Owning Labor

An idea I picked up from Stephan Kinsella is that you can't "own your labor," because labor is not an object that can be owned but a process, an act.

It's an act of laboring.

You can own wood, but not "chopping wood." You can own a house but not "building a house." It is senseless to speak of owning actions rather than owning things.

A Paradox

So, I'm re-reading my argument on serfdom just posted and thinking "Is this 100%?"

Then I think, "Only God is 100%." Call this proposition P. This proposition must be true, lest God be degraded unfittingly.

Is P itself 100%?

If it is, then there is something other than God that is 100%, namely, P, and P is false. If it is not, then it is not 100% definite that God is 100% which must again be false.

P is then neither 100% nor not 100%. Odd, isn't it?

Serfdom, 4

I wouldn't go so far as to argue that the interventionist measures pushed by so many American politicians "saved us from socialism." But the cynicism about the ability of a regular person to run his own life is undoubtedly a well-established feature of our zeitgeist.

Serfdom, 3

Reality is complex, and the proposed explanation is one strand in the fabric of human affairs.

Nevertheless, if I am correct, then it is up to the people to re-assert and prove themselves anew by wholeheartedly embracing the ideology of laissez-faire and its summary of liberty, private property, and peace.

The elites will give power back to the people when they are sure of the latter's competence. Everything from Social Security to the drug war will be thrown into the dustbin of history upon the people's resolution to build and live in a free society.

To make this happen, as Mises understood, "all reasonable men are called upon to familiarize themselves with the teachings of economics. This is, in our age, the primary civic duty."

The Source of Serfdom

Let me answer my own question: Why is tax serfdom a normal state of affairs in America and almost the entire world?

I believe the cause lies in the former popularity of socialism. The social elites -- by which I mean the genuine articles, the truly intelligent and good men -- saw with horror the socialist mass movements. The common men turned into fanatics and eagerly embraced doctrines that were bound to and in fact would disintegrate social cooperation. Socialist delusions penetrated into legislatures, councils, and all manner of popular assemblies.

As a result, the elites, realizing that global doom was at hand, declared bitterly the masses of common people to be incompetent. The masses could no longer be trusted with self-government, if their efforts were going to destroy society.

While the rest of the world regressed into a slave-owning socialism, in America things did not roll back to quite the same extent but rather merely to feudal serfdom.

The cause was realization by the social elites that the masses could no longer be allowed to govern themselves, lest they actually would create socialism -- and end the world as we knew it. The new feudalism came about as a result of a deliberate effort to take power away from the people and vest it into an elite that could at least preserve some vestiges of the market economy. It was a drastic and unjustified decision, but there it is.

Moreover, the elites themselves were far from perfect. The newfound power went into their heads and corrupted them. It is for that reason, I submit, that we had William Buckley favoring "the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy," and arguing that "we have got to accept Big Government for the duration -- for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged... except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."

Totalitarian bureaucracy that has now morphed into an abusive and shocking nanny state.

Cold War — Now in the Farce Stage

Is it really necessary to disrupt commerce to score political points?

Who loses but the consumers, which means everyone except the political class, and even them?

Will there be a turning point at which your government -- whether of America, EU, or Russia -- will be beyond such selfish, offensive, and dangerous behavior?

The Least Evil Tax System

I was able to come up with.


Explain to me why slavery is condemned in all quarters, but feudal tax serfdom is glorified as the cornerstone of our society?

No one argues that it was the duty of black people to work tirelessly for the benefit of their slave masters. Why, then, is our modern serfdom -- utterly incompatible with capitalism and free society -- considered to be a manifestation of one's alleged duty to pay his "fair share"?

It's like that quote from Monsters vs. Aliens: "In 1950, it was decided that Jane and Joe Public could not handle the truth... and should focus on more important things, like paying taxes." It's yet another pathetic and deeply reactionary justification for the tax regime: paternalism. The government is saving us from ourselves, it claims in its defense. This rationalization of exploitation is needed not by Jane and Joe Public but by bureaucrats and connected interests to suppress their own guilty feelings. In fact, of course, these alleged saviors are viciously and unjustly aggressing on us and retarding economic progress.

Jane and Joe Public are perfectly competent to search for their happiness without government interference; nay, they'd be far happier without the state at all.

Resurrection, 2

In the first part, I point out that before Jesus' mission was finished, souls of the dead slept in the Limbo. Upon His ascension, they were given new bodies, and anyone who died or will die thereafter is also instantly embodied upon death.

An illustration of one part of this understanding is found in 1 Sam 28, an episode with the witch of Endor who brought up the spirit of prophet Samuel for king Saul. She summoned a "ghostly figure" who looked like an "old man wearing a robe."

The old man was predictably cantankerous. But apparently for a reason; he says: "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" Then Samuel predicts a vast amount of gloom and doom for Saul.

I admit, there isn't much to go on with this exchange. From what was Samuel disturbed? From contemplating God while fully awake or from sleeping?

Well, a man who is perfectly happy would probably have enough self-esteem not to be as cruel to Saul as Samuel was. I say, therefore, that Samuel -- or rather his ghost, a being with will and intellect but no power -- was sleeping, and he did not appreciate being awakened, when it was not yet time for ghosts to come unto Jesus.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Say a commenter to the song:

The only good American march, ever. I've listened to plenty and they are BAD. It seems that the more oppressive the regime is, the better their music is.

Sounds about right. The Soviets, for example, had extremely stirring military marches.

The more evil the system, the more attention the ruling elite has to devote to making pretty its sacraments and symbols, to divert attention away from its crimes.

The Downed Plane, 2

Some lewrockwell.com articles (example) suggest that the atrocity is a conspiracy between the US and Ukraine to embarrass and weaken Russia.

I think, however, that for the two governments to do such a thing would be such a difficult and risky move as to be inadvisable from the point of view of their own (alleged) wicked self-interest.

If there is a lesson for American citizens here, it is that the mainstream media will do anything to divert attention away from the depredations of the US government and focus instead on the possible misdeeds of other states -- which need not really be any of their business.

But that Russia supplied the weapons and soldiers to the "separatists," whoever they really are, seems entirely plausible.

The Downed Plane

An associate expressed an opinion that the people fighting in Ukraine are "bandits."

However, the mainstream media by convention has consistently called these people "pro-Russian rebels / separatists." As long as we call them that, we suppose that they have a political agenda, namely, to separate something from something else, some x from some other y, and perhaps join the thereby separated x to some z.

It is entirely possible that among these separatists are mercenaries who fight solely for money and plunder. But only if we determine that "separatism" is a mere ideological cover and that the alleged separatists are in fact roving gangs of marauders who roam around eastern Ukraine stealing chickens from the local farmers, we must ascribe them a more coherent purpose.

It is, however, odd that mere bandits who by nature of this profession are usually blissfully unorganized have been able to convince so many journalists that they have political aspirations.

It is again the case that even if the fighters are exercising politics, their violent actions lack jus in bello and are even full of war crimes. The downed plane was, in my opinion, a mistake. But, indeed like bandits, they are committing unjust violent crimes.

It is possible that the conspiracy here reaches the very top. Suppose Putin wants to resurrect the Soviet Union as a some sort of (free market) Eurasian Union. He has financed these separatists to destabilize Ukraine, so that when it falls to chaos, he can send in troops as a rescuer on a humanitarian mission, all the time in fact intending to conquer the entire Ukraine and absorb it as the first step toward the formation of the Eurasian Union.

Dworkin on Pragmatism

Our author reasonably considers legal pragmatism to be "shocking." A pragmatic-minded judge "denies that past political decisions in themselves provide any justification for either using or withholding the state's coercive power. He finds the necessary justification for coercion in the justice or efficiency or some other contemporary virtue of the coercive decision itself, as and when it is made by judges, and he adds that consistency with any past legislative or judicial decision does not in principle contribute to the justice or virtue of any present one. If judges are guided by this advice, he believes, then unless they make great mistakes, the coercion they direct will make the community's future brighter, liberated from the dead hand of the past and the fetish of consistency for its own sake." (151)

It is obvious that pragmatism grants an enormous amount of power to judges vis-à-vis the legislative branch of the government, power that they cannot handle responsibly, and to such an extent that the legislature is rendered almost entirely ineffectual.

Again, a judge is wise (the 7th virtue) but his understanding (the 6th virtue) of society is woefully deficient when compared to that of a deliberative lawmaking body. As a result, judges are not qualified to "invent new rules for the future in accordance with their convictions about what is best for society as a whole." (159-60)

Of course, if we take a rather extreme anarcho-capitalist position that no positive law is just and that there should be no such thing as public legislatures at all, then judicial pragmatism becomes a natural fallback alternative.

Otherwise, pragmatism turns judges into veritable tyrants. And this is unfitting and indeed, shocking.

Conventionalism, 3

Dworkin calls the version of conventionalism outlined in the previous posts, "unilateralism." Unilateralism, he goes on, is in fact the prevailing doctrine in criminal law: "no one should be found guilty of a crime unless the statute or other piece of legislation establishing that crime is so clear that he must have known it his act was criminal, or would have known if had made any serious attempt to discover whether it was." (143)

He distinguishes (strict) conventionalism from unilateralism, because the latter allows and even insists that judges make brand-new law in hard cases rather than as I proposed in previous posts, simply rule for the defendant.

It seems to me, however, that even unilateralism allows lawmaking by the judicial branch, if it is limited to discovery and application of natural law, as suggested below. Expectations are still fully protected for the reason given.

But Dworkin may be mistaken in arguing that a judge "must do his best for the community as a whole." This point is, as seems to me at this page in the book as I am live blogging it, at the heart of Dworkin's vision, namely, that it is the task of judges to harmonize the law, make it coherent. I agree that if judges can or are qualified to harmonize the law as per the nature of their trade, then they most certainly ought to do just that. But can they? We shall see which arguments Dworkin will adduce next.

Conventionalism, 2

There is a way to square judicial lawmaking with the idea that "protected expectations" should be, well... protected. It is to say that judges legislate natural law and its consequences. One difference between natural and positive law is that natural law need not be promulgated, i.e., publicly announced by the authorities. It's already written on people's hearts; even children know that "you shall not steal."

That's not to say that discovering and applying natural law is trivial, for it takes wisdom to do so correctly, and I have already suggested that it is precisely wisdom that determines the quality of a judge; only that a single man can be up to the task. The legislature is a deliberative body, where a long conversation can be had about the utility of a particular positive law. The legislature can providentially care for the entire legal system, so balancing it as to nudge society toward the greatest good for the greatest number. A judge is a single man, yet individual natural laws are within his purview.

But it is the feature of natural law then that if one is in violation of it, then even if the law is not on the books, nevertheless, he should have known and obeyed it from the beginning. The "legislation" does not upset protected expectations, because the natural law has always been in force and should have been followed by the parties involved in the dispute as faithfully as any positive law requires. If one broke the natural law, then he is guilty even if the law has never been stated explicitly or promulgated.

This is unlike some government regulation which no individual could possibly have foreseen.

As for punishment, we can follow Rothbard and make it proportional to the crime.

Dworkin on Conventionalism

This is the idea that laws exist to guide behavior via threats of punishment and, when broken, authorize the use of state coercion and compulsion; there are social convention about who is authorized to make forward-oriented law and how; moreover, everything that the conventionally recognized authorities produce is law and nothing they do not produce is law.

Judges are then excused from lawmaking entirely. What, however, shall they do in hard cases?

In Elmer's case, there was no positive law that mandated that his inheritance be taken away from him. In this and other such cases, there is a simple conventionalist solution: always decide for the defendant. For whatever is not explicitly forbidden is permitted. If no law forbids Elmer to keep the loot, then Elmer is permitted to keep the loot. That's it.

Same with the McLoughlin case: if it is forbidden by an explicit law to cause emotional damage to a person in the specific circumstances of the case, then the wife is entitled to damages; if no such law is on the books, however, no damages should be awarded.

In the snail darter case, there were two laws that contradicted each other. In such cases, if there is a way to determine which law has precedence and ought to prevail, then it should be utilized. For example, a state law may nullify a federal law; or, on the contrary, a federal law may override a state law. A new statute always reliably overturns an old precedent. Etc., fine. If, however, no reasonable way of choosing between two contradictory laws exists, then a rational decision cannot be rendered, and the court should either refuse to decide at all, or again decide in favor of the defendant.

We might say that both laws cancel each other out and lose force. This is an unfortunate situation, as the people building the dam and the people seeking to protect the fish come to be at war with each other, with neither knowing whose will shall prevail. At that point, the appropriate legislature should be speedily convened and the contradiction resolved.

9/11 and Islam

The 9/11 attack was a political crime not a religious one.

Even if the perpetrators were Muslim, their religion provided them with spiritual aid and comfort, assuring them of the righteousness of their cause and promising them heavenly rewards, however absurd, like the 72 virgins or some such thing.

The motive for the crime, however, was political. The terrorists were avenging the victims of the US foreign policy. The motive was not religious; that is, they did not attack us because most Americans are Christians, and they wanted to spread Islam at the point of a gun.

Veil of Ignorance

It's been a while since I read Rawls, but the device of the veil of ignorance always struck me as attractive.

However, I think far different conclusions follow from this imagery than Rawls had discerned.

For while behind the veil, I do not control which person I shall be instantiated as, but I have complete control over the social order into which my soul will be poured.

But society, understood as all the other people collectively -- people other than the individual under consideration, is the most important means to that individual's own well-being.

Society uses me, but I use society, as well.

In this case, it does not matter who I'll become after leaving the veil: whether I am born rich or poor, healthy or sick, into a good family or country or dysfunctional one, I will still benefit from an efficient society surrounding me. Efficiency here may be understood as the speed at which the productivity of human labor increases with time.

The veil is a tool that helps us back away from any vested interests of ours and discuss pure ideology, i.e., the question "What sort of society do I want to live in, whoever I may be?"

I really think that the idea that one would want to be surrounded by a society which improves the standard of living of all of its members as fast as possible should be entirely uncontroversial.

It is at this point that we encounter ideological disagreement. Libertarians say that a laissez-faire economy would seem desirable to anyone behind the veil of ignorance. Others disagree and propose a Third Way or a welfare-warfare state as the most efficient. But at least our ends -- roughly, the greatest good for the greatest number -- are the same.

Judges and Law

Dworkin argues that sometimes, judges and lawyers argue about "what the law is."

My take on this is that in a complex society such as ours, there are numerous lawgivers and sources of law, as well as types of law. For example, there is natural law vs. positive law, tort / contract / criminal law, family law, nuisance law, law and economics, federal / state / local law, constitutional law, case law, government regulations, and others.

It may happen that some of these laws contradict each other. It may also happen that a certain lawgiver is not recognized as such in a case; his authority for whatever reason is questioned. Finally, judges themselves make or discover law.

As a result, (1) judges may disagree with each other as to what constitutes proper natural law; and (2) each lawgiver is supposed to integrate any law he promulgates into the totality of the legal system such as to keep it coherent, and this process is rife with difficulties.

These considerations entail that "What is law?" may be a non-trivial question for a judge deciding a particular case.

Viva la Revolución

Reading some of Jeff Tucker's stuff has got me wondering whether the digital revolution we are living through should be understood literally.

This revolution is as important as the classical liberal and American revolutions.

It is a new hope for humanity, a means to regeneration of a stagnant world grown dull and languid from government interference, a means whose importance we are only beginning to appreciate.