Mr. JTK Goes To Washington!

Well not Washington really, but I went to county sponsored community meeting which is almost as bad.

JTK at county sponsered community meeting.

Lynette and I recently attended a community meeting where the County Manager and his shill (I believe they call them “consultants”) were explaining a new proposed “fee” for property owners.

(Yeah, yeah, I know what some of you are shouting now. Shut up and let me type…)

Of course as many at the meeting recognized a government fee is really a tax. And there is a law in place saying that our property taxes can only be increased so much each year, and of course the public officials want to spend more so they look for ways to get around the law.

Our neighbors pointed out that this was obviously a new tax and our taxes are supposed to be capped.

The two “gentleman” making the presentation patiently explained that the courts had decided that this kind of bill legally qualified as a fee, not a tax, and was not subject to the same legal requirements as a tax.

“That doesn’t make it right,” Lynette told them.

They stopped short and their eyes went wide. I’m not kidding – they looked at her as if she was from another planet. I guess the shorthand is to say their jaws dropped, I believe their mouths visibly relaxed.

County Manager and his shill react ot Lynette's keen observation.

What could it possibly mean to say that having a measure blessed by a court didn’t make it right?

This was the first time I’d been to such a meeting in many years and I decided that my neighbors might not be ready to fully digest an allusion to Dred Scott at this precise moment…

Instead I offered a few short and simple (and very polite) arguments why the “gentlemen” were obviously full of shit.

Zwolinski’s Soft Head/Soft Heart Argument For A Basic Income Guarantee

Matt Zwolinski has a recent  article in the Washington Post wherein he asserts that it’s insulting to even suggest that poverty is often the result of personal failings. He starts by noting that many Americans have a problem with the idea of the government taking money form them to hand to others with no strings attached:

Too often in the United States, welfare comes with strings attached. Yes, Americans are willing to help the poor; but they aren’t quite willing to trust them. After all, a lot of Americans still believe that people fall into poverty because there’s something wrong with them. Poverty is the material reflection of an internal moral failure.

And so, many of us believe that whatever aid we give to the poor should not be a “handout.” It must be conditioned on the poor correcting the personal failings that got them into poverty in the first place. We’ll help you take care of your children, but only if you get a job. We’ll help you buy food, but only with food stamps that we know you can’t spend on alcohol or tobacco.

So now one would naturally expect that Zwolinski will explain why this thinking is wrong, why it’s simply not the case that moral failings contribute to poverty, and thus no justification for thinking aid should be rendered conditionally. No such argument is made in the article.

Is there any reason to think that moral failings contribute substantially to poverty? Bryan Caplan makes a persuasive case that they do.

When someone asks for your support, it’s natural to wonder, “Why do you need my support in the first place?”  Some answers are better than others.  If your friend asks you to pay for his lunch, “I was just mugged” is a better reason than “I already spent my whole paycheck on beer.”  If your girlfriend misses your birthday, “My car and phone both broke down” is a better reason than “I forgot.”  If a co-worker goes home early and asks you to cover for him, “I have the flu” is a better reason than “I want to play Skyrim.”

The key difference: If there are reasonable steps the person could take – or could have taken – to avoid his problem.  Your friend didn’t have to spend all his money on beer.  Your girlfriend could have put your birthday on her calendar.  Your co-worker could wait to play Skyrim.  These steps may not be appealing, but they are reasonable. There are grey areas, but you can usually tell which is which.

I propose to use the same standard to identify the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor.  Thedeserving poor are those who can’t take – and couldn’t have taken – reasonable steps to avoid poverty. The undeserving poor are those who can take – or could have taken – reasonable steps to avoid poverty.  Reasonable steps like: Work full-time, even if the best job you can get isn’t fun; spend your money on food and shelter before you get cigarettes or cable t.v.; use contraception if you can’t afford a child.  A simple test of “reasonableness”: If you wouldn’t accept an excuse from a friend, you shouldn’t accept it from anyone.

If I sound harsh, notice: by my standards, many of the poor are clearly deserving: low-skilled workers in the Third World, children of poor or irresponsible parents, the severely handicapped. Still, on reflection, many people we think of as “poor” turn out to be undeserving.

Let’s start with healthy adults in the First World.  Even the least-skilled full-time jobs pay more than enough for adults to comfortably support themselves.  In the U.S., the average income for janitors is about $25,000/year; the average for maids is about $21,000.  A household with one janitor and one maid averages $46,000, enough to put them at the 96th percentile of the world income distribution – and well above the U.S. poverty line.  Even Americans below the poverty line typically possess a long list of luxuries that the Kings of France would have envied: 80% have air conditioning, nearly three-quarters own a car, two-thirds have cable or satellite t.v., one-third have a plasma or LCD t.v.  My point isn’t that all healthy adults in the First World do enjoy such living standards, but that there are reasonable steps they can take – or could have taken – to do so.

Caplan further points out that even if you have a more expansive view of the proper role of government, than libertarians do, “…you should still see a big difference between forcing taxpayers to help starving kids, and forcing taxpayers to help irresponsible adults.”

Zwolinski has debated these points with Caplan on the web, offering:

[T]he mere fact that there is a valid moral distinction to be made does not entail that we want our public policies to make it.  It is, after all, difficult to discern between the deserving and the undeserving – maybe especially for governments, but for private charities too.

But Caplan points out it’s really not all that difficult to make such distinctions.

But on reflection, distinguishing the deserving from the undeserving poor is no harder than a thousand other moral distinctions we routinely make.  Here are three plausible approaches:

1. Asking “Who is poor through no fault of their own?”  The leading answers, of course, are (a) children whose parents can’t or won’t take care of them, and (b) severely handicapped adults.  The common thread is that both groups have such low productivity that they even if they work hard, they won’t be able to support themselves.  It’s tempting to add people who are too old to work, but we should resist temptation.  They could have provided for their own retirement if they’d saved responsibly and prudently bought insurance.

2. Asking “Who is poor by their own fault?”  The leading candidates are (a) unemployed adults who could at least find a low-paid, unpleasant job, (b) people who lose their jobs for tardiness, absenteeism, or insubordination, and (c) people who abuse alcohol and drugs.  If the poor want subsidized health care rather than income, we should add smoking, obesity, and unsafe sex to the list of behaviors that make them undeserving.

3. Asking, “Who is poor because their rights have been violated?”  Crime victims, slaves and former slaves, people punished for breaking unjust laws, and would-be immigrants are all good candidates.  Two caveats: (a) In most of these cases, the victimizer should certainly be first in line to help, and (b) We should exclude cases where victimization could have been avoided or heavily mitigated by prudent behavior or buying insurance.

And Caplan explains why this matters:

…if you think reasonable people could disagree here, it’s an argument against forced charity.  There’s always a presumption against initiating the use of force against a peaceful person.  “Any morally reasonable person would agree that I’m forcing you to help the deserving poor” at least arguably overcomes this presumption.  “Who knows whether the people I’m forcing you to help are deserving?” does not.

Zwolinski wants your money to be handed to other individuals. Are they deserving or your help? He simply characterizes the very question as insulting:

Paternalism isn’t just ineffective; it’s insulting. It presumes that the poor are incapable of managing their own lives. And it requires a great deal of invasive and degrading snooping on the government’s part to ensure that the poor are living up to the demands we’ve placed on them. Cash transfers, in contrast, give recipients the resources and responsibility to take charge of their own lives.

Here he seems to be saying that handing individuals unearned cash makes them behave more responsibly, but I see little reason to assume this is so. Or perhaps he means that they’ll have to take responsibility for their own lives because there will be noting more forthcoming from the public trough? Well 1) then simply removing the trough would make them take responsibility, and 2) it’s hard to credit the idea that proponents wouldn’t push for ever more benefits when poverty persisted in many families due to poor decisions. Suppose a family of five is given a BIG of $30,000 per year, which would put them just above the poverty level. To minimize paternalism they are handed a check for the full $30K on January 1st. Further suppose that by the 4th of July some significant number of families have little or none of their BIG cash remaining, due to decisions that didn’t work out well, and so face 6 months well below the poverty line. So, now what? I don’t believe that the BIG proponents aren’t coming back for another bite at the apple. I don’t believe the offer to simply *replace* the current welfare system is credible.

Reaching the end of Zwolinski’s article we find, oddly enough, that he isn’t really promoting a BIG any more because even he sees that it probably isn’t viable. Instead he says the government should just move toward such a system by turning existing welfare benefits into cash grants. Now would be an awkward time to mention that such steps fail to produce the supposed crucial benefit of a BIG – eliminating the perverse disincentive to work that the existing welfare programs create – and thus converting such programs to cash benefits really shouldn’t count as moving toward a BIG. In any case, he doesn’t mention that.

So the whole thrust of his argument in this article is just that all inconveniences currently entailed in receiving public assistance should be removed because it’s simply insulting to hold that existing poverty in the US could be significantly due to poor choices.

It seems clear to me that Caplan is correct, that most American adults can avoid poverty by simply making reasonable choices, and that those who fail to do so should be at the bottom of the list for even private charity. I oppose state welfare, but even if you believe it’s necessary you should still see how criminally wasteful (where public funds are concerned) it is to fail to discriminate between who is likely to use such money wisely and who is not.

Caplan summarizes his argument:

1. Claims about desert and poverty are meaningful. Asking, “Does he deserve to be poor?” can be rude, but that doesn’t mean the answer is “No.”

2. A person deserves his problem if there are reasonable steps the he could have taken to avoid the problem. Poverty is a problem, so a person deserves his poverty if there are reasonable steps he could have taken to avoid his poverty.

3. Common sense can usually resolve whether reasonable steps to avoid poverty were available to a particular person. A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t accept an excuse from a friend, you shouldn’t accept it from anyone.

4. The fact that a person deserves his poverty does not imply that it is morally wrong to help him.

5. However, the fact that a person deserves his poverty is (a) a strong moral reason to give him low priority when weighing how to allocate help, and (b) a strong moral reason not to force a stranger to help him.

6. The fact that a person does not deserve his poverty does not imply that it is morally wrong not to help him.

7. However, the fact that a person does not deserve his poverty is (a) a strong moral reason to give him high priority when weighing how to allocate help, (b) an extra moral reason for individuals morally responsible for his poverty to cease and remedy their wrongful behavior, (c) a moral reason to force these morally responsible individuals to cease and remedy their wrongful behavior, and (d) a plausible though not totally convincing moral reason to force strangers to help the deserving person if the benefits heavily outweigh the costs.

And further, I’d say the fact that welfare recipients have to jump through some inconvenient and unpleasant hoops to receive money that has been coercively extracted from others is generally a feature, not a bug. It’s an incentive to make better decisions.

Zwolinski’s argument here is a soft head/soft heart argument here because it’s a fundamentally emotional appeal for bad policy. Such arguments don’t deserve to succede.

Is Hoppean “Forced Integration” Even Happening?

One of Hoppe’s fundamental claims on immigration is that Americans are currently subject to substantial forced integration, as defined in Hoppe’s  article On Free Immigration and Forced Integration (which Lew Rockwell cites as “the original, revolutionary Hoppe article on immigration”):

“…if the government admits a person while there is not even one domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration…”

I gather there are roughly twelve million illegal immigrants in the US. My first observation is that they seem to overwhelmingly reside on private property with the apparent consent of the property owners. Hoppe is claiming that many of them would not be welcomed by a single domestic property owner but are only here because the government prevents property owners from excluding them.

I don’t claim to be an expert in relevant law, but Nolo.com says it is legal to discriminate in housing on the basis of legal eligibility to work (which would allow the exclusion of illegal immigrants), except in California and New York City.

I’m also not an expert in the demographics of immigration, but this chart indicates that perhaps roughly 25% of the 12 million illegal immigrants live in California and NYC. Those are certainly significant populations but note that 75% of illegal immigrants live where property owners have the legal right to exclude them, thus indicating the consent of the owners for these immigrants to reside on their property.  In this light there appears to be no forced immigration of illegal immigrants outside of CA and NYC.

Is there forced integration of illegal immigrants in CA and NYC? In a narrow but important sense there almost certainly is. In the absence of discrimination law which prevents property owners in CA and NYC from asking about employment eligibility it seems highly likely that some property owners would exclude illegal immigrants, and thus those property owners are subject to forced integration on their property.

Such forced integration is unjust and should be abolished, but notice that this is a far more narrow sense of forced integration than Hoppe actually posits, by his definition forced immigration exists when there are no property owners willing to voluntarily house a give immigrant.

So does Hoppean forced immigration exist in America? I see no strong evidence that it does. Surely some property owners in CA and NYC would exclude some illegal immigrants if they were legally allowed to do so, but that hardly means such immigrants would not be able to find a single property owner in the US willing to take them. Surely the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants in CA and NYC are residing there withe the voluntary consent of the owners as in the rest of the country, and there’s little reason to think the rest couldn’t find other owners willing to voluntarily house them.

In this article Hoppe fails to make any persuasive case that forced integration, as he defines it, is actually happening in America.

Who Would Jesus Jail For Peaceful Dissent?

As an ex-catholic it seems to me the teachings of Jesus are on their face flatly incompatible with advocacy of any coercive government policy.

I’d really love to hear the Pope, Cardinals, and Bishops explain Christ’s position on the jailing of peaceful dissenters (and the killing of them if they sufficiently resist), something fully implicit in nearly every economic prescription they put forward.

Irwin Schiff may well die in prison for peaceful dissent on taxes. I cannot reconcile approval of such policies with the teachings of Jesus as the Roman Catholic church taught me. Yet such enforcement is necessary for the economic policies these men prescribe.

bitcoin-jesus

Still Locked, Loaded, and Liquored-Up

Mark Penman was a hardcore libertarian who was funny as hell.  He committed suicide in July of 2001.  Earlier that year he had given me permission to republish his articles at No Treason.  I downloaded his entire web site after his death, and when his site went dark some time later I resurrected it within NT’s domain so people would still have access to it.

Having recently brought NT back I was looking into whether I should put Penman’s site back up. Happily, I see that someone else has already restored the entire site at  http://laissezfirearm.info/

Enjoy!

What Sort Of Rapist Are You?

I know many libertarians who think there is really no such thing as a left libertarian; I’m not one of them.

For instance, Charles Johnson (aka Rad Geek) is certainly a man of the left and certainly a libertarian. I’ve read his posts for years and he says many wise and reasonable things with which I fully agree.  Sometimes though, his leftist commitments have him saying things I can make no sense of.

From an article Rad wrote with Roderick Long:

When radical feminists say that male supremacy rests in large part on the fact of rape—as when Susan Brownmiller characterizes rape as “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” (Against Our Will, p. 15)—libertarians often dismiss this on the grounds that not all men are literal rapists and not all women are literally raped. But when their own Ludwig von Mises says that “government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action,” that it rests “in the last resort” on “the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen,” and that its “essential feature” is “the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning”, libertarians applaud this as a welcome demystification of the state. Libertarians rightly recognize that legally enacted violence is the means by which all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear, even though not all government functionaries personally beat, kill, or imprison anybody, and even though not all citizens are beaten, killed, or imprisoned; the same interpretive charity towards the radical feminist analysis of rape is not too much to ask.

– from Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

I don’t think the attempt to parallel “all men keep all women in a state of fear” with “all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear” works at all.

A “ruler’ in this sense is a ruler by choice. All such rulers intend to rule, they all freely choose to engage in unjustified aggression, whether they understand it to be unjustified aggression or not.

Can we reasonably say that all men freely choose to keep all women in a state of fear? I didn’t choose to be a man, nor do I think the fact that I’m a man commits me to keeping all women in a state of fear.

When Rad says,  “…libertarians often dismiss this on the grounds that not all men are literal rapists and not all women are literally raped”,  I find the use of the word “literal” particularly striking.  He could have simply said not all men are rapists and not all women are raped, but that would not really suit his analogy to government functionaries. When an IRS agent, or some other state functionary, directs you to do something as a legal part of his job you are under the threat of force to comply, so each such individual directs violence against you in a very real sense.

If his analogy is sound it would seem that Rad, a man, considers himself *some* sort of rapist, or at least someone who keeps all women in fear by invoking violence against women.

I’n that case it seems fair to ask Rad what sort of rapist he considers himself to be, and why he chooses to keep all women in a state of fear.

Seven Habits Of Highly Affective Libertarians

 

1. Be A Dandy

For unfathomable reasons, many find foppishness disarming. A disarmed individual is a pliable individual.

2. Focus On Style Over Substance

Substance can often be divisive, but Style never goes out of fashion.

3. Hug It Out

Gentle physical contact can induce a mild, warm, emotional haze in others which makes it easier to to bypass their critical faculties.

4. Tell People You Admire Them (Even When You Don’t)

The gentle lubricant of fawning flattery will often predispose others to accept whatever you say. It sounds silly, but it works wondrously.

5. Steer Inconvenient Arguments Offline

When posting online you may sometimes find that certain objections from others make your own argument look bad. When you see this starting to happen, make every effort to entice critics to present their full argument to you at length in private conversation – where others need not be disturbed. Listen attentively to their concerns while lavishing attention on any sore spots to help them get it out of their system. Critics become far less disagreeable during a soothing intellectual refractory period.

6. The Charm Offensive

Integrate all of your affective tactics into a unified coherent campaign. Each verbal flourish and rhetorical caress should ideally seem to flow naturally from a single enchanting pool of serene wisdom.

7. Remember: It’s Not Really About Libertarianism

In truth, few find libertarianism attractive, but the charm offensive of a consummate dandy has it’s own rich rewards.

NT:TNG

Welcome to No Treason: The Next Generation.

Aside from a reboot in 2012 that lasted about six months, No Treason has been dormant and mostly unavailable for seven years. But now we’re back, and this time it’s for all the marbles. Or something.

Not only are we back, but we have fresh blood (Or is it fresh meat?): We are pleased to welcome Nathan Byrd as the first new blogger at No Treason in many years. (We would appreciate it if you held off on telling him what happened to all the other bloggers, at least for a while. (He’s so *new*…))

Byrd already has two articles ready for you perusal: Taxation As Penalty and Law and Order, part 1. I know what you’re thinking: “Part 1?” That’s right, he’s doing a series! Is this great or what?

I therefore invite the fans of No Treason to welcome our newest blogger as only they can, and I’m reasonably confident he may survive the process.

Make it so.

A Parliament of Whores?

[Originally published at anti-state.com on December 17, 2001]

Robert Vroman makes some good points about the unfairness of comparing government to the Mafia, but I find it even more offensive when government officials are likened to whores.

It’s terribly unfair to compare government officials to whores. It slanders whores. What have whores ever done to deserve being compared with government officials?

The oldest profession is an honorable one. Whores do honest business trading value for value. Can government officials honestly say the same? P.J. O’Rourke meant to criticize government when he called it a Parliament of Whores, but consider how much better off we would all be if government officials were as virtuous as whores.

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they wouldn’t force their services on you. Whores take no for an answer. If you tell a whore you’re not interested in her services she moves on and looks for someone who is. Try telling your government officials you’re not interested in the services of government. Do they move on? No, they slap you with a bill.

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they wouldn’t bill you for services you didn’t request. Whores never announce “From now on I’ll be providing you with a new service, and here’s how much you owe me for it.”

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they wouldn’t start from the premise that you’re born owing their business something. A whore will never argue “Everybody needs to get laid so it’s only fair for everyone to pay their share.”

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they’d never bill you for services they provided to somebody else. A whore won’t tell you “The guy down the block can’t afford my services but I serviced him anyway. Here’s how much you owe for it.”

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they would never need to know the depth of your pockets. Next time you’re filling out an income tax form remember that a whore’s price doesn’t depend on how much money you made last year.

Because that’s not the way an honest profession operates.

A Parliament of Whores? We should be so lucky.