Sunday, April 08, 2007

The difference in being a liberal

The only difference between me and the liberals is that I'm a liberal.[1]

What defines a liberal?


Any liberalism that ignores rights is no liberalism. Rights make up the very core of liberalism. Randy Barnett's phrase "the presumption of liberty" nicely captures the spirit of these rights and how we may fold them into the real world of law.[2]

The Ninth Amendment, the enumerated rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution and our Declaration already recognize these boundaries. What a wonder it is to be born into an age where such documents already exist as a foundation for our laws, defining the ends and limits to government power.

"What?", you ask. "These boundaries on liberal government are already recognized in the Ninth Amendment? And the Fourteenth Amendment?" The socialist squirms, the conservative balks, the anarchist says, "Yeah, whatever..."

If a party calls itself liberal and begins trampling on rights with impunity, and so becomes a faction, it is no longer liberty-minded. It is no longer liberal. It is one thing to tax and spend in a measured, constitutional manner. It is quite another to "criminalize" innocent behavior.

I remember how shocked I was in the '80s when I first learned that the federal government had a half-century earlier criminalized monetary gold. Somehow in my fine education, this important piece of history had escaped me. I identified myself then as a liberal, in the same spirit as I do now but less discerningly. Even then I felt strongly that the bounds of liberalism clearly had been overstepped.


I despair deeply now when I hear that some states, such as Massachusetts, are making it a "crime" for an independent citizen to choose not to have state-defined "health insurance"[3]. The argument on behalf of the state goes something like this.
Since the state is your rescuer, even when you say, "No," the state gets angry. After all, it's paying the bill. It insists.
You know the type. The guy who actually gets angry when you insist on paying your own tab. The state, in this case, is that guy.

It's a pose. This is a classic, dysfunctional victim's-triangle writ large, where the state dances between playing the roles of rescuer, victim, and perpetrator, all in the blink of an eye. We stand guilty in our innocence.

The most important right we have is the right to say no, to strive to live peacefully, to strive to live without the use of force.

Moreover, in my view a liberal ought to encourage and celebrate such independence. To tempt a citizen into dependence is a warning sign, a design to corrupt; to mandate such dependence, evidence of a design to control.

Yes, not everyone has the strength to remain independent, but liberal parties must at an absolute minimum leave open the door.

Version 1.2 (Apr 19, 2007)

  1. With apologies to Salvador Dali, whose reputed quip was, "The only difference between me and the surrealists is that I'm a surrealist." Source.

  2. See: Randy Barnett (2004) Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty.

  3. Or, more accurately, health insulation, as described by Arnold Kling (2006) Crisis of Abundance.

Update: For more on RomneyCare, see Romney lets loose a Rhinoceros in Massachusetts.

Update: (Apr 18, 2007) An editorial at the Investor's Business Daily, Living Off of Others, dated Apr 16, speaks to the issue of tax dependency, describing where we are and its dangers. "Today, more than half of our country is dependent on Washington, continuing a trend that should disturb anyone who doesn't consider himself or herself a socialist." The final sentence reads ominously, "A dependent nation is a nation that cannot last long."

The editorial refers to an article written by Mark Trumbull in the Christian Science Monitor, Apr 16, As US tax rates drop, government's reach grows, which in turn refers to a paper by Gary Shilling.

It's my view that government taxation and dependency should be but an exception to the rule, a small fraction of activity compared to the activity of society... in the language of physics, a perturbation off of equilibrium. I find the diagram in Trumbull's article disturbing.

Update: (Apr 19, 2007) Here's a poll asking what you think would be the best, realistic tax rate 10 years from now, if we were to have a flat tax (with a reasonable poverty exemption). What should the total rate be, including all levels, local, state, and federal?

In short, what tax rate should we aim to have in 10 years?

Poll: Flat tax - what should it be in 10 years?

Update: (July 31, 2007) Bulgaria goes to a 10% flat tax.

Update (Nov 15, 2007): They're at it again.

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