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Outreach vs. Dogma

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  • Dan Sullivan
    On 20 Jan 2008 at 23:24, James Babb wrote on the Pennsylvania ... This statement is emblematic of a problem within the LP -- a problem that could only prevail
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2008
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      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 collect
      > taxes?

      > Who should he go after next, rape dodgers? (Because as long
      > as we have rape, everybody should be raped equally. Right?)

      This statement is emblematic of a problem within the LP -- a problem
      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
      cannot win.

      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.

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