest living, but in the case of the typical "Unauthorized Practice of Law" statutes forbidding unlicensed attorneys from rendering legal advice probably also a violation of the First Amendment.
COMING SOON: Inspired by this post by "Quaker Ranter" Martin Kelley (especially this line: "I'm more tender and forgiving of other Quaker bloggers when I know more of their story: it puts what they say into a context that makes it sound more lived, less ideological."), a personal, less ideological explanation of the life experiences that have contributed to my present rather vitriolic contempt for "our" government.
Posted at 10:29 AM
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Today I posted the following comment to this post on Ann Althouse's blog, responding to her observation that "Private citizens and business get stuck with the application of general laws, which they don't write":
All this thinking about politics and its inherent depravity will turn you into an anarchist yet!
Seriously, though, recognizing that our government has no inherent right to exist and that the "majority" has no natural right to rule over the minority does not necessarily as a practical matter entail quixotically advocating the immediate abolishment of the government. If the government prevents or punishes a genuine crime (e.g. murder or robbery, but not smoking pot, prostitution, gambling, or other mere vices), there is no injustice, even though the government has no real authority of its own, because it's not doing anything anyone else wouldn't have the right to do in the state of nature. And I think we can probably all agree that it's in fact preferable to have such justice carried out by a generally recognized "due process" than by vigilantes or private armies.
Does it have the right to take property from some in order that others don't starve? Maybe, on the theory, recognized by Thomas Aquinas among others, that stealing food from the bounty of others when there is no other way to prevent the starvation of one's self or one's family is not really theft at all. The government has no right to do what a private citizen has no right to do, but in this instance could be said to be doing what a starving poor person would have a right to do, on their behalf. But assuming this hypothetical poor person had a choice (as the government acting on his behalf presumably does), would he be morally justified in stealing from somebody who was himself struggling to make ends meet, when he could just as easily steal from someone with enough money in the bank to pay his own grocery bills many lifetimes over?
The most fundamental way to prevent poor people from starving in the first place would be to restore to them what they have a right to in the first place and what government has taken from them: a free and equal share of the earth and the earth's natural resources, or its equivalent in the form of a "Citizen's Dividend," funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources. (A Google search will turn up several good explanations of these concepts.)
In these concepts is also found the only means by which this enterprise known as the government, which has non-consensually arrogated to itself the business of dispensing justice and protecting us, may legitimately pay itself for the "services" it bestows upon us. Since the unimproved value of land (even of that land which has improvements attached to it) belongs to every member of the society equally, the government is justified in collecting on behalf of society the "rent" associated with this value, in the same way that the government (like any private citizen in the state of nature) would be justified in recovering and returning to its rightful owner stolen property. (Inheritance taxes on property "owned" by a dead person and therefore by nobody could be justified on similar grounds.) Since this rent could not be collected and distributed in the absence of a government-type organization, the organization would be justified in skimming off the top its costs in collecting and distributing the rent, which presumably would include the necessary muscle to collect the rent and to maintain itself in existence against enemies foreign and domestic. Since that money would be coming out of each of our "Citizen's Dividends" to enable the collection of such Dividends, what we'd really be paying for is the protection of our property (and personal) rights -- and that's how a police, a military, and a "welfare" system (more precisely, a substitute for the welfare system grounded in justice rather than charity or policy) could be founded on a technically non-consensual but nevertheless just basis.
To reiterate, I'm well aware that the "utopia" I've sketched is ages away from the oppressive travesty we live under, and I'm not interested in vainly frittering away my life railing against something so brutal, stupid, and unresponsive to pleas for real justice. But culturally I think we would do very well to leave off our delusions and our myths, and to recognize the plain fact, just as our forefathers recognized with respect to the British Empire, that our present government has no "right" to rule over us. We "owe" it neither our allegiance, nor our "patriotism," nor our respect, nor our labor nor the fruits of our labor. Prudence, not duty, may dictate that we submit to its robberies (just as the convenience store clerk held at gunpoint may find it prudent to hand over the cash), until either the wider culture outgrows its submissive infantilism or the whole sorry mess collapses under the weight of its own corruption, as other empires and other tyrannies have before it.
Posted at 9:36 PM
Monday, November 19, 2007
I thought I would spruce my blog up with a little music. The first song I thought of was "How Can I Keep From Singing?" It's often identified as a traditional "Quaker" hymn. This is incorrect (Quakers, after all, traditionally don't sing as a group during Meeting for Worship), but it's nevertheless a beautiful song. The only versions that show up when I plug this title into the YouTube "Video Bar" page element Blogger offers is one by Enya and one by somebody named Chris Tomlin. I like Enya's version. I've never really listened to her. Her music has typically been categorized in the "New Age" genre, though according to her Wikipedia article she does not personally consider her music as belonging to that genre.
The other song I was inspired to search for is "Hallelujah Square," a song I fondly remember my then 16-year old Aunt Melody singing to me and my brother when I was about 5 years old, back when she was attending a Pentecostal Church. I haven't heard the song since, but somehow I've always remembered the song and the lyrics. It's one of my earliest and best memories. The two versions that show up from the YouTube "Video Bar" search aren't exactly the way I remember the song (I liked my aunt's version better), but they're close, and not too bad.
Both songs are in the YouTube "Video Bars" to the right. Below are the lyrics. Enya's version of How Can I Keep From Singing uses lyrics modified from the older hymn and made popular by Pete Seeger, which omit much of the Christian wording of the original. Here are the older original lyrics, written in 1860 by Baptist minister Robert Lowry. The lyrics below to Hallelujah Square are slightly different than any you'd find online, since I've transcribed them the way I remember my Aunt Mel singing them.
How Can I Keep From Singing?
My life goes on in endless song
Above earth's lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?
(1) I saw a blind man, he was tapping along,
Losing his way as he passed through the throng;
I said to him, "I'm so sorry you can't see."
But with a smile on his face, he replied to me, "I'm gonna [chorus]
Chorus: "see all my friends in Hallelujah Square;
What a glorious time we'll all have up there.
We'll sing and praise Jesus, his glory to share,
(1) And there won't be one blind man in Hallelujah Square.
(2) And there won't be one cripple in Hallelujah Square.
(3) And we'll all live forever in Hallelujah Square."
(2) I saw a cripple, he was dragging his feet;
He couldn't walk like you do down the street.
I said to him, "I feel so sorry for you."
But he said, "Up in heaven I'm gonna walk just like you. And I'll [chorus]"
(3) I saw an old man, he was gasping for breath;
Soon he'd be gone as his eyes closed in death;
He said to me, "Now Boy, don't look so blue;"
He said, "I'm going up to heaven; now how about you? And I'll [chorus]"
Posted at 6:17 AM
First Eugene Volokh, now Ann Althouse, a former law professor of mine professing law at the University of Wisconsin whose blog averages as much traffic in one hour as mine has gotten in the last two months. Although her politics generally don't appeal to me -- she typically reaches hawkish and/or socially-liberal conclusions -- I believe her often-voiced claim that, contrary to the many oft-profane accusations from the liberal critics who troll her blog, she doesn't blog with an agenda and that her blog writing is an extension and expression of her pre-law prof life as an artist. Furthermore, the eclectic and generally interesting nature of her writing -- legal topics by her estimate constitute only about 20% of her blogging -- attracts a wide variety of readers and has correspondingly generated in my opinion perhaps the best regular comments section in the blogosphere of which I'm aware, with Volokh Conspiracy and Reason: Hit & Run a close second.
Althouse recently quoted one of my comments on her blog in a post titled "Do you want to be a star in the commentosphere?" This was the quoted comment (in the comments section of this post):
"I don't know about aspiring to be a star, but my blog now mainly consists of a running compendium of my comments on much higher traffic blogs. That way I don't run the risk of spending a lot of time on posts that nobody reads, and I'm basically doing what I'd do anyway. Thanks to Althouse for the idea (in one of her earlier posts) of blogging this way."
Later I made a few anarchic comments in this Althouse post relating to my choice of writing instruments were I appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (i.e. crayon), culminating in this one, in response to another commenter who had said that ". . . the purpose of the Constitution was to limit the power of government":
"Alas, I'm afraid that in the actual historical context of the Articles of Confederation the purpose of the Constitution was in fact not to limit but to expand the power of government, and to bend it to the will and financial interests of the politically connected. Albert Jay Nock's classic book "Our Enemy, the State" has the lowdown. There's nothing especially admirable about the Constitution. As the great nineteenth century legal scholar Lysander Spooner put it, at the very end of his "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority", "But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain --- that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist." And that was before the Sixteenth Amendment came along.Now the Declaration of Independence, on the other hand, that was something."
I promote further anarchy on this Althouse thread, where in response to a commenter who had criticized a passage I quoted from Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, I said this:
"Thoreau's words, at least the ones I've quoted from Civil Disobedience, carry "Authority" for me, not because Thoreau said them or because Thoreau lived for a time in a cabin by Walden Pond, but because they're true.You say "'consent' in this context means majority consent to what a government is and does." That is simply wrong, and a recipe for tyrrany [sic]. Did Stalin's USSR have majority consent? Did Hitler's Germany? It would have been hard to tell if you took a poll (fear of the Gulag, etc.), and Hitler at least seemed to enjoy the popular support of his "constituents" for much of his reign. Was a German who had retained his moral sense at that time in history bound to submit his moral sense to that of the "majority"? In America, our system of political campaigning funded by lobbyists and other Big Money interests is a poor, contemptible counterfeit for the will of the majority. In any event, the most important point is that a "majority" doesn't have some magical right to do something that it would be immoral for an individual to do, like steal or murder. Read Lysander Spooner's "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority." Maybe then you'll have thought about this enough that we could have a meaningful debate."
Posted at 2:37 AM
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Eugene Volokh quotes me and three other commenters in his latest post on the verdict against Fred Phelps and his Westboro "Baptist Church" for protesting the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq. Here's my comment that Volokh quoted. Volokh proposes a hypothetical in which a public university decides to discipline students who hold a demonstration carrying posters that display the Mohammed cartoons, and suggests that upholding the verdict against the Phelpsians might lead to a slippery slope and the loss of First Amendment protection for the kind of speech in his hypothetical. I responded in the comments section of his latest post with the following:
"Or how about another hypothetical: protestors outside a Catholic Church on Sunday morning carrying signs calling the Catholic Church the "Whore of Babylon," or making the factual statement that "X number of priests have raped boys," or "This Church's bishop swept child rape under the rug," or any of many other things people could and do say against the Catholic Church. Perhaps some of them are carrying a defaced Crucifix or other image outrageously offensive to Catholics.
I raise this hypothetical as an alternative to the Mohammed cartoon hypothetical for several reasons: I was the source of the comment suggesting the family of the deceased's countervailing First Amendment "free exercise of religion" right to mourn their child in peace in point 10 of Eugene's post; the different examples of speech that might be exercised at the Church protest highlight the difficulty of drawing a bright line defining outrageous and unacceptable speech, particularly when you consider that one of the people holding such a sign might have themselves been abused by a priest and be justly angry at the Church and/or its policies; and the targeted nature of the protest and its encroachment on the space of people doing what they clearly have a right to do who presumably are unwilling recipients of the protest "speech," which for me has been key to my belief that the Phelpsians' funeral protest was not protected by the First Amendment, and which seems clearer in this Church protest hypothetical than in a Mohammed cartoon demonstration on a college green.
I raise the hypothetical to myself to see if I can indeed distinguish in my own mind what seems to me an even harder hypothetical than the one Eugene raised from the Phelpsians' funeral protests. As a former Roman Catholic, I consider myself for the most part "Catholic-friendly," but I do think the hypothetical protesters I'm contemplating would have the right to make such a protest on a public street outside the Church, and that the Mohammed cartoon carriers would have the right to make their protest (and I think current First Amendment jurisprudence bears that out), so long as the protests were not so loud that they could be heard inside the Church or inside the private dormitories on campus.
Nevertheless, I still think funerals are distinguishable in a way that may make them pretty much unique (making it rather problematic to apply to them "principles" which are supposed to apply to a wide variety of cases). Among their most important distinguishing characteristics for present purposes is the fact that those "celebrating" them are typically emotionally devastated, the fact that it is virtually impossible to sensibly argue that the ceremony itself hurts anybody, and the fact that they are celebrated only once for each deceased. Protesters therefore have the potential to ruin forever a religious ceremony mourning the deceased and praying for his or her propitious journey to a favorable afterlife. As I've suggested in other threads, it seems to me that the right to mourn one's dead child in peace is every bit as fundamental as the right to free speech itself. As such, it seems that this right would be worthy of an Amendment all its own, though it would seem rather odd to devote a Constitutional Amendment to something so particular that occupies only a tiny fraction of human life. Nevertheless, it's a pretty important fraction to those who have lost a child or other loved one.
I'm not necessarily arguing for the propriety of this particular verdict, but for the propriety of a statute prohibiting anyone from protesting a funeral within sight or hearing of the funeral. I'm no big fan of the Court's propensity for inventing fundamental rights where none exist, but it seems there is room for recognition of this particular actually existing fundamental right in First Amendment jurisprudence."
Posted at 1:12 AM
Monday, November 12, 2007
Although the Georgist Single Tax on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be by far the "fairest" tax, by virtue of natural law and economic efficiency, inheritance taxes also find justification in natural law and economic efficiency (especially in comparison to the evil that is the income tax). The dynamic blogging duo of Gary Becker and Richard Posner recognized some of the economic justifications for replacing income taxes with inheritance taxes in their post yesterday.
Some nuggets of truth from Gary Becker, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics:
"To be sure, some of these "self made" billionaire businessmen accumulated some of their wealth from political connections that gave them protected markets. This category includes Carlos Slim, many of the richest Russians, and some others. They tend to be able businessmen, but there is a vast difference between the contribution to society from starting a Google, Microsoft, Wal-Mart's, Arcelor Mittal, or IKEA, and the extraction of profits from a monopoly position protected by government regulations."
"Still, there is pressure in most countries to tax heavily the very wealthy. One possible reason to do so would be to prevent their children and other descendants from having large advantages over descendants from financially modest families. But to help in equalizing opportunities, taxes should be on inheritances, not as in the US and many other countries, on estates."
"A heavy tax on the very wealthy would also raise tax revenue that could replace income and other taxes on the not so wealthy."
Then comes 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner talkin some more sense:
"I also agree with Becker that the benefits to consumers from the entrepreneurial efforts that produced Microsoft, Google, Apple, E-Bay, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, private-equity firms, hedge funds, and other commercial successes that have generated large personal fortunes are much larger than the personal fortunes garnered by the founders and principals of such companies.
It does not follow, however, that these billionaires "deserve" their fortunes and therefore should be as lightly taxed as they are. As the economist Sherwin Rosen showed in a famous article, in certain circumstances a very small difference in ability can translate into an enormous different in reward. The key is the reproducibility of a product or service or innovation. If one pianist is slightly better than any other, his recordings may capture the entire market for recordings of the kind of pieces he plays best because the consumer has no reason to buy his rivals' slightly inferior recordings, provided prices are comparable. As transportation costs and tariff barriers fall and foreign countries become richer, the markets for the best American products expand, increasing the profit potential for producers with the lowest quality-adjusted costs. The greater output of the superior producer confers real value, but there is only a loose relation between that value and the reward to the producer. Bill Gates is extremely able, but not a thousand times abler than pikers worth a mere $50 million."
"Yet even without thinking these fortunes dangerous, or the product of anything more sinister that skill and luck, we might as Becker suggests see in them an attractive source of tax revenues. The ideal tax is a tax that produces large revenues but has minimal allocative effects. A uniform head tax, avoidable only by emigration, would have minimal effects on people's behavior but would generate only modest revenues, because if genuinely uniform the tax would have to be set at a level that the poorest person could pay. A highly progressive income tax, without loopholes, would produce a great deal of revenue but probably would generate significant misallocative effects by causing people to substitute leisure for work and riskless jobs and investments for risky ones.
In these respects the estate tax is somewhere in between the head tax and the highly progressive income tax. Death cannot be averted, and in that respect an estate tax resembles a head tax. But the potential revenues are much greater, especially in an era of large fortunes. Adding up the fortunes listed in the Forbes article for just the 10 wealthiest Americans yields a total of almost $600 billion. The estate tax has as many holes as a very large Swiss cheese, but they could be closed."
"So although a stiffer estate tax on large fortunes (which would not require an increase in the tax rate but merely a closing of loopholes) would probably impose some cost in loss of charitable donations, which could in turn increase demand for public spending, I believe the revenue potential of such a tax would offset the costs. The tax increase could be made revenue-neutral, enabling a less efficient tax, such as the personal or corporate income tax, to be reduced."
Posted at 2:29 AM
Saturday, November 10, 2007
According to the Blog Readability Test, this blog's reading level is "Genius." I've put the badge that accompanies this "honor" on the sidebar to the right, but don't think I'll leave it there long, because if anything, I think this score probably just means my sentences are too long and I don't use enough paragraph breaks. Come to think of it, that last sentence was too long. I'll try to do better and get the reading level down to the "junior high school" level. After all, that's the reading level the Geniuses over at The Volokh Conspiracy apparently write at.
Posted at 8:49 AM
Friday, November 9, 2007
David Kopel, a collaborator at The Volokh Conspiracy, has posted his Working Paper on Modern Christian Pacifist Philosophy. I posted the following comment:
As a libertarian Quaker, I'm finding this paper a very interesting read, and appreciate your on-the-mark reference to the Quaker Peace Testimony in the opening paragraph (don't have time to finish it now, but will tonight). Thanks for posting it. BTW, the well-known Quaker Testimony of Peace is focused on war, and the passions, hatreds and lusts which lead to and accompany war. It's not completely pacifist in that it does not necessarily abjure the use of force. E.g., the use of force by the police in the genuine maintenance of peace, and even in the dispassionate punishment of criminals, is not frowned upon (at least it wasn't for most of Quaker history), and Quakers have served as constables and police officers without incurring censure from their religious communities (in my opinion the propriety of working as a police officer has become problematic in light of the many unjust laws on the books, such as those that authorize jail and prison for merely possessing or using marijuana, but that's another matter). Indeed, Caroline Stephens in her classic book Quaker Strongholds made the point that she had difficulty in finding fault with certain wars which seemed to partake of the same nature as that of police action (though she could still not conceive of any war which did not come from evil and lead to evil). But in any event, as the footnote cited in the opening paragraph of the Working Paper makes clear, the Quaker Peace "Testimony" is just that: a personal testimony, witness and aspiration towards perfection, rather than a theory or dogma purporting to define what is right or allowable for all people at all times.
Posted at 1:36 PM
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The limits of the First Amendment: response to Volokh on the $10.9 million verdict against Westboro "Baptist Church" for protesting funeral of soldier
The uber-smart law prof Eugene Volokh has a series of posts on the verdict in light of the First Amendment. I agree with much of what he says, except on what I think is the most fundamental issue. Here's the comment I posted in response to one of Prof. Volokh's posts:
Part of your argument is based upon what First Amendment jurisprudence currently says; and part is based on how you think it should be interpreted, the direction it should go, and policy / "slippery slope" arguments (which, as you identify as a libertarian, I'll assume are based on corresponding notions of natural justice). I'll defer to you on the former part of your argument but question your conclusions with regard to the latter part of your argument. Specifically, I don't think that natural justice and policy/slippery slope considerations require that "people would still be able to express their anti-American, anti-gay, cruel, unduly personalized, and just plain disgusting views . . . in picket signs that aren't right in front of the funeral but are visible from the funeral procession . . . ."
If I imagine an anarchist but for the most part just society that is not entirely pacifist, I think that family and friends of the deceased would be well within their rights to chase such protesters away from the vicinity of the funeral, clean out of sight and out of hearing. As things stand now, however, family and friends would get themselves in trouble with the government for doing so, and the burden is on people who would say that they should indeed incur consequences from the government to justify why this is so. On the other hand, in a just natural society that respects personal space and free speech, I don't think friends and family of the deceased would be justified in going out of their way to disrupt a protest taking place a mile away or across town, or to somehow prevent people like the Phelpsians from calling into radio stations, issuing press releases, or posting their hateful garbage on websites, and the like.
I wonder whether we haven't fetishized public protesting and overstated its importance in the discourse and truth-seeking that the First Amendment was designed to protect. Certainly when such protests intentionally, coercively and aggressively invade the space of the objects of their protest, even in public places, considerations of personal space and the right to be left alone are just as important from the freedom-loving point of view as the right to free speech. (And I don't think we can arbitrarily set the boundaries of personal space with something like a 300 ft. "buffer zone." Seems like it has more to do with whether the speaker is intentionally and coercively imposing his speech on another in a way that the other can't avoid, e.g., if the protesters in this case got advance notice of the funeral procession route and set up their protest and held their abominable signs along that route.)
I'm inclined to distinguish such things as abortion clinic protests by suggesting that people do have a right to protest conduct or speech with which they disagree as it is happening. Objectionable conduct or speech "opens the door", so to speak, to contrary speech and protest. Such a principle would preclude, e.g., residential picketing of an abortionist's home, which I don't think would be a bad thing -- i.e., I don't think the discourse of this nation would suffer because of such a preclusion (and I'm pro-life and as an undergrad participated in abortion clinic protests). I suppose the Phelpsians would respond by saying that they're not only protesting homosexuality but the actual celebration and "conduct" of this funeral, that this dead soldier should not be mourned by his family because he was part of the military of a nation which protected homosexuality. Now, that's just B.S., and maybe we'll just have to exercise our common sense and recognize the special case that funerals present by enacting a statute which prohibits protesting a funeral anywhere within sight or hearing of the funeral or the funeral procession. I don't see how such a statute could run afoul of the First Amendment properly interpreted in light of natural justice, because it seems that the natural right to mourn one's dead child in peace is every bit as fundamental as the right to free speech. Indeed, the right to mourn one's dead child in peace would seem to be protected by the other part of the First Amendment having to do with free exercise of religion. (Government action being implicated because in the absence of a robust recognition of this right family and friends of the deceased would be prevented from, or punished for, exercising their natural right to chase the protesters out of sight or hearing of the funeral.)
Posted at 11:28 AM
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The Friendly Funnel has some interesting reflections upon "convergent" Friends and the idea that the concept of perfection offers us a way forward to convergence. She quotes the Introduction by Margery Post Abbott to her anthology called "A Certain Kind of Perfection":
Through my encounters with evangelical Friends and the consequent explorations of the roots of my own faith as a liberal Friend, I find a connection between these two traditions in the unlikely concept of perfection… we all believe that as we turn towards God, then are obedient to divine guidance, we will experience an inward peace and act with compassion, humility, and righteousness. We can, through the work of the Spirit, live out God’s reign on earth. All Friends seek to live out of the love expressed in the Sermon on the Mount… When understood as wholeness, spiritual maturity, soundness, completion, or even obedience, perfection starts to become more accessible to me. Other Friends who find the terms perfection and holiness difficult are more apt to speak of discipleship, obedience, baptism with the Holy Spirit, or the ‘Lordship of Jesus Christ’. For a few, spiritual formation or inner healing are the most expressive terms for perfection. ‘Teleos’, the Biblical word for perfection, means ‘end goal’ and suggests an orientation more than a fixed state of being.
I offered the following comment:
"I think something along these lines, i.e. finding unity in greater respect for ideals of perfection, was what I was trying to get at a couple weeks ago in my blog post titled “A further reflection on convergence and a proposal for a double standard” (a choice of title which was perhaps unduly undiplomatic). That post focused on issues of sexual morality, which unfortunately seem just as (and possibly more) significant in our ongoing Quaker divisions between liberal and evangelical as issues surrounding the proper role of Jesus and Scripture in Quaker spirituality. It’s unfortunate, and rather telling, that sexual issues have loomed so large in the religious disagreements and divisions that have affected not only Quakers but other religious denominations, particularly it seems since the 1960s. In a properly ordered soul and a properly ordered society, on the other hand, sex is seen simply as a natural part of life, which like other bodily appetites must be kept modestly subject to the head and the heart, and also as something which, in its potential to procreate new life and to hurt ourselves and other people, is fraught with moral consequences to a degree that, e.g., our bodily appetite for food is not."
Posted at 6:31 PM
Monday, November 5, 2007
In my stroll down blog commentary memory lane, I also came across the following two comments on posts at Reason's Hit & Run blog, which got high props from other commenters. These comments predate my discovery of Henry George and my present geoanarchism.
From Feb. 20, 2007:
"It's very heartening to hear progressive ideas about taxes getting a fair hearing and sympathetic ear among libertarians here (of which I count myself one -- i.e. reducing out-of-control government spending is the most fundamental way to reduce taxes). I would add that the "repeal the estate tax" component of the Bush tax cut plan in particular highlights its evil and regressive nature. (See Andrew Carnegie's The Gospel of Wealth for a prominent historical argument from a libertarian capitalist in favor of inheritance taxes.) We should indeed counter the typical liberal's neglect of property rights in favor of civil rights by emphasizing, as libertarians readily do, that liberty is in many essential ways tied to and dependent upon property, but we should in the same breath also recognize and emphasize that this tie is closer the less property an individual has. Confiscating $3k from somebody making $30k a year infringes on his liberty (by keeping him closer to the realm of need and necessity) more than confiscating $30k from somebody making $300k a year, and a hell of a lot more than confiscating $30k from somebody's $300k inheritance. I submit that if the government needs $30k for some legitimate purpose, it's better for the economy and for society if that $30k comes from one person's $300k inheritance than in $3k chunks from 10 people making $30k a year. A Prof. Graetz (or Gaetz) from Yale Law School is advocating something he calls "Back to the Future" (since it's similar to how Americans were taxed prior to WWII), which includes a $50k standard deduction for individuals ($100k for married couples), combined with a reasonable VAT (value added tax) on consumption. Exempt farm products from this consumption tax and retain (and better yet expand) a reformed estate or inheritance tax, and I think we'd be well on our way to a fair federal tax system. For the vast majority of Americans, April 15th would be just another day, and that can't not be a good thing."
From March 8, 2007:
"[quoting another commenter:] 'The biggest threat to libertarianism is that you guys don't seem to grasp that it's a philosophy that's only attractive to people who either have lots of money or expect to in the future.' Indeed, I think libertarians are prone to an amoral, Darwinist, "greed is good" attitude that they mistake for libertarianism itself. The principle of "ordered liberty," as conceived by the Founders, is premised on the idea that a virtuous citizenry, which honors the two Greatest Commandments, is essential to a free society. (Brookhiser's biography of Washington, Founding Father, makes this point well, that true self-government begins with each individual citizen's government of his own soul.) Libertarianism is the salutary rejection of all unnecessary government coercion, along with all other forms of unjust coercion. It's founded on the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. We undercut that foundation, and make ourselves unappealing, when, in a misguided effort to demonstrate our libertarian bona fides, we talk and act like selfish hedonistic bastards or speak with disrespect and unconcern for the poor.I agree that government and government handouts are not the solution for the poor. But central to the libertarian concern, as it was to those who led the American Revolution, are taxes, and the justice or injustice of the coercive taking of property that they entail. Liberty is tied to property, but this tie is closer the less property an individual has. These truths support lower overall government spending and taxing, but also more "progressiveness" in the taxes we do have (e.g. in the form of a much higher standard income tax deduction, and the replacement of other sources of tax revenue with inheritance taxes, which are among the most progressive taxes of all). The Darwinists among us have a kneejerk reaction to progessive taxation, as it calls to mind the collectivist goal of redistribution. But this is not a matter of taking from the richer to give to the poorer, but of taking from the richer instead of the poorer. But alas, libertarian rhetoric typically obsesses with impediments in the way of the Randian superman, and not so much on the grievous assault on liberty that occurs each time the government confiscates big chunks of a working man's (or small businessman's) hard-earned labor. Democrats are known as advocates of the working man and as proponents of progressive taxation, but they don't want so much to reduce the tax burden on the poor and middle class as they want to tax the hell out of everybody, and then give bits and pieces back to the poor in the form of government handouts.Who's advocating a progressive libertarianism, which seems like it would appeal to a vast number of Americans, particularly Americans who vote? Pretty much nobody. Sounds like a wide-open opportunity for an ambitous political movement to me."
Posted at 10:46 PM
Commenting on other blogs about Westboro Baptist Church, Platonism, Georgism, and the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link
I was glad to see this blog has been picked up by the Zebby libertarian blog aggregator and the Quaker blog aggregator. My readership, however, not surprisingly for a new blog, remains sparse. The real fun in blogging takes place in the back-and-forth that goes on in the commentary of those blogs that have gained a wide readership. For some time I've been an active blog commenter, at least sporadically, especially at Ann Althouse, The Volokh Conspiracy, and Reason's Hit & Run. As I suggested in an earlier post, I think for now I'll concentrate on using this blog as a running compendium of my commentary on other blogs, commentary which is often sharpened and benefits by the responses of other commenters. I'll still occasionally initiate independent blog posts on news items that speak to me or random philosophical reflections as the spirit moves me.
Most recently I offered at Althouse's blog a response inspired by Plato's Symposium to the question whether there can be marriage in heaven, and several comments on the $11 million jury verdict against Westboro Baptist Church for emotional distress and invasion of privacy intentionally inflicted by its protest of a dead soldier's funeral (involving signs saying, among other hateful things, "God Hates Fags") and the ramifications of the verdict for the First Amendment.
A couple of my more noteworthy and substantive blog commentary from the past are a lengthy interaction with other commenters at Volokh Conspiracy about the evidence linking induced abortion with increased breast cancer risk and this debate with other commenters about Georgist principles and fair taxation, also at Volokh Conspiracy.
Posted at 6:29 PM
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Jeanne at her Social Class & Quakers blog suggests the following blog game based on an exercise developed by some folks at Illinois State University, where you highlight / boldface possible indicators of privilege. Here's my list:
Father went to college (father was in prison when we were very young; mother died when I was 2; raised by aunt and uncle)
Father finished college
Mother went to college (aunt who raised us went for a couple years but quit when she took me and my brother in)
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 (swimming)
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs (I'm still paying for all of it, except for what the G.I. Bill covered)
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp (one week wrestling camp in high school)
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house (we moved from apartment and lived with grandmother at her house after age 8 or 9)
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home (not sure what mortgage status was; house was left to aunt after grandmother passed away when I was 10 or 11)
You had your own room as a child
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up (remember going to King Tut exhibit in Chicago)
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
Posted at 5:54 PM
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.
Posted at 9:46 AM
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