Taxation Without Representation

taxation without representation
Tip o’ the hat to me dear mum, who just sent me this article on how officials from the local government of Washington, D.C. who are traveling the country to drum up support for D.C. statehood are receiving the indifferent response that they probably should have expected.

The reason for the D.C. statehood movement, which is extremely popular among District residents and virtually unheard of elsewhere, is that since those who live in the district don’t have any real representation in Congress, it’s unfair that they’re held to federal laws and regulation. Their battle cry, based on similar sentiment from the American Revolution, is that they live in an democratic system of “taxation without representation”. And that photo is real — they have it on the license plate and everything.

And if you subscribe to small-r republican principles, you might see their point. Sure, Washington, D.C. has a lot of Congressmen, lobbyists, and other power brokers, but that doesn’t mean that all 600,000 people who live in the city are wheeler dealers who are shaping the destiny of the federal government. While the city has its wealthy areas, much of it is working class, and their claims to disenfranchisement shouldn’t be lightly dismissed, especially since there are several states that have a lower population than D.C., yet have their full Congressional complement.

The problem is that outside D.C. itself, no one cares about this issue. And even if they did, it’s arguable that it would take an amendment to the U.S. constitution to change things, which is the way D.C. residents got electoral votes in the presidential election. That’s hard to do even when people around the country actually want something. There are other options than statehood however. Personally, I’d just give the whole place back to the Piscataway Indian tribe, although I doubt that would set well with the city’s current inhabitants. Another option is to return the city to being part of Maryland, from which it was carved in the late 18th century, and just keep a “federal enclave” separate from that state, one without residents. There’s precedent for this, in that the portion of Virginia that was ceded to be part of D.C. was given back in the 1840’s, since it didn’t seem at the time like the federal government would ever be large enough to need it, among other reasons.

One option that I never hear people suggest, and it sort of surprises me, is to solve the taxation without representation problem not by adding representation, but by removing taxation. Especially considering much of the city isn’t affluent, it would be a prosperity enhancing move to say, “You don’t get a vote? Fine, no federal taxes for your residents.” Do that, and watch the place become the biggest boom town ever seen in North America. Maybe it would even have the healthy effect of causing people in other parts of the U.S. to realize that taxation, and maybe even Congressional representation, are overrated.

Gary Johnson For President

Gary Johnson for President
This will probably surprise those who know me well, but I’ve become interested in Gary Johnson’s run for President. Gary Johnson was a Republican governor of New Mexico for two terms, which was a feat in a state that leans Democrat. He started his campaign last year as a candidate for the Republican nomination, but after being shut out by the Republican establishment and assiduously ignored by the mainstream media, at the end of the year he decided to switch parties and run as a Libertarian Party candidate instead. His record as governor is surprisingly strong, and this basically makes him the highest quality presidential candidate the Libertarian Party has ever fielded.

One way I find Gary Johnson interesting is the contrast he provides to the other noteworthy libertarian running for president this year — Ron Paul. Both hold similar positions, with the noticeable exception of abortion, where is no universally recognized correct position among libertariana, and immigration, where Gary Johnson’s positions are a lot more freedom friendly than Ron Paul’s. Overall, while Ron Paul is more of a paleolibertarian with more natural appeal to those on the right, Gary Johnson’s lifestyle and record are much more in keeping with the sort of left-libertarianism that shares goals with many progressives. Left-libertarians like myself don’t always have the same “virtue of selfishness” or “God-given rights” motivation of their right-libertarian colleagues, instead many of us are primarily motivated by concerns about poverty, environmental degradation, eroding civil liberties, and the like and simply understand that markets are a better way to solve those problems than constantly expanding state power could ever be.

And by markets, I don’t mean big corporations! Indeed, many on the left are surprised to hear that there are libertarians who are as distrustful of big business as they are of big government. Ultimately, corporations are not the epitome of capitalism, they’re a perversion of it. To own a corporation is to have a state entitlement of limited liability for the actions of the company that you control. There’s nothing libertarian about that! Indeed it’s frustrating for people like me to see progressives correctly rail against certain corporate abuses but then don’t see that the corporate power they oppose comes primarily from the collaboration between those firms’ executives and government policy makers. And it’s especially frustrating to see progressives who understand the harm done in communities, the country, and even internationally by maintaining a law enforcement approach to drug abuse that has clearly failed — an approach Gary Johnson came out to oppose while still in office as governor of New Mexico.

While obviously not as radical as myself, I believe that Gary Johnson is a left-libertarian at heart. And I further think that it would be a fascinating experiment to see him run his campaign specifically to attract progressive voters who have lost faith in Barack Obama. I say this because Obama’s broken promises about closing Guantanamo, abandonment of civil liberties by signing NDAA, and refusal to consider alternatives to drug prohibition have left many on the left without a candidate they can believe. Unlike previous cycles, there’s no name brand candidate running to the left of the Democrat — two little known figures are fighting for the Green nomination and Ralph Nader’s finally sitting one out. There’s opportunity for a left-libertarian to come in and make the case to many progressives, particular younger ones, that freedom in every sphere of life, not just on social issues and civil liberties, is progress in its truest form.

The Airport Security Dilemma

“TSA. You are supposed to be protecting us, but at this point you are… terrorizing us.” — Elie Mystal

TSA Security Checkpoint This week I’m in my first doctoral residency at Northeastern University, and while I’m writing about that elsewhere, I did want to share the experience I had getting there in the first place.

Northeastern University is in Boston and I live in Northern Virginia, meaning I first had to get there. It’s about a ten hour drive, and at first I considered taking my car, but then when I considered gas, tolls, and mileage, and checked out how little the flight would cost, I decided to fly. It helps that I’ve taken public transportation in Boston once before, when I flew up to speak at the Free Culture National Conference a few years ago, so I knew that getting from the airport to the place on campus where I was staying would be fairly easy.

Of course, this is the brave new twenty-first century, and that means when flying one gets a choice. No, not a choice of sodas, those cost extra now. I mean when going through security one can either go through the porn-o-matic scanner, or one can be groped. Now, while I don’t believe any of this actually makes travelers significantly safer, and don’t believe that those with delicate sensibilities should have to suffer these sorts of indignities and violations of privacy to fly on an airplane, I personally don’t really care if some random person sees a black and white scan of my junk. So you probably expect that means I went through the porn-o-matic, right?

Nope, I went for the groping instead. I know I’m not a medical doctor or anything, but I’ve read enough about the millimeter waves used by the porno scanners not to want to go anywhere near them. Yes, it’s possible that the sources of information that question the safety of these scanners may be suspect, but if there’s anything one can learn from history, it’s to disbelieve anything a government official says until proven otherwise — and they’re desperate to make people believe those scanners are perfectly safe.

So, how bad was the procedure? Well, I don’t believe he went to school for homeland security, but, to give credit where it’s due, the guy who patted me down at Reagan National Airport was extremely professional about it, telling me everything he was going to do ahead of time. It didn’t take very long, and while it was thorough, it wasn’t the end of the world. Of course, I’m a mentally healthy adult who’s never been abused, adopted religious sensibilities, or anything like that which might lead me to be sensitive about this sort of thing. And I could definitely see why people in those situations might feel extremely uncomfortable, even violated, by this procedure.

The other thing was that I was surprised I didn’t have to go through a metal detector. My bags went through the x-ray machines, as usual, but the pat down was the only procedure for everything on my person between the street and the airplane. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in information security, but whenever I see a security measure I think of it (intellectually, of course) as a challenge to be defeated. I couldn’t help but wonder whether someone determined couldn’t figure out some means of getting dangerous items. There was a scan for chemical residue, but that wouldn’t pick up any metal objects I might have cleverly concealed on my person.

I know I sound dismissive of security, but that’s not really my objective. When I get on an airplane, I want to land at my destination and live my life, I don’t want to be on a plane that gets hijacked and flown into an office building or shot down by an F-16. But I also don’t think that sort of 9/11 scenario is as likely today as it was in 2001, for two main reasons. First, cockpits are inaccessible, so hijackers might take over the cabin, but they’re not going to gain control of the plane. Second, before 9/11 passengers were told to comply with hijacker demands. Does anyone think hijackers will be obeyed by a plane full of Americans from the “Let’s roll!” generation?

Homeland Security spokespeople and others often say that any security measures, no matter how intrusive, are acceptable in part because no one is forced to fly on an airplane. But someone who needs to fly somewhere for work is hardly in a position to resist in a time of double digit unemployment. More to the point, however, is that “You’re not forced to fly” works both ways — why can’t it be the easily terrorized, who demand unreasonable security measures to feel safer, be the ones who take the bus?

U.S. And Chinese Economic Trends

“Although China and United States are competitors, China and the United States are indeed partners in trade.” — Zhu Rongji



I saw this Reuters article on how economists foretell of U.S. decline, China’s ascension, and since my teenage son is studying Mandarin, I posted it to his wall on Facebook. My mom, also an avid Facebooker, suggested we read the reader comments also, since there was a lot of disagreement. So I thought I’d elaborate on why I sent it to him.

I don’t think the U.S. is going to drop out of the economic top ten any time soon, I just think since the end of the Cold War that it’s enjoyed an unrivaled preeminence that is coming to an end. I think there are things that the U.S. could do to put off that trend, like tax reform and immigration reform, but that policy makers don’t understand these issues and that even among those who do there’s insufficient political will to take these things on. That said, I don’t think it’s so much that the U.S. is in decline so much as that other countries are catching up, which doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.

China is also doing a much better job building relationships with countries where incomes are low but natural resources abound. For example, China has been increasing their presence in Ghana’s oil sector at the Americans’ expense. They’re also doing a good job shepherding their own natural resources, for example with farsighted policies on rare earth metals extraction — metals needed in a variety of industries for which they currently are the only economically viable source.

That’s not to say the Chinese have every advantage. Their huge agrarian population keeps labor costs low, but that also means their GDP per capita will be lower than that in Western countries for a long time, even as they get squeezed in the other direction by countries like Vietnam that are emerging as cheaper outsourcing destinations.

The American educational system for all its faults is also better overall than theirs. Even their K-12 system isn’t focusing on the right things. Over there it’s all rote memorization of facts, and very little emphasis on understanding the connections among things — sort of like NCLB tests from hell. That’s an okay system for a manufacturing economy, but a terrible one for a service economy where innovation is key.

So my point wasn’t that the Chinese were taking over the world, just that there’s a difference between a large economy and a dynamic economy, and these days they seem to be both, and there are worse uses of time for a young person than to be learning Mandarin.