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Against Taxes

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Clayton Posted: Fri, Apr 13 2012 12:25 AM

This is the anti-tax thread. Post here your bitching, moaning, venting, raving, etc.

I am particularly interested in posts that tackle the following problem:

Give a concise argument that has the best chance of persuading the average, patriotic individual* on the street that the government has no right to tax, and/or that taxation is always destructive to economic prosperity, etc. without going into extended discussions over whether we need a government or not. Almost as good are arguments that at least plant seeds of doubt/food-for-thought that will continue to fester in people's minds over the long-term and potentially lead them to ask some of these questions later on out of their inability to eradicate the doubt from their mind created by the pesky arguments.

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*i.e. the type of person who might say something like, "I'm grateful for the opportunities that the American government has made possible for me so I could have the comfortable income that I have"

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John James replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 12:33 AM

It's not incredibly short, but it gets the job done.

 

 

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Wheylous replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 8:32 AM

Libertarians really need to lose the 'stache.

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...says the guy with the lulzsec logo as his avatar

 

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Clayton replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 11:16 AM

@JJ - Good one. I guess George Ought to Help does similar:

It's not directly anti-tax but it rebuts one of the most common arguments for taxes.

I guess the argument that really gets under my skin is the But you Drove on Roads! argument. What I really want is a George-Ought-to-Help-style refutation of that argument. OK, so the government decided to build roads and I decided to drive on them. So what? How does it follow from that that I owe taxes? And I don't want to go the "Oh, but everything could be produced privately if we just tried it" route. I want something that makes the argument perhaps not in the strongest logical form but speaks to people's hearts like George Ought to Help does.

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gotlucky replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 12:12 PM

Clayton:

I guess the argument that really gets under my skin is the But you Drove on Roads! argument. What I really want is a George-Ought-to-Help-style refutation of that argument. OK, so the government decided to build roads and I decided to drive on them. So what? How does it follow from that that I owe taxes? And I don't want to go the "Oh, but everything could be produced privately if we just tried it" route. I want something that makes the argument perhaps not in the strongest logical form but speaks to people's hearts like George Ought to Help does.

Wouldn't the argument then become:

  • People have no real alternative to public roads
  • The choice becomes "use public roads or cut yourself off from society"
  • Isn't this extortion?  It's our way or the highway seclusion.
  • Wouldn't it be moral if we cut out the extortion?

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DanielMuff replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 12:23 PM

Clayton:

[...]*i.e. the type of person who might say something like, "I'm grateful for the opportunities that the American government has made possible for me so I could have the comfortable income that I have"

 

Which, ironically, is a statement that shows subjective valuation. What if we said, "I'm not grateful for the opportunities that the American government has made not possible for me so I could have the comfortable income that I have"? They would probably respond with some like, "Well, without the [state], then you wouldn't have the opportinuties at all because anarchy this and that."

It seems as if all we could do is point out the fallacies in their, instead of us being ones to make the arguments.

Anyway, I think an easy way for people to visualize the affect of taxation is by showing its affect on compound growth. For example, say you got a CD that rolls over for 10 years:

Without taxation: $1000 + 4% annually for 10 years = $1480.24

With taxation: $1000 + 4% annual, minus say 15% tax, for 10 years = $1397.03

To paraphrase Marc Faber: We're all doomed, but that doesn't mean that we can't make money in the process.
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John James replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 12:42 PM

Clayton:
I guess the argument that really gets under my skin is the But you Drove on Roads! argument.

Yeah, be sure and check out my post in that thread.  It lists a lot of Block's writings on that subject.

However, (granted I haven't read many of them), I'm very disappointed with his reasoning.  I find it incredibly unconvincing.  He sounds like he's trying every which way to have his cake and eat it too.

The one he always recommends first is "Ron Paul and Matching Funds".  There he addresses the argument that you are only getting your own money back by using these services, and then goes further and makes the argument that even if you were a Martian who came to Earth having never been the victim of the State's extortion, you would still be justified in accepting any government largesse, on the grounds that the State has no claim on the wealth it has stolen.

This is just an incredibly poor argument in my view.  The next piece that he recommends is his email correspondence with a high school graduate who is about to attend undergrad school and is uneasy about taking government financial aid.

This is an interesting piece, as you have this high school kid coming back with the same objections to Block's reasoning that I would.  Every time Block writes to him, I pick out flaws in his argument and then I read on and see that the kid points them out in his response.  What gets me is the kid is that sharp, and in my view makes the better argument, and yet somehow ends up getting convinced of Block's perspective (it would seem "starstruckness" had something to do with it.)

Block actually alleges there is no difference between actively applying for and accepting State aid for college, and walking on a public sidewalk.  This is just utterly unconvincing to the point of basically being ridiculous.  The kid points out that he has no choice but to use the roads, but he could easily avoid getting the financial aid.  Block responds by saying he could easily avoid the roads too by becoming a hermit, or committing suicide.  Seriously?

When the kid responds by essentially saying he needs to be mobile to survive, but getting free money to pay for college is hardly necessary for his survival, Block makes the argument that by taking money from the State he would be effectively making the State weaker...and thereby being a good libertarian.  By not taking the money, he is (reductio) a statist, as he is complicit in allowing the State to keep wealth it illegitimately gained when he had the opportunity to relieve it of said booty.

I suppose if I overthought it enough, that might start to make rational sense, but to me, it's incredibly unconvincing...and I'm someone who'd like it to be true (i.e. a solid argument).  I see no possible way that would suffice for a statist who is not sympathetic to a libertarian persuasion and trying to see it that way.

The kid makes the (accurate in my opinion) point that:

"I would be getting counterfeit money from the Federal Reserve and borrowed money. You might argue that the state doesn't deserve this money either, but I would still be ADDING to the problem. Because of people like me, our government needs to get more money somehow. I don't know if I could live with myself if I was part of the reason our federal government was so big."

And this is something Block never really counters.  He just says "If I could get the government to give me $1 million in welfare I wouldn't hesitate. I'd use the money to further weaken them. Merely taking it from them in this manner would weaken them."  And then later, after the kid points out they could just print up more, thus (a) countering any real "harm" you may have done to them, and (b) making things worse overall, Block just says

"Suppose I took $100 of yours. But, you have a printing press in your basement, and could print up as much more as you want (well, within some limits). Would you better off, worse off or the same if I hadn't stolen $100 from you. Obviously, you'd be worse off from my theft. Ditto for the government."

Is he fricking kidding me?  This is economist Walter Block talking here, and that's his rebuttal?  What the hell?

 

So as far as I can tell, the best argument I've seen so far is that using the public services you effectively have no real choice (other than suicide) but to use, (a) it is a monopolized system that you cannot opt out of...kind of like copyright (see section "Copyright, Public Domain, Hypocrisy, and Ignorance" here).  It is forced upon you and you have no other option...thus going about your life does not ipso facto mean you agree with it, nor does it make you a hypocrite.  (b) you are merely getting your money back.

If anyone has literature (including anything in any of that list of Block writings) that could add to that, I'd love to hear about it.

 

What I really want is a George-Ought-to-Help-style refutation of that argument.

I actually think that's partially along the lines of bitbutter's actual follow up film that is currently in the works.

 

"Oh, but everything could be produced privately if we just tried it" route. I want something that makes the argument perhaps not in the strongest logical form but speaks to people's hearts like George Ought to Help does.

I can definitely understand the apprehension of mentioning the privatization aspect, but I think it's unavoidable because the very first response you inevitably get is "but who would build the roads?" (and yes, I do mean you personally).  I agree you don't want to start there, but you do have to have that argument ready to pull out when that question predictably comes.  The ignorance is too great for it not to.  Sometimes it's as if their entire argument for government is "well I can't think of any other way order would come about.  So the State is necessary."

Evidently they've never heard of the logical fallacy.

 

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 12:59 PM

Daniel Muffinberg:
With taxation: $1000 + 4% annual, minus say 15% tax, for 10 years = $1397.03

Not being a finance expert, I'm curious how you came up with that result.

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bloomj31 replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 1:17 PM

I'm not necessarily against taxes myself, but I understand what it means to be for them.  I think the most important thing I try to cover when I talk to people about taxes (which rarely happens but still) is what exactly we're talking about doing.   Most people I've personally talked to about such things end up trying to pretend they're "good people" because they want the money to go to poor people, old people, sick people whatever.  I try to make it clear to them that just because they may enjoy the result that the means used to accomplish that result are still brutal in nature.   

I know this doesn't necessarily cover the idea of rights.  But I don't really like to go into that with people.  I just try to get them to think about the nature of their preferences and actions.  Whether those actions are right or wrong are for them to come to terms with later.

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for (int i = 1; i <= 10; i++)

        {

            presentValue = presentValue + ((presentValue * (interestRate / 100)) * (1 - (taxRate / 100)));

        }

 

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bloomj31:
I'm not necessarily against taxes myself

Why?

 

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bloomj31 replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 3:09 PM

Because they're used to pay for some things that I enjoy.  Besides I don't get all hung up on morality too terribly often.  

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bloomj31:
Because they're used to pay for some things that I enjoy.  Besides I don't get all hung up on morality too terribly often.

Oh right.  I forgot you're the "might makes right" guy.  Nevermind.

 

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bloomj31 replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 3:26 PM

I think that's an oversimplification of the idea but yeah sure if it makes you happy.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 3:53 PM

@bloomj: That's probably because you have a mistaken view of what morality is.

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bloomj31 replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 3:59 PM

I guess what I should say is that I don't concern myself with objective morality too terribly often.

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tunk replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 4:11 PM

The fact that a slave accepts a meal from his master doesn't mean he has consented to slavery. It's an extreme analogy but probably makes the point.

On a related note: what about the "if you don't like it you can leave" justification for taxation? It seems wholly circular. If the mafia starts a protection racket in my neighbourhood, it's also the case that "if I don't like it I can leave." (Though just leaving overnight might be difficult if that's where I've lived my whole life.) But how does that make what the mafia is doing any more legitimate?

In fact, all of the "social contract" rationales for the state are circular. They all presume that the government already has a legitimate ownership claim over "its" territory, the same way that a restaurant proprietor has a legitimate claim over his restaurant. If it does, then it can certainly justifiably restrict entry into its own bailiwick or enforce obligations on the people who live within it, by making them swear an oath of citizenship for example, the same way that the store owner can justifiably demand that you pay for the food you take from his shelves.

But if the government doesn't truly own the territory, then it isn't any different from an extortion/protection racket run by a criminal gang. In both cases you don't actually have a moral obligation to obey (though you might well for practical reasons, such as not being killed/sent to jail, etc.) So it all comes down to your theory of ownership: what makes an ownership claim legitimate? Do I come to own territory if I just proclaim that I own it and get a lot of people to agree with me (the way mafia gangs and states do) or is something more required?

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Another extreme, but excellent, anology: If a woman doesn't like being raped, then she can stop being raped if she agrees to be raped for another 10 minutes.

This is analoguous to the "if you don't like being taxed, then you can leave" justification in that the US Government allows you to leave if you pay the Expatriation Tax.

To paraphrase Marc Faber: We're all doomed, but that doesn't mean that we can't make money in the process.
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Clayton replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 4:38 PM

@Muffinburg - LOL

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John James:
However, (granted I haven't read many of them), I'm very disappointed with his reasoning.  I find it incredibly unconvincing.  He sounds like he's trying every which way to have his cake and eat it too.

I tend to agree with you.  It reads like Block is responding to an argument the kid (Chris) isn't even making.  If he were asking is it OK to join the military / the IRS / the DEA, etc, then it would be different.  But he's asking if it's OK to accept money that is being offered to him by a thief.  Where's the problem?  The email chain went places it didn't need to go.

The most misleading statement by Block was when he said "a libertarian is someone who undermines the state" and (jokingly, but innappropriately) called Chris a statist for not taking money from the state.  This isn't the definition of a libertarian, at all.  A libertarian is merely someone who opposes aggression on principle.  To call a person a libertarian is to describe their ideas, not their actions.

What exactly does it mean to say that certain actions are "incompatible with libertarianism"?  The most obvious interpretation is actions that are forbidden by the rule of libertarianism, i.e. aggressive actions.  Chris clearly isn't talking about committing any aggression, or conspiring to commit aggression, or playing any role in carrying out aggression, so in this sense taking government subsidies is quite obviously "compatible with libertarianism".  In this sense, only petty criminals, members of the ruling class and state enforcers are actually doing things "incompatible with libertarianism".

In the first email, Chris sounds like he's worried that applying for a grant is incompatible with libertarianism is the most obvious sense.  It sounds like he is thinking 'if I apply for a grant, the government will go out and rob someone, and if I don't they won't'.  Almost as if he feels that by applying, he is giving an order to the government that they should go out and rob someone and give the money to him.  That he would be guilty of aggression himself.  And that 'if I free ride, government taxation becomes justified'.  Block might have pointed out that it is not aggression to accept money offered to you by a criminal, or even to ask him for money, and theft doesn't become justified by the thief giving the loot to a good cause.  Simple as that.  The arguments about "not having any choice" (about roads, schools, etc), and "getting back your own money" are irrelevant.  Taking a government grant is not committing aggression or becoming a member of the ruling class, and that's what matters from a libertarian ethics point of view. 

So maybe there are some non-aggressive actions that are still "incompatible with libertarianism".  Certain actions, as Block implies, make a person no longer a libertarian, despite having libertarian ideas.  Does "living by libertarian values" mean something more than just "not committing aggression" and "spreading the message"?  But what could this be?  I can only think that it must be referring to strategy.  That non-aggressive actions which "hurt the libertarian cause" and hamper/delay the transformation to a free society, would be considered "incompatible with libertarianism", and to "live by libertarian values" means to do whatever helps the cause.  But this isn't an ethical issue at all; it's about pragmatism, and it's all speculation and opinion anyway. 

Would Chris be acting in a way incompatible with libertarianism in the sense of hurting the libertarian cause if he takes the money?  I don't see how.  When the email chain gets on to strategy, I tend to agree with Block that the state will be stronger if Chris doesn't apply for that money, because then it will have more money.  And I agree with Rothbard that it's pointless to disadvantage ourselves by refusing to accept money offered to us by the thief, because then we have fewer resources with which to spread the message.

JJ, why do you think Chris is right when he says applying for a grant is "adding to the problem"?

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gotlucky replied on Fri, Apr 13 2012 5:31 PM

Graham Wright:

When the email chain gets on to strategy, I tend to agree with Block that the state will be stronger if Chris doesn't apply for that money, because then it will have more money. 

Wouldn't it be the opposite?  When the state does not spend money, it is not influencing society.  Once it starts spending, it starts influencing.  I would think the influence is the state's power.

I still think Chris can take it, but I would not say that he is weakening the state.

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Graham Wright:

Would Chris be acting in a way incompatible with libertarianism in the sense of hurting the libertarian cause if he takes the money?  I don't see how.  When the email chain gets on to strategy, I tend to agree with Block that the state will be stronger if Chris doesn't apply for that money, because then it will have more money.  And I agree with Rothbard that it's pointless to disadvantage ourselves by refusing to accept money offered to us by the thief, because then we have fewer resources with which to spread the message.

JJ, why do you think Chris is right when he says applying for a grant is "adding to the problem"?

First I don't necessarily buy the argument that he wouldn't be hurting the libertarian cause by applying for and accepting stolen money.  To agree with that you would first have to agree that applying for and taking the money doesn't go against libertarian values.  I'm not completely convinced it doesn't.

Like I was saying above, Block was unable to convince me of the complete undifferentiability of using roads and taking financial aid.  He says there's essentially no difference.  I don't see it that way.

You imply that it is not the case that if Chris applies for the aid, money will be taken from others where it otherwise would not.  I disagree.  And this can easily be seen in any case of government funding/subsidization.  As Sowell mentions in his example, more money is given to schools with low scores, and insofar as the school improves, the money is taken away.  If no one applied for education aid, there would be no department for it.  Insofar as people apply for it, a greater push for more and more funding arises.  So I do not think it is accurate to imply that by requesting stolen money Chris is not at least in some way "adding to the problem".

Now you might make the argument that the money would be taken anyway, or that the money was already taken, and Chris is only asking for the booty after the fact...thus he is not complicit in contributing to the thievery, as he only came in after the theft had taken place.  In other words, you might say, the taxation is already there (or it's going to happen anyway), so there's nothing wrong with requesting a cut of the loot.  I think this is a very unfair and narrow view.  Sure the money that Chris gets may have already been extorted and sitting there waiting to be paid out to someone, but if no one was there demanding it the revenue stream would eventually be cut off.  That is, if no one ever applied for financial aid again, the department would have a harder and harder time justifying its existence.  Again, if they keep showing a surplus every year, people (politicians and average taxpayers alike) would begin asking "what do you need all this money for?  You're not even using it?  What good are you?" and eventually the department would receive less and less funding, to a point at which it would be shut down...thus killing an arm of the State.

(Of course this rarely happens...but only precisely because people don't stop requesting government aid...thus politicians are able to take the moral high ground and push for more and more funding, and average taxpayers are easily convinced that the increased funding is indeed necessary.  "They're starving for funds!  Raise taxes!")

It seems to me, at least in my reasoning currently, that quite the opposite of what Block argues is true: that by applying for and taking the money you are feeding leviathan, as you are providing a justification for its existence, and perpetuating the paradigm of "everyone plunders everyone" that Bastiat described.  (And I realize you actually used the term "justified" in your argument...here I'm not saying taking the money implies a moral justification, but rather it gives the State a sort of legitimacy through purpose.)

In a sense, the more people demand (e.g. apply for and accept) government "aid", the more they feed the beast...not weaken it.  They contribute to the notion (however fallacious it may be) that the State serves a legitimate function (for, if it wasn't necessary, why are all these people actively asking for it's assistance?  What would they do without it?)

And this notion that applying for and taking the State's booty hurts the State by depriving it of funds it would otherwise have available to use for evil deeds is just nonsense.  I would agree that argument works when you're talking about individuals...such as the case of, say, Ron Paul accepting campaign donations from a white supremacist, or something like that.  As a private individual, the argument holds up...it's, say, $200 more that Ron Paul has to spread the message of liberty (a good thing), and $200 less that that guy has to do whatever he does (also a good thing).

But there is a huge difference here.  For one thing, the exchange was voluntary.  There was no aggression that took place in the course of that transfer (assuming of course that the donor acquired the money through legitimate means).  For another, the man (again, presumably) has to go out and do something productive (that is, create wealth) if he wants to get another $200.  The State doesn't abide by either of those things.  In fact, the entire point of the State is that we can't assume the donor acquired the money through legitimate means.  We know for a fact it didn't.

I don't see how one could ethically or morally justify actively seeking out a largesse he knows was acquired through illegitimate, aggressive means.

That's one.  Two is the fact that the State is not harmed in the slightest by you taking money it willingly hands over.  It can always get more.  For one thing, there's virtually nothing stopping it from simply taking more of it from people directly.  But more than that, it's even easier still, as our young high schooler brings up...the money could simply be conjured in a computer with a few keystrokes.  Even the Mafia incurs a cost in performing its extortion.  If you had a hack into their treasury purse and were secretly siphoning funds from the Mob, yes, it could be argued that you were weakening the organization.

This is simply not true of the money printing-State.  And I think this is why even when Chris brings it up, Block effectively ignores it.  (He acknowledges it, to be sure, but he basically just repeats his conclusion without actually supporting it, and considers the matter closed):

"Suppose I took $100 of yours. But, you have a printing press in your basement, and could print up as much more as you want (well, within some limits). Would you better off, worse off or the same if I hadn't stolen $100 from you. Obviously, you'd be worse off from my theft. Ditto for the government."

I would argue Block is simply wrong.  The counterfeiter would effectively be no worse off.  You could semantically argue he's obviously not better because of the theft, and he's technically not "the same" after having $100 taken from him, so by process of elimination it must mean he's worse off...but that's like saying "if I take your two 5 dollar bills and give you one 10 dollar bill, you're worse off because now you have less physical resources in your possession."

Again, I just don't find Block's arguments convincing.  I (at least at this point) do not agree that there is nothing hypocritical /immoral /unethical /unlibertarian about applying for and accepting financial aid from the State.  And I do not agree that doing so doesn't contribute to the problem...let alone is actually some kind of solution, or at least a contribution toward a desired end (which, Block at least logically implies).  I'm completely open to changing my mind, but nothing so far has convinced me.  And if these arguments aren't good enough for me, I have no idea how they would be good enough for the everyday statist the OP is talking about.

 

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John James:
Now you might make the argument that the money would be taken anyway, or that the money was already taken, and Chris is only asking for the booty after the fact...thus he is not complicit in contributing to the thievery, as he only came in after the theft had taken place.  In other words, you might say, the taxation is already there (or it's going to happen anyway), so there's nothing wrong with requesting a cut of the loot.  I think this is a very unfair and narrow view.  Sure the money that Chris gets may have already been extorted and sitting there waiting to be paid out to someone, but if no one was there demanding it the revenue stream would eventually be cut off.  That is, if no one ever applied for financial aid again, the department would have a harder and harder time justifying its existence.  Again, if they keep showing a surplus every year, people (politicians and average taxpayers alike) would begin asking "what do you need all this money for?  You're not even using it?  What good are you?" and eventually the department would receive less and less funding, to a point at which it would be shut down...thus killing an arm of the State.

This is a dilemma I have spent some time thinking about. It would be nice if the moral hazard didn't exist in the first place, but what are you gonna do? I recently had a debate with my brother over this very topic. He claimed that our family (top tax bracket) has paid more in taxes than we could possibly get back in ten lifetimes of trying to qualify for state subsidized aid. So far, probably true. He claimed that we would simply be taking our money back. In a sense, I still think that is true. But at this point I had to get up on my high horse, and put my foot down.

Yes, I may be able to get SOME of my money back but here is the problem (and I think this is very important to think about when talking about this issue): The money they robbed from you has already been spent. Its is not the case that they took your money and put it on some shelf and it is still sitting there for you to take back. What about the trillions in unfunded liabilities in just SS and medicaid/medicare alone. Before the state has even robbed you, they have spent that money. It is more like some guy robbing you to pay the bookie he owes money to before he gets his legs broken. In this case, the guy that robbed you also has a printing press, of which he no longer can use to pay his bad bets back because the bookie knows the money is worthless (bookie could be future, more economically intelligent and aware version of China). So, when you take the aid, the state WILL CERTAINLY have to go rob someone else in some form or another to give it to you. We all know they aren't going to cut costs or funding to any other equally illegitimate program, so this leaves taxation, debt, or inflation, all of which are forms of robbery, just with different robbing schedules. Taxes rob you now, inflation robs you later, and, depending on when the debt is called in, debt robs you somewhere after taxes. 

So...I am with JJ on this one. The only place I could concede that taking the aid hurts the state is in this minor way: if you don't take a hundred bucks form the state, nothing changes. If you do, the state could print it, thus devaluing the money it prints to replace it. When it prints another $100, its worth less than the hundred it gave you (but then again, it could just print more to make up for it). I have always found most of blocks arguments a little lacking at times. Not the go to on certain questions for sure.

 

As for the OP, I originated my own version of the method used in the vid post JJ made. Its shorter, and (in my opinion) sweeter. As ocaam's razor points out, "the simplest solution is usually the best solution." Jacob spinny does something similar. Here goes.

Scenario 1) Let's say that I knock on your door. you answer. "hello!" I say, "This here is my flag (show flag with coat of arms) and I'm placing it on your front lawn. I'll be by every week or so, at which point I will need you to hand over 20% of everything you have made since we last spoke. Thanks! Have a nice day!"

How would you respond? You would probably say "No way! I do not recognize your authority", and you would be right. I do not have that authority.

As an individual I have no more right to take from you than you do from me.

Scenario 2) Let's say that I and some friends knock on your door. you answer. "hello!" we say, "This here is our flag (show flag with coat of arms) and we're placing it on your front lawn. we'll be by every week or so, at which point we will need you to hand over 20% of everything you have made since we last spoke. Thanks! Have a nice day!"

How would you respond? You would probably say "No way! I do not recognize your authority", and you would be right. we do not have that authority, but why?

Because:

I. Based on scenario 1, we have concluded that an Individual does not have the authority to demand that your property be handed over to his authority without consent.

II. Based on scenario 2, we have concluded that two or more individuals do not have the authority to demand that your property be handed over to their authority without consent, because...   

III. a group is made up of individuals. 

IIII. A government is a group

                  therefore

V. A government does not have the authority to demand that your property be handed over without consent

"If men are not angels, then who shall run the state?" 

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The Texas Trigger:
The money they robbed from you has already been spent.

Another point the high school kid made.  (In fact he even pointedly specified "used for things like making bombs to drop on Iraqis".)

 

this leaves taxation, debt, or inflation, all of which are forms of robbery, just with different robbing schedules. Taxes rob you now, inflation robs you later, and, depending on when the debt is called in, debt robs you somewhere after taxes.

Ironically something which Block pointed out.

 

Jacob spinny does something similar.

 

 

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John James:
First I don't necessarily buy the argument that he wouldn't be hurting the libertarian cause by applying for and accepting stolen money.  To agree with that you would first have to agree that applying for and taking the money doesn't go against libertarian values.  I'm not completely convinced it doesn't.

To be clear, when you say "go against libertarian values" you mean "is a violation of the NAP", right?  I don't know what else you could mean.  In which case I would say no, these are two totally separate arguments.  On the one hand we can talk about whether Chris would be violating the NAP, and on the other hand we can talk about whether Chris would be helping/hurting the libertarian cause (and/or strengthening/weakening the state).  There's no relationship between these two things.

In your post, you seem to flick back and forth between the two.  To me, Chris would not be violating the NAP, and that's the easy part to grasp.  It has a right or wrong answer.  Whether he would be helping or hurting the cause is more difficult, and there is no right or wrong answer, because none of us knows the path to a free society; we can only look back in hindsight and say "that helped the cause" or "that hurt the cause", and even then we can't be totally sure. 

Like I was saying above, Block was unable to convince me of the complete undifferentiability of using roads and taking financial aid.  He says there's essentially no difference.  I don't see it that way.

Undifferentiability?  Not sure that's a word.  :p

As I said, I don't know why Block made the comparison to roads because it wasn't necessary to.  Taking financial aid and using roads are similar in the following respect: they are both non-aggressive actions.  They don't make one a member of the ruling class.  If Chris takes the money, and then we have a libertarian revolution, and a libertarian Nuremberg trial, do you think Chris should be considered guilty of aggression and forced to pay his grant money back?  I don't think so.  Because if you’re going to extend the principle that far, you would have to extend it further still and say that heavy user of public libraries should be considered guilty of aggression and should compensate everyone else for benefiting from the stolen money which has made his library books cheaper over the years.  Soon you have a situation where almost everybody is guilty of aggression, just by trying to get by in this statist world. 

No, if there was a libertarian Nuremberg, it is only the members of the ruling class and the enforcers that should be considered aggressors, and punished for their role in the state operation.  If we can't justify putting Chris – and all other recipients of stolen money – on trial at a libertarian Nuremberg, then we can't consider his action aggressive, because aggressive means precisely that retaliatory force is justified in response. 

The only way you can conclude that it would be aggressive is if you somehow thought making an application and giving a direct order are the same thing, because only then can you say that Chris bears some responsibility for the aggression carried out by the state.

You imply that it is not the case that if Chris applies for the aid, money will be taken from others where it otherwise would not.  I disagree.  And this can easily be seen in any case of government funding/subsidization.  As Sowell mentions in his example, more money is given to schools with low scores, and insofar as the school improves, the money is taken away.  If no one applied for education aid, there would be no department for it.  Insofar as people apply for it, a greater push for more and more funding arises.  So I do not think it is accurate to imply that by requesting stolen money Chris is not at least in some way "adding to the problem".

What problem though?  Is the problem that "the state exists", "the state is growing", "the state is considered legitimate" or "the free society is now further away"? 

Now you might make the argument that the money would be taken anyway, or that the money was already taken, and Chris is only asking for the booty after the fact...thus he is not complicit in contributing to the thievery, as he only came in after the theft had taken place.

Yes, and that's true.

In other words, you might say, the taxation is already there (or it's going to happen anyway), so there's nothing wrong with requesting a cut of the loot.  I think this is a very unfair and narrow view.

Well, you may be right that it's a narrow view.  But then your view is also too narrow. 

The way you describe it, the state is like some automatic mechanism which responds to what people want.  When you say "more money is given to schools with low scores, and insofar as the school improves, the money is taken away", this is a massive oversimplification.  There are a whole lot of steps in between.  It does all depend on how you look at it, because the causality is not just in one direction... what the people do causes the state to behave differently, and what the state does causes people to behave differently.  In a way, you just have to pick a starting point in this loop to start your analysis from.  I think it makes more sense to start with the government-as-gang-of-thieves viewpoint (meaning the government tends to do what it wants regardless of the people), rather than the government-as-a-tool-of-the-people viewpoint (meaning the government tends to do what the people want, in a reactive and impersonal way, not acting in it’s own self-interest).

If we consider government to be nothing more than a gang of thieves, then we can simplify the analysis down to a single thief.  So Sam robs Peter and now he is offering you the stolen money.  Is it aggression by you if you accept it?  Not at all.  The aggressive act has already taken place; you can't change that.  If you accept the money, you've engaged in a voluntary trade, you haven't done anything wrong.  In fact, if you accept the money and then give it to Peter, then you have in a sense carried out justice because you have restituted the victim of the aggression.  If any action is "compatible with libertarianism" here, it would be to do that.  Maybe after you've given the money back to Peter, Sam robs him again.  But this isn't your fault; that's a new act of aggression by Sam, which you can't be held responsible for.

Suppose you can't, for some reason, give the money back to Peter.  Is now the action most "compatible with libertarianism" to refuse to accept the money altogether?  I don't think so.  I don't think libertarianism has anything to say about whether you ought to accept the money or not; whatever you do, you're not guilty of aggression.  So it comes down to pragmatism.  And personally, I'd rather you had the money rather than Sam, because Sam is a bad guy.  We don't want the bad guys to have a lot of money / power / resources.  We want that in the hands of good guys, so they can fight back against the bad guys.  You might say that Sam is more likely to rob Peter again if you accept the money.  But you don't know this for sure.  It depends on Sam's decisions.

Upscaling slightly, consider a non-state gang of thieves like the Mafia.  Do you think they sit around adding up all the expenses they expect to face and all the things they want to buy, and then go out and steal just that amount of money?  No.  They steal as much as they can get away with, and then decide what to spend it on.  If they have to bribe someone in the process, that's a loss to them and comes out of their gain from the robbery.

The state is the same.  They don't wait for applications for funds to come in from people, and then tax just enough to cover all their applications.  They tax as much as they can, and any bribes they have to make come out of their gain from the taxation.  Subsidies are bribes.  The gang is hoping that by handing out subsidies, people will support them and their aggressive activities.  Their idea is that people don't usually want to cut off the hand that feeds them.  Except that Chris DOES intend to cut off that hand.  So the state would be wasting its money in this case by bribing him.  More fool them.

Now, you might say that the state is not the same as the Mafia, because the state is much more responsive to the desires of people, and only expands when the people call for it to expand.  In this view, the state actors DO start by looking at their expenses, and then decide how much to tax.  But the first states were clearly Mafia-like, with a “tax-as-much-as-possible” attitude, so when did states change to this “tax-only-as-much-as-we-need” attitude?  Democracy?  I don't think so.

Sure the money that Chris gets may have already been extorted and sitting there waiting to be paid out to someone, but if no one was there demanding it the revenue stream would eventually be cut off.

I disagree.  That's not necessarily true at all.  This seems like a democracy fallacy.  Taxing and spending are two different activities, and in my view, the decision about how much to tax is taken before the decision about how much to spend.  The taxation is the evil part.  That the state spends any of the money it takes in on anything other than increasing its own power (wars, etc) is almost incidental.  They bribe people with subsidies only because they consider that to be in their best interests, not because "democracy works" and the state is somehow bound to react to the will of the people.  They won't stop taxing if the people just stop accepting state subsidies.  If the people en masse decide to stop applying for grants, the state gets to keep more of its tax gains for things it wants to do, rather than spending that money bribing people.  The people are suckers if they don't accept everything the state offers them; they are just making it cheaper for the state to run their racket.  The only thing that will stop the state taxing is if the people reject the taxation itself.  If people reject the handouts but have no problem with the taxation side, the state is laughing.

That is, if no one ever applied for financial aid again, the department would have a harder and harder time justifying its existence.  Again, if they keep showing a surplus every year, people (politicians and average taxpayers alike) would begin asking "what do you need all this money for?  You're not even using it?  What good are you?" and eventually the department would receive less and less funding, to a point at which it would be shut down...thus killing an arm of the State.

Shutting down a department, by itself, doesn't harm the state, unless shutting down a department directly implies reducing the amount of tax revenue by the same amount.  Which it doesn't, if you view the state as a gang of thieves.  If Chris turns down the $10k or whatever, the state won't reduce taxes by that amount: it will spend it on something else, like an extra weapon to send to an overseas war.  How has that hurt the state?  It has strengthened it, directly, because now it has more resources with which to increase its power.

What about indirectly?  This is where the difference between the state and other criminal gangs comes in, because the state relies so much more heavily on the perception of legitimacy.  And you are right to say that if "no one ever applied for financial aid again" then that perception of legitimacy (of both the spending and taxation that allows it) would be damaged.  But this is a secondary and non-necessary consequence. 

If Chris refusing to accept the money is likely to bring about a situation where NO ONE ever applies for financial aid again, then I would say that Chris should not accept the money, because by accepting the money he would be strengthening the state, because his actions would have a large effect on the perception of legitimacy.  But this is not the case.  Chris is a high school kid.  He's not some cult leader or role model that everyone copies, and people do not form their opinions about whether taxation-for-government-grants is legitimate or not based on what Chris does.  Because of this, Chris accepting the money does not increase the state's legitimacy in the eyes of the masses hardly at all, so it does not strengthen the state even in the indirect sense hardly at all.  Weighed against this is the potential for Chris to use the $10k in a way that WILL damage the perceived legitimacy of the state... namely, by being successful in life, educated, aware and spreading the message of libertarianism.

It seems to me, at least in my reasoning currently, that quite the opposite of what Block argues is true: that by applying for and taking the money you are feeding leviathan, as you are providing a justification for its existence, and perpetuating the paradigm of "everyone plunders everyone" that Bastiat described.  (And I realize you actually used the term "justified" in your argument...here I'm not saying taking the money implies a moral justification, but rather it gives the State a sort of legitimacy through purpose.)

In a sense, the more people demand (e.g. apply for and accept) government "aid", the more they feed the beast...not weaken it.  They contribute to the notion (however fallacious it may be) that the State serves a legitimate function (for, if it wasn't necessary, why are all these people actively asking for it's assistance?  What would they do without it?)

Well first government isn't a beast, or a monster, or a machine.  Second, I hardly think Chris accepting the money perpetuates the paradigm of "everyone plunders everyone" to any great extent.  He's living in a statist world, responding to the incentives in front of him, and at the same time actively saying he wishes the system wasn't like this.  Rather like Ron Paul on earmarks.  He opposes the system, but since the system exists, he uses it to the advantage of his constituents, precisely because pragmatically he'd rather those resources were spent in his district than spent by the Executive Branch.  Or like why Mises.org publishes under a Creative Commons license rather than no license at all.  They are opposed to the whole IP regime, but given it exists, they are going to put a license on their stuff, to prevent others from doing so, because that would be the greater evil.

And this notion that applying for and taking the State's booty hurts the State by depriving it of funds it would otherwise have available to use for evil deeds is just nonsense.  I would agree that argument works when you're talking about individuals...such as the case of, say, Ron Paul accepting campaign donations from a white supremacist, or something like that.  As a private individual, the argument holds up...it's, say, $200 more that Ron Paul has to spread the message of liberty (a good thing), and $200 less that that guy has to do whatever he does (also a good thing).

But there is a huge difference here.  For one thing, the exchange was voluntary.  There was no aggression that took place in the course of that transfer (assuming of course that the donor acquired the money through legitimate means).  For another, the man (again, presumably) has to go out and do something productive (that is, create wealth) if he wants to get another $200.  The State doesn't abide by either of those things.  In fact, the entire point of the State is that we can't assume the donor acquired the money through legitimate means.  We know for a fact it didn't.

Given those two differences (which are actually one-and-the-same thing), I don't see why the analogy is useful at all.  I don't know why you brought it up.

I don't see how one could ethically or morally justify actively seeking out a largesse he knows was acquired through illegitimate, aggressive means.

“Seeking out a largesse”.  Is this really what Chris is doing?  Isn't it more like the money is being made available to him and he can either take it or not?  He didn't vote for a policy of government grants, he didn't lobby the state for it, he doesn't support the notion of it, he actively tries to persuade people that it isn’t legitimate.  You are putting him in the same category as, for example, execs of big corporations, who are active in trying to get the state to tax more and regulate more, so that they can benefit.  It is the difference that Block describes between someone who is a member of the ruling class and who is not a member of the ruling class, which has to do with how active their role is in state activities.  Helping yourself to money offered to you by the state - just like helping yourself to the use of roads, libraries, etc, run by the state - is not "actively seeking largesse".  Certainly not in the same sense that Goldman Sachs “actively seeks out largesse”.

That's one.  Two is the fact that the State is not harmed in the slightest by you taking money it willingly hands over.  It can always get more.  For one thing, there's virtually nothing stopping it from simply taking more of it from people directly.

No, of course they are harmed.  They have fewer resources.  That's the direct effect.  The effect on perceived legitimacy is secondary and comes later.  The primary effect is to weaken the state by transferring resources away from it.  If the state decides to take more from the people as a result of Chris accepting the grant, how is this Chris' fault?  That's a separate decision made by the government, with no direct causal relationship.  What the state decides to do after Chris has accepted the money is an indirect consequence which may or may not occur.

And yes, "it can always get more", but then why doesn't it?  If it can just tax a little more whenever it pleases, why wait to see what Chris does before deciding that?  It comes back to whether you think the state is a gang of thieves or a tool of the people.

But more than that, it's even easier still, as our young high schooler brings up...the money could simply be conjured in a computer with a few keystrokes.  Even the Mafia incurs a cost in performing its extortion.  If you had a hack into their treasury purse and were secretly siphoning funds from the Mob, yes, it could be argued that you were weakening the organization.

This is simply not true of the money printing-State.  And I think this is why even when Chris brings it up, Block effectively ignores it.  (He acknowledges it, to be sure, but he basically just repeats his conclusion without actually supporting it, and considers the matter closed):

"Suppose I took $100 of yours. But, you have a printing press in your basement, and could print up as much more as you want (well, within some limits). Would you better off, worse off or the same if I hadn't stolen $100 from you. Obviously, you'd be worse off from my theft. Ditto for the government."

I would argue Block is simply wrong.  The counterfeiter would effectively be no worse off.  You could semantically argue he's obviously not better because of the theft, and he's technically not "the same" after having $100 taken from him, so by process of elimination it must mean he's worse off...but that's like saying "if I take your two 5 dollar bills and give you one 10 dollar bill, you're worse off because now you have less physical resources in your possession."

That the state can print money makes absolutely no difference to the analysis.  Inflating is just a method of taxation, targeting a certain group (money holders).  It muddies the analysis to even bring it up.  The state could just print up money, or it could use one of its many other methods of taxation.  Sure, inflation is “easy”, but then if it’s really that easy, one wonders why the state bothers with other forms of taxation at all.  That the state can easily-enough recoup its loss does not change the fact that it has had a loss by paying Chris, relative to not paying him.

Again, I just don't find Block's arguments convincing.  I (at least at this point) do not agree that there is nothing hypocritical /immoral /unethical /unlibertarian about applying for and accepting financial aid from the State.  And I do not agree that doing so doesn't contribute to the problem...let alone is actually some kind of solution, or at least a contribution toward a desired end (which, Block at least logically implies).  I'm completely open to changing my mind, but nothing so far has convinced me.  And if these arguments aren't good enough for me, I have no idea how they would be good enough for the everyday statist the OP is talking about.

The arguments are what they are.  If they’re not easy to grasp, that’s not the fault of the argument or the person making it.  Some things just require a bit more thought.  At first glance, it does seem like Ron Paul is contradicting his principles by applying for earmarks, or accepting pay out of tax money, etc.  But once you understand his reasoning and give it some thought, it makes sense.  Same thing here I think.  If you think Ron Paul is doing something "incompatible with libertarianism" by applying for earmarks, or you think Chris is doing the same by applying for a grant, you just haven’t reasoned the argument through well enough.  That’s how I see it anyway.

 

Since this is a long post, let me summarize.  A = The action of Chris apply for and accepting state funds.  Three questions confront us.  2 and 3 are related, but they are both independent of 1.

  1. Is A aggression?
  2. Does A increase or decrease the perceived legitimacy of the state?
  3. Does A strengthen or weaken the state?

My answers:

  1. No, certainly not.
  2. It has the direct effect of increasing the perceived legitimacy of the state, to a small degree.  It may have an indirect (secondary) effect of decreasing the perceived legitimacy of the state, and this may outweigh the direct effect.  In this case (since Chris is a libertarian), the latter probably does outweigh the former, resulting in a net loss of perceived legitimacy.
  3. It has the direct effect of weakening the state, by transferring resources away from the state to a non-state actor.  Whether it has an indirect effect of strengthening the state depends on the answer to question 2, so in this case, since the state does not even get increased perceived legitimacy for its trouble, the state is weakened both directly and indirectly.
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