Wednesday, October 18, 2006

California Propositions

I figured it's about time for me to post my opinions on the various ballot propositions. But before I get into specifics, let me state my first principle of ballot propositions: Vote "no" by default. In general, a proposition means another law, and probably another set of bonds. Almost universally, new laws are unnecessary, and more public debt is just plain wrong. If you don't know how you're going to vote, do yourself a favor and show up just to vote "no" on every single proposition... yes, that includes the ones I intend to vote "yes" on. Generally, it is more important for a bad proposition to be voted down than for a good one to be voted in. If it's really that important, that fact will be more evident next year, or the legislature will get themselves in gear and do their job, or some entrepreneur will solve the problem before anyone even has a chance to re-float the proposition.

So if you don't want to even think about this, just go and vote "no," and preserve your own freedom. That said, let me move onto the individual propositions.

Propositions 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, and 84:

These, collectively, shall be known as the "Taxation of Your Children Initiatives" or the "Direct Wealth Transfer from Middle Class to Rich Acts". I don't care what wonderful things the authors claim will be accomplished by these acts. First off, whether or not these things will actually occur is a crapshot; the language could well contain loopholes that allow bueraeucrats to divert spending to other purposes--most particularly to the financial backers of the proposition. Secondly, even if the language is bullet proof, we still have the issue of potentially incompetant bueraeucrats misspending the money. Either way, it's most likely a waste.

Still it may--or may not--be a good use of money. However, one thing it is guaranteed to do is bolster the continuing program of transfering wealth from the middle class and working poor to the upper class. Here's how it works. The government offers bonds for sale on the market. People who already have lots of money buy these bonds... instead of buying stock or lending money to people who are actually trying to improve our quality of life through the production of goods and services. Once they have them, our government is obligated to pay them interest on those bonds, and do you know where the money to pay that interest comes from? Tax revenues, that's where, and the majority of tax revenues come from the middle class. So, in authorizing bonds, what you're really doing is authorizing a regressive wealth transfer.

Personally, I think the ending of public debt would go much further to restore equality in this country than all the progressive taxes in the world.

Again, if something is really that important, the state legislature should set aside money from existing tax revenues... not set up an annuity for the country's wealthiest.

Proposition 1A: Maybe = No

At first glance, I thought I'd be voting in favor of this proposition. On its face, the notion that the purpose of gas taxes is to fund transportation infrastructure seems good, and--even better--the notion of hobbling the state government sounds good to me, as well.

On further reflection, I realized that I don't really believe in funding infrastructure with gas taxes. If we really want a just funding of infrastructure, a far better idea would be to charge people directly for road use in congested areas at certain times of the day. I would go so far as to charge as much as we possibly could charge while still keeping the roads at full usage--if the road usage goes down, obviously, too much is being charged. In addition to being a more justly direct charge for the use of public roads, it would have the effect of reducing congestion at certain times of the day, as well as providing a certain measure of where more infrastructure is needed: wherever the most money is brought in, that is where more infrastructure is needed (and building it would drive down the price). Of course, if we're going to go that far to mimic market incentives, I don't see why we shouldn't go all the way... but I'm just saying.

In addition, there is a second, better justification for gas taxes (if there be justification for any taxes): a charge, not for the disproportionate use of public roads, but the disproportionate use of public air. That there is currently a "tragedy of the commons" under way where the use of oxygen for combustion and the use of airspace as a dumping ground for byproducts is concerned cannot be denied... whether or not Global Warming is real. While, if we're going to go that route, I would prefer a tax that hits all fossil fuels based upon pollutant content (this much for carbon, this much for mercury, etc.) charged at the point where it enters the economy (ports of entry, wellheads, mineshafts, etc.). As a matter of fact, I'd love to see that replace some more universally applied tax, to cut down on the bureaucratic costs and invasions of privacy associated with other taxes.

Basically, the arguments in favor at least balance with arguments against, and when in doubt, I vote no.

Proposition 83: No

If there's one issue where people are more likely to vote with their emotions rather than their brains, this is it. There is truly nothing more vile than a sexual predator. There may be others that are worse; people who deliberately profit from the extermination of hundreds of thousands come to mind. But the deaths of hundreds of thousands is a statistic; the violation of a single child is a tragedy.

However, I do not believe Proposition 83 is the answer to the problem. I believe the opponents of this proposition when they say the GPS monitoring would be a waste of money, that the blanket coverage of misdemeanor offenders would be both unjust and wasteful, and that the residency requirments, applied to so many people, would have undesirable unintended consequences. We already have laws against the truly vile offenders... laws that already failed to protect Jessica Lunsford. I fail to see how tightening the law will stop people who are going to ignore the law anyway. Perhaps lifelong GPS monitoring would be good for felony offendors... but not misdemeanor offenders.

Personally, I think we should just brand them. When I saw "brand," I am referring to the procedure of heating an iron with a distinctive design upon it until it is red hot, then applying that iron to the skin of the offender--no anestheisa. Apply it to their cheek and their off hand. It'd be much cheaper, and people could detect the mark at a glance without the aid of expensive equipment... not to mention the procedure is painful. Children could be trained to run screaming from (or hurl eggs at) people who bear the mark. Threaten any doctor who surgically removes the scarring with a similar branding, and I think we'd pretty well have it covered: viscerally satisfying protection from sexual predators, on the cheap!

Other propositions will be covered at a later date.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why We Want to Lose

There can be no doubt that there is an element in this country that does not want us to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such people typically crow words along the lines of "I told you so," at every piece of bad news (well, bad for "us") that comes out of those places. We scoff in disbelief at official announcements of progress or optimism as to the outcomes of those conflicts.

Typically, confronted with an accusation of wanting our forces to lose, such a person will bluster defensively. "Of course I don't want us to lose. I support the troops! I just don't think we're doing the right thing out there." or "I'd like to see the goverment succeed at its publicly stated goals. I just don't think we can, and I don't think those are their actual goals."

Let me just say that I am among those that want to see us lose Iraq and Afghanistan. I want that uprising to get so big, so powerful, so cohesive (or chaotic), that our forces are literally driven from their shores. Mind you, it would be far better for us to get out before that happens (assuming it isn't already happening... and I fully support those troops who decide to get out despite orders to the contrary), but I want to see our forces exit in defeat. I want to see the current administration's policies thouroughly repudiated... every bit as thouroughly as Stalinism was when the Afghans routed the Russians.

Part of the reason for this is fear. Should the government succeed in its crusade against "Anti-Americanism" abroad, I have no doubt it would then turn its power inward, toward "Anti-Americanists" at home--such as Geo-Anarchists like myself. I wonder: could I be prosecuted for treason for opposing the government's policies? I'm probably toeing a line when I encourage soldiers to go AWOL (though I do think mass defection would be good for the country). Would prosecution even be necessary, if the President were to get everything the current adminstration wants in the way of authority to arrest and hold without charges?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

RE: Broken Law

This is a response to one of Cranky Weasel's latest, a presentation of two characters: a home-growing pot smoker who keeps his weed to himself, and a CEO who buys up a rival corporation and eliminates jobs in the interests of efficiency, showing that the law treats them in the exact opposite manner than they should be treated. Head over and read his blog, then come back to mine. My response follows:

Well, I would argue that neither Frank nor the CEO have done anything wrong. Frank isn't hurting anyone, and certainly should not be arrested for his activities. But then again, neither has the CEO, and let me tell you why. (Note that there is a flaw in the argument... before you stop reading in disgust of a capitalist fallacy, at least try to reach the second part.)

Certainly, when he removes inefficiencies from the new business conglomerate, some people lose their jobs. However, other people do better, and those people who lost their jobs don't necessarily do worse.

Think of the stockholders. Certainly, some of them are fatcats who hardly need any more, but a good many of them are likely people whose primary retirement fund includes shares of this company in their 401(k). For those who are likely to spend that money more immediately, what are they likely to spend it on? Maybe they'll go to resteraunts more often, or buy a fancy car, or go to Disneyland more regularly, or do one of many things that both require money to do, as well as employees... thus, it is very likely that, though some jobs are lost, more are generated in the process.

Now lets look at the facilities that are "liquidated" in the process. We're talking office buildings, or manufacturing facilities, or other types of commercial or industrial real estate. If they're not being used they could be sold to someone else, providing an opportunity for others to go into business for themselves. Some of the layoffs might benefit from this factor directly, while the rest likely have marketable skills; given a healthy economy, they can find other jobs... particularly considering that more jobs have been created.

Now, this argument is a classical Capitalist argument, and it would not only make sense, but would be nearly unassailable, were there not an alternate scenario that, if it's not more likely, at least does enough damage in the long run to eliminate the gains created when the previous scenario is the case. Most "liberals" would simply point out the obvious fact of poverty and class power without bothering to explore the question of why. In the following paragraphs, I will explore the question, why doesn't this scenario actually work?

The other thing the shareholders could do with their money is buy land they have no intention of using. They could buy a summer home in the mountains or on the coast, thus eliminating an opportunity for someone else to make a living there, and raising the cost of living for everyone else that's already there. They could buy some land that could be developed sooner (providing both additional housing and/or jobs, commercial, industrial, and construction), holding it and keeping it out of use in anticipation of future gain. Unlike actual capital goods--for which a demand only stimulates greater production--the demand for "investment land" does no such thing, since land is, truly, a finite resource.

Then there's the unused facilities that go with laid off workers. While the corporation could sell it off right away, it is unlikely to do so. They can count it as collateral to get better leverage when taking out loans, and, of course, as the economy develops, the value of the land will go up, making holding it alone a good opportunity, even as the community in the immediate vicinity of the property blights. The people that used to work there no longer do, and nobody else is allowed to move into the derelict facilities, renovate them, and employ people there, until the corporation is good and ready, likely at an extortionate rate.

There is no need to create onerous bueraucratic regulations to keep this scenario from happening. All that needs to be done is for existing taxes (particularly income and sales) to be replaced with a Georgist Land Tax. The result of this, to both the corporation and the wealthier beneficiaries of the takeover, is that it would be very expensive to hold land they had no intention of using. The average person would not be harmed, since what they would pay in land taxes would probably not exceed what they had already been paying in sales and income taxes (not to mention the opportunity costs of forbidding anyone from going into business who can neither deal with tax laws nor afford the services of a CPA).

The summer-homers and blight-holders, however, would have to pay a great amount to hold land out of use. The corporation would be very likely to unload the unused facilities on much more generous terms (an opportunity for others to do their own business in that location) in order to avoid paying the taxes The wealthier beneficiaries would be much more likely to spend their vacation time in hotels or rentals (providing tourism jobs or, at the very least, leaving the spot open for others at other times of the year) than to purchase a tract of land they intend to use only a few weeks out of a year.

The result would be more, better paying jobs for everyone. As Hentry George put it in his Progress and Poverty, with all that land freed up for use, "For into the labor market would have entered the greatest of all competitors for the employment of labor, a competitor whose demand cannot be satisfied until want is satisfied—the demand of labor itself."

Capitalism does work, as two-hundred years of progress clearly shows. The problem isn't Capital, it is Land--as it always has been. The creation of the "Sturdy English Poor," for example, did not begin with the Industrial Age, which employed millions, but rather with the Enclosure Movement, which booted those millions off their traditional lands in the first place. The grandest deception ever put over the world was when people started counting Land as just another kind of Capital.

It is not.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Courage to Resist

Viewing from a distance the political cartoons portion of the local news section, I was reminded of a recent issue which had some rather un-funny cartoons, a depiction of the end of the war. One of the panels included dejected troops returning home, leaving their dead behind, wondering what it was all for. I believe a similar thing happened after Vietnam, although I was born well after that, so I'm not really sure.

It got me thinking about Lt. Ethren Watada, and others who have refused to deploy. I suddenly found myself thinking that if there is any way for the nation to gracefully depart from Iraq, this is it.

Certainly, it would put the government in shambles, but we must remember that the government is not the same thing as the nation.

Think of the message it would send to the world. The past six years--nay--the past six decades!--could instantly be erased in the minds of many. Certainly, our government has done horrible things. Certainly, the government's foreign policy has long been one of covert empire acquisition. Our government has killed, set up puppet governments, and otherwise behaved badly for nothing more than the benefit of, say, the world's richest 5%. The government invaded Iraq. The Government has been steadily eroding our liberties ever since FDR took office, and some would say it started before.

However, presented with irrefutable evidence of the designs of our ruling class, a non-violent revolt began, extending even to the troops themselves. They quit the field in droves, putting the government in an unmanagable situation: you can't court marshal them all, can you? And even if you do, what do you do with them?

Though the government is corrupt, America still has a strong, couragous moral fibre running through it. Only fools would regard it as a sign of weakness... and those fools would have little chance against the America I present in this scenario. When our "leaders" demanded evil of us, we were NOT like the Germans of World War 2. We didn't "just follow orders." Each individual made their own moral decision, and those decisions returned the world to peace.

This scenario gives me the same swelling feeling of appreciation that the old stories I used to hear about Poland's Solidarity movement gave me toward the Poles, the same feeling I got when I heard about the Ukranians taking to the streets in protest of an obviously rigged vote, the same feeling I get whenever I hear of a nation--any nation--being courageous enough to take risks in favor of overthrowing gross tyranny.

The question is: Is it only our ruling class that is corrupt, or is the very nation itself rotten to the core? Mass defection would prove the former scenario to be the case. Outside that, I can't think of any way for us to "gracefully" exit from Iraq.