Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

22 June 2008

The Right to Life and Slavery

Most Americans believe that as human beings one has the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, I want to revisit a single aspect of our individual right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There are many ways to look at one's life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. There are other ways to look at it which are also right than the viewpoint I am going to take today. But, fundamentally our life consists of all the hours we have lived and our plans for the use of our future hours. Let us oversimplify this further to consider each hour that we have just lived and each hour that we are about to live and make decisions on what we are going to do with it. If an individual had no control over how he just used his last hour, then it is unlikely that that hour added much to his life, it surely did not add to his sense of living in liberty, and he is unlikely to have been very successful in the pursuit of his happiness. Similarly, looking forward to the next hour of our life, we have a decision or several decisions on how to use it. If we can chose to spend all of that hour doing things that we believe will enhance our life, then we are already assured that our life will be better, we will feel free, and we will be pursuing our individual happiness in those ways which uniquely define that happiness to us as an individual, living creature.

So, what shall I choose to do in the next hour? Well, it is Sunday, so I could go home and work on building a new retaining wall for the garden. Let us suppose I do that. I get some fresh air, I get a wee bit of exercise, and I get a nice garden retaining wall. Oh, and my home value goes up a bit and my property taxes go up with it. Of course, I also paid sales taxes already on the wall blocks waiting to be used and on the gasoline used to go buy them. OK, so I guess I will do something else. I could watch TV and listen to the news. How exciting to find out about the latest effects of flooding in Iowa and the new declaration of a federal emergency area to cover the troubles there. And, I learn about how Obama is sure that there is no need to allow the drilling of oil in federal lands, which just happen to cover most of many of our western states. Or, I could hear McCain proclaim that he thinks the north slope in Alaska is pristine and we should leave it that way. I could hear many schemes to make the American medical system like that in Canada, the UK, France, or even Cuba. Yes, even Cuba, but I will not talk about that one, since only the truly insane want Cuba's medical system. So, if I watch TV news, I am frustrated, but, hey, I made the choice, right? But, I did still pay taxes to purchase the TV and I have a room for it in my house on which I must pay property taxes. Still, both choices to work on the garden or to watch TV are relatively lightly taxed and both are relatively free of government expropriating some of my time during that hour or in subsequent hours because I made one of those choices.

Let us suppose that being a small business owner, I decide to go to my laboratory and work on analyzing a carbon coating said to have been applied to a cubic zirconia gemstone to make it look more diamond-like. The income of an hour of work on that project will have federal income taxes, social security taxes, Medicare taxes, Workman's compensation insurance, and Maryland and Federal unemployment taxes withheld from it. I have no determinative choice in how that money is used and I oppose most of the ways in which it is used. Some of the ways it is used are just wasteful and evil for depriving me of the better things I could do with it, but many of them are for the actual doing of further evil deeds. Because I am a business owner, I have further bookkeeping to perform for replacing any supplies I may use in the laboratory analysis I chose to do in this hour. If I take some part of the money I made and invest it in buying additional laboratory equipment, then I get to pay property taxes on that equipment and do the bookkeeping to keep track of its depreciation over the years. Now, I happen to enjoy finding out such things as the nature of new coating technologies and I have specifically in the area of coatings on gemstones discovered some false claims in advertising. I also like working to be able to add to my laboratory's analysis capabilities by buying new equipment. This is fun, but is there any valid reason why when I make this choice to do productive work, I am taxed many more minutes of the hour with tax payments and with the mandated, unpaid contribution of future time than I would be if I worked on the garden retaining wall or I watched TV?

I think it is fair to say that this is clearly wrong. This is clearly a violation of my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I do not have the liberty to choose to spend the next hour of my life on anything without government taking a part of that hour away from me. This is especially true if I try to do productive work which requires an income to enable me to carry out that work. It costs a lot of money to keep a laboratory working. Most of the income the laboratory makes goes into paying the bills to keep it going. A small part, highly dependent upon the fluctuations in the laboratory income, goes to me in the form of a salary or into buying equipment which enables the laboratory to make more money in the future or at least to keep it up-to-date enough to continue making as much money as it does now. But, each new piece of equipment brings more taxes and more bookkeeping. I may love doing the scientific investigating that I do into the properties of materials and in evaluating the success or failure of various manufacturing processes, but I am forced by governments to pay a heavy price in precious minutes out of every hour that I choose to put into such work. Why? Why do I have less right to an hour of my life put into laboratory material analysis than I do if I put it into building a garden retaining wall or into watching TV?

What gives those who vote for these government policies that discriminate against what I like to do the right to make such forceful demands upon the minutes of each hour of my life? Is it not the case that each such minute they take is one in which they hold me as their slave? For years I have been asking this question. No one ever gives me an answer. Those elitists who believe they know how a man should live his life and that they are the ones to force him to do so according to their values never answer my question. Why should they? They have the power. The force and as-needed violent power of government is in their hands. I am deprived of many minutes of every hour I choose to work by applying my time, my investment of untold thousands of hours in all the technical and scientific knowledge I have acquired, and my investment in the laboratory I have struggled to build and I do not even get an answer as to why.

It is especially wry that many of these socialist elitists controlling governments claim to be egalitarians. This is a fraud. We all have the same number of hours of life in a week, yet they take many more hours in the form of taxes and mandated requirements for our work from some of us than from others. This taking is the taking of the hours of lives. They seek equality of income and property, but the most precious thing that any of us have is the hours of our lives. That, these socialists tax with extreme inequality.

Walter E. Williams wrote a column called "Are Americans Truly Against Slavery" in which he identified excessive taxes as slavery. As I have noted in the past, Williams is very good at getting to the heart of the matter and he does so with an obvious passion. I wrote a comment in reply to this column also at this same website. A number of the other comments are also quite good.


miss breeziness said...

Another wonderful post, Mr. Anderson. (Why do I feel like Agent Smith from The Matrix when I say that? :D)

Your points are absolutely true, but I must say that most of the people advocating things like higher taxes don't know that what they're basically arguing for is slavery. As far as they're concerned, for the government to take some of people's earnings is like the fact that the sun rises in the East. It just is.

Them, and some generally very nice liberals I know who genuinely believe in "social justice". They are operating literally from a completely different set of principles.

Mind you, none of this means that I agree with what they say. However, to convince a dedicated social activist that "social justice" is wrong is a very hard thing indeed. Especially if said social activist feels that it's a part of their identity. It may be equally difficult to convince a regular guy that all taxation is basically theft. Well, depends on the person.

Charles R. Anderson said...

Miss Breeziness,

Thanks again for your comments. I agree with you that many liberals do not conceive of redistributive taxes as a source of slavery. I agree that those who elevate "social justice" to the pinnacle principle of their understanding of politics have a difficult time understanding how anyone could question that principle. What I am trying very hard to do is to formulate the problem of government and its purposes in such a way that some thinking liberals will find that they must radically alter their concept of government, its purposes, and what would constitute a desirable society. I and Walter Williams know that this idea that heavy and redistributive taxes constitute a form of slavery is shocking. Is it shocking enough to get some people who would rather not do harm to others to serious rethink what they are doing. Apparently, you commendably did this yourself.

It is very hard to convince people to change their worldview. You throw their inconsistencies before them over and over as applied to case after case, and some liberals of goodwill do respond, either radically or at least by stages of evolution, to develop an improved understanding of how a society should function. This process is partly about thinking, but there is also a great reluctance to separate oneself from the friends you share a worldview with. People both on the left and on the right often belong to a kind of club it is hard to leave.

miss breeziness said...

Oh, when you figure out how to say that to a liberal, please tell me as well. :)

Not long ago, I had a slight bit of trouble with one liberal friend who's self-describedly passionate about social justice. I'd made a post on my journal about how great a certain article by John Hospers on "Justice vs. Social Justice" was, and recommended that everyone read it. She replied to me saying that Hospers set up straw men. The whole fiasco is here.

The question is - was Hospers really "unrealistic" about affirmative action and poverty? Did my friend have some good points? (Personally, I actually think she did, but...)

(Please don't say anything to her about this. :) )

As for how I came to realize that taxation is slavery myself - I've read Ayn Rand, and plenty of articles by libertarians arguing just this point. It just plain old made sense to me after hearing the way they put it.

Mind you, it took some pretty heavy operation from first principles, the very basics, such as the idea that you've taken time to earn your money, so if someone takes your money, they've pretty much stolen your time, which is part of your life.

Charles R. Anderson said...

Just as you reconsidered the idea of taxes from a fundamental viewpoint that they take a part of a person's life away from them, I am trying to get others to realize that there is a conflict between a minimum of taxation and the principle that most Americans believe that the individual has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They think they agree with that individual right, yet they contradict it in many ways with taxation and many government mandates. The trick here is to encourage people to think this through.

In much earlier essays, I tried to encourage people to think more about popular attitudes with respect to toleration, benevolence, the individuality and complexity of a thinking human being, and human sexuality. These are all complex issues and I would love to hear what you think about them.

I will take some time later this evening to read the dialog on John Hosper's article at your website. I am looking forward to visiting it. Your comments here have been refreshing and intelligent. Yours is a fresh breeze! Thanks.

Charles R. Anderson said...

miss breeziness,

I found the John Hosper's Freeman article to be well-written and useful. He is thinking in terms of principles to tackle complex and abstract problems. To make it easier for people to understand, he is trying to create specific cases for them to think about. He is doing this because he understands that the abstract problem of justice is very complex and has to be considered in many of its particulars as well as in terms of unifying principles.

When he was talking specifically about the moral issues relating to affirmative action programs for racial groups as relates to social justice, it seems to me that he was dealing with the crux of the issues. I fail to see your friend's basis for objecting that he was creating a straw man. Perhaps she has a problem with developing and utilizing principles as an aid to thinking. Without them, it is very hard to make sense of complex issues such as justice.

When he considered some causes for poverty or some having less wealth than others, it was clear that he was not trying to address the most common reasons for some people having low incomes. He was picking cases most people would find it easy to understand the principle of justice involved. This was then to be suggestive of ways to analyze whether other reasons for poverty placed an obligation on people to tax themselves for redistribution of income in the name of justice.

We start thinking about justice at a very early age. Children start telling their parents that this or that is not fair at a very early age. Children think about these issues with respect to how other children treat them and how their teachers treat them. We think about justice when we read "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Les Miserables," and "Atlas Shrugged." We think about it when we read history. And of course, when we talk about politics, though it is surprising how poorly most people think about it in this case. One has to draw on a huge volume of personal experiences, a wealth of knowledge of history, and a lot of thinking about life and the moral principles for living it.

I read and liked your essay "Xenophobia, Racism, and Bad Economics." It was well-written and showed mature judgment. I tried to leave a comment but my LiveJournal password was not accepted, though it is when I go to the sign-in page for my long unused journal there.

miss breeziness said...

Dear Mr. Anderson:

Thank you so much for the kind words.

Essay? You flatter me! :) I only meant it to be a rant. :D If it had been an essay, I'd have scoured the Web for articles and news stories. Which I'm too lazy to do. :D

Your points about Hospers simplifying the issue in order to clarify it are very good ones. That's actually what I thought as well when I was proclaiming the merits of the article to all and sundry. :) Still, my friend's negative reaction caused me to question my own positive one. We often have trouble detecting bad writing if it agrees with our own viewpoints. This is true whether you're liberal, conservative or libertarian.

For the record, said friend has worked in AmeriCorps and as a teacher for years, and she has experience with the poorer segments of society. Well, teaching experience anyway. She herself is an upper middle class white highly educated person. The sort most likely to hold liberal politics...

I guess what John Hospers was saying was that 2+2=4, and what my friend is saying is that in real life, you often need to do more complicated equations than that. However, this doesn't mean that 2+2=4 isn't true.

Thank you for visiting my website again.

P.S. Sorry about that Email. I thought that maybe you would feel this matter inappropriate to discuss on the blog, and might prefer to do it over Email instead. (You can cut this PS out.)