[ExI] Conscientious objections

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Fri Nov 16 22:08:48 UTC 2012

On Thursday, November 15, 2012 12:45 PM Adrian Tymes <atymes at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 8:34 PM, Rafal Smigrodzki <rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Using the
>> notion of externality here is also inappropriate: If you look at the
>> usual meaning of this term in economic literature, it applies to costs
>> or benefits of trade not transmitted through prices, or affecting
>> persons other than the buyer and seller directly involved in the
>> trade.
> You drive on roads that I have paid for, in an area where the
> closest thing to an armed robber (taxes) is something you can
> plan for, and is based primarily on how much money you have
> mooched off other people (likely in exchange for services
> rendered, but if taxes and armed robbery are morally identical,
> the same comparison holds between not offering your services
> for free and outright helping yourself to others' property).  You
> can not avoid taking advantage of these things my money
> helped pay for, so long as you are within the United States.

This argument doesn't hold water for several reasons. First of all, for a case for an externality to work in a consistent fashion, one has to have a clear definition of property. That runs up against problems with public property. Anyhow, with no clear definition of who owns what, then any argument that something is an externality explodes.

Second, Rafal is also forced to pay taxes and the like. It's not like the government leaves him alone and he decides to use the roads and the like. So, in so much as you think he owes others for this, he owes them. But given that there is force involved in funding these things, someone using them is not really stealing as such. That's just the make believe logic of democratic government: that you own the state, therefore, people who use the state's stuff are using your stuff. That works to keep people focused not on state aggression but on people who protest it.

But even allowing that you own the state -- or that you and the rest of the subjects of the state own it -- since Rafal is one of the subjects he owns it as much as you. Again, the argument falls apart.

Third, not voting doesn't really change his tax position. People who don't vote still have to pay taxes, last I checked. Not voting -- even not registering to vote -- does not in the US or any nation I know of mean one can avoid taxes. If it does, please let me know quickly so that I can contact the tax authorities in several nations for a big refund.

Fourth, it's hard to measure who uses what, so comparing this to a market exchange, where people pay for specific things or services (and can choose to opt out), doesn't make sense. Taxes (and deficits, which are always going to be some of future, and inflation, which is not a only a sort of future tax, but is spread across the economy in ways hard to predict) are very unlike market transactions because there is no opting out.

And please don't go on about being able to leave the country. That is just like saying I can leave when a robber invades my house. If you're going to accept that logic, then you're arguing for might makes right at every turn. This all allows the state to make the rules here, where the thing I believe Rafal is arguing -- and if he isn't arguing I am arguing it -- is that state (or any state anywhere) has no just claim over him or even over the people, territories, and wealth it controls. Thus, it is just like the robber invading someone's home: it has no right to be there and can't make any just claim for others to leave simply because it's there.

> Therefore, if you want to cease your obligation to me, the only
> practical choice is to leave the United States.  Otherwise,
> there most certainly is an externality.

He doesn't have an obligation here to you -- nor you to him. Obligations, by definition, have to be by expressed consented to. They can't be presumed, but must be openly agreed to, which means that there has to be a way to disagree to them -- and not something like, "He agrees that I'm king over him because he hasn't moved to Antarctica leaving all his worldly positions with me. So, there it is, I'm king!" That's the nature of an obligation. If you don't accept that, then obligation becomes a vague concept that's merely what someone else feels yet another person owes her or him. (And if you're going to bite the bullet on that one, well, then obligation becomes useless: you see this as a valid obligation, but Rafal doesn't and that's that.)

> Now of course it is impractical for you, me, and everyone else
> to directly decide all of these issues, on a scale of the entire
> United States.  So there is a set of people - the "government" -
> elected (or appointed by the elected, or appointed by the
> appointees of the elected, but all ultimately responsible to the
> electorate - that is, to all of us) to handle these matters.  Your
> part is to vote, to formally register your preference alongside
> mine in how these things should be handled.

That's the grade school civics view of why we have rulers. The truth, however, is people make all kinds of complicated decisions all the times and they do so voluntarily. (And even in cases where they do use experts or specialists, this is done voluntarily and they retain the right to not use them on an individual basis. For instance, I choose my auto mechanic. There is no election of a board to choose one for me.) The argument from complexity is a nonstarter. In fact, some of the most complicated things, such as how scientific theories are created, tested, and promulgated come about through a voluntary process of individuals freely interacting. Scientists don't elect representatives to decide which theories are valid and which should be set aside. Yet complicated scientific theories are somehow invented, tested, refined, and spread (or rejected). How's that possible?

Well, it's a complicated issue, but it seems that it's a much similar process to how many other spontaneous orders work, including markets, language, and evolution. The fatal conceit here is to think a few experts or some politicians can do better and should trump the millions of individuals making choices for themselves. (In fact, one is reminded of a certain politician making a speech about a certain now bankrupt solar cell maker is just a humorous example of how good politicians are at picking winners.)

And were your argument true -- that some choices are so complicated and that somehow electing a tiny number of people to make them worked better than the alternatives -- why it should be applied more widely. We should comprehensive economic planning just like in the Soviet Union. The economy, after all, shouldn't be left to hundreds of millions of people who know so little and can make all sorts of bad decisions impacting the rest of the world. We should go back to arranged marriages -- marriage is, after all, a very complicated decision that impacts so many others. We should have elected officials or expert panels deciding what careers people can get on track for -- so as not to waste all that effort of schooling and training the wrong people for the wrong job only to have them work in another field or have to be retrained. And complicated things like scientific theories should be brought under some sort of national or international planning. We
 wouldn't want, say, people just dreaming up any theory and wasting valuable resources that should only go to theories approved by those in power.

> The "but my vote doesn't count" argument only holds true if
> you only look at yourself.  If ten million people believe that and
> use that reason to not vote, when they would otherwise have
> voted third party - well, if they had voted, people would not have
> as strong a perception that third parties are nonviable, would
> they?  You can lead by example - vote, and that may inspire
> those who believe as you do to likewise vote.

The same reasoning might be used to say you should spend your money on this product or you should invest in that stock: if ten million people did the same as you, think what would happen? But Rafal was only speaking for himself. He was talking about and justifying why he acted the way he did -- not asking what would happen if ten million others did the same. To be sure, if far more people didn't vote, that would actually lead to the whole political system being seen as much less legitimate. And if they all argued the same way Rafal did, then it would be very hard for the system to continue to function as it does now. In fact, any real world government, even the traditionally despotic one, depends on most people going along with and only a tiny number ever challenging its authority. If most people don't go along, well, it's obvious what would happen: the state will basically fall apart. But even if most people acquiesce but a large minority -- and it does
 not have to be 49%; my guess is 5% or maybe 10% -- challenges it, it's days are also numbered. No real world state has a large enough police force or enough prison cells to handle that. (And the genocidal solution is mostly off the table, thankfully.) In such cases, the state would either fall or have to negotiate something, maybe allowing a secession (as with the former Soviet Union) or maybe limiting itself (as with many protest movements throughout history).

Also, there's another problem here. If Rafal is an anarchist, then why should be vote at all? He would be morally against voting and it might be, on that account, wrong to participate in a process he's against. (One might even argue, contra you, that him voting would be hypocritical.) In such a case, there would be no third party that would satisfy him by definition. (This is basically my position too: I don't want anyone to be president. It's not that I want someone other than the two major party dudes. And, yeah, that's a hard sell for most people, but I don't think going into a voting booth is going to make it any easier and will, in all likelihood, make it much more difficult.)



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