Markets to Americans Are Like Water to a Fish

by Don Boudreaux on November 27, 2008

in Complexity & Emergence, The Economy

In my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I argue that government grows not because markets fail, but because markets succeed so well yet so silently,  Here’s a paragraph:

In modern America, the market’s bounty is assumed always to be there, as if it emerges naturally from the soil, available for us to “redistribute” as we wish.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

comments

100 comments    Share Share    Print    Email

{ 50 comments }

vidyohs November 27, 2008 at 8:21 am

Prof Boudreaux,

Thanks for this article. It is so exact and well stated.

About seven months ago I tried to make the same case to a young Indian man who is part of a family that operates the gas station where I deal primarily. I did not do it as eloquently as you did.

He was bemoaning the economy as if he had just been watching Lou Dobbs on CNN and asked my opinion. I told him to look out through his front window for a moment and tell me what he saw. He was confused, so I asked him if he had noticed any slackening of the traffic on the 6 lane highway his gas station fronted, and if he still saw all the commercial vehicles that go to and fro on a costant basis. We looked at the traffic as I pointed out that in spite of the rising gas prices of that time the traffic never slowed nor ceased, and all those commercial vehicles indicated a vibrant and profitable market, even the private autos were carrying people to and fro from, for the majority, some sort of market transaction. I asked him if his number of sales per day had shown a significant drop, and he said, no. Additional proof that the economy isn't in the tank. Then I asked him if as he came and went to his work if he passed stores and restaurants and if he noticed the parking lots holding the usual amount of autos, indiciating customers inside the establishments.

All-in-all I tried to do for him what you have done for many more in your article.

My daughter is flying in this morning for a 3 day holiday visit and I am going to make sure she reads your article.

I sincerely wish that the Cafe was made mandatory reading and discussion for all school children beginning at age 6. Not that I am always in lock step with the Cafe, but the times I am not are rare indeed, and the Cafe spurs me to think which is what we want children to learn, foremost to think.

I wish a great Thanksgiving to both you and Russ.

Martin Brock November 27, 2008 at 9:18 am

I'm thankful today for blessings the market distributes to me, without denying that some practically incalculable portion of this bounty is "redistributed" from others, in any meaningful sense of this word, just as bits of my income are similarly redistributed to others. If I'm more a source of redistribution than a sink, then for today at least, I'm thankful for that too. Peace.

T L Holaday November 27, 2008 at 9:21 am

vidyohs writes:

I sincerely wish that the Cafe was made mandatory reading and discussion for all school children beginning at age 6.

A mandate you would wish enforced by government? Would you order the torture of any children who failed to join the discussion, so that they could contribute through groans and cries of agony?

Will you "interrogate" your daughter "harshly" about her thoughts in order to "make sure" she has read it?

Martin Brock November 27, 2008 at 9:28 am

Demanding consistency from vid even on Thanksgiving? Where's your charity, man?

Randy November 27, 2008 at 10:17 am

Well said, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Ray G November 27, 2008 at 10:51 am

Or in other words, we expect the richness of a dynamic market to always be there the way a spoiled child expects their parents to always have more money for them, another toy, and never, ever any consequences.

The story of Alcibiades has always stood out to me for these reasons. Surely the scheming politicians back in Athens didn't foresee the ruinous consequences of their actions against their Alcibiades, and so they conspired and schemed anyway. (Not that Al was a great guy himself btw.)

Or think of the shoplifter. What's a few dollars worth of stuff to some big, rich store? They're so filthy rich the thief thinks, "They'll never miss these things. In fact, I'm just leveling the playing field a little. I deserve these things."

As if those stolen items just grew out of the ground and the store harvested them at no cost.

This is exactly how governments tend to think of the taxpayer and their possessions – both Left and Right of course.

Sachin November 27, 2008 at 12:36 pm

I too agree that Markets are necessary for Americans as water to fish….I wish Happy thanksgiving to all readers of Cafe Hayek.

Against the grain November 27, 2008 at 12:45 pm

My thanks for you good comments. This challenge of understanding markets will never end, but arbitrage opportunites will always be the strongest economic force that balances misunderstadings.

vidyohs November 27, 2008 at 1:02 pm

TL,

Isn't school and socialist enculturation mandatory now? If you wish to put it in those terms, and as it is now children are forced to sit through socialist indoctrination and are punished for "wrong" thoughts; my wish was for that to be counter-balanced with some information that wealth is not created by the waving of a magic wand but by the individual efforts of each person, and therefore rightfully belongs to that individual to distribute.

I suffer no illusions about socialist such as yourself, about your goals, nor about your tactics. If to counter the current mandatory "correct" socialist indoctrination in schools, it takes mandatory exposure to intelligent thought, then so be it.

As your kind has no qualms about stamping out freedom and individuality, I have no qualms about stamping out socialism and its believers. And, you can take the word "stamp" to mean anything your limited imagination leads you to.

Like muirduck, you are free to go form a little association anywhere you want where all of you agree to share work and reward, in other words a commune, and bless you just go to town with it; and, if after exposure to intelligent thought children still make the decision to join dumb asses like you two, then so be it.

I, like most intelligent and rational people, would just like to get your kind out of my pocket and out of my life. You're like piss ants on the kitchen counter, like weevils in the cornmeal, cockroaches around a stove, and flies around a dinner plate.

I would like to include you in my wishes for a happy thanksgiving but I am sure you already feel entitled to that, so it would be wasted.

vidyohs November 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm

martin,

I do admire your consistency. You were a pompous pontificating humorless and clueless fool yesterday, remain one today, and predictably will be one in the future.

Let me know about that Nobel Prize for economics, Okay?

Trumpit November 27, 2008 at 1:07 pm

I agree that it would be nice if "redistribution" were unnecessary. But I see no sign that the Walton family's $100,000,000,000+++ fortune is shrinking by voluntary charitable contributions on their part. On the contrary, their fortune will likely continue to grow, perhaps exponentially as it has done in the past, even during the current bad economic times.
It is as plain as the nose on your face that the redistributionists have failed in spades! Scrooge McDuck must therefore be throttled, turned upside down, and shaken ever more vigorously until all the change comes flying out of his pockets. This should be the "change" that Obama promised us. Happy Thanksgiving to all, except to those that cater and pander to the rich; a pumpkin pie a la mode tossed in their face is what they deserve today.

dg lesvic November 27, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Martin Brock expresses thankfulness both for the market and for the major source of intervention in it, redistribution.

He misses the point that redistribution makes everyone poorer, and the poor more than the rich.

Martin Brock November 27, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Let me know about that Nobel Prize for economics, Okay?

Concern yourself more with Milton Friedman's Nobel Prize, since he understood money far better than you and would not so readily take Dwight's word for the voluntariness of taxation, when the flow of redistribution is from others to you and not from you to them.

Needless to say, as always, the ad hominem only demonstrates that you have no more intelligent reply.

Martin Brock November 27, 2008 at 1:28 pm

He misses the point that redistribution makes everyone poorer, and the poor more than the rich.

No. I don't miss this point. I often reiterate it here, but today is Thanksgiving, so I am thankful for whatever I have, however it arrives in my hands.

Some part of my income is certainly a product of taxation and other forcible rents, even though I don't work directly for the state anymore. Acknowledging this fact is no defense of it, but denying the fact is counterproductive. We can't skeptically critique what we refuse even to acknowledge.

For an example of denial instead, see the last post in "Cassidy on the meltdown", where vid tells us, however tongue in cheek, that the distribution of taxes is all according to the will of taxpayers and therefore is not properly "redistribution" at all.

dg lesvic November 27, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Martin Brock,

I apologize for having misinterpreted you, and am glad that you agree that redistribution is not something to be thankful for.

Randy November 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

"Happy Thanksgiving to all, except to those that cater and pander to the rich; a pumpkin pie a la mode tossed in their face is what they deserve today."

Tell me please, Trumpit, what produces such envy. Is it from having tried and failed – or from never having tried at all – perhaps from a sense of entitlement so huge that effort is seen as degrading. From a desire for silver spoons – or from being born with one in mouth that wasn't big enough to satisfy. I am truly curious, because, as a member of the productive class, I feel no similar sense of resentment for those of us who achieve. I do have my opinions. But right now, I am mostly interested in yours.

Martin Brock November 27, 2008 at 2:14 pm

I won't reiterate Trumpit's sentiments today, but most of us have hurled pies at the bailers out lately, and the bailers out are catering and pandering to the rich, even if they mouth contrary sentiments.

Randy November 27, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Martin,

The "bailers out" are politicians trying to save their own asses – and revenue streams. They sling mud with one hand and money with the other.

Ray G November 27, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Trumpit:

I agree that it would be nice if "redistribution" were unnecessary. But I see no sign that the Walton family's $100,000,000,000+++ fortune is shrinking by voluntary charitable contributions on their part.

Why should their fortune diminish at all?

You are operating on the premise that one person or group of people can have too much money.

How much is too much, and who is to decide?

If the Waltons were to be completely liquidated tomorrow and their wealth redistributed, 1 year from now, would the poor be better off? Would the world be a more fair, equal place?

It would be highly irrational to believe so, but apparently you – and others – believe this.

BoscoH November 27, 2008 at 3:20 pm

I am thankful too. With this new depression that we find ourselves in, here is how Thanksgiving will play out in the BoscoH household. We will not be cooking a turkey this year. Instead, we will be joining other desperately poor friends and family members at a local commercial food kitchen, called "Mimi's". Some of us are too poor to buy proper winter clothes, so we may be wearing shorts. Times are tough, so there probably won't be any wine with dinner tonight. Or maybe that's because we're not a hard drinking crowd. Tough to tell. Any leftover food will be boxed up and taken home, likely shared with our dogs because it is the one meal they will eat this winter.

Tomorrow morning, we'll wake up very early to wait in line like communist subjects waiting for bread or Carter era Americans waiting for gasoline. Perhaps there will be enough Vizio flat panels to satiate the crowd. Perhaps our kids will get that Tickle Me Cookie Monster that Big Lots has for $5. Sadly, the only people who will be employed tomorrow are retail workers and bankers. The poor bankers who have to come to work because they can't go longer than 72 hours without allowing their customers access to their money.

Terrible times in America…

brotio November 27, 2008 at 3:37 pm

"You're like piss ants on the kitchen counter, like weevils in the cornmeal, cockroaches around a stove, and flies around a dinner plate.

I would like to include you in my wishes for a happy thanksgiving but I am sure you already feel entitled to that, so it would be wasted."

vidyohs,

Thanks for my Thanksgiving laugh of the day! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Happy Thanksgiving wishes to the rest of the Cafe who accept them.

vidyohs November 27, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Martin,

It is only an Ad hominem if there is no basis for the statement, in your case this:

"would not so readily take Dwight's word
for the voluntariness of taxation"

taken from your post above makes my point for me. It absolutely misstates my words to you.

When you find that missing brain cell, go back read that post you misstated and read it again, you'll find just how far out in left field you are on it.

But, you won't, martin is never wrong.

Martin Brock November 27, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Incredible. Your words are still on the record. Anyone may read them with a few mouse clicks, but here they are:

"I contracted with the corporation known as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which is a prima facie "state" to you, but no state to me.

"My military pension is paid to me by the corporation in accordance with the will of those taxpayers, it is the corporation that consumes their production and they can stop that at anytime they want. I won't miss it at all except to acknowledge that once again the corporation would reveal itself to be a cesspool of corruption. Besides I talked with Dwight back in 59 when I first contracted and he assured me that none of the money that came to me as a result of the contract would come from people who didn't volunteer taxes." [my emphasis]

Others may decide if I've misrepresented you.

To understand your statements in this forum, we need to understand your peculiar use of particular words. When you decry the actions of "states", particularly the taxes they raise, you aren't discussing THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and its taxes, because U.S. taxpayers volunteer funds for its purposes.

In the future, we know that you don't call the taxes raised by THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA "involuntary" and thus don't consider its tax and spend policies "redistribution", so when Obama spreads the wealth around, he's not engaged in "redistribution" but only doing the taxpayers' will, according to you.

As long as we understand each other, I suppose that's fine; however, I doubt that Don excludes the tax and spend policies of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA from his definition of "redistribution", as you do, so he possibly misunderstands your purported "agreement" with him.

vidyohs November 27, 2008 at 10:33 pm

martin martin martin, tsk tsk,

If only you could read. Dwight assured me that my contract would be paid by "volunteers" and not taken from any "involuntary" (read coerced) contributor (read victim). That is what I said, martin. I have no sorrow or regrets for the fools that "volunteer" as a result of their following conventional wisdom and never bother to find out the facts, or even just think for themself. I would indeed feel remorse should I think I was taking from someone who was being coerced.

That, martin, was what I said, and it went completely over your head even though it was expressed in clear certain terms.

You read to argue and reject, not to understand or to experience a difference point of view. It is your infinite wisdom and intelligence that leads you to do this, even to the ridiculous point of arguing economics with two extremely bright and gifted economist. Who knows, maybe you are correct and the world should conform to your ideas exclusive of all others. My gut feeling to that is, no, not likely, because you have neither the clarity of thought or expression of our two hosts. You have a clear concept of dodging issues by constantly changing focus on points in debates so that everyone must chase you around the mulberry bush. I recognized that very early on and choose not to do it because I also recognized that as with muirduck, it is a fruitless pursuit. Why bother, you are right and that is that.

As for the last three paragraphs of your above, I can guarantee you that you have zero knowledge of what you are attempting to argue.

But, your enculturation and conventional wisdom absolutely have you mind blocked to the possibility that all is not what you thought it was, that you are indeed being jerked around by this corporate government called the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

When some jerkoff shows you in the Title 26 of the U.S. Code that it says, "The United States includes the district of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, the Mariana Islands, Somoa, and Puerto Rica" you think it means those places in addition to the 50 states.

It doesn't.

The Supreme Court ruled that the word "includes" means only those things listed after the word. Viewing the above and seeing that the IRS can exercise collection in "the United States", and your state isn't listed…..how then does the IRS covert you into a taxpayer?

You don't know shit, martin, about the real world, all you know is the spoon fed syrup of a federally dominated and directed school system that has one purpose, to indoctrinate you into believing that you "owe", when you have made no contract or agreement.

As I have said before, and have never been corrected on, jurisdiction is everything. Does the corporate UNITED STATES OF AMERICA have jurisdiction over you, and if so, how does that happen, what is the mechanism?

Let us take a simple exercise in history and logic.

Prior to WWII, there was no "withholding" of so-called income taxes by employers. Everyone took their W2 and performed the task of coming up with the money they "thought" they "owed" and sent it in.

The strangest thing is that those that actually did this voluntarily were far from being all the workers. A thief in FDR's administration came up with the "withholding" scheme as a way of doing an end-run on workers. With a little fancy wording and some severe muscle, employers were coerced into thinking they had to do the withholding, so the government got money and avoided anyone thinking they were voluntary. With judicious prosecution of the ignorant and gutless they made that withholding stick so hard that people quickly forgot any other way.

Only today, there are people challenging that and forcing the government to admit that as employers they have no legal obligation to act as tax collectors for the government. Fact, martin.

You don't hear about them for the same reasons that no one has seen Obama's birth certificate and no one is making an official attempt to have it produced. That kind of news is officially and voluntarily surpressed by socialist sycophant media. You have to be curious enough to go look for and find the information yourself, with the understanding that any official and quasi official source is going to lie to you. It is up to you to use your intellect to get beyond those lies.

The bottom line is that all those "voluntary taxpayers" you write of, I guarantee you that the moment the realization comes to them that sending in that 1040, or agreeing to having "withholding" performed is purely voluntary, is the day that the money flow to washington ceases…..cause volunteers will drop off in a landslide.

You are a coerced taxpayer, martin.

Anyway, tis late and I have a hot date tomorrow to enjoy a day of fun and forlic at the Texas Ren' Fest, so goodnight o pompous pontificating humorless and clueless one.

Sam Grove November 28, 2008 at 2:46 am

Martin,

Vidyohs has a particular perspective with which you are not familiar. There is no point in arguing with him about it unless you acquaint yourself with the information upon which he bases his position.

I'll just say that I filed no returns for seven years. IRS personnel pestered me for a while, I put a stop to it by requesting a signed statement that any information I provided would not be used against me. Apparently no IRS agent was willing to sign such a statement and they stopped requesting my financial information.

Vidyohs occasionally throws a line out looking for a nibble and if you are interested in investigating the information which he alludes to, I'm sure he'd be willing to discuss it.

All Rights Reserved.

Martin Brock November 28, 2008 at 4:16 am

You are a coerced taxpayer, martin.

No, according to you, no U.S. taxpayer is coerced. Since we choose to work for employers withholding income and FICA taxes and don't work entirely in the underground economy, our taxes are voluntary, there is no "redistribution", and Obama's spreading around of the wealth is just fine, Thoreau's night in jail notwithstanding.

We're all perfectly voluntary socialists (fascists if we prefer) in the U.S. dg lesvic and the rest moaning about "redistribution" are simply confused. Anyone receiving our taxes is perfectly entitled to them even by Rothbard's reckoning, in your way of thinking … possibly except for the gasoline tax and other taxes, which I suppose you still pay. Maybe those taxes are voluntary too. I'm not sure.

I understand you, and I've conceded the mistake, just as you wanted.

I suppose Don and Russ do not use "voluntary" and "redistribution" similarly in their posts, so I suppose your comments in this forum are comprehensible only to persons familiar with this peculiar usage of yours. Glad I could help out with that.

Martin Brock November 28, 2008 at 4:34 am

Don, Thanksgiving is over, and having joined vid and Sam for the moment, I must dispute the misguided sentiments in your post. Redistribution in the U.S. is a myth. It doesn't exist. Any socialism (fascism if we prefer) here is not an interference with the market. It is the market. Please don't bother us further with your obsessive whining about the people's perfectly voluntary organization of themselves.

euraussian November 28, 2008 at 5:13 am

I've always been rather cheerless taxpayer and in general my contribution to the common purse felt dsiproportionate to the public (and state-supplied private) goods That i got to consume. Nevertheless it would be interesting to have a more mature discussion of the problems associated with government, even if we all agree that government intervention tends to need strict budget constraints.

Randy November 28, 2008 at 6:55 am

It is a moral dilemma. How to deal personally with the state's intrusion on our lives.

Is taxation theft? Yes, of course it is. Afterall, even the supporters of taxation know that no one would pay if they weren't forced to pay. They rationalize it because they want it to continue – not because they are unaware of its nature. But the state steals so much that the word theft is no longer applicable – literally, it cannot be applied. There is no way to separate the moral from the immoral, the thieves from the victims of theft, because it is not possible to avoid being a part of it. We pay whether we like it or not. And because we pay so much we are made dependents whether we like it or not.

So on second thought, there is no moral dilemma. There is only rationalization. The state rationalizes its actions and I rationalize my reactions. Is this moral? Of course it is – survival is moral.

dg lesvic November 28, 2008 at 7:33 am

One final thanks, on this thanksgiving day, if it isn't too late for it.

For Austrrian School economists more concerned with the differences between Hayek and Krugman than Hayek and Kirzner.

And, yes, that is a slap at that other blog.

vidyohs November 28, 2008 at 7:56 am

martin,

I have that hot date today, leaving soon. So, I'll make this quick.

You either can not or will not read what is written and stay with it.

Sam is basically correct except I really do not want to hijack the good professors blog. If you or someone else hijacks it, then I am happy to put in my 120.01 cents worth. If I spur someone to think, great; if I spur you to argue, twist, and dodge then I can deal with that too.

dg lesvic November 28, 2008 at 8:01 am

Let me modify that last statement a bit.

It was not meant to be a slap at any discussion of the differences between Hayek and Kirzner. There should be a place for them as well. But when it is to the exclusion of much broader concerns, they are no longer a contribution to economics but a refuge from it.

dg lesvic November 28, 2008 at 8:21 am

And a little more modification.

I have no quarrel with the division of intellectual labors in economics, and specialization in particular corners of it.

The quarrel is with a whole community of scholars so immersed in a particular corner that the broader picture has been completely lost sight of.

This is an appeal not for everyone to be working on exactly the same things, but for balance and perspective, for specialties integrated within an overall program rather than substituting for it.

Sam Grove November 28, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Redistribution in the U.S. is a myth.

That wasn't the point. A significant portion of the U.S. economy is involved in redistribution.

The reasons it persists is the usual: ignorance and fear; products of systemic indoctrination.

Much of our experience isn't about facts, but about our interpretation of them.

Vidyohs has involved himself in a particular interpretation of the facts, an interpretation that some number have found some success with.

Vidyohs' involvement with this interpretation is a separate matter from his personality. He does tend to shoot from the hip, and he is satisfied enough with his discovery that he feels no need to comprehend the pertinence of your own revelation.
But then, you haven't had any more success with your presentation of your revelation than he has with his.

We may all be doomed, we may learned to understand the why and how, but the question remains: Can we do anything about it?

indiana jim November 28, 2008 at 12:54 pm

"And let us ask whatever powers that be that we not risk any further meddling with this quiet source of our bounty.

Yes Don ask this, and even more let us ask the powers that be to reduce the risks to our bounty that have currently been created by all existing laws, regulations and taxes that reduce net social wealth. There are many such meddlings (as anyone who reads the Cafe Hayek regularly knows that Don attacks vigorously).

Kudos to Don and Russ too for their longstanding and ongoing efforts to expose the consequences of Smith's "invisible hand" to a largely economically illiterate public.

Martin Brock November 28, 2008 at 2:51 pm

That wasn't the point. A significant portion of the U.S. economy is involved in redistribution.

Vid and I are not discussing "a significant portion of the U.S. economy". This category is like "outrages against human dignity". It's very vague.

We're specifically discussing a transfer directly from taxpayers to the recipients of tax dollars via THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, i.e. state pension benefits. Are you telling me that this transfer is "voluntary" and thus is not "redistribution"?

Vidyohs' involvement with this interpretation is a separate matter from his personality.

I'm not the one using terms like "pompous pontificating humorless and clueless fool" and "piss ants on the kitchen counter", "weevils in the cornmeal", "cockroaches around a stove" and "flies around a dinner plate". If you want to damn attacks on "personalities", you've chosen the wrong comrade.

I say that, as a matter of fact, vid has called taxation "voluntary" and attributed this idea to "Dwight", because he has irrefutably and objectively done so. Review the record. Are you denying that he said it? All I want is a clear understanding of what "voluntary" and "redistribution" mean in this context.

Can we do anything about it?

We can acknowledge that it's happening. We can acknowledge the role we play in it ourselves. Beyond that, I'm not sure what many of us can do. I don't have a state pension to declare "voluntary", but I do have a child in college with two more close behind, so I can't easily imagine dropping out of the tax paying, corporatist economy and becoming a Thoreauvian tax protester, damn the consequences. Does that make me a "voluntary" participant in the corporative state? Are all of us paying taxes in the U.S. "voluntary" participants? Is that your position or not? A one word reply will do.

We have putative referees in this forum who occasionally speak up. I don't want any speech excluded, but a declaration of standard usage seems appropriate here. Are taxes levied by THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA "voluntary" or not? When Don and Russ discuss "redistribution", are they excluding the tax and spend policies of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA or not? It's a simple question and seems a fair one.

Martin Brock November 28, 2008 at 3:02 pm

For the record, I say that the tax and spend policies of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA are not "voluntary". If I favor compelling your compliance with some standard, I'll certainly own up to it, but I'll also meaningfully declare that I advocate minimal coercion of this kind, subject to a utilitarian analysis of consequences. A self-serving pretense of opposition to force is not a morally superior position in my way of thinking. The "non-force" force of proprietarian politicians doesn't interest me, and neither do vid's "voluntary" taxes.

Randy November 28, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Martin,

"I advocate minimal coercion…subject to a utilitarian analysis of consequences."

Well said. I advocate minimal coercion…subject to a libertarian analysis of consequences.

Sam Grove November 28, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Many taxpayers support taxation, and concurrently complain about the extent of it or the uses to which much of it is diverted.

I don't know how to call it the case of such.

I do hold that the redistributive state is fraudulent and extortionate in nature.

Sure, taxes may be said to be voluntary, much like handing your wallet over to a thug is voluntary. I had a postal employee tell me that "paying taxes is voluntary…you may have to go to jail…etc."

Are you telling me that this transfer is "voluntary" and thus is not "redistribution"?

I'm not telling you anything about that. I'm just trying to alleviate the need you seem to feel to argue with vidyohs about it. There's little point to it.

He calls things as suits him, I don't see any point in discussing that with him.
Let's just say that he is naturally as he is.

Martin Brock November 28, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Well said. I advocate minimal coercion…subject to a libertarian analysis of consequences.

The definition of "minimal coercion" cannot involve "liberty", because "liberty" precisely describes freedom subject to the minimal coercion. In the classically liberal context, "minimal coercion" is synonymous with "property", so the classically liberal maxim is "life, liberty and property" or "life and liberty within the bounds of propriety". It isn't "life and liberty within the bounds of liberty", because that's redundant and circular.

Martin Brock November 28, 2008 at 6:22 pm

I'm not telling you anything about that. I'm just trying to alleviate the need you seem to feel to argue with vidyohs about it. There's little point to it.

There's little point in anything we say here, but vid says that Dwight told him that taxes providing his pension, and thus taxes generally, are voluntary, and vid himself says that taxes providing his pension are voluntary, and I say that he says it. The rest you need to discuss with him. I have no idea why you address me.

Seth November 28, 2008 at 6:38 pm

Reminds me of seeing Brad Pitt bent on helping out people in poor African countries (while he was wooing Jolie) on a news magazine show a while back asking why America has streets to take us to the corner pharmacy that's filled with medical supplies and treatments for a wide array of conditions for a relatively low price while that stuff (including the streets) isn't available in poorer countries.

I was yelling at the TV, "It's the markets (i.e. freedom to enter into mutally beneficial trades, checks and balances in government, private property rights and human rights)!"

People who don't understand this remind me of someone who complains they can't read the words on the page, but won't bother to learn the alphabet.

Randy November 28, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Martin,

The definition of "minimal coercion" cannot involve "liberty"…

Of course it can. The only difference between your objective and mine is that you want a government that works to maximize utility and I want one that works to maximize liberty.

Randy November 28, 2008 at 7:12 pm

P.S. Martin,

What we have now, of course, is a government that works to maximize the revenue stream for the political class. They talk of freedom and utility, but their actions speak louder than their words. The truth is that there has never in recorded history been a government that did anything other than work to maximize its revenue stream, and the odds are good that there never will be.

dg lesvic November 28, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Could somebody please tell me what the hell you people are all talking about?

Sam Grove November 28, 2008 at 9:02 pm

One way communication. That seems to be what's going on.

Ray G November 28, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Martin and Vid should start their own website. . .

I promise we'll all come and visit every once in a while. Really.

brotio November 28, 2008 at 9:37 pm

The beauty of the scroll wheel is that it scrolls pages up or down. It's very easy to scroll to the bottom of a post and see who the author is and either keep going (as I do for 90% of Mierduck's comments), or scroll back up and read the post. Those who dislike the banter between Vidyohs and Martin can scroll right past it, and those like me who are enjoying themselves can continue to do so.

Perhaps it would be easier if the comments could begin rather than end with the author.

dg lesvic November 28, 2008 at 11:31 pm

Do I detect a consensus here that this is all between Martin and Vid?

If so, could each of you, and any other participants in the disupute, summarize your positions in a few words?

And then I'll step in, tell you who's right and who's wrong, and we can all move on, dog orgs!

Martin Brock November 29, 2008 at 4:14 am

Of course it can. The only difference between your objective and mine is that you want a government that works to maximize utility and I want one that works to maximize liberty.

Maximizing liberty subject to what? When we "maximize" something, we accept a bit less of it than we might have in order to have a bit of something else. In the classically liberal tradition, the something else is property (propriety, what is proper), but "property" has never simply meant forcible possession in this tradition.

When children, wives and husbands were all "property", this usage of the word was not simply equivalent to modern use of "slave" (or modern "property"). Children are not slaves of their parents, more nearly the opposite. Children are their parents responsibility. Classical "property" implies that these people have duties toward one another, not that one owns the others exclusively. The historical uses of the word make this meaning clear.

The whole idea of accepting a bit less liberty so we can have a bit of liberty is simply circular logic. The classical rights of man are life, liberty and property, not life, liberty and liberty. So what is "property"? The answer cannot be "liberty". For Jefferson, it was "the pursuit of happiness", so he essentially was a utilitarian, though I've never seen evidence that Bentham influenced him.

So if we aren't free of any rules imposed on everyone regardless of their consent, then what are these rules and how do we justify them? That's the question, and dancing around it is not properly "libertarian". Dancing around it is the business of "Libertarian" politicians, people disingenuously promising "liberty" without cost.

What we have now, of course, is a government that works to maximize the revenue stream for the political class.

We do, but this statement still makes no sense of the idea that a minarchist state imposes a minimum of forcible rules, systematically limiting personal liberty, for the sake of "liberty". Limiting personal liberty for the sake of "liberty" is rhetorical nonsense, and classical liberalism is not nonsense.

What is property? What are our duties toward one another limiting our liberty to do as we please? You can't be a classical liberal without honestly confronting this question, and the answer cannot be "liberty".

Previous post:

Next post: