Thursday 13 September 2007

Transitions to freedom: Shall we kill them in their beds?

Two bakers are talking politics. "How do you roll back the state?" asks the first. "One roll at a time," answers the second.

A poor joke, but good advice. If you're serious about rolling back the state, then you set your compass in the direction of more freedom and less coercion, and you start hacking a path in that direction through the overgrown thickets of the overbearing state one hard-fought step after another.

You might start by preparing 'transitional policies' - policies that introduce more freedom and reduce coercion one machete stroke at at a time.

Writing in the Intellectual Activist (July 1995), Robert Tracinski gives the necessary principle for formulating all such policies:
In judging a measure, one cannot hold it responsible for all aspects of a mixed economy - only for those aspects it changes. These changes can be evaluated by a straightforward application of the principle of individual rights: Does the reform remove some aspect of government control or does it add more control?...It is not a compromise to advocate reduced government control in one sphere even if controls in other spheres are left standing. It is a compromise, on the other hand, if one seeks to purchase increased freedom in one area at the price of increased control in another.
Ayn Rand explains Tracinski's point about the error of compromise: “When a man has ascertained that one alternative is good and the other is evil, he has no justification for choosing a mixture. There can be no justification for choosing any part of that which one knows to be evil."

Clear enough: Start with what you find, and design the means to work step by step towards your goal, without ever purchasing increased freedom at the expensed of increased coercion. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘ratchet for freedom.’

A principled opposition -- call them 'Party X' -- would promote such policies. An intelligent opposition would design such policies to be picked up and passed around. To be picked up and passed around (and to be worth passing around) the policy should pass The Test of the Three Ps: it should be Practical, Principled, and arse-grabbingly Provocative. Provocative enough to be passed around; Practical enough to be work; Principled enough to move the game in the right direction. The principle with each policy must be clear: More freedom with no new coercion. Below are some examples of some policies that pass the test, but first, here's four proposals that fail:
  • Shall we kill them in their beds? How about this: presently, a strong case can be made for the proposal to kill the entire front bench of Government in their beds, along with the Leaders of all Opposition Parties and all the various Human Wrongs Commissars. Practical, and easily done (although I'd expect difficulties coordinating the overabundance of volunteers.) Certainly provocative – and strongly based on the principle of self-defence. A proposal I’m sure we could all live with, so to speak.
    But as Tracinscki says, we activists must beware of purchasing freedom in one sphere at the expense of increased controls in another - the subsequent police crackdown on the assassins would undoubtedly remove all the freedoms gained by such a move, and for that reason it should be shunned -- and I say that with obvious sadness.

  • Flat Tax: Here’s another example of this same error. A “low flat tax” would reduce taxes for some, true, but this reduction would be purchased at the expense of increased sacrifice by those whose present tax rates are below the chosen flat rate. Far preferable is the Libertarianz transitional proposal (and Green policy) to offer a threshold below which no tax at all is paid, along with the slow and gradual increase in the level of this threshold.

  • School Vouchers: The idea of school vouchers is popular (not least with the purveyors of twilight golf and the owners of Wananga o Aoteaora). Vouchers do purchase wider choice, it’s true, but only at the expense of either bringing private schools even more under the Ministry’s boot (as a once relatively free early childhood sector now understands), or of throwing the taxpayer’s money away on bullshit. Best just to give the schools back and be done with it.

  • Cap & Trade & Fishing Quotas: For some reason these two are currently fashionable with some US free-marketeers, but it doesn't take much examination to realise both measures purchase the very minimum of freedom, if at all, and do so at the expense of increased bureaucracy and the effective nationalisation of industry and of fish stocks respectively – and in the case of ‘cap and trade’ sets a finite limit on industrial production. Even carbon taxes would be better than this. Tax credits even better.
So those are some failures. By contrast, here’s two measures that do pass our test:
  • A Conscientious Objection Tax Policy would increase freedom and, far from requiring more controls and more regulation, would actively promote and engender their removal. Here's how it could work: The Conscientious Objection Tax Policy should allow an individual to opt out of paying for and using the government’s die-while-you-wait Health system, its factory schools, and its featherbedded welfare – to conscientiously object to the theft required to pay for these multiple disasters, to agree to make his own arrangements for these (thank you very much), and in return to pay only 10% income tax!
    At a stroke the objector is better off (and with no new government controls introduced), and like all good policies, the Conscientious Objection Tax Policy would have a flow-on effect, kickstarting an explosion of freedom in the currently stagnant Health, Education and Welfare pools.

  • Here’s another intelligent transitional measure, the Transitional Drugs Policy proposed by my colleague Dr Richard Goode.
    Why not make drug law both more rational and more free by legalising all drugs less harmful to health than tobacco and alcohol? Who could object, right? Even Jim Anderton and Jacqui Dean don’t want to ban alcohol. Yet. (Although Jacqui isn't too sure about water). According to Britain’s Lancet journal of medicine, under this standard we could immediately legalise for recreational use (in decreasing order of harm): Buprenoprhine, Cannabis, Solvents, LSD, Methylphenidate, Anabolic steroids, GHB, Ecstacy, Alkyl Nitrites, Khat, and di-hydrogen monoxide.
    On what rational basis could anybody object? More freedom, less government, safer drugs, less money going into gang leaders’ pockets – and the apostles of moral panic challenged to explain the rational basis of their War on Drugs. Everybody except Jacqui Dean kicks a goal.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

I am surprised at your rejection of low flat tax. As long as we have compulsory income tax why shouldn't everybody be paying something? Your proposal seems quite unlibertarian. It is a continuation of some being forced to pay while others are not.

I hadn't realised Libz had changed their tax policy.

Peter Cresswell said...

I'm surprised you're surprised at my rejection of low flat tax.

You don't think I've explained sufficiently?

It's not the "low" part I have a problem with (at least as a temporary imposition), it's the "flat" part that would require a new imposition on those presently under the chosen flat rate.

You think it's okay to impose new coercion on these people?

If so, does that mean you disagree with the Tacinski principle?

Lindsay Mitchell said...

From memory your original policy was a flat ten percent. Nobody is below that.

Even at twenty percent few would pay more. The current lowest rate is 19.5

If the Tacinski principle dictates 'no new coercion' yes, I disagree with it.

The goal is to move to a fair situation. In the process those who have been benefiting from an unfair situation may be penalised. That is unavoidable.

Ultimately, with the greater prosperity that follows freer economies, they too will benefit.

Peter Cresswell said...


From day one, Libz transitional tax policy has been to kill off all taxes as quickly as possible (GST, tariffs, petrol and alcohol taxes etc.) with the exception of a very low income tax retained until all govt debts can be paid -- and while this remains, to have a threshold below which no tax at all is paid.

This threshold is set at the highest possible level, and is recalculated every year in the Libz alternative budget. I think this year it was figured to be achievable to make the first $15,000 of income tax free.


On your more substantive point, I have to say that the ease with which you are willing to promote the initiation of new coercion dismays me.

If I might quote you, your objection "seems quite unlibertarian."

ZenTiger said...

PC, I think the point you are missing with flat tax is that it makes compliance costs for businesses vastly easier. One tax rate, no variable employee schemes etc.

There's scope here to put the onus on the government to manage low income rebates to supplement the tax system, rather than businesses, or to tax at a flatter rate that includes a tax free threshold, with rebates again handled by the govt.

I don't think the benefits of flat tax should be discarded by putting the onus/problems with it back on the businesses - it doesn't get them ahead, which doesn't help our economy.

Anonymous said...

One problem with the flat tax plus exemption is who gets the exemption - is it only people, or does each taxable entity get its own exemption - so does splitting a business into multiple entities get multiple exemptions? I could see a flat tax with only meat puppets getting an exemption working quite well. But business would i suspect dislike it, as it would trap a lot of income that is currently not effectively taxed at all. Would that count as "extra coercion" in your view?

Anonymous said...

"From day one, Libz transitional tax policy has been to kill off all taxes as quickly as possible (GST, tariffs, petrol and alcohol taxes etc.) with the exception of a very low income tax retained until all govt debts can be paid -- and while this remains, to have a threshold below which no tax at all is paid."

...which is quite unprincipled.

Tax is theft and if the LibertarianZ Party intend to continue stealing, then they are thieves.

You either live by your principles or you don't (in which case one can conclude that you guys are into making up excuses & telling lies).

Shame on you.


Peter Cresswell said...

LGM: Or perhaps you should conclude that Libz takes reality and the Tracinski principle seriously: "In judging a measure, one cannot hold it responsible for all aspects of a mixed economy - only for those aspects it changes..."

Peter Cresswell said...

LGM, another view on your challenge is given here at the Galileo Blog.

Galileo's relevant point, if I can summarise, is that before we're anywhere near where Libz are trying to move us, a cultural sea-change must occur first that will make limited government politically feasible.

Should Libz ever look electable, that sea change will have already occurred, and occurred at least in part because of cultural activism of the sort undertaken here by Libz, by Not PC, by The Free Radical, and by SOLO -- activism that will have included promoting the understanding that it's both possible and practical to quickly roll back the state, the wisdom that it's moral to do so, and the means by which to do so.

It's only then that talk of voluntary financing of government would emerge as a practical question. It's a worthy topic to consider now -- and in my view to promote -- but as Galileo says, "it is a backburner topic given that it will be many decades before it could even be attempted. "

It's worth reading Galileo's piece in full, since his view differs from mine in some ways.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the link. I'll go read it.

My point is this. Any and all government debt is not liable for repayment by non-government individuals. Therefore it is invalid to continue to tax until such debt is paid. Not unless the Libertarians intend to reject their own principles. For you see, to tax is still to steal (to commit theft), no matter what rationalisations and excuses are offerred to justify it. I remain disappointed that Libertarians would stoop to sell out their principles so cheaply, further that they openly state this is their policy.

Also, any person who was foolish enough to lend money to the government deserves to loose the lot. For he has relied on the idea that the government can use force against other people to to pay his principle amd interest. He deserves to get ruined for this.


Peter Cresswell said...

LGM: "My point is this. Any and all government debt is not liable for repayment by non-government individuals."

And I'm, very happy to debate that point, but the point that's worth making is that notion you assert -- that a libertarian govt should repudiate any and all govt debt - is a debatable one, and not one that can simply be asserted.

In my view, no only is there a clear rhetorical point in demonstrating (given the present conditions)that a govt with the will to do so can work towards a totally voluntary system within five years -- a case that I think is a very great achievement -- but I'm not entirely sure that the first action of a govt intent on protecting property rights and contract law should be to break contracts and steal property.

I think we can all predict what the capital markets would think of investing in such a place.

Anonymous said...

One comment:

The flat tax threshold would not apply consistently to 'classes' of people who all habitually earn under a certain amount.

In reality people move up and down the income scale quite a lot. (I can get figures if they are really needed)

With that in mind even if the lower brackets were raised it wouldn't not necessarily mean higher taxes for anyone in particular, just for income in a given bracket.

Following from that surely the Tacinski principle would be more concerned about moving the average tax rate? Or have I missed something.

Anonymous said...

oops, wouldn't not=wouldn't

Peter Cresswell said...

Sorry, DS, call me dumb, but you'll have to explain to me in more detail how what you're saying avoids what I've been saying.

Averages overlook individuals. Lowering the average rate of theft for some people is good, yes, but not at the expense of increasing the rate of theft for others.

That's what I've been saying.

Anonymous said...

Very simply, we are not talking about the 'rate of theft' for people but rather income brackets.

The reason being that people tend to move between income brackets.