Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Speed Limits and Local Government Corruption

Have you ever driven on a road that seemed like the speed limit should be higher than it is? I'd like to write a short post about speed limits, why we need speed limits, what should set speed limits, and where money from speed limits should go.

Why do we need speed limits? Speed limits provide guidance to drivers to tell them the maximum safe speed they can drive. Unfortunately, the maximum safe speed is dependent on weather, traffic level, construction, etc. and speed limits don't normally reflect that. We leave it up to drivers to determine based on the road conditions how far below the speed limit they should drive. Speed limits also provide a reason for a police officer to pull reckless drivers over. It might be easier to prove speeding in court than reckless driving because speeding is more specific. I don't have a strong opinion on whether we need speed limits or if we could just get rid of them, but I do have an opinion on a related topic; how should speed limits be set?

Speed limits should be set based on safety. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous conflict of interest for lawmakers to set speed limits not on the maximum safe speed, but based on revenue generation instead. Let's say you were an average looter politician trying to get more funding to run your constituents lives under the guise of safety. However, your projects all have that nasty funding requirement, and the constituents are fed up with your tax increase proposals. What's another way to receive funding? You could just lower speed limits, or install automatic cameras. Set them just low enough to pay for all your favorite socialized government projects. And you can do it all in the name of safety.

Is this an appropriate way to set speed limits? Absolutely not. Speed limits should be set based on safety. Whenever income from a law is going to fund government programs, there is a dangerous conflict of interest for lawmakers to set laws based on revenue rather than public safety. Does this ever actually happen? "A 2006 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis ("Are traffic tickets countercyclical?") found that towns increased the number of tickets issued by an average of 0.4% for every 1% decline in other revenue."[1] How would I solve the problem? I would allow citizens who speed to pay their fine to a non-profit organization of their choice. Just send the city a copy of the receipt to verify the fine was paid. If we did this, I wager the speed limits around town might go up a little bit.

Revenue generation is a dangerous conflict of interest for local governments. The more laws we have such as public intoxication or speed limits, the more opportunity there is for this type of abuse. Either get rid of the laws, or separate the funding from fine revenue from city and state governments.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taxes Are Not Theft

A response to “Taxes Are Theft”

Let me state a possible counter argument to the assertion that taxes are theft. To do this we start with an analogy.

We can say this analogy begins after an anarchist's utopia has been founded (no taxes, no government, every man for themselves). Say a group of private citizens decides to come together for various reasons; safety, economic gain, and social benefit. This group of citizens lives in a contiguous plot of land. They all sit down and agree to a set of rules to live by.  They agree to have a certain set of services be provided by the community instead of by individuals. If you want to continue to be part of the community then you must abide by all of the rules or face the consequences, which are decided by the group.

The group starts by saying each district will elect a representative that will champion their interests, while also looking out for the interests of the entire community as a whole. These representatives will have the authority to make rules and regulations, and decide the monetary contributions needed by individual members. The rules deciding what is within a representative’s power are laid out in an original founding document.

When a person or family has a child, the child automatically becomes a member, but is free to come and go from the community as he/she chooses, as long as all rules are followed while within the borders of the community. If they continue to own land within the borders then they will need to pay the applicable fees that the representatives have decided upon. If a child inherits property within the borders and feel absolutely no desire to be a part of the community’s rules and doesn't want to pay the fees, they can simply sell or give away their inheritance to someone interested. It is important to note that the contract initially made follows the land, land within the borders cannot be sold and then be out of the contract initially made. Whether it is built into the initial contract that the land must always have a certain set of stipulations assigned with it on sale or whether the land is partly under community ownership, whichever way you want to look at it essentially comes out the same.

In the above scenario it is near impossible to call the fees being paid “theft”. A group of people came together and acted in their own personal interest to insure a better life for themselves. In addition, no one is being forced into the system. You have the choice to be part of the community or not, there is no force making you stay. To be clear, this is not a “love it leave it” argument, this is merely recognizing that every individual has a choice whether to be part of the community. If you choose to live in the community you are de facto signing a social contract, and with the social contract comes rights and responsibilities.

Under this system, not paying your fees would be the first violation of the “non-aggression principle” and the community would be justified to collect the fees from you. This is because you are essentially stealing from others in the community as you continue to use the services provided without any payment. I believe this shows that there is a natural/philosophical basis for taxes and government to exist. Just as everyone has the right to self-defense and property, people have the right to live under a governing body if they so choose.

So in conclusion, if you are living in a nation such as the US, not paying taxes could more easily be construed as theft than being forced to pay them.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Who Would Build the Roads?

"Who would build the roads in Libertopia?" I see criticism of libertarians all the time over this question.  I would like to present a variety of solutions to this problem that don't require the use of force (taxes).

The first question is simply, "Why not let the government handle roads through tax funds?" The first reason is that taxes are theft. The second reason is that anything the government does inherently costs more than when people pay for their own services. This is because people like to save money while government officials don't. Government administrators have no economic incentive for cutting costs or coming up with an innovative solution. They get their budgets handed down to them and they expect the budget to increase every few years. If they don't spend all the money in the budget, they might get a little sign on their desk the says, "atta boy" and then they lose the funding next year. Capitalism is more efficient because it rewards competence rather than punishing it. If you as an employee of this company find a way to cut costs and improve services than your company will make more money and you will get a raise. See more about why capitalism is better than socialism in my upcoming post on the topic. The bottom line is, total road costs will be lower if the government stays out of the way, and it gives people more freedom to choose how much of their money they want to spend on roads.

Okay, how do we get the government out of the road business? Cities and counties cut road construction, maintenance, and repair from their budgets and return the money to the taxpayers. Rezone lots in residential neighborhoods so that homeowners' property lines include the portion of the road in front of their house. Some homeowners will pool their resources into an association to pay for maintenance. Homeowners can decide how well they want to maintain the road, and at what cost. Instead of your vote being 1 out of 10,000 we can increase the power of your vote to 1 out of 5-10 (however many houses are in your neighborhoods homeowners association).

What about larger roads that aren't in residential neighborhoods? Medium sized roads in cities can continue to be publicly owned. Elected officials can manage road maintenance projects and repairs that are funded voluntarily through crowd-funding. Roads that see heavy traffic will easily be paid for by the citizens who use the road and care about it. This gives people the choice to decide on their own terms if they want to pay for that road for the quoted price. People simply won't fund roads that are too expensive or not needed. And if people in the area really want that new bypass connecting one side of the city to the other than they can crowd-fund it.

How about interstates? Large major roads such as interstates and highways can be funded through tolls. People that drive on the roads can pay for them. The government can lease the roads to private companies who will charge tolls for a profit. The lease will expire periodically and new leasers can compete for the lucrative right to tolling fees at the cost of minimum maintenance levels set out in the contract. The toll roads that I've driven on are usually maintained better than non-toll roads. Most of them have electronic methods of payment where drivers don't need to stop. And someday, private companies might come up with something better than roads such as the hyperloop.

Will this ever happen? It is much easier to socialize a service than to privatize it because people underestimate the productivity of the private sector and feel that socialism keeps them safe. Let me illustrate this with a ridiculous hypothetical example; let's say the government socialized the production of socks. Everybody goes to the dmv-like store and waits in a very long line to buy socks. Libertarians come along and advocate the complete privatization of sock production. People will be scared of a sock shortage and they will ask, "But who will make our socks if the government doesn't do it?" Does anybody think that this is realistic? No this isn't realistic, and the same logic applies to roads.

Tolls, homeowners associations, and crowd-funding could all help to replace mandatory taxes and pay for roads. Roads would be paid for voluntarily instead of by force and at gunpoint. We will all pay less as competition drives down the cost of roads, and innovators in industry will come up with new means of transportation that are better than roads. This is the place that I want to live someday.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How do Property Rights Begin?

Libertarians believe in protecting property rights, but one of the questions that comes up is, "for a given plot of land, how did the first owner come to take possession of the land?" I propose there are 3 requirements for property rights to be valid under natural law.

  1. An individual must claim the property
  2. An individual must do something useful with the property
  3. An individual must be willing to defend the property
Let's see how these 3 premises hold up under a variety of circumstances.

Example 1: Land on the moon, premise 1 without 2 and 3

Let's say I claim that I own land on the moon (1), but I have no way of getting to the moon to use it (2) and no way to defend the land I claim on the moon (3). Do I own the land? No, and it doesn't make sense that I own land on the moon. Simply claiming land does not make it yours.

Example 2: Land on the moon, premise 1 and 3 without 2

Let's say I claim that I own land on the moon (1), and I'm willing to sue anybody who claims otherwise to defend my ownership (3). If somebody else comes along and starts living on my moon-land and mining moon rocks on it. They also claim ownership and are willing to sue. In this case, whom does the land belong to? It belongs to the person who is doing something useful with the property.

Example 3: Land on the moon without premise 1

Let's say I don't claim land on the moon. Under no circumstances is land on the moon mine if I don't claim it.

Example 4: Land on the moon, premise 1 and 2 without 3

Let's say I claim land on the moon, and I'm mining moon rocks. Some moon pirates come along and decide they claim the land and they are willing to fight me for it. If I am unwilling to defend my property in any way at all (peaceful or with force) then I no longer own the property.

Example 5: Land on the moon with all premises

Let's say I claim land on the moon (1). I build a moon-house to live in (2). And I am willing to defend my property either through the international courts or by the use of force against trespassers (3). I own the land and get the protection of property rights to it.

The above examples cover every possible combination of the premises. Let's look at an example of what happens when we apply these premises to a historical situation. When Europeans kicked the native Americans from their land, the native Americans met these requirements for property rights. They may not have understood exactly what property rights were, but the country was roughly segmented into land for the different tribes, they were willing to defend their land, and they were using the land.