Common Good and the Freedom To

This is a little rambling, so my apologies for the lack of composition. Just some thoughts from an article I read this morning.

While he at least outlines the libertarian case against selective tax breaks, I disagree with his conclusion. I just cannot find much sympathy in me for big oil. Those cartel-pricing bastards have benefited disproportionately from government interference in the market on their behalf, just like the rest of the elite.

At the same time, though, it’s not like increasing taxes on big oil would actually benefit the common person. It doesn’t go directly into the average person’s pocket, but rather into state coffers. Now, with the political climate as it is, they’d probably raise taxes and still slash social programs, while leaving all the less savory things the state does, like the military-industrial complex, completely untouched. The taxes would just go to state mischief.

That’s one area where the argument about taxes as paying back society, or reflecting duty to the common good, falls flat for me. I’m sympathetic to the idea that we all owe each other help. My debt to BroadSnark for these quotes:

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.
– Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases).
– Katherine Whitehorn

The problem is that people move from that to justifying taxation–they skip the whole step of establishing that the state is actually the agent of the people and the common good. That to me is not at all trivial. Even a democratic state acts with its own will. I’m thinking here of this article comparing America’s war-making to the autocratic French court. The state acts more frequently on behalf of the specific good of particular groups than for any sort of definable common good. If you look at the state as selectively benefiting certain groups, you’ll have a lot more explanatory power than if you look at it as serving the common good.

While I’m a proponent of the belief that the non-aggressing individual should be free to secede from society to whatever extent they please (I find any social order that wants to criminalize the hermit perverse), I don’t go that Ayn Rand route of abstracting the individual. I don’t go in for Egoism with a capital E. So OK, I’ll go with you and say individuals in society might owe each other help. How do we provide for that common good while maintaining liberty?

Well, anarcho-communism is one solution: holding capital in common, working for each other and living in a condition of total mutual aid. Anarchist geoism has another–everybody who owns land pays a land tax (the amount differing depending upon the amount of land you have, I think) that goes to the community. Some geoists say it goes straight to funding services, while others (in my opinion a fairer route) say it goes back to the people of the community in equal portions and it’s up to the individual how to use that tax revenue. Mutualism deals with it by allowing for the ownership of capital and land, but saying you can only own as much as you can occupy and use by yourself. So if you need a lot of land or capital–if you want to expand–you have to partner up with people. Everybody gets a sort of equal right to land–no one person can own more land and capital than he or she can use/occupy. No one gets to lord property over others. And there are other ways beyond these. I like anarcho-communism and mutualism best of the options, myself.

I can believe in a duty to the common good, and I can agree with the idea of positive liberty. I think it’s unfortunate that people are so unimaginative as to think both have to be done through the state. I think it’s an error to see the state as an agent for both, and I’ve never understood why positive liberty should require infringement of negative liberty. Anarcho-communism is a great elaboration of a system with robust positive liberty that retains the essential quality of negative liberty: the right of association/secession.

And as a disclaimer, I don’t think any potential society would be a utopia. It’s not a matter of OK, do this and everything will be perfect, just a matter of do this and things could be better. Why shouldn’t we aim for a freer, fairer, and more peaceful society? I feel like most of the constituent aims are goods in themselves–for example, anti-authoritarian approaches to education or coops or mutual banks and time stores. Things we can do right now that have a positive effect.

Anyway, just a ramble…


About thebuddhadada

I like John Zorn, cigars, and card games. I dislike alfredo sauce, texting, and the State.
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2 Responses to Common Good and the Freedom To

  1. BroadSnark says:

    Oil is an interesting case. There was massive collusion between the state and industry to benefit a few. There was also a real need to organize oil extraction. Independents who hit oil on their private property in places like Texas and OK would try to pump it out as fast as possible – before their neighbors, also on the same glob of oil – could get it. Ruined a lot of oil fields. Wasted a lot of oil.

    It is a kooky area of private property. The general idea in the U.S. is that the resources under your land are yours. But it is really based on where the oil comes up through the ground, not where it was sitting when you found it. In Mexico and other places, what is under your land belongs to the state. Both systems have pretty much sucked.

    If there is any example of something that doesn’t fit very neatly with a private property schema, oil is it. (Water too.) Then you get into the idea that the person who took it out did the work, that resources are only valuable once processed by a human. But the actual humans who did the work don’t usually get the major benefit. Then it goes to who has the capital and technology to get it out. Then the question is, how did they obtain that capital and technology?

    So, how can resources be managed for the common good? The state is too big and coercive. Trying to manage something like oil on a worldwide scale (without the cartels we have now) is absurd. Locally managed oil? Small groups based on oil fields? Freely shared technological innovation to get it out?

    Now who is rambling. (I just wanted to leave a reeeeaaaallly long comment on your blog for once 🙂

  2. “I just cannot find much sympathy in me for big oil.” Neither can I, and I said so!

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