Thursday, July 10, 2008

where I ramble about moral principals and you hang in there with me

Hubby originally encouraged me to start a blog to write about politics. I guess I was talking about it a lot and he thought I needed an outlet.

Obviously that hasn't happened.

But my smart friend Beth, who was in my Constitution study group, has been posting about property rights and it's got me thinking.

Does government have a moral right to take property from some groups of people (taxes) and distribute it to other groups of people? I would guess that most people believe that some taxes are OK, but that the government spends too much (or at least spends it ineffectively).

Do Republicans generally believe that there should be fewer taxes and fewer helping programs?

Do Democrats generally believe that there should be more taxes and more helping programs?

But what about the fundamental principal of it all?

Are taxes moral? (please don't let's get into whether morals are subjective or objective - there's got to be an objective right and wrong or nothing makes much sense in life.)

In other words, does anyone else have a right to my property? Or are taxes glorified plunder?

Here is one perspective:

Without the right to our property, meaning both our physical body (including our mind) and all the material goods we produce and earn from our efforts, our fundamental right to life would mean nothing, because life – “living” – involves “acting” freely and using our physical body (including our mind) and all our earned and produced material goods – our wealth - to enhance and improve our life. Property rights are our only way of carrying out - “implementing” – our rights to life, liberty, and our pursuits to happiness. Ayn Rand: “…the right to property is a right to action, like all the others.”
comment from John on Wealth is Not the Problem

What I think he is saying is this:

If we don't have the right to our property, we don't have the right to life - because living includes and requires acting and producing.

I just wish there was a simple way to present this idea. A way that people could understand easily. I had to read through Beth's post twice. And stop and think (oh my!) after each sentence. We all know most people ain't gonna do that.

So how do we talk about this stuff? How can it be made accessible?

Right to Life: check
Right to Liberty: check
Right to Property: whoa there....not so sure about that.

Something that totally convinced me of the right to property (or at least the immorality and the state taking away one's property) was Frederic Bastiat's essay What is Seen and What is Not Seen. He was a French guy from the 1800's - but wrote simply and made a lot of sense! He talks about what happens to the schmo whose income is reduced by taxes (what is not seen) that go to pay for so and so's welfare (what is seen). Really, it's a quick read. I highly recommend it.

Oh why did Jefferson omit the Right to Property in the Declaration? Can you think of a more vague and unhelpful term than "Pursuit of Happiness"?



Beth said...

Hey Sue.

I like this:
Right to Life: check
Right to Liberty: check
Right to Property: whoa there....not so sure about that.

One place that people get hung up is thinking "Property....hmmm...aren't people more important than things?" and then forgetting the indispensible connection between life and the physical means by which we live. People and property are indivisible when it comes to LIVING. To be for people is to be for Life, Liberty and Property. Somehow that mind/body split (the attempt to separate our physical self from our spiritual self) must be repaired and our understanding of what it is to be fully human reintegrated: One being. One set of indivisible rights, which is simply one means of focusing on the different aspects of an inalienable right to our selves.

Beth said...

A further thought.

I do like Bastiat's approach to explaining economics. Another author who does this well is Henry Hazlitt in Economics in One Lesson. Comtemporary authors who do well are econommists Walter Willams and Thomas Sowell.

Sue said...

Thanks Beth!

Mike said...

If you think there's the slightest bit of good that can be achieved by pooling our resources for various ends, then you fund that activity through taxes. For example, having a fire department, or a military, is something that's hard for people to do on their own. So, we all contribute some money to achieve an end result that would be near impossible otherwise.

That's not a question of morality, but a question of convenience. WE elect people to help manage the process of running these programs that would be unattainable otherwise.

If you're arguing that we should have zero contribution to common goals, then that would be an interesting experiment and it would look absolutely nothing like the place you now live.

Sue said...

Mike: Governments are created to protect individual's rights. So, police, the justice system and army/navy...etc. are appropriate uses of force. Don't forget, government is force.

Any other govt. role, in my opinion, should be at the local-est level possible. City, county, state and THEN federal. Not the other way around.

I don't argue for zero tax contributions. I argue against a government and people who think that more government programs is the answer to every ill we face as a society.

Beth said...

Here’s my take on this:

Many people think that if we don't use the coercive power of the state to "pool our resources" then it won't happen. I have no problem with joint projects and community programs. I just don't see how to justify violating property rights to achieve them- and taxes are a violation of property rights.

I've been reading some on this recently. In economics, it is called the “free rider problem”, or "underproduction of positive externalities." But, before government funding, lighthouses got built. Fire departments were either volunteer or private. "Social security" including care of widows and orphans were handled by what were called "friendly societies," which were private support organizations formed as a type of group self-insurance. Once the government took over these welfare activities, friendly societies died out. I don’t know how to hot link in a comment so here is the URL to an interesting article on them:

Just because there has been a vote on it, doesn’t mean it is moral. Consent to live under the laws of this land is not a blank check to have the majority do whatever it decides, including take my property without my consent. So I do think taxes are a moral issue.


Mike said...

Sue, so ok, that sounds different than where I thought you were going. If you're onboard for SOME taxation, then we're in the same ballpark. Mine is just a taxpayer-funded ballpark. :)

Beth is clearly arguing for a much different system, I guess the kind that doesn't include national defense.

Beth said...

I am no anarchist and there is definitely an appropriate use of state force: protection against the initiation of force. That means police for protection within a country, with a judiciary for settling disagreements peacefully, and a military for protection from threats originating outside the country. How to fund these if nto with coersive taxes?

I have read various ideas which I can’t put my hands on right now but will try to summarize from memory. The first step is to eliminate all inappropriate government programs (including but not limited to welfare entitlements and a whole slew of regulatory programs) which also means eliminating the need to fund them!! This adds up to the vast bulk of our tax bill. While that is being achieved, instituting a flat tax to cover police, courts and military would be one way to go.

Once we are down to the bare bones of justifiable government actions, I think you would be surprised at affordable government is. One way of covering costs of the judicarycould be voluntary fees on contracts which go to paying for their protection in court. When you look at how much is donated to serving others via various charity organizations, I find it hard to believe that people would not pay to support their own defense! The richer people are, the more they have to protect (and lose if attacked) and rationally would be willing to devote a portion of their resources to its defense. Given the current bloated state of the state, it is hard to imagine people paying voluntarily- but people buy life insurance and health insurance without coercion, so I can’t imagine them not being willing to contribute to support the police and military for self-defense.

I will keep my eye out for that article which outlines a program in more detail. Another place to check out is Chapter 20 of George Reisman’s book Capitalism, now available on line at Chapter 20, titled “Toward the Establishment of Laissez-Faire Capitalism,” begins on page 969 of the book but 1019 of the pdf file.


Mike said...

Ok, so we all believe in funding a government, we just differ on what level of service they should provide.

I'm an old fashioned "tax 'n' spend" liberal, but after all these years of crappy government, I'd love to give Libertarianism a chance to fail just as we've given our current system.

I'm less interested in reading articles on theory and more interested in an actual modern day example of Libertarianism being successful at a national level.