Government Spending and Liberty

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    Very well said, Jason.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew
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    On the specific question of libraries, I’m actually inclined to let motivated private entities give running some libraries a go, if they’re promising continuity of service with what the libraries they would be taking over now offer (i.e. if membership is free, it stays free, if borrowing is free, it stays free, late fees don’t go up by 500%, etc.) I’m willing to do this in exchange for a rhetorical cincession taht the claim that the priate market on its own shows no evidence that it would have evolved a free utility like this with the positive externalities that public libraries have come to prove that they exhibit. I.e., if, if w can agree that the public sector does make positive original contributions that wouldn’t come about privately absent government intervention, then I am more than happy to have trials with private entities who think they can carry forth the administration of models and institutions that the public sector initiated and developed through to institutional maturity. Not in the case of every public institution, but in the case of some libraries, in particular starting with just some branches of some library systems… absolutely. So long as it means a full concession of the value of the public sphere in initiating such value-adding public institutions as libraries.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP
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    “A million here, a million there, pretty soon it adds up to some real money”

    If, as you say, you could operate with impunity, you could go down several different paths to get more money. Lee Kuan Yew, one of the cleverest men to ever put on a clean shirt in the morning, called in the bankers and invested his tax revenues with them for the good of his own people, paying for government services from the interest. He paid his civil servants roughly what the private sector paid for equivalent talent and cracked down on corruption with a fanaticism never before seen in the history of the world. When times were bad, he lowered taxes. He allowed freedom of the press but reserved the right of reply to any allegations made about his policies.

    Lee worked his way out of a job, as far as I know the only man to do so since Washington, though Washington never had the powers of Lee Kuan Yew. He was an authoritarian and his despotism extended to suing his opponents for libel, but his example shows what might come of a benign despot who aims to enrich his country and not himself. Singapore is one of the most-developed nations on earth, though it is completely devoid of natural resources, other than its people, a people raised up from poverty and chaos into one of the most prosperous on earth.Report

  4. Avatar Hyena
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    says:

    Or we could follow the demands of a lot of Republican ideologues by both cutting spending AND increasing the amount we spend on brutally repressing people.Report

    • Avatar cfpete in reply to Hyena
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      “The bill proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements,”
      Barack Obama, Warmonger in Chief, in response to the House GOP’s piddling $15 billion DOD cuts.Report

      • Avatar slizzard in reply to cfpete
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        Those $15 billion came from freezing pay and cutting services for service members & their families (what Obama was referring to) while increasing spending on programs like the F-35. Obama’s proposal moved $178 billion from the business of killing people and into caring for the people in the service, while the GOP proposal blocked that and increased the base rate of defense spending over Obama’s.

        Inspected on itself, Obama’s record on war is horrific. Inspected in comparison to the other side, and he is benign. Which is frankly terrifying.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to slizzard
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          says:

          Heh. You made that too specific. I shall fix:

          | Inspected on itself, Obama’s record is horrific. Inspected in comparison to the other side, and he is benign. Which is frankly terrifying.Report

  5. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    There’s all sorts of implications that this raises, I think. Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is one of them – if the tradeoff for cutting back on the security state’s resources and ability to destroy liberty is a fairly significant net increase in government spending on a project of compassion (even a misguided one), then that is quite likely a net increase in liberty.*

    This piece is obviously quite explicitly a refutation of the “size queen” theory of liberty (this is a term I have unapologetically stolen from Wirkman Virkkala), the notion that the amount of liberty is in direct proportion to the size of government. If the choice is between Democrats who are good where they’re supposed to be good, but bad where they’re supposed to be bad, and Republicans who are good where they’re supposed to be good, but bad where they’re supposed to be bad, then on average we’re better off with the Democrats; similarly, if the choice is between Democrats who are just OK where they’re supposed to be good (ie, won’t make things better or worse) and bad where they’re supposed to be bad versus Republicans who are just OK where they’re supposed to be good and bad where they’re supposed to be bad, then on average we’re marginally less poorly off (I shan’t say “better” off here) with the Democrats. These, of course, are not the choices with which we are usually faced – there are only slightly more Democrats who are good where they’re supposed to good than there are Republicans who are good where they’re supposed to be bad, and vice versa.** Worse yet, with some exceptions most of the pols (D and R) who are good where Democrats are supposed to be good are certifiable,*** which makes it harder for them to achieve a lot.

    These days, there are in fact few politicians of either flavor who are actually good where they’re supposed to be good…so we’re pretty much screwed either way. I don’t think this was always the case.

    *Big caveat here – if that increase in gov’t spending is combined with an increase in government’s authority to act arbitrarily in other arenas outside the security state, we’re dealing with a different issue entirely. And if there’s no actual decrease in the security state’s ability, then there’s obviously no “good” from an individual liberty perspective.

    **Oddly enough, the Republicans who are ok-to-good where they’re supposed to be bad are, with few exceptions (Tom Coburn?), the only Republicans who are actually good where they’re supposed to be good.

    ***Endearingly certifiable in many cases, and not so certifiable as to be unworthy of support, but still ineffective.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F.
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    I’ve been thinking lately that there must be a theory that seeks to maximize the freedom of the market while conceiving of the market as one bounded sphere of society, and not appropriate for all spheres of society. I would imagine there are some conservatives who make this argument- there certainly are in Canada. But I think it makes a decent trade-off between liberals and libertarians: we’ll support some of your favorite public programs and you help us dismantle the DEA, FBI, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security. I’d imagine you’d get some takers.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Rufus F.
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      I can haz trade-off!?

      What you describe is what I have wanted my whole political life.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Rufus F.
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      > DEA, FBI, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security.

      You forgot the Bureau of Guys.

      On this list, I see some utility for the FBI. Very marginal utility for the CIA. The DHS, TSA, DEA, ATF… yeah, they can all go.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F.
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      The FBI was established to deal with the gangsters of the Prohibition era. The CIA was established to deal with the Cold War. DEA, the drug war. DHS, the war on terror.

      It may be demonstrated every last one of these Lore Enforcement Administrations was established to solve a problem, and equally demonstrably, those agencies never solved that problem.

      Maybe what we need is to have a Department of the Current Law Enforcement Problem. Put it on a diet, make it justify itself every six months, make it work with the cooperation of state law enforcement agencies and close down everything else.Report

      • Avatar Annelid Gustator in reply to BlaiseP
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        I love it.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
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        I can see the utility of having a federal law enforcement arm, for those times when jurisdiction problems can significantly hinder investigations. It certainly doesn’t need to have expanded to a dozen different agencies, though.

        The CIA does have a purpose in that it nominally separates the intelligence service from the military, which again has some utility to it.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          Serious question – what is that utility?

          (More precisely, what is that utility that doesn’t also already exist in what the diplomatic corps is supposed to be doing day to day?)Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Kolohe
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            The CIA does intellegence gathering by electornic measures and spying esetnially. The State Dept is about open diplomacy with other countries. There is limited ability to be both a spy and diplomat. While there is some crossover one service cannot do both and be good at both.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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              Ok, good point on the trouble with combining diplomatic with espionage functions (although both Sid Meier and Hillary Clinton disagree) but on the other side, why can’t the military be in charge of all the spying (using eyes in both humans and machines that cover the em spectrum) (and with the current and appropriate restriction on turning those ‘eyes’ on US targets)?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Kolohe
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                I don’t think the military has the expertise or focus on Gov level spying. They focus on intel that effects their operations and protecting themselves from being spied on. I don’t have a problem with a CIA level agency. ( quickly googles) There are a handful of other intel agencies under the DOD, some are the military intel units plus four other groups. That seems to be where there is overage. At least a couple of those agencies focus purely on tech stuff which i fine but i don’t see why we need so many groups.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F.
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      To make this tradeoff work in practice, three things would have to happen.

      First, libertarians would have to persuade left-liberals that we were a large enough constituency to care about.

      Second, we’d have to persuade them that we weren’t just useful idiots for the conservatives. Not an easy task, as we’ve recently seen right here.

      Third, we’d have to get over the “even” factor, the one that would cause any bargain we make to be half-ignored, and then statements emerge like “Even libertarians support public libraries…” Even! In the meantime, precisely zero changes, and libertarians have lost what smallish real-world political relevance we now have.

      This may be one reason why Rothbard and company were such uncompromising whole-hoggers.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Rufus F.
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      That’s kind of my thought, too. What makes it a bit more realistic, at least in theory, is that it accepts that in any political coalition, libertarians are going to be by far the junior partner. But I don’t know that I’d phrase it along the lines of “we’ll support some of your favorite public programs.” That asks a bit much, especially when there’s not exactly a Libertarian Caucus within Congress; it’s one thing to ask a libertarian politician to simply vote for a program they don’t much like in exchange for putting a priority on passing pro-civil liberties legislation, but it’s another thing to ask a rank and file libertarian or a libertarian organization to “support” a specific program they don’t agree with on its own merit.

      In that latter context, the only way to “support” a specific program is to actively advocate for it in an independent context that is divorced from the stuff that actually moves the ball forward from a libertarian’s point of view. In other words, “support” for the policy means “lie about what you think of the policy.” That’s just not going to happen.

      Instead, the best you can do is probably an implicit agreement from libertarian organizations of not vocally opposing those programs or at least toning opposition down. This should not be much of a problem if the organization accepts the premise discussed here, since it effectively holds that civil liberties issues are a significantly higher priority from a liberty-enhancing perspective than are eliminating or preventing the expansion of liberal programs. As such, on this end, there need not be any action taken by folks on the Left – it is wholly within the power of libertarian organizations to determine which issues they should prioritize.

      In terms of the rank and file, this kind of “support” amounts to no more than “vote for Democrats who are good on civil liberties.” Here, the impetus really is on the Left to act. To the extent there is an “agreement,” actual voters will never be party to it. They will need to be convinced that Democrats are in fact good on civil liberties and that those liberties are more important than tax rates and spending on programs important to liberals. In other words, they just need to start speaking to libertarian-minded voters. The main reason why the Republicans have long had the advantage amongst libertarian-minded voters is just that they actually try to speak to libertarian-minded voters. They play up their libertarian-sounding positions, whereas Democrats act ashamed of their libertarian-sounding positions.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        it’s another thing to ask a rank and file libertarian or a libertarian organization to “support” a specific program they don’t agree with on its own merit.

        Indeed, and what I offer here is not even really support. It’s more like an aggressive attitude of indifference toward programs that do nothing worse than redistribute a very small amount in taxation. I have much, much more serious things to worry about. So does anyone who honestly cares about liberty.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          I can understand that. It seems to me that the influence of libertarians is growing in the political arena and I expect their numbers to keep growing in Congress, so I guess I’m looking at it less in terms of what the Democrats will do for them than what the libertarians will do for me if they get elected. I’d find it a lot easier to vote for a libertarian candidate whose message was, “Wiretapping?! Holy shit, we have to stop that!” than “Public libraries?! Hoyly shit, we have to stop that!”Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          I prefer to look at Libertarian as an adjective, not a noun. My general rule of thumb on beneficiaries of tax money goes like this: if your community uses it, your community pays for it.

          True story. I have this Spanish language school in Quetzaltenango in Guatemala. It’s kind of a do-gooder institution as well: gets the students get out into these little villages surrounding the town, gets them involved with people.

          So the first few years I was there, I observed these seemingly-poor people had these societies called cofradias, a sort of saint’s fan club. They’re syncretic wrappers around the Mayan male society which organized the festivals. So every year on the saint’s day, the cofradia’s president would throw this huge potlatch party, damned near bankrupting himself for the honor involved. Sometimes these things go on for days, everyone gets drunk and dances around. You know the drill.

          So I said to these guys, “If you really want honor, give me some of that festival money and I’ll buy books with it. I’ll have my student come up and build bookshelves in the cofradia house and the presidente can sign his name in the flyleaf of every book we buy with the money. And I’ll get a plaque, so we can put his name on it, one for every year. I don’t want all your money, just some of it for the honor of the cofradia library.”

          The phenomenon took off. I’ve done, well, my sister in law has kinda taken it over for quite some time, but we’ve got 15 libraries running on this cofradia honor model. They still have their feasts and all, but now there’s some lasting honor for each year’s presidente.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Indeed, I just made that comment on some other site to someone who was saying ‘Oh, almost all government spending is unconstitutional, and an infringement on our rights.’ I replied something like this:

          To infringe my rights, things have to actually harm me in some manner. Spending money on me, or on others, does not harm me. Arguing that food stamps harm me and infringe on my rights is crazy.

          People on the right argue the taxes harm me…but the government _does_ have the power to tax. So ‘Food stamps infringe the constitution’ can’t get from there to here….the ‘tax harm’ is from something the government _is_ allowed to do, even if they aren’t allowed to spend it how they are. That doesn’t change the fact they could have exactly the same amount of taxes and spend it on more ICBMs or something. (In fact, an argument can be made that the level of spending is, and has been for quite some time, entirely unrelated to the level of taxes anyway, so it would be hard to even show an indirect link to ‘unallowed’ things.)

          Secondly, more importantly, why the hell would anyone who cares about ‘rights’ care about the government spending like 4 cents a year of ‘their money’ on food stamps? What about, I dunno, the people we’re imprisoning without charges? The whole ‘seizing property without proving any changes’ thing the DEA’s been doing? Indeed, the entire premise of drug laws! What about the fact that the police seem utterly unwilling to record their interactions with the public, despite that technology being there for decades?

          There’s hundred and hundreds of actual constitutional right infringing issues that come before ‘Hey, the states are supposed to do that, not the federal government’, which isn’t even an _individual_ constitutional right anyway…the only entities who should complain about that are the _states_.

          Getting worked up about ‘the government taking a tiny fraction of my money and spending it on stuff they shouldn’t be allowed to ‘ is the equivalent of being worked up that the armed robbers didn’t let you fix your bed hair during a home invasion. Yes, that was, indeed, rather rude of them, but, um…Report

        • Avatar Sam M in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          “So does anyone who honestly cares about liberty.”

          Maybe. But perhaps you could make at least a theoretical case for a sort of “broken windows theory” of policing liberty.

          Yeah. You could broker some deals. Maybe give up on 30-round ammo clips in exchange for trashing the Drug War. But I notice that libertarians aren’t the only ones failing to offer such a trade.

          More important, for a lot of voters the “zero-tolerance” approach has worked quite well. The NRA for instance. Don’t give on ANYTHING. Someone is proposing a ban on 7,000-round clips? FIGHT IT. Do that long enough and successfully enough, and pretty soon people stop talking about clips.

          This is an especially good strategy for qa motivated, single-issue voter.Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Sam M
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            A real ‘broken windows’ policy of policing liberty would be stuff like requiring the police to monitor all interactions with the public. Or demanding that their city issue parade permits in a non-biased manner. Or attempt to get courts to start using treatment instead of punishment for drug violations.

            You can either start at the top and worry about huge violations of liberty, or start at the bottom and worry about smaller local ones. Starting at the top and worrying about microscopic things is just inane.

            It’s like someone declaring they’re a mountain climber, and they’re going to start by climbing 20 feet up a hill next to Mount Everest. Yeah, um, why don’t they try climbing something local first, before flying around the world? Or, hell, get a team, and try actually climbing Everest to some actual milestone? Their plan makes no sense.

            And it’s even weirder than that. There are entire climbing climbs that strategize about how to climb that hill. People become famous for trying to climb the hill. People demonize the hill, and make pithy quotes about how they climb it because it’s there.

            At some point, everyone else’s head explodes.Report

      • Avatar LauraNo in reply to Mark Thompson
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        Couldn’t we call the tea party caucus a libertarian caucus? Well, kinda, sorta…Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to LauraNo
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          I don’t agree. The Tea Partiers are anti-spending, but they’re pro-war, pro-drug war, anti-gay, anti-immigration, and strongly side with the state on questions of civil liberties. As I suggested in this post, that’s not a deal libertarians should settle for.

          The Tea Party strikes me as the conservative half of the former conservative/libertarian fusionism. As a libertarian, I didn’t think it worked all that well the first time around. If they do some good, then that’s great, and I’ll applaud them in the event. But I’m not personally interested in identifying with them.Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            They’re not even really anti-spending, they just think they are. They’re _anti-tax_. You cannot be in favor of what they are in favor of and be ‘anti-spending’.

            Hell, they’re not even actually anti-tax. For example, they have failed to understand that the ACA lowers government spending. They’re anti-tax on stupid pills.

            The ‘Tea Party’ is best described as ‘The Republican base, hijacked by Fox and the Koch brothers and other superrich’.

            The only way in that they are different from the Republicans is that they _believe_ all the dumb things the Republicans have been pandering to the base with for the last few decades, making them spectacularly misinformed about almost everything.

            They’re about as far from honest libertarians as humanly possible in politics.

            However, they do have many of the same interests as dishonest libertarians…they’re just not also pretending ‘Yeah, that whole constitution rights thing is interesting we’ll get around to it after we deal with this horrible taxes’. The Tea Party is what happens when those people decide to stop hiding and just outright state all their authoritarian jingoistic nonsense.

            Incidentally, it’s _astonishing_ to watch a group be anti-state and talk about overthrowing the government with violence and be fascist assholes at the same time.

            The rich paying 5% more? A violation of your rights. Demanding that states have the right to bankrupcy so they can get out contracts everyone signed? Just fine.

            The government requiring that medical insurance companies don’t drop sick people? A violation of your rights. Vagina inspectors making sure women didn’t have an abortion? Just fine.

            Fixing the ‘gun show’ laws so that actual convicted felons can’t buy guns? A violation of your rights. Locking people up without cause, torturing them,and then refusing to let them sue? Just fine.

            From this we can conclude that anything is fine if it is aimed at a) women, or b) foreigners, or c) workers, whereas nothing is okay if it’s aimed at a0 the rich, or b) corporations, or c) ‘real americans’.Report

    • Avatar Michael E Sullivan in reply to Rufus F.
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      this would be a dream trade for most progressives/liberals and real libertarians (i.e. people who want to maximize liberty, as opposed to minimizing taxes on billionaires).

      The problem with making it is in the logistics. Progressives/liberals plus authoritarian centrists/leftists is a big enough coalition to win elections, and libertarians plus authoritarian centrists/right-wingnuts is also a big enough coalition to win elections. But while progressives/liberals make up about 1/2 the democratic coalition, real libertarians (those who would make or at least seriously consider this bargain) are probably under 10% of the republican coalition.

      Together wed don’t make a big enough block to win elections unless we can win support from a big chunk of authoritarians.

      The huge win comes if we could make the grand bargain and then end up with liberaltarians positioned as the swing voters, ready to align with whichever authoritarian coalition is willing to pay the most deference to some combination of liberty and egalitarian support. But that’s not a natural equilibrium point. Liberaltarianism is naturally one end of the spectrum rather than the middle.

      If things align as authoritarians versus liberaltarians, then liberaltarians will lose unless a lot of minds can be changed.

      If things are still aligning as right v. left, then the left and right coalitions will put a great deal of pressure on the right-left breach between libertarians and liberals, tending to push things to the way they are now (with liberals mostly voting with the authoritarian left/center coalition, and libertarians mostly voting with the authoritarian right (at least whenever it tacks to the center enough not be substantially more horrifying then the authoritarian left/center coalition).Report

  7. Avatar David Cheatham
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    says:

    You could operate a gulag and rape rooms for a measly hundred thousand a year, in fact. $20 a year for 4 guards to rotate shifts, and a rented warehouse for the remaining $20,000. That stuff is _cheap_. I’ve been trying to point this out for years to people on the right: The ‘size’ of the government is not the problem. That is a nonsensical measure of liberty.

    If the government employed 200 million people to each hold one library book and read it aloud to any of the remaining 100 million people who came up to them, well, that’s a pretty stupid and wasteful government, but everyone is still utterly free.

    If the government employs four people who wander around breaking into houses and imprisoning people they don’t like, you are not free. (Although admittedly with only four people, the situation would rapidly spiral out of control and the people would fight back.)

    What the corporate right has managed to do is define ‘free’ as ‘taxless’. That’s it. That is what ‘freedom’ now means, at a subconscious level, to a good portion of the population. The lack of taxes makes you free. Taxes are the only possible infringement of liberty.

    Oh, and property, which is why the right got all worked up about Kelo, where there was outrage directed at entirely the wrong thing. The government can use eminent domain to take property for basically whatever reason, just like it could collect taxes for whatever reason.

    Kelo would hardly have been better if New London had decided to tax everyone to the poorhouse, _buy_ the land, and then sell it undervalued. Or if they’d just keep all tax revenue the same, defunded everything for a few years, and saved enough money to buy the property. The problem there was a city giving handout to corporations, not how it happened to _gain_ said things to hand out.

    Taxes are not an infringement on liberty. They are not a ‘compromise of liberty’ we make to find the government, because they are not related to liberty at all.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to David Cheatham
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      Taxes are not an infringement on liberty.

      So you’d be okay with a 100% tax rate? As in, not marginal, but the confiscation of all of your wealth?

      Because that looks an awful lot like slavery to me.

      Taxation is an infringement on liberty. Sometimes it’s a necessary infringement, one that results in what we must by any reasonable standard admit is a greater net liberty. This is the case most obviously when taxation pays for core government services like protection against violence or theft.

      But it’s still an infringement, to some degree, and with each marginal dollar that’s confiscated, the infringement becomes more and more like slavery itself, and the amount of control you have over your own life diminishes. The first dollar taken in taxation is trivial. The last dollar taken, when all of the others are gone, is also the very last of your freedom.

      The point of my essay is that we’re not in much danger of that being a serious concern. Other concerns remain very serious, and those are the ones to go after if what you actually care about is liberty.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Comparing any tax rate to slavery is an insult to the thousands, if not millions of people in actual slavery right now this instant. Unless of course, the government in this nation of 100% taxation is going to stop you via thuggery and murder from leaving the country, state, or region this 100% taxation is taking place.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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          If everything you own, and everything you ever earn, is confiscated by someone else, and if you are wholly dependent on that person or institution for your subsistence…. how is that not slavery?

          Your second sentence, incidentally, explains probably the only way that such a rate could be achieved in practice, which is also why I don’t mind calling it slavery.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            First, because I’m assuming you have the liberty to change the government or leave if you don’t believe in the policies of said government. I mean, I don’t believe in a peacetime draft or a wartime draft in 99% of circumstances, but that’s a lot closer to removing liberty than any rate of taxation.

            Oh, so, a 100% tax rate and a totalitarian government. Geez, got any more qualifiers to add to that? I mean, I could paint a picture of a libertarian government that would be total anarchy and more feudal nature than anything else if I put enough qualifiers on it, but that’d be sort of silly. Just like calling a democratic nation with 100% taxation a nation of slaves would be silly as will.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Not being ‘okay’ with something and it being an infringement of liberty are not the same thing. I’m not okay with people yammering on their cell phone on a bus, but it’s probably not a constitutional issue.

        Although asking if I’d mind if they did it to _me_ is not the same thing as an infringement of liberty. Doing things to just _me_ is, in fact, an infringement of my liberty…it’s a bill of attainder. (They could do it as punishment for a crime…which we _do_. It’s perfectly possible to be fined to nothingness. We exempt things like housing as a matter of law, not constitutional rights.)

        If the government decides to tax _everyone_ at 100%, though, no, that’s not an infringement of anyone’s rights. (I will point out that does not reduce anyone to ‘slavery’…it reduces everyone to starving to death.) Just like if the government decided to outlaw wearing clothing or drinking liquids or walking instead of crawling.

        Obviously, passing such a law and then enforcing it randomly would be a violation of people’s rights…again, a specific actual right, called ‘equal protection under the law’.

        Just because something is epically stupid and would destroy the country doesn’t mean it’s an ‘infringement of my rights’. The constitution protects us against specific problems where the leadership of this country gets out of control and tries to put things ahead of rights we’ve decided are always more important, regardless of what the government thinks…it doesn’t protect us against actual attempts to blow up the economy or committing suicide as a country. (That would be pretty much impossible to protect us from.)

        OTOH, thanks for stating the misunderstand that the right’s been subconsciously putting in everyone’s head more clearly.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to David Cheatham
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          says:

          If the government decides to tax _everyone_ at 100%, though, no, that’s not an infringement of anyone’s rights. (I will point out that does not reduce anyone to ‘slavery’…it reduces everyone to starving to death.)

          What if they said, “We’ll feed you and give you a minimal amount of clothing and shelter. All you have to do is pick cotton for us?”

          You would be in no position whatsoever to refuse, unless you felt like starving to death. The person who wholly controls your ability to work, your ability to eat, and your ability to acquire goods, is your master. And you are his slave.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            To pick a nit, it depends on whether or not can leave – the difference between a ‘company town’ and chattel slavery.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kolohe
              Ignored
              says:

              True, but I’d understood one of the faults of the company town was that exit costs were very high as well, forcing the workers into a situation that, again, increasingly resembled slavery.

              (As an aside, and not particularly to you, it’s strange to be attacked from the left when I advance the idea that peonage restricts liberty. Very, very strange.)Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
            Ignored
            says:

            The government _does_ control our ability to acquire goods. Ask any retail store, ask any food supplier, ask anyone. Then attempt to purchase some cocaine.

            The government _does_ control our ability to work. Ask people here illegally or on a student visa if they’re allowed to work or not. Ask a 12 year old.

            The government even can control our ability to ‘eat’ stuff we own. Purchase some spray paint. Read the label about how it’s ‘illegal to use this in a manner inconsistent with the labeling’. They’re talking about huffing. Yes, it’s illegal to inhale something that you own. While I can’t think of anything it’s illegal to ‘eat’ per se, if they can stop you from inhaling something they can presumably stop you from eating it.

            I’m not sure exactly what point you’re making there. The government pretty clearly _is_ our master, except where we’re specifically excluded them from certain areas via constitutional rights.

            What the government _can’t_ do, what stops it from putting people in slavery, is equal protection under the law and the protection from bills of attainder. They can’t make laws giving just some people a tax rate of 100%…they’d have to do that to everyone, at which point it’s really not ‘slavery’ anymore, it’s ‘everyone starves to death while all their stuff sit in government warehouses’.

            Worrying about that is akin to worrying about ‘What if the government drafted every single person in America and the government ceased existing due to lack of people in it?’. Well, yes, in theory, that is allowed under the constitution. No one’s going to _do_ it, though.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to David Cheatham
              Ignored
              says:

              But you’ve only proven my point!

              The government does control all these things, but only to a limited degree. Not for the most part arbitrarily, and never completely (except, perhaps, for prisoners).

              The greater the control, the less liberty we enjoy. Is this really so puzzling?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                We all give up a little liberty for a society that works for a few billion people.

                If the world consisted of two hundred people in a small town in New England, we could have direct democracy, no taxes, and no regulations or conversely, we could have a total communal society with no property or money. It doesn’t though.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                Clearly, when two people both think their point is made, they are confused about what they are arguing over. 😉

                _My_ point is that the government, can in fact, legally do those things. We, strictly speaking, have no constitutional right to buy food, to work, or to eat the food we buy. Or to not pay 100% in taxes.

                You can call those things ‘infringements of liberty’ if you want, but I was using that phrase to mean actual ‘infringement of constitutional rights’, which I think is where the confusion comes from.

                The constitution doesn’t forbid any of those, even when they end up looking basically like slavery. And if you want to argue that it literally becomes slavery at 100%, and hence exactly 100% couldn’t be allowed, I won’t even argue with that. (Although, as I said, strictly speaking a tax rate of 100% actually looks like ‘everyone dying’, so is pretty unlikely to happen anyway.)

                But that doesn’t mean that a 90% of tax rate is 90% of slavery, or that we’re trading off a _constitutional right_ not to be taxed for something. There is no _constitutional grounds_ for arguing against taxes, just like there are no constitutional grounds for arguing that people should be allowed to buy butter or eat corpses. (Hey, look, I just thought of something the government forbids you to eat. Ew.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham
                Ignored
                says:

                You can call those things ‘infringements of liberty’ if you want, but I was using that phrase to mean actual ‘infringement of constitutional rights’, which I think is where the confusion comes from.

                The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

                Please do not deny or disparage other rights retained by the people by appealing to enumeration of other rights in the Constitution.

                Thanks.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Except that freedom from taxation has _never_ been a right. See if you can find any such a right in English common law. Let’s see if the Magna Carta mentions it…wait, the Magna Carta _says_ that taxes can be collected, but only with the assert of Parliament. How odd.

                Heck, see what the Declaration of Independence says about taxes. It mentions a lot of unenumerated rights, like habeus corpus and whatnot. And a lot of rights that were enumerated, like the first five amendments. It seems like a good source of rights.

                It manages to mention taxes once in the context of not having representation (Aka, without Parliament). And…that’s it.

                Just because there are unenumerated rights doesn’t mean lack of taxation is one of them, anymore than the right to own a horse or walk around juggling is one of them.

                In fact, on of the _enumerated_ rights is that seizure of property by the government must be in a fair and just manner, which rather implies if it _is_ in a fair and just manner, it’s perfectly fine.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s great.

                In the future, when discussing Constitutionally protected rights, please don’t use the enumerated ones as justification for denying the existence of unenumerated ones.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to David Cheatham
                Ignored
                says:

                I think I would disagree with your interpretation of the constitution, although I have to admit that I’m also disagreeing with the constitutional mainstream there. A subject for another post, but not right now.

                My point was that there is a monotonic but not proportional relationship between taxation and slavery (i.e., not necessarily that 90% taxation = 90% slavery). I meant only that the liberty lost in taxation exists on a margin, and that varying degrees of taxation will be experienced differently along the curve.

                Beyond that, it’s not at all clear which rate constitutes what for whom. The problems here are I think literally impossible to solve. One thing I still think we can safely agree on is that this isn’t the most effective margin on which to work for increased liberty overall. We had higher taxes in the 1990s, but I think we also had more liberty then.

                One very delicious thing the government in many jurisdictions won’t allow you to eat is raw milk cheese. Another is fresh mangosteens, which can’t be had legally anywhere in the United States. I’ve been told that the government of China forbids the export of fresh lo han guo, but I ate them in Hawaii, and they were delicious too.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                Okay, I’ll agree with you then. Every law the government passes restricts liberty in some manner.

                I think I’m just a little tired of a bunch people on the right who seem to assert that everything the government could do that is bad is something that it is not allowed to. And, coincidentally, exactly what they what the government to do is exactly what it is allowed to do, and nothing more.

                Such talk is just silly. There’s millions of things the government is allowed to do that would be very very stupid. For example, it could use eminent domain to pave the entire continent in postal roads, which is it _explicitly_ allowed to build. That is entirely constitutional behavior. It’s utterly stupid, but constitutional under any possible interpretation of the constitution.

                I confused you for one of those people, whose decided to just basically make up ‘lack of taxes’ as a right along with all the other rights we have.

                Why do that? Well, sometimes, rights are in conflict with each other, and we need to compromise them so we don’t lose another entirely, and that’s why certain people are trying to make ‘lack of taxes’ as a right, so the government can only fund ‘rights’, and not anything else. I.e, we can compromise and pay taxes if we need a court or a military, because those are also ‘rights’. But if we need health care, no, the ‘lack of taxes’ right wins.

                But ‘lack of taxes’ is _not_ a right, it is not something that can be ‘more powerful’ than other laws. It’s just a law that, like any law, needs to be reasonable.

                So I mistook you for someone making that argument. But, instead, you’re just saying ‘Obviously, any law restricts us in some manner, including taxes, and extending any law to the excessive ends could result in something that looks like slavery, and people should have problems with that’, so I’m entirely with you.Report

      • Avatar Boonton in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        Well actually slaves are not just people with a 100% income tax but people with 100% time tax. Technically with high tax rates you’re free to exercise the Galt option of just refusing to work, or refusing to work your best. Slaves didn’t have that option.

        In terms of liberty infringement, it is if you define liberty as the amount of choices you can practically make. Imagine a boy with very few skills but from a family of vaste wealth. A 100% income tax may have no impact on his freedom. He can consume just about anything he wants and since he lacks the ability to earn much beyond min. wage the 100% income tax doesn’t take much away from him except maybe the ability to spend only $1B per year as opposed to $1,000,012,000.

        But if you’re going to go down this road then what about a deep economic recession that has unemployment spike at 15% instead of 9% because a libertarian influenced Congress refuses to pass a stimulus bill and a terrorized Fed restrains from keeping rates low? Those 6% who could have had an income now have none for the year. How would that not be the equilivant of a ‘100% income tax’ infringement on their liberty?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to David Cheatham
      Ignored
      says:

      On a different subject, I should add that the issue in Kelo was not outright seizure. It was a compelled sale, at a price the owner of the home did not agree to. In other words, it was a seizure of value, but not of the whole value of the house to its occupant.

      Still, when it’s your own home, it’s a serious issue. I can’t help but think that Suzette Kelo would have done better than the city of New London, which hasn’t even been able to develop the site. It’s vacant now, and it has been for years.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, yes, but it would have been just as bad any other way.

        The problem is, for decades, local governments have decide the way to ‘help the economy’ is to participate in a race to the bottom where they try to bribe corporations to show up and build there, with lower and lower taxes, and it was sorta inevitable that at some point they’d just start handing them money and property.

        _How_ they hand them money and property almost entirely moot. The situation would have been just as bad if New London taxed everyone to raise $100 million dollars or whatever, bought the property, and given it to developers.

        The state has the power to compel you to give it stuff. Arguing about that is just crazy. What they must be stopped from doing is _them_ giving stuff to corporations in return for imaginary benefits, or hell, even real benefits.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        You two have got the edge of something working here, keep at it.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        I can’t help but think that Suzette Kelo would have done better than the city of New London, which hasn’t even been able to develop the site.

        It’s quite true but tangential, unless you’d approve of this use of eminent domain if the project had been a whopping great success.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    On the one hand, it’s extremely inexpensive to staff and operate a regulatory agency that could shut down every form of a particular activity. The CPSC budget is about a hundred million, and they could shut down Mattel tomorrow if they wanted.

    On the other hand, that activity depends on resources elsewhere in the government. Maybe the FBI only spends a little bit on, e.g., the “Online Defamation Team”, but if you do something naughty that falls under their ODT’s purview, they will be able to call on other agents (or local police) to go arrest you. They don’t have to get up from their desks and come out to bust you themselves.Report

  9. Avatar Fargus
    Ignored
    says:

    I think that there’s a bit of a conceptual problem talking in the abstract about amounts of “liberty,” and increasing or decreasing them, though I might just a bit weary of the word after hearing Tea Party types bandy it about nonstop to dress up their nonsense.

    The thing I’d like to note is that each of these things we’re talking about have follow-on effects. For instance, if the government taxes me and spends my money on a gulag, then I’m out that money, and the people imprisoned in the gulag aren’t contributing to society, and the government is probably having to spend more money to put down rebellions by people who don’t like having their governments run gulags, etc. It’s not just the cost of the gulag that’s bad, but that each of the consequences of having a gulag has a follow-on effect that’s bad in itself, etc.

    If the government’s taxing me and providing a library, I’m not just better off because I can get free access to books. I’m better off because everybody can get free access to books, and in so doing possibly better themselves, pursue a better education, contribute further to the economy and society, etc. I then benefit from those things. I just think that we have to be mindful of the way that the society and the individual interact here, and that I’m getting benefits from a library that I’m not using just like I’m getting hurt by a gulag where I’m not imprisoned.Report

  10. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    This is a very interesting piece Jason.

    I feel similarly to you. My libertarianism is what James Hanley’s taken to calling “marginal libertarianism”, there are many policies that don’t fit my views of what the proper role for government is, but I’d rather focus on the unconscionable ones (like the War on Drugs), the hugely costly and stupid ones (trade barriers, healthcare, education) and the ones that will end up causing a Budgetary crisis (and huge human misery as a result) if they aren’t reformed (Medicare, Social Security). I’d be happy with a society with a pretty generous welfare state (I have some requirements around design, but that’s more of a technical issue), and public funding for libraries, museums, scientific research and similar amenities, if in exchange we could look at the regulatory state with a lot more scrutiny (that doesn’t mean no regulation ever, I just mean some careful thinking is in order), and stop the government from actively screwing its own citizens (or foreigners either for that matter).

    Some of what I’d advocate could be uncomfortable for liberals, but I’m willing to accept some discomfort too. Do you think I could get a significant number of people to sign up for this?Report

    • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to James K
      Ignored
      says:

      You don’t need to get people to ‘sign up for it’, probably half the population is already there, it’s just that the political parties are operating in such an idiotic manner that there’s no solution.

      No one who spends any time looking at it can come up with an justification for the manner in which we operate the drug war. It’s obvious we’d be better off than the status quo if we’d just legalize everything. There people is an even _better_ solution, with treatment and whatnot, and I’m all for trying to find it, but when we’d clearly be better off with no laws at all, the system is broken.

      As a progressive, there’s plenty I probably disagree with you on, like trade barriers, which I think we actually should have against anyone without a comparable economy. And I would say ‘education’, but I’m not sure if you mean our _current_ national education system which is just gibberish, or any at all. I think we should have some sort of national education thing…that doesn’t look anything like what we have.

      But, seriously, that’s not important. What is important is there are honest libertarians, who actually look at the infringements of liberty, which start with actual constitutional violations, and range down to just stupid counterproductive, but constitutional, laws, and think we should start there.

      And, the honest ones say, we can worry about replacing (not removing, replacing) the welfare state sometimes after we solve the problem of generational poverty, which we will have solved somewhere after we’ve gotten rid of the War on Some Drug Users, which we’re only going to care about after we close Gitmo.

      At _that_ point, after we’ve fixed all that, presumably sane libertarians and sane liberals can have the drag-out fight about our entire different world view and There Can Be Only One or whatever is supposed to happen then, which is about as vague as what is supposed to happen in those movies, and will also happen in the distance future or another planet or whatever. Who cares, we’ll be long dead.

      And then there are dishonest libertarians, whose entire idea idea of liberty is apparently ‘How much taxes am I paying?’. (And this new ‘Tea Party’ is the same way.)

      Now, generally, people who say ‘Why do you care about this thing instead of this other thing’ are attempting to deflect the issue. It is not reasonable to demand that people try to fix the much-worse conditions in Haiti before they do something about Detroit.

      But that only goes to a certain point before it really does turn into hypocrisy. Especially since all the unconstitutional and obviously stupid things our government does costs us _more_ than welfare. Anyone who _actually_ felt that ‘taxes were just as important an infringement of liberty as imprisoning people without trial’ would, um, duh, realize that imprisoning people without trial, and the entire war effort, also costs money. So yeah.

      At this point, these dishonest libertarians worrying about welfare has pretty clearly turned into ‘poor people punching’.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to David Cheatham
        Ignored
        says:

        1) I definitely agree about the drug war. Madness doesn’t seem to cover it.

        2) I definitely disagree about trade barriers. I’m an economist by training and I specialised in trade theory. Believe me when I tell you there really isn’t a good reason to impede the flow of international commerce, barring a state or war or something similar.

        3) By “education” I mean the current system. I don’t have a fundamental problem with your government (at state or federal level) doing something with education, but the present system seems to have some pretty serious gaps, and I suspect it’s contributing to declining social mobility in your country. My preferred starting point would be to develop some capacity for experimentation with curriculum, pedagogy and other aspects of schooling, either within government or in the private sector. Government doesn’t do that type of experimentation well, but one way or another it needs to happen if there is to be change.

        4) Working out where to start: I agree for the most part, but I would note that there is a place for division of labour here. Since I’m an economist I’m probably going to be more help on the welfare system than I am on the Drug War.

        5) On dishonest libertarianism: I agree completely, while I’m concerned about taxes on occasion, my concern is about the deleterious incentive effects of high effective marginal tax rates (one reason I support lower rates with less deductions). Apart from that, the real rate of taxation is the rate of spending (as Milton Friedman put it). To talk about taxes and spending as if they were different things is pointless.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to James K
          Ignored
          says:

          > I definitely disagree about trade barriers. I’m an economist by training and I specialised in trade theory. Believe me when I tell you there really isn’t a good reason to impede the flow of international commerce, barring a state or war or something similar.

          I don’t want to ‘impede’ them, I just want to tax offshoring production and whatnot to China. We have almost no production left in this country, we’ve become a hollowed-out shell of a country without a manufacturing base.

          If you can think of some way to undo that without trade barriers, I’m all for it. And, no, ‘waiting the entire world’s standard of living to catch up to ours so that offshoring isn’t so cheap’ does not seem that plausible.

          > 4) Working out where to start: I agree for the most part, but I would note that there is a place for division of labour here. Since I’m an economist I’m probably going to be more help on the welfare system than I am on the Drug War.

          Don’t sell yourself short. You’re not a part of the prison-law enfforcement-industrial complex, or a baboon (I assume), so you’d probably come up with a better plan than the Drug War just by default.

          …I think I just insulted baboons there.

          > I agree completely, while I’m concerned about taxes on occasion, my concern is about the deleterious incentive effects of high effective marginal tax rates (one reason I support lower rates with less deductions).

          I agree utterly with 5, but for different reasons, ha. But first let me state that somewhere above 75% of deductions should be removed. We like to have incentives for _really_ stupid things. Why are we having deductions for mortgage payments but not rent? Or why have a deduction for that at all, considering that everyone is supposedly playing fo shelter.

          So, yes, lower taxes, less deductions…but…

          …the reason I don’t like deductions, even the remaining sane ones, is because deductions are very regressive. Poor people are essentially immune to them, because they don’t have any income to deduct from.

          I’d much rather we have deductions as actual rebates that are independent of taxes.

          If it’s worth letting a rich person keep $500 dollars of their taxes to do X, it’s worth letting a poor person do the same…even if they aren’t _paying_ taxes and would just be handed a check for $500. If that behavior is _actually_ worth $500, it’s worth it whoever does it, right?

          I don’t actually see the logic of any other behavior. It’s just more poor people punching. If we’re paying people to do things, we should pay them regardless if they’re rich or not. (But, like I said, the number of these things should be vastly reduced.)

          > Apart from that, the real rate of taxation is the rate of spending (as Milton Friedman put it). To talk about taxes and spending as if they were different things is pointless.

          If I were gay, (and in a state where it was legal), I’d ask you to marry me. I made exactly this point somewhere else here. There’s no such thing as ‘tax rate policy’. You can argue who and what and when things are taxes, but the rate is ‘however much you need to cover spending’. That’s not something you can actually debate.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to David Cheatham
            Ignored
            says:

            A) Taxing offshoring is impeding trade, and the US has lots of production, its just capital-intensive so it doesn’t employ as many people. And the reason the US is running a trade deficit is that your government has to do a lot of offshore borrowing to finance its profligacy (effectively the US is borrowing from the Chinese and paying for the debt by buying their goods). The world of the 1970s is never coming back, and nor should it. Comparative advantage changes over time, and ultimately your country will be stronger for looking forward instead of backward.

            B) It’s true that I can compose a better policy that the status quo (its not like it’s hard or anything), for the US I’d go with the immediate elimination of federal drug laws (expect perhaps laws about importing drugs into a state where they’re illegal), and at the state level I’d recommend phased legalisation of all drugs, starting with marijuana, and working up to meth with enough time between each legalisation to determine what (if any) social problems are arising so responses can be devised. If things go seriously pear shaped, then it may be necessary to back up, but the outcomes would have to be pretty nasty to outdo the status quo. But at the end of the day, I’m an analyst not an advocate, persuasion isn’t my strong suit.

            C) I’m an advocate of Negative Income Taxation, which is basically the idea that everyone pays a fixed % of their income in taxes, but then everyone gets a large universal deduction, large enough to represent a living income, so if you have no job, you live on your deduction. The result is a system that provides a safety net with no gaps, and you can reduce the entire personal tax and welfare systems into a formula that takes 15 seconds to explain. It’s pricey, but since you can replace welfare (including Social Security) and all your tax deductions with this one programme it should be feasible. I’ve seen calculations that show it can work for New Zealand, so it should be possible in the US too, it’s just a matter of setting the taxes and deductions right.Report

            • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to James K
              Ignored
              says:

              I don’t care about ‘trade deficits’ at all.

              I just care about the demonstrative fact you have to some sort of monetary cycle, where money is spent and used to pay people who then spent the money. Right now, we have a cycle where the rich, instead of paying Americans, are paying 20% to people in China and keeping the rest themselves.

              That cannot continue. Economies cannot be unidirectional. Americans cannot keep purchasing if they do not get any money to spend. They can borrow for a decade, and then that’s all. (And we already _did_ that.)

              As for Negative Income Taxation, what you have failed to realize that it’s REDISTRIBUTING THE WEALTH and thus will never happen in the US. (Despite, as I pointed out, deductions appear to be deliberately set up so as to pay only the middle class and above.)Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to David Cheatham
                Ignored
                says:

                It certainly can’t continue forever because your government can’t keep borrowing at its current rate forever. At some point your government will either cut back (which will move your exchange rate with China to make imports more expensive and exports more profitable), or default (which is just a sudden form of cut back). So you’re right, balance must be restored, but it’ll do that on its own.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to James K
      Ignored
      says:

      Sign Me up. I will help with the Rawlsian justificatory framework.Report

  11. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    JamesK, few would be unhappy with a society with a “pretty generous welfare state.” But you acknowledge the problem in yr previous paragraph, “[those facets] that will end up causing a Budgetary crisis.”

    Welcome to the Western World and the current crisis. [Yes, NZ is certainly part of the WW, James, but your geographic isolation from the 3rd world spares it from certain potentially lethal pressures.]

    The “pretty generous welfare state” is desirable, but it’s not sustainable.

    From my brief and not entirely pleasant encounter with the Balloon Juice folks in defense of Jason Kuznicki and this blog,

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/02/10/last-word-from-the-league/#comment-2421797

    [No, no, please, don’t thank me.] ;-}

    I did find logical and convincing their derision about the compatibility of liberalism/leftism/progressivism with libertarianism–“liberaltarianism” is oxymoronic, a miscegenation, an absurdity.

    “Marginal libertarianism” is likewise absurd, so mugwumpy that one can plug any preferred x into it and elide all inconvenient ys. “Marginal progressivism” or “marginal conservatism” fits the bill just as well, and so the formulation is meaningless.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      While I can totally understand the appeal of posting things to make oneself feel better, I don’t understand the feeling that one has accomplished something by posting something that only makes one feel better.

      It feels good, yes.

      It does not produce life.Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      You’ve not been to New Zealand, have you?Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m sorry, our isolations “spares us” from economic troubles? Our isolation is the primary reason our per-capita GDP is so low (about 60% of the US in Price-adjusted terms, give or take). If we are spared serious fiscal pressures in the future it will be because we’ve already been through this once so the public knows what happens when their government goes fiscally FUBAR, plus the bond markets pay more attention to how much our government spends.

      And “pretty generous” is a deliberately vague term. Fiscal sustainability is a necessary precondition for a welfare system for me. I actually think you can do well enough acting under prudent fiscal constraints so long as you don’t A) Divert most of your welfare effort to transferring money from young poor people to old rich people and/or B) try to make the middle class net welfare recipients. Save your resources for helping people who are actually poor and you can do a decent job of it.

      And “marginal libertarianism” means working at the margins of current policy to change the world in libertarian ways (as opposed to agitating for radical change all at once), a concept I would have thought a conservative could appreciate.Report

  12. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    No, JamesK, I have not been to New Zealand, and neither has 99.9% of the human race. But I’m a supporter of your cricket team. Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCallum. Loved Chris Cairns and shook hands with Sir Richard Hadlee once here in Los Angeles.

    I’ve found your observations-at-a-distance quite valuable from your little corner of the world, and let pass what was not. Please leave the ad homs or impeachments of my credibility out, please, James. Tiresome, unfair. If you have something to say, please just say it.Report

  13. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    SimonK: Richard Hadlee oozes class. Like Joe DiMaggio, back in the day. [DiMaggio got some serious MM poon; Hadlee got knighted. Your call.]Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      DiMaggio? “America’s Guest”? The one who insisted on being introduced as “America’s greatest living ball player” everywhere he went? (And long after Willie Mays turned that into a falsehood.)

      Now, Ted Williams, who took the opportunity of his induction into the Hall of Fame to ask why Negro League players were excluded fro it, there’s a man with class.Report

  14. Avatar R. Kevin Hill
    Ignored
    says:

    Jason, I love this post more than words can say, but be careful. You may be talking yourself out of a job.Report

  15. Avatar Brandon
    Ignored
    says:

    The idea that ALL government intervention or increased spending “decreases liberty” is the oldest lie in the GOP playbook.

    Hell, Sweden is ranked as one of the top Economic Freedom nations DESPITE also having a very large and generous welfare state. There are OTHER freedoms besides having low taxes and allowing business to do whatever the hell it wants to increase profit.

    Speaking of freedom, why doesn’t someone start their OWN separate index? Call it the “Index of Worker Freedom” to counter the bogus “economic freedom” index, which is really just doublespeak for “how much states allow companies to screw over workers and consumers and get away with doing whatever the hell they want to keep costs low.” Big business already has ENOUGH freedom in the West, so they can afford to share some of that with workers, can they not?Report

  16. Avatar George Arndt
    Ignored
    says:

    I also think that the size of government is irrelevant to liberty or tyranny. The smallest possible government, after all is a dictatorship!Report

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