Monday, November 14, 2011

Pragmatarianism examined

Xerographica keeps harping on the "pragmatarian" idea of still forcibly extracting "taxes" from people, but letting them choose which thugs shall receive the stolen property.

His idea is that in this way tax slaves would be able to reward government agencies for doing what they want done, and de-fund those they don't like. (Yes, this is a simplified synopsis.) In his view, this way, if the market is really better than government, government would fade away due to lack of funds.


Unless you are free to choose to send your "taxes" to a private enterprise instead of an "equivalent" government office, all the "tax" money will still end up going to government, and will be unavailable in the market. Unless I can fund the local militia instead of the Pentagon, how will my choice be honored?

Sure, I could send my "tax" money to the EPA instead of the Pentagon, but I can't choose an actual alternative to the Pentagon.

Considering this deeper: I don't want or need cops or the military. So, would any money I spend on guns, ammo, and training be subtracted from my coerced "tax" burden? After all, I am choosing to spend the protection money on the only one who really has any incentive to protect me and my family. Any money "taxed" from me is money I can't spend on my more personal defense.

If some government agencies end up completely unfunded and evaporate, that means the surviving agencies will be getting larger budgets. Agencies will always spend whatever is available. How will the total "tax" burden ever shrink? The pie will stay the same size (no, that is a lie. It will grow), but it will have fewer, larger, slices.

I'm sorry. I keep going back to this idea with the intention of finding some way to agree with it. I seriously want to like it. It seems so reasonable at first glance.

But the more I think about it the less I actually agree with it.

It's funny because this is the exact same idea I had when I was a teenager. I figured if I could pretend that every cent of the "taxes" I paid were sent to NASA (for example) I wouldn't feel so violated when paying. I could fund something I thought was doing a useful thing. (Yeah, I was terribly naive and didn't see what was really happening because of the government space monopoly.) I grew out of that notion fairly quickly as I learned and observed more.

I still can't make myself believe that theft is "better"- "less wrong"- when you can choose which thief gets the money, or that rape is "nicer" if you can choose your rapist.

I could, conditionally, support "pragmatarianism" as long as there were the option to opt out if you agree to use no government "services" [sic] unless you pay for them up front. But I would still consider those who funded government aggression and theft to be my enemy- guilty of violating the ZAP by sending others to use, or threaten, force against me.

*All government agencies named above are for illustrative purposes only. I have no intention of ever voluntarily sending any of them a cent.



  1. Kent, ah...nice.

    There's just got to be some value to deciding and seeing exactly where your taxes go. Millions and millions of taxpayers will want the most bang for their tax dollar right?

    I reasonably understand how markets work...but I don't think even the smartest economist alive could truly fathom the outcome of unleashing market forces on the public sector. Taxpayer's spending decisions in the private sector would determine their spending decisions in the public sector.

    Wouldn't the thought make the bureaucrats a bit nervous? Wouldn't government employees lose some of their complacency?

    What percentage of government organizations would be forced to hold fundraisers? What is the value of government organizations having to try and convince taxpayers of their value?

    What about historical precedent? Here's an interesting passage I found..

    "To guard against despotic royal rule, parliament sought to limit the kings’ powers to impose taxes so as to curtail their ability to maintain a standing army beyond times of war and immediate external threat" - The evolution of parliament’s power of the purse

    Can we guard against a despotic state by transferring the power of the purse to taxpayers? We can see that we no longer have to worry about "despotic royal rule".

    Regarding the idea of theft being better with choice. Would you consider taxes to be theft if you could spend your taxes on whatever you wanted...except for string cheese? How many goods could I limit you from purchasing with your taxes before you decided that your taxes were being stolen?

  2. Xerographica - There is "some value" to everything. But not enough to justify this. I don't think you're talking about the "most bang" for a tax dollar here, but just a positive emotional response from choosing where it goes. Some will undoubtedly value that; I do not. As I say, I did back during my teenage years, so that is how I know some people would value that.

    I agree when you say: "I don't think even the smartest economist alive could truly fathom the outcome of unleashing market forces on the public sector". For a few reasons.

    First of all, smart economists are not Keynesians.

    Second, no smart economist would really try to predict the exact outcome of anything this complex.

    Third, there is no such thing as a "public sector". That's where a lot of the problems with Keynesian economists originate: from that false premise. So obviously everything they conspire to do, based upon this foundational delusion, is wrong and results in disaster.

    You ask "Wouldn't the thought make the bureaucrats a bit nervous? Wouldn't government employees lose some of their complacency?"

    That isn't my goal. Liberty, and the absence of "legitimized" coercion, is my goal. I have no interest in revenge or making anyone nervous.

    How does it change anything but perceptions to claim you are "transferring the power of the purse to taxpayers"? How are you transferring anything when the "taxpayers" are still required to shell out the same amount? The minor aside of allowing them to choose how it is spent, as long as they don't get to spent it themselves, is just giving some of them the "warm fuzzies" without changing anything real. It just makes me think of being asked your preferences of what to do with your corpse after you die. Any "choice" is irrelevant (and you will never know for certain if your wishes were respected anyway- You'd be dead/governments all lie).

    You may not have to worry about "despotic royal rule", but despotic democratic rule is worse. And lots of your fellow "citizens" would gladly spend their "tax" money to violate you in some way. That doesn't make it right.

    Yes, I would still consider it theft if I were told, regarding MY money, that I could spend my "taxes" on whatever [I] wanted...except for string cheese". If I can afford the asking price, and I am not violating anyone else's rights by doing so, then no one has any say whatsoever on how I spend my money. To try to assert that false authority is to claim ownership over me or my property. That is theft.

  3. Kent, you're barking up the wrong tree. That's a link to my challenge to my favorite anarcho-capitalist...Stefan Molyneux. My challenge is in response to his video on Beautiful Freedom where he answers frequently asked questions on how a stateless society might work. Basically I ask Stefan whether the biggest obstacle to his World of Beautiful Freedom is people's "immorality" or their unfamiliarity with the concept of the invisible hand.

  4. I have to admit I don't understand what you mean when you say I am "barking up the wrong tree". I went to that link and read it all, but came away even more bewildered. I slept on it and went back again- no change.

    So, if you feel like it, please explain.

  5. You're too focused on the gun to see the motives. When my friend and I were jumped by some knife wielding thugs in Brazil we never stopped to ask them why they wanted our money. We just fought back and got away.

    Why does society think taxes are reasonable? Why do we have a holiday coming up where I'm socially coerced to give gifts based on either Santa Claus or Jesus? Neither have any meaning to me...but I'd be ostracized if I refused to comply.

    People would think it would be absurd if we all had to elect representatives to purchase Christmas gifts...but nobody thinks it's absurd that we elect representatives to purchase public goods. Public goods are just "gifts" for our country.

    When it comes to taxes...society believes that personal shoppers are necessary...but are they? Do we really need congress to purchase public goods for us? Or does congress only have this position because they stole the power of the purse from the king? Why did kings have this power in the first place? Because back in the day people believed that kings had divine authority. stealing the power from the king...demonstrated that kings do not have divine authority.

    So what then is the basis of congress's authority? There is no basis. Taxpayers believe that congress is necessary because they've always had personal shoppers for public goods. They have no idea that, just like with Christmas, they can allocate their taxes more efficiently than any personal shoppers ever could.

    You can never attain a stateless society if taxpayers aren't taught how the invisible hand works. They will always be able to resist your strongest moral arguments because their motivation has nothing to do with morals...and everything to do with believing that personal shoppers are necessary.

    Once taxpayers understand how they can allocate public goods more efficiently than congress...then you'll be in a much better position to try and can convince people that Tax Day is as immoral as Christmas. Personally, it's not something that I myself would do though because I have no idea whether socially coerced gift giving is the glue that holds society together.

    It's easy for me to understand the absurdity of electing personal shoppers for Christmas...but the concept of socially coerced gift giving is...well...too much for me to wrap my mind around. I'm sure that some anthropologists have studied it though.

  6. But there is no such thing as a "public good". All you are talking about is a tradition that says "the market can't provide this, so we must use the force of the government to provide it". But that's a lie, and the supposed "public goods" will change from place to place and over time, depending on what the local thieves/politicians want to steal your money for.

    It doesn't matter if I can convince the majority that taxation is theft. Calling it "taxation" doesn't change anything, just as murder would still be murder even if I re-named it "Happiation". I may still get stolen from- or murdered- but I will not lie and say it's OK, and I will never advocate that it be done to someone else.

    You may be thought of as a jerk if you refuse to buy Christmas gifts, but if you refuse to be stolen from, when The State is the thief, you will be kidnapped and/or murdered. I would gladly accept social stigma for refusing to "pay taxes", just as I would if I thought that exchanging Christmas gifts was wrong and refused to participate. Yet the thieves don't stop at social stigma (actually some of my favorite freedom-fighters were kidnapped for failing to "properly" pay the demanded "taxes"- so there is no social stigma where I am concerned).

    Let those who want a "personal shopper" use one. End the penalties for those who don't.

  7. I keep thinking, too, about your references to "the invisible hand". I don't think it really applies here. The "hand" is a glove, and what you think is a hand inside it is coercion and theft.

    There is no market where government is concerned. You have removed the "opt out" choice that is vital to any market. You can't force me to buy pizza and then claim that since I choose "Brand A" rather than "Brand X" that the invisible hand is at work. I don't want pizza, I want tacos. Your manipulation (which negates the market) is giving you false feedback.

  8. Don't get me wrong...I fully accept that every single "public good" can be provided by the private sector...either by for-profit or non-profit organizations.

    The obstacle to a stateless has to do with allocation disparities. What would the allocation disparity be between our current allocation of "public goods" and a pragmatarian allocation of "public goods"? What would the allocation disparity be between a pragmatarian allocation of "public goods" and an anarcho-capitalist allocation of "public goods"?

    Tell me about the disparities between the Callocation (current allocation), a Pallocation (pragmatarian allocation) and an Aallocation (anarcho-capitalist allocation).

    When it comes to Christmas your invisible hand in a glove concept is still applicable. Millions and millions of people would rather purchase things for themselves but society coerces them into purchasing gifts for other people. In a pragmatarian system millions and millions of taxpayers would prefer to spend their taxes on themselves but society would coerce them into purchasing gifts for our country.

    Is Christmas good for our economy? I have no idea. But I do know that the invisible hand within the glove produces an infinitely more efficient allocation than just the glove alone.

    One of my arguments for pragmatarianism is that if you wanted to take all the joy out of Christmas you'd force people to elect 535 personal shoppers to purchase gifts for everybody. Therefore, to put a whole hell of a lot of joy into taxes you'd just need to allow taxpayers to choose which "gifts" they purchase for our country. Would anybody purchase unnecessary war for our country?

    So in a pragmatarian system...taxes would be MORE efficiently allocated...the chances of unnecessary wars would be greatly reduced...and people would have more joy purchasing gifts for the country. Personally, I think this would be a good outcome...but it would probably make your "rights" argument even harder to sell.

    Like I mentioned in our very first discussion...I completely understand and appreciate the self-ownership concept. I try and respect it as much as possible...but even though from my perspective abortion violates the self-ownership principle...I'm still pro-choice for pragmatic reasons. There are exceptions to every doesn't make them bad just reflects that life isn't always black and white.

  9. There is no such thing as a "public good".

    You ask: "Would anybody purchase unnecessary war for our country?"

    Yes. There are a great number of people who get their only sense of self-worth by cheering for the "home team" in a war. And others who want to prove they are manly by going (on your dime) to some foreign country and murdering "insurgents" without consequence.

    Then you assert: "So in a pragmatarian system...taxes would be MORE efficiently allocated..."

    I'm not interested in evil being more efficient. That only prolongs the problem rather than striking at the root.

    As soon as you allow government to compete with the market, and often impose a monopoly by outlawing a market alternative, you have stepped away from any market or invisible hand. Government is cheating. It distorts the market to the point that, in that area, there is no longer a "market". The invisible hand is amputated.

    Then, back to your Zagmuk/Christmas gift analogy- It isn't a "gift" if you are forced to buy it. If you are shamed into buying it, it might still be a gift, but in that case you should be ashamed for falling for the social pressure to participate instead of standing your ground. In that case you still have no one to blame but yourself.

    I guess my question would be a two-parter:

    1- What is your ultimate goal?
    2- Will "pragmatiarianism" get you there?

    If the answer to the second question is "yes" or "I believe so" (regardless of what your ultimate goal may be), then by all means pursue your goal. I wouldn't stop you, even as you want to force me to comply against my will.

  10. The products and services of non-profit organizations could hardly be considered "private goods".

    If you get a chance, and haven't already done so, I would highly recommend reading Bastiat's essay on What is Seen and What is Not Seen. That and Hayek's essay on partial knowledge are easily two of my favorite essays. Bastiat is pretty fun to read while Hayek is basically saying that we all have some information but nobody has all the information...which is why planners will always fail at trying to allocate resources.

    I genuinely doubt that enough taxpayers would support unnecessary war to make a dent. This is because of Bastiat's opportunity cost concept. Unreasonable people might want unnecessary war...but would they sacrifice the other things they valued in order to fund war? Not very likely.

    I don't think I have an ultimate immediate goal is for people to at least debate the merits of pragmatarianism.

    If people voted for pragmatarianism it would be society forcing you to comply against your will. I'm not Rothbard...I would never push a button that implemented a system that I'm fairly certain is better than our current system. Just like I mentioned on my justification for government entry...I strongly agree with Milton Friedman when he said..."If we can't persuade the public that it's desirable to do these things, then we have no right to impose them even if we had the power to do it."

    Not sure if you're interested but quite a few of the members of the Ron Paul forums share your same views.

  11. "The products and services of non-profit organizations could hardly be considered 'private goods'."

    Why not? It is the organizers' choice to operate as a "non-profit", and doing so has a certain value for them and for those they seek to help. They don't force anyone to donate nor to accept their services. They can run the organization however they see fit. If the way they run it irritates anyone, those don't have to support the organization. They could even establish a competing organization.

    I don't place a lot of stock in what the libertarian elders had to say about things. I may go ahead and read those things, and I'd probably like them, but my life doesn't revolve around justifying libertarianism. It just is what it is, and I usually come up with similar ideas on my own from thinking things through. I guess the same could be said of the people on the Ron Paul forums. I don't really need anyone to agree with me, although when they don't I take it as a reminder to stop and check my premises and foundation. And many RP supporters think he would fix everything just by being elected. I don't share that particular view. Although I think the resultant circus might be fun to watch.

  12. "Besides, everyone will be the "free rider" at times."

    "Public goods" are the things that people can benefit from without paying for. As I said...all "public goods" can be provided for by the private sector...but "public goods" do exist irrespective of whether the public or private sector provides them.

    We differ in that I'm inclined to be open to the possibility that the free-rider problem could possibly present a significant challenge in an anarcho-capitalist society while you can argue against the possibility...but at the end of the day "losing" or "winning" that argument is completely irrelevant given that your strict adherence to full self-ownership trumps any potential negative outcomes to society as a whole.

    Therein lies the difficulty for consequentialists ("results") and deontologists ("rights") to find some common ground. No "results" based arguments I could ever make could dissuade you from your "rights" based arguments.

    Not that I'm biased or anything but I do think that pragmatarianism does offer some common ground. It would protect more "rights" and produce better "results" than the current system. It would increase our freedom by any definition of the word.

    Not a lot of stock in the ideological elders? For sure you can come up with a lot of the same ideas on your own...but forward progress is a matter of not reinventing the wheel. It's kind of hard to make progress without knowing where we stand.

    By no means are we the first to have a "rights" versus "results" discussion...but what if somebody has already managed to come up with an approach that both of us would be willing to accept? Like Hayek said...we all have some information but nobody has all the information. Buddha said the exact same thing which is where we get the idea of the blind men and the elephant.

    The more we can consider and appreciate other people's perspectives...the broader our own perspectives will be. We should want our own relative truth to converge with the absolute truth. That's the value of reasonable discussion with people whose perspectives only narrowly overlap with our own.

  13. ""Public goods" are the things that people can benefit from without paying for."

    So, a "public good" only exists as far as I'm concerned as long as none of my "tax" money went into paying for it? As soon as I chip in it is no longer a "public good"?

    Or- If someone takes me out to a restaurant, that meal becomes a "public good"?

    That doesn't really make sense.

    Do you mean it is a "public good" only if you don't pay for it voluntarily? But then that wouldn't make sense either since with "pragmatarianism" you'd be paying for the supposed "public goods" that you want.

    But you did say "can". I recently found a really nice knife buried in gravel at the park. I benefited from that knife and I didn't pay for it. Anyone who had dug in that spot "could" have benefited from finding it. Was it a "public good" before I found it?

    Yes, everyone WILL be a free rider at times. But those things they would benefit from in a free society would not be "public goods". The bridge that helps them get to where they want to be belongs to someone. It is not "public" even if the public can use it without paying. It is privately financed, owned, and maintained. No one is forced to pay for it. The owners could even bar someone from using it. But that would probably inconvenience them and those they want to allow across.

    Coercion is the gorilla in the room. You ignore him (or downplay his significance), I don't.

    There is no such thing as a "public good". There is voluntarily financed or coercively financed.

    You can imagine that you will get good results by violating some peoples rights sometimes. But you will not. No good can come of it in the long run. There will be unintended consequences as people try to defend themselves from your "pragmatic solution". People know what belongs to them, and they want to keep it from being stolen, even if subconsciously.

    Then again, you are using a contrived illustration when you claim "pragmatarianism" would lead to "better results" than the current system. And herpes leads to better results than rabies, but that is not to say either is better than good health.

    The problem I have with reading the "ideological elders" is that if I agree with what they say it is because I have already come to the same conclusion on my own. If I disagree it is because I have already had the same thought (or seen it presented elsewhere) and have discounted it for some reason (usually for inconsistency). If it is an idea I hadn't yet considered, I always will run into that idea somewhere else in a more distilled way at some point. Usually soon. My time is very limited. I can keep traveling the road already taken and well-marked, or I can explore on my own. Exploring on my own is much more satisfying to me, personally.

    I have considered your idea. Like I said before, I wanted to agree, since it is the same idea I had when I was a teenager. But I moved on.