Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Pick Your Switch

I was having a conversation with Chris yesterday about taxes and something came to me. Usually when Chris and I talk, it's about how retarded politicians are, or how offensive different types of taxes are. This time I got an interesting image: it was Uncle Sam telling me (in a stern voice, pointing that finger) to "go pick a switch." For those of you not from the Southern part of these United States, parents used to (maybe they still do) tell their kids to "go pick a switch," which is a small branch from a tree or bush used to whip the ever-loving crap out of the kid when he did something wrong.

Now there is no good switch to pick, and there are no good taxes to pay. But Uncle Sam, like an abusive parent, does in fact love you deep down (in his pockets). The bad part is, the only thing you did wrong was make some money, or spend it, or own something, and you got whipped.

So the next time you think about April 15th, or just about how much you hate paying taxes, think about Uncle Sam telling you to pick a switch. Trust him, since he knows what's good for you. I know you hate it now, but he will prove his wisdom over time.

And if you believe all of that, you deserve to get whipped. Maybe believing that Uncle Sam actually cares about you is what you did wrong. Now go get some ointment for your backside.

I just can't see that in the United States. Taxes to me are just part of the social contract. We can't have all the good things government can provide (property right in particular) without pepople paying for them, and sometimes that means force.

Taxes are less like punishment, more like membership dues.
taxes aren't created to pay for programs. programs are created as an excuse to tax

1) But who really gains utility from just taxing?

2) And if there are people that gain utility from taxing, then it would seem that it is possible for force to once again lead to wealth creation. If the welfare gain from the people doing the taxing is greater than the welfare loss of the producers and consumers the tax is inflicted upon.
It's like membership dues, except you have no choice. Your alternative is paying more in fines or jail time. No thanks, I don't want to be part of that club.

I don't know of any other clubs that have the coercive power of the government to enforce the collection of dues either.
Thank you Chris! If it's part of a social contract, then why can't I break it?

Move somewhere else, you say? Well the other "clubs" aren't any better, except for maybe a few other former British colonies like Australia or something.

Student: whatever makes you feel better about taxation is fine by me, especially since you can't avoid it. I can see why you'd want to get used to the idea and try to rationalize it.

Also, I have to admit I would feel more like part of a club if we were all treated equally before the law, i.e. all had protection of our person and property and that's it. No hand-outs, no subsidies, no transfers, proportional taxation if necessary.

Why should I be forced to pay for crap that I don't want (in some cases despise)? If taxes only paid for protecting everyone's natural rights, I would not feel as violated by them (and they would be tiny compared to what they are now), but they don't.

Please make a nice long list of all the good things goverment does that are worth the taxes you pay. Odds are, the things on your list are paid for by someone else. Maybe you pay for the things on someone else's list.
Student, one more thing:

"it is possible for force to once again lead to wealth creation...if the welfare gain from the people doing the taxing is greater than the welfare loss of the producers and consumers the tax is inflicted upon."

Would you feel the same if the welfare gain to a criminal who robbed you was greater than your welfare loss from being robbed? If we're going to turn utilitarian, let's be consistent.

But since I'm not a utilitarian, how can you even compare the "utility" of two different groups? The best you can say is that voluntary exchange is mutually beneficial to the parties involved, but taxes are not voluntary. Explain yourself.

Really, that's all I have to say because I totally agree.

I can't think of any politician that intentionally wants to punish people for working. And actually, I can't think of a time I was able to chose the taxes I wanted to pay (pick my switch).

But the one thing I've learned about rhetoric is that you can't beat a metaphore without another metaphore. So I offered my own (flawed) metaphore to counter another (flawed) metaphore.


With regards to your first post, i'll go through your points individualy.

1) you can't break the contract.

Who says you can't? In the United States you don't have to pay taxes if you don't want to. Like you said, you can leave the country if you want. Who says you get to stay within the geographical boarders where the contract applies and still benefit from it?

2) No place better to move.

No place better to move? There are at least a few places without government. Antartica for example.
Chosing between steak and hamburger is just as much of a choice as chosing between steak and lobster.

Just because you don't like your options doesn't mean you don't have them.

Is there a moral obligation for the government to give you your own country for breaking the contract? You might want to explain your moral reasoning on that one.

3) I don't like subsidies.
That isn't an argument against taxation. If your real problem is with taxation used for subsidies, then you should have elaborated in your initial post. Though I would think you would still have to give up your switch metaphore.

On your last post, I think you're very confused on exactly which position I was taking.

My comment to Nathan was referencing a previous discussion we had concerning force and utilitarianism.

Nathan believed that force was bad because it could NEVER lead to net welfare gains. A very utilitarian argument. I disagreed. I gave the same example about a theif gaining more than his victim loss, etc. I even covered the inability to compare individual utilities line.

My point was that if we want to oppose force, we will most likley have to do it on non-traditional-utilitiarian grounds.

I only brought it up again as another example of my same point. Hence the "once again".
Why the metaphor works:

1) You can choose the kind of taxes you pay based on a) how you earn money and how much, and b) how you spend or save the money you make (what kinds of things you buy and when).

2) Of course I can move somewhere else with no "contract", as I admitted, and I'll admit further that I will gladly choose being switch-whipped over freezing to death in Antarctica; I'm glad you pointed out that option.

3) I DID elaborate in my initial post that I don't mind the minimal amount of taxes needed to secure property rights. My problem is indeed with the massive amount of taxes currently levied beyond that minimum.

Then why did you revert back to comparing welfare across individuals in your comment on this post?

Since it's still unclear to me, I'll just ask. Do you believe that government intervention is justified in the utilitarian cost-benefit sense?

If so, how?

And second, I don't buy the "implicit social contract" argument at all. What gives such a contract any validity? It's not a choice of being in the club and paying dues or not being in and not paying dues.

The choice is simple: pay taxes or go to jail.
3) Well, you elaborated in your initial responce to my reply. Not in your actual POST. The actual blog post that started the conversation. The initial POST is directed at taxation in general, not spending (or transfer payments).

And like I said, if your true problem is with spending and not taxes, then your metaphore doesn't hold very well.

2) Then what's the problem?

1) And your metaphore is still flawed. If taxation is the switch, you are not picking the switch. You are picking the deed you will commit that warrants different types of switches.

PS* Here's the convo between Nathan and I.

1) No I don't.

2) I don't see that as the choice at all. Renounce your citizenship and move and see how much taxes you will pay.

Keep your citizenship, not pay taxes, and enjoy the police protection/national defense/property rights/and justice system the tax payments of others affords and that will rightfuly land you jail (or more likley paying back taxes). How else can you frame that situation other than stealing?

It's like sitting in a hotel's lobby as a non-paying guest to leech wireless internet access.
1. I'm glad.

2. I understand there are some things that I can't just opt out of, like national defense protection. But why, if it's a contract, can't I choose not to pay for things like public education, national parks, public transportation, social security, medicare/medicaid, any number of public works, etc. that I have to pay for but enjoy no benefit from?

3. How can the contract be valid if I have no say in what the contract even says? My one vote does essentially nothing to write the contract which is constantly changing against my wishes.

4. If it's valid because I have the choice to leave, then why is secession illegal? Why can't a whole chunk of the country, as in the southern states, just drop the contract? That settles all the details of national defense and other things that are difficult to opt out of. Why can't North Carolina secede if all North Carolinians are part of a voluntary contract with the U.S.?
How's my car treating you? I just got this really cool bike, it has, like, 5 gears!

Hypotetical situations like you described might have a flaw. What's the feedback?

You steal my car, let's assume we both know the utility we each would gain from it, your comparative utility was greater than mine, and you stole it, creating a net social gain. Fine.

1) What was the cost of aquiring the information necessary to determine the social gains, if not through open negociation?
2) What will the cost of the precedent set by allowing you to steal from me be?
3) What incentives are created by this precedent?

4) If knowledge of comparative utilities is expensive, but a precedent for stealing has been set, how many make the investment to insure that the net social gains are positive, compared to the number that will act based upon the precedent alone?

There are no one-time transactions. Every transaction provides feedback that decreases the cost of deciding to conduct another transaction with the same parties. If the experiences was positive/negative I will know ahead of time whether I do/do not want to deal with you again.

You can have my car but not my five-speed!

Taxation creates incentives for the decision makers in government that can act counter to the stated purpose for the tax.
Schools are bad. Let's put more money into them. The decision makers get higher salaries. What's the incentive? To ask for more money next year, or less?
Programs described by their stated goals rather than by the processes involved often have similar feedback consequences.

You should all really read Sowell's Knowledge and Decisions. All of this stuff is in there and it takes you straight beyond the smokescreens.
4) Unless there was something written into the contract that covered the way participating parties could opt out, I don't see a problem with it either.

3) How much is enough influence to say you are part of the process?

2) I don't know. James Buchanan would agree with you. His generality requirement excludes the possibility of "targeted" programs that "favor" one group over another.

Rawls might argue that it was all part of the saftey net that we would all agree to behind a veil of ignorance (since we all have a possibility of being born in a position to not afford schooling or medical care).

Armyata Sen would relate to how these programs help one achieve his/her capabilities. But I am only now discovering his work and I would hate to misrepresnt him. I'll let you know in a few weeks what he says.

Either way, a lot of smart people have tried to answer that question. And we've got a lot of different answers to chose from. And I have a hard time finding a way to objectivley say which argument is better
But it's part of the contract (the Constitution) that no states can secede. So there are rules about leaving in the contract (that I did not agree to).

Whether or not you personally have a problem with secession does not matter to me. The fact remains that I can't secede with my fellow North Carolinians, as we both believe I should be able to do, because the contract precludes it and therefore is not voluntary. I should be able to end my contract if it is voluntary. Do you see my point?
Well that is a question of constituional law and I know that atleast some people would disagree with your interprutation.

But assuming that your characterization is correct, it still doesn't actually prohibit anyone from leaving the contract.

Who is "North Carolina" and what rights does he or she have? The people in "North Carolina" can leave anytime they want. They just can't take the land they live on.

At some companies you sign a contract that makes any patent you're awarded while working for them their property. When you leave that company, you can't take your patent with you even if it's "yours".
cue: "I didn't sign no stinking contract" remark
Ok, I have to jump in here.

First, it's obvious that indivual Americans that are alive today had nothing to do with the "Contract" that creates the United States. The Constitution was written more than 200 years before most of us (on this blog, at least) were born.

So, the real question becomes: do we implicitly agree to live under that contract by being born here? If we are implicitly agreeing, is not the government also implicitly agreeing to same?

If that's the case, the anarchist still has a few (valid) points to make.

First, in the contract, it was understood that states could leave (after all, states entered it voluntarily). However, as of the Civil War (War Between the States, War of Northern Agression, whatever), states and individuals no longer retain that right. We're bound to be a part of the Union as long as we're here.

These facts fly in the face of Social Contract Theory (Locke), which states that individuals voluntarily give up some freedoms in exchange for security and property rights, etc. In that same contract (and in the Declaration), it states "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends (life, liberty, property), it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it."

Now, the only question we must answer is: Can democracy determine morally, and justly, for all of us whether a government is abusive of ends, or should individuals make that decision.

As most bloggers here have already agreed that values are not comparable, I think the answer is obvious.
Neither democracy nor society are decision making units. They cannot determine anything.


Anybody got time to proofread my draft - due today...?
Well, I don't know if I would say that it was "understood" by the "founders" that secession was legal, since it really wasn't. From what I've read of the subject we had people not only disagreeing on the issue, but seemingly saying different things at different times (like Jefferson).

But moving along don't individuals still have the right to freely leave the country? Aside from some papers you need to sign what is keeping someone from renouncing citizenship and heading off somewhere else?

But I think you make a good point at the end. Individuals might be the best to decide when government has reached its most unjust. But are you suggesting that a single individual should have the right to "abolish" the contract as opposed to simply leaving the society??? And how much "injustice" is too much "injustice"?

Do you see my point that secession should be legal if the contract were in fact voluntary?

Can't take the land with me? Does the US Federal government have the right to the land I live on, or do I (realistically, my apartment complex)?

If the contract really were voluntary, as with a home security service, I should be able to terminate it. The fact that I can't legally end my "contract" with the U.S. should show that it's not voluntary at all.

And if people in the South in 1861 wanted to end their "contract," they should have been able to do it. But alas, they had to fight for it and failed.

Please show me how this is a contract.

And please address Jenna's points, too.
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Yes people should be able to cancel the contract if it is really voluntary as you suggest.
for my response to jenna look above your post. :P

1) Who owns the land me or the federal government?

I don't know. Who? You? Why would it have to be you? The "propety rights" you have to land are nothing more than what libertires you have to the land as shown (or potentially shown) in a contract/deed. A contract made possible and enforced by the social contract.

If you are leaving the social contract, why should other members of society regocnize your right to the land??? Are you saying you should be able to opt out of paying taxes but still recieve the same property protection and contract enforcement taxes afford?????

Please explain why that should be the case?
There is a difference between abolishing a contract, amending a contract, and exiting a contract.

People should be able to voluntarily exit the contract anytime they wish. But to what extent can individuals take it upon themselves to abolish the contract, a decision that not only affects them but eveyone else in society????
The Founders - "Revolutionaries" might be more descriptive - obviously believed that Contracts with government were dissolvable. Witness the American Revolution. Furthermore, North Carolina (the last of the colonies to join the Union) did so a year after the rest had done so, remaining an autonomous body in the interim. Furthermore, the text in the Declaration states unequivocally that governments are voluntarily joined and thrown of when they are unsatisfactorary vis a vis individual liberty.

Freely leaving the country is not the same as disolving the bonds. The only way to prove that the "contract" is indeed a voluntary agreement is to show that individuals can dissolve the agreement - not flee from it. If the contract were truly voluntary, I would be able to declare my property (including my land) outside the jurisdcition of any government (at the same time renouncing all benefits from said government). Neither the government nor I would be bound to the other. Without such an agreement, property rights are without value.
I don't want the country to cease to exist - I just don't want to be a part of it. I should be able to "opt out" as it were.
I would have to then protect my own land (as any other country would do). Rights exist outside of government. That's why we call them "inalienable."
haha i feel like such a bum. I've spent more time posting than working. Do you guys have the day off today???

Jenna, But to what extent did state government STAY soverign after the union was formed?

And why should your land stay yours even after you renounce your citizenship?
I've never seen a "right". What do they look like?
American style federalism does provide some sovereignty to states, even after they joined the Union. Obviously, The Supremacy Clause limited the extent of state sovereignty.

Why should the land become the government's? If I bought the land, mixed it with my labor, bore the opportunity cost of owning and maintaining it, it's mine. The government only protected it in exchange for my consent to its authority, my taxes and my loyalty - not because it was acting as a steward of my land.

Do you believe in self-ownership? If so, all "rights" (seen or unseen) stem from this obvious truth. For more, read Rothbard, Locke, Bastiat.

And no, we Lockeans don't have the day off, this topic just got us really motivated to blog.
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Who said the land had to be the governments? It could just be not yours.

You argument for "ownership" sounds a lot like the one Locke used, and trying to define ownership that way gets us into some hairy places. The best example is probably the forceful conquest of Indian lands, who didn't really own the land because they put enough work into it. Apparenly.

A more recent example would be the scene in the Grapes of Wrath where the Goad family (sharecropers) uses that same argument to explain to the bankmen that the land is "theirs", even if the "owner" went bankrupt.

Propety "rights" are just clauses in a contract. Without a government to protect your contract you don't have a contract. And that means you don't "have" any land.

And rather than having squaters racing for your land, I see a problem with defaulting the land to the government for re-sale. So the government doesn't have to own the land, they just hold it until someone buys it.

We do the exact same thing when a person dies with no heirs.
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"Prope[r]ty 'rights' are just clauses in a contract."

This is ridiculous. Read Bastiat's "The Law" to see why. I'll sum it up with a quote from that essay:

"It is not because men have passed laws that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws."
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