A Target-Rich Environment

by LF (3/5/99)

Last night I went out with my sisters and their husbands. During dinner I did a two-minute mini-rant on my strong desire to run away and not work (actually, to write a book or two -- which ain't considered "work" until the results attract a buyer) for several years in the hopes of not having to pay as many taxes.

As usual, I got the "Mark, you am one crazy fella" looks. I then explained that since unlike them I don't have a mortgage to pay, am not married, and have no dependents, I take a huge 35%+ hit every April 15th. Even worse, since the IRS and various local agencies glom onto my paycheck UP FRONT, I'm getting at least double-dipped since otherwise I could rack up interest on the cash before it comes due. But then, there's always those pesky taxes to pay on income generated via interest-bearing accounts, ain't there? So the next time you hear some Congressfool whine that the American People don't manage to save at the same rate as drones from other countries, be sure to remind the cottonhead of how our current "incentive structures" are rigged.

Oh, and then there's the money I jack into the system every time I buy a gallon of gasoline (about 40 cents per last time I checked, earmarked for road construction and maintenance and myriad other swell things), a loaf of bread (companies get slapped with all sorts of taxes and regulations, the costs of which they dutifully pass on to their customers), pay my rent (the firm which owns my apartment has to deal with property levies and the like), snag some ammunition (the tariffs go towards preserving "wildlife habitat", even though I'm not a hunter), or grab a pack of cigarettes (which should actually cost about forty or fifty cents a pack, but have miraculously gone up to over two bucks even here in the land of King Tobacco, where the shit does not even have to cross any state lines -- which incurs additional penalties for the rest of you sods).

So I'm probably paying a total tax rate of over seventy percent, all things considered. And no matter what happens, I'll still be "contributing to the common good" to the tune of at least thirty cents out of every dollar spent. And so does every other individual, down to the poorest shitkicker.

My desire to run away is fueled by the fact that if I can stick it out until October 1st of this year, I'm gonna have about $95,000 in liquid capital to play around with. A heck of lot of cabbage. With a stake like that, I can move out to the middle of nowhere and live real well for five or six years.

If you are in some higher-tax hell like NYC or LA that probably sounds ridiculous, but in plenty of depressed areas of this country old houses can still be had for less than twenty grand, and rents on portions of homes or apartments go for well under $250/month.

Then there'd be the promise of the Web, which makes it so much easier for technically-savvy individuals to perform their work from anywhere via telecommuting. Many friends are already doing it. For instance, the multi-national corporation I work for is already farming out all sorts of grunt-work to subcontractors located in places from Ireland to India. They figure that as long as all the tasks get done and their tight secrecy agreements are adhered to, then there is no reason to pay the additional costs of performing those same chores in a more expensive region of the world . . . .

Prepping the Molten Lead

Recently, four otherwise enthusiastic correspondents have managed to once again illustrate the apparently insuperable nature of my quest to impart to you all a healthy sense of dismay at the degree to which our government limits our freedom. (How's that for a sentence!)

About three weeks ago, this young lady e-mailed me a nice little note. I replied to her questions. She came back by asking why libertarians hate the poor so much. Now, she brought up "the poor" out of the clear blue sky. I never mentioned 'em, and had no clue how she was even defining the term, but somehow I was expected to come up with a winning defense against . . . what?

The kicker was that she identified herself as an "anarchist libertarian". Bitch might could've picked up that term during some college course, I reckon. I blew her off rather than doing the obvious: Asking why she decided to despise our society's unfortunates (given her terms) so damned much, and why she was trying to fob off her "guilt" onto a complete stranger.

If asked nicely, I could've come up with all sorts of alternative proposals to replace the current Welfare system (of course, keep in mind that not all "poor" people are getting a government check). Instead, I was asked to justify a position which had never occurred to me.

A few days later I received an e-mail from this gent in New Jersey. He stated that he liked the positions of the Libertarian Party, with the exception of their stands for private businesses and against governmental regulatory agencies. I responded by saying that:

And he came back with:

Now, what is wrong with that "argument"? Does it trump my proposition that companies can only find it profitable to inflict pain if they have a sufficient number of elected officials in their pockets?

What did my buddy manage to leave out? For starters, any clue whatsoever as to who OWNS the waterway. Oh! Oh! I know the answer: De gubmint! See, if the imperiled community held the deed, they could easily cut off the nasty corporation as soon as it dumped a thimbleful of a verboten chemical into the drink. On the other hand, if the company owned the river, then they might tell the civically-minded twinks whose chilluns have started dropping like flies to go suck wind. If a third party was in charge, they'd probably check their ledgers to find out which group was generating more revenue, and give them preferential treatment. You might think that's terrible and all, but at least it would be a rational process! Ownership is control, but government ownership of anything is just an invitation for everyone out there to excrete or toss any bloody thing they damn well please for as long as they can get away with it.

The concept of private property is more than just a bead game -- it is one of the bedrock principles underlying modern civilization. Look at the former Warsaw Pact nations. None of them are now going great guns, but the ones that've made a few baby steps towards true market reforms (getting the means of production out of the hands of government) like Poland and the Czech Republic are still doing much better than Crazy Aunt Russia, where taxes have gone so high (over 100% in some areas) that the only way that businesses can remain open is if their owners can hire enough gangsters to provide them with "protection" from the Duma's armed representatives.

Another take on the same tired theme rolled in a few days later, courtesy of this gent based in Detroit:

I chopped a ton of shit out of his letter, but this sentence encapsulates his main point: If a private company manages to pull off all the crap that our rogue government now shoves down our throats, then it would be just as bad as our government, right?

I rudely answered that he appeared to command an amazing grasp on the obvious. Basically, he was asking whether a person would be less dead if they got drilled through the noggin by a private security guard rather than by an FBI sniper.

Oh, but he was not done. Next up was the plaintive: "Now what I'm saying here may sound a bit socialist; let me tell you though that I am no socialist." Errrnnnnhhh! I'll happily bet bockwurst to bagels that every single person who has ever used that line on me was indeed at heart an adherent of the Big Stick school of politics, the allure of which lies primarily in the notion that if granted a sufficient level of power, a right-thinking person or group of right-thinking persons can smooth out life's bumps. The fly in the sweet tea of that impulse is that yesterday's glorious knee-jerk, which failed to solve the targeted problem, will most likely still be doctrine decades later. Passions wane and bogus intellectual fads come and go, but no tax, no regulation, no control ever disappears once it has been imposed. If there is a sufficient level of outrage to singe a few political tailfeathers, an act might get renamed or the responsibility for its enforcement shuttled over to a different agency -- and there are plenty to choose from -- but after even the cruelest and stupidest ideas take root, they live on forever, watered and nourished by tax dollars.

We are in our current state of fucked-uppedness because most people are only angered by the bales they personally have to tote or the barges that they are assigned to tow. Injuries inflicted on others just don't invoke the same sort of response, for obvious reasons. Run the numbers and you should comprehend that if the government is currently involved in, oh, say 100,000 un-Constitutional activities (and proposes dozens more every week), but the average stiff only truly cares about maybe two or five, no matter how things shake out there'll still be a whole lotta thievin' going on.

The icing on the flipping cake came courtesy of a friend of mine who caught the first couple of paragraphs of this very piece and chided me with "At $0.85/gal, gasoline is literally the cheapest it ever has been, cheaper than water, if you buy (tap water in a bottle) evian, so that argument is kinda thin." So after acknowledging that taxes are about doubling the cost of fuel, he contended that it is just not enough because even more pain must be inflicted in order to prevent "yuppie bastards from driving the kids to and from school in the Suburban." Man, here I thought that I was full of hatred, but obviously I'm a piker and a goodhearted simpleton compared to the critters who are consumed with concern over the doings of their fellow citizens.

Regarding the Current "Debates" in the Senate

One of the more sickening components of the ongoing Clinton Travails is the sight of Senators crawling all over each other to squeak that their club is a calm deliberative body which carefully weighs each and every issue that the House sends their way.

Let's examine that claim.

Article One, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution reads:

The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution changed that to:

A victory for Direct Democracy, right? More Power to the People, eh? Keep dreamin'.

The original intent behind having state legislatures appoint Senators was to protect the interests of their particular states. More exactly, it was to protect the power of the state governments

How well that was adhered to is a matter for historians to debate, but I'll bet that their analyses will bear out that back in the old days few of the anointed who inflicted great damage on their home bases were granted further terms.

Given the way that the system is now run, there is no Senator from an agricultural state who would dare vote against a subsidy bill aimed at farmers, because there would be a direct cause-and-effect relationship that all the dirt-scrabblers and their proponents could easily see. Under the original rules, a Senator would've been pressured to vote against such "free" money if the elected sharpsters back home figured out in time that the strings attached (and there are always strings attached) would result in a diminution of their own fiefdoms. "Checks and Balances" don't add up to shit unless more than one team gets to play.

The 17th amendment also led to another disconnect. Continuing the farming example, what happens now when the EPA takes advantage of a nebulously-worded Congressional edict and outlaws a clutch of commonly-used pesticides? The folks directly impacted first bitch to the responsible agencies (which never does any good), then turn to their local politicos, who'll undoubtedly sympathize before passing the buck, and then to their state representatives, who can do NOTHING to remove the far-off wastrels who made the hurt into law amid a hail of celebratory plaudits from the bootlickers in the mega-government press. And the majority of the state's voting population, who are utterly oblivious to the fact that they'll soon be paying higher prices at the supermarket, go ahead and re-elect the incumbent.

Way back when, a Senator would probably have been cashiered for backing sloppy laws which required laborious kneading and slapping into shape by the federal courts and once-sparse federal regulatory agencies (and if they get to rule in disputes between the state governments and Washington, which side do you think will get the knod?). Now the glad-handers can afford to luxuriate in the cheap applause and let others take the fall for their corroded beneficence. So they are no longer any different from the clowns in the House of Representatives, and react obediently to whatever makes a sufficient number of lobbyists crack open their wallets . . . but there are fewer of them (a bad thing, as each is thereby rendered more powerful), and they are appointed to longer terms (a worse thing, since recollections of outrages fade with time). So this "pro-democratic" development has led inexorably to a consolidation of power around the Potomac.

And its inhabitants are a pustulent breed of cat.

Up the spout