Sep 112011
 

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, p. 269:

If I could increase gradually the rate of VAT to 19 or even 20 per cent, I could scrap the National Insurance increase. I could compensate low earners with a package of measures to negate the impact of the VAT increase. On top of that, I could surprise people by cutting both the basic rate of income tax and corporation tax in order to boost growth. I tried this out with Gordon, but was met with an emphatic no. I talked to both Peter and Ed Balls, trying to convince them that we needed something big if we were to come out of this with any momentum at all. While Peter this time had an open mind, Gordon and Ed remained implacably opposed to the VAT increase. There was nothing more I could do, so we stuck with the tax measures previously announced.

Two years later, and thanks to Brown and Balls, not only do we still have their increased NI and income taxes, we also have 20% VAT.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a fucking bunch.

Aug 212010
 

Now, of course I’ve read Tim Worstall on Murphy, and occasionally DK on Murphy, but until this moment I’d never read any Murphy himself. Somehow, as a result of that, I’d unconsciously been giving him the benefit of the doubt, the sort of ‘I won’t attack what I don’t know about firsthand’ kind of indifference, wherein my only thoughts containing Richard Murphy tended to centre around the effect he has on Tim.

But having had a firsthand look, I can confirm that he is a low specimen of humanity indeed. And also more than a bit foolish.

For reference, let’s take this comment by Adrian, responding to Murphy’s quite unsupported assertion that tax is the price paid for living in a democracy:

No, clearly I don’t get it.

There are lots or people who don’t pay tax because they don’t earn income. They may be supported by another adult (eg spouse, parent). They may be reliant on social security. They might even be in jail!

They are part of society and a democracy just as much as anyone else. Payment of tax is not a pre-condition of membership, and nor should it be.

Under my suggestion, participants would be behaving perfectly legally. And I am not suggesting they won’t have paid their way. If the lump sum is set to the right level, they will have done so.

I understand tax is not currently a DCF concept. But we use the concept everywhere else, including the public sector (DCF thinking is widespread on a range of issues). And the current arrangements aren’t working too well. So why can’t we stretch our imagination and use DCF here?

If my neighbour paid his tax this way, I wouldn’t know, care, or think any differently of him as a person or a member of our community. Why should I?

Adrian’s quite sensible view here is, of course, that tax and democracy are not linked, nor does he think they should be. There is a certain rhetorical danger in linking them, as we’ll see later on.

But does Murphy think through what Adrian is saying, consider his point rationally, or respond in a constructive way to this reasonable comment?

Does he fuck:

If you want to end democracy, go ahead

I suspect most who understand DCF are quite happy with that

But I, and most of those who do not appreciate DCF value society – and that’s built on democracy

You clearly don’t understand

I think it’s a form of autism

Yup, that’s right. This Adrian, for daring to disagree and fail to understand what passes for logic in Murphy’s assertion, gets called autistic for his pains. And when, further down the thread, someone calls out Murphy on this ‘silly and offensive’ remark, he responds:

No, actually serious and considered

I mean that I think this attitude is probably on the autistic spectrum

It reveals a profound lack of understanding of others, and an inability to read their responses to situations

That places it on that spectrum

A ‘serious and considered’ diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder by a non-psychologist reading an unknown person’s blog comment. Either this is a serious case of mote-and-beam, or Richard Murphy truly is a low piece of scum who sees nothing untoward in employing a mental illness as an insult to be wielded against debating opponents.

Then Murphy falls into his own rhetorical trap, the danger he was always going to face if he started linking tax to democracy. It’s a pitfall sensible Adrian was trying to guide him away from gently, but like a wildebeest racing toward a cliff, Murphy failed to look ahead:

The vote always carries the obligation to pay in my opinion

And there’s Adrian, waiting at the bottom of the cliff with point-ed sticks:

“The vote always carries the obligation to pay in my opinion”

Are you saying those who don’t pay because they don’t earn income (or make capital gains etc) shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

Or by ‘always’ do you mean ’sometimes’?

Or do you mean ‘the two concepts – tax and voting – are completely unrelated’? Whether you do either is unrelated to your right (in the case of voting) or obligation (in the case of tax) to do the other?

Please explain.

But answer came there none—
And this was scarcely odd because
Adrian ate Richard Murphy and his stupid idea for breakfast.

The end.

Feb 252010
 

When I heard about the dude in Texas who flew his plane into an IRS office, my second reaction was, ‘Well, crap.’ Mostly because I knew this would hurt the cause of anti-tax, limited-government advocates everywhere. We would all be tarred with the same brush, and the mildly irritating, deliberate misinterpretations of that movement in the US (see, for example, this ethnography of the Tea Party, lush with contempt and condescension) would become either (a) outright denunciations of hypocrisy and extremism, or (b) even more explicit in their belief that anyone expressing suspicion of government is a tinfoil-wearing lunatic. Or both.

And indeed, this is precisely what has happened. To the point where some other wanker at the New York Times has written an opinion piece about it – which neatly combines views (a) and (b) as expected.

I don’t doubt that Tea Partiers are on balance on the right, and if their movement ever crystallizes into a political party that will be its location. But until the requisite winnowing happens, a person with Stack’s fuzzy ideology wouldn’t feel terribly alone at a big Tea Party.

I emphasize that I’m talking about his ideology, not his penchant for flying planes into buildings. Still, some of the ingredients of that penchant — a conspiratorial bent, a deep and personal sense of oppression, an attendant resentful rage — can be found in the movement, if mainly on its fringes. There are some excitable Tea Partiers out there.

Yup, all there. Tea Partiers are simultaneously lame and dangerously crazy. Just on the fringes, though! Wouldn’t want to make sweeping generalisations or anything!

Oh wait:

…I’m not sure how purely conservative the Tea Party movement is anyway.

Yes, it mobilized against a liberal health care bill and the stimulus package, but it also opposes corporate bailouts. Sure, Tea Partiers hate taxes, but that alone doesn’t distinguish them from many Americans. On social issues the Tea Partiers include some libertarians along with a larger number of family-values conservatives.

And when you move to foreign policy, things don’t get more coherent. Though some Tea Partiers are hawks, many follow Ron Paul’s lead, combining a left-wing critique of military engagement with a right-wing aversion to the United Nations and other multilateral entanglements.

In the end, the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers is populist rage…

Apparently this guy thinks that opposing government intervention (health care bill, stimulus package, corporate bailouts), government intervention (in foreign countries in illegal wars), and government intervention (allowing the global government of the UN to determine the policies of individual countries) is a ‘squishy,’ ‘inchoate,’ and ‘undefined’ ideological position.

And apparently the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers, who couldn’t be more direct about their core unifying theme – opposing government intervention – is actually populist rage. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not see; and there are those who will never see, even when they have all the info at their disposal, because they would rather view the Tea Party as lunatics with conspiracy nuts on the fringes, with terrorists on their fringes, than as a legitimate electoral bloc with a valid point to make.

My, how times are changed. It used to be the privilege of the left to distrust the government and suspect it of base motives. I guess now that the left are the government, that once-noble perspective is no longer tenable.

Mind you, our ex-hippy overlords seem particularly distraught that the voice of the new generation is a weak one. A couple of days ago, I wrote in the comments to this post that it was a key feature of the baby-boom generation to strangle the life out of today’s youth and then demand to know why it wasn’t trying to breathe.

And lo, what should be in the newspaper on Monday but the results of a poll showing that today’s youth are ‘more boring’ than their parents.

Having been told from birth to shun smoking, drinking, sex, drugs, and pretty much anything else that could be interpreted as either exciting or ‘interesting,’ the yoof turn out to be rather hard-line Puritans. Quelle surprise. And for this, the baby-boomers have the nerve to complain that their kids are no fucking fun.

***

Oh, and the plane-up-the-IRS man? He’s called Joseph Stack, and you can Google his suicide note. You’ll discover there that, far from being a general anti-tax weirdo, he was the victim of a long a vigorous shafting by the revenue. I’m sure it appealed to him to couch his rage in ideological bombast, but it couldn’t be more clear that this ‘terrorism’ was nothing more than revenge served up to the nearest target. And hey, nobody is forced to work at the IRS giving it up the backside to faceless Americans who can’t understand the impenetrable tax code.

I guess complicity really is all around us.

Jan 152010
 

Let’s talk about Cass Sunstein.

For those of you out of the know, Sunstein is head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a part of the Executive Office of the president of the US. He is informally known as the Information Czar, roughly equivalent to one of the many, many posts held in the UK by Peter Mandelson. It is a creepy competency, and it is perhaps only fitting that it should be filled by a professor of law at Harvard, which Sunstein also is.

The North West LPUK blog flagged him up today as a dodgy customer, and indeed, it looks as if he is one.

For someone expert in constitutional law, Cass Sunstein is all about some bansturbation that would interfere directly with the rights explicitly protected in that constitution, namely the right of free speech.

According to this post at Infowars, in 2008 he prepared a white paper that outlined the responses government might make to the over-prevalence of conspiracy theories (though, alas, their link to the paper does not work):

On page 14 of Sunstein’s January 2008 white paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” the man who is now Obama’s head of information technology in the White House proposed that each of the following measures “will have a place under imaginable conditions” according to the strategy detailed in the essay.

1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.

2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.

That’s right, Obama’s information czar wants to tax or ban outright, as in make illegal, political opinions that the government doesn’t approve of. To where would this be extended? A tax or a shut down order on newspapers that print stories critical of our illustrious leaders?

And what does Sunstein define as “conspiracy theories” that should potentially be taxed or outlawed by the government? Opinions held by the majority of Americans, no less.

Among the theories identified in the paper as possible targets for censorship are the beliefs that Oswald did not act alone, that global warming is a deliberate fraud, and that sunlight is good for the body. These are all pretty inoffensive ‘conspiracy’ theories. Most of those suspected of involvement in the Kennedy assassination are now dead (or, in the case of Castro, as near as dammit), and it does not seem reasonable to censor conspiracies regarding an event about which we will likely never know the gospel truth. On the other side of the spectrum, whether or not climate change (global warming) is an immediate threat is something scientists predict we will know within 50 years. Why suggest censoring a conspiracy theory that has a built-in sell-by date? And the benefits of sunlight are backed up by numerous studies which show that sunlight is an excellent source of essential vitamin D. As long as people are equally aware of the dangers of skin cancer due to exposure, why attack this claim? [CORRECTION: Sunstein does say that believing sunlight is healthy is false and dangerous, but he does not class it as a conspiracy theory.]

What possible reason could Sunstein have for advising that such innocuous views be suppressed?

One can only presume that Sunstein is deliberately framing the debate by going to such absurd extremes so as to make any belief whatsoever into a conspiracy theory unless it’s specifically approved by the kind of government thought police system he is pushing for.

That seems plausible to me. If harmless conspiracy theories warrant taxation or bans, what do harmful ones deserve? (Remember, many places still have the death penalty in the US.)

Sunstein is also known to have called for the First Amendment to be re-written, to have advocated internet censorship (beyond what already exists, presumably), and to hold the belief that Americans should celebrate Tax Day. This last was so bizarre to me that I had to search it up for verification. In an article for the Chicago Tribune which Sunstein also published on his website at the University of Chicago, Sunstein wrote:

In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully “ours”? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without support from bank regulators? Could we spend it (say, on the installment plan) if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live?

Do not get up tomorrow and drape your house in black! For tax day is not a day of national mourning. Without taxes there would be no liberty.

Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending.

It may be reasonable, in some cases, to cut tax rates. What is unreasonable and, in fact, preposterous is the all-too-familiar conservative rhetoric that flatly opposes individual liberty to the government power to tax and spend. You cannot be for rights and against government because rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.

If government could not intervene effectively, none of the individual rights to which Americans have become accustomed could be reliably protected.

Most rights are funded by taxes, not by fees. This is why the overused distinction between “negative” and “positive” rights makes little sense. Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty, free exercise of religion–just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps–are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being.

This raises some important questions, to be sure. Who decides, in the United States, how to allocate our scarce public resources for the protection of which rights for whom? What principles are commonly invoked to guide these allocations? And can those principles be defended? These questions deserve more discussion than they usually receive, unclouded by the dim fiction that some people enjoy and exercise their rights without placing any burden whatsoever on the public fisc.

In any case, to recognize the dependency of property rights on the contributions of the whole community, managed by the government, is to repel the rhetorical attack on welfare rights as somehow deeply un-American, and totally alien or different in kind from classical or “real” rights. No right can be exercised independently, for every rights-holder has a claim on public resources–on money that has been extracted from citizens at large.

For all rights–call them negative, call them positive–have that effect. There is no liberty without dependency.

‘Without taxes, there would be no liberty.’

‘Rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.’

‘There is no liberty without dependency.’

And there is no tyranny without sophistry. This man is now Obama’s sophist extraordinaire.

Sunstein’s Wikipedia page informs me, as well, that he is ‘known for’ soft paternalism and choice architecture: our old friend libertarian paternalism, advocated in Britain by Sunstein’s counterpart Julian le Grand:

The idea, dubbed “libertarian paternalism”, reverses the traditional government approach that requires individuals to opt in to healthy schemes. Instead, they would have to opt out to make the unhealthy choice, by buying a smoking permit, choosing not to participate in the exercise hour or adding salt at the table.

By preserving individual choice, the approach could be defended against charges of a “nanny state,” he said. “Some people say this is paternalism squared. But at a fundamental level, you are not being made to do anything. It is not like banning something, it is not prohibition. It is a softer form of paternalism.”

Many of Sunstein’s publications appear to have equally sinister connotations:

  • Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (1995)
  • Free Markets and Social Justice (1997)
  • The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever (2004)
  • Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005)
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008)

The ‘Second Bill of Rights’ of FDR, by the way, contains the right to education, a home, healthcare, etc: the so-called ‘positive’ rights between which and liberty Sunstein sees no distinction. And according to Wikipedia, another strike against the Tories:

Sunstein co-authored Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale University Press, 2008) with economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago. Nudge discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives. Thaler and Sunstein argue that

People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement! We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.

The ideas in the book proved popular with politicians such as Barack Obama, David Cameron, and the British Conservative Party in general (Cameron is party leader).

I can only assume that Sunstein’s proposed tax on objectionable views is an example of a ‘nudge’ node in his ‘choice architecture.’

Sunstein’s objection to the First Amendment comes as a result of his theory of ‘cyber balkanisation,’ in which growing use of the internet has isolated people from the opinions of those who do not share their views. In his book Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, he argues:

…in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.

From this it seems clear that Sunstein views freedom of speech not as an end in itself, but as a means to the pursuit of ‘political deliberation and citizenship’.

I would like to note that Sunstein’s calls to ban ‘conspiracy theories’ if necessary are wholly inconsistent with libertarian paternalism, involving as they do not a nudge but an outright prohibition. A tax seems more in agreement with his philosophy of choice architecture, requiring people to ‘opt out’ of not holding objectionable opinions. But one has to wonder: if there is no liberty without taxation, what are we to do about a tax that directly suppresses one of our fundamental freedoms? Is that liberty, too? Is not-liberty liberty?

All of which makes the NW LPUK blog’s opening that much more relevant:

As the LPUK has pointed out to British MPs, George Orwell’s novel 1984 is “…a warning, NOT a blueprint.”

War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Freedom is Slavery.

And a tax on freedom is liberty.

UPDATE: A different view of Cass Sunstein and conspiracy theories is presented at the Bleeding Heart Show. I particularly like this analysis:

There are many different explanations for why conspiracy theories form and how they spread, but I think the most important cultural/political aspect is how they’re often reactions from peoples or communities who feel distanced from & distrustful of the establishment. If you reduced that amount of alienation, you’d probably reduce the number and the power of these strange alternate histories. In the end, if you feel so powerless, the government must seem a hell of a lot more powerful than it actually is.

I think this is almost certainly accurate. Reducing alienation, however, involves identifying its source and correcting it. A lot of the distance and distrust Americans have for the establishment, and probably Britons too, is a result of feeling that the establishment is unresponsive to their needs and wishes. Protests and petitions have, most of the time, little effect on what the government does (witness the Iraq war protests here in the UK in 2003 and 2004; millions marched but the armed forces were deployed after shockingly little debate in Parliament).

When elections are won by extremely narrow margins, or fought almost exclusively in swing states or marginal constituencies, that leaves many citizens feeling ignored or effectively disenfranchised. And, of course, everyone who voted for the losing candidate or party is going to feel alienated from the incoming winner. The British also have the EU to contend with, in which many positions of extraordinary power are unelected and, to a large extent, unaccountable. There is also the phenomenon wherein the winning candidate/party fails to fulfill its manifesto, and so even those citizens who supported them become disillusioned and distrustful.

In short, the solution for reducing alienation is more transparency in government and more democratic accountability. But to implement this solution requires that those with power in the establishment acquire a little humility and cease to act as if they believe they are smarter, wiser, and know what’s best for people. Unfortunately, ‘humble and willing to accept his own fallibility’ seems pretty much the complete opposite of Cass Sunstein, so I doubt this is a solution he, in his unelected, unaccountable power, will be pushing for anytime soon.

Jan 052010
 

From the TaxPayers’ Alliance comes the news that the Tories are planning… to be absolutely no different from Labour:

Well, it’s the second day of the unofficial 2010 election campaign and already it appears that the Conservatives have pledged to create a new quango. In a speech today to the Oxford Farming Conference, Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert is pledging to create a “Supermarket Ombudsman”. Sigh. So much for a “bonfire of the quangos”.

Yes, that’s right: the Conservatives have pledged to create government oversight of the retail food supply. This is in addition to the NHS policy announced earlier this week, in which they pledged to create more government oversight of health allocation:

But then…

To make sure the NHS is funded on the basis of clinical need, not political expediency, we will create an independent NHS board to allocate resources to different parts of the country and make access to the NHS more equal. (Page 8)

Eh?

So we have another new quango, explicitly designed to remove the people’s control of how the biggest budget in British Government is spent. Of course, when you want to make democracy sound like a bad thing you call it “political expediency”, rather than “accountability” as it was termed earlier in the very same document.

It seems that despite all the speechifying about the post-bureaucratic age, the Conservatives are yet to shake the temptation to slam everything into a quango and then wash their hands of responsibility. Not exactly change we can believe in.

Too right. ‘Change we can believe in’, British-style, appears to be the same as it was Obama-style: more of the same, really, but dressed up in attractive language.

Meanwhile, the discerning voter begins to feel rather like Sally from Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat: weary of the identical Thing One and Thing Two, and desperate to rein in their nonsense before they destroy the whole house.

UPDATE: And hey look, I agree with Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy!

But let’s assume we want these decisions to be more accountable. A good idea in theory right? But what’s this?

With less political interference in the NHS, we will turn the Department of Health into a Department of Public Health so that the prevention of illness gets the attention from government it needs.

Less political interference? But I thought that was more ‘accountable’ surely?

Can we file this under the Steve Hilton award for ‘Progressive Gobbledegook’?

Truly, Camerhoon is a uniter, not a divider.

Sep 022009
 

In this post, I asked myself (and anyone else who wanted to answer) whether the absence of tax was the presence of subsidy. This was in relation to private schools, who, as part of their designation as charities, are not taxed in the manner of profit-making institutions.

My half-hearted answer was that, in a polity where nearly every activity or transaction is taxed, the absence of taxation is de facto a subsidy (even if not de jure).

I realise now that this answer did not go deep enough. For in viewing the absence of taxation as subsidy, whether as intention or simply unintended effect, one is making a deeper underlying assumption, and that is that the state owns all wealth.

If the state owns all wealth, then in choosing not to appropriate some of it from a particular body, the state is in essence making a gift of it – which would in fact be a subsidy.

This assumption is gigantically invidious, as it underpins every argument redistributionists and opponents of ‘privilege’ make about the state’s choice to reduce or remove taxation on particular bodies or transactions. And I speculate that most people do not, as I did not, even notice the presence of that assumption. We are letting them get away with it. And before long, it will no longer be an assumption that nobody notices; it will be a general principle that is taken for granted. Perhaps it already is.

Why, oh why, do we libertarians continue to allow our opponents to dictate the terms of debate in this way?

balls, n. Brit. rubbish.

 indolence, political blunders  Comments Off on balls, n. Brit. rubbish.
Jun 302009
 

Via the delightful Mr E, I see that Ed Balls, Minister for Fucking Up Your Children and Families, has got himself into trouble on multiple counts:

First, he told some great big whoppers on the radio about Labour’s budget bringing the national debt down, when in fact their very own budget shows the national debt rising. Fraser Nelson illustrates with some pretty graphs.

Second, when Balls got wind of Nelson’s article, he demanded it be taken down, practically causing Nelson to bust a kidney from laughter in the process.

Nelson says:

Balls was deploying the “false proxy” – one of the tools he and Brown use to mislead the public. The Brown/Balls spin technique is all about the gap between their verbal and financial positions. Debt is a classic case in point. Most people understand “reducing the national debt” to mean, well, reducing the national debt. Brown and Balls would claim to do this, when in fact they were increasing the national debt – but by slightly less than the growth of the economy. Orwell would have great fun with Brown and Balls – they have invented statistical doublethink. A way of describing ‘up’ as ‘down’.

Pretty sneaky, Balls. Pretty sneaky indeed.

Apparently, one of the things Balls said on the radio this morning was the following:

We have acted in the downturn, that will mean that the economy is stronger, we’ll have less unemployment, less debt. Therefore we will be able to spend more on schools and hospitals. The Conservatives have opposed these plans, the national debt will be higher with the Conservatives.

In the mind of the Man Who Would Be Chancellor, spending more = less debt and opposing spending = more debt. Excuse me while I ask, WTF. ‘The national debt will be higher with the Conservatives’? I grant that may well end up being true, but only because Labour have spent the last 9 months spending non-existent money like an overpaid benefits claimant in Asda.

Okay, wait, that was classist, wasn’t it?

Spending non-existent money like a teenaged geek with a stolen credit card in the Apple Store.

Whatever the simile, Balls has just proved that the level of political discourse is no better here than in my native land: ‘We rock, and the other guys are totes poo-heads. Am I right or am I right?’

One thing that is different, however, is the unbelievable fact that people win elections in this country by promising more public spending. Some of the electorate evidently want to wrap themselves in the cotton wool of this promise so badly that they’re happy just to hear it as bullshit, never mind it actually happening:

We don’t care if the commentators or the economists turn against us. This is all about shoring up the base in the northern heartlands, which we lost in the European elections. We don’t want or need them to understand the nuance of the argument. We just want them to hate the Tories again.

The equation being, of course, that the British hate spending cuts, and thus hate the Tories, yea even unto the Day of Judgment, Amen.

Whereas the Americans, as far as I can still tell, adore spending cuts, and have hitherto gigantically mistrusted anybody who doesn’t advocate them. Now, obviously, I’m well aware that Americans are being lied to also – no American government has managed actually to cut spending since, like, EVER – but the difference lies in the lies we wish to be told.

(Did you see what I did there?)

Americans want to pretend the government is spending less of their money than ever on less and less stuff. The British want to pretend the government is spending more of their money than ever on making the current stuff super-awesome.

I wonder what proportion of the US population pays income tax, versus what proportion of the British population pays income tax.

I bet it’s a smaller proportion here in the UK. Anybody have the data? I’m willing to be corrected.

Apr 172009
 

with which I wholeheartedly agree. Replace ‘United States’ with ‘Britain’ and ‘Americans’ with ‘the British’ and it applies equally as well here.

I feel I must explain, at least to the small audience that is available to me, that the naivete with which people are discussing the tea party protests is distracting everyone from the meaning of those protests.

The people who went to those protests were not there simply because they don’t like Obama and they don’t like paying their taxes. There is something much deeper behind their revulsion–a revulsion I share.

The point is this:
American citizens spend half of every year working simply to make their tax payments. That is to say, all taxes combined (US, state, county, city, etc.) are so burdensome to Americans that they must spend literally half of their income paying them. I don’t care what you say about the cost of running the government, protecting our shores, or helping the poor. This is wrong.

It is interesting to note that we consider ourselves free and self-determined yet we are subjected to such staggering regulation of our lives. You can point to our material wealth and say, “you’re wrong… we have it great,” but you’re fooling yourself if you think that. Being free and being rich are not the same thing. Essentially, we’re rich because we’ve managed to fool the world into thinking our money is actually worth something…this is another story. What is really going on here is that our government has become so monstrously plutocratic and tyrannical that they feel they can start wars, spy on us, and abscond with half our paychecks. We are told to shut up and stop whining.

Well, I’m tired of being told that I should put my “nation” before myself. That’s obviously not what this is about. People who say that mean, “put the government before yourself–you are their property.”

I don’t care who the president is (they all manage to find a new and unique way to be absolutely terrible) and I don’t care what they promise us. I think that the feelings of the people at the tea party protests and my own feelings can be quite succinctly expressed:

All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

I don’t suppose many people today would even recognize that text but be sure, were it written by someone today, its writer would be labeled an “extremist” or “domestic terrorist” and thrown into some dark prison. In its day, that text caused a war.

I urge anyone reading this (and believe me, I have no delusions that many are) to consider for a moment whether the life led by an American is a free life. Consider whether anyone can actually claim, under threat of force, half of all your labor. Can those people spy on you? Can force you to fight a war on the other side of the earth? Can they silence you? Can they imprison you? If not, can they stop you if you decide to rob them of their power? Can they stop a million like you? Can they stop 300 million belligerent Americans who know what freedom is and crave it?

I think not.

Having said that, I do not believe these tea party protests were at all effective. Sadly, a protest against the government and its atrocities is rendered impotent when the scoundrels who operate that government make speeches at the protest. Yes, I refer to the infamous Richard Burr who gave a less than stirring speech against Obama and his bailouts. Oddly enough, Mr. Burr voted for the original bailout. How disingenuous to oppose graft only when it’s politically expedient.

Thus, any effect the protest might have had was soundly negated. Especially since Fox News took it upon themselves to portray it as a partisan anti-Obama rally. I think they just like rattling our cages, to be honest.

Just remember, the struggle the United States face today is a lot simpler than economics, party politics, or monetary policy. It is simply a struggle for power between the People and the government. The only power you and I crave is power over ourselves but the government claims that power as well. I am not prepared to submit to them.

Remember, there is nothing patriotic about supporting the government. The United States government is not the United States themselves. We are. We are the country. Our homes and our neighbors are this country. Your choice is either loyalty to them or loyalty to the government. I know on what side I stand.

CARPE LIBERTATEM.

Apr 172009
 

I’ve been arguing half-heartedly with a soi-disant friend recently about the charitable status of private schools. I teach in one, so I’m hardly a casual (or objective) observer, but his contention is that he shouldn’t have to subsidise tax-breaks for the ‘half-witted children of the rich.’

Which made me ask myself: is the absence of tax the presence of subsidy?

Upon reflection, I think in theory, no. In theory, there are neutral entities which are neither taxed nor subsidised.

But in practice – in a society where every bloody thing you can think of is taxed – yes: not taxing something is, effectively, the same thing as subsidising it.

(Never mind about the private-school argument; my friend is a David-Osler-type student-union whinger-on about class privilege, and logical discourse has no effect on his deeply-held conviction that the rich are eeeeevil.)

The whole question of taxation/subsidy reminds me of that Monty Python sketch wherein the civil servants can’t think of anything new to tax except… one:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTfdn5x7td8&hl=en&fs=1]