A place for new ideas to settle.

23 January 2015

X doesn't mean you're smart, libertarianism edition

There are lots of ideas whose adherents think grant them an intellectual carte blanche, like now that they answered one of the Big Questions all their other opinions suddenly become validated. I've explored this before with atheism: sure, I agree with the idea that wait a second, nobody's actually given me good reason to (1) believe in any supernatural Higher Power, much less (2) worship the thing, but that doesn't mean my reasons are the best possible reasons. Nor does it mean that my future statements on this topic (e.g., heard from some atheists—"Isn't it dumb how all Christians believe [thing not all Christians believe]?", "fairy-tale sky daddy" straw-theism—are any more likely to be correct. This might be the halo effect in action (hey, Ron Paul even has a halo in the picture!): atheists all agree on the God question, so we may be biased towards uncriticality when one of our own starts expounding on similar topics.

Now I come to libertarianism, where the idea that wait a second, nobody's given me a good reason to (1) believe that the government can do better than anyone else, much less (2) worship the thing—slight weak-manning necessary for parallelism, please forgive—is haloed into uncriticality about political-philosophical statements more generally.

In case you don't believe me that "Isn't it dumb how all non-libertarians are statists who worship the state," isn't a straw man, a quick Google search reveals a wealth of memes confirming that yes, this is an assertion that people actually make:

And so I say again: Libertarianism doesn't mean you're smart.

So this meme, shared by Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and encountered by me on Facebook when it was reshared by the Libertarian Party of Washington, is a fresh new hell of dumb:

Ha ha! Suck it, statists!

This meme is dumb. Terminally dumb. Dumb even on its own logic. Let's break it down:

First of all, the boundary between fees, fines, phones and fun and taxes is rather fuzzy, especially where government is concerned. For example, this 2007 post on The Tax Foundation's website makes no distinction, in principle:
A traffic fine is really no different from a tax on a specific product.


Finally, with regards to the idea that these fee hikes do not violate the "No New Tax Pledges" promoted by Grover Norquist's group Americans for Tax Reform, the true tax burden on a people in the long run is merely equivalent to the level of government spending. In other words, a no-new-taxes pledge should really be a "no new spending pledge." Otherwise, politicians merely seek sources that they call "non-tax," which may be worse than raising an explicit tax like sales, property, or income. Look no further than Virginia.
Okay, but corporations can impose fines, so surely we can be charitable on the sense behind word. Right? Maybe, but

Then there's the idea of taxation. Libertarians Hate It! Again, in case you don't believe me...

If Rothbard says it, it must be true! Yes, the great hue-and-cry: Taxation is theft! And libertarians mean this, that taxation is no different from theft, specifically robbery. In both cases, they say, men with guns threaten you until you give them money:

Okay, fine, but substitute back into the original YAL meme. Now: Fines are theft for doing wrong. Theft is a fine for doing well. Suddenly it's all sorts of weird. "Fines are a theft for doing wrong?" But theft is wrong! So fines are a wrong compounding a wrong... does that mean we shouldn't impose fines? How do we redress wrongdoing though? By any utilitarian calculus, redress is remuneration (in utils at least), so things seem to be unravelling.

Libertarians really love the judiciary; that is, courts and the case law that emerges from them. (Common versus poly-centric is yet another sticking point, but it doesn't matter for the purposes of my objection.) But suppose Alice brings a lawsuit against Bob, and the court rules in her favor. What happens to Bob? Well, if (e.g.) Bob stole Alice's car and sold it to a chop shop, the court might order Bob to pay Alice back. In other words, Bob would be fined. By what authority does the court levy this fine? Well, the court has law enforcement officers—men with guns—to make sure that Bob pays.

Other options that courts use include liens, which are a form of interest levied on some property. Hm... a recurring payment proportional to the value of the property? Smells like a tax.

See, this is what happens when you try to cram too much into such a conceptually-shallow space as an image macro. Yeah, it's punchy; yeah, it gets that surface-level Haha, They're stupid and We're smart! dopamine spike; but taken to any degree of logical conclusions and it implodes. The whole memetic structure goes sub-critical, where one second it seems to be saying that fines are bad, but maybe it's that taxes aren't that bad, or that theft isn't all bad, or fines aren't taxes, or ohmygodmybrainismelting...

Can we just commit to finding better arguments? Thanks.

Now that I've gotten all the very serious business out of the way, let's end with a joke:

Ugh, not funny! Which of you statists posted this! Fight me IRL!