James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Ideal" Government

The limit to my libertarianism is based on the land/natural resource problem. If living space and resources on which to live are infinite, there is no justification for any sort of aggression, and everyone should be free to do as they please as long as they don't violate the equal rights of others to do the same. But when one takes from the earth, and thereby leaves others with less than they need, we have a problem. This person can impose payments, or other terms and conditions, on others that they must meet in order to get what they need. This is rent. The question is, when does land-taking for personal use violate the rights of others, and when does it not?

Death and taxes may be certain; death and rent are even more certain. Taxes are just a form of rent. All government revenue is ultimately derived from human labor creating value from the raw materials of the earth. The government can tax in a variety of ways: the market value of the land and natural resources used, the purchase price of finished goods, the income received from one's labor, or variations of all three. The just tax of a just government, however, would tax only the value of land/natural resources taken beyond what is necessary for personal use, and would distribute this wealth to others within the jurisdiction of that government.

But problems remain. What scale are we talking about; how big should the government's jurisdiction be? be? Should the "government" govern only unique geographic areas within a few square miles? Should there be a world government we should pay taxes to? Can multiple governments exist within the same geographical area?

And who is to determine the value of land? And how will people make payment?

If I could advance my ideals within our present framework (i.e., the existing states and the United States), my main libertarian concern would be to get people off government rolls. Tax rolls, business licensing rolls, social security number rolls, etc. Take a census to find out how many live in a residence, but don't take names. To the extent the government doesn't "know" you exist, i.e., doesn't have your identity on file, the freer you are.

I would

a) work toward going back to the federal government's original purpose: to represent the states as one voice on matters of interstate and international trade, immigration, and defense, stay out of religion, morals, and social policy, and remain neutral in foreign conflicts.
b) collect the revenue for the federal government's purposes through one low, uniform tariff on imported goods.
c) in the states, collect taxes only from owners of land and those with exclusive rights to natural resources, based on the value of their sites. Persons, as persons, wouldn't be taxed, only persons who are owners of land, based on the site value. It doesn't matter who the owner - whether an individual or a foreign-owned conglomerate, is. Local governments already determine site value when they assess property taxes; I'm just suggesting they tax the property improvements (construction, etc.) less and the site value more.
d) If you want to receive benefits as a citizen, to vote, to receive dividends from tax revenue, receive social welfare services, public education, etc., then, and only then, do you register for them - and registration makes you subject to jury duty, service in the militia, and other obligations. And stricter standards for citizenship could be enforced for foreign-born residents: proof of residency for a certain number of years, fluency in English, etc. Those who chose not to have these benefits and obligations of citizenship don't have to have them, whether native- or foreign-born, but all who expect benefits must prove citizenship, and all owners of land, regardless of citizenship, must pay site-value taxes or risk losing their land.
e) The federal government would try to prevent importations of dangerous goods and prevent migration/invasion from threatening countries, but would almost always leave residents within its borders alone.
f) The state governments would let people do what they please provided they didn't harm anyone else without their informed consent, and only those who owned land would pay taxes. The only people who would be registered with the State are those who want to participate in the political process and receive benefits from the State.

In other words, I would do my best to direct the State to be something that exists only through voluntary participation. The fewer the number of people who want to participate in the State, the lower the taxes land-owners will have to pay. The more unjust and/or unbeneficial the land-owning and rent-paying situation is, the higher the taxes on landowners and more political the government, whereas the more just and/or more beneficial the private land-owning arrangements are, the quicker the State will die. And that would be the greatest benefit for all.


  1. Uh, if you're for a small government, why are you on an Anarchist (left-libertarian) blogroll?

  2. Sheesh.

    Morally and philosophically, I am an anarchist, but I a) perceive some theoretical problems, and b)don't know how to get there from here. My apologies for not being a doctrinaire asshole.

    If I don't belong on the Libertarian Left webring, take it up with Tom Knapp. He'd be surprised to learn this ring is for anarchists only.

  3. James, you're on the right track. To go further, read http://ecolibertarian.org/manifesto

  4. What's with you? I was just asking a simple question, no need to have a stick up your ass.

    If you have some questions about Anarchy, why don't you ask them? There's plenty of people on the blogsphere to answer.

  5. I think you have the right idea in trying to reform the government towards anarchism rather than trying to take a revolutionary leap into anarchism. In that light, we don't need to have a solution to your concerns right away. We can carefully deliberate about this and apply what we learn on the way towards anarchism.

    I was thinking about land and property taxes. The core assumption that we are making is that there is no substitute for land and that it's highly static. It's rarely created or destroyed. If either of these assumptions are false, it would be better for government to take the position of benign negligence.

    So while designing or implementing a government that arbitrates land and natural resources, we have to keep a continuous eye on making sure that those assumptions are true and remain true.

  6. "I think you have the right idea in trying to reform the government towards anarchism rather than trying to take a revolutionary leap into anarchism."

    Yea, there's just one little problem: it has never worked in the history of politics, and it will never work.

  7. I'm pretty much on board with your view, but I've taken the argument to its inevitable conclusion.

    In a nutshell:

    - All regional governments ("states" in the US) are voluntary members of the national government (i.e. they have the unilateral right to secede), and all passing measures in the national legislature must have unanimous consent.

    - All county/parish governments are voluntary members of the regional (state) government (i.e. they have the unilateral right to secede), and all passing measures in the regional (state) legislature must have unanimous consent.

    - All city/town governments are voluntary members of the county/parish government (i.e. they have the unilateral right to secede), and all passing measures in the county/parish legislature must have unanimous consent.

    - All ward/district governments are voluntary members of the city government (i.e. they have the unilateral right to secede), and all passing measures in the city legislature must have unanimous consent.

    - All community associations (such as a homeowners' association) are voluntary members of the city government (i.e. they have the unilateral right to secede), and all passing measures in the ward/district legislature must have unanimous consent.

    - All property owners are voluntary members of either (1) the district/ward or the community association and have the unilateral right to secede), and all passing measures in the community association or ward/district legislature must have unanimous consent.

    See my thoughts on "confederations of Confederacies" here and here:

    -- Nick Bradley
    Blogger, LewRockwell.com

  8. This looks like a good framework to start with. The problem with libertarians / anarchists is that we can't really give them a vision of what we're proposing. Essays like this go a long way to communicating more than just principles, but rather also the spirit we seek to establish in the affairs among men.

    One thing I'd say is that the idea that we "rent" the Earth from the government via taxes is a little dubious. I'm pretty certain that you don't mean it literally - the idea is merely a stand-in for a management layer that can effectively allocate the scarce resources of the planet. Fair enough. But government, on a very fundamental level, does not own its territory in the sense that individuals do. If we hand over to the government title to the Earth, we lose a very important part of our core argument.

    Instead of entrusting government (at least, gov't as we've known it) with the task of coordinating fair use of the planet's resources, I'd prefer for ad hoc groups of residents to decide among themselves, and federate among each other for protection. But then, this gets mighty close to the vision you propose anyway. This is why Francois's comment, I think, was so grating - at some point, "government" is just a word.

    Finally, tying the expense of this coordinating function of gov't to those who have accumulated most - in land, resources, etc. - is the best way to pay for it. There's a reciprocity in place that allows for those who take more to give back more, and to make economic decisions on that basis. If estate size maps to tax liability, you start to see a lot of artificial centralization and obscene wealth aggregations dissipate, I believe (see my essay on this very subject if you're interested).

    I like where you're going, and it's very similar to the direction I was headed before I became more of a radical. The idea is to make the social contract explicit, so that people using gov't are the ones tied to its bullshit. That's better than the implicit contract we live under in sort of a half-witted fashion. But I'd prefer, rather, to have the contract not exist until it's negotiated person by person.

    But we do what we can with what's available. Right now, large scale anarchy is simply not available. Thanks for a great essay!