Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts after the election

150 years ago this country embroiled itself in a deadly and destructive war. Central to that conflict was the belief that it is acceptable to profit from the forced labor of others.

It is not.

Slavery is wrong, not because one race subjugates another race, but because one individual thinks he owns the life of another individual.

He does not.

We no longer believe in chattel slavery, where one man can own another. But the belief still exists that we, as a community, have a moral claim on the productive labor of our neighbor.

We do not.

Each individual life is sacred. Each one of us is owner of his own life, his own labor, his own property, and only his own. Some believe you can compromise on one part of this trilogy without destroying the whole.

You can not.

Well meaning, thoughtful people confuse majority rule with individual rights. They are not the same. Without the absolute barrier to action drawn by inalienable rights, a majority is merely a mob.

Our country does need a change. We need to rededicate ourselves to the ideals upon which this country was founded: the individual rights of life, liberty and property. We need to apply them with rigorous consistency in every situation, to every individual. That is the meaning of equality before the law.

Freedom based on individual rights is the only path to peace and prosperity. I am saddened that to believe this is to be the new minority.

But this is still the freest country in the world. We are a people that can learn from our mistakes, and act to correct them. We can voice our disagreements and non-violently work to change each other's minds. We can live together, work side by side, and pursue our dreams and ideals, even though we disagree.

Yes, we can.

.

23 comments:

Lisa said...

Thanks for this post, Beth. I don't always agree with your viewpoint, or, honestly, understand it very well. It is so different from what I've been exposed to for most of my political life. But I very much enjoy the way that you articulate your ideas, and your blog helps to broaden my perceptions. You are so out of the box, and your writing is challenging and thoughtful. Thanks for all of it!

Jahandar said...

That was beautifully written, and quite true. It makes me sad, however. I'm sad that it needed to be said at all, and to Americans at that.

Anonymous said...

Given the inflection point at which you write, you are obviously for something or against something. What is your point? If you are for something please provide exp;licit examples of how you propose to achieve it. Please include the consequences in the short and long term, both positive and negative. If you are against something, please provide a detailed alternative subject to the requirements in the previous sentence. Supporting your proposals with historical or current evidence would be a plus. Thanks.

Beth said...

Lisa,
Thanks for reading and for letting me know you are. Your gift to me through your art is a wonderful perspective on the world. Beauty. Peacefulness. Benevolence.
My offering is also a perspective of peace and benevolence, but through the realm of ideas. And like your encaustics, there are many layers to penetrate before obtaining a full understanding.
Thanks for joining the journey.

To jahandar: The sadness is definitely part of what I feel. I grieve over the fact that I am out of alignment with the points of view of so many in this country. But, it's not over. And honest dialogue will help to move us forward to an even better place. It is truly a momentous occasion that race is being sidelined in our politics. Hopefully, we can now focus on the battle of ideas.

To anonymous,
Not every piece of writing is an argument or a defense of one's ideas. Some are merely an expression of them. Hopefully in some of my other posts I can satisfy your reasonable request for support of my ideas. Thanks for your comments.

Dean Striker said...

This was beautiful, right up until the end, when we read:
"...We can live together, work side by side, and pursue our dreams and ideals..."
This part is no longer a part of "Yes We Can". Final abandonment of true freedom has been aborted by the ignorant socialist "majority". We who believe in Liberty have been relegated to a minority without voice.
But we can wish, I suppose.

Beth said...

Dean,
Yes, liberty seems to have been abandoned by the majority in this country (although they don't see it that way.) Yet, I see the need to find a way to dialogue. I know no other way to try and change their minds. We are still more free than not, and because of that, we must live together, while never abandoning for what we believe in.

I disagree that we "have no voice." And, I do not want to relinquish to Mr. Obama and his supporters the conviction that "Yes, we can." The cause of liberty is just. The policy of redistribution of wealth violates what is just and right. The case can and must be made.

I know of no alternative.

Anonymous said...

The recent postings confirm my suspicion that all this rhetoric about liberty is a response to the nonsense about socialism and redistribution of wealth. As one of my conservative friends pointed out: “it’s nonsense, but it’s all McCain has, poor man.” Unfortunately, it is also reminiscent of the child who complains about doing chores and tries to get out of fulfilling his or her responsibility by asserting, “I didn’t ask to be born into this family.” I’ve seen this rhetoric before among conservatives, and it usually boils down to an attempt to use the commons that we all fund without themselves paying. What concerns me most about conservative rhetoric, though, is the focus on their ‘rights’ and the apparent misunderstanding of the difference between rights and license. I hear a lot of talk about rights and what I see is a strident demand for the license to do as one pleases. A case in point is the conservative position on greenhouse gasses, as recounted elsewhere on this site. The position is so steeped in short term self interest that focuses on the fear that ‘I might not be able to do as I please,’ as well as diminishing references to ‘alarmists’ that it crowds out the long term benefit all, including the individuals who want to do as they please. And I’m not talking about scenarios involving flooded cities, severe storms, and the like, although they could contribute; I’m talking about pure, simple economics. Even the specious and false concern for the economic fate of living at the margins can’t cover the blatant desire for those at the top to get theirs no matter what. Yes, the data may be uncertain, and the conclusions more so, but climate change is irrelevant when one looks at the big picture. But I’ll address that later.

Like it or not, conservatives and progressives alike had the privilege of being born into a community known as the United States of America, and they have the privilege of earning their livings by making use of the social, legal and tangible infrastructure built up by investment of their forebears. Maintaining it and improving it for our children requires equitable distribution of the costs.

What does that mean? It means we have to pay for the benefits we derive from society in proportion to those benefits. To illustrate, ask your self when the last time you filed a patent or trademark application on your own behalf, or when you sued to protect one, or when you sued as a business tactic? For most people the answer in each case is ‘never.’ Well, corporations do it every day. They are four times as likely to file a suit, and more likely to file a frivolous suit. And who pays for the agencies and courts that support all this activity? We do! Is that fair?

First, let’s look at individuals across the range of income levels, so we can treat the whole spectrum from line worker to CEO to corporation. We know the corporation benefits from the legal infrastructure just described. How about the CEO? Well, he gets bonus money, stock options, and stock grants in addition to a salary hundreds of times greater than the line worker, so I would say his benefits are almost the same as the corporation’s. Moreover, without the infrastructure his earnings would not be possible. On the other end of the spectrum, say, a machinist would be earning about the same money with or without a patent, and his bonus/options/stocks compensation is nil. So, his benefit from infrastructure is minimal.

Let’s start with a flat tax of 15%. That pays for the ordinary income with ordinary dependence on the legal infrastructure. Now everyone does benefit from the legal infrastructure, even if it isn’t actively. We all have contracts that derive their value from the threat of legal repercussions (e.g. leases, loan agreements, etc.). So, everyone must chip in something. But it seems like those who use the legal infrastructure on a daily basis, and profit handsomely from doing so, should pay a little more. Noting that the closer one is to the CEO’s office the more one benefits from the legal infrastructure, it seems reasonable that as your income rises your should pay more tax proportionately with the excess benefit. So, we have a progressive income tax.

That is not redistribution of wealth. That is equitable distribution of costs. Granted, Obama’s choice of words was unfortunate, but his description was consistent with the scenario presented here. A similar argument can be made for funding of roads, schools, and other infrastructure from which we all benefit.

The alternative is to eliminate tax support for the justice system, requiring that those who use the system pay the full cost of doing so. However, that would make patents, trademarks, and their defense beyond the reach of most. Worse, it would make justice, in general, available only to those with substantial financial means—even more that at present. This would greatly reduce the pool of potential innovators, and we would all be worse off.

I could go on, but instead I’ll leave you with a question.

From the economic viewpoint of a wage earner, say, Sam the unlicensed plumber’s helper, what would be the long-run and short-run effects of his taxes going to zero? I’ll be back after at least three of you have posted an answer. Three real answers, not the insular affirmation of what one of you posted.

Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we will continue to do so. And, yes, I'm the same anonymous.

Beth said...

Thank you again for your comments. As I said in my reply to your comment on my "Politics, Science and Climate Change" post:
“It is helpful to have you express your points of disagreement. It is important to try and understand just where the arguments split so we of differing points of view do not just stand isolated and talk past one another.
You raise so many points that I can not address them all in a reply comment. I have printed out your comments and will do my best to understand the essence of your arguments. Then over time, I will try to tackle what I see as the most important ones. You seem to express many of the ideas which separate my thinking from others around me, and it will be helpful to try and hone in on just why.”

One issue I can identify right off the bat is the matter of freedom vs. license. I disagree with your formulation of this very important distinction and look forward to accepting the challenge to explain how I understand it. Others issues include: what constitutes “equitable distribution;” my understanding of the right way to view what you term “the commons;” and how infrastructure would be handled in a system of economic freedom. Great topics for future posts!

I hope to make the time to answer in my own words your question about Sam, the plumber’s helper. In the mean time, I would like to refer you to the article, “For Society to Thrive, the Rich must be Left Alone” at http://mises.org/story/2073. In this article, economist Dr. George Reisman addresses an important fallacy of much current economic policy, the “complete failure to conceive [of] the role that saving and capital accumulation play in the improvement of economic conditions.” He makes the argument that “the economic inequality that results from economic freedom is to the material self-interest of everyone. It is the foundation of rising real wages and a rising standard of living.”

Short answer: Joe the plumber will be better off if his tax goes to zero, but he will be even better off if taxes on corporations and “rich” individuals go to zero. For quick access to the long answer, I again refer you to Dr. Reisman, this time in a blog post from August, 28, 2008 “Anti-Obamanomics: Why Everyone Should Be in Favor of Tax Cuts for the ‘Rich’ ” at http://www.georgereisman.com/blog/. In that post, he presents a detailed economic defense of the following conclusion:
“It is obvious that the individual wage earner benefits far more from tax reductions on businessmen and capitalists, the so called rich, than from equivalent tax reductions on his fellow wage earners, and that this is true of each and every individual wage earner.”

I agree with Dr. Reisman’s economic analysis, and although I sympathize with his impatience and frustration over the lack of economic understanding currently being applied in today’s politics, my hope is to express that analysis with less anger. Not an easy task for anyone when the values and principles one holds most dear are being attacked, but important if our goal is to work together toward a better world.

P.S. Are you planning to remain anonymous?

Burgess Laughlin said...

ANONYMOUS > ". . . As one of my conservative friends pointed out: . . . . I’ve seen this rhetoric before among conservatives . . . . What concerns me most about conservative rhetoric . . . . A case in point is the conservative position . . . . // Like it or not, conservatives and progressives alike . . . . ."

Are you suggesting that the weblog writer's position here is a _conservative_ position?

If so, could you explain why?

The essential, defining characteristics of conservatism are: God, Tradition, Nation, and Family--all held as intrinsicist values, not as objective values, that is, as values drawn logically from facts of reality. (As always in society, there are individual mixed cases, such as atheistic conservatives; but the essentials remain as the defining characteristics of the concept.)

Conservatives do not support capitalism, which is the political system (the cause) dedicated solely to protecting individual rights to life, liberty, and property, a system which leads to the free market (the effect). Conservatives are radically opposed to capitalism.

I see no evidence of conservatism. If you do, would you please provide it?

Anonymous said...

Burgess, perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about. I was under the impression that capitalism was an economic system. In fact, I've never heard it referenced as a political system. The political system most frequently associated with capitalism is democracy, however it is not necessarily so. In Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries capitalism has been combined with dictatorships. In Chile it was Pinochet who led a coup resulting in the death Allende and the end of his socialist government. Pinochet sold off state assets and privatized many of the industries and services performed by the government under Allende, and killed anyone opposed to his policies. A similar situation occurred in Argentina, except the dictatorship was a military junta who 'disappeared' the opposition. These experiments, and the ones in Indonesia and elsewhere were designed by Chicago School disciples of Milton Friedman.

God, Tradition, Nation and Family are indeed conservative values--conservative social values. Have you ever asked yourself why these social values are characteristic of conservatives or how they all fit together? They are all interrelated. Further, if you understand why they are interrelated, you also understand why conservatives advocate capitalism, minimal government, especially relating to social programs such as Welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

The way it all fits together is a long, somewhat complicated story, but it is based on the traditional family metaphor that has an authority figure who is also a protector until the children are grown, at which time they are on their own and the authority figure should not interfere. Look at the Nation through this lens, then ask how God fits into the picture. This has been elucidated by George Lakoff (e.g. "Don't think of an Elephant")

A common theme is morality, and if I recall correctly, Beth has alluded to or explicitly referenced the morality of capitalism. The morality being that in the Nation family citizens (grown children) should be left to their own designs to make their way (competition in the market) without interference (social programs) from the government (the authority figure); however, the government should provide for defense (the protector figure).

In this country at this time conservatives who may be seen in the news are advocates of capitalism. The Radical Conservatives, sometimes called Neo conservatives, or Neo Cons, support an extreme version of capitalism that calls for privatization of almost all government functions (see Chicago School), including the military (see Iraq), emergency services (see FIMA), education (see "No Child Left Behind" and New Orleans after Katrina). Additionally, the RadCons advocate for government provision of military defense and some protection powers, leaving the market to work out the rest without intervention.

Advocacy by the blogger for these positions has been either expressed explicitly or implied in this section of the blog or in other sections. One striking example is the apparent supremacy of individual rights as opposed to the rights of the collective population. this is characteristic of the RadCon view, which, in effect, pines for the Tradition of the 18th century, when individuals could do pretty much anything they wanted without infringing on others' rights. Unfortunately, with the increase in population and modern technology individuals are capable of affecting others many miles away, even around the world; so, while the rights of individuals haven't changed, the attendant responsibilities have.

A few prominent figures in the conservative movement, are Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (both Chicago School disciples). Another good example is Newt Gingrich, a self-described conservative and architect of conservative strategy. He is all about God, guns, Nation, Family, and free market capitalism. Interestingly, though, he has no problem philandering, and he had no qualms about divorcing his wife as she lay in recovery after cancer surgery.

Given the recent rhetoric attempting to put the fear of socialism into the voting public, thereby manipulating them into voting for McCain, I have to believe that conservatives do support capitalism. Here is my question: if conservatives are radically opposed to capitalism, what economic system do they support?

So, what is your take on the Joe the Plumber scenario? Care to venture an answer?

Burgess Laughlin said...

Anonymous, I don't have the hours required to address all of our many disagreements. I will address what I see as fundamental points:

(1) > "God, Tradition, Nation and Family are indeed conservative values--conservative social values." Partly you are mistaken. "God" is not a "social value" for conservatives, but the ultimate value. God, the theists say, is the cause of all. God is the metaphysics (ontology) of the conservative worldview. (I am an atheist and my guide in life is a philosophy of reason, Objectivism, not a religion.)

Likewise, Tradition is not a "social value." It is part of the epistemology of the conservative worldview. They hold it to be one channel of knowledge of the good. (Another is revelation from God.)

>"Have you ever asked yourself why these social values are characteristic of conservatives or how they all fit together?" Yes, I have, as indicated above, in part.

> "They are all interrelated." Yes, as I have partly sketched above. Nation and Family, as intrinsicist values for cons, are collectivist. They are a reflection of their underlying altruism in ethics, which is the belief that the individual should sacrifice himself for something higher: Family, Nation, and--most of all--God.

(2) > "Here is my question: if conservatives are radically opposed to capitalism, what economic system do they support?"

Conservatives support statism in politics and therefore a statist economic system. Statism is the belief that the state (government) trumps individual rights, that is, that the state should do what it feels best regardless of violations of individual rights that result. Conservatives in no way support capitalism, the political system that serves one purpose only: the protection of individual rights, espec. the basic rights of life, liberty, and property.

"Moderate" conservatives support the "mixed economy," an impossibility, which is fundamentally statist but allows vacuoles of some freedom of action--as a a prison warden might allow prisoners to freely trade personal items in the prison exercise yard.

Serious--that is, more consistent--conservatives move to fascism.

No conservatives I have heard advocate capitalism. For example, they support welfare (for individuals or corporations), though they quibble about making it more "efficient"; they support taxation; and they support "morality laws" such as those against prostitution, abortion, drug dealing, and alcohol consumption, to name only a few.

Cons disagree among themselves sometimes about which level of government should do the prohibiting and controlling, but that is only a minor disagreement about applications, not principles.

P. S. -- You also asked: "So, what is your take on the Joe the Plumber scenario?" I stopped reading the news in August. My blood pressure dropped a lot. I never have heard of J the P. What is it, or who is he?

The name makes me wonder if he is a cracker-barrel conservative. Is he?

Beth said...

Burgess,

Thank you for reading, commenting and for your support on this blog!! I truly appreciate your comments and knowing you find my writing worth reading.

Anonymous,

Thanks again for your comments. You have pointed out several places where I need to work on my clarity.

I went back and looked through my blog posts and was surprised to find that no where had I actually defined capitalism. Our differing views of capitalism are getting in the way of productive communication.

I think your description of capitalism is one that is commonly held, but it is not mine. I find it difficult to separate a political system from an economic system as I see them inseparably integrated through the concept of individual rights. Here is how I define some key terms involved in this discussion:

Capitalism is individual rights applied to the realm of trade.
Economics is the science which studies the production of wealth under a system of division of labor.
Politics is the science which determines the principles of a proper social system.

What we now refer to economics used to be called political economy. I like that term better as it keeps in front of us that a political system and an economic system are two aspects of the broader concept “social system.” A social system is “how people relate” in all of its many aspects. I believe that the proper political system is based on the recognition and application of individual rights. So is the proper economic system.

Based on this definition, any system which violates individual rights is not capitalism. The systems of Pinocet and Allende had some aspects in common with capitalism, but it is incorrect to equate them with capitalism. Capitalism includes private property and private ownership of the means of production, but it is much more than that. You can not have true property rights without also having the rights to life and liberty. Life, liberty and property are inalienable and indivisible rights. Property ownership without the freedom to use your property to promote your life and act on your values is a contradiction and has no rational application.

I have a vague recollection that there was some connection between the Chicago School and events in South America. Can you point me to a source so I can refresh my memory? Milton Friedman was an advocate of relatively free markets, but he was not completely consistent in this. As a Monetarist, he still saw a role for government in manipulating the money supply. Full laissez-faire capitalism, which is what I argue for, would have a system of private money, not the system of political money with legal tender laws under which we currently operate.

The others you list as advocates of capitalism (Rumsfeld, Cheney, the Neocons), I would include as advocates of a mixed economy, by which I mean an economic system which includes some mixture of economic freedom and some coercive state intervention into the economy. I regret if my posts have implied an alliance with this mode of thinking. Here are some places in previous posts where I think I explicitly separate myself from them and where I outline my view of capitalism. (I’ve included how I differentiate liberty and license, a distinction you referred to in an earlier comment.)

A Greater Danger
Economic freedom is simply individual rights applied to the realm of trade. It is the protection of the rights to private property and to free association (contracts, employment arrangements etc.,) all of which must be guaranteed under a system of the rule of law.

Economic freedom is an indispensable element of wealth creation; it is also indivisible from political freedom. We can not preserve one without preserving both. Just as wealth is the solution to poverty, so freedom is the solution to wealth, and wealth and freedom are the means to life.

Why "Human Rights" Aren't
…the importance of distinguishing real rights from “human rights” (which are in fact a violation of rights.) The alliance between the leftist guerillas of Columbia, the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and “human rights” NGOs is no accident. By elevating key human values to the status of rights, they make rights seem contradictory, in need of compromise and balance. In the end, the true individual rights of Life, Liberty and Property are sacrificed in the name of being humane. But human sacrifice is never humane, and properly defined rights are never contradictory…

By restricting rights to life, liberty and property and restricting the role to the defense of these rights, government has no call for initiating force on some citizens for the sake of others. The bulk of human interactions remain private, outside the sphere of government.

Liberty is not license. The limits to liberty are set by the life, person and property of others. Liberty is freedom of action, but a freedom which excludes the initiation of force toward others. One man’s rights end where another man’s rights begin. With this understanding, rights do not conflict. Lack of conflict brings with it peace and prosperity.

Basking in Benevolence
Peaceful, mutually-beneficial, voluntary trade. That is the essence of capitalism. The application of individual rights (life, liberty and property) consistently applied to trade results in transactions where each party is enriched, each life enhanced. -------------------------

This comment has gone on probably too long so I cannot address the other points you raise, in particular my understanding of individual and collective rights. That will have to come later.

Thanks for pointing out the need for better definitions!! I am not expecting to convince you, but I would like to make my ideas as clear as possible.

Anonymous said...

Burgess, You have used the word 'intrinsicist' twice. I don't know the word and can't find it in the dictionary. I think I know what you mean, but I'm not sure. give George Lakoff a read. He outines the relationship between nation, family and God; it is much more than simply intrinsic value. I should have been more literal in my posting. First, though, god is a symbol for God. god is the ultimate. Not the ultimate value; simply the ultimate. the value part is believing in God and religion is the outward sign of that. That is why self-described conservatives refer constantly to religion and family values. Those terms evoke metaphors for "right" "authority" "morality", and other vicseral feelings. Tradition is comprised of social values, world views, and social structure. It can be defended on epistemological grounds, but I don't think it constitutes epistemology in itself. Joe the Plumber is the idiot who became the mainstay of McCain's campaign in the closing weeks. He is Sam the plumber's helper in my post above.

Beth: A good, freightening look at the chicago School/South America connection can be found in "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein. I'm very confused about your position. You don't want government interference, but you state that one person's rights end where another's begin. Logically, then, we the people's rights start where an individual's rights end. That implies that if we the people decide that CO2 emissions are something we don't like, that infringe on our right to Life, etc., then we, via our government, are perfectly within our rights to stop emitters from emitting.

I read Reisman's articles. There are some serious problems with his logic. I'll leave that for later and just observe that one should be suspicious of the positions of someone who needs to rsort to ad homonym attacks of his opponents, especially when those attacks cast nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman as a dilettante.

Beth said...

Anonymous,
Thanks for the reference of Klein's Shock Doctrine. Now I remember coming across it in a review of her book. If I get the time, I will look into this more. I have printed off the following documents:
From Naomi Klein:
http://wwww.naomiklein.org/files/resources/pdfs/friedman-pinochet-letters.pdf
http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2008/09/response-attacks
http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine/resources/part7/chapter20/pro-market-ideas-katrina
Primary Documents / Chapter Resources
http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine/resources/chapter-resources

Critique by Johan Norberg
http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9384
http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9626


In regards to my position on individual vs. collective rights: In a nutshell, I do not accept as valid that a collective can have rights. A collective (“we the people,” society, the community, the nation etc.) is an abstraction. The significant referents for that abstraction are the actual individuals of which it consists. An abstraction does not have rights. Only real individual living human beings have rights. Again, I am not expecting you to agree here, but explaining why I do not think there is a contradiction in my thinking.

Responsibilities are also the purview of individuals. I do not think it makes sense for an individual to be held accountable for the effects of the actions of a collective…but that is getting pretty far off track. I am struggling with how much energy I can put into this particular dialogue. I am working on a piece on the history of banking and money, complete with historical evidence and a recommendation on how to improve our current system to minimize market instability through applying the principles of the free market. If I do not reply to future comments here, you will know why.

Anonymous said...

Burgess, I looked up conservative beliefs, and, depending on the source free markets (capitalism) may or may not be listed. It seems that particular belief may be omitted when the topic is religious conservatives. It really doesn't matter what label Beth might wear, if any. I'm more interested in the beliefs vis-a-vis taxes, the right of many individuals to protect their rights against actions of another individual.

Beth, you believe an individual has rights and you believe that person's neighbor has rights. I submit that two neighbors each have rights, and three, and by induction a million (what you would call a collective). If you are doing something that violates the rights of one person, or two, or a million, those individuals have a right to stop you. CAn't the individuals collectively defend their rights? Or hire someone to do so on their behalf, say, Congress?

Your belief in the lack of rights for a collective has implications in corporate law. If individuals should not be held accountable for the actions of a collective (corporation)then the CEOs who got us into the financial mess we are in bear no responsibility, nor do the mangers in a company that knowingly markets a product they know is defective or otherwise harmful, which knowledge they keep secret. Doesn't make sense to me.

Beth said...

You wrote: "Can't the individuals collectively defend their rights? Or hire someone to do so on their behalf, say, Congress?"

Of course you can join together to protect and defend individual rights. That is the whole purpose of government. I am not an anarchist, and do support limited government. The proper limit of government is protecting the individual rights to life, liberty and property. What the government must not do is initiate force, which is the way individual rights are violated.

You might say it is just semantics, but I think it is a crucial distinction to say that individuals within a collective have rights, but the group per se does not. No one looses or gains rights by forming associations. Thus, a group can not perform any act which would be prohibited to an individual, most importantly, the initiation of force. My ultra-simplified conceptualization of the proper relations between human beings is “Convince me, or leave me alone” –which must be applied consistently, across the board.

A corporation can be held accountable for its actions because it is the result of a group of individuals voluntarily forming a legal entity with the express purpose of acting as a unit. Within the corporation, there are strict contractual commitments and obligations. These obligations and commitments are voluntarily assumed by its members. The corporation as a legal unit still cannot act to violate individual rights. It can be held accountable for any force against others (which includes fraud) that is objectively proven. To knowingly sell a defective product or to intentionally conceal the degree of risk entailed in a particular investment vehicle would be considered fraud, so we don’t’ disagree there.

A government differs from a corporation in that to it is delegated a monopoly on the retaliatory use of force. But government gains no rights which do not already exist in the individuals under its rule. There is no right to initiate force. Not by an individual, not by any collection of individuals.

Do you have a blog or other site that I could access to read a presentation of your thoughts and beliefs as a positive whole? As I said before, I do have your remarks printed out, and over time will attempt to address what I find to be important points. I appreciate your comments but for now, I want to put my energy in constructing a piece on money and banking, so I will have to resist my temptation to keep responding to each point you make. At least for now.

Respectfully, Beth

Beth said...

Ahhhh. I can't resist adding one more thing.

In regards to Dr. Reisman, within the context of his blog posts, he does come across as making ad homonym attacks. This does not foster constructive debate. However, within the context of his writings as a whole, most esp. his book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, he supports his accusations.

And based on this recent editorial of Krugman’s, I would say calling him a dilettante is generous. By advising a return to the near-dictatorial economic policies of WWII, “economic thug” might be more appropriate.

See “Franklin Delano Obama?” by Paul Krugman NYT 11-10-08

Anonymous said...

After I posted last night two things hit me. (1) The view that 'collectives' are abstractions and therefore don't have rights, and that, "Only real individual living human beings have rights," leads to the conclusion that corporations (legally defined abstract persons) don't have rights. If this were true, the patents, trademarks, contracts, etc., and the whole legal infrastructure on which capitalism depends disappears. What I can' figure out is how you get from the position that each individual has inalienable rights, but when they group together their rights disappear. (2) Your position is inconsistent with the Constitution, in which our forebears collected together to form a government through which the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government to act in our behalf to preserve our rights and provide for the general welfare.

I don't even know how to respond to most of what Beth and Burgess seem to believe. This appears to be a pile of inconsistent beliefs based on information that flies in the face of current affairs. Burgess uses some definition of 'conservative' that is inconsistent with my everyday experience. Turn on CNN, Fox, or any of the big three networks, pick up any newspaper that covers politics and economics and you will see self described conservatives, even commonly accepted leaders of the conservative movement, advocating for free market economics and decrying the welfare state. And their reasons for doing so often rest on their beliefs in God, Tradition, individual moral responsibility, and their vies on nation and family. Beth's notion of individual versus collective rights is incomprehensible to me. Further, although she indicates that she doesn't agree with Donald Rumsfeld's economic positions, the evidence suggests that Rumsfelds's positions are in line with hers, suggesting that her view of the world diverges from what I see reported in the press. Rumsfeld (a Friedmanite) is one of the main architects of hollowing out the government to the point at which it does virtually nothing, subcontracting even defense and protection powers to private contractors. That is why we have about 300,000 troops in Iraq, but we count only about 150,000. The rest are contractors acting on our behalf. The danger in this is that, as the courts have already shown, the contractors act with impunity, not being accountable to US nor Iraqi law; the reason here is that the law in Iraq is neither--it is the law of the Provisional Authority. If Rumsfeld and others like him have their way we won't have a military, we will have Generals and such who contract out to Blackwater and other mercenary contractors. Finally, although my perception may incorrect, I get the impression that Beth and Burgess are advocates of 'no taxes,' which leaves me wondering how we pay for a military to protect us, a judicial system that sorts our our differences, and the rest of the infrastructure that makes the US a commercial success.

We're just going around in circles here. So, here is my take on Sam the plumber.

If Sam suddenly pays no taxes he thinks he will be wealthier. I don't think so. Adam Smith, writing in "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776 related the wealth of the economy at that time to the cost of a bushel of corn. In effect he was saying that wage earners don't earn a wage; they earn a standard of living. Like it or not, a plumber earns a plumber's standard of living, and the sudden removal of taxes will not see him suddenly buying a yacht and belonging to the country club.

Let's say the plumber bids his jobs at $10,000 profit and goes home with $6,000 after all taxes. The taxes go away and he should walk away with $10,000 and his standard of living should rise. But that won't happen. Three market forces will prevent this. First, the 'invisible hand' of the market will bid the jobs formerly bid at $10,000 profit down toward $6,000. Second, due to the extra money now in the system prices of goods will rise toward the point where the plumber can afford the same amount as before. Third, given that the government no longer has any revenues, the plumber will have to pay piecemeal for his use of infrastructure. He will pay by the inch for use of roads, and provision of roads, now subject to the whim of many players extracting a profit will be less efficient; he will pay the full cost of tuition for educating his children, as the cost will no longer be shared among all those who benefit, which is everyone (read Romer, endogenous growth theory). The same reasoning can be applied to fire protection, police protection, and all the services now provided by government. So, at best our plumber remains at the same standard of living, and he may be a little worse off.

Burgess Laughlin said...

In logic, the fallacy of ad hominem (note spelling) is the fallacy of attacking one's opponent as a person instead of addressing his argument.

See, e.g., W. Ward Fearnside, Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument, pp. 99-101, for the fallacy of attacking the man. There are many books on fallacies available.

To attack an opponent as a person is not in itself a fallacy. Such attacks might be gratuitous and therefore a sign of unfocused writing, but they are not in themselves fallacious--if the author, considering full context, has addressed the issues his opponents raised.

Attacks on another person are appropriate if the purpose is to objectively impeach that person's testimony. But that is a special circumstance.

I have read very little of Dr. Reisman's writings, and that was probably 20 years ago, so I cannot comment on his alleged use of ad hominem arguments. As Beth said, one needs to keep the full context of his many writings in mind.

Signing off --

Another Lisa said...

Just in case "anonymous" reads this comment section one more time: For understanding capitalism I suggest reading "The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire" by Andrew Bernstein. It's a wonderful read!

Anonymous said...

I will definitely give Bernstein's book a read. It may be the reference I've been seeking. My a priori view is that economic regulation would not have arisen if laissez-faire didn't result in radical fluctuations. I need to look into the history of economic volatility. I suspect, though, from what I know of stock market bubbles that the history will make a case for government regulation. Maybe not, though.

I disagree with Burgess's defense of ad hominem attacks. Perhaps they are useful in demagoguery, but I don't see how they contribute to hones inquiry and debate. I also disagree with his assertion that conservatives don't support capitalism. Bill Kristol, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and on and on, all self described conservatives can be seen on the weekly talk shows and in print advocating for less regulation. I don't know of any one of them who has offered a limit to the deregulation they desire, so one can assume that the limit is zero regulation. Of course, they are too smart to come right out and say that; small steps in time.... Many of them have decried the Welfare State and George Bush has overtly attempted to privatize Social Security, which is just the first step in getting rid of Social Security and Medicare. I am suspicious of attempts by Bush and those like him to sure up Social Security or Medicare because of the way he tried to 'fix' education with 'No Child Left Behind.' In the Orwellian world of those who describe themselves as conservatives it appears that a repeated strategy is to call something by a title opposite its intent or take actions ostensibly to accomplish something but designed to do just the opposite. For example, do something to 'fix' Social Security that will ultimately bankrupt it, so the claim can be made, 'See, it just doesn't work.'

The heart of this debate is individual rights. In regard to taxes (taken by force?) and global warming vis-a-vis carbon cap and trade or other methods of 'encouraging' reductions of emissions, this come down to 'do we the people have the right to stop an industry from inflicting violence on us via polluting or otherwise destroying our environment?' I think we do. The veracity of the science is another matter, but it is inconsequential if we don't agree that we have the right to defend our environment.

On another issue, I'm interested to know what the consequence for not paying taxes should be? How do we ensure that everyone contributes to maintaining the commons and pays for the benefits they receive from it? If not the threat of force, what? How does the 'no force' dictum relate to Iraq?

poor boomer said...

Beth said:

Each individual life is sacred. Each one of us is owner of his own life, his own labor, his own property, and only his own. Some believe you can compromise on one part of this trilogy without destroying the whole.
------------------------------------------

So if a developer wants to build affordable housing in your neighborhood, would you stand up for the right to do so?

How about if a poor person wants to build a shack down the street?

Beth said...

poor boom

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Wealth is not the Problem: Is Capitalism to blame?