Comments on Comments is a regularly irregular post, in which I attempt to respond to all thoughtful reader comments, inquiries, complaints, suggestions, etc.
Brad left a comment on with several questions:
Sometimes I think about the conversations we have had over the years and I wonder how much government/taxes/The Man would be acceptable to you…
How much would be acceptable? Preferably none. Would I be more satisfied with simply less? Well, yeah. But at that point, if the government were only in charge of one or two or three things, and the entire corpus of human needs and wants was otherwise satisfied by voluntary exchange in a free market, it should be easier to convince people that no government is a viable goal.
…Then I saw “free society” in your sentence.
The other night I was watching MTV and they took a “Sweet 16? rich kid into some jungle and made them live with a jungle tribe to show them what real living is all about. The tribe lives off the land. Has no currency. No wars. They trade with neighboring tribes. They have a chief who got the job just because he’s old. I watched the show and I thought of the tribe as a “free society.” Is this kind of what you mean as a free society?
If not can you please describe what your free society would look like or at least a glance on how it would operate. If I missed a post let me know.
I’ve seen that episode, where they transplant some spoiled rich girl, who’s never had to work a day in her short life, and drop her in to some tribe in sub-saharan africa, where she has to harvest dirt and feces for sustenance. There are a number of reasons why people in some countries suffer needlessly. Africa, in particular, was decimated by the slave trade and centuries of Dutch, English, and French imperialism. At present, crop subsidies in the developed world keep the desperately poor farmers in third world countries desperately poor,
All that aside, no, it’s not exactly what I have in mind., although the “no wars” idea is pretty cool. It kind of makes you wonder, if the developed nations are so freaking civilized, why is it that most of their problems are resolved with bombs and bullets?
For a better treatment than I could ever hope to offer in limited space, with limited time, I’d recommend The Voluntary City. I’m not sure how much of it is available on Google, but you might try reading the foreword/introduction to get a glimpse. I own a copy of it, which presently is buried under the passenger seat in my car, I think.
Let me know if you’d like to borrow it.
My friend RJ recently read Ron Paul’s Manifesto. I might borrow his copy. We were discussing it (I haven’t read it) and he mentioned the list of suggested readings in the back of the book, which starts with Rothbard’s What Has Government Done To Our Money.
I loaned him my copy.
Anarcho-mercantilist left a comment on Public Goods Do Not Justify Taxes. Thanks for clarifying the definitions of “public” vs. “club” goods. This is a distinction, I think, without a substantial difference, since most people are willing to stretch the definition of “public” to include just about any good or service that can be shown to have any positive spillover effects, e.g., we all benefit from education because educated people are more productive/less criminal, etc. These disputes are usually over some secondary or tertiary effect, the primary benefit of education accrues to those who are educated, just like the primary benefit of my garden is me.
I don’t have any serious objection to anything in Anarcho-mercantilist’s comment. I particularly like his comments on the subjectivity of value.
“not all goods provided by governments these days are really public goods.” I wholeheartedly agree with that second assertion, but can’t let you bootstrap it into the [public-goods-do-not-justify-taxes-argument], which you never even try to prove.
I tried not to spend the whole post tearing down public goods strawmen, but apparently failed. I buried my thesis at the very end and without much exposition.
That thesis is, the “public” nature of a good (i.e., the fact that it may be non-rival and non-excludable) tells us nothing about whether or not the good ought to be produced, nor does it tell us in any meaningful way, what the appropriate or adequate supply should be. What I mean by this is, if you’d like to make a case for taxation based on “public goods”, you’re going to have to do more than just demonstrate that some goods are “non-rival, and non-excludable,” two facts which cannot be combined in such a manner as to prove (universally) that it is justifiable to force people to pay for those things which, although they may benefit from them, may be undesirable to them.
Maybe I need to further develop this line of thinking. Kip continues with a challenge:
If you want to impress me, jump straight to Rand’s “public goods” — a (defensive) military, a (rights-protecting) police force, and a civil court system to enforce contracts — and explain to me why THOSE don’t justify taxes.
I’d like to explore some of the ideas that anarcho-mercantilist brought up in his comment, above, but in any event, these topics have been addressed by countless others. Maybe I’ll discuss them in greater detail another time, they deserve their own blog post. At the very least, a Police force (or something very similar to a police force) could conceivably be a club good. All they need to do is not investigate alleged crimes against non-members. The very nature of a monopolistic police force, on the contrary, is that they will “protect” you, and compel payment from you, even if you don’t wish to be affiliated with them in any way. A “rights-protecting” police force is accountable to the market, and its customers should be free to abandon it if the service is inadequate or oppressive.
Any further commentary on the topic of taxes should also address the moral problem of violently compelling individuals to pay for things which they do not even want. I have no noteworthy objections to paying for things I consume. My objection is principally that I’m obligated by law, under threat of violence, to pay for these things whether I want them or not, whether I plan to use them or not, and further that I’m compelled to purchase them at a monopoly price from an agency which precludes competition.
David, you seem to defend Prosper, which is another a government-granted patent monopoly.
See in the about page:
“Prosper’s marketplace platform is patent pending.”
There are (or were) a number of companies offering similar services prior to the SEC order, and almost every business model is “patent pending.” I’m not going to waste my time objecting to that, and even if I were, certainly you can recognize there is a substantial difference in the degree to which Prosper’s “monopoly” affects the market, and the degree to which the Government’s monopoly affects the same market.
That said, I did not mean to defend Prosper per se, reviewing my post, I’m still unsure how you’d arrive at that conclusion.
Mike Gogulski left a comment on The Dollar Standard Flooded the World with Funny Money:
People have burned banknotes in the past this way because that was the economic thing to do. Why is it that, having already seen this photo, tens of thousands or more do not run immediately to their neighbors ready to enlist in the revolution?
The photo to which Mike refers, was of a German woman feeding near-valueless Marks into a woodburning stove, in lieu of cords of wood, the latter being more valuable than the former.
Mike, I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer to your inquiry. The Germans literally watched their economy crumble, day-by-day, and give rise to a brutal, totalitarian regime, and they did nothing to stop it. Economic historians could point to a number of similar monetary calamities in the history of the world. Actions have predictable consequences; this is not uncharted territory. I think people prefer naivete to knowledge, especially in circumstances where knowledge is of things undesirable.
That is all for now.