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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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.