I may have become a full-fledged anarchist today. Well, maybe not, but right now, I’m not a very happy camper. Why? Well, call it “looking ahead to April 15”.
Today was a “snow day” here in Nebraska, and while I had a lot of things I could have done while the kids were fighting, reading, playing in the snow, etc., I made the mistake of deciding to do a first run at calculating our taxes.
Now, without going into specifics, I should probably make a few things clear.
My husband is a general practice/family physician. I will not pretend that we don’t have a higher than average income. I will, however, say that we have a significant mortgage; my husband drives a 1999 Durango with 180,000 miles on it; I drive a 2004 minivan with 150,000 miles; we’ve got two kids at home; we helped pay for my oldest daughter’s wedding last year; we’ve got consumer debt that we’re trying to pay off; we’ve got some parent student loans from our oldest daughter’s college years that we’re working our way through, etc. We try to take a larger vacation about every other year, and settle for long weekends or non-major trips in the off years. In other words, while some might look at our gross income and say that we were quite well off, if they looked at our bank accounts, they’d see that we’re paying our bills, and occasionally able to save a little.
Our income in 2012 was higher than in 2011. I taught a few more classes, and my husband had a very busy year (which in doctor terms means 12 hour days aren’t unusual, late nights aren’t unusual, weekends are common), and had some extra dollars come in via his performance incentives that he gets at work for working more and seeing more patients. He’s a salaried employee for his base income, and gets incentive payouts twice a year based on estimated levels above and beyond a benchmark figure. All income that we have is subject to withholding.
Last year (2011), our taxable income less our itemized deductions netted us a small refund on our taxes. This year, our taxable income less our itemized deductions (both of which went up—we had more money, so we gave more to charity) results in us OWING the IRS roughly the amount equivalent to the increase in income this year. In other words, not enough was withheld, and all that “extra” we made, is going back to the feds (and a bit more of it to the state, who we’ll owe some money to, as well).
Now, I could complain (oh, I guess I am!) that our tax system stinks. This “problem” of making more money obviously isn’t going to affect everyone in the way that it affects us. We happened to hit one of those benchmarks where all of a sudden you’re paying more. But you know, I have to think carefully about whether it makes sense for me to keep teaching part-time, because for all intents and purposes, every cent that I earned last year will go toward paying the remainder of our tax bill this year. EVERY CENT, and then some.
Is that the end of the world? No, probably not. Fortunately, my husband’s performance incentive for the last half of last year was paid a few weeks ago, so we’ll have the money available to write a check when the time comes (but I have this rather bad attitude—if we OWE money, I’ll wait till after the first of April to file—no sense in letting them have MY money any earlier than I have to). But as I started working my way through our taxes today, I started feeling ill, as I had this realization that our income taxes alone this year would have been enough for us to buy a new or a couple of newer cars, without borrowing the money and adding to our monthly payments. It would have been enough for us to replace some of those kitchen appliances that are now 10 years old and starting to need replacing. It would have been enough for us to pay off our second mortgage and then some. It would have been enough for us pay off virtually all of the consumer debt that we’ve got.
Our income tax payment—and the income tax payments of everyone—represents money that really doesn’t seem to be helping the economy all that much; it represents money that someone has earned, but is not entitled to spend as they see fit—in ways that—through consumerism or investment, would likely have helped put others to work and keep some businesses open. It makes me wonder whether we should work so hard for that “little extra”—especially when that “little extra” isn’t going to be ours anyway. And it also goes to prove, I think, that taxes can be a disincentive to work, for some anyway.
We’ll pay our taxes—we always do—although we won’t be happy about it. It’s been a while, though, since we’ve had to write a big check to Uncle Sam—back in the days when my husband was moonlighting and no taxes were being withheld from that pay. But I’m a fine example of what’s wrong with withholding taxes: when we never see the money—or when we get some little bit back after having it withheld all year—it’s not nearly so painful, nor so likely to inspire resentment; but when you’re faced with writing a check for a significant chunk of change, and you think of all the things you might have done to make yours and your family’s life a little more pleasant this year (or how much more we might have given to our church or other good causes), well, it changes (or in my case, confirms) your opinion of a government that spends more than it brings in every year already, and just demands more and more all the time.
Were man what 'greenish correctness' makes him out to be, a net destroyer of resources, our species would have become extinct a long time ago. In actual fact, man is a massive net creator of resources, as I explain here:
[T]ake berries, which you may call "resources provided by nature", much
liked by hunters-and-gatherers. The berries have no way (a) to
appreciate that they might be liked by human beings nor do they have the
ability, of their own accord, to make themselves (b) useful to human
beings. What Zimmermann and later Simon call a resource is brought into
existence when humans do (a) and (b) for the berries and other resource
candidates. While there may be natural phenomena that do us a welcome
service - consider the warmth and light provided by the
sun - we cannot survive by passive enjoyment of those resources. In
fact, the human mind has to figure out in a given situation if it is
wise to move into the sun or, to the contrary, if one should move into
the shadow. Moving into the shadow is already an act of creating a
natural resource, i.e. recognising something as potentially useful for
the satisfaction of a human need AND utilising this potential
successfully. Hence, the most important final conclusion: man is a net
resource producer, quite naturally, rather than a destroyer of
resources, including natural resources.
As analogous, there is a limit to the extent to which men can behave in destructive ways among one another.
This is why the state evolves, and why it evolves in such a way as to have a limited potential for destructiveness and as well as a large potential for constructive functions. As an ambivalent instrument capable of destruction as well as support of socially useful outcomes, the state, at least on the level of man's history, must produce a positive net margin of constructive outcomes over destructive ones.
As small human groups grow larger, owing to productivity increases from sedentary agriculture, and larger groups increasingly trump smaller groups, a new destabilising factor gains in prominence.
Small groups are capable of providing vital public goods by way of voluntary contribution by their members, being structured to monitor and avoid free riding as well as offering advantageous cost-benefit ratios for the individual that induce individuals to participate in the provision of public goods.
Larger groups lose that capacity, the more so the larger they become. They get caught in impasses of the Prisoner's dilemma type and minefields of multiple game theoretic equilibria. Groups survive and prevail who evolve Structures of Maximal Power (SMP) effective enough to enforce generally binding rules that make cooperation feasible in larger units: the state makes its appearance. In future posts, I shall have more to say about the ideas roughly outlined in this last paragraph.
I was in two minds, whether or not to post the following comment in response to Legitimacy by Bob Higgs at The Beacon. I decided against publication, so as not to open yet another front - and my experience is, at any rate, that one does not learn nearly as much from the emotional, knee-jerk, regurgitating responses of anarcho-capitalists than from one's own continued (often painfully insightful but also liberating) research. And RedStateEclectic is a safe place in that comments are hardly to be expected, at least not in (a) large numbers or (b) uncivil or downright stupid manner (as most comments are from my esteemed fellow-bloggers).
One of the
most important hallmarks of a regime under which it is possible to express
judgements of legitimacy or lack thereof is the freedom to express opinions
such as that of the author [Bob Higgs in his article] and the possibility to influence the political order
to bring it in closer alignment to policies that substantially augment desired claims
to legitimacy (legitimacy being always an asymptotic and contestable category).
Both conditions are fulfilled in my country, Germany. (I strongly, presume, in the USA, too).
For instance, the Green
Party (which I as a libertarian do not support at all) was completely
unacceptable to the prevailing political parties in Germany in the 1970s/80s, yet
managed against the severest resistance of the powers that be to enter the national Parliament (Bundestag) in the 1980s. Today, the Green party sets the tone for important themes of political correctness in the country.
Similarly, much of the
political thrust of the German students’ movement of the 60s - then utterly
unacceptable to the state and much of public opinion - has become a dominant
theme in German political thinking and practice nowadays, with Joschka Fischer (a militant leader
of the students’ movement and later head of the Green party) ending up as Secretary of
and underdogs, the Greens ("die Grünen") - unlike anarcho-capitalists - were willing to enter the
political process and shape the state according to their notions.
for a number of other reasons that I cannot go into here, I disagree with the
author's assessment that defining legitimacy is a matter of state fabrication,
as if the state were an autonomous being, immunised against influences from and
perfectly opposed to the population.
are dogmatically disabled to comprehend that it is perfectly rational for a
state to protect personal and property rights/institutions of liberty, and that
states like the contemporary German state derive much support from their
ability to enforce such rights, notwithstanding equally extant policies adverse
to liberty; a mix of liberty-promoting and liberty-adverse policies will be
inevitable in any complex and free society, a prospect that anarchists abhor in
their simplistic taste for contrasts of black and white, while (classical)
liberals ought to be aware of and prepared to deal with this most difficult
if the political struggle is left to those of differing views, and morbid
moping (about the evil, evil, evil state) is chosen as the default position, it
is inevitable that the task of defining legitimacy will be largely assumed by
legitimacy is framed to be a self-serving concept such that its credible
presence in a political system depends on the personal assessment of an
anarchist with a preconceived agenda of discrediting (the legitimacy of) the
state and the present political order, then, of course, it is practically a
foregone conclusion that there can be no such thing as legitimacy, and hence,
to all intents and purposes, there appears to be no difference between the
state and a criminal organisation.
classical liberal I insist, like Ludwig von Mises, however, there is such a difference,
and to lose sight of it, is to lose sight of liberty.
possible and important to determine the difference between the state and a criminal gang
according to criteria that exist independent of the separate question whether
the state is thought to be considered legitimate in the views of such and such
percentage of the population.
and defence of this vital difference and the criteria by which it can be
ascertained used to be the essence of (classical) liberalism.
struggle for “liberty” has become much more convenient these days than it used
to be. Just complain about the state and you’ve done your job.
In upcoming posts, I shall try to demonstrate that there are rigorous evolutionary limits to human destructiveness (man cannot go beyond a certain point of destructiveness if he is to survive), and that in this regard there is an analogy between
(a) the alarmism of environmentalists, who overlook that man has evolved to become, of necessity, a net resource-increaser/protector, and
(b) the one-sided anti-state hype of anarcho-capitalists, who entirely fade out the fact that state structures have competitively evolved to support survival on the group level, and therefore, of necessity, comprise elements of self-interest on the part of the state that make it rational for it to foster greater freedom and welfare, irrespective of whether the state is (regarded as being) capable of benevolence or not.
In fact, it is just as compelling for the bandit state to enhance its wealth base as it is for a state consisting of saints.
How violent, vicious, and morally detestable has mankind been during the (early) course of history?
As to what human beings will or will not do in that regard, I suspect two decisive criteria will always be part of the reckoning: (i) the ratio of costs to benefits, and (ii) technical (non-)feasibility, especially the (non-)existence of a material basis for a particular type of action.
Moral assessments will tend to develop in the wake of acts decided upon according to (i) and (ii).
For this reason, my guess is that there must have been violence and viciousness within and among even the small pre-neolithic tribes of hunters-and-gatherers, while slavery was not yet profitable for lack of a surplus requisite to organise exploitation (conquest, captivity-management, per capita productivity etc). This changed when sedentary agriculture increased productivity in such measure that a division of labour and with it specialists in the exercise of violence and power could be economically sustained.
I have always believed that subject to (i) and (ii) above, the natural trend for mankind is to evolve Structures of Maximal Power (SMP), as I term them, i.e. efficient forms of coercion, which is why the state has come about and will not go away. Inevitable gravitation toward SMP is also the reason why violence and viciousness have a prehistory dating back long before the emergence of the state:
studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common
in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of
such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as
high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than
experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas
Hobbes's "war of each against all" looks more accurate for humanity
in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "noble savage,"
though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between
In the same way, kids learning to do all the other things they learn without adult teachers – to walk, run, climb, whistle, ride a bike, skate, play games, jump rope – compare their own performance with what more skilled people do, and slowly make the needed changes. But in school we never give a child a chance to detect his mistakes, let alone correct them. We do it all for him. We act as if we thought he would never notice a mistake unless it was pointed out to him, or correct it unless he was made to. Soon he becomes dependent on the expert. We should let him do it himself. Let him figure out what this word says, what is the answer to that problem, whether this is a good way of saying or doing this or that.
There isn’t a question that goes un-asked around here. There isn’t a fixed spot wherein the kids must sit (although they prefer the dinette area where the sun shines warm in the morning). There isn’t peer pressure confining their personal actions to some expected norm, outside the realm of universal manners. There isn’t one way to pursue knowledge, and there isn’t much help from Mom & Dad.
They do the work. They do the learning – sometimes fast, sometimes slow. They use whatever references they choose. Learning is autodidactic and the sooner a child gets a feel for it, the better. They’re at the upper ninetieth percentiles of their classes. In my eyes, they’re just average kids.
Me? I hover. I print things. I buy their school books and take them to the library. I solve disputes. I attend to wounds. I resist the urge to help them by believing in them, but never stop searching for answers with them. I discuss things and ask their opinions on science, history, reading books, music, etc. I watch them grow and wish I could slow them down a bit. They’re their own experts developing their expertise with the help of their Mom & Dad, and their neighbors, and their community.
As a parent, it’s nice to be needed. It’s even nicer when I am not… something I learned in homeschool.