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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Compact answers

As I stated in my previous post, I have been overwhelmed with comments and questions from various sites and sources and don't have enough tie to answer each one individually. Below I will try to address some of the recurring comments and questions. If I miss yours, feel free to let me know and I'll try my best to get to everybody.

Has anyone offended me? No...various people express their opinions in various ways and I am not bothered by the differences between us. I'm sure we all agree the world would be a bit boring if we all thought alike.

What do I mean by the word, "progressive"? Here is the basic historical background for the term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era . I view it as a secular term for what Christians call sanctification. In a way it assumes an eschatology as well. We are moving toward a goal of human dignity for all in harmony with the rest of creation. Kingdom of God, Shalom, abundant Life, etc are Biblical terms that are most comfortable to me but I realize we must live with people of diverse religious and non religious beliefs and so progressive is a term which in some ways describes what a number of ethical traditions advocate. It is a rather broad term and I have no problem with Libertarians claiming it as their own as well. In the context of American history, if you wish to push me in a corner, I am politically descended from William Jennings Bryant (sans creationism, especially in its more contemporary mutations). When I use the word progressive, I am trying to capture both an ideal to which we are hopefully moving (peace with justice for all) and a realism about how it's not going to happen all at once this side of the final advent.
What is my political affiliation? I have always been a Democrat and tended toward the left side of that party. However, I like many others from both major American parties and across the political spectrum have come to believe that neither party represents ordinary people any more. Their function is basically rhetorical in nature and they serve effectively the same economic elites. Their real distinctions are insubstantial and mainly diversionary in nature. They are content to keep us arguing about cultural issues while they pick our pockets to load their purses. Generally speaking, Democrats are rhetorically cultural libertarians and economic interventionists while Republicans are cultural interventionists and economic libertarians. I emphasize the word, "rhetorically" because any fool who examines it for five minutes can spot the glaring inconsistencies in their game plans. Witness how they are opposite on a cultural issue like gun rights vs. gun control.  Witness how their primary donors are basically the same corporate folks. Republicans, whether consciously or not, are generally military Keynesians. Most Democrats support so-called "free trade" agreements. If there are any real differences, it is mainly about patronage, not ideology.
What do I believe is the role of government? As I have stated several times in various forums, wherever two or three are gather in the name of economics, government is ontologically there in the midst. If we shut down Washington completely we would still be ruled by the corporate boards and bosses of Wall Street. I believe the best government in this world is that which represents all the people and that such a government must have checks and balances and reflect the diversity of ideologies we find in society. I am therefore in favor of a parliamentary system of proportional representation. I think that we ought to get rid of the US Senate and the electoral college. I also think that some amount of direct democracy is legitimate but, on the whole, representative democracy is probably a bit saner. I believe that legitimate  representative government would work to implement the common will of the people. I think there is a consensus that representative government ought to intervene to provide safe,  affordable, quality and universal access to education, security, transportation, health care, communication and energy. This does not mean that I think that one central planning group should provide all of this. The main functions of a central government ought be to make sure that funding is available for these purposes in a roughly equitable manner and that reasonable minimum standards are adhered to by all. Working out the details of how these funds are utilized for these functions ought to be left up mainly to individuals and state and local governments in cooperation with private for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, businesses and individuals. In short, I believe in a mixed economy with a strong "little d" democratic element to balance a strong competitive element. Both statism and laissez-faire land way too many in bonds of perpetual poverty while privileging a few powerful people to nepotism, patronage and authoritarian rule. I don't expect absolute full employment and zero inflation will ever be attainable in this world but we ought to be shooting for a misery index below 5 percent. I think it is a moral travesty the way we fight inflation with unemployment and unemployment with inflation. I think a central bank is necessary for most nation states but that such banks should be controlled by a board of governors who are nationally elected or appointed by a truly democratically elected government. I would allow for competitive and local currencies though out the national economy along side a national currency and possibly other stable national currencies. I think we ought to have a national usury rate that is rigidly enforced. I think the gold standard would work only in a closed economy but such an economy will never exist. I believe that taxes ought to be mostly progressive. I would replace the current system of deductions, exemptions and convoluted loop holes for the wealthy, with individual resident earned income tax credit voucher (REITCV) cards (please do ask me about this). I would lower the pay roll tax to a total of 10 percent of wages and remove the cap altogether. I would eliminate property and income taxes and replace them with a progressive consumption tax consisting of a 20% VAT and  2 margins of surtaxes of 10% and 20% on annual individual spending above 250K and 1 million. I would not tax savings but I would levy a very small fee (maybe .01percent) on all stock purchases. And finally I would impose tariffs on nations according to their labor, consumer, environmental and monetary policies and human and civil rights so that, for example, products coming from the EU would be subject only to the 20% VAT and products coming from China would pay the VAT plus 50%. In an economic slump I would cut all taxes except import tariffs and accelerate government spending especially on transportation, communication, energy and education infrastructure. When inflation sets in I would increase interest rates and taxes and cut spending. If stagflation hits, I would want us to be prepared with  huge and diverse energy reserves, and stimulate quickly and boldly before we pump the brakes gradually but firmly.
If I have such a progressive agenda, why in world would I ever support Ron Paul? First of all, such a progressive agenda will never happen as long as the Obama defense and security budget looks basically the same as the Bush version. Second, Ron Paul has offered us progressives a better deal: increased domestic spending in exchange for a net overall cut in spending. President Obama has exempted military spending from any real cuts and advocated a 10 year freeze on domestic discretionary spending. I would not expect that Ron Paul would endorse, much less implement, much of what I stated above (although if you examine my ideas closely they constitute the beginnings of a new synthesis of libertarian and interventionist ideas and represent some potentially creative compromises for a coalition government). I am trying to persuade other progressives to get on board with the RP campaign not because we agree with him on every issue, especially not the economic ones, but because he represents the most realistic possibility of wresting control of our government from the corporate bosses, who are really in charge of both parties. I was very proud to vote for president Obama and truly wish I could do it again, but given what has happened since he took office, not because I have converted to a Randian view of reality (far from it), I have to vote for Ron Paul. I also sympathize with the idea of destroying the GOP as just punishment for its part in selling our country to the highest bidders. (I have different but in some ways similar plan for destroying the Democratic party for the same sin in a future election.)
Can I be made into your likeness? I know that many of my new libertarian friends are praying for me to see the light, and maybe one day I will, but for now I'd just like them to see me and other progressives as people with whom they need to make compromises if anything remotely resembling what Ron Paul advocates will ever stand the slightest chance of coming to fruition.
What's next? The next time I would like to try to share with these same friends some ideas about how they might better persuade progressives to join the alliance. (Hint: Ron Paul is a pretty darn good role model.)


  1. I think most Libertarians and Progressives share the same ideals, but merely differ on the government's role in achieving our common goals.

    Washington said government is force, not finesse. Some things, like charity, require finesse. But raising funds involuntarily requires force.

    Is a completely voluntary society possible?

    For libertarians, the initiation of violence is only acceptable in response to violence. Involuntary taxation causes a moral problem, then.

    Perhaps if we could limit our federal government's budget to what it can collect in tariffs, we can keep it more efficient, more economical, and more responsive to its customers. And keep it treating us like customers, instead of like subjects.

  2. Richard, I am not sure there is a black and white way to define what is voluntary and what is forced. Moreover, that something is forced upon a person is sometimes liberating. I am forced by God and/or nature to breath. If I had to volunteer every breath, I would be distracted from doing much else. I think this also can work in the realm of economics. If I am forced to pay taxes that provide me roads, schools, clean sewer systems, etc., my freedom is enhanced not diminished because I am empowered to choose from a wider range of possibilities. If neither I nor anyone else is forced to pay taxes for such empowering services, then either I will be forced to do without those services or to pay for private companies to provide these services. If I cannot afford to pay for such services, then I am enslaved by my poverty. If I am able to pay for the services and my neighbor is not, I will face the burden of an angry and/or needy neighbor. I will be forced to do something to take care of the problems of my neighbor or to bear the wrath of my neighbor. In either case, my neighbor's dis-empowerment leads to less freedom for me. I think what we need is not a policy of all taxation is a hindrance to freedom so lets get rid of all or most taxes. tariffs are not voluntary taxes either. i think that tariffs ought to be raised on goods and services from sources like China which exploit their people through authoritarian force. Perhaps also we ought to move away from income and property taxes to progressive consumption taxes, and surely every tax dollar collected needs to be used for valuable and cost effective services. there is always a burden to bear in order for their to be freedom for anyone. We just need to work ought the best way to share the burden and maximize freedom for everyone.