Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Good stewards of the Earth (Anarcho Traditionalist Manifesto V)

In my last post on the subject (it’s the friggin’ previous one , just down the page, so I’m not gonna paste a link for that one!) I proposed the shocking concept of instituting a “fixed amount”, “flat rate” tax to be paid by everybody, regardless of income or economic situation, and advanced that I would defend its morality in a later installment. The moment has come, and before continuing with the Manifesto itself I would like to justify such proposal and reconcile it with my contention that it would lead to a fairer society, more conductive to human flourishing. How can you call “fairer” a society where a millionaire discharges his duty with the product of fifty hours of his work  or less (somebody who earns 1 million bucks per year, assuming he works 1,800 hours, receives 555,56 $ per hour worked, so would obtain the 28,656 $ I set as yearly amount of taxes by working the aforementioned 50 hours… 51 hours and forty minutes, to be more precise; somebody making ten million bucks a year would get the amount required to be done with his taxes in a tenth of the time, so a bit more than five hours would do the trick for him) while a housemaid has to work for three months and a half to obtain the same effect!!!!

Well, let’s call it the “everybody pays the same, everybody gets the same” rule, which doesn’t sound so unfair to begin with. Of course, that “paying the same” may require very different amounts of exertion, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Before entering in the murky waters of how bad it may be that to achieve the same outcomes people, being different, require different levels of sacrifice (and if fairness requires us to reward the outcome OR the effort put to produce it), let’s first grapple with some additional accusations that can be thrown to such scheme:

·         As it is most markedly NOT redistributive, it perpetuates inequality. Guilty as charged, it surely does. So does not cutting the legs of taller people (height correlates strongly with higher incomes), not forcing those with deeper voices to wear vocoders to distort it (they are perceived as more authoritative without them) or not perpetually administering mind altering drugs to dumb down people with higher IQ (which is the –mostly genetically acquired, so basically unearned, and persistent through life- factor that most strongly correlates with higher incomes), and as far as I know nobody ardently advocates such measures to alleviate the glaring difference in outcome they produce… life is unfair, deal with it

·         The same goal of allowing everybody to receive a UBI could be reached without making those that make less than 50 $/hour work in demeaning public jobs (they would be demeaning because everybody who earned more than 50 $/hour would find it more convenient to pay the money, so putting in the time would be associated with “not having made it”), by just charging a bit more to the top earners (say, a fixed percentage instead of a fixed amount, of the order of the very same 25% that needed to be collected, only in that version only the “real” earners would be paying it). I happen to think that work ennobles those doing it, and that a life in which you get something in exchange for something else has more dignity than one in which you end up depending on something in exchange for nothing at all. Even if it is more inefficient and the state has to exert some ingenuity to find jobs accessible to any level of skill or education than if it bought all its needs in the open market, I think it builds a healthier society if everybody (again, except the children, the elderly, the infirm and the temporarily sick) has to contribute something, has some skin in the game, and can legitimately feel they have “earned” what they get back (the famous UBI). Also, it would rob the selfish taxpayers of the argument you hear so much from the right (it used to be only from the far right, but it’s becoming more and more common) that every cent the state spends it “steals” it from somebody, and that such stealing is more grievous as it is used to subsidize the lives of the “undeserving”

With that last point I think I’ve already cleared the objection towards the different effort demanded from differently capable citizens. That’s unfortunate indeed, but it’s better than the alternative, which would imply recognizing that the time of those unable to pay is so little worthy that it is not even requested. So although I feel (and to a certain extent sympathize) with the accusation of unfairness I think in this case it is better to push for a certain unfairness (regarding effort, not outcomes, as the same outcomes are demanded from everybody, which also means that everybody is guaranteed the opportunity to contribute to the same extent and provided to everybody) than show the ultimate patronizing contempt, which is considering the less skilled workers so useless that it is preferred to just pay them for nothing.

Having then (hopefully!) cleared that objection, let’s proceed with the Manifesto.

The zero footprint rule

So far we have expounded how a society that ensures the maximum freedom while guaranteeing a minimum of dignity to each of its inhabitants, freeing them from both the unnecessary constraints and the paralyzing uncertainties that have shackled humanity in previous eras. But there is still one element to be considered regarding how to regulate production to avoid unjust accumulations of riches, which has always and everywhere been much enabled by the existence of externalities. Externalities are those costs that the use of economic resources (finite, scarce materials with alternative uses, in the immortal definition of Lionel Robbins) entails, but which are not borne by those using those resources, so in the end have to be paid by somebody else (who usually has not benefitted from its use). In the old times, use of common pastures or forests (being common, it’s understood that no payment was required) was the only potential externality, and a most tenuous one, as the bountiful nature would replace the consumed goods without much effort (as long as there was no overgrazing or over logging). But with the increased dominion of man over Nature, many activities are performed that are rife with externalities, from the coal plant that pours greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere without paying a penny for it to the cellulose plant that poisons the river where it emits its waste (well, in most of the world that poisoning is prohibited, and the plats have to treat their waste to make it relatively innocuous, so that particular externality has been mostly internalized). Energy production is specially blamable, as even the supposedly renewable energies (solar, wind, hydro) have a deleterious effect at some point in their production (from the use of arsenic, tellurium or indium to manufacture photovoltaic panels to the iron and copper used in stupendous amounts in wind turbines for a meager handful of kilowatts) which is rarely fully priced, assuming somebody someday will be left with the tab (after the current producers have cashed in). Many times, the rich and powerful that can influence the legislative process can dump the costs on the poor and uninformed (sometimes quite literally, as exemplified by a lot of electronic waste from the first world that is sent to third world countries with laxer environmental legislation), or if that fails, on future generations. 

That state of affairs is morally unacceptable, thus the only overarching regulation in any AT polity is the zero footprint effect: any economic activity is permitted free of charge (with one exception we will deal with in a moment) and without limitations, given it leaves no trace of it ever happening once it is terminated. As such activities may last well beyond their initiators lives, they should adequately provide for a “decommissioning fund” estimated as sufficient to devolve the site where they operated to green level, and during operations they should both ensure that no environmental impact is caused or, when unavoidable, pay a proper price (to be determined by an independent authority) for its mitigation. Would that make some activities we now perform gingerly uneconomical? Very probably, and that is enough reason in my playbook to stop doing them. Now with the exception: private property of land, or of any of its resources, is morally unacceptable. “Land” is a fiction for a parceled fraction of the Earth, which was here before we evolved, and which will still be around (hopefully) after we are gone (in what sorry state, if we keep on despoiling it as we have been doing for the last generations, is another matter). Understood that way, land can only be collectively owned. Each phratry would be assigned a certain amount, which would then dispose of as they see fit, given that they can never, ever, fully alienate it. My particular suggestion would be to lease it at market prices (which could be construed as an additional tax, a poll tax in the rich Anglo Saxon tradition, much as I said there should be no more taxes than the previously described), in order to have an additional source of revenue and also to have an objective criterion for its distribution (the more coveted spot would go to those more able to pay, but that is better than either distributing it to friends –thus casting doubts about the legitimacy of the process- or just letting people fight for it).

We will deal in more detail with how we propose to transition from our unjust, predatory, demeaning societies of today to the Anarcho Traditionalist paradise in another moment, but let it be known at this point that we are not (necessarily) advocating outright expropriation. A gradual transition can take place, where all current land titles are deemed valid for a hundred years (so all of today’s owners can still bequeath them to their heirs), and subsequent sales are adjusted for a decreasing duration (so twenty years from now sales are valid for a period of just eighty years, and so on, until finally all the land has reverted to the phratria, to be administered publicly).

So there you are, in a nutshell our recipe for a more perfect, more humane society:

·         Small groupings (phratria) with maximum freedom to give themselves whatever rules they deem fit, as long as they comply with a basic list of rights and their accompanying duties (the latter ensure that the former can be rightfully enjoyed), and that freely join other similar groups (Philae) to be able to jointly tackle greater projects for the collective good

·         “Right of exit” so anybody unhappy with the rules of the group can join other ones

·         Minimal state structure (roughly estimated to be around 3-5% of the population, between administrators, guardians and arbiters), the choice of who serves in what position to be hammered out by each phratry

·         “Everybody pays the same, everybody receives the same”: Universal Basic Income and provision of basic services by the phratry, with no exceptions, and universal payment of a fixed amount by every able citizen (in money or in time), equally with no exceptions

·         Maximal freedom of enterprise, given that a) the land can be leased but not bought and b) the zero footprint rule has to be respected. Any degradation to the common goods that can not be avoided has to be priced and paid for

Damn, if it were not for the law of unintended consequences (which asserts that if such a society were actually ever attempted, only God knows what may happen and how it would eventually really look like) I would start campaigning for it right away!

Wouldn’t you? If not, feel free to let me know why (in the comments section, that great unknown). 

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