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Stupid Things Libertarians Say IV: FREEEEEDOM!

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A brief digression on one popular Libertarian talking point. (By the way, when reading all official Libertarian talking points, it’s best if you imagine the speaker on a cliff, with the sun at their back and their hands on their hips. Season with swords, capes, and banners to taste.) This Libertarian talking point runs like this.

Sensible Person: “Gee, isn’t it nice that we don’t live in a country like Somalia?”

Libertarian: “The GOVERNMENT takes your HARD EARNED MONEY with GUNS! GUNS AND VIOLENCE! And they give it to BLACK PEOPLE who don’t want to WORK FOR THEIR FOOD. It’s robbery, they ROB YOU with their GUNS OF VIOLENCE AND THIEVERY!”

SP: “But taxes are the price we pay for civilization! They maintain our roads and water quality and other such good things.”

L: “Choosing which gangster to pay protection money to isn’t a “choice”. I don’t remember signing any sort of “social contract”.”*

*Actual quote from actual Libertarian.

Now, as a history major, I may be prejudiced towards my chosen discipline, but I can’t help but feel that a more through grounding in history would prevent some of this happy crappy bullshit. Let me spell it out for anyone who isn’t clear on the concept. There are two possible states for human existence. One of them is a mutually collective society of some sort, ruled by more or less rational rulers in some sort of more or less democratic procedure. The possible variations on this are nearly endless, but at its essence, you pay into the society in the form of taxes, and in return receive a peaceful, protected life. You have some degree of say over policies and power, ranging from referendum votes to republics. I.E. Your standard issue modern, civilized state. (Now available in BRAND NEW South American and African editions! Get ‘em before the CIA does!)

And yeah, when you don’t do you part, there are consequences. There are consequences in any group project when someone doesn’t do their part. Remember being in fourth grade doing group work, and there was always that one prick who let everyone else work, knowing full well that in your fourth grade minds, you’d rather do his work than go to the teacher and rat him out? Yeah, libertarians are the grown up versions of that prick.

Ok, but let’s say we did get rid of all that “social contract” bullshit. Well, see, that’s where things get tricky. Because you’ll still be paying taxes. But you’ll be paying a lot more of them. And instead of one centralized government who uses your money to benefit you and your fellow citizens, and does a million jobs to make your life easier (food, water, and drug testing, military etc. etc.) you get to pay your taxes to Warlord Joe. Who will take your hard earned wheat or gold, at a 99% tax rate (the 1% they leave you will be the stuff you’ve already eaten) , rape your wife (or possibly both of you, depending on the local availability of women and/or individual taste) and leave. They may come back the next week. Or they may be displaced by Warlord Steve, who will not care about your excuses that Warlord Joe took all your stuff and lit out for the coast, and will kill you. Hopefully before he rapes you and your wife again.

Now, this may sound flip. This may sound sarcastic. But for the vast majority of human history, this is how people lived. For vast stretches of the planet today (Congo, Somalia, anywhere else on this list) this is more than a historical analysis, this is the way life is. Incidentally, run down that list of failed states. You can pretty much find a direct correlation with level of government. Surprisingly, those places that have people in charge do better than places without people in charge.

As a historian, to listen to someone bitch about having to give up a fraction of their wealth to the greater society is like a biologist listening to someone complain about having to breathe oxygen. It is such a fundamental part of the way the world works that it never even occurred to me to question it. Simply put, with the exception of maybe, MAYBE ten thousand people throughout the entirety of human history (and that is the most inhumanly optimistic number I can come up with) everyone pays taxes. Nobles pay them to the king, the king pays them to the emperor, the emperor pays them to the church. A very few people have not. Genghis Khan didn’t. Hitler, Stalin, the Japanese, Roman and Chinese Emperors did’t. But for the most part everybody pays. (Kings included, or have you never heard the word Danegeld?)

The advent of a modern society is not the elimination of taxation. The founding fathers didn’t think so. They weren’t pissed about taxes, they were pissed that they had no say in how or when or on what they were taxed. Also, tariffs, limits on making rum, free trade and not liking extraneous U’s in words.

The advent of a modern society is that instead of being used to line the pockets of the elite…ok, LEGALLY being used to line the pockets of the elite, taxes work for the people. You pay something in, you get something out. And your taxes are not arbitrarily decided by a standard of “what you’ve got laying around when the men with the swords show up,” but based on your income, with both rich and poor equal under the law.

Essentially, given human nature, given the harsh realities of life, there is no “utopia where no one pays taxes and everyone has jobs.” There is a civilized society with some form of taxation, or there is cowering in your mud hut hoping that the Assyrians (or Babylonians, or French, or English or who the fuck ever) don’t think your stuff is even worth getting off their horses. But if they do, while you’re being violated in a pigsty by the first in a long line of lonely barbarians, you can comfort yourself with the thought that sooner or later someone will come up with the idea of a democratic government funded by reasonable taxes used for the improvement of the general welfare. In between the squealing like a pig, of course.

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Written by newscum

July 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm

15 Responses

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  1. This post just came into my mailbox, literally as I was wrapping up an essay about the subject I will address in this comment–if it weren’t for the cosmic coincidence of the thing I probably wouldn’t bother, but who knows, you might actually find this advice of value instead of either shrugging it off or getting defensive about it so what the heck. I should first say though that I’m enjoying reading this series (though I’d enjoy even more reading Atlas Shrugged Page By Page (hint hint!)), though I actually disagree with this particular analysis for reasons it’s probably pointless to write about here. But you wrote:

    ‘Warlord Joe. Who will take your hard earned wheat or gold, at a 99% tax rate (the 1% they leave you will be the stuff you’ve already eaten) , rape your wife (or possibly both of you, depending on the local availability of women and/or individual taste)’

    and later:

    ‘Hopefully before he rapes you and your wife again.’

    I’m female. Not only do I not have a wife, I’m not really in a position to get a wife, barring a) widespread marriage equality, b) becoming gay c) finding a gay woman to marry; considering all of which has already made me lose track of whatever point you were making in the first place. Your ‘you’ here is clearly male; are you interested only in male ‘yous’ or did you want to write this essay such that female ‘yous’ can follow along as well?

    Carolyn Dougherty

    July 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm

  2. Your point is well made. And I could defend this from a number of different directions; but after thinking about it, yeah. You’re right and I’m wrong on this one. My unconcious male privilege is showing, and I’ll work on that.

    Thanks for catching that, and thanks for the advice.

    newscum

    July 12, 2010 at 4:41 pm

  3. In that case I’m glad I took the time to point it out.

    Carolyn Dougherty

    July 12, 2010 at 6:24 pm

  4. it’s best if you imagine the speaker on a cliff, with the sun at their back

    Sadly, I can never manage to imagine this without then imagining them being pushed off the cliff and screaming ‘FFFRRRREEEEDDDDOOO –‘

    And I would have to slightly disagree with your 2-states hypothesis of history: I would have said there is a 3rd state: you get to BE Warlord Joe, living off others and enjoying the relative ease (with requisite paranoia about Warlord Steve* added to taste).

    Which, as far as I can tell, is where most/all of the Right Libertarians fantasise as their proper place in the Natural Order of Things.

    *and, Lieutenant Mary and Corporal Miguel, not to mention Warlords Tina and Wei Pei and …

    firefall

    July 12, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  5. aI would agree that while some people will be higher up on the totem pole, given my total number of “top of the totem pole” people: those who were never taxed (which is the Libertarian ideal) would only be .0000001% of the roughly 100 billion people who’ve ever lived.

    As for Warlord Joe, he is usually just as heavily taxed as anyone: either that or is being chased by the ruler of whatever kingdom he is in or near.

    newscum

    July 13, 2010 at 12:07 am

  6. You could argue that Communist societies were essentially very bureaucratized forms of Warlord Joe coming and taking your stuff, because if you look at the lifestyles Brezhnev, for example, led, it was pretty obvious who was grabbing the lion’s share of the wealth of the country that generated it.

    North Korea is just the 21st century version thereof.

    But that’s tangential. It is definitely true that Libertarians just don’t understand the basic consequences of letting everybody have a gun and make all life about a free-for-all scramble to see who gets the most.

    Helluva lot of collateral damage that way, and the world that ensues will most assuredly NOT be like the fantasyland of the Probability Broach. Even if the minarchist variant were to come into play.

    A weak government is one that can’t effectively exert what authority it’s been entrusted with. This flaw was exposed in the P.B. comic, actually, where the “EBIL HAMILTONIAN” guffaws about his plan to do as he pleases because he’s not initiating force.

    And the President, instead of answering with a “hell no, principles of our minarchist land be damned!” gives in and calls for a vote to adjourn.

    Ironically, it takes the statist-educated cop from the other Earth to initiate a duel that ends with him offing his former superior officer, thus ending the logjam of impotent inability to counter the imminent invasion.

    apocalypsereview

    July 14, 2010 at 3:55 am

  7. like a biologist listening to someone complain about having to breathe oxygen

    But, but, but… oxygen causes cancer!

    Simply put, with the exception of maybe, MAYBE ten thousand people throughout the entirety of human history […] everyone pays taxes.

    Now I’m wondering. I remember reading in an obscure hungarian book that French nobility did not pay taxes before the revolution, do you know anything about that? And I *really* have to find out if Hitler paid taxes. I’d have expected the answer to be yes.

    inge

    July 15, 2010 at 1:58 pm

  8. Nitpick: Oxygen-containing free radicals cause cancer. 😀

    As for Hitler paying taxes? I LOLed. Apparently he did file the usual returns during the Weimar years (and he got pretty creative with his excuses when asked why he didn’t have much of an income for the kind of political publicity he got) but I have no clue if he managed to get himself exempted when he became Chancellor and later Fuehrer.

    apocalypsereview

    July 15, 2010 at 6:13 pm

  9. The French nobility were ‘officially’ exempt from one set of taxes, only. They were still subject to several others (CBA looking up the names, but I think they were exempt from the land tax, but still paid the Gabelle, and various impost/transport taxes).

    Plus, of course, having to purchase their titles of nobility which is pretty much a tax (altho officially and technically a loan to the government which would never get repaid)

    firefall

    July 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

  10. Even the nobility in most European countries had to pay tax to the church, in the form of Peter’s Pence. Some countries, like Spain, managed to get creative and claim for themselves the right to collect the tax on behalf of the church (of course, the money never actually reached Rome).

    Steve

    April 1, 2011 at 6:26 pm

  11. http://mindandmarket.blogspot.com/2011/09/social-contract-fallacy.html

    Read this… I don’t think it worthwhile to debunk this myself.

    urban

    October 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

  12. “Now, this may sound flip. This may sound sarcastic. But for the vast majority of human history, this is how people lived. For vast stretches of the planet today (Congo, Somalia, anywhere else on this list) this is more than a historical analysis, this is the way life is. Incidentally, run down that list of failed states. You can pretty much find a direct correlation with level of government. Surprisingly, those places that have people in charge do better than places without people in charge.”

    Here you argue against anarchy and not the free market. And there is absolutely no reason defence, courts and the police couldn’t be voluntarily funded.

    “As a historian, to listen to someone bitch about having to give up a fraction of their wealth to the greater society is like a biologist listening to someone complain about having to breathe oxygen. It is such a fundamental part of the way the world works that it never even occurred to me to question it. Simply put, with the exception of maybe, MAYBE ten thousand people throughout the entirety of human history (and that is the most inhumanly optimistic number I can come up with) everyone pays taxes. Nobles pay them to the king, the king pays them to the emperor, the emperor pays them to the church. A very few people have not. Genghis Khan didn’t. Hitler, Stalin, the Japanese, Roman and Chinese Emperors did’t. But for the most part everybody pays. (Kings included, or have you never heard the word Danegeld?)”

    So what? People used to not have cars… what does that prove?

    “The advent of a modern society is not the elimination of taxation. The founding fathers didn’t think so. They weren’t pissed about taxes, they were pissed that they had no say in how or when or on what they were taxed. Also, tariffs, limits on making rum, free trade and not liking extraneous U’s in words.”

    That was their mistake! But notice that the taxes were LOWER and that state was weaker and the country prospered as a result.

    “The advent of a modern society is that instead of being used to line the pockets of the elite…ok, LEGALLY being used to line the pockets of the elite, taxes work for the people. You pay something in, you get something out. And your taxes are not arbitrarily decided by a standard of “what you’ve got laying around when the men with the swords show up,””

    You get lower quality than you would have got if it was the product of the free market since the state has an artificial monopoly on all its services.

    “but based on your income, with both rich and poor equal under the law.”

    Sure they’re both equal under the law but the rich (the able and the more productive) pay the biggest share to a state that they use the least

    “Essentially, given human nature, given the harsh realities of life, there is no “utopia where no one pays taxes and everyone has jobs.” There is a civilized society with some form of taxation, or there is cowering in your mud hut hoping that the Assyrians (or Babylonians, or French, or English or who the fuck ever) don’t think your stuff is even worth getting off their horses. But if they do, while you’re being violated in a pigsty by the first in a long line of lonely barbarians, you can comfort yourself with the thought that sooner or later someone will come up with the idea of a democratic government funded by reasonable taxes used for the improvement of the general welfare. In between the squealing like a pig, of course.”

    This argument isn’t even in the realm of cognition so to speak…

    You’re an idiot…

    urban

    October 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm

  13. Hey. *poke*

    Moar Rand-sporking? 😀

    apocalypsereview

    October 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm

  14. Just stumbled on this series and your blog. I was actually thinking of writing blog posts dubunking the utter stupidity of libertarian ideas and I wanted to see if anyone else had already done it better than me. Good job! I especially liked the earlier one…one of my main points is that this whole idea that regulations are just awful is just incredibly inconceivably STUPID! It’s not like regulations are just made up to piss of people and make the economy run badly. They come about AFTER some company got some people killed because they were in too much of a hurry to make $ to worry about not killing people (or giving them cancer, or having child labor, or 7 days a week 12 hour day workweeks, all the other stuff that was happened back when the industrial revolution was happening).

    And then there is their argument that, oh well, if a company does something wrong it will be regulated by the marketplace. Except that first they have to do something wrong, ie. hurt someone and probably many someones before the “marketplace” realizes they have. Oh yeah, but at that point we won’t have any other options because, in a pure free market, companies tend to just conglomerate and then there is no competition. But that’s another part of the history lessons that the libertarians chose to ignore.

    Not sure if this is a topic of interest to you, but I want to write about how, biologically, your ability to succeed in life is affected strongly by your early childhood brain development, which can be severely stunted if you are not fed properly and given enough stimulation (and a safe environment, loving family, etc) to get those brain pathways going. If you start talking about unearned privileges, the WASPies get all mad and think they are more discriminated against because they are white (yeah, sure, whatever). But if you actually look inside of the brain of a kid who grew up in a nice middle class home and compare it to a kid growing up in poverty, there are differences due to the environment. I just get so fracking sick of these idiotic egotistical jerk offs who say “I earned this $ working hard so I deserve to keep all of it”. Yes, well, you are lucky that you never had to compete with the large percentage of kids who actually had the universe transpiring to make their life suck from birth. It’s a miracle that ANYONE who starts from a poverty-stricken situation could ever make it. And that is called LUCK not just hard work. But libertarians don’t believe that any part of the universe is irrational, so if they got born into a high SES family it must mean they deserve it.

    Anyways, nice series.

    Steph

    November 18, 2011 at 5:52 am

  15. Your logical fallacy is…. Straw man. Thanks for playing.

    Josh

    July 30, 2014 at 12:20 am


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