Friday, January 27, 2006

Taxation Justification

Head over to The Free Liberal to see the mess that inspired this.

The issue at hand: is any level of taxation justified?

One thing I think we can agree on is that, for the most part, taxation is unavoidable. As they say, "The only things certain in life is death and taxes," to which I might add my own corrollery, that attempting to avoid taxation entirely speeds one on to the former condition, whether it be death by tax collector or death by uncontrolled thuggery. You're going to have to pay someone, whether it be the mob boss down the street, your own private security service (which you then have the opportunity to use to become the aformentioned mob boss), or the government tax man. In reality, it comes down to who you would rather pay... and I would argue that there are merits and downsides to all three of the possibilities I presented (not to mention the many that I did not).

However, that isn't the question. Taxes may be unavoidable, yes, but is any level of taxation justified? Every libertarian knows the argument (whether they like it or not). All taxation ultimately comes via the barrell of a gun: pay up or else, is the mantra of the taxman. Indeed, the protection money demand made by a gangster has the advantage of being honestly presented. Taxation is, in itself, a form of theft, though it's a form of theft most people are content to live with, given the alternatives.

However, I argue that it doesn't have to be that way. There are many places where "taxes" can be collected in such a way that, even though a demand is implied, the demand is generated in response to a wrong committed by the class doing the paying, or by a service provided that can only be provided by government. I will list a few types of taxes I think are justifiable.

Land Taxes

For me, this is the primary kind of taxation I think our government ought to be engaged in: taxation based upon land deeds. The reason for this is simple: land deeds are a "right" that is created by government. For while a man may have a right to his home, no man has an absolue right to control over acres and acres of land which are not his home; which, in some previous generation, was somebody else's home, wrongfully stolen from him. This is a right created by the government because it is advantageous to do so. The support of the farmer is greater than the support of the herdsman or hunter whose rights you violate by protecting him. The support of the real estate developer is even greater still.

The government registers land deeds. The government enforces land deeds. Therefore, the government has every right to be compensated for this service. And if the government is not compensated, the government has every right to cease providing said services; ie. to erase the land deed, and to stop protecting the owner from squatters and tresspassers.

Now, I offer this with the caveat that I believe that, to a certain extent, people ought to have the ability to choose their own governments. And I don't just mean people ought to be able to elect the rulers; I mean people ought to be allowed to secede from unsatisfactory governments in a regular and orderly fashion--and take their land with them. I don't think even government ought to be a government-created monopoly; a competitive market could keep the prices at an acceptable level.


Here is another thing I think is justified. Another service the government provides for us is the border, by which it protects us from the chaos caused by the unwise choices of other people's governments. We expect them to keep out terrorists, drug dealers, foreign criminals, and, of course, foreign military forces. I see no reason the government cannot charge those that choose to cross that border for the business they do as they cross it. The more pourous the border, the better conditions are for business; however, the more difficult it is for the border patrol to do their job. The government ought to be directly compensated for such crossings, assuming we expect them to police the borders in the first place.

Again, if we expect the government to defend our borders, they have every right to compensation for that service. Now, it would be nice if someone could come up with a way of allowing market forces to influence the level of compensation that occurs. At the very least, regular and orderly secession practices should be established.

Pollution Taxes

Imagine someone went up to your house and stuck a hose in through the window. Imagine further that they then began pumping green paint in through that hose, ruining your carpet. You would expect the courts to force them to pay the cost of replacing the carpet, and rightfully so.

Imagine further that instead of pumping paint, they pumped toxic gasses into your house. Your best friend (the dog) died as a result. You would likely expect considerably greater compensation.

Now imagine that instead of lethal levels, they instead pumped in levels of pollutants over years of time that caused your child to have a case of asthma he would not have otherwise had. Would you expect them to pay the medical bills that resulted?

Simply put, polluters profit at the expense of people that have to use the resource they are polluting. And while clear-cut localized pollution can be handled by existing legal procedures, the more dispersed and general kinds of pollution (air pollution, for example) cannot be. That would be one *serious* class action suit, and inhumanly expensive.

Instead, polluters ought to be charged directly for their use of our air, water, or whatever as a repository for their byproducts. Just as you (or SOMEBODY) has to pay the dump for the dumping of solid wastes, polluters should have to pay the air district for the dumping of their byproducts. Preferably, it ought to be charged by that level of government which is closest to both the offender and those offended. For example, if most of California's Central Valley's air pollution is produced in the Valley itself, it ought to be an agency created for, of, and by the people of the Central Valley that does the charging. That way, we can make our own decisions as to the trade-offs: clean air, economic development, economic compensation, enforcement costs.

If there's a whole lot of pollution coming from another specific air district, such that it can be proven in a court of law, then regular legal procedures can be used to address that issue, district to district.

If the case for global warming ever goes beyond the politically-motivated house of cards it presently is, I could even support a general tax on carbon-based fossil fuels. (I can already support the taxation of their use by cities, where the concentration of the associated pollutants is already a nuisance at best, a hazard at worst.) The best thing about this tax is it would be collected at a very minimal set of locations: wellheads, mineshafts, and ports of entry. The taxman wouldn't have to be peaking into everybody's business in order to collect it.

Representation By Contribution

This isn't so much a form of taxation, as an alternative to taxation I think would solve more than just the coercive taxation problem. It could solve a whole host of problems, as I've described before. (If you want to read something more current regarding monetary corruption in government, go here.) Since I have, I'll touch on the basics, and a few more observations about the possible benefits.

Simply put, you have one house in a bicameral legislature chosen according to voluntary contribution to the government. As time goes by, people contribute to the government, and receive shares in the next senate election in return. These shares can be traded on the open market. When the election comes, the shareholders vote in the election much as any set of shareholders would elect a board of directors, the difference being that once they've voted, their shares are no longer good.

I've already gone over the benefits in the matter of legislative corruption by money extensively; that was my primary motivation in the original writing.

Another benefit has to do with differences in size between governmental power in different countries. Some states have power that extends over the whole globe. Others can barely keep order internally, and can't even defend against a pushy multinational corporation. There are benefits to both types of countries that adopt this system.

For the global hegemon, this provides them with a way of providing foreigners representation in a government that definately has an impact upon them, in a manner that strengthens the global hegemon. If Brazil, for example, is concerned that our ag subsidies, trade restrictions, and foreign policy are a threat to their own well being, they could buy a seat on our own senate, gaining not only a voice, but a vote on such policies. However, they also directly strengthen our hegemony via direct monetary contribution. It's a win-win situation, in my opinion.

For the tiny third world country, however, this provides them with a direct and regular way to benefit from the presence of multinational corporations. It wouldn't be hard at all for the people of such a country to say, "Okay, we'll pass any law you originate in our own senate, if it meets our satisfaction." The multinational contributes directly to the government in question by buying up pretty much the entire senate. However, the people of that country still have the other half of the bicameral legislature, as well as the executive branch; it can deny truly offensive measures. And, of course, as the country develops, the amount of capital circulating locally increases, allowing local contributors to compete more and more effectively with the foreign multinational.


I hope I have convinced some people that there is such a thing as "taxes" which can be justified. I think all these could be described as "use fees," but of such a general nature they could completely replace our existing tax regime... assuming we abandoned our present out-of-control spending policies. I hope to hear from someone on this issue.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Al Gore, Constitutionalist?

Read Al Gore's Speech

I like what I see, but is it trustworthy? I am inclined to think so; I've always liked Al Gore (who did NOT say he invented the Internet). Read. Discuss. Please.

Telecommunications Regulation

For this week, a letter I just wrote to Congressman George Radanovich:

You're not personally my representative, but I just read at that you are on the committee that is tasked with rewriting our telecommunications laws. I have some ideas on the subject that I hope you might consider.

The problem in the existing market that I see is that the companies that own the lines are currently permitted to require that we buy, for example, local telephone service if we want DSL Internet access, or charge more for Cable Internet access if we do not also subscribe to Cable TV. There is also a dearth of wireless broadband options where I live; I don't know if this is due to economic realities or regulatory barriers to potential providers. If it is the former, I am patient, and recognize that it takes time and money to establish services. If it is the later, this is your opportunity to do something about it.

Ultimately, I would like to see a total separation of transmission and content, though I don't know if this is doable in the current round of regulatory revisions. What I mean is, I pay the "internet company" for access to the internet at large, and I pay *only* for that service--nothing else. Then, I can get telephone switching from any IP telephony company (for example), and/or I can get video content from any video multicaster, and/or I can subscribe to any service that requires a data connection between myself and a provider.

I'm not too concerned about price gouging at the "last mile." Certainly, at the moment, SBC and Comcast are the only (reasonably priced) broadband providers in the city of Fresno, but once PG&E gets into the action, that'll be a third option. Do what you can to remove regulatory burdens to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum (wireless) for data transmission. That will up the competition considerably, and should lower access prices. Whatever you do, put up as few barriers (zero, if possible) into getting into the the internet access business, by whatever data channel is available. I don't care if someone finds a way to use the sewer system to provide access; make it legal.

Another thing you might consider is requiring that service contracts state not what can be done with the transmission capacity, but HOW MUCH transmission capacity is being sold. This would open the market to such things as a subscriber opening his home wireless network to neighbors, for a fee or for free, as he sees fit. Note that this does not authorize the sharing of *content*; the cable company (or whoever) would still be free to say only one household is allowed to watch cable TV. However, my network is my network, and I should be allowed to permit access to whom I will; the Internet Company shouldn't be able to tell me what traffic, and whose, I am allowed to transmit on a connection I pay for. Make them sell personal bandwidth, not personal access.

A third thing I would like to see is the Internet hosting two different levels of data transmission service. Basic TCP/IP would be carried along the fastest path it can find for no price other than an access fee. Then there should be a second level of service, a "preferred traffic" level of service. This would be a service that could find a path of guaranteed bandwidth from point A to point B. The sender would pay extra for the guarantee, according to how the owner of each line prices preferred traffic. A protocol could be developed to allow the sender to search for the cheapest path that'll get the job done, and combine the billing via his access company.

This would open the content provision market wide open, while still keeping basic services like E-mail and web cheap. Presently, transmission of high bandwidth content (video, for example) is limited by the amount of traffic on the internet, and there is no differentation in importance between one packet and another. Basically, it's SLOW. By allowing people to pay extra for guaranteed on-time delivery of packets, those that needed extra bandwidth (such as video providers) could pay for it, passing on the expense to their customers, while still keeping basic TCP/IP service cheap.

The profits derived from preferred traffic could then be used increasing the amount of bandwidth available, which is good for everybody involved.

Whatever you do in this round of revisions, operate under the assumption of liberty. Minimize the amount of government regulation, while keeping in mind the fact that a private monopoly (particularly a government protected one) has as much power to trample liberty as a government does. Try to maximize the freedom of all the people: those who own the lines and provide access, their customers, and those that choose not to participate.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Iran Goes Nuclear

So everybody's talking about Iran's recent decision to continue their nuclear research. They do this under the pretext of developing a nuclear power industry. They are probably lying. I say this not because they are an Islamofascist state, but because their leaders are politicians, just like ours. Lying seems to be simply a part of the business. So we can safely assume they are developing nuclear weapons.

Why now? It's obvious. Military force isn't really an option for us right now. Between our financial debt and the public's anxiety to get out of the Iraq war sometime soon (not necessarily now, but when we, and they, are ready for it), I can't really see us staging another invasion any time soon. And I suspect Iran would be a much harder nut to crack. Iraq was a loosely collected group of enslaved peoples groaning under the opression of a ruthless dictator. Iran is a one-party republic presently ruled by a popular nationalist president. Many, many people would die, and I doubt we'd accomplish much in the process. Unless the Eurpeans, the Russians, the Chinese, and others are willing to come forth with significant forces, I doubt it can be done.

Then there's the option of diplomacy. I sincerely doubt diplomacy is going to work on a popular nationalistic president with greater ambitions. It'll probably be about as effective as the diplomacy France and Britain did with Nazi Germany before the start of World War 2. Indeed, we may well be seeing the beginnings of World War 3 on our hands, if we don't do something.

We do have one card up our sleave, a card we didn't have before World War 2: the card that ended it. Jacque Chirac showed unusal good sense for a Frenchman last Wednesday; ironically enough, he did it with the very same sort of sabre rattling the French are famous for hating the Americans for. I think it's pretty much inevitable at this point that the Iranians are going to get nukes sometime soon, and we're going to have to find a way to deal with it. Heck, it's pretty much inevitable that the whole world will have nukes someday. With the advance of knowledge, I fully expect that someday, high school students will be capable of building nuklear reactors in their garages--if only they can acquire the necessary raw materials. I believe the raw materials exist in abundance in many places.

So we can't stop them from going nuclear. What we can do is attempt to ensure that their weapons remain weapons of national defense

I would start with the UN. I believe that France and Russia are scared enough of Iran to go along with us this time, if not actually lead the charge. I don't see how obstructing the entire security council could benefit the Chinese, though they may require some kind of concession in some other area. What I would have the UN do is basically set up a sort of UN sponsored spying effort, kind of a system of nuclear inspections, whether they like it or not. The goal is to keep track of their nuclear materials, and do our best to ensure they don't fall into the wrong hands. We'll do it openly secretly: yes there will be spies. No, we won't tell them who they are or where they'll be. And we'll expect them to repatriate any spies they catch, with the full Genoeva compliant treatment prior. This will all be justified under the rhubric "nonproliferation violation."

The second component will be the reiteration of the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction to the new generation of rogue states. We'll let the Iranians know that if they decide, for example, to wipe Israel off the map, Israel won't be the only country wiped off the map. We'll let them (and the North Koreans) know that if a nuclear bomb is set off by an Islamist terrorist in any country under our nuclear umbrella, we WILL NOT give them the benefit of the doubt; absolute nuclear obliteration will commense. While there are plenty of radicals in Iran who might say, "so what?" I don't believe every man, woman, and child in Iran is prepared to be a suicide bomber. If their leaders are truly insane enough to start a nuclear war, I fully expect the Iranian people to hand us their heads.

As to conventional threats, for this to work, we need to stay on the defensive, and off the ground in Iran. If they start shelling Israel, call in airstrikes. If we lack air supremacy, bomb their airbases. Hit military targets only. Iran is a republic. We need their dissenters on our side. If they position military hardware in civilian areas, send in advance notice, give the civilians time to get out, then hit it hard. Never mind the ones who stay to be "martyrs." Forget about "collateral damage;" those are the breaks in war. And I don't believe American occupation is an option, in this case. I'm not sure sending in Russian troops would be much smarter. But I am certain that even a nuclear Iran can be contained. Indeed, now that they're part of the "MAD Club," it might even be easier.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Drug Legalization

I'm not certain if I've covered this before, but I may as well post on it again. I was originally going to post this in response to one of Cranky Weasel's posts, (Cranky Weasel's site is a very good read, btw) but decided it was off topic. However, I thought it was well written enough that I could post it here. So, here it is.

As to drugs, I am convinced that more progress would be made were drugs legal. In other areas, this would mean less money would be needed for policing that area, and less outrageous profits would go to those that sell the drugs--you cut off the primary source of funds for gangsters, terrorists, and unlawful organizations of all stripes. Alcohol Prohibition created Al Capone. Drug prohibition has created the very large, very powerful, and very violent street and prison gangs we currently have.

But on top of it, by making it illegal, we bury the stories of actual users. We ruin the credibility of the anti-drug movement when they spread scare stories that don't jive with the stories people can get from actual users, and we ruin the effectiveness of *actual* scare stories since the transmission of such information is limited to the black information market. I am well aware of what Meth can do to a person because I have numerous second-hand stories, and a single firsthand story, to back it up. Suffice to say, it's some really bad stuff. However, people who don't have these kinds of connections don't have access to this kind of information. All they have is the stories of the anti-drug warriors--who's credibility is almost nil in many circles.

Were drugs legal, a genuine culture might grow up around their use. People would know what to do and what not to do, what's dangerous and what's benign. And the longer such a culture was allowed to exist, the more accurate and long-term its information would become. It's a sort of "evolutionary psycho-pharmacology" I would like to see.

In the short run, because drugs have been illegal for such a long time, legalization just might cause some real problems. The gradual legalization that seems to be occurring just might do the trick (cannabis is making its way to the legal zone). In the long run, however, I think legalization would be far better than what we have, in all areas.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Santa Claus, Atheist Myth

There is a myth that certain people believe. It is a myth about a person, who watches them constantly, preparing judgment for their actions. Those who behave properly are richly rewarded on the last day of an age. Those who behave poorly get nothing but hot coals. This person is described in glowing terms as being just, highly powerful, definitely worthy of admiration.

However, as people advance and mature, they lose the ability and the need for such childish myths. They discover that the myth is not, in fact, true. It hurts for a time, but in the end, mature individuals have no need for it. They move on to bigger and better things.

I am referring, of course, to Santa Claus.

I'd be willing to bet that every religious group has celebrations and symbolisms that are designed to transmit their values to children. The Jews, for example, have Passover, so that "when your children ask" why they do all these things, they can tell the story of the first Passover. Christians have the Christmas pageant as a way of focusing their children on the Christian alternative to the materialistic celebration that happens at the same time. I am here to talk about Santa Claus, a tradition that suggests that western culture doesn't merely permit atheism, it has a strong strand of atheism woven deeply within it.

Here's how it works. A child starts out with the myth of Santa Claus. His parents go to great lengths to ensure that the myth is believed for as long as possible. They go so far as to co-opt his older brothers and sisters in this deception, getting them to "go along with it" even though they no longer believe. However, as a child gets older, he gets smarter, craftier. He discovers "Santa's" presents in the closet. His friends at school, having decided on unbelief, make fun of him for continuing his belief. He reads. He might even attempt to test the belief, by sneaking out when Santa is supposed to arrive... only to discover his parents putting out Christmas presents. A really crafty pair of parents might go so far as to do the "Santa" act in a costume, but as children age, such deceptions no longer work.

And so, the child reaches an age where he no longer believes in Santa. And, he ages. Absent a positive affirmation from his parents of the existence of God, he begins to connect the two belief systems--believing in Santa, and believing in God. He realizes that there are adults who believe in God, and adults who do not believe. Even if his parents do believe, he may believe that God is like Santa--a myth to keep him in line, that mature individuals do not believe in, and that honest individuals do not perpetuate. He learns that there are priests and pastors who come out proclaiming their unbelief, that they have had their doubts for years--and remembers his brothers and sisters participating in the game.

Thus, he comes to the opinion of atheism, or at least gains a significant dose of doubt. Santa Claus is where we learn how the game is played, so we can spot it when others try to hoodwink us in similar ways. Thus, Santa Claus is the Atheist Myth--that ritual and story by which atheist beliefs and values are passed along to their children.

If I have any readers, I do hope this will inflame some controversy. :)