Utilitarianism and Rationality

Geoffrey Thomas wonders about utilitarianism: "... there is no obvious ground on which your valuings give me a reason for acting. Why should I value your valuings being satisfied? But utilitarian morality as a social institution requires us precisely to value one another's valuings in such a way as to promote the general welfare."

Well, Smith should value Jones' "valuings" if Smith happens to love Jones. Charity unites the wills, such that the lovers' spiritual hearts indwell in each other. As I write in my book, "It is a good piece of advice that if you love a friend, then give without further thought: the profit to the beloved is your profit. And if you are loved, then take without fearing that you will need to repay the favor: your profit is the profit of the lover, as well." (SAtK, I, 38)

But utilitarianism does not require love in order to be serviceable when rightly understood. It can work full well in a society of mutually disinterested persons.

Again, utilitarianism is a guide not to the individual citizen but to the legislator. Harmonizing an individual's search for his own profits with the welfare of society at large maximizes utility, so far as any reasonable calculation showcases. Let the laws be such that, on the one hand, no man is prevented from discovering and traveling to a position in which he can best serve society; and on the other hand, social cooperation serves each individual better and better with time. Enacting such a regime is then the task of a wise utilitarian.

There is perhaps a simpler way to think about it. In a big world where labor is scarcer than land, with moderate overall scarcity of gifts of nature, people produce and exchange their goods. But any economic exchange benefits both parties, whereas any political violent expropriation and confiscation necessarily harms one party. If we continue to disallow interpersonal utility comparisons (assumed by our mutual disinterestedness), then only the former unequivocally increases utility. Such society should be built that encourages production and mutually beneficial trade, in particular, laissez-faire capitalism.

Whether we are dealing with a small society (in which immoral behavior is immediately irrational) or large society (where the connection is less obvious if still solid), we let people worry about and pursue their own good rather than the impossible general welfare, and entrust this latter to the care of judges and lawmakers.

An Easy Ethical Puzzle

Geoffrey Thomas attributes the following argument to Thomas Nagel:

1) Any practical judgement assertable from a personal standpoint must be assertable, with the same content, from an impersonal standpoint.

In other words, all reasons are objective reasons since subjective reasons are assertable from an impersonal standpoint.

2) Practical judgments from a personal standpoint have motivational content.

3) Practical judgments from an impersonal standpoint have motivational content.

Suppose that I assert "I have a reason to eat a sandwich." That's a subjective judgment from my own personal point of view. It has "motivational content" because it indicates my desire to eat a sandwich. According to this, however, it follows that the proposition "Dmitry has a reason to each a sandwich," when expressed by some Smith, is true. But this, being a mere rephrasing of the original situation, must by that fact also have motivational content. As a result, just as I have a reason to act for my sake, so, Smith, too, has a reason to act for my sake, because my reason allegedly compels Smith.

In an attempt to reconcile "justice" and "self-interest" Nagel has muddied the waters considerably. For remember from previous posts that sandwich = X is a physical good to me if and only if I enjoy it and it ought to be. And it ought to be only if I have chosen it usually at the expense of less valued goods. Those other goods that I have set aside in order to obtain X ought not to be and so are not physical goods despite being loved.

But for a second party the situation is not the same. True, X is still loved or enjoyed by me. But the person choosing between X and other goods is now different. It is Smith. Smith has his own values scale which is different from mine. It may be that he values my happiness so much that he will assist me at obtaining X. But he does not have to act or choose this way. He may choose some Y such that it will be precisely X-for-me that will be set aside, ought not to be, and hence turn out not to be a physical good for Smith.

Nagel's error then is thinking that personal judgments and impersonal judgments will have identical "motivational content." But that need not be the case, and my choosing X does not entail that any other person is bound to servitude to me to bring about X.

In addition, individual interests often compete directly. If I and Smith are rival businessmen, then Smith may well be hoping that my plans to invent a better mousetrap will go awry. Smith then may actually be desiring that I fail to attain X.

So much for the "possibility of altruism."

Knowledge How?

There is no such thing as "knowledge how." The alleged knowledge how is the art or skill or ability successfully to execute a plan of action based on "knowledge that."

Knowledge that is acquired by study, experiment, and contemplation; "knowledge how," by training the body and practicing the maneuvers and tricks understood.

Knowledge that belongs to intellect; knowledge how, to power, and so should be called not "knowledge" but "power or mastery over body and environment."

Power is in way opposite to knowledge, because the execution of a human action is often precisely self-forgetful, in fact, free from inhibitions and hang-ups, as one loses himself in graceful and competent motions of his body and material objects.

Marx’s Confusion

Geoffrey Thomas, who believes he understands What Marx Really Meant™, argues as follows:

The material aspect of our lives is socially the determining factor, conditioning all social phenomena from the legal system through to moral and religious beliefs. ...

As the forms of production develop, particular patterns of ownership are established which create dominant and subordinate social classes. The dominant class at any given time tends, through its cultural grip, to select (not necessarily self-consciously) the legal arrangements, moral and religious beliefs, and so on, which are functional to its economic status.

Filth, FILTH! Thomas has things exactly backward. It is the fact that "murder is wrong" that causes tribal autarky + total war to be a bad system of social non-cooperation. As soon as this truth is realized, total war is replaced by a morally better system.

It is precisely that theft is wrong and taxation is theft that makes feudal serfdom an inferior economic system to capitalism. As soon as "the economists exploded the old [moral] tenets," as Mises puts it, that is, as soon as people grasped that their morals were defective, the resulting ideological revolution gave birth to laissez-faire capitalism.

Entrepreneurs, Mises goes on,

were paralyzed by the ideology that branded acquisitiveness as immoral and erected institutional barriers to check it.

The substitution of the laissez-faire philosophy for the doctrines that approved of the traditional system of restrictions removed these obstacles to material improvement and thus inaugurated the new age. (HA, 841)

Nowadays, capitalism is again under a serious attack from foolish people, and so we are threatened with social degeneration, if the false moral views gain ascendance.

Cardinal Virtues

They are not really virtues but powers of the soul or body. Let's call them cardinal powers or CPs.

There are 6 of them, mirroring the 6 temperaments:

CP Trinity Within Gender Trinity Part
1. love of friendship nature yin will
2. wisdom yang intellect
3. fear of the law virtue yin power
4. justice yang will
5. prudence narrow happiness yin intellect
6. courage / fortitude yang power

It's not the case that whichever CP is predominant in a person determines his temperament; on the contrary, temperament is set by the first power in the list above that is lacking in a person.

The nature CPs are responsible for ethical development or other-regarding virtues and interhuman relations; the virtue CPs produce particular self-regarding virtues and personality; the narrow happiness CPs assist man in seeking his own pleasures.

The Instability of Classical Rule Utilitarianism

The intuitive point is that a society in which everyone is a rule-utilitarian in the classical sense may be preferable to a society in which everyone is an act-utilitarian, but no individual has any control over the moral views of other people.

To illustrate, let's consider the formulaic "good" done by a person expressed in utils. To keep the analogy with the standard prisoner's dilemma, let us postulate a heavenly reward due to an individual proportional to the good he does.

Society is RU Society is AU
I am RU I) 5 III) 1
I am AU II) 10 IV) 2

Case I. If everyone is RU, with each person following the rules of common morality, things are fairly decent and happy, and I, along with everyone else, produce 5 utils of overall happiness and gain the same as the reward.

Case II. However, I can do still better in the same case, if I change my stance to AU. For everyone will still act predictably, yet I, assisted by superior cleverness in calculating the consequences of my actions and being unbound by secondary rules, will be able, through deft maneuvering and seizing opportunities to do good in surprising ways, to create (and hence earn) a greater amount of total happiness, in this case, 10.

Case III. If, however, everyone else is an AU, then my sticking to rules is highly unwise. If I stupidly and blindly abide by moral rules, while everybody is breaking them whenever they feel doing so yields better results, then the rules in my case cease to be utilitarian at all. They become a hindrance; obeying them may even lead to pain and suffering. 1 util is optimistic.

Case IV. If everyone, both me and everyone else, is an AU, in the resulting chaos, due to the unpredictability of everyone's behavior (in the realistic situation of bounded rationality), it will be hard to know what to do, though I am still in a better position than in the previous case. It's sink or swim; hopefully, I'll swim and do 2 utils worth of good.

We can now see that "I am AU" dominates "I am RU": II > I, and IV > III; that is, regardless of what society is like in its ethics (and I have no control over that), I can do more good and garner for myself a greater reward by being an act utilitarian.

But: every member of society thinks this way. Hence, everyone will end up an act utilitarian, and everyone will produce 2 utils of happiness, as opposed to the superior case of everyone's being a rule utilitarian and producing 5 utils.

Thus, a society of rule utilitarians is unstable and will inevitably devolve into a society of act utilitarians, losing overall happiness as a result. Utilitarianism then fails to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, contrary to its intent even in practice.

Lew the Un-PC

"After a blowback shooting," he writes, "when people complain that the government’s troops are kept unarmed, no one ever seems to ask why. The answer: the government fears its own troops."

This reminds me of Mises' analysis:

When liberal ideas began to spread to central and eastern Europe from their homeland in western Europe, the traditional powers -- the monarchy, the nobility, and the clergy -- trusting in the instruments of repression that were at their disposal, felt completely safe.

They did not consider it necessary to combat liberalism and the mentality of the Enlightenment with intellectual weapons. Suppression, persecution, and imprisonment of the malcontents seemed to them to be more serviceable. They boasted of the violent and coercive machinery of the army and the police.

Too late they realized with horror that the new ideology snatched these weapons from their hands by conquering the minds of officials and soldiers. ... They realized that it is foolish to rely on arms, since one can deploy armed men only if they are prepared to obey, and that the basis of all power and dominion is, in the last analysis, ideological. (Liberalism, 179-80)

Dictators of small countries, in particular, often indeed fear their own troops so much that they purposely undermine their own military to such an extent that they end up easily conquered by other states, such as neighboring nations.

3 Problems with Utilitarianism

They are: of knowledge, love, and power. The problem of knowledge has already been dealt with:

Act-utilitarianism suffers from the crushing objection that "total happiness" is spread over billions of people for a million years in the future. What do I know of such things?

The problem of love is as follows. In order to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number, I have to will or desire that good. But that good, though maximized overall, is imparted into individuals. I thereby will good to those individuals, which is the definition of love. Thus, utilitarianism requires me to love people; moreover not any specific person by mankind as a whole. What kind of love is that?

It is clear that even the most outgoing person will have only a few "dear friends" whom he loves with a full-bodied love of friendship. Everyone else is a stranger to him, capable of eliciting only general "disinterested benevolence." Again, what is the nature of this love? Consider Mises' understanding of the proper emotions of the economist: Subjectivism, he says

takes the ultimate ends chosen by acting man as data, it is entirely neutral with regard to them, and it refrains from passing any value judgments. ...

If Eudaemonism says happiness, if Utilitarianism and economics say utility, we must interpret these terms in a subjectivistic way as that which acting man aims at because it is desirable in his eyes. ...

At the same time it is in this subjectivism that the objectivity of our science lies. Because it is subjectivistic and takes the value judgments of acting man as ultimate data not open to any further critical examination, it is itself above all strife of parties and factions, it is indifferent to the conflicts of all schools of dogmatism and ethical doctrines, it is free from valuations and preconceived ideas and judgments, it is universally valid and absolutely and plainly human. (HA, 21-2)

In short, an economist and now any utilitarian in regard to an arbitrary stranger proclaim:

I will to you those goods that you will to yourself. Whatever it is you want, perhaps as long as it's not criminal or especially vicious, I also desire for you, and I even root for your success from a distance.

But when interpreted so broadly and innocuously, utilitarian love ceases to have any action-guiding clout or imperative. It devolves into "I enjoy watching people strive and seek their happiness; I cheer when they find it, and grieve when they, sometimes tragically, fail; but that is all part of the work and way of the world. For each good desired by a person, call him Smith, there is already someone, namely Smith, who is pursuing it single-mindedly. I have nothing to add to this; the greatest good is already being promoted without my assistance. The world works; all is well with it; I am content; though, like all others, I, too, seek my own happiness." If one is content, where is the motivation to thrust himself into action to start maximizing overall good?

Suppose now that I were for some reason motivated to promote greatest overall good. What exactly am I supposed to do according to utilitarianism? I mean, do I help people? To do their jobs, say? Do I approach a random janitor cleaning up in a corporate building after hours and say, "Hey dude, I want to help you vacuum the floor. I don't actually care about you, but helping you will promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and I am commanded to do this." Isn't this more than a little absurd?

More plausibly, I might need to do Catholic works of mercy: feed the hungry, visit the sick, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, etc. If utilitarianism demands that these be done unto utter exhaustion, then it is an awfully ambitious doctrine. No Catholic saint probably measured up to an ideal that rigorous. The fact then that there are no actual utilitarians in the world should give pause to those who advocate utilitarianism.

Further, regarding "helping," I cannot forsake my own life and become a tool of others who will use me, quite selfishly, to pursue their own aims. I am a man, not a robot or slave whose purpose it is to serve its owners. I cannot disappear as a person and turn myself into an appendage of other people. Imagine if everybody was this sort of a helper; then everyone would be an instrument for others; and no one would have a life or his own goals or interests. There would be no one whose goals could be furthered by help from others, because everyone would be just a helper to others. Utilitarianism seems self-refuting.

This is the problem of power. We can see that all 3 problems are rather severe and undermine classical utilitarianism. As I have suggested, utilitarianism rightly understood is defensible, however.

If Elected, Trump Will…

... boss people around, I guess.

Trump vs. Obama

He differs from Obama's "Yes, we can!" only by his own "Yes, I can!"

A Democratic State Is Still a State

I already blogged on one distinction between the American and British systems of government.

It seems, however, that unlimited law can only be prevented when the (semi-public) legislature is subject to (private) judiciary; and unlimited men can only be bound when the (public) executive branch is subject to both legislators and judges.

We are well aware of the dangers of arbitrary rule by bureaucrats; the dangers of rule of arbitrary law have not been emphasized as much.

Let's consider our ancient conception of liberty as essentially unlimited democracy with each voter holding an equal vote regarding the direction of the ship of state. Can we say that in that case "we are the government," as in "you are the government, and you, and you..."?

Well, as a result of all the debating, bribe taking, vote buying, logrolling, backstabbing, majority power, minorities' vocal complaining in our democratic we-all-coerce-each-other arena, there will emerge such a thing as democratic policy consensus, which is a distinct set of policies that the government, when the smoke clears, begins to implement.

Notice, however, that this consensus will be markedly different from and not reducible to the preferences of any single voter. No voter will get exactly what he wants; no voter is a tyrant, after all, but is one among millions or at least hundreds as a congressman, say.

If we say that the policy consensus is desired, then it cannot be desired by any voter, at least not in its entirety. Let us then call the organization that does desire to put or is intent upon putting the consensus into action, the state. The state will then want to carry out all the policies agreed upon, it will plan the course of action, and it will execute the plan. Our democratic decision-making process has been inevitably personalized.

The state then, even a democratic state, is something distinct from any voter or even legislator. It has -- not we have -- interests, and it sets out to promote them.

The state then rules, and "we are the government" becomes a false proposition, because no voter is government, and the government furthers the will and desires of itself, not of any voter. It is a separate from society or any individual organization or legal person.

The Strange Case of God’s Power

God's power over a person is absolute. He can send him to hell at any moment for any reason whatsoever. He can crush him like a bug anytime and at pleasure.

Man cannot fight against God, for God is almighty. He cannot outwit God, for God knows secret thoughts. He cannot appease God if God is self-sufficiently happy and has no need for worshippers.

Mises writes: "In a totalitarian hegemonic society the only freedom that is left to the individual, because it cannot be denied to him, is the freedom to commit suicide." (HA, 283)

But a man has no freedom to escape God by committing suicide, if God tells him that He will send his soul to hell for doing it.

Is God therefore like O'Brien in Orwell's 1984 who will torture a man until he "loves" God?

How can one live under such tyranny?

Well, there is a bit of theological judo that is useful here.

For man can surrender himself to God completely and say: "If you, O God, have such power over me, then I accept my complete dependence on your good graces. But with absolute power comes absolute responsibility. If you insist on total control and have all the threads of fate in your hands, then you need unerringly to take care of me."

Further, he can say: "You, God, are good, but if you hurt me or allowed me to be lost or condemned, then this would be a terrible evil. Your 3rd-level nature of goodness will corrupt, and you, too, will be destroyed. You can't allow that."

Moreover: "If you say that, as per your 3rd level of goodness, that even logic and reason are your creations, and my reasoning need not convince someone above logic, then, since your 2nd level of the Father-intellect, the Son-power, and the Holy Spirit-will is rational and cannot hold both p and ¬p as true, then your 2nd-level nature will corrupt, and all being will be destroyed utterly. Surely, you do not hate me so much that you'd be willing to destroy your -- infinite and eternal -- self just to do me in."

And: "I know that what you love, you set free, as you set me and all men free. I am responsible for myself 100%. But you are, through your ad extra omnipotence, responsible for me, too, and also 100%. A paradox of sorts, I am sure, but true when rightly understood, such as that it was up to you to create and guide a possible world in which I am saved, but it is up to me to save myself in the possible world that you created."

Finally, Christ who is God and, for example, pointed out that "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mt 26:53) still renounced all worldly power so much as to die at our hands horribly for our sake. Isn't this the exact opposite of the behavior of O'Brien?

Jesus on Hell

Jesus repeatedly and insistently warns us about hell:

"For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Mt 7:13-14)

"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire." (Mt 18:8)

"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Mt 13:41-42)

Why these terrifying announcements?

If hell is to serve its purpose of being the incentive that no one can fail to heed and correct his ways upon being exposed to it, that is, given that hell exists in order to deter anyone from actually going there, the threat of it must be widely promulgated and publicized to all concerned.

The people must be reminded of it time and time again. The point is not to paralyze folks with fear (though that can be an unhappy side effect), but to ensure that all are in fact saved.

I hope I am not sabotaging Jesus' stratagem, but regardless of this understanding, it is fully possible to go to (human) hell; it's just that in actual fact, hell is empty. But there is no limit to the suffering one can undergo before he decides by and for himself to wise up and sin no more.

Roads, 2

Note an important distinction between government properties and government bureaucrats: while one may, perversely perhaps, want diamond-encrusted city streets and, animated by this desire, tax his fellow citizens to satisfy it, one is unlikely ever to want diamond-encrusted cops and so significantly to overpay them.

Of course, overpaying local officials slightly can be a proactive tool against corruption...

So, Who Will Build the Roads?

The ancient idea of "liberty," understood as of more-or-less equal authority of each citizen to rule the entire community, applies perfectly well to government properties.

Now the question "Without government, who will maintain the roads?" is answered as "Whoever will own them after roads are privatized." This answer assumes that roads can be privatized, and I personally right now have nothing to offer on this key de-socialization problem.

So then, if roads cannot be privatized, and we still want them, then they have to remain owned by the state, and taxes will probably have to be levied for financing their upkeep.

Notice, however, that even here, the difficulty that the power to tax entails the power to go crazy in taxing rears its head. For the roads are owned by the state which is its own distinct organization with its own goals, and those goals can be anything.

For example, if the state considers roads to be useful only for letting its police and military easily to move from one place to another, say, to crush an incipient rebellion, then it can not only spend on the roads just enough to keep them barely serviceable (tanks don't really need roads, anyway), but ban private cars altogether.

On the other hand, if the state is so concerned with the prestige of public properties that it wants roads encrusted with diamonds, then instead of the commonplace 2% local income tax, it can levy a 98% tax (forgetting Laffer's curve for a moment) and starve the people.

We assume that the government will continue to consider efficiency of private traffic to be the overriding end of its road building and maintenance efforts, but that is not obvious.

If the local government is democratic, then each citizen has an equal voice regarding the fate of the roads. If Smith votes for normalcy, and Jones and Robinson vote for diamond streets, then Smith loses and starves, and that's the end of the story. Smith cannot object to his death on libertarian grounds. This outcome alone points toward the virtues of privatization, however it is accomplished in actual practice.

In the absence of concrete proposals for destroying the state, we can seek to weaken it as much as possible, such as by decentralization. Let no government bigger than that of a medium-sized city own roads. Then citizens can vote against crazy tax policies with their feet by moving away to a different local community.

Liberty, 2

Rothbard describes the ancient and primitive reasoning as follows:

The useful collective term "we" has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life.

If "we are the government," then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical but also "voluntary" on the part of the individual concerned.

If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that "we owe it to ourselves"; if the government conscripts a man, or throws him into jail for dissident opinion, then he is "doing it to himself" and, therefore, nothing untoward has occurred.

Under this reasoning, any Jews murdered by the Nazi government were not murdered; instead, they must have "committed suicide," since they were the government (which was democratically chosen), and, therefore, anything the government did to them was voluntary on their part.

If the fact of the Jews' having a vote in the government and some (though unfortunately for them not effective enough) influence as to "public policy" is sufficient to justify their murder by that government, then the ancient view of liberty is correct; otherwise, the modern view.

Thus, Socrates accepted the ancient (contemporary for him) idea of liberty, somewhat heroically, we might add, and did literally commit suicide upon being convicted; Aristotle must have been ahead of his time by fleeing Athens when he got into the same sort of trouble, explaining, "I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy."

Liberty, Ancient and Modern

Suppose Smith wants to kill Jones in a premeditated murder. If Smith's desire to kill is just as legitimate as Jones' desire not to be killed, then the best we can do is try to get Smith and Jones together and discuss and debate the utility of the murder in some "democratic arena." Whoever wins the debate gets to have his desires satisfied.

If, however, we say that Smith's desire is immoral and cannot be legitimately satisfied, then we ipso facto deny that it can be satisfied via the mediation of a state.

Thus, suppose the majority votes for a candidate that promises to murder Jones. If Jones objects, then he is told, impatiently and somewhat haughtily, that he had a voice in the government, a vote, and that the vote was duly recorded, such that none of his procedural rights were violated, and the "people have spoken," and a decision was democratically reached, and there is nothing more to be said about the matter.

In such a case, we are back into an ancient polis of the tyranny of unlimited law.

If, however, Jones can object by citing the impermissibility of murder according to natural law, then an appeal is made to the modern idea of liberty.

Tyranny of Law

In my book, I defend the necessity of the state by arguing that enforcement of laws and judicial verdicts must come from a monopoly power that is capable of crushing any individual. It may be objected: "When given the power to 'crush' a person, which man or gang of men has ever instead set him free, or at least abstained from crushing him? If the state has the Godlike power to destroy, what's to expect that it will be Godlike in goodness, too, so that it uses its power for good or more pertinently, not at all?" Well, I am not giving the state an arbitrary power to crush, but the public executive branch the power to inflict punishments in highly specific ways and according to law.

Suppose that Robinson is seeing Smith beating up Jones. He asks the crowd and finds out that Jones allegedly raped Smith's sister or robbed Smith of a lot of money. Rothbard argued that it is 100% permissible, if perhaps somewhat inefficient, for one to take law into one's own hands; and so if Smith has truth on his side, he can personally exact justice, and even seek help from Robinson. If Robinson says with contempt, "Thieves should be hanged," and himself kicks Jones in the stomach before walking away, he, too, is justified. But so then is the state in Robinson's position. Only the problem of financing the executive branch with its cops and prisons remains. If no other solution to pay the bureaucrats other than through taxation is found (and it is anarchists who need to suggest such a solution), then taxes for that purpose alone are justified as praxeologically necessary.

Who is to make law? Is law an arbitrary excretion of the legislature? Is it anything that is "passed" by 500 people in Congress? Ought it to be that no one's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session? I contend that the biggest political problem of our time is that the legislatures on every level feel unconstrained in their law-making authority. Unlimited law is almost as great of a disaster as unlimited men.

Now even if Congress thinks it can make any proclamation, no matter how absurd or obnoxious, law, it can still be advised, such as by an economist, that arbitrary laws have distinctly non-arbitrary consequences. A law is not a command but an incentive, and people tend to adapt and work around incentives sometimes in ways that stymie the intent of the law-makers. If Congress desires to secure the greatest good for the greatest number, then most of its laws fail to achieve this end and can be condemned on this ground alone.

But Rothbard objected that it is not an economist's job to predict the legislature's ends:

Let us for example assume... that the great majority of a society hate and revile redheads. Let us further assume that there are very few redheads in the society.

This large majority then decides that it would like very much to murder all redheads.

Here they are; the murder of redheads is high on the value-scales of the great majority of the public; there are few redheads so that there will be little loss in production on the market.

How can Mises rebut this proposed policy either as a praxeologist or as a utilitarian liberal? I submit that he cannot do so. (EoL, 213)

The only solution seems to be to point out that the murder of redheads is grossly immoral and cannot be legislated. I have supplied a proof of that earlier.

I'm not saying that judge-made codification of natural law is perfect, but that is only because judges can be extremely stupid and make mistakes, sometime gross ones, and moreover, the judicial branch, in order to do its job in any way decently, must be not only independent by entirely private, which it is not. But it's the only alternative.

Judges on my system are still part of the ruling class or government if you will, but they are not part of the state. In this sense, as law-discoverers whose judgments and precedents shape the legal system of a community, they "rule" or "govern" this community. But they are not on the payroll of the state, as employees of the executive branch are.

Public positive law is empirical, i.e., can be made when no a priori deduction of best law from considerations of human nature can be found, such as in a case where an externality can be resolved either way. But the state cannot even begin to calculate whether the benefits to the majority from genocide outweigh the costs of death to the minority of the murdered. It's not just that actual calculations will in fact come out against the mass murder; but that it is impermissible for a legislator or voter even to worry about such things.

Moreover, to agree that every public positive law (as opposed to private positive law, such as contracts, covenants, civil associations) is to be evaluated on its merits and thereby to enter the policy wonkish game is to concede defeat at the outset. Since taxation (perhaps for any purpose other than paying the actual employees of the executive branch on the local level) is theft, Congress has no lawful authority to lay taxes in the first place. It has no authority to outlaw alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or whatever. It has no authority to issue economic regulations. In short, it cannot in passing positive law contradict natural law.

Consider the implications of the opposite conclusion. If Congress has the right to tax, then it also has the right to determine how much to tax, and so it becomes its sole prerogative indeed to determine how much of a citizen's income to grab and how much to leave to the citizen. If Congress has the right to regulate, then it also has the corollary right to determine the exact balance between "pollution" and production, and how much to discourage the latter in order to diminish the former all the way to fully shutting down production and destroying civilization. Liberty in the modern sense, as liberty of an individual to be free from government interference, disappears and is replaced (if it is) with liberty in the ancient sense of equal share of every citizen in participation in communal government. But the latter "democratic" liberty is deeply inadequate.

It is inadequate precisely because it is not grounded in natural law rightly understood.


The intellectual battle of our age is laissez-faire capitalism vs. American-style feudalism.

The feudalist apologists no longer want to enslave us by convincing us that socialism is the most wonderful thing since total war, but they are eager to press the case that being entangled into a web of taxes, regulations, prohibitions, tariffs, subsidies, privileges, mandates is perfectly admirable and reasonable and it is a scandal even to think otherwise.

For an individual cannot rationally live freely. He must be saved from himself, and society must be saved from him.

An individual, unless a twisted criminal or lumpen-prole, is a danger to himself and others and must be wisely restrained. The government's paternal authority over the workers and the peasants concerns itself with everything; no aspect of production, consumption, and personal life itself is outside its purview. An individual is weak and sinful; the state who is appointed to watch over him lest he harms himself or others is perfectly prudent, unwavering in benevolence, and unflagging in execution of its master plans.

Surely, it is reasonable to pay taxes; abide by "law"; and honor your commander-in-chief. Who could possibly doubt that the People's Post Office faithfully serves the people? Or that anti-trust laws prevent powerful corporations from exploiting consumers? Our enemy is no longer the trivial idealism of the inevitable socialism regarding which you can't turn back the clock, but a vast number of highly detailed and technical arguments in favor of particular taxes, regulations, etc., all claiming one way or another that safety, security, health, morals, etc. of the people will be jeopardized if any given tax or regulation is not enacted into law immediately or, goodness forbid, is repealed.

Don't rock the boat; keep tilling the land and paying your just tribute to the authorities. You will not be harmed, for the most part, because you are a useful tax-paying asset to the state. Again, in its wisdom, the state will try not to tax you so much that the revenues to it actually decline, as per Laffer's curve. It respects the feudal "incentives." But the state and only the state shall decide how much to extract in taxes, and how much to leave to you, as it is also its sole prerogative to determine how to regulate, what to prohibit, etc.

Repost: “I Pay My Taxes”

Such is the cry of any "law-abiding" citizen especially in trouble. Why, the government should not ruin him or kill him, because, you see, he is useful to the state. Does not the government realize that he is a cash cow for it? It does not pay to the state to kill or imprison him, because that will reduce the flow of funds to it.

The problem is that picking someone to make an example of and frighten other "law-abiding citizens" can be quite useful to the state, as well. Being an honest taxpayer has never helped anyone.

In short, "I pay my taxes" is the motto of a conquered and surrendered sheep. Even "I cleverly manage my finances to pay as little overall tax as possible" is far more brave and manful.