Miscellaneous Links: Multigenerational Friedman Edition

  • Milton on medical licensure:
  • Tovar’s blog is here, but I suspect we’ll have to wait a few years before he makes his own contribution to libertarianism.

The Best Sentence I’ve Read in Some Time

From BK Drinkwater:

Repeat after me: if you outlaw a voluntary transaction, you’re hurting all the parties that would benefit from that transaction, and not just the ones you’re trying to hurt.

A double-play: gets across the central point about mutually beneficial trade, and incidentally reveals the target’s implicit desire to hurt the rich. Well done, Sir!

Where my Georgists at?

Many libertarians accept that government, and therefore taxation, is necessary. If taxation is unavoidable, the economically literate libertarian should prefer a tax system with minimal distortionary effect and injustice. I think the Georgist idea of a single tax on the unimproved value of land is clearly the best tax on both counts, but is seldom discussed by economists or policy wonks.

Taxation distorts economic activity by discouraging the taxed activity. If we tax income, people will work less. That’s bad. Given that (almost) all the land there’s ever going to be is already in existence and can’t be destroyed, a tax on the unimproved value of land wouldn’t have these distortionary effects. Of course, there’s really no such thing as the unimproved value of land: the value of a particular piece of land depends on improvements made in neighbouring areas. Still, such a tax would surely be less distortionary than other forms of taxation.

Many libertarians will object that efficient theft is still theft, and therefore wrong. I’ve never completely bought in to the taxation is theft line, since I think property rights are themselves morally problematic. I really like property rights, and I think it’s pretty indisputable that we’d all be poor and miserable in a world without them.

I don’t like the quasi-mystical overtones of the “mixing one’s labour” metaphor, but I think some version of homesteading principle is the only way to think about just and reasonable acquisition. The Lockean proviso that we leave enough and as good for others, though, is never completely met in reality. Even if there’s an abundance of unclaimed land, location remains important. If I claim exclusive right to a piece of land, I am reducing the options available to everyone else.

I don’t like Nozick’s move of interpreting the Lockean proviso as being met if everybody is better off in a system of private property rights than the alternative. This neglects the intermediate possibility of attenuated property rights. It seems fairly plausible that everyone would prefer a system in which people could claim private ownership of land, but only on the condition that they compensate others – in Georgist terms, paying rent to the community. There are some problems in terms of justice, but, to me, there much less serious than the problems of current tax systems.

Milton Friedman once called it “the least-bad tax” (but to my knowledge never discussed the possibility in any depth). I’d go further and say it could be a positively good tax. If we could design a government and ensured it remained within predefined bounds, a nightwatchman state funded by a single land tax could be preferable (in expected value terms) to anarchism. (Constraining government in this way is impossible, though, which is why I’m an anarchist. Still, the “imagine a perfect government; wish really hard” approach is the dominant one in political discourse.)

Why, then, is the idea largely confined the certain portions of the left-libertarian fringe? With few exceptions, free market economists have neglected the possibility of replacing income or consumption taxes with land taxes. Fred Foldvary has done some great work, but that’s about it.

I don’t get it. Any ideas?

Individual Rights: Minority Imposing its Views on Majority

This from Jesse Reynolds at Biopolitical Times (repsonding to this from Ron Bailey) is one of the more stupid democratic totalitarian arguments I’ve heard (and yes, it does mention the Peter “The Root of All Evil” Thiel):

Public opinion surveys show that an overwhelming 85 to 90 percent of Americans are opposed to human reproductive cloning and would like to see it banned, whereas only a tiny percentage would like to engage in the activity. This opposition is certainly not a radical ideology.

Furthermore, the US’s lack of any governance of powerful reproductive and genetic technologies–a remarkable exception among industrialized nations–is praised by Bailey as

a good thing too, since lack of government intrusion allows for the expression of moral pluralism. So far, at least, with regard to many biotechnical advances, the majority in the U.S. doesn’t get to impose its values on the minority, as has happened in many other countries.

In other words: Fortunately, with regard to many biotechnical advances, the minority in the US has so far been able to impose its values on the majority, unlike what has happened in many other countries.

Such opposition to democracy is not surprising, given Bailey’s transhumanist agenda. He knows that his vision is not popular. In order to implement it, experts such as himself and fellow anti-democratic libertarian Peter Thiel must be trusted and given authority, lest the wishes of the unreliable and ideological masses actually be enacted.

If I’m reading this correctly, Reynolds sees the maintenance of a private sphere beyond the reach of majoritarian interference as repression of the majority by the minority. That seems to be a pretty common, and utterly insane, view among democraphiles.

Do these people really not see the difference between denying a person the right to live her own life and denying the majority, acting through the state, the right to control the lives of others? Bailey and Thiel don’t want “authority” over anything except their own lives.

Libertarian Music Thursday: Public School Blues

The newest song from the excellent Hannah “Hanarchist” Hoffman. Check out her website for the studio version of the song, and others.

Libertarian Music Tuesday: Too Big to Fail

From the Austin Lounge Lizards:

Hat tip: EconJeff

Libertarianism and Beneficiary-Bashing

There has been much chatter in the New Zealand blogosphere about “beneficiary bashing” after the Minster of Social Development Paula Bennett released details on how much two solo mothers who complained about some of their benefits being reduced were still receiving from the state.

I don’t find the privacy issues particularly interesting, but the issue of whether those on welfare are receiving too much is important. As a libertarian, my first-best set of policies would not include welfare payments (in fact, it would not include government). This is not because I hate the poor and want to see them starve, or becuase I assume that they would all be able to look after themselves in the market. I think many people do need assistance and should receive it, but I am not willing to forcibly take from the rich to give to the poor. I think voluntary charity in a free society would be entirely adequate to address genuine cases of poverty.

Even so, I do not advocate a general reduction in benefits given the current set of policies. I certainly think there are better ways to provide welfare, but I don’t think it’s fair or helpful to complain about dole-bludgers and insist they just need to get a job. I think there is a very strong moral second-best argument for significant rich-to-poor redistribution in the presence of significant (stupid) government intervention. To my mind, the most just system would be a completely free market; but removing some types of government intervention can make the system less just.

Much government policy today disproportionately harms the poor. Mandated minimum levels of safety and quality on housing and other goods outlaws the products many poor people would choose to consume, and barriers to starting a business (such as licensure) or employing low-skilled workers (such as the minimum wage) reduce the opportunities for gainful employment. For the most vulnerable, this increases costs and decreases income. Given that this is happening, I’m glad that there’s a little more coercive taxation going on in order to stop the poor from starving.

If we were to remove all welfare benefits today, we would move from a system which forces people into welfare dependency (which is very bad) to a system in which takes away their options and doesn’t offer them any assistance (which is downright horrible). A system which effectively prohibits certain people from making a living and doesn’t offer them any compensation seems like the worst of all possible worlds to me.

Roger Douglas Supports Competitive Government

The architect of New Zealand’s free-market reforms of the 1980s now advoctates an end to the geographic monopoly of local councils:

Sir Roger Douglas wants ratepayers to be able to shop around for the best local council, saying that being able to defect to one nearby even if they do not live there will invoke the spirit of competition.

Sir Roger told a parliamentary select committee considering legislation setting up Auckland’s Super City that there should be a flexible community council structure with ratepayers able to decide its size and even set up their own councils.

Groups of ratepayers who lived next to another community council should also be able to opt out and join another council.

“The capacity to change council will create competition for ratepayers, which is likely to see value for money being delivered by local government,” Sir Roger said.

If choice is a good thing, why not open the market to new entrants competing with existing councils and central government? A truly free market in governance replaces coercion with choice (i.e. government in the Weberian sense ceases to exist).

Come on, Roger. Admit you’re an anarchist.

Libertarian Activists Denied Entry to Canada

Pete Eyre and Jason Talley of the Motorhome Diaries were detained at the Canadian border, and have now been denied entry. Agents ransacked their RV, took their computers and a box of Alliance of the Libertarian Left literature, and deleted video footage of the event. Apparently, they were suspected of possessing “Pornography or Heinous Propaganda.”

Xaq Fixx has the details at Fr33Agents.com, and Jason has been tweeting some updates.

Anarchist Prisons

David Skarbek’s recent paper Self-Governance in San Pedro Prison provides evidence for the possibility of orderly market anarchism and, when combined with past research, against that of orderly non-market anarchism. The abstract:

The inmate-governed community in the Andersonville Civil War prison camp resulted in a state of violence and disorder. Past research argues that self-governance in prisons results in a dominant group comprised of the most violent inmates preying upon other members of the community. This paper examines the inmate-governed San Pedro Prison in Bolivia, and it argues that order within a situation of prison anarchy is possible when inmates can engage in economic exchange and have access to well established markets that they expect to persist.

Looks very interesting. My to-read list is getting out of control.