Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Politics of Liberty

Ok, so you can listen to me passionately rant this piece (and I do go off the text a bit), you can read it below, or you can read it on a plain white background with black (and some red) text here: http://www.chrisbyrne.com/writing/other/PoliticsLiberty.html

Part 1: this is an audio post - click to play
Part 2:
this is an audio post - click to play
Part 3: this is an audio post - click to play
Part 4:
this is an audio post - click to play

I want to talk about what I believe in.

I'm a small "l" libertarian, but a lot of people don't know what that means. In the header of this blog, I describe myself as a "disgruntled constructive anarchist". Considering that anarchists (actually anarcho-socialists) are active and in the news today in my home town of Boston, I thought it might be an opportune time to explain what I mean by that.
"I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a constructive anarchist. Basically what that means is that I believe that all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do as long as no one is getting hurt who isn't paying extra"
This quote has been on the front page of my web site since 1997, and although it's more than a bit flip, it's also substantially accurate (besides, I'm more than a bit flip); Oh and I stole the last bit from Dennis Miller (good artists copy, great artists steal; from Pablo Picasso, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Stephens in this case).

Actually, calling myself a construcive anarchist is kind of a joke, or rather a mechanism for catching your attention. People hear the word anarchist, and it tends to make them at least raise their eyebrows.

I am in fact, not an anarchist. What I call myself when I am seriously trying to classify my beliefs is something else entirely:

I am a Muscular Minarchist. I believe in an absolutely minimalist government that provides a strong defense. I want a government that stays out of my wallet, out of my bedroom, and out of my business.

I'm going to break this out into four parts. Fundamental Philosophy, Foundations of Government, What Government is NOT ,and Participation in Society.

Now down to the squishy stuff...

More in the extended entry...

Fundamental Philosophy

My beliefs on government are rooted in three core tenets.
  • The coercive restraint of human liberty is inherently evil. Control of ones person, property, and behavior should be the exclusive province of the sovereign man.
  • The only legitmate limitation of liberty is that which prevents transgression on the liberty of others, or which compensates those transgressed upon.
  • Without a disinterested arbiter, maintaining a monopoly of legitimate force with which it resolves disputes and enforces compacts between men, the liberty of the weak will be abrogated by the will of the strong.
I'm gonna get down to about fourth grade level here for a bit, because I want to talk about some very fundamental stuff.

Government is only good at two things: stealing, and killing. When you boil it down, that, at core, is its job. Government enforces the rule of law through the threat of force (killing), and administers and perpetuates itself through the seizure of assets (stealing, which it achieves through the threat of force, a.k.a robbery).

See here's the thing; All earned compensation is in exchange for time out of your life. This is time that you could have used for something else... look up opportunity cost if you arent familiar with the concept.

(note for economic wonks: this is NOT the Labor Theory of Value, though it is a core element of it. LTV is a gross simplification of reality. Nor is this a refutation of Marginalism. When it comes to the value of labor, and wages, Adam smith got it mostly right but said it didn't apply, Ricardo got the concept right but the consequences entirely wrong, Karl Marx got it mostly wrong - at least partially because of Ricardo, and Ludwig Von Mises disagreed with them all so much he either ignored it or pathologically refuted it. All I am speaking of is wages, income, and opportunity costs)

You are given money in exchange for some of your time. The more commercially valuable your skills, labor, support, presence, looks, or body are, the more money you are given for that time. When you pay for goods, you are compensating those who sell the goods for their time (and opportunity costs), who are compensating the distributors for their time, who are compensating the manufacturers for their time and so on. Even when you are paying for a raw material or commodity like iron or gold what you are really paying for is the time (and opportunity cost) it took to find, and extract, and refine etc...

That's pretty basic economics, but there's an important social and political implication there. If income is taken away from you (direct taxes) time is being taken away from your life. If property, assets, or money are taken from you without compensation (indirect taxes), time is being taken away from your life. You have just spent however long it took to earn that money, or acquire those goods or assets, in involuntary servitude to the one(s) who took it.

Involuntary servitude has another name: Slavery

Yes, I'm saying that direct taxes are slavery (actually, more on that later). Indirect taxes (tarrifs, sales taxes, excise and property taxes etc...) are closer to theft, but really, this is also slavery, because it's all time out of your life, which you have in effect spent involuntarily laboring for the government without compensation.

If that isn't slavery, what is?

Many people consider this concern for property and money to be venal, trival, irrelevant, or shallow, but when you think about what money really is, time out of your life, money (or property, which is interchangeable here) takes on a different meaning. Because compensation must be made for property acquired, and all compensation is in exchange for time out of your life, property rights are fundamental to liberty.

Ok so, with me so far? I'm making some HUGE generalizations, and simplifying things more than a little bit here, I just wanted to get some principles out there before y'all start saying "you just don't like paying taxes". There's actually some philosophical foundation to this other than my irritation at not being able to buy more guns and pizza.

So, we've established how I feel about taxes, what about that other thing, the rule of law.

In an ideal society, there would be no need for any laws other than "you have to do what you say you will", "you can't take or destroy anything that isn't yours", and "you can't hurt anyone who doesnt want to be hurt", but lets face it, that aint gonna happen. A functioning society consisting of more than just family (and if it's my family... well...), must have a government.

Notice, I never say that all government is illegitmate, just evil. It is sometimes necessary to do evil things, so that other evil will not be done. Killing somone is a bad thing, but not killing someone can be a worse thing. Someone shoots and kills grandma, bad, someone shoots the guy trying to shoot grandma, good. The problem comes when government exceeds those legitimate purposes which I will describe in the next section.

Foundations of Government

So, some agency must exist to enforce those basic principles I list above if a governed society is to function.

NOTE: I am using the term agency in this document in the sense of a mechanism, process, or structure, not explicitly a beaurocracy or constructed entity, though that me be the practical result.

Let's enumerate just exactly what we need for legitmate government.
  • We need a neutral arbiter for disputes. This function is served by civil courts.
  • We need to keep people from commiting crimes (the strong harming the weak). This function is served by police.
  • We need to catch people who do commit crimes, to ensure they can be punished, and that restitution can be made. This function is also served by the police.
  • We need to have a system for determining who is punished, how they are punished etc.. This function is served by criminal courts.
  • We must prevent those from outside our society who would harm us, and our vital interests, from doing so. This function is served by the military, and to an extent by diplomats as part of the executive office.
  • There must be an agency for negotiating and concluding agreeements with other nation states in support of our vital interests. This function is served by the executive office.
  • In the united states, or any other federal entity, there must be an agency for settling disputes between the states. This function is served by the federal courts and particularly the supreme court
  • There must be a system for creating and defining legislation. A written code of laws is essential to a free society. This function is served by the legislature.
  • There must be an agency for selecting those who are given authority by the government, whether in police, military, court, legislative, or executive roles. In our society this is served through the franchise, as adminsitered by the states, counties, and precincts.
  • There must be the systems and infrastructure in place to enable and support these functions. This function is served by the bureaucracy of civil service.
  • There are some functions which are best served through collective action, such as public works. Though much of these can be privatized, there is a legitmate claim for functions such as roads to be provided by the government, as it is not possible to perform the basic functions of government without them. When not served through private contract, these functions would also be provided through the civil service.
There are no other legitimate functions of government.


No really, none.

Make the laws, enforce the laws, enforce contracts, settle disputes, protect the citizens, protect the country.

That's it.

Although that's a pretty short list, it's actually longer than many libertarians would agree to. As I said, I am a muscular minarchist. I think that any state without what I list above could not succeed, because it would be conquered (from within or without) by the darker demons of human nature if nothing else.

What Government IS NOT

Government is not your friend
Government is not your keeper
Government is not your master
Government is not your teacher
Government is not your creator
Government is not your babysitter
Government is not your conscience
Government is not your paymaster
Government is not your moral compass

Most importantly...


Societal Participation:

If a free man is to participate in society, and obtain the benefits thereof, he must acknowledge his responsibility to obey the laws of that society, and to contribute to the maintenance and support of that society. A debt is incurred for these benefits, and must be paid through service to society, both indirectly, and directly through the payment of reasonable taxes.

Service to society takes many forms. Every time you don't break the law, you are serving society in some way (as well as yourself, which in a properly constructed society should always be the case, but so often isn't). By holding productive employment you are serving society. By helping the police, executive office, legislative office, courts, and military to preform their functions, be it through working in them, voting, training, acting as a witness, or whatever other form it may take, you are serving society.

All that said, taxation is the primary direct contribution from citizens in the service of society. Taxation is necessary for a governed society to function, as there must be some means for the government to preform the functions enumerated above, all of which have direct costs, and require compensation to those who preform these essential functions.

One may say that this is internally inconsistent with my argument above, but truly it isn't.
Taxation in and of itself is not evil; as I say above, when one obtains benefit from society, one has voluntarily incurred a debt, which must be paid. What is evil (and I don't use that term lightly, or in jest), is taxation in excess of this incurred debt. This is involuntary redistribution, and it is evil in all it's forms.

Involuntary redistribution is NEVER justified under any circumstances, no matter how deserving one believes the benificary to be, or how little impact one believes it will have on the benefactor. Involuntary redistribution, is nothing more than slavery.

It doesn't matter if those whose assets are being redistributed "can afford it" or "dont need it", because you are stealing time from their lives. You are forcing them into involuntary servitude, WHICH IS SLAVERY.

So how does this fit into society today?

I am reminded every day that my ideals are just that, ideals. We live in a society, with a government that does everything that I believe legitimate government should not do.

Over the past 70 or so years (since the new deal), and especially over the past 40 years (since the great society), we have developed a culture where the abdication of personal responsiblity to the government (or it's agents) is not only accepted, but often, encouraged.

I find this fact profoundly offensive, but I also have little power to change it as an individaul.

Here's the thing: Societies are made up of many many individuals, and by changing minds one person at a time, we CAN grow back into a society of individual liberty. If I change just one mind, and in doing so inspire that person to change other minds, eventually we can, and we will free ourselves from the coercive limitation of human liberty.

This is my goal, and it is far too important to ever give up.