Liberty pioneers, showing the way through the economic wilderness

Liberty pioneers: showing the world how to live without government

Libertarians living off tax money is unethical, but it’s an even bigger practical problem. It shows that living without the government teat is impossible, that living on theft is the only way. It is philosophically damaging to the idea of a voluntary society. It is also bad marketing to people who ask questions like “who will build the roads?”

There will never be a day when we simply “get rid of government”, such that everything is perfectly free. This is because no one wants to be the first to give up their government goodies. Just as unilateral free trade is better than mutual protectionism, unilateral voluntarism is better than mutual theft. We can only ever get rid of government by showing, in practical terms, how to make a living without it.

Is it difficult? Extremely! Will it mean less money and fewer opportunities than working for the government? Yes! That is the price of advancing liberty. Many people are not up to the task. But then don’t blow hot air about liberty, if you are unwilling to do what is required to bring it about. It reeks of hypocrisy. The pioneers of liberty are the ones who show how to make a living, or even be rich, without stolen tax money. If they show the way, others will follow, simply because it’s in their self-interest. And isn’t that what we say motivates people, rather than abstract principles that contradict their daily reality?

Receiving tax money is theft

Ethics of receiving government money

I had a couple of objections to my argument that living off the government is unethical.

First, if accepting a government wage is unethical, then using the roads must also be unethical.

But this is not the case if one uses the net tax payer vs. net tax taker standard.  Using the roads is simply redeeming what was stolen from me.  Earning a government wage is 100% theft.

What about using the roads without having paid any taxes?  Should the government compel this person to pay taxes in order to justify using the roads?

If one looks at the road as just a pile of stolen money, the ethical way to remedy a theft is to split the money proportionally to what was stolen, and return the money to the victims.  Since the road cannot be split physically, its use may be split, effectively as usage vouchers, for the expected lifetime of the road that was built from that theft.  In other words, privatized.

The person who infringes on the use of the road without having had anything stolen in the first place, is infringing on the usage of the people who were stolen from.  He would be responsible for compensating those privatized owners, not for paying new taxes, i.e. new thefts committed against him.

This standard is consistent with not accepting any of the government’s stolen loot, unless, and only in the amount that, one was stolen from.

A corollary objection is, doesn’t this imply a need for government borders, since illegals use roads without having paid taxes?

Punishing people collectively is not justified, just because they are foreigners.  Furthermore, no one has commited any violations prior to crossing the border, so no a priori punishment is justified.  Many end up working and having money stolen from them.  However, any who do receive more from the government than was stolen from, are also stealing, the same as Americans who do so.  So, there is no categorical difference between Americans and foreigners.  No national border is justified, any more than any arbitrary border within the country.

The second objection is, while it may be unethical to provide services to the government in exchange for stolen money, it is okay to simply receive the money, as in Social Security payments.

If someone steals your car, you can justly recover your car, since you hold the rightful title.  If they steal your car and give it to a friend, you can also justly recover your car from their friend, since they do not have any rightful claim on it.  It is unethical for the robber’s friend to receive the stolen car.

Similarly, it is unethical to accept stolen money, since the victims have a right to have their money returned, from the money handed out by the government.

Handing over money

Is it ethical to work for the government?

If taxes are morally equivalent to theft, is it ethical to make a living from taxes?  I don’t mean welfare or corruption or anything thought of as taking advantage of the tax system.  I mean government jobs and even private sector jobs that rely almost exclusively on government contracts, such as military contractors.  If I believe taxes are theft, shouldn’t I refuse to work in a job paid primarily by taxes?

Objections

I can see some objections to this reasoning.

1. My job is more important / necessary / valuable than most of what the government spends taxes on, therefore it is justified, or at least not nearly as bad as other uses of taxes.

2. My job would exist in some form in a free society, therefore I’m not deforming the economy as much as other uses of taxes.

3. Someone else would do this job anyway, if I don’t.  It’s better if I take it, because then I can do it in a better way, more consistent with liberty, than some random person.  I might even be able to change the system from the inside.

4. Every job in some way relies on taxes, due to the nature of free trade in the economy.  A plumber may have customers who work for contractors that get government funding.  So, the plumber makes some of his money indirectly from taxes.  This means there is no ethical work.

5. It is too difficult to figure out how much economic benefit one derives from the government, considering income, occupational licensing, regulations in general, legal monopolies, indirect wage distortions from government spending, and other phenomena.  We just have to muddle through as best we can.

6. There are many other compromises we make in order to live in a society dominated by government.  This is no different.

7. It’s not ideal, but I have to feed my family, and since I can’t change the system all by myself, I have no choice but to make a living from taxes.

8. Taking money from the government is a positive good, because it is stealing from a thief, preventing him from profiting from the crime.

Difficulty of measurement is not an excuse

While these are all logically coherent objections, they still don’t answer the nagging fact that I am indeed taking stolen taxpayer money, with full knowledge and consent.

Just because it is hard to figure out how much money someone makes from the government doesn’t make it ethical.  It just means we have to figure out easier and better methods for calculating it.  To begin, we can at the very least agree that working directly for the government is unethical because your entire livelihood depends on stolen money.  We can then develop further metrics to get a more detailed picture of the ethics of one’s earnings.

Net tax payer or receiver?

Because money is fungible and circuitous, and because we make all kinds of small compromises to live in this society, as a standard, I propose asking whether one is a net tax taker or tax payer.  In this way, we know that the plumber, unless he works directly for the government or a government contractor, is an ethical worker since government steals from him more than he steals back.

The good thing about such a standard is that it resolves the complexity and taint objections.  Just sum up your activities and see what the bottom line is, as in a business.

The ends do not justify the means

To all arguments that the ends justify the means, or that we can’t afford to be ethical, or that it’s just not important, just imagine that I am a petty thief.  No amount of rationalization can do away with the reality of my crimes.  But, it is difficult to face this truth if I financially benefit from the crime.  That yields a very practical reason for this ethics: Making one’s living from taxpayer money makes it difficult to oppose government as such.

I look forward to developing this idea more and getting feedback on the challenges and additional objections I may not have addressed.

Girl with gun to her head

Are taxes ethical?

If taxes are taken without consent, then they are theft.  If they are taken with consent, these are three possible reasons someone might argue:

  1. By voting, you give your consent to have taxes taken from you.
  2. By residing in the territory of this country, you give consent.
  3. By existing as a human, you give consent.

For #1 – Does that mean if I don’t vote, then I don’t have to pay taxes?  Of course not.  This pay-to-vote system existed in early American history, but it is not true today.

For #2 – This means that if you reside anywhere, you give consent to whatever government claims that territory to take your money.  This is untenable for the following reasons:

  1. By what right does any government claim any territory as its own except by right of conquest, a feudal concept?  That is not a civilized system at all, as it turns people into conquered subjects.
  2. Any government can (and does) expand its territory at any time it can, so there is no escape, even if you are in the wilderness.
  3. The US government claims authority over the entire globe, due to its global income taxation for American citizens, and recent limits on revoking American citizenship.   This shows that territoriality is a laughable rationalization.

For #3 – Here we get to the real meat of the argument, distilled into the pithy observation that only death and taxes are certain in life.  But this is slavery, not consent.

I can only conclude that taxes are unethical because they are not collected by consent, so they are morally indistinguishable from theft.

extortion and secession

Secession misses the point

Secession, as a means to anarchy, misses the point.
 
Peaceful secession is simply a rearrangement of the political structure to one that is more convenient for the ruling regime, either because it is more economically efficient, or reduces political tensions and makes it easier to rule. Either way, any temporary increase in liberty is allowed only because it ultimately results in more control for the elite.
 
Real secession, creation of a sovereign state, necessarily means war. It is the rejection of the existing authority.
 
Anarchy cannot be achieved by peaceful secession. It is the rejection of all authority. Leftists are power-mad and do not care about economic efficiency, other people’s views, or tolerance. They believe they are right and want to kill their evil enemies. They will not “live and let live”, because that is precisely their attitude in the existing regime. Peaceful secession from a leftist regime is a performative contradiction.
 
The only way we will achieve liberty is by removing the tools of power from leftists and any other power-hungry psychopaths. This potentially could be achieved by many means, such as getting a majority of people on the side of liberty, to remove democratic power from the elite. But no leftist state will tolerate an independent anarchist regime anywhere in their sphere of control (they won’t even leave Iraq alone!).
 
The only way to achieve separation is by war.
Receiving tax money is theft

Ethics of receiving government money

I had a couple of objections to my argument that living off the government is unethical.

First, if accepting a government wage is unethical, then using the roads must also be unethical.

But this is not the case if one uses the net tax payer vs. net tax taker standard.  Using the roads is simply redeeming what was stolen from me.  Earning a government wage is 100% theft.

What about using the roads without having paid any taxes?  Should the government compel this person to pay taxes in order to justify using the roads?

If one looks at the road as just a pile of stolen money, the ethical way to remedy a theft is to split the money proportionally to what was stolen, and return the money to the victims.  Since the road cannot be split physically, its use may be split, effectively as usage vouchers, for the expected lifetime of the road that was built from that theft.  In other words, privatized.

The person who infringes on the use of the road without having had anything stolen in the first place, is infringing on the usage of the people who were stolen from.  He would be responsible for compensating those privatized owners, not for paying new taxes, i.e. new thefts committed against him.

This standard is consistent with not accepting any of the government’s stolen loot, unless, and only in the amount that, one was stolen from.

A corollary objection is, doesn’t this imply a need for government borders, since illegals use roads without having paid taxes?

Punishing people collectively is not justified, just because they are foreigners.  Furthermore, no one has commited any violations prior to crossing the border, so no a priori punishment is justified.  Many end up working and having money stolen from them.  However, any who do receive more from the government than was stolen from, are also stealing, the same as Americans who do so.  So, there is no categorical difference between Americans and foreigners.  No national border is justified, any more than any arbitrary border within the country.

The second objection is, while it may be unethical to provide services to the government in exchange for stolen money, it is okay to simply receive the money, as in Social Security payments.

If someone steals your car, you can justly recover your car, since you hold the rightful title.  If they steal your car and give it to a friend, you can also justly recover your car from their friend, since they do not have any rightful claim on it.  It is unethical for the robber’s friend to receive the stolen car.

Similarly, it is unethical to accept stolen money, since the victims have a right to have their money returned, from the money handed out by the government.

Birds flying to freedom

Human nature: liberty or tyranny?

If liberty is human nature, then we should see humanity in a state of liberty.  It is not in a state of liberty, but one of tyranny, or one of mixed liberty and tyranny.  Either tyranny must be an aberration or human nature is not purely suited to liberty.

If tyranny is an aberration, a result of historical circumstance, or a particular person or institution, then eliminating the aberrant factor should let humanity resume liberty.  History has shown eliminating the source of tyranny usually leads to a replacement tyranny, oftentimes greater than the original.

Any state, or center of power, gravitates towards greater tyranny over time, until a crisis, and rearrangement of affairs.

Outside the scope of the state, humans gravitate towards liberty, by the pursuit of their desires, by the creation of new forms and methods, by the discovery of new places and avenues.

As groups, humans vacillate between tyranny and liberty, often advancing both at once.

As individuals, humans pursue their own liberty, yet accept tyranny over others, and over themselves, as a price of liberty.

Lowering the price of liberty, easing the pursuit of one’s own ends, makes the individual less accepting of tyranny.

Increasing the price of tyranny makes the individual want to escape, and accept liberty, even if costly.

Liberty is the pursuit of one’s own ends.  Tyranny is opposing another’s pursuit of their own ends.

Liberty and tyranny are attitudes.  The more one is concerned with their own pursuits, the less they are likely to tyrannize.  The more one is concerned with others’ pursuits, the more likely they are to tyrannize.

The key to pursuing liberty as an end in itself is to shift people’s focus to themselves rather than others.

Humans look to control others for some end they value.  Their own end, or that of another’s: a god, a king, a state.

If all humans wanted to control others for their own ends, no control would be possible, since it would be nullified in its symmetric pursuit among all humans.  Tyranny can only arise by the desire to control for the sake of another.

The mysteries of existence and creation are fashioned into religion.  Human virtue and honor are fashioned into a king.  Organization and security are fashioned into a state.

The very things that humans value are fashioned into the means of their enslavement.  Tyranny is the pursuit of goodness by evil means.

Liberty is the pursuit of one’s ends by one’s own means.

Blood and Soil

“Blood and Soil” Libertarianism: A Response to Jeff Deist

Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, gave a talk this week, pushing libertarians into alt-right nationalism.  His talk is a confused mess and is a reminder that statism will always threaten to infect the liberty movement.

First, he sets up the necessity for political action by attacking technology development as a means of liberation.  He says technology doesn’t advance liberty on balance.  According to Jeff, only political power can result in libertarianism.  Peaceful development of technology, and its voluntary adoption, is politically useless, because it will end up being used by governments to oppress people.

Of course, this is contradicted by hundreds of years of technological progress.  Capital markets didn’t arise from a political process.  They were a technological innovation, that promoted social liberty regardless of the understanding of the participants.  Jeff actually says that the printing press had no net liberating effect on humanity!  Do I really need to spell out the massive liberating effect from thousands of years of ignorance and lies, the massive new opportunities available to commoners?  But, because it didn’t eliminate government altogether, it doesn’t count.  Yet later he says “Better, not perfect, ought to be our motto.”  Confused!

This isn’t his only confusion.  He poo poos technological optimism as “historical determinism”.  Yet in the same paragraph he says technology is useless because globalism is inevitable!  Which is it Jeff?   Are we to believe we can thwart determinism with politics, but not technology?  Talk about naive.  Then he calls libertarians “utopian” – confused!

Let’s take a look at Jeff’s mess of confusion and translate it into plain English.

“libertarians have a bad tendency to fall into utopianism”
“[Libertarians want to] give up their outdated ethnic or nationalist or cultural alliances.”

Translation: Libertarians are so silly to believe freedom is the highest political ideal.  Actually, it is about “nationalist or cultural alliances”.

“liberty as a deeply pragmatic approach to organizing society”

Translation: Society needs to be “organized” (centrally planned).  We need to be “pragmatic”, not principled, meaning we should use state power to achieve our desired ends.

“Better, not perfect, ought to be our motto.”

Translation: Dump liberty principles in the trash so we can use the state to defend “muh culture”.

“Human beings want to be part of something larger than themselves. Why do libertarians fail to grasp this?”
“There is a word for people who believe in nothing: not government, family, God, society, morality, or civilization. And that word is nihilist, not libertarian.”

Translation: Libertarianism isn’t about freedom from coercion.  It’s about being part of a collective and believing specific things about society and theology.

“My final point is about the stubborn tendency of libertarians to advocate some of sort of universal political arrangement.”
“Universalism provides the philosophical underpinnings for globalism, but globalism is not liberty: instead it threatens to create whole new levels of government. And universalism is not natural law; in fact it is often directly at odds with human nature and (true) human diversity.”

Translation: Libertarianism doesn’t apply to all humans.  It isn’t derived from human nature.  It is only suited to white Europeans in the United States.

“Nationalism is on the rise throughout Europe,”
“We should seize on this.”

Translation: Nationalist collectivism is en vogue right now, let’s abandon libertarian principles to ride this momentary popularity.  [Wait, I thought the world is moving inevitably towards globalism??]

“Mecca is not Paris, an Irishman is not an Aboriginal, a Buddhist is not a Rastafarian, a soccer mom is not a Russian.”

Translation: Humans are defined by their birthplace and race, as units of a collective identity.  Humans are not self-interested individuals who strive to pursue their own happiness.

“self-determination is the ultimate political goal.”

Translation: Self-determination of a national collective, not of the individual.  Remember, libertarianism is not accessible to other races or cultures, only white European America.

Note: The breakup of large superstates can be cheered without resorting to national collectivism.  The bureaucratization and monopolization of these superstates act to diminish individual freedom.  We want competing tax rates and regulatory environments, to allow people alternatives.

But just as technology is not a panacea, neither are national governments.   A national breakaway state may impose protectionist tarrifs, whereas a superstate guarantees free trade.  A smaller state may also be more tyrannical than the superstate it broke away from, reducing its citizens’ liberty.  The sword cuts both ways.

“In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.”

This one takes the cake.  Jeff goes with an unambiguous Nazi reference “Blood and Soil” (“Blut und Boden”) to describe his new libertarian values.  Not sure if he’s trolling, or just careless, but ultimately it means collectivism, whether based on genetics or the geography of one’s birth.  Apparently, libertarian ideas about individual freedom are not as important as we thought.  We should not strive to live and promote these values, no matter how difficult.  What matters is political “relevance” (power).  Sorry Jeff, I’m not interested in this version of “libertarianism”.