Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fisking, Economist by M.S.

I think the major failure of this article (HT) is that it does not explain why liberals feel taxation is just, though it appears M.S. thinks it has been explained.
"First, liberals think of taxation as paying one's fair share for the collective goods that make society feasible."
Error one: society requires collective goods. Indeed, the 'collective' status of these good is exactly due to power grabs by a particular group.
"Payment for those goods cannot be left voluntary, as ultimately everyone would welch."
If indeed society needs these things, most would learn not to welch, once they saw the dire results. The problem would be solved - the solution does not need to be imposed by a particular group.
"Not paying taxes means violating your obligations as a citizen"
Error two. I cannot have any obligations I haven't explicitly agreed to. If it were kosher to impose obligations on someone else...well, then I'd immediately impose the obligation on everyone else to stop imposing obligations. Oops.
"How do we know who nicked whose lawn gnome? It's always subject to dispute."
The rabbit hole goes deep here. Estimated errors: three through ten.
"If the case comes to trial, it is the state that will adjudicate the rival claims and impose a decision on the parties. That exercise of state authority feels just as coercive"
I think the heart of the error is here. M.S. simply assumes the state is legitimate, and then concludes that its judgments are legitimate. As M.S. is attempting to debate a libertarian, this is straightforward question-begging.

M.S. knows or should have known about the circular reasoning: look at the clarity and straightforward argument in the paragraph above. Though erroneous, the mistakes are understandable. Compare the paragraph now under scrutiny, which is a grab bag of misdirection. Individually, I largely agree with the statements and implied arguments, but they do not support each other. M.S. is either muddying the water deliberately, or should have recognized that their thinking is muddled and aborted.

I think this is an ignorance situation, based on;
"An attempt [...] to delegitimise the exercise of state authority"
M.S. apparently has trouble consciously accepting the idea that libertarians do not find the state legitimate.
"The existence of the state involves a certain level of coercion to enforce the law."
Error eleven. 'Coercion' has clearly been defined differently by Wilkinson than by M.S. If M.S. wishes libertarians to use his definition, they should define it explicitly and defend that definition. Otherwise, it is fair to demand - since M.S. is attempting to communicate with libertarians - that M.S. understand and use the libertarian definition of 'coercion.'

Since M.S. is unconsciously but deliberately muddying the waters, this is probably unconscious but deliberate equivocation.
"But the existence of the state is a good thing, both because it provides the infrastructure of a prosperous, safe and fair society, and because it enforces property claims such as deciding who has stolen whose lawn gnome."
Error twelve. Very funny. I wonder if M.S. feels they have actually defended these positions? Effectively they are either unadorned tribal signalling or merely taunts.
"It makes me happy to see the state providing a decent education to kids whose parents can't afford to buy them one."
Errors thirteen and fourteen. Tribal signalling. What you feel is not an argument, and should not convince anyone of anything. Also, M.S. thinks the state provides a decent education, which is a sickeningly bad mistake. Those are children you're sacrificing to uphold your false beliefs, M.S. Helpless children.
"It makes me happy to see the state administer justice in a fair and procedurally sound fashion."
Errors fifteen and sixteen. M.S. should not feel happy very often - though that does not seem to be what they're implying. In this case, M.S. is signalling their tribe and supporting criminals against their victims.
"It makes me happy to see the state build zoos."
Error seventeen. If feelings were arguments, then it makes me feel sad when a state wastes resources on building zoos that either the market could provide, or won't only because it's wasteful. Our 'arguments' cancel and M.S. would have to start learning to debate.
"And yeah, we all have to pay our taxes for these things to happen."
A repeat error, plus error eighteen. We all have to pay our taxes to torture children, support criminals, and waste money on zoos? How is this supposed to convince anyone who isn't already in the tribe that agrees?

This is so terrible I'm going to attack it twice.
"But I feel that a broad libertarian claim that "taxation is coercive" is an attempt to legitimise refusal to play by the rules"
Though the liberal acceptance of taxes is not explained, I think M.S. provides enough material to derive an explanation.

We all have to pay our taxes, so that 'these things' can happen. 'These things' are M.S. feeling good. So pay your taxes so that M.S. can feel good. That's it. That's the actual core of M.S's motivation.

There's a second, closely related wrapping of playing by the rules - that is, obeying M.S's tribal norms. While certainly you can voluntarily enter that tribe, and thus agree to and be bound by its would appear that M.S. cannot provide a single argument why anyone outside this tribe would find adopting these norms effective.

So why does the liberal tribe have this norm? Simple: it's their tax apparatus. They created it, they control it, and they have the benefits from it, such as feeling good. Of course they're going to declare it morally normative. Unfortunately, their attempts defend it logically merely highlight how the system simply does not benefit other tribes.

And, due to the coercive nature of the tax system, it cannot survive without preying on other tribes, which is why liberals see attempts to delegitimize it as a threat. Let me not repeat M.S's error, and define coercion: this norm is coercive precisely because it cannot survive if it were restricted to the tribe. Compare Christian communion; even if there were only one Christian, taking communion would work just fine, and be stable, as a norm. If there were only one liberal, taxation would be pointless, and would be dropped.

It is this point which shows so clearly how society could survive without 'collective' goods. Taxation is pointless unless it takes from one to give to another. If indeed taxes were to pay for roads, the road tax could be replaced by a road bill with absolutely no difference in effective outcome, but a huge difference in morality. Instead of being jailed when I decline a road tax, I would simply be barred from roads when I decline my road bill.

That M.S. declined to mention redistribution does help wonderfully to clarify this point. Unfortunately, it also clinches the inherently predatory, coercive nature of taxation. You, dear reader, I, and M.S. all know that M.S. would never accept a road bill replacing all road taxes. But since the road bill changes nothing but the coercion, it must be the coercion that M.S. values.