Outreach vs. Dogma
- On 20 Jan 2008 at 23:24, James Babb wrote on the Pennsylvania
Libertarian Party list:
> Are you admiring a politician for his ability to collectThis statement is emblematic of a problem within the LP -- a problem
> Who should he go after next, rape dodgers? (Because as long
> as we have rape, everybody should be raped equally. Right?)
that could only prevail under the strategy that the LP now pursues.
The LP's strategy is like a design with a head and a tail but no body.
The Georgists were also like that for a while, but are being shaken out
of it. That is, they ran people for office and they steeped one another
in their beliefs, but they rarely set out to educate office holders and
opinion leaders. Only when Georgists began to question their own
premises and interact closely with community leaders did the Georgist
movement come out of the doldrums and begin to make progress once
The LP does this as the well, and it results in the LP being composed
of people who are afraid to relate to those who do not agree with
them. This in turn solidifies an LP strategy consisting of two
extremes. We call one of them education, but it is really inculcating
ourselves with dogma. We call the other one electoral politics, but it is
really more like howling at the moon. This latter problem results from
our stewing in dogma, so I will address the dogma first.
Although part of our dogma is to have contempt for "group-think" all
dogma is essentially group-think, including ours. Thus, when the
party's state president praises a mayor for catching tax dodgers, we see
him excoriated as if these tax dodgers were being raped. It makes no
sense to a non-libertarian, and would have made no sense to
libertarians before the right-wing shift in response to anti-
Still, "Taxation is theft" is part of our official dogma now. It sounds
good to those of us who have been stewing in our own libertarian
juices, even though it sounds a bit daft to most people in the world,
and even to some prominent libertarian philosophers.
But as long as what we call education means reinforcing our own
beliefs and preaching a hard line at potential converts, instead of
checking our premises and interacting with people who are involved
in coping with real social problems, we can indulge our dogma to no
end and avoid any corrections that might come from testing it against
the real world.
Meanwhile, we run people for major offices in a way that also avoids
communication. We put our message out there, but in a way that
doesn't get much feedback, or, for that matter, many votes. Then we
retreat back into our dogma and wonder what's wrong with "them."
When Georgists or others challenge LP dogma, cognitive dissonance
sets in. Some libertarians see merit, but others see only threats. And so
when Mik says something that sounds perfectly reasonable to most
people, and even to many libertarians, dogma alarms ring none the
less, and he finds himself accused of defending rapists.
The same thing happened to LP founder David Nolan when he
advocated a land value tax as the "least bad" tax. His assertions were
actually much milder than that of libertarians through history, but he
was still pounced upon by taxation-is-theft dogmatists. He was more
or less silenced, but, more importantly, the LP was prevented from
having a workable program and an electable platform.
Of course, if the dogma is correct, it should not be compromised. But
is it correct? Let us look at rationalizations that pass for logic.
The first rationalization is that taxation must be defined in such a way
as to make it theft by definition. This is similar to the way Marxists
define capital to make it exploitive by definition. A Marxist can't
easily discuss the possiblility that capital is not exploitive of labor
because, to him, capital is exploitive by definition.
Similarly, a libertarian cannot easily discuss the possibility of a tax
that is not theft, because taxation is theft by libertarian definition. That
is, taxation is defined as an ARBITRARY levy collected by force.
After all, if it were not arbitrary, it would not be theft.
Now, what does "arbitrary" mean here? It means that payment by the
taxpayer bears no relationship to benefits the taxpayer enjoys nor to
hardships the taxpayer imposes on others. And what does force mean?
It means either that the taxpayer has no choice but to pay the levy, or
that the taxpayer must forgo doing something he has every right to do
in order to avoid paying that levy.
Thus, a tax is only arbitrary, and only theft, to the degree that it fails
to correlate with benefits received and hardships imposed. Therefore,
a gasoline tax that is used to maintain roadways is seen as less
arbitrary, and therefore less thieving, than a gasoline tax used to pay
for municipal swimming pools. It is not force in the sense that, if a
person doesn't want to use the roads, he doesn't have to buy the
gasoline and pay the tax.
This is not hard to understand, and many libertarians have argued that
a gas tax for roadways is really a user fee to the extent that gasoline
comsumption correlates with roadway use. Still, it is dogmatically
maintained that there can be no general-revenue levy that is not
arbitrary and, therefore is not theft.
The tax delinquencies that Pittsburgh's mayor was collecting were
mostly on on land value tax. Pittsburgh had only real estate taxes at
the time, with the rate on land double the rate on buildings.
Thus we come to land value tax, which was heartily endorsed by most
libertarians from the time of John Locke right up to the Great
Depression and the Red Scare. In the climate of disparaging anything
that had a vague communist ring to them, various right-wing
libertarians became prominent and got the libertarian movement to do
a complete reversal on this issue.
To classical liberals and libertarians, the difference between property
in land and property in labor products (captial) had been essential.
Marxist dogma obliterated that difference in order to claim public
dominion over both. Neolibertarianism took the opposite position,
claiming private dominion over both. In doing so, they followed the
Marxists in obliterating the essential libertarian distinction.
To a classical libertarian, the value of the land comes from the
shortage of land, from the attributes of the surrounding community
and from government services. Land grabbing was seen as a way of
profiting from the labors of others without contributing anything back,
and as a way to leave others landless and dependent on those with
land. Therefore, libertarians saw it as not only acceptable but
necessary that land holders pay a tax on the value of that land.
Neolibertarians reversed that principle.
Thus, a tenant of neolibertarian dogma is that a person has a right to
grab and hold as much land as he cares to, and that those who are left
landless as a result are not victims of injustice, but are merely victims
of their own ancestors' failure to grab and hold land with the same
ferocity as the successful land holders. Even if land had been taken by
force, the impossibility of identifying each individual prior occupant
and justly compensating his rightful heirs means that the conquerors
of the land have no obligation to the conquered. And if the conquered
had held the land in common, such reprehensible communism voids
any rights they might have had, anyhow.
This reversal leaves neolibertarian dogma with all sorts of anomalies
that strike the ordinary person as unjust. For example, the
neolibertarian does not have to help pay for the streets that make his
land valuable, but can can enjoy the benefits free of charge. The
poverty that exists only in societies where the land has been
monopolized is the fault of the poor themselves. And the value of land
is not created by "the community," for no such abstraction as "the
community" exists. (Why such a similar abstraction as "the market"
exists is one of those inconsistencies that are not addressed.)
In any case, the neolibertarian landholder argues that his land's value
might have been created by individuals other than himself, but unless
each individual's contribution can be appraised he has no more
obligation to them than to the people whose ancestors had been
conquered by the people who sold him his land title.
The neolibertarian notion that land is absolute property the same as
anything else brings us to the notion that a tax on land value is theft
the same as any other tax, and that the person who keeps all others off
"his" land by waving a state-issued title has no obligation whatsoever
to pay a state-issued tax on the value of that title.
And so, a mayor who attempts to collect delinquent taxes on land
holders is a de facto rapist, and Mik is therefore applauding rape.
And even this explanation will be written off by some as Marxist
nonsense, even though Marxists themselves protest that this is
libertarian nonsense. For Marxist dogma is offended at the idea that
the community does not have the same right to confiscate the value of
buildings, machinery, income and anything else as it has to collect
part of the rent of land.
But it doesn't much matter what libertarians think so long as they keep
saying things that only make sense to them and run for offices they
Perhaps Mik's and others' holding offices in tiny municipalities is a
good thing after all, not so much for the impact that libertarians like
him are having on the world as for the impact that the world is having
on libertarians like him. It is impossible to address these issues from
the governing side and not question the flaws in neolibertarian dogma.