Taxes are voluntary…according to libertarian logic

Libertarians are inconsistent if they consider taxes immoral, but not wage labour and rent.

Punch cartoon (1907); illustrates the unpopula...

A frequent and much beloved (Right)-Libertarian talking point is on how taxes are not voluntary and that they are claimed by the state at the end of a gun barrel. “Taxes are theft”, “Taxes are violence” blah blah blah. We’ve all heard the spiel I’m sure. But I doubt how many have realized that such an argument is not really consistent with the logic libertarians ((I’ll avoid using (right) for brevity. Let’s just assume it’s implied whenever I say “libertarian” in this post.)) apply in regards to voluntary contracts and choice.

You see, a common aspect of most strains of libertarianism is that any choice made voluntarily – by which they mean, in the absence of active coercion – is morally acceptable for both parties. Thus a person choosing to work for a wage, has made a conscious decision to get in this position, because it increases his marginal utility. In the same vein, a person choosing to work in a sweatshop have made a decision which makes their life better off than before, so the sweatshop practice itself is obviously moral. A female being sexually harassed by her boss, but nevertheless staying in the job, is a voluntary choice which naturally means that the sexual attention she’s receiving does not constitute “harassment”. Naturally it follows that if people do not want to end up in this situations, they always have the choice of not taking those particular jobs.

So, in this context, aren’t taxes voluntary just as well? Consider that when you sign up for a job, you agree to a contract that states that a part of your wage will go to the state. You are volunteering to a contract that stipulates taxes. If you do not like the contract, you always have the choice of not working at all. This is a valid choice, as much as it is for the sweatshop worker, is it not? You weight your options and choose the one more beneficial to you.

Most likely libertarians will mention at this point that even those opening their own business have to pay taxes, even though they have no contract with the state. But that would also be false. They do have such a contract with the state. The contract that leases the land they live on, for it is in the very end, the property of the state. You can’t own any land, unless somewhere in the history of that land, there is a contract between state and the first owner. And that contract, had stipulations for taxes. The taxes of the business owner thus become analogous to the rent of a land owner, and much like the contract with a land owner can have stipulations that you can accept or deny, so does the contract with the state. In this case being that you have to give an amount of your income to the state in the form of income tax, and all contracts with your employees must stipulate income tax as well. If you choose to enter this voluntary contract, then naturally you must think it acceptable. Surely if the land owner was simply a private person, requiring rent from you and everyone you employ, you would have the same amount of choice, no?

It is the case then, that if you don’t like the terms of such contracts, you are of course free not to work at all. Nobody is forcing you to make such a choice. But if you do make it, then it’s under our own volition, is it not?

I can foresee at this point the enraged flames that will start bursting my way. Most likely I will be informed that the choice is an illusion, since the state has artificially and violently limited the options to either paying income tax, or not making money at all. And I will admit, this is a very compelling argument indeed.

Which is why I will have to pull the “switch” to my “bait” now.

You see, the argument that will be made to point out that the choice between “work with taxation or no work” is an artificial one, is the same one I will use myself to point that “work for a boss or don’t work” is an artificial choice just as well. You want the option to  live in a society where nobody has to pay taxes, I want the option to work in a society where nobody has to work for a boss.

Libertarians might claim that everyone would have this option in a society with no taxes, but if some landowners already hoard all the available land, then that is simply not true, for no landowner would be foolish enough to sell it rather than rent it. It would be as likely as the state truly selling land (rather than renting it via taxes) and allowing anyone to secede. In fact, that is the truth of the matter: The state, at the moment, is acting just like a capitalist landowner renting you some land with stipulations. The “rent” you pay, is your taxes. Imagine for a moment that instead of states, you had private landowners who asked for rent instead of tax. Would you, as a libertarian, have an issue with this?

Perhaps the smart libertarian will claim that the state came into ownership of this land through violence, and therefore any ownership claims over it are invalid. This is undeniably true: The state did enclose all the land through brutal violence. But what is to be done? The libertarian of a Rothbardian persuasion would undoubtedly claim that the best option would be to simply remove the state as the player, and let the ownership titles stand as they are, or possibly owned by their current workers in a shareholder format.  But I would object to that, for this is not a natural distribution of ownership either, rather, it is artificially created by the previous violence of the state and its continued legacy of its collusion with the plutocracy throughout history. If one were to simply declare that the current ownership claims should be treated as “homesteading”, then why not do the same jump and claim that the current state ownership should just as well be treated as “homesteading”? Both these scenarios would ignore violent history anyway, so why not stick to the status quo? After all, I’m confident that very few libertarians would have an issue with the current arrangement if they were paying “rent” instead of “taxes” and they were living under the rule of a private landowner with extensive management staff, rather than a democratic state with extensive bureaucracy.

Or perhaps not. But then, I’d like to hear what the significant difference would be (except the lack of democracy that is).

The truth is that there’s isn’t a functional difference between a state and a landowner. Both simply ask for rent to allow you to live within their ownership claims (borders). The former simply also provides the illusion that you have a say in the policies that affect everyone under these border, as a way to pacify you. And this lack of difference remains whether you have 204 uber-landowners or 2.000.000. The size of their borders might decrease, but the effect of their rule would not.

As such, the original problem would remain. Perhaps the libertarians won’t mind, as long as they have 2.000.000 choices of contracts, rather than 204 but then again, that would mean the problem was in the number of states in existence, not in their taxation.

The lack of choice would still remain. We would still not have the option to live and work without rent and without bosses and landlords. For anarchists like me of course, that is still the biggest problem, but for libertarians it shouldn’t be; after all, bosses and landlords aren’t an issue for them…

Thus in the end, it would be simply hypocritical for a libertarian to claim that the state rent (i.e. tax) is immoral while the rent demanded from a landlord or boss isn’t.  Both are based on passive coercion, rather than active. “Work for a boss, or starve” is not much of a choice, anymore than “Pay your taxes or go to jail” is. Both rely on the same exact set of circumstances: The artificial limitation of choices through the past exercise of violence.

Something which we communists like to call Primitive Accumulation…

PS: This post was inspired when I watched the “income tax bait and switch” in action, in this reddit comment thread. Props to watwatwatwatt for thinking of it.

Big university party. Riot police bring the fireworks

The new unelected government lost no time showing it means business.

So the Greek university asylum has finally ended, in practice, as well. 4 Days ago, the un-elected government of Papademos, backed up by Juntaist and far-right politicians decided to storm the Thessalonikian universities shortly after the demonstrations of the 17th November for the Polytechnic had ended. This was this unelected government’s first “Polytechnic anniversary”, so the symbolism is fairly blatant.

Then with the tanks, now with the banks.

You now know to express heavy repression on the anniversary of Alexis. Be prepared.

Now this is interesting…

The Pirate Party turn the system’s tools against it. Lets see how the system will respond.

The Pirate Party
Image via Wikipedia

Apparently the Pirate party of Sweden decided to take thing one step further and has announced the world’s first Pirate ISP which will be focused on protecting their user’s privacy and take the MAFIAA and the rest of the gang head on. I assume it’s going to be protected via the governmental immunity the parliamentary members have so it’s going to be much more difficult to shut down, although the US copyright industry will definitely focus all their political muscle in order to nip this in the bud. Remember how they managed to have the Swedish authorities raid the Pirate Bay Offices even though they were legal under Swedish law.

I find this a very good example of turning the state’s weapons against it, but ultimately I don’t know how successful it will be (but naturally I hope to be proven wrong). Of course this doesn’t mean that “The system works” since they’re in effect trying to combat the system in the first place. No. Rather what is happening is that they’ve found a loophole in the system which allows them to use it in a way the ruling elite didn’t plan to. This is a very good way to use the system actually but the problem is ultimately that the power still relies on the ruling elite. And when the new material circumstances make previous rules work against them, then they will make sure that the previous rules are modified enough to suit their interests.

At the moment, I can foresee a few ways they are going to go around shutting this down or neutering it

  • Change the law to make this illegal. Perhaps they will disallow parliament to be involved in business. Perhaps they will stop political immunity from affecting businesses run from parliamentary members. Sure, this may harm the already established interests but given how much the IP lobby (and remember, the US is practically surviving on IP at the moment) is set to loose if this idea starts to spread to other countries, they might be willing to compensate those who will be harmed by new laws handsomely, so that this particular tactic becomes impossible. Certainly the parliamentary members might try to fight this on constitutional grounds but seeing as how easy it was to find biased judges to oversee the Pirate Bay case, and how important this decision will be, this is certainly going to be stacked against the small amount of people behind the Pirate party.
  • Create a moral panic about child porn. Someone (planted or not) is going to start sharing child porn through the Pirate ISP which will then force the pirate party in a very precarious political decision. Either it will be seen as supporting or covering child porn and other nasty stuff, or the Pirate Party will have to start keeping logs and other tracking measures, which can then be used by law enforcement to track down file sharers. Perhaps they will attempt to provide the info only for child porn and not for piracy, but that’s how it always starts anyway.
  • Disconnect the Pirate ISP from the Internet. I don’t know how possible this is, but it could be possible that the anti-pirate outfits as well as the USA and its nation-bitches will attempt to block any connection coming from the IPs assigned to the Pirate ISP. This would not require a legal precedent but it will require a lot of logistics and coordination of many nations, which might in turn make in unrealistic or simply impossible given the distributed nature of the net. This means that the US could by itself try to protect its IP interests by blocking its own people from accessing the Pirate ISP addresses but what they’re most interested in – extracting the wealth from the developing nations though IP – will be severely harmed as the poor people will simply route via the Pirate ISP for the piracy fix.
  • Try to muscle Sweden into compliance via Trade Sanctions. They WTO might allow others to embargo Sweden in order to put them into a very bad imports/exports situation, therefore creating civil unrest and hopefully blaming this on the Pirate Party and their ISP and attempt to kick them out of parliament.

I can see the second point being used in conjunction with the first point for the most effect. If those two fail, it will be the 3rd and 4th one, as they do not require the compliance of the Swedish people. Whatever happens though, once again the system will have to reveal its true nature (protecting the plutocracy at the expense of the will of the people) and will once again show how using the state’s tools cannot work if it’s creating too many headaches for the ruling elite.

Of course, I might be wrong and the Pirate ISP will be a success, nothing will be able to take it down and in one fell swoop, Sweden will be liberate file-sharing,  which will in turn trigger a chain reaction in the other nations and their own Pirate Parties. But given how much is at stake here, I truly believe we’ll see all the weapons against harmful reformism come into play. It will be interesting to watch, no doubt.

Why I am opposed to State Socialism

A big socialist state led by the enlightened leaders is a recipe for disaster. The only way should be through worker activism. Through Self-emancipation.

Fatherland, Socialism or Death
Image by Nicholas Hall via Flickr

State socialism is the idea that we need to strive and implement a system where coercive power resides in the hands of a state mechanism who (ideally) uses it to progress to further stages towards communism by taking measures such as installing a democratic government and suppressing the capitalist class.

I consider that putting this as an immediate goal is a mistake. Relying on state power to handle the progression towards communism has two very mortal perils: The subdual of the activist feeling of the working class and the danger of the state leadership appropriating the power.

The revolutionary working class

By having reached the point of even considering State Socialism it means that a society has achieved a revolutionary victory over the bourgeoisie. This has obviously happened as a result of popular proletariat action. Strikes, marches, occupations etc. It has not and it could not have been achieved through the actions of an enlightened leadership as proven by the miserable failure of reformism to deliver even miniscule results in the last century. As a result installing state socialism would require the activist workers to willingly deliver coercive power to a new enlightened elite who will then guide society.

Putting aside for a moment the likeliness of this happening without external coercive factors, lets consider for a moment that this comes to pass. The immediate loss of such a setup would be the activist spirit of the working class. Where before all the gains, up to and including the revolution have been because of mass action which led to more and more revolutionary consiousness and camaraderie, now all that is required from the proletariat is continued subservience to the leadership of the state.

Even were I to grant that the state is benevolent, because the worker (and his own institutions – councils and the like) is not required anymore to strive for his own gains and progress, he is more and more losing his feeling to do it and simply learns to get along with what the state instructs him to do. Such a loss is immeasurable as this is the main reason any potential dictator can disrupt the movement towards Communism and instead turn the whole thing towards his own benefit. As the workers are now not anymore used to thinking and taking decisions for themselves but rather have to judge which of their leaders is actually on their side, it’s only a matter of propaganda before this happens.

Hijacking the State

By far the biggest threat going in the path of State socialism is that the people who have been chosen to defend the insterests of the Proletariat will turn against them. Indeed it has often been the case that the main reason why State Socialism was implemented was specifically for this purpose, as we can see by looking from Stalin’s rise to power. It was named “State Socialism” when it was actually State Capitalism.

By looking at the situation before this State setup was brought forward, we will see a surprisingly libertarian working of society, where workers councils were taking the decisions and the power was federated and controlled from its own distribution.

Once you replace the distributed and necessarily democratic organization of worker’s councils with centralized state power, you setup the base for the Socialist’s undoing. All a tyrrant needs to do is parrot the socialist rhetoric until the worker’s activism is sapped (see above) and then slowly roll back all the benefits achieved by discovering emergencies and necessities to do so. From one year to the other, the workers are back where they started, only now their leaders call themselves socialist as well.

No, state socialism is absolutely the wrong path to take. The only way to proceed towards communism is by letting the workers emancipate themselves. This can certainly include making use of the state mechanism in order to defend against counter-revolutionary attempts or to keep providing other necessary services (such as healthcare), but it should not be used for leadership or anything else that has the capability to remove the power from the workers or make them into simple passive tools.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Does Communism need a State?

Is a state mechanism required to achieve long-term planning, equality and free-loading? The answer is no. This is nothing that a federated solution can’t do

The Barefoot Bum takes a look at the concept of the State under Communism and discovers that there will be a need to retain some form of a state instrument, in order to both maintain balance so as to avoid negative effects from failed Prisoners Dilemma outcomes and also to have a central planning in order to provide long-term planning and guide complex manufacturing.

The later part of the argument, the need to have a central planning which allows complex processes to be guided has also been brought up by others, such as my recent argument with BadTux. In his case he brought it as an argument against central planning however.

The argument of the Barefoot Bum is based on the premise that very complex and long term plans are impossible to be achieved by a federated solution as these individuals and groups would be unable to plan beyond their short term interests and they would furthermore have an incentive to take actions which would be harming in the long-term, once their careers of lives have expired.

This however implies that a central planning comitee or a state would be able to foresee and plan such long term effects. I do not believe this is the case. If the individuals (who have the best knowledge about their sector) taking these actions are unable to foresee their results, then it’s unlikely that external viewers would. If they can foresee their results to have a long-term harming effect, then it means that others in their sector would be able to see that as well and raise the signs of alarm, and lacking the “greed” motive (which is impossible to retain under Communism), individuals would not have the incentive to turn a blind eye to such actions.

I believe that such planning, if possible to be achieved through a state, is possible to be achieved without a state as well, through federated methods. There is not reason why these experts need to monopolize the use of force and give the orders to the syndics. All of these can just as well be achieved by the syndics retaining their own experts or leader who also provide some valuable service to the manufacturing process. Those people can then simply get together when the need arises to arrange the long-term path they should take.

As to the argument of increased complexity, well there is nothing inherently impossible in it. When we have a very complex manufacturing process, requiring the cooperation of dozens of thousands of people (such as the creation of a computer) then the individual syndics of workers are perfectly capable of arranging it themselves. All they need to do is send committees (and now with the internet, even that is not necessary) to the syndic of the factory which produces the item they require and simply convince them that there is a benefit in providing these items to them, on a higher priority than others who request them. The committee of the receiving syndic would then allocate the items depending on the perceived need and benefits, through a democratic process.

Such was the case for example during the Russian Revolution, when the production of energy fell suddenly wholly to the hands of the Soviets which then managed to arrange the receiving of raw materials and maintenance items through the use of such committees to the Soviets of the Coal producing plant etc.

But there is also a large negative inherent in the use of a state apparatus. The people running central committees and the like, by the nature of their work would be separated from the workforce and thus be away form the needs of the proletariat. Furthermore they would be able to wield power and it is widely known that power corrupts. People in these positions would have an incentive to fortify their position and also to expand their power. This is the biggest failing of a state apparatus, the tendency to become entrenched and corrupted.

Marx I believe recognised this and this is why he gave the socialist state the very explicit task of simply protecting the proletariat from a counter-revolution. As this threat went away, the role of the state diminishes until it is not required anymore when the society has stabilized. The withering of the state. By giving the state extra legitimate duties, you are giving it a reason to continue its existence and a ledge from which to expand its power (“If as a state we’re necessary now to manage the complex long-term planning, in the future, where the planning is even more complex, we are needed even more. So give us some more power”)

If indeed long-term complex planning cannot be achieved without a state by a newly born communist society, then I would be in favour of removing the state and getting back to a less technological world in the short term. As long as the living humans were able to secure food and shelter, things which require only the lowest technology, then we could start from the basics and then work out the system from which to produce the more advanced items. The knowledge to do so would still be there and we would simply have to innovate in the field of communist logistics. Among thousands of brilliant minds searching for a workable solution to this problem, I’m certain there wouldn’t be too long until the system required was discovered.

A small step back would certainly be a small price to pay to guarantee that the basis of a classless society is preserved. And I even doubt that such a step back would even be necessary.

Communism is not statist

Does Communism require everything to be under state control, with a Bureaucratic government deciding everything? Far from it

Whenever most people think of Communism, they assume a big fucking government which is responsible for the central planning and the running of the society as a whole as the benevolent rulers think best. This preconception once again generally comes from the way Socialist regimes of the 20th century have ended up running their shows and as I pointed out in the first part of this series, they do not represent communism.

Indeed a statist Communism is an oxymoron for, by definition, Communism is stateless. There is not central planning commitee, no benevolent leader-for-life, no bureaucracy.

In the original ideas of Karl Marx, Communism was always supposed to be the end result when the state had finally withered away. The only situation where state exists is under socialism which is the stepping stone to Communism. But the state of Socialism is not in any form the state which you are aware now or the one of Stalinist Russia either. Is is a completely new beast.

The state of Socialism is based on the working class and the point of it, as opposed to the current example of state, is to protect the rights of the majority against the assault of the minority.

It is not based on location, it is based on profession.

The elected repressentatives do not simply come from a general location and thus put forward the requests of the workers, farmers, capitalists etc as the current system is. Instead they are the repressentatives of the workers. One for the car workers, one for the computer techs, one for the scientists and the like. As such these repressentatives not only put forward the requests of a group of people who have a very close interest in their actions but they are themselves part of those people.

The current crop of politicians who generally end up being either progeny from rich families or people from professions which make a lot of money (ie lawyers), thus they have no interest or knowledge of the working class situations. If they look elitist, foreign and untouchable, it’s because they are. They have nothing in common with the lower class so how do you expect them to know what is good for you or others like you?

Unlike them, socialist delegates should know exactly what the people they represent want and if they do not, then they cannot hide behind excuses. Everyone of their group will understand their language and failings and they will be recalled and replaced.

It is not supposed to be untouchable

The most important thing that changes in the socialist state is that elections do not happen only infrequently, making it difficult for people to decide if their chosen representatives did their job or not. The members of the state are supposed to be subject to, if not instant, at the least very quick recalls when they do not represent their people anymore.

The state machine is not for the protection of the state

Currently the police and the army are not there to protect the citizens. They are there in order to stop the majority of citizens from fighting with the capitalists. When the poor and homeless rise up and demand to occupy the empty buildings of the rich, it is against them that the army will turn.

In the socialist state there is no army and police force as a separate force from the workers. This is simply part of a societal “chore” that the members of the working class must do in order to protect themselves from outside forces or from people who would destroy them in order to take power. Thus these forces are constantly changing and their members mingle with the working class, insuring that they will be protected from propaganda and not turn against their own people.

The withering of the state

All of these characteristics of the state above, are not about Communism. They are about socialism. This state is not there to control the people but to protect them from those who would use force or intrigue to dismantile the new system. Once this danger has gone away, this state has no reason to exist anymore. There is no need for many people to do the “army chore” when there is no external country ready to invade and enforce capitalism on them, and thus slowly there will be less and less people doing it until the army slowly withers away. Similarly there will be no reason for police or any other state instrument.

Only once the state has withered away can a society be said to be in Communism.