Saturday, November 17, 2018

Confiscation of Your $10,000 Robs You of Another Value Alongside the $10,000

Stuart K. Hayashi


Some readers consider my essay “Freedom From Force: The Most Basic of Human Needs” to be rather daunting in terms of length. For that reason, I have decided to adapt some excerpts of it to form the shorter essay below.



Illustration of a mugging by Landon
for the Tacoma Times,
June 7, 1904.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Thought Experiment: Is a Mugging Still Horrible Even If a Tiny Amount Is Stolen?
A major misconception about those of us who object morally to compulsory taxation is that our objection mostly just comes from a dearth of generosity in our hearts. When we cross paths with a woman who resents having to turn over 10,000 U.S. dollars in taxes, much of the population is wont to assume that she feels as she does solely because she wouldn’t spare a penny to anyone else if not for the law compelling her to do so. Such an assumption reveals a grave misunderstanding. We take umbrage with compulsory taxation for a reason that goes beyond the monetary units being confiscated.

Imagine you are out running some errands. You are approached by a man brandishing a baseball bat. He informs you he is packing a gun as well. Then he demands you hand him ten cents, or else he will strike you on the head with the bat, drive your unconscious body to his residence in his car, and then dump your still-unconscious body in his basement. He expects that you will wake up in that same basement, where he will confine you for at least a few months. Yet, to prevent the mugger from doing this, you must do nothing more than discharge a ransom of ten cents? Just ten cents. You toss a dime to the mugger and he is off.

In that scenario, was the ten cents the only value you lost? No. Had you parted with nothing but the ten cents, this incident would be but a tiny inconvenience. It is disturbing exactly on account of your being robbed of something other than the dime. Prior to this mugging, you were relatively at liberty to go about your normal daily affairs peaceably without your person or belongings being violated. When a man approaches you and warns that he will subject you to bodily restraint if you do not relinquish control over your belongings to him, that ultimatum deprives you of such liberty. Even if the event did not traumatize you — even if it does not discourage you from future productivity or motivate you to change your behavior — that was an imposition that never should have commenced.

As Meghann Ribbens has encapsulated the situation to me,

The initiation of force is worse than the sum of the physical trauma, financial hardship, time lost and fear/outrage endured in the moment. The extent to which you are forced to act against your own judgment is the extent to which you are treated, not as a rational human being, but as an object.


That is what bothers the woman who is flustered by having to give up $10,000 to the IRS. The false assumption is that her mourning is exclusively over the $10,000 — every penny of that sum and no more. No. She may be unable to articulate the words for it, but, on some visceral level, she comprehends that along with the $10,000, she was divested of a still scarcer value. This principle frequently goes over the head of those who ridicule us as we lament the nature of compulsory taxation, as if it is nothing but the monetary units that we wish to keep. But more than the monetary units themselves, what has been violated is the freedom to create such economic value and secure it for our own peaceable purposes.

When the tax collector threatens to punish you if you do not cough up your cash, that is ultimately the same ultimatum that the mugger delivered. The one fundamental distinction between the government and the civilian sector is that the government is authorized, at least tacitly, by most of society’s members to exercise and threaten the use of physical force against persons who defy its will or its rules. When one private citizen enacts or threatens force on another, that citizen’s exercise of force is properly identified as a crime, and it is correct for the government to retaliate against that citizen in kind. By contrast, not only is the government authorized to exercise or threaten force to have its will sated, but for the government to threaten force against those who break its rules — and to carry out such force on the rule-breakers — is for the government to fulfill its very mission, to do the very job for which it exists. But when extortion is performed by the State instead of a random mugger, that does not render the extortion to be morally permissible.



The Value of Laissez-Faire Political Freedom Being Shamefully Absent From Economists’ Models
According to economists, the most direct measure of wealth is what they call utility. It refers to the value that a good or services adds to your life and ultimate happiness. Because utility cannot be quantified directly, monetary units are often a convenient proxy whereby economists measure utility. Economists can discern the extent to which you derive more utility from Product/Service 1 than you do Product/Service 2 by observing how many more monetary units you are willing to exchange for Product/Service 1 than you are for 2 . . . or by looking at how many more hours you are willing to put in at your employment to obtain Product/Service 1 than you are for 2.

I bring this up because economists who are partial toward the regulatory-entitlement state — they call themselves economists in the “neoclassical” or “Keynesian” tradition — properly observe the importance of utility while improperly ignoring the point I made in this essay’s opening, the point about extortion stealing more from a victim than the object that is retrieved. In order to rationalize their policy proposals, these ideologically Progressive economists will construct a model that purports to demonstrate that if the State initiates the use of force upon Party 2, so that it may advantage Party 1 at Party 2’s expense, it will result in a net gain in utility for society as a whole.

I told several Ph.D. economists my concern that if a dime is forcibly removed from Party 1 and given to Party 2, Party 1 was robbed of a value beyond the ten cents: the freedom to go about peaceably without being subjected to the initiation of the use of force. I asked those Ph.D. economists whether they knew of any economic models that incorporated the fact that such freedom is itself a form of utility, and that when a dime is forcibly taken from Party 1 by the State, that is itself a reduction in utility for Party 1 that had existed independently of the dime itself. Those economists replied to me that they do not know of any economic models taking that issue into account. Well, inasmuch as economic models overlook this factor, that needs to change.



Conclusion: What Would Be Stolen Besides the $39 Billion
Now I will present one final thought experiment. Suppose there is a man named Bizzy who holds a net worth of 40 billion U.S. dollars, and a self-appointed busybody in the government, Ellie, somehow gained the authority to make the following threat to Bizzy: armed federal agents will drag Bizzy to prison, and sentence him to it for at least ten years, if he does not liquidate his entire estate and provide 39 billion dollars’ worth of the proceeds to the government for redistribution to the lower classes. After the sale, Bizzy can still hold onto the remaining one billion dollars. This measure, Ellie promulgates, will do much to tend to the human needs of the poor and the sick.

If you feel any ethical qualms about such a threat being leveled upon Bizzy, it is worth ruminating on the basis for such reservations. After all, once this procedure plays out, Bizzy will still get to keep one billion U.S. dollars.

A libertarian who only cares about utilitarian economics — about which public policies can produce the greatest net happiness for the greatest number of people — might protest that if this Ellie issues this threat to Bizzy, it will crush the incentives of would-be entrepreneurs everywhere to put their innovative goods and services on the market. I think such a complaint would be really silly. A multimillionaire arrives at a point where each additional dollar he accrues will supply him less utility than did the dollar that preceded it. In terms of how a wealthy individual may indulge himself, there isn’t much that Bizzy can do with $40 billion that he cannot do with one billion.

I think that the proper grievance is that if Ellie issues this threat and Bizzy acquiesces to her demand, Bizzy will be robbed of something alongside the $39 billion: the freedom to go about exercising one’s own judgment peaceably without having been violently threatened. And that freedom, of which Ellie is denying Bizzy in this instance, is a human need more basic than the human needs that Ellie purports to be satisfying as she indisposes Bizzy.

That is what I want the partisans of the regulatory-entitlement state to understand: when someone resents $10,000 being taken from her in taxes, it is not a matter of her being stingy and mourning every last cent of the $10,000; what she mourns is that, aside from the $10,000, she was also robbed of her freedom against violent threats, an incalculably greater value.






Shortened quotation of Meghann Ribben for Twitter. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Freedom From Force: The Most Basic of Human Needs


Without Which, No Other Human Needs Can Be Satisfied Adequately


Stuart K. Hayashi


Illustration of a mugging by Landon
for the Tacoma Times,
June 7, 1904.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
A major misconception about those of us who object morally to compulsory taxation is that our objection mostly just comes from a dearth of generosity in our hearts. When we cross paths with a woman who resents having to turn over 10,000 U.S. dollars in taxes, much of the population is wont to assume that she feels as she does solely because she wouldn’t spare a penny to anyone else if not for the law compelling her to do so. Such an assumption reveals a grave misunderstanding. We take umbrage with compulsory taxation for a reason that goes beyond the monetary units being confiscated.

Imagine you are out running some errands. You are approached by a man brandishing a baseball bat. He informs you he is packing a gun as well.  Then he demands you hand him ten cents, or else he will strike you on the head with the bat, drive your unconscious body to his residence in his car, and then dump your still-unconscious body in his basement. He expects that you will wake up in that same basement, where he will confine you for at least a few months. Yet, to prevent the mugger from doing this, you must do nothing more than discharge a ransom of ten cents? Just ten cents. You toss a dime to the mugger and he is off.

In that scenario, was the ten cents the only value you lost? No. Had you parted with nothing but the ten cents, this incident would be but a tiny inconvenience. It is disturbing exactly on account of your being robbed of something other than the dime. Prior to this mugging, you were relatively at liberty to go about your normal daily affairs peaceably without your person or belongings being violated. When a man approaches you and warns that he will subject you to bodily restraint if you do not relinquish control over your belongings to him, that ultimatum deprives you of such liberty. Even if the event did not traumatize you — even if it does not discourage you from future productivity or motivate you to change your behavior — that was an imposition that never should have commenced.

As Meghann Ribbens has encapsulated the situation to me,

The initiation of force is worse than the sum of the physical trauma, financial hardship, time lost and fear/outrage endured in the moment. The extent to which you are forced to act against your own judgment is the extent to which you are treated, not as a rational human being, but as an object.


That is what bothers the woman who is flustered by having to give up $10,000 to the IRS. The false assumption is that her mourning is exclusively over the $10,000 — every penny of that sum and no more. No. She may be unable to articulate the words for it, but, on some visceral level, she comprehends that along with the $10,000, she was divested of a still scarcer value. This principle frequently goes over the head of those who ridicule us as we lament the nature of compulsory taxation, as if it is nothing but the monetary units that we wish to keep. But more than the monetary units themselves, what has been violated is the freedom to create such economic value and secure it for our own peaceable purposes.

When the tax collector threatens to punish you if you do not cough up your cash, that is ultimately the same ultimatum that the mugger delivered. The one fundamental distinction between the government and the civilian sector is that the government is authorized, at least tacitly, by most of society’s members to exercise and threaten the use of physical force against persons who defy its will or its rules. When one private citizen enacts or threatens force on another, that citizen’s exercise of force is properly identified as a crime, and it is correct for the government to retaliate against that citizen in kind. By contrast, not only is the government authorized to exercise or threaten force to have its will sated, but for the government to threaten force against those who break its rules — and to carry out such force on the rule-breakers — is for the government to fulfill its very mission, to do the very job for which it exists.



Government As Force
Insofar as it is enforced, an ordinance or statute is backed by a gun. That goes for minor infractions for which the initial punishment is a small fine. The fine might be a civil penalty, not a criminal penalty, and it would not appear on one’s adult criminal record. Yet if the fine goes unpaid at length, the scofflaw is officially In Criminal Contempt of Court, and that is recognized as a criminal charge under the law. Should the scofflaw evade punishment for being in criminal contempt of court, the State is to dispatch armed men to apprehend him. Should the scofflaw resist, the police are to escalate the extent to which they must apply physical restraint. TASERs used in this process have killed some suspects. Should the tensions get especially severe, the offender might be shot with a gun.

This is the context behind most police shootings, racism-influenced or otherwise. Hence, laws that begin with the most minor recriminations for offenders are ultimately backed by the threat of lethal force if resistance to the initial penalty is carried that far. Yale Law School instructor Stephen L. Carter understands this as well. Consequently, in the Bloomberg View he writes, “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. . . . I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t.”

 In The Atlantic magazine, Carter follows up by admitting that his law students usually do not approve of his refrain: “They are suitably astonished, and often annoyed.” Carter then goes on to elaborate that if a scofflaw does not redress a civil fine slapped on him, “the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.” As Carter goes on, “Law professors and lawyers instinctively shy away from considering the problem of law’s violence. Every law is violent. We try not to think about this, but we should. . . . Behind every exercise of law stands the sheriff — or the SWAT team — or if necessary the National Guard.” Indeed, “making an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it.”

In the Washington Post, law professor Ilya Somin affirms the sagacity of Carter’s observation: “Don’t support” a law unless you are willing to accept the possibility that the lawbreaker may be killed in the enforcement of it.

Laws against private citizens initiating the use of force upon other persons or their belongings — such as physical beatings, poisoning, rape, murder, theft, property damage, and contract breach, among other instances — are legitimate. Such laws are instances of the government issuing retaliatory force against the party that started the force. The same principle extends to our armed forces repelling strikes from another military. Yet when a government enacts and enforces an ordinance or statute over what nonviolent, consenting adults may do with one another and their own belongings, that is a different matter — that is a government initiating the use of force upon people to punish their nonviolent acts.

Stephen L. Carter thus warns us,
This is by no means an argument against having laws. 
It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. . . . 
The statute or regulation we like best carries the same risk that some violator will die at the hands of a law enforcement officer who will go too far. And whether that officer acts out of overzealousness, recklessness, or simply the need to make a fast choice to do the job right, the violence inherent in law will be on display. This seems to me the fundamental problem that none of us who do law for a living want to face.

But all of us should.





The Invisible Gun
Since most of their favorite laws are over nonviolent actions, many people exhibit their reluctance to confront this reality. There is a rightwing Canadian public commentator, whose works I do not endorse, who claims that he is concerned someday his political rhetoric might be classified as “hate speech.” That is a hazard, he adds, because if Canadian law makes that classification, he could ultimately go to prison over his rhetoric when he has not been violent toward anyone.

Retired psychology professor Bernard Schiff writes that he thought he would assuage the rightwing commentator’s angst by assuring him “at worst, he could be fined.” Then the rightwing commentator “told me if he refused to pay the fine he could go to jail.” To that, Schiff replies, “That is not the same as being jailed for what you say...”

My friends and I have heard other people resort to that same pedantic and false distinction: if you are fined for disobeying Statute X and decline to pay the fine, and then you are imprisoned for being In Criminal Contempt of Court, that incarceration should not be considered a final, indirect punishment for disobeying Statute X itself. That is, if your detention for being In Criminal Contempt of Court seems severe, the statute under which you were initially reprimanded, Statute X, is still “innocent” of having thrown that severity upon you; Statute X’s “hands” remain “clean.”

That is specious. If you are incarcerated for being In Criminal Contempt of Court, of course that is the logical consequence of (1) your defying Statute X in the first place and then (2) consistently refusing to comply with Statute X’s enforcement upon you. No matter how nonviolent you have been in your day-to-day life, consistent refusal to pay civil fines ultimately puts you In Criminal Contempt of Court. Statute X was indeed the cause of the ordeal.

Yes, Stephen Carter notes,
activists on the [political] right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate. 
That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. ...Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.

It is confounding that but a few people in the West, such as Professor Carter, have been willing to acknowledge the reality of this situation. In 1776, Adam Smith wrote of how the self-interest that urges people to cooperate peaceably in the market can be described as an Invisible Hand guiding them.  But the free market that Adam Smith described has a foil in the coercive power of the State,  As the very same threat of governmental force that undermines the free market happens to be a weapon that many Westerners pretend not to see, that threat can likewise be dubbed the Invisible Handgun, or just Invisible Gun.



Is There a Hobbesian Social Contract That Proves You Consent to Taxation?
Naturally, those who bristle at the observation that laws are enforced at gunpoint are also those who bristle at my categorizing the mugger and the tax collector under the same general designation of “extortionist.” First, my critics retort, an important difference is that the tax collector enforces the Social Contract, whereas the mugger breaches it. By being born and participating in Society, the critics continue, you implicitly consent to every statute foisted upon you — including taxes — and therefore no tax or regulation is imposed under duress. I have addressed that fallacy at length in this other blog post.

In brief, you are held to this alleged Social Contract in the same manner that you are held to an actual contract to which you consciously pledged to obligate yourself  — armed police officers can be employed against you, should you go against the contractual terms. However, there is this unavoidable line of demarcation: with an actual contract, you had the opportunity to reject the deal before it was sealed.  Prior to your being tied to any real contract, you had a wide window of opportunity not to commit to it.  That did not happen with any so-called Social Contract. A single household or business is not consensually saying yes to taxes or regulations when, acting as an independent unit, it was never allowed the option to say no to them. Hence, a Social Contract allegedly authorizing the levying of taxes and other governmental constraints on your peaceful behavior was indeed slammed upon you under duress, thereby voiding such a Social Contract as illegitimate by the standards of an actual contract.



The Normalization of Taxation
The second rebuttal that my critics enunciate is a more honest reflection of their psychological reaction to governmental intrusions: a tax collection agency cannot be performing the same extortionist action as a mugger, because a mugger feels to be in the wrong much more than a tax collection agency does. In effect: as intimidating as the IRS can be, being accosted by a random mugger is much more intimidating. According to this reading, because the tax collection feels more legitimate than the random mugging does, it follows that compulsory taxation is morally justified whereas a random mugging is not.

As I have written before, I understand the psychology behind that. There are special reasons why muggers are considered more intimidating than tax collection agencies are. It has to do with predictability. That a random mugger is unpredictable, adds to how frightening he is. If you give the mugger your wallet, he might rape you afterward; he might kill you anyway. Conversely, with James Madison’s constitutional liberal republican Due Process having been established, a tax collection agency in the First World must maintain adherence to rules that restrain its powers; it cannot be as reckless as the random mugger is.

Tax collection goes by regular schedules. As a working adult, you know the month on which your tax returns are due, and that gives you time to prepare yourself. Conversely, the element of surprise is integral to a mugging; the mugger can spare you no preparation. If the government accuses you of tax evasion or some other legal infraction, you still receive Due Process, meaning that in prosecution and penalization, the State cannot impulsively inflict maximum brutality; it has to act according to specific procedures before it can move on to the next step in a sequence of increasingly devastating actions it can deploy against you.

Of course, if you, in fact, peaceably disobeyed a law that never should have been on the books — such as recreationally smoking marijuana in the privacy of your own home in a state that forbids that — then Due Process won’t save you from the violence-backed punishment. As I have stated priorly, in the long run you cannot have substantial freedom in the absence of Due Process, but you can still have Due Process in the absence of substantial freedom. Nonetheless, the rules restraining the government’s arbitrariness, instituted by the likes of James Madison and other Enlightenment figures in the framework of constitutional liberal republicanism, were a movement in the proper direction.

There are many well-documented cases of tax collectors veering from these rules and acting capriciously anyway (1, 2) but, for the most part, the tax collectors of the First World do stay within the guidelines drawn for them. The very deliberate regularity, predictability, and normalization of the routine reduces everyone’s fear of compulsory taxation . . . but fails to remove the coercive threat of force from the equation, and therefor fails to legitimize taxation morally.

Suppose the mafia decided to start a protection racket on your block. The mafia announced that, on the first of each month, it would send a man to collect 15 perfect of your income — no more, no less. And to guard against any funny business, the mafia enforced strict rules on its own members proscribing them from impulsively raising the extortion rate or skimming off any more cash for themselves. Over the years, you would grow accustomed to this; you would be able to plan ahead for the monthly visits just as you prepare your taxes.

And to whitewash the racketeering further, the mafia decides it will not hoard all the loot for itself. The mafia will regularly set aside a portion of the protection money to go to philanthropic causes. It will additionally structure a system of “grants” that it will endow on medical research. There are real-life precedents to this scenario: known mob members have made well-documented donations to not-for-profit endeavors.

As Business Insider says it, “drug lords like Pablo Escobar have used their immense wealth and power to perform charity work in local, often impoverished communities.” According to the London Independent, Escobar “was nicknamed ‘Robin Hood’ after handing out cash to the poor, building housing for the homeless, constructing 70 community soccer fields, and building a zoo.”

As for Escobar’s gangland successor, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, there are people in Culiacan who do not revile him as a bringer of chaos, but venerate him as the restorer of order, a benevolent welfare state unto himself. Tax-funded National Public Radio (NPR) reports, “Because of Guzman, she [Christina, a psychology student in Mexico] says, everything is under control — people don’t steal, kidnap or extort here,” just as people credit the U.S. government for preventing stealing, kidnapping, and extortion when the U.S. government itself can abduct you from your home if you do not provide it the money it demands. “And the partiers [in Culiacan, praising El Chapo] say he helped the poor, paved roads...”

The regularity, predictability, and normalization of our hypothetical protection racket, then, would mitigate its victims’ terror; the mafia would trigger less trepidation than would a random mugger. That is just as people from their respective neighborhoods did not beware of Pablo Escobar and El Chapo as much as they did random, lone bandits.

And yet your coming to interpret the protection racket as normal, predictable, and even manageable and tolerable would not render it morally sound. To be threatened with a potentially violent reprisal if you do not abdicate your earnings, would remain a major detriment upon on your life. That principle holds regardless of whether the regularized threat arrives via the mafia or the State.

Were a mugger to promise to conk you on the skull with his baseball bat, for failure to grant him a dime, this disenfranchising you of your control over your person and possessions — if only for a duration lasting but a few minutes — would be of enormous consequence. And that consequence is experienced even when, on account of your acquiescing to the extortionist’s demands, the physical violence does not break out.

Whenever someone meets his goals through threatening violence — and in which his obtaining his objective is a prerequisite for preventing the violent altercation from erupting — that still counts as an unjust exercise of force that should not have occurred. And this continues to be the case when the violent threat is made so regularly, predictably, and normally that the victims come to feel accustomed to it and less wary, whether the party issuing the threats is an organized crime family, the government, or both.

It is true that when the immediate alternative is to be in constant terror as various random muggers fight for dominance, many people would prefer to pay tribute — protection money — to one mafia if that one mafia can hold the other cutthroats at bay, maintain relative stability, and even engage in philanthropy. Likewise, if the immediate alternative is to be in constant terror as feuding warlords stir up bedlam, many people would prefer to pay tribute — compulsory taxes — to a First-World government if it can hold other violent parties at bay, maintain relative stability, and even allocate taxpayer expenditures to philanthropic causes.

 Yes, paying tribute to a single extortionist party, when it is able to maintain a monopoly on the wielding of violence, may be a lesser evil in comparison to there instead being a power vacuum, which would result in pandemonium as various gangs squabble over turf. But that the single extortionist party holding a monopoly on force might be the most preferable option among a gaggle of horrible options, does not morally validate the extortion per se. It does not demonstrate that we supporters of the constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State are wrong to call for less such governmental intrusion, not more.

For many people, the real reason why they balk at any ethical criticisms of compulsory taxation is that they are accustomed to this institution, and they know that if compulsory taxes were rolled back and replaced with a new system in which government programs were funded consensually, they might have to adapt to something new, even alien. It is for the same reason that older people can become nervous when detecting that, through entirely nonviolent means, the ethnic demographics of their neighborhood changed, with the celebration of strange foreign customs becoming more common, or nervous upon seeing the younger generation take up newfangled gadgets whose operations seem incomprehensible.

Going through most of one’s life taking the normality of taxation for granted, simply to hear anyone deliver a moral rebuke to taxation is a sort of culture shock. That is the reason for the flabbergasted reaction when Stephen Carter reminds his first-year pupils that ordinances and statutes are enforced by violent threats. The trite recitations of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s platitude about taxes being the price of civilization are mostly a rationalization to cover up the fact many people sometimes cannot imagine, and, more often, do not want to imagine, how life could be different, even if the change is better for them in the long run. But to repeal taxes is not to make impositions but to remove them, and whether taxes are morally both necessary and proper is due for reconsideration and review.



The Freedom That Is Peaceable Control
There is much evidence that your psychological well-being has a strong influence over your physical well-being. And a strong influence over your psychological well-being is the level of control you have over your own life.

Everybody wants to rule the world? Well, everybody needs some control.

In 1976, Ellen J. Langer and Judith Rodin conducted an experiment on this matter. Both the status-quo sample and the experimental sample consisted of senior citizens from a nursing home; house plants decorated these elderly persons’ rooms. The senior citizens in the experimental sample were permitted more control: they could choose what time of day they would receive visitors, and they were put in charge of taking care of a house plant instead of having the nursing home staff care for it. The senior citizens in the experimental sample ended up healthier and more alert than the ones in the status-quo sample.

Having a lot of choice and control — that is, freedom — immensely impacts your well-being, even when it is over decisions that most people dismiss as trivial. And when you are peaceably going about your affairs, only for a party to threaten you with force if you do not succumb to that party’s demands, that party dispossesses you of that very control — that very freedom.

The maximization of the well-being of every peaceful person, then, is for every person to have maximum peaceful control. Here, some readers will doubt that it is possible for everyone to have maximum control, as one person having as much control as he wants often involves his depriving other people of control.

A prude, for example, might mope over how other adults view pornography she regards as offensive, and for her to feel content and in control would involve blocking other adults from accessing any erotica. She would not be appeased until she shoves her control on other people, which would strip them of control and pleasure. In another case, a girlfriend in a heterosexual relationship may fantasize about getting a tattoo, whereas tattoos are a strong sexual turnoff to her boyfriend, who pleads with her to reconsider. Here, one member of the couple winning out completely would negate the other’s assertion of control. Perhaps they could compromise with the tattoo being smaller and less prominent than originally conceived.

I will not claim expertise on where the boundaries of control should be drawn when disputes arise within private, peaceful interactions, but I can say where the boundaries should be laid with respect to politics and the law: each adult should have control over his or her own private life and belongings, and not be able to initiate the use of force to usurp control over any other adult’s private life or belongings.

You dwell under the ideal sort of government when every contractually competent adult possesses the greatest possible amount of peaceable control over her life.  That is called a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State. The administration is a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State insofar as it (1) rightfully retaliates against parties guilty of initiating the use of force and (2) abstains from itself initiating the use of force. And in determining what is or is not an initiation of the use of force in human interactions, a proper understanding of private property rights is imperative.



The Freedom to Control One’s Own Life: Implemented in Private Property
The right to private property is often sneered upon as nothing more than petty and materialistic. But to identify an object as your rightful private property is to acknowledge that it is your ethical right to control that object. To wit, as far as the law ought to be concerned, you should have final say over what other people may or may not do to that object. And the truth is that for you to thrive and make the most of your life peaceably, you do need to exercise rightful control over objects outside of your body.

When you eat a banana, an apple, or any other form of vegetation, you are exercising such control over that object. When our ancestors only foraged for nourishment and hunted, they exhausted the food supply and ended up going to war over what was left. For everyone to have enough to eat without going to war, people need to farm. And when you cultivate fields, you establish rightful control over that land.

The logical association between ownership and the freedom of action is noted by numerous science writers, in spite of them apparently disapproving of how humanity, in general, and some other mammals implicitly hold private ownership implicitly, if seldom explicitly, as a strong priority (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Various backboned animals stake out their own territory and defer to one another’s territory — a visceral and primitive, pre-conceptual institutional precursor to formal private property rights. The difference is that throughout history, human beings have pieced together an increasingly sophisticated conceptual understanding and codifying of private property rights, culminating in the erudite conceptions of them by Richard Overton and John Locke, then Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy, then Auberon Herbert, and then Ayn Rand. As a corollary, you also rightfully control the specific original designs you create, and which would not exist if not for you — that is your intellectual property over your original artwork.

In important respects, it is through her control over her own private belongings that someone implements her freedom. Simply to travel a long distance requires that you control your own private belongings by means of driving an automobile that you own.



Wealth — Economic Value — Is Created By Human Initiative, and This Is Done Well Insofar As People Are Free
The wealth of which our private property consists is not merely extracted from the Earth; it is not as if the amassing of wealth merely amounts to human beings frittering away nonrenewable natural resources until everything is gone. We know that under the leadership decisions of entrepreneurs, industry converts natural resources and manual labor into goods and services. But when people assert that that process is merely about depleting every last resource, they gloss over something crucial.

Insofar as we are free and respect one another’s property rights, every input of natural resource or labor is a cost placed upon the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur therefore upsizes her profits insofar as she can empower inventors and engineers to devise new methods of producing the same economic value — or a greater economic value — from ever-smaller and ever-fewer inputs of natural resources and labor. Hence, whereas ten pounds of coal would go into powering a 100-watt light bulb for an hour in the year 1900, by 2002 it took less than a single pound of coal to perform the same task (information from Fred DeSanti, then vice president of external affairs at Public Service Energy and Gas, interviewed in Sean Dash, prod., “Power Plants,” Modern Marvels, narrated by Max Raphael, dir. Sean Dash, cable television broadcast on the History Channel, 25 July 2002). And the experimentation that went into devising these efficiency-improving methods required freedom, as does the peaceful employment of these methods.



The Most Basic Need
This brings me to another important point: the Hierarchy of Needs, as mapped by psychologist Abraham Maslow, which is frequently taught in schools, is misleading. Maslow’s Hierarchy posits that the most basic of human needs are physiological needs, such as the consumption of food and water. But there is a still more basic need, without which those others cannot be sated: the freedom of peaceful action.

Were you are out in the wilderness and in need of finding food, you would have to take your actions freely. You would need to hunt for meat or at least forage for berries, without other people physically restraining you. It would be more productive to farm and, for you to be free to do this, you cannot have other people coming onto the land against your consent in order to snatch your crops or destroy them. You would need to be free to search for water. Often, the water in the wild is not sanitary enough to drink, and you would need the freedom to apply chemical treatments to remove the natural toxins and contagions. Should there not be enough fresh water to drink, people need to be free to employ their technologies to desalinate the saltwater that is in greater abundance. You indeed need at least some modicum of freedom if you are to address any and every other need.

Yet some people reply to me that if you are in a First-World penitentiary, you do not have freedom of action and yet your physiological needs will be met just fine. In a still more grisly example, one might remark that as morally abhorrent as chattel slavery was, the slaves nonetheless accessed enough food, water, and shelter for subsistence survival. (In a society where slavery is legal, the State maintains final say over which parties may use violence; the State delegates authority to masters to exercise enough force on their slaves to have them submit. As slaveholders still answer to the State and do not compete against it in a challenge to its authority, slaveholders being able to initiate the employment of force on their slaves does not alter the fact that the State maintains a monopoly over the authorized implementation of force.)

I respond that even in cases where someone cannot take action — either due to natural causes or to an absence of political freedom — her having her physiological needs met still relies upon freedom, in this case the freedom of those who provide her with her physiological needs.

Were a man to be bedridden and disabled, his caregiver could nurse him no more than the extent to which that caregiver possessed the political freedom to do so. In the situation in which someone is a convict in a correctional facility, the convict receives food, water, and health care insofar as other people are free enough to make these amenities accessible to the convict.

The situation with chattel slavery is trickier, but the principle persists. A master might be handicapped and physically dependent on his slaves, but the slaves are able to provide for the master to the extent that the master still has the political freedom to make decisions on his own behalf, decisions to be carried out by the slaves. Masters were notoriously chintzy in provisioning for the physiological needs of their slaves. But to what degree those needs were met, it was no more than the degree to which the masters were free enough to make choices on the meager provisions for their slaves. For reasons I shall explain below, this subjugation is not as advantageous to the slaveholders as commonly assumed; the emancipation of the slaves conferred a net benefit upon the former masters that these masters had not anticipated and likely did not acknowledge.

And a person usually has a more sophisticated understanding of her own needs than does anyone else, often more sophisticated than those close to her.  When someone who is indisposed has to rely on another party to supply her with her needs, that other party is seldom able to satisfy those needs as adequately as that indisposed person would if she had the ability to address her needs on her own.

The legitimate right to private property, then, is the freedom to acquire private property peaceably and to have final say over how it is controlled, not for control of that property to be seized by any other parties. In the process, no one else’s control over her person or belongings may be abused against her authorization. That precludes so-called “ownership” over a slave from being a legitimate private property right. The actual rightful owner of the slave’s life is the slave herself.  It also means that if a private factory owner’s activities are poisoning the air or water of other parties, those other parties are correct to go to court and have the factory owner recompense them.



A Right to Receive Wealth But Not to Keep It?
At this juncture, political Progressives proclaim that a right to private property should be recognized as having a meaning decidedly unlike the one I have outlined. They properly observe that being poor is a great disadvantage for the reasons I gave — that living one’s life is incumbent upon the execution of control over objects other than one’s own body. Progressives thereupon pronounce that a true right to private property implies that if someone possesses less money that most First World citizens would deem essential for a comfortable life, he should be provided private possessions and vital services at the forcible expense of other citizens in the community, especially the richer citizens. On that interpretation, a right to private property is an entitlement to a quantity of goods and services that political Progressives deem to be the minimum quantity sufficient for a decent living standard.


Consider such a hypothetical situation in which my savings account is nearly empty, whereas you are far wealthier. According to the free-market definition of a right to property — the one for which this essay argues — the right to private property means that no matter how much I may suffer from privation, my privation would not justify me or anyone else absconding with your money and allocating it to me. By contrast, in the Progressives’ alternate definition of the right to property it follows that, on account of having been born, everyone is entitled to the material amenities upon which comfortable survival depends. Hence, on the evaluation that I do not have enough wealth to sustain myself, whereas you do, your wealth should be extracted from you, redirected to me, and thereafter christened by law to be my rightful private property.

To rephrase the matter: the free-marketer’s interpretation of a right to private property means the right to keep that property and defend, through retaliatory force, your control over that property from any party trying to damage that property or expropriate it. Conversely, the Progressives’ interpretation of the right to property stipulates that someone who does not have enough property be forcibly provided such property by parties who have created or earned much more of it.

The Progressives’ version of a “right to property” contradicts itself on two counts. First, there is an internal contradiction in the notion that someone has a right to receive goods and services from others but not a right to keep the goods and services one has already acquired. That notion overlooks the very purpose of receiving or acquiring anything. You would not, for instance, order a sandwich at a diner only to find the owner snatching that same sandwich from you prior to your biting out of it. Nor would you borrow money from a savings-and-loan and make a down payment on a house merely so that the very minute after you first walk into the house, you are evicted from it and can never occupy it. The very point in acquiring or receiving control — ownership — over an object is to have and retain control over that object for as long as you deem it beneficial to you.

That is the fallacy in the nostrum that everyone has a consistently applicable right to receive the property she needs but no one has the consistently applicable right not to have it taken by force. Imagine Juanita has a lot of wealth, with which she accesses important goods and services, whereas Lenny enjoys hardly any wealth. If there is a right to receive wealth but no right not to have it taken away by force, then Lenny has right to Juanita’s wealth only prior to his receiving it; once Lenny receives Juanita’s wealth, his right to it ceases as well. Such a “right to property,” then, cancels itself out, and it is replaced, in practice, with a State arrogating to itself the final authority over all wealth, haughtily deciding from whom that wealth is taken and to whom that wealth must be dispensed.

And that is the beginning of a dynamic wherein pressure groups compete over which can curry the most favor with politicians to obtain the most loot. In that regulatory-entitlement state, there is more impetus to be on the side receiving the wealth than the side producing the goods and services for which such wealth can be exchanged. And that, surmised Margaret Thatcher, is the downfall of such a redistributionist system — it will eventually “run out of other people’s money.”



The Freedom to Create and Keep Wealth As an Even More Basic Need Than the Wealth Itself
Now we arrive at the second internal contradiction in the political Progressives’ insistence that food, water, and other economic values are a more basic need than the very freedom that is essential to acquiring those values. An old man named Bernie might propound that his need for a pacemaker implanted into his chest is a need of greater urgency than an inventor’s need for freedom, and that, because Bernie’s need morally trumps the need of other parties to enterprise unfettered, the companies that create and invent novel medical devices should provide Bernie an implantable pacemaker at a cost to themselves.

Yet elderly Bernie’s need for a pacemaker could be sated no more than the extent to which the inventor-entrepreneur Wilson Greatbatch had enough of the freedom he needed to invent the implantable pacemaker. Sadly, today’s inventors and engineers in the medical device industry might be scrounging about under still less freedom than Greatbatch had. In 1988, Greatbatch told interviewer Kenneth A. Brown:

The problem for a small inventor today is the FDA. So many laws have been written that a small operator can’t do something like a pacemaker. The regulations are so complex and the requisite testing is so expensive that a small company can’t do it. . . . If I did today what I did twenty years ago, I would go to jail. Imagine making pacemakers in a barn and taking them to a hospital and putting them into patients! But we did it, and it worked. It was done very ethically, and a lot of people are alive today because of that work.

If elderly Bernie prevails, and medical-device companies’ profits are seized by the State and redistributed to Bernie, those medical-device companies will have less capital available for the research-and-development that could turn out an enhanced pacemaker that saves many more lives.





Benefiting From the Freedom of Others 
This should also clarify how the enslavement of entire populations — denying them the freedom to seek a practical adult education — will be of net harm even to the slaveholders. Throughout the nineteenth century, slaveholders dreaded the prospect of their slaves becoming educated and literate, as literacy would enable their slaves to read Enlightenment philosophy books about the wrongness of slavery, and also to become psychologically independent enough to be able function without their masters one day. Hence, the vast majority of slaveholders deprived their slaves of the freedom to educate themselves and become inventor-entrepreneurs in their own right. In so doing, the slaveholders deprived themselves of innovations that would have added to their own long-term well-being.

As a case in point, during the twentieth century, African-American chemical engineer Percy Julian, Sr., employed what freedom he had to synthesize new medications to treat glaucoma and to relieve the elderly of their hurting from arthritis. And, even in this case, he worked under too many governmental restrictions, including explicitly racist restrictions. His inventions, however, relieved arthritis pain in people throughout America — including the white descendants of slaveholders. Had the formal institution of slavery continued, and had Percy Julian, Sr., himself been a slave who was fully denied the freedom to learn and to enterprise, then his own master would, upon being stricken with arthritis, likely have had nothing available to alleviate his anguish.

Masters can indeed compel their slaves, on pain of physical reprisal, to engage in manual labors, but no one can compel anyone else to exercise problem-solving ingenuity under similar violent ultimatums. As the psychology pioneer Carl Rogers noticed, “From the very nature of the inner conditions of creativity it is clear that they cannot be forced, but must be permitted to emerge.” The emergence of such creativity is predicated on the relative freedom of thought and the freedom of action that goes into implementing such thought.

We may disapprove of how our neighbors sometimes exercise their freedom peaceably. One example is of the aforementioned prude who seethes over how other consenting adults make and consume the pornography that she detests. But, on account of how innovators exercise their own freedom to produce lifesaving and life-extending technologies, we derive a net benefit from the freedom of others, not merely our own.

Even the scandalized pornographers might be contributing to the technologies that will one day shower blessings upon the same prude who wishes for a State ban on erotica. Throughout history, the creators of erotica have consistently been the early adopters of new information technologies. A new information technology proves to be a convenient vehicle whereby they can transmit their risqué contents to their customers. When such information technologies are still in their infancy, the capital infusions from the erotica-producers allow for further refinement of these information technologies, and the technologies later find applications in education and medicine. As the history journal American Heritage elucidates, “Repeatedly, porn has helped establish a market for new technologies. Then the mainstream follows.”

That freedom happens to be the most basic need is not a truth that most people wish to admit readily.  Hence, we bear passive-aggressive condescension from political Progressives, such as this image from the Facebook page “Socrates Memes.”


From that image, we are to believe that the State allegedly “saving a life” justifies a “minor” aggression in the form of compulsory taxation. The meme’s maker and those who approvingly Facebook-share the meme happen to elide, quite obliviously, what enforces the compulsory taxation. Again, should someone resist the compulsory taxation, armed men will be sicced on her, and the altercation can turn fatal. It is self-contradictory of the meme to proclaim that “saving a life” justifies threatening someone else’s. A State cannot coherently take action in the name of preserving innocent life when it is violently threatening innocent life.




Homeless and Under Attack
Should there remain a doubt that freedom from physical force is the most basic of needs, picture the following scenario. Albert is homeless and has an alcohol addiction, from which his body is developing physical ailments. Tonight he is hungry and cold, seeking shelter. Then an assailant with a knife jumps out and charges at him. When that happens, Albert will not be thinking of his thirst or hunger, nor will he be seeking warmth or health care. What matters will be eluding the assailant.

To that, one might reply that this should not be construed as evidence that freedom from government regulations and taxes is more urgent than having food or shelter, as the aforementioned Due Process and regularity of First-World governments renders the threat of force from the First-World government to be more remote than the danger imposed by the knife-wielding maniac pursuing Albert. That is just as the jeopardy posed by the U.S. government is more remote than the jeopardy posed by the random mugger from the start of this essay. Secondly, if Albert’s medical problems become particularly severe, he will worry about those ailments much more than he will worry about his political freedom.

But, again, should Albert manage to escape the stabby attacker and beg for alms, no one would be able to provide him any charity save for their having enough freedom to create the economic value that they shall bestow upon him. And if Albert’s greatest source of discomfort becomes his health issues, his doctors will be able to treat him no more than the extent to which they are free to investigate the matter and apply their judgment; pharmaceutical- and medical-device companies will be able to ameliorate his symptoms no more than the degree to which they are free to apply scientific knowledge and to exert their business acumen in producing the inventions and items with which he can be treated.



The Value of Laissez-Faire Political Freedom Being Shamefully Absent From Economists’ Models
According to economists, the most direct measure of wealth is what they call utility. It refers to the value that a good or services adds to your life and ultimate happiness. That is the economic value to which I have frequently alluded. Because utility cannot be quantified directly, monetary units are often a convenient proxy whereby economists measure utility. Economists can discern the extent to which you derive more utility from Product/Service 1 than you do Product/Service 2 by observing how many more monetary units you are willing to exchange for Product/Service 1 than you are for 2 . . . or by looking at how many more hours you are willing to put in at your employment to obtain Product/Service 1 than you are for 2.

I bring this up because economists who are partial toward the regulatory-entitlement state — they call themselves economists in the “neoclassical” or “Keynesian” tradition — properly observe the importance of utility while improperly ignoring the point I made in this essay’s opening, the point about extortion stealing more from a victim than the object that is retrieved. In order to rationalize their policy proposals, these ideologically Progressive economists will construct a model that purports to demonstrate that if the State initiates the use of force upon Party 2, so that it may advantage Party 1 at Party 2’s expense, it will result in a net gain in utility for society as a whole.

I told several Ph.D. economists my concern that if a dime is forcibly removed from Party 1 and given to Party 2, Party 1 was robbed of a value beyond the ten cents: the freedom to go about peaceably without being subjected to the initiation of the use of force. I asked those Ph.D. economists whether they knew of any economic models that incorporated the fact that such freedom is itself a form of utility, and that when a dime is forcibly taken from Party 1 by the State, that is itself a reduction in utility for Party 1 that had existed independently of the dime itself. Those economists replied to me that they do not know of any economic models taking that issue into account. Well, inasmuch as economic models overlook this factor, that needs to change.



But Perhaps the Same Progress I Applaud Was Primarily Caused By Forcible Wealth Redistribution After All?
At this point, there will be numerous left-wing detractors — scientists among them — who consider it unfair of me to cite science and invention as being predominantly the result of politically laissez-faire enterprise. If not necessarily the particular one I cited, it is still the case that many important psychology experiments were funded, at least in part, through tax revenue. Likewise, it is now popular for political Progressives to cackle that the lifesaving, life-expanding inventions I mentioned — the ones whose existence I chalk up to being the result of laissez-faire freedom — were actually the inevitable outcome of taxpayer funding. According to that argument, the educational and entrepreneurial achievements to which I credit free enterprise are actually the culmination of the very government-imposed wealth redistribution that I decry.

Many commentators go farther. Noting that implementing one’s own freedom often involves the ability to exercise control over material objects — such as driving one’s own automobile to get from one place to another — political Progressives repeat the line from above, the line that the condition of being poor in America and having few possessions is itself a denial of freedom.

Moreover, continue the Progressives, it is unfair to observe that it is socially “collectivist” for a government to act as if there are no individual property rights, instead there being only collective ownership over all objects to be managed by the State, with the State managing distribution and redistribution. No, avow these Progressives, they are arguing for a more sophisticated interpretation and manifestation of individualism.

They maintain that if tax funding provided for everyone’s most basic physiological needs in a socialist state or welfare state, or at least if we ratified a tax-funded Universal Basic Income (UBI), it would be the case that without everyone having to obsess over the basic amenities, everyone would have the financial means to pursue his own dreams and express his individuality. Hence, concludes this argument, if the State pried money from the affluent and redistributed it to the point where everyone was middle class, everyone could exercise a grander, more dignified individualism.

For that reason, one writer waxes in The Guardian,
Despite its traditional image as a collectivist social democracy, comparative data from the World Values Survey suggests that Sweden is the most individualistic society in the world. Individual taxation of spouses has promoted female labour participation; universal [tax-funded] daycare makes it possible for all parents — read women — to work; [tax-funded] student loans are offered to everyone without means-testing; a strong emphasis on children’s rights have given children a more independent status; the elderly do not depend on the goodwill of children [as the elderly can receive taxpayer subsidies].

Such an argument goes at least as far back as the celebrated author and playwright Oscar Wilde. Whereas his plays and fiction were of a sumptuous artistry, his political philosophy left much to be desired, for he spouted,

...Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to Individualism. 
Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community. . . . Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men... It is true that, under existing conditions, a few men who have had private means of their own, such as [Lord] Byron, [poet Percy Bysshe] Shelley [husband to Frankenstein author Mary Shelley], [poetess Elizabeth Barrett] Browning, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been able to realise their personality more or less completely. Not one of these men ever did a single day’s work for hire. They were relieved from poverty. They had an immense advantage. . . . Under the new conditions Individualism will be far freer, far finer, and far more intensified than it is now.. . . Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. . . .

It will be a marvellous thing — the true personality of man — when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. . . . The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.

It can be reckoned over in this manner: maybe I am a fledgling artist or inventor in serious need of $10,000. The absence of the $10,000 leaves me bereft of control, and consequently bereft of what Oscar Wilde and The Guardian would praise as real freedom. You, on the other hand, could spare $10,000 but are unwilling to divulge it to me. Therefore, social justice would prevail if the State commandeered the $10,000 from you at gunpoint and deposited it into my bank account. At last I would have the means — and the control and freedom — to express my individual creativity.

Oscar Wilde’s perspective overlooks two substantial considerations. First is that the State divesting you of your own $10,000 would preclude you from employing that $10,000 freely to fund your own dreams and artistic visions according to your own tastes and discernment. That definitely dumps an impediment upon your own individual expression. But more substantial is the consideration I raised in this essay’s opening: when the State threatened force upon you if you would not surrender the $10,000, the State snatched from you a value other than the $10,000. The value of which you were extorted in that moment was actual freedom, in contrast to the pettiness of the claim that I have less freedom than you have for as long as you persist in clutching the $10,000 I need.

Your being issued this threat — that physical force can be exerted on you or your estate if you do not comply with a demand — paralyzes you, whereas I am not comparably paralyzed when I need $10,000 but do not possess it. I am still free to earn it or ask others for that sum; when a gun is pointed at you, you are not free to tell the gunman that you reject the terms of his ultimatum — that neither will you comply with his demand that you hand over your money, nor will he be able to perform an action to punish you for your noncompliance.

 Oscar Wilde trumpets that my collection of taxpayer funding will afford me enough financial independence to express my individuality, and yet this supposed individualistic independence comes at the expense of other people against their consent. To express one’s individualistic independence at the coerced expense of others is a flagrant contradiction in terms.

Similar points are to be made concerning tax funding for scientific research and R-and-D. It may be said to be salutary that tax funding went to the R-and-D of Firm Y. But those taxes were extracted from parties that otherwise would be able to finance Firm X, thereby assisting Firm X in its own R-and-D. It is not the State’s rightful purview to decide who or what is most deserving of investment for R-and-D. As I said earlier, it is individual human beings who create wealth — economic value — and it is each individual’s rightful place to decide how to invest her own wealth, the wealth she created or peaceably acquired. Moreover, Firm Y being in a state where it lacks funds for its projects does hobble it in the manner that Firm X is hobbled when the State forcibly extracts capital from Firm X for purpose of transferring that capital to Firm Y.

Additional comments must be made on the now-trendy assertion that there would be no advancement in scientific knowledge or useful research-and-development if not for taxpayer funding.

It is common for Progressives to comb through the history of the development of some technology, spot some instance where some party at some point in the developmental process was awarded taxpayer funding for R-and-D, and then blare that this proves that only taxpayer funding for scientific research and R-and-D, not private investment, can be the primary driver of technological innovations in the market. The Breakthrough Institute — which has made some cogent criticisms of pessimistic environmentalist fanaticism — has unfortunately done this in the case of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Adding to that, commentators such as Big Think contributor Jag Bhalla and New Republic writer Jeet Heer cite Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State to proclaim that there would be no smartphones in particular or computerized information technology in general if not for funding from the Pentagon.  This is a variant on the You Didn’t Build That gambit from former President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren:  You didn’t build that:  the regulatory-entitlement state and taxpayer subsidies made that happen.

That argument overlooks the single most fundamental distinction between the government and all nongovernmental parties: again, it is that nongovernmental parties do not have the final say on how force may be used in their region, whereas the government does have that final say and must even threaten such force in the very performance of its duties. Anything that can be done peacefully — such as raising funds for research — can be done without direct government involvement.

These Progressives assume that if taxpayer funding were not involved in any part of the research-and-development process for a technology, the final product would not exist. In reality, if financiers wish to make money, and if customers are willing to pay their own money for an information-technology product, then capital for the R-and-D that goes into originating that product can be raised absent of taxpayer outlays.



Jeet Heer and Jag Bhalla can ferret through the history of the development of smartphones and stumble upon instances where some party utilized tax funding at some stage in the process; it does not follow from such ferreting that in the absence of such tax funding, no financier or engineer would anticipate that there would be enough consumer demand for smartphones to warrant a consensually funded R-and-D program to bring them to market.

It is ironic that so many left-wing people, who otherwise impugn U.S. defense spending as part of a heinous “military-industrial complex,” insist on crediting U.S. defense spending as the great driver of technological innovation. One of the few areas where these left-wing activists are correct is that most U.S. defense spending is a waste, where a tool that would be priced at a few cents at a hardware store is purchased from defense contractors at exorbitant rates at the tens or hundreds or thousands of dollars. Observers should focus on the return on investment. When one tracks the expenditures on R-and-D that have led to profitable commercial products, first from the Pentagon and then from private financiers, the rate of return for the Pentagon is much less impressive.



Innovation Emerging From Relative Freedom in Spite of Wealth Redistribution, Not Because of It
Contemplate the development of the airplane from the late 1800s to 1906. Dozens of separate parties in the United States raced to be the first to invent a practicable steering mechanism for a heavier-than-air flying machine (a hot air balloon, when burning fuel, is lighter than air). Had taxpayer funding, not private capital, been the main driver of technological progress, the party that should have been the first to dream up a steering mechanism for airplanes should have been Samuel Pierpont Langley.

As the well-connected secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and a relative of banker John Pierpont Morgan, Langley was the party that scored federal funding. In contrast, the Wright brothers secured only private financing for their historic flight over Kitty Hawk in 1903. Upon proving the abilities of their Wright flyer, the brothers did soon seek contracts with the U.S. military, but not before the day their invention lifted into the air and maintained control. If taxpayer funding was the most decisive factor, the breakthrough should have been made by Langley instead.




In 1991 University of Pennsylvania economist Edwin Mansfield took part in an illuminating study on this — a study which, ironically, was conducted with taxpayer-funded grants from the National Science Foundation. “Our findings,” concluded Mansfield on page 11, “suggest that about one-tenth the new products and processes commercialized during 1975–85 in the information processing, electrical equipment, chemicals, instruments, drugs, metals, and oil industries could not have been developed (without substantial delay) without recent [tax-funded] academic research,” whereas the other 90 percent came about through R-and-D funded in-house by firms.

A follow-up by Mansfield in 1998 yielded similar results. Between 1986 and 1994, tax-funded research accounted for 13 percent of the new drugs released by U.S. companies. Conversely, 87 percent of the new drugs were developed in-house by the companies’ own private capital appropriations. Likewise, in that same duration, tax-funded research accounted for 14 percent of the information-technology products developed. Meanwhile, again, 86 percent of the new IT products were developed in-house, through private financing. That is quite contrary to the image that Jeet Heer and Jag Bhalla try to project in touting taxpayer funding as the major source of innovation in IT.

That innovation flows more from the freedom of enterprise than from centrally-planned, governmental choices on where to “invest” resources, is also apparent in a study by Dean Keith Simonton, who inquired into the frequency of scientific discoveries and technological advancements in Western countries as they fought wars against invaders. In the two world wars, the freedom of creative inventors was frustrated on two fronts. First, creative inventors in the United States were attacked by the USA’s own wartime enemies. However, freedom for American inventors was curtailed in wartime even by the U.S. government itself. During the two world wars, the U.S. federal government imposed much more central planning on the economy, rationing particular goods and services, forcibly removing resources from some industries and diverting them to others, the latter usually being military-related.

Some people try to bombard us with their misconception that this wartime central planning was, on a net balance, an unambiguous stimulus on the economy and innovation, encouraging engineers to develop new weapons that were subsequently converted to civilian use. The same principles of chemical engineering that went into the production of chemical weapons, for instance, were later adapted for use in the production of chemical fertilizer for farmers. Apologists for the regulatory-entitlement state, such as Jeet Heer and Jag Bhalla, would thus have us believe that innovation within the United States is encouraged insofar as such a policy of taxpayer-funded “investment” in R-and-D is preserved even in relative peacetime. That idea fails to acknowledge that because the wartime State allocates most resources for militaristic purposes, the rest of the civilian sector is drained of manpower and capital for research and production.

Simonton analyzed this and discovered that whenever the First World fought a war to defend itself, the First World experienced a net reduction in scientific and technological innovation. As Simonton put it, “...these two wars, World Wars I and II, did seem to have greatly depressed techno-scientific output” on a net balance.

While partisans such as Jag Bhalla and those at the Breakthrough Institute might be able to point to isolated examples of tax funding having occurred at some point in the development of many popular consumer products, overall such government-directed “investing” winning out over private profit-driven financing will impose a net reduction in scientific and technological output that otherwise would have maximized the satisfaction of marketplace demand.



The Freedom March of Progress
For most of human history, the infant mortality rate was a steady 25 percent and the average lifespan was 27 years. And it was not merely that the high child mortality rate dragged down the average life expectancy; it was not as if someone who lived to age five would likely reach 80 years of age. When archaeologists examine the mass graves of Stone Age hunter-gatherers, they seldom uncover the remains of anyone who made it past 60. In ancient Rome, only 6 percent of the population made it to age 60 or over. For human beings, poverty was the default. As Ayn Rand observed, the Industrial Revolution and misnamed “Gilded Age” did not create poverty; they inherited poverty from the previous epochs of man.

That situation only began to change in the nineteenth century, on account of the very same Industrial Revolution and “Gilded Age” so maligned by political Progressives as an extended era of ungenerousness and pervasive cruelty. The infant mortality rate dropped to the single digits. Between the years 1800 and 1900, the average lifespan in the United States and United Kingdom rose from 27 years to 47. By the year 1988, the average lifespan had increased to 77.







 Technological innovation, in the form of improved sanitation and medicine, is the cause. And considering the findings of Edwin Mansfield and Dean Keith Simonton, and that anything that can be done peacefully can be done without direct government involvement, it is reasonable to attribute these improvements more to the relative freedom of enterprise, to the extent that it is found, than to taxpayer funding and the government’s redistribution of capital.

The rise in average lifespan indirectly resulted from the reduction in the poverty rate. The United Nations classifies someone as being in absolute poverty if she lives on the equivalent of one U.S. dollar per day. Over the past two centuries, and even the past three decades, the rate of absolute poverty throughout the world dropped as there were gradual net gains in freedom — if not in the USA or West alone, then at least in other countries.

Page 56 the World Bank’s World Development Report 2013: Jobs notes, “The share of the population of the developing world living on less than US$1.25 a day...fell from 52 percent in 1981 to 22 percent in 2008... ...the creation of millions of new, more productive jobs, mostly in Asia, but also in other parts of the developing world, has been the main driving force” (emphases added). And those jobs were overwhelmingly created not through tax-funded make-work projects, but through foreign direct investment (FDI) wherein, to the extent that they were free to do so, multinational corporations constructed production plants in these countries and employed the labor resources peaceably.

Being so stubborn, there are still those, even after that is pointed out, who try to credit the tax-funded United Nations Millennium Development Goals project, started in September of the year 2000, as the primary cause of the rise in the developing countries’ living standards. Yet that is not supported by Howard Steven Friedman’s examination of the developing countries’ progress from the years 1990 to 2015 according to the U.N.s’ own indicators of living standards. The developing countries already showed improvement in a third of those indicators from 1990 to August 2000, prior to the launching of this project, and most of the progress resulted from privately funded commercial enterprise. In the few instances where tax funding could be interpreted as contributing to the improvements, they were more often municipal improvements from municipal taxation, as opposed to foreign aid that the U.N. transferred from the First Worlds’ tax revenues. As Johan Norberg notes, among the countries that made the most progress were countries that did not receive this aid, China being an example.  The poor rose up, not to the extent that the regulatory-entitlement state came to the rescue, but more so to the extent that the regulatory-entitlement state got out of the way.



That exposes yet another major internal contradiction within the claim that governmental redistribution of wealth from rich to poor is in service of the most basic human needs. Such governmental redistribution is said to be in service of human need in that it purports to satisfy the physiological needs of society’s most vulnerable people. And yet this procedure is performed at the forcible expense of other people’s freedom, the freedom to live their lives peaceably on their own judgment without being violently threatened. And for people in absolute poverty, over the past two centuries — even just over the past three decades — the most essential component to their rise from poverty was what freedom of enterprise they had. Governmental redistribution, then, congratulates itself for addressing human needs when, in fact, it ignores and then undermines the most basic of human needs.








Consensual Funding for the Night Watchman State
I am not an anarchist. We do need police; military; courts; a patent-and-trademark office; a Library of Congress to issue copyrights; and, in lieu of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that currently does it, another agency to issue plant variety protections — intellectual property recognition for sexually bred cultivars. These functions of government must run on revenue, and it is fair to ponder over how these aspects of government would operate if compulsory taxation were abolished or at least dramatically curbed.

First, I do not expect that compulsory taxation and most government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, can be dismantled overnight; I think that as people gradually come to recognize compulsory taxation as the inhumane practice that it is, governmental spending and the compulsory taxation that funds it can be reduced at a correspondingly gradual pace.

As for the legitimate functions of government that would still need funding in the constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State that I consider ideal, I have some proposals. Under the status quo, if a household or business refrains from contributing money to the government, the government initiates the use of force against that household or business by siccing armed police agents on it. In contrast to that, a humane system of government financing would simply have it that a household or business that refrained from funding the government would, in kind, not receive a governmental service that is afforded to households and businesses that do contribute funding.

For as long as a household refrains from funding the government, that household’s adult members cannot vote in any elections. Should a household or business go for a lengthy duration without funding the government, then, when a situation arises where that household or business files suit in civil court, that household or business must pay triple the amount it would have paid during the whole period in which it neglected to make any payments. If the new steep triple-price penalty cannot be paid at once, it can be paid in periodic installments.

Should there be households too poor to pay on their own accord, private charities can sponsor them, paying on their behalf.



Conclusion: What Would Be Stolen Besides the $39 Billion
As I have argued most of what I have wanted to argue, I will present one final thought experiment. Suppose there is a man named Bizzy who holds a net worth of 40 billion U.S. dollars, and a self-appointed busybody in the government, Ellie, somehow gained the authority to make the following threat to Bizzy: armed federal agents will drag Bizzy to prison, and sentence him to it for at least ten years, if he does not liquidate his entire estate and provide 39 billion dollars’ worth of the proceeds to the government for redistribution to the lower classes. After the sale, Bizzy can still hold onto the remaining one billion dollars. This measure, Ellie promulgates, will do much to tend to the human needs of the poor and the sick.

If you feel any ethical qualms about such a threat being leveled upon Bizzy, it is worth ruminating on the basis for such reservations. After all, once this procedure plays out, Bizzy will still get to keep one billion U.S. dollars.

A libertarian who only cares about utilitarian economics — about which public policies can produce the greatest net happiness for the greatest number of people — might protest that if this Ellie issues this threat to Bizzy, it will crush the incentives of would-be entrepreneurs everywhere to put their innovative goods and services on the market. I think such a complaint would be really silly. A multimillionaire arrives at a point where each additional dollar he accrues will supply him less utility than did the dollar that preceded it. In terms of how a wealthy individual may indulge himself, there isn’t much that Bizzy can do with $40 billion that he cannot do with one billion.

I think that the proper grievance is that if Ellie issues this threat and Bizzy acquiesces to her demand, Bizzy will be robbed of something alongside the $39 billion: the freedom to go about exercising one’s own judgment peaceably without having been violently threatened. And that freedom, of which Ellie is denying Bizzy in this instance, is a human need more basic than the human needs that Ellie purports to be satisfying as she indisposes Bizzy.

That is what I want the partisans of the regulatory-entitlement state to understand: when someone resents $10,000 being taken from her in taxes, it is not a matter of her being stingy and mourning every last cent of the $10,000; what she mourns is that, aside from the $10,000, she was also robbed of her freedom against violent threats, an incalculably greater value.






Shortened quotation of Meghann Ribben for Twitter. 


The tweet quoting Meghann Ribbens was the second I ever embedded on another page, the first being the one from “Our Immigration Laws Are Corrupt, and the DREAMERs’ Parents Were Right to Break Them,” where I tweeted about Aristotle being an immigrant and political refugee. The third tweet I embedded was the one wailing, “When you are poor, you don’t have any  freedom.”