The camel’s ass, again

March 23, 2013 § 46 Comments

Some folks are up in arms about the European Union’s attack on private property in Cyprus, and a few Internet pundits are updating their “THE END IS NEAR” signs with bigger, bolder fonts.

The Cypriot banking system is an order of magnitude larger than its GDP, largely (I am led to believe — I am certainly no expert on the Cyprus economy) on the back of Russian mafia money and other tax haven activity.  The EU proposed that as a condition of getting EU bailout loans, Cyprus should levy a property tax on “money” deposited there (ahem). The different proposed tax brackets look to me like a rough proxy, targeting mainly foreigners who use the Cypriot system as a tax haven and locals who have profited from that use.

Like every politically expedient proxy it is a blunt instrument.  People buy homes in “senior only” developments to keep out young thugs who tend to be disproportionately of certain races. But because you can’t say that out loud, “no residents under 50 permitted” as an HOA covenant accomplishes the goal without violating PC pieties. This is a rough cut, but it gets the job done while maintaining all the right fictions.

So yes, some “innocents” would probably be caught in the proposed Cypriot property tax net — if Cyprus hadn’t rejected the proposal, that is.  And of course something like it may still happen on that wee Mediterranean isle.

But this hubbub hardly represents the camel’s nose in the tent.  Large swaths of our economy are based on usury, which means that much of what constitutes “property” literally doesn’t exist as an ontologically real thing.  I’ve made an argument that property taxes in general may be intrinsically unjust. I am open to a conclusion that property taxes in general (as opposed to taxes on transactions) are all basically forms of robbery perpetrated by the sovereign. But the notion that this rejected proposal on a small Mediterranean island somehow represents the end of private property is ridiculous: either private property ended long ago, the first time Mom and Pop had to sell the family home to get out from under property tax liabilities that they could not meet, or there is nothing to see here. I am somewhat inclined toward the former view.

§ 46 Responses to The camel’s ass, again

  • William Luse says:

    ” property taxes in general may be intrinsically unjust”

    It’s always seemed that way to me. You buy your property with money left over from income that has already been taxed. Then, to keep your property, you have to keep paying taxes on it, which means you have to keep on paying for it, such that you will never own it free and clear, which is another way of saying that ownership of it (that’s the definition of property: something you own) is an illusory concept that never meets with reality. Your stuff isn’t really yours. Ever. Besides, if they can tax your property, why do they have to stop with the house and yard? Why can’t they tax my sofa?

  • Vanessa says:

    I can see taxing transactions and rents, but property taxes are the gift that keeps on giving.

    I’m nervous because I have an euro bank account that is already being eroded through savings taxes and inflation. If they start just outright grabbing the money, then I’ll have to take most of the money out and I need one more year for that to make sense for me.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:
    Why can’t they tax my sofa?

    Some states have personal property taxes, explicitly so-called, on some items (usually vehicles) in addition to real estate. There doesn’t seem to be an in-principle line that the government is unwilling to cross in terms of outright property confiscation, as distinct from taxing transactions.

  • Steven Nicoloso says:

    Property taxes unjust by their very nature? Pshaw. Since the sovereign is, by definition, sovereign, no taxation by the sovereign is unjust by its very nature. But it may be more or less prudent. And it could be very much less prudent.

    The Cypriot deal was supremely imprudent. The very suggestion of it probably will, if it has not already, cause a run on the banks. Bank runs happen because of fractional reserve banking, i.e., maturity mismatch. While I am agnostic on usury as you have applied it (I happen to think money is an ontologically real thing), I’m convinced it IS inherently unjust to utilize fractional reserve lending, i.e., genuinely selling something you don’t have to sell.

    The sovereign should (prudentially speaking) operate his realm as a profit-maximizing venture. He should therefore tax in a manner, and at a rate, that maximizes his revenues. Since he has no (prudential) interest in killing the golden goose, i.e., economic productivity, both he, and everybody else, will get rich(er).

    Cyprus should do the honorable thing and say FU to the EU, scrap the Euro, and go back to donkey dung or whatever they used for currency before. That would be prudent.

  • Steven Nicoloso says:

    To save time: my basic outline for the inherent justice of property taxes (and total agnosticism on their prudence) goes like this: they ARRE (are and only are) rent. The land you “own” is really leased from the sovereign, who (as sovereign) truly owns all land in his domain. You have a “deed” to it, that is a valid deed only because the sovereign says so. It is necessary in order for the sovereign to be sovereign for him to be sovereign.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:

    I -think- your solution is just to deny the existence of private property. All property is ultimately public, that is, owned by the sovereign.

    I do note that you mention only land, distinct from other private property; but I’m not sure that helps. While it does square the circle on paper, at least with respect to property taxes on land (what about on improvements, buildings, personal property?), it offhand seems difficult to resolve with a few millennia of Magisterial teaching and tradition on private property.

  • Prinz Eugen says:

    Zippy,

    How dare you question the brilliant edifice of truth known as Austrian Economics?!

  • Mike T says:

    The land you “own” is really leased from the sovereign, who (as sovereign) truly owns all land in his domain. You have a “deed” to it, that is a valid deed only because the sovereign says so.

    Arguments like this are why I tend to be of the opinion that monarchists are, in practice, morally equivalent to Communists. If you cannot conceive of how private property may truly be owned independent of the sovereign while the sovereign being able to impose moral obligations upon the owner, you really have little imagination.

  • Mike T says:

    But the notion that this rejected proposal on a small Mediterranean island somehow represents the end of private property is ridiculous

    I cannot speak for what you’ve been reading, but most commentators I’ve read have said variations of the following:

    1. This isn’t a tax anymore than Obamacare is a tax; it’s a fine/outright theft masquerading as a tax. (Most deny it is property tax altogether).
    2. It represents a turning point in the banker-depositor-government relationship wherein depositors truly have no security whatsoever now that a government institution, in conspiracy with bankrupt bankers, can simply whip up a new “tax” that just so happens to be a seizure of private wealth for private benefit.
    3. There is nothing stopping this from expanding to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. In fact, there are signs Italy is already being pressured to go this route because its bank deposits are so large per capita compared to Germany.
    4. If #3 happens, there is also definitely nothing stopping it from happening here.
    5. There is a deliberate attempt by the MSM to convince the public they’re safe here because the FDIC “covers all losses” when the MSM knows quite well that this is not legally classified as a loss because it is labeled by statute as a tax.

    So it’s not really an end to private property. Private property in the West, in the US in particular, has been on the way out for decades. I would argue that civil asset forfeiture, then ending the right to use force in defense of private property, did more to destroy property rights in the US than any property tax.

    Be that as it may, if this comes here I would duck for cover with all of my magazines fully loaded because “$h!t will get real… real fast” if the banksters go from robbing the Fed to robbing mom and pop.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Arguments like this are why I tend to be of the opinion that monarchists are, in practice, morally equivalent to Communists.

    Steve’s argument fits pretty well with the later “divine right” conception of monarchy; not so well with the earlier concept of monarch as merely the highest aristocrat in the social hierarchy. There is a tendency for the latter to warp into the former, as we were warned in the book of Judges.

    1. This isn’t a tax anymore than Obamacare is a tax;

    I don’t care about the labels so much; but whatever kind of thing this is, it is the same kind of thing as the property taxes most homeowners nonchalantly pay all the time.

    2. It represents a turning point in the banker-depositor-government relationship wherein depositors truly have no security whatsoever now that a government institution, in conspiracy with bankrupt bankers, can simply whip up a new “tax” that just so happens to be a seizure of private wealth for private benefit.

    That has pretty much always been the case though. It isn’t a turning point in reality, though it may be a “red pill” moment for people who didn’t understand reality before now.

    3. There is nothing stopping this from expanding to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

    One key difference between Cyprus and those places is that the banking system in Cyprus is many times larger than the country’s economy, and exists largely as a money laundering and tax evasion machine for the Russian mafia. Another is that Cyprus represents about 0.2% of the EU economy. People who see banksters as perpetrators rather than victims ought to appreciate the deal that was actually struck (after I had written my post).

    4. If #3 happens, there is also definitely nothing stopping it from happening here.

    It is a qualitatively different situation along several parameters. The US issues its own sovereign currency, and is not doing business denominated in a currency it doesn’t control. A property tax on deposits here would be like the mob calling for blood and then cutting its own throat to get that blood. A whole book could probably be written on the qualitative differences.

    Saying that “if it happens there it could happen here” is like saying that a revolution in a backward African country means that a revolution could happen here. It is true that it (revolution, financial collapse, or both) could happen here; but the situations are qualitatively and quantitatively so different that the comparison is just fearmongering.

    5. There is a deliberate attempt by the MSM to convince the public they’re safe here because the FDIC “covers all losses” when the MSM knows quite well that this is not legally classified as a loss because it is labeled by statute as a tax.

    The media is definitely full of crap. Beyond the factual terms of the deal, most of what is written is useless drivel.

    Private property in the West, in the US in particular, has been on the way out for decades. I would argue that civil asset forfeiture, then ending the right to use force in defense of private property, did more to destroy property rights in the US than any property tax.

    Those are definitely also major factors; though all of these things are more symptom than disease. As usual modernity has failed to apprehend moral boundaries: in this case the moral boundary between licit taxation and theft.

    My disdain for the form of liberalism known as libertarianism is well known. But it isn’t surprising that liberals draw intramural battle lines along the false dichotomy “[all] taxation is theft”/”[all] property confiscation is morally licit if we label it a ‘tax'”.

  • Zippy says:

    I wonder how peoples’ attitudes would change if instead of Cyprus we were dealing with an Indian tribe that had borrowed far more US dollars than it could afford and was operating its own internal banks on the reservation (its sovereign territory) that the Mob was using to launder money and evade taxes.

    I’d have a strong inclination not to offer any additional financing at all. But if I was going to offer additional financing I’d definitely have very strict terms, and every big player would have to take a haircut on the deal, including those with an equity stake (whatever it is labeled: labeling it “deposits” doesn’t change its fundamental nature) in bank operations.

    They would of course be free to take it or leave it.

  • […] wonder how peoples’ attitudes would change if, instead of Cyprus, we were dealing with an Indian tribe that had borrowed far more US dollars than it could afford […]

  • Mike T says:

    Steve’s argument fits pretty well with the later “divine right” conception of monarchy

    That doesn’t change its implications.

    On a side note, I found it amusing while watching the Tudors to see Henry shrieking about his divine right, lack of accountability to his subjects, etc. It never occurred to him that if all of that was true, he was well and truly screwed under New Testament theology. A king who violently resists temporal justice, asserts he can do whatever he damn well pleases, that everyone is subservient to him with minimal reciprocal obligations is just begging for firey condemnation before the Judgment Seat.

    That has pretty much always been the case though. It isn’t a turning point in reality, though it may be a “red pill” moment for people who didn’t understand reality before now.

    Perhaps, but in a sense it threatened to begin formalizing this process and making it something we should just accept.

    It is a qualitatively different situation along several parameters. The US issues its own sovereign currency, and is not doing business denominated in a currency it doesn’t control. A property tax on deposits here would be like the mob calling for blood and then cutting its own throat to get that blood.

    That assumes you buy the argument that “we the people are the government” which I know from at least one W4 thread you wholesale rejected when it came to the idea that civilians in a democratic society, “being the government” could be personally held responsible for the consequences of military actions by foreign actors/victims of said actions.

    You and I both know that the quoted fact is meaningless to the mind of a mob of depositors who watched their deposits get raped for the benefit of a private corporation. The origin of the currency, how it can be created, etc. doesn’t change anything to a man who just saw Bank of America get to siphon off 10% of his wealth for no discernible “public purpose.”

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    That assumes you buy the argument that “we the people are the government” …

    Not at all. It just assumes that the bleeders and the ones who want blood are sufficiently entangled and coextensive. Which they are.

    You and I both know that the quoted fact is meaningless to the mind of a mob of depositors

    The difference is that I don’t care.

    Many people seem to think that the investor in a profitable security labeled a “deposit” is somehow pristinely innocent and worthy of protection from losses, while the investor in a security called “common stock” is an evil exploitative bankster who deserves losses. I think this is because people have become accustomed to living in the imaginary world of the usurer, and think of their “deposits” as risk-free productive money.

    From my standpoint the more people who wake the f*** up from this delusion, the better.

  • Mike T says:

    Many people seem to think that the investor in a profitable security labeled a “deposit” is somehow pristinely innocent and worthy of protection from losses, while the investor in a security called “common stock” is an evil exploitative bankster who deserves losses.

    That is because most people have been told by every seeming authority that a deposit really is not an investment. The banking industry thrives on the public perception that a deposit is something they are allowed to loan out, but must make good on when requested.

    It probably doesn’t help that retail investing is starting to become a fool’s game. All of my relatives who are retail investors have lost considerable sums in the last few years because buy-and-hold doesn’t apply in a market as manipulated as this one is now. They’re kinda surprised that the only person who made money is the one who is a self-professed stock market gambler–me.

    From my standpoint the more people who wake the f*** up from this delusion, the better.

    Indeed, but we want them to wake up naturally not as if from a night terror administered by Satan.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    That is because most people have been told by every seeming authority that a deposit really is not an investment

    I don’t buy it. Everyone knows that they earn interest on deposits. I have no sympathy for people who think investment carries no risk; and I have even less than no sympathy for people who think deposits ought to produce risk-free interest.

    Depositors are just another class of investor. If they don’t think that is what they are, they are delusional.

    All of my relatives who are retail investors have lost considerable sums in the last few years because buy-and-hold doesn’t apply in a market as manipulated as this one is now.

    I’ve done well with buy and hold. I think people who pronounce that buy and hold is dead are just rationalizing their own bad decisions.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    If you cannot conceive of how private property may truly be owned independent of the sovereign while the sovereign being able to impose moral obligations upon the owner, you really have little imagination.

    I am trying to imagine how, just exactly how, you came to own a piece of land. Did you make the land? Dig it up out of the river or the ocean? If so, well then maybe it really is “yours”. But no, you (with 99.99% probability) bought it. From whom? Oh, from some other guy who made, invented this land? No. He got it from someone else and so on. A sovereign entity once granted squatting rights on this land, and since he was sovereign no one challenged him. If someone challenged him, then he must have used some sort of force to maintain his sovereignty. Force is expensive. Being so powerful that no one challenges you, and thereby avoiding the use of force, is also very expensive. He should be able to make a reasonable profit for his trouble. Thatt (that and only that) is what property taxes are.

    Full Disclosure: I live in NJ with the highest property taxes in America. I would love to hear that they are intrinsically unjust. (Not that it would do me any good.) But I am trying hard to “imagine” how that could be.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    I am trying to imagine how, just exactly how, you came to own a piece of land.

    Yes, and how did the woodworker come to own the wood, etc etc.

    Mike T is right that the infinite-regress “why” you are employing to put all ownership at the discretion of the sovereign is the same “reasoning” used by Marxists. Basically as contingent beings ourselves we can never really own anything.

    As I said, that is a theory. But it is a theory that seems impossible to square with millennia of Christian tradition, the magisterium, and the natural law.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    Well, I don’t think that Marxists are absolutely, irretrievably incorrect about every last thing in the universe. If they were, Marxism wouldn’t amount to much of an evil, would it?

    It applies only to land. Yes, the wood the woodworker worked was cut down on “someone’s” land. That someone had a right, i.e., a power, i.e., granted by the sovereign for which he exchanged a mutually agreeable sum of taxes, to own and cut down trees on that land and sell the wood.

    Then the buck stops, and doesn’t descend infinitely. It is “his” wood (private property), which he “sold” to the woodworker, who then “owned” the wood (as private property). Pure and simple. No squatters involved with the wood anymore or the lute (private property) the luthier made with it, which he may by natural right sell, whereupon the lute becomes someone else’s private property.

    We are all agreed, apparently, that the sovereign may licitly tax the exchange of money for the wood, or for the lute. Although I am convinced that excise/sales taxes are the most prudent form of taxation, it is really quite unclear how that sort of “intrusion” (“theft”) is less unjust than simply taxing property.

    How does natural law conflict with what I’m saying? I’m appealing to nothing but nature. Nothing in nature itself confers “ownership” of land, unless you are simply saying whoever squats is, ipso facto, the “owner” of the land. And then it’s a race to the squatting I guess, and in the absence of an arbiter, ensuing violence.

    Land is a finite resource, the disposition of which affects us all. It is therefore more like stocks of ocean cod than lutes. It is the sovereign’s right and duty to dispose of land, like fishing rights, in a prudent manner, such that the good of the whole people is considered.

    Humans in the adaptive environment did not “own” land, as far as we know. What would it have been good for anyway? Somebody appropriated it from somebody at some point, in most cases after it became valuable (almost always as a result of technology). The sovereign decided whether or not such an appropriation was just and therefore licit, and will in general back up this decision by force on your behalf, if necessary. You owe him a fee.

  • Zippy says:

    For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own. […] The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from the law of man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair. — Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum

  • Zippy says:

    That the State is not permitted to discharge its duty arbitrarily is, however, clear. The natural right itself both of owning goods privately and of passing them on by inheritance ought always to remain intact and inviolate, since this indeed is a right that the State cannot take away: “For man is older than the State,”[34] and also “domestic living together is prior both in thought and in fact to uniting into a polity.”[35] Wherefore the wise Pontiff declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes. – Pope Pius XI, Quadregisimo Anno

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    For, every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.

    And I suppose every man has by nature the right to defend what he (thinks he?) “owns” against claimants of the same by the use of sufficient, up to and including deadly, force. With all due respect to Pope Leo and to you Zippy, this merely begs the question. We’re not talking about a ham sandwich that the dude just made with his own hands using materials he purchased, with his own money, down at the Kroger (who had previously “owned” the ham, bread, cheese and mayo). We’re talking about land he “owns”. How does he “own” it? What does it even MEAN to “own” land? And how did the first guy that “owned” it, that ended up selling to others and finally you, come to “own” it?

  • Mike T says:

    We’re not talking about a ham sandwich that the dude just made with his own hands using materials he purchased, with his own money, down at the Kroger (who had previously “owned” the ham, bread, cheese and mayo). We’re talking about land he “owns”. How does he “own” it? What does it even MEAN to “own” land? And how did the first guy that “owned” it, that ended up selling to others and finally you, come to “own” it?

    What does it mean to own gold taken from that land? Is there something magical about human labor that suddenly transforms a lump of unrefined gold into a piece of private property wholly different in nature from the land from which it was mined? What is it about land that gives it a mystical significance viz a viz property rights that no other manifestation of matter possesses?

  • Steven Nicoloso says:

    What is it about land that gives it a mystical significance viz a viz property rights that no other manifestation of matter possesses?

    Asked and answered. Land starts out common, like other common resources (air, rivers, fish and game, underground ore and carbon reserves, etc.). The first person to “own” land is given (or sold) that priviledge by one powerful enough to decide, on behalf of everyone and in view of the common good, who “owns” what.

  • Zippy says:

    Even if we stipulated that land simply belongs to the sovereign and cannot be owned by individuals, a large portion — perhaps the majority — of property taxes are levied against buildings and improvements. So while I think Marxist collectivism applied to land is nonsense, it hardly matters in terms of moral assessment of current praxis.

  • Steven Nicoloso says:

    What does Marxism got to do with anything? Obviously, all land belonged to no one before it belonged to someone.

    Levying taxes against the productive value (as a residence or resource) of improved land makes sense to the extent that it will cost the sovereign correspondingly more to defend the “owner’s” (tenants) sense of well-being. A hundred empty acres require no schools, no trash haul, and very little criminal investigation. Divide it up and build 300 homes there, and the sovereign’s cost will rise a great deal.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    Since your theory claims that property tax is rent paid to to sovereign on property he owns, you must think (contra your earlier statements) that the sovereign owns all property, not just land. (All property requires police protection, contract enforcement, etc).

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    The sovereign is the backstop for all property claims. Yes. But I think saying the “sovereign owns all property”, which is in an abstruse sense true, doesn’t well convey that meaning. I also think it is tautological. Of course the sovereign is the backstop of all property claims… otherwise how could he be sovereign? It is the price we pay for less violence. And less violence is good for almost everyone almost all the time.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    Tho’ while the sovereign is the backstop of all property claims, common resources such as land, game rights, air and water, do retain a special status in that they, unlike a manufactured good, were once literally not owned by anyone.

    I’m not sure of the words I’m looking for, but in the case of manufactured or purchased goods there is a strong prejudice that possession is prima facie case of “ownership” (unless some crime is alleged) whereas in the case of common resources there is some special action required of the sovereign to say someone “owns” it in the first place.

  • Mike T says:

    The sovereign is the backstop for all property claims. Yes. But I think saying the “sovereign owns all property”, which is in an abstruse sense true, doesn’t well convey that meaning.

    Let’s cut to the chase. All manufactured goods find their origins in the same material state as the land, air, water bodies, etc. Even the most complicated industrial goods derive from the same periodic table found everywhere in nature. Therefore no manufactured good escapes ultimate ownership by the state, not the individual, by this reckoning. Christians were fine with this thinking under divine right monarchs. It scares the heck out of them under modern Left-wing states who fervently deny God.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    FWIW, while I am monarchy friendly in general I am categorically against that later development, Divine Right monarchy.

  • Mike T says:

    Same here. It is a heresy. Scripture makes it clear that monarchs are nothing more than men appointed by God to do a particular job. We owe them honor and respect due to the office and nothing more. God could just as easily turn a stone or a former drug addict into the next David as He could do anything to the current office holder.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    All manufactured goods find their origins in the same material state as the land, air, water bodies, etc. Even the most complicated industrial goods derive from the same periodic table found everywhere in nature. Therefore no manufactured good escapes ultimate ownership by the state, not the individual, by this reckoning.

    It is you who have said it. Obviously that pickle in your pocket belongs to you… because it is in your pocket. Did anyone report a stolen pickle?

    You cannot very well fold up your land or water or hunting rights and carry them around. They were granted to you explicitly. And if not to you, then to someone else who sold them to you.

    Mike (and Zippy) you are trying to make me say more than I am saying. This has nothing to do with Divine Right Monarchy, but actual workable sovereignty, i.e., in which a sovereign is sovereign (whether that is Barack Obama, Louis XIV, or Mad Max).

    Do you think that the sovereign is not the final backstop of all property disputes whatsoever? If not, then you believe in anarchy, wherein the strong merely “tax” the weak, and in which we may hope that something resembling civilization might eventually reappear.

  • Zippy says:

    That the sovereign enforces contracts and prosecutes theft does not imply that the sovereign can justly confiscate property.

  • Mike T says:

    Obviously that pickle in your pocket belongs to you… because it is in your pocket.

    Possession is not ownership except in a crude and practical sense, even without a state unless you believe there is no natural law.

    That the sovereign enforces contracts and prosecutes theft does not imply that the sovereign can justly confiscate property.

    Nor does the fact that the sovereign can assign ownership mean the sovereign actually owns the land.

    Steve’s argument here reminds me of the Calvinist habit of saying that if God isn’t managing the world on a detailed level, then He is not sovereign. They say if God is not acting, we are violating His sovereignty which is obviously false. That is very similar to Steve’s argument here that if a private citizen truly owned their own land independent of the sovereign that the sovereign would possess no authority over the land. That is not true since the sovereign’s claim is ultimately upon the citizen, not the property.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    It seems we are just arguing in circles now…

    Possession is not ownership except in a crude and practical sense, even without a state unless you believe there is no natural law.

    What does “ownership” even mean if not possession without counter claim?

    That the sovereign enforces contracts and prosecutes theft does not imply that the sovereign can justly confiscate property.

    The sovereign can justly confiscate property for a just reason. He bears not the sword in vain. Collecting fees for his troubles is one of those reasons.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    What does “ownership” even mean if not possession without counter claim?

    Ownership is a kind of juridical authority.

  • Mike T says:

    The sovereign can justly confiscate property for a just reason. He bears not the sword in vain. Collecting fees for his troubles is one of those reasons.

    I don’t think Zippy was denying that a sovereign cannot confiscate property if the reason is just. Obviously, a criminal can be fined for example. The question is whether or not, for example a sovereign can simply seize your land without just compensation because he or she feels it would be better used as a public building or (in the case of many past governments) for the pleasure of the sovereign.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    Ownership is a kind of juridical authority.

    Well then, finally, we are agreed, I think, on that point. So you how do you get from that to “property taxes are inherently unjust”? It seems like the definition of property already depends upon a legal structure of force, in which the sovereign, such that he exists at all, exercises final say.

    The question is whether or not, for example a sovereign can simply seize your land without just compensation because he or she feels it would be better used as a public building or (in the case of many past governments) for the pleasure of the sovereign.

    No, that wasn’t the question (IIRC). The question was: May a sovereign collect fees, property taxes, in exchange for his on-going recognition of your claim to “own” a parcel of (possibly “improved”) property. But even if it were the question, then by your admission we have already dispensed with question of the inherent injustice of sovereign seizure of property: Objectively, he may, but only for just causes… and now we’re talking about what causes make it just.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    It seems like the definition of property already depends upon a legal structure of force

    Not at all. A father’s authority over his family is also prior to the State. You seem to be under the impression that all authority – all power to impose juridical moral obligations – arises from the State. But that’s wrong.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    You may also be assuming – it seems that you are, but feel free to clarify as always – that authority is not legitimate unless as a practical matter the person possessing it is physically capable of enforcing his authority in the face of defiance. But that is also wrong.

  • Steven Nicoloso says:

    Zippy, I am not presuming that authority arises from the state. On the contrary, states arise out of natural authority to (ideally) keep the peace (e.g., between ostensibly equal parental or tribal authorities). Questions of property ownership ultimately fall to collective judgement of some sort. Otherwise we question beg: my property is what I happen to say it is. That only works in the absence of rivals for that property (or if you happen to be too strong for anyone to plausibly rival you).

    An earthly authority that cannot enforce its will, whether by force or by appeal to force implemented by others, is, I think, no legitimate authority. As I said, the Ruler does not bear the sword in vain. He must, therefore, at least have a “sword”. Either way, it is of no practical use, and as it will not have power to restrain any evil, and therefore ought probably to be overthrown and staffed by people able and willing to use necessary force. I don’t see how Nature could teach anything different. Men are not made good by the law, but they won’t be good without it.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    Questions of property ownership ultimately fall to collective judgement of some sort.

    No they don’t. Ownership, like fatherhood, arises naturally: it is not something arising out of a Collective Will.

    An earthly authority that cannot enforce its will, whether by force or by appeal to force implemented by others, is, I think, no legitimate authority.

    “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” – Stalin

  • […] discussion in question was about property and ownership.  I’ve been very critical of libertarian conceptions of […]

  • Mike T says:

    No, that wasn’t the question (IIRC). The question was: May a sovereign collect fees, property taxes, in exchange for his on-going recognition of your claim to “own” a parcel of (possibly “improved”) property.

    It was a question raised by your contentions about sovereignty. The use of a definite article may have confused the point, but it is still a valid question even light of yours. For example, can the sovereign justly seize land from, say, a family too poor to pay their property taxes? I would say that such a seizure would be a very good example of an unjust confiscation.

    Really, though, the problem with taxes is that the vast majority of what the sovereign does today is not keeping the peace, enforcing contracts and similar things. 2/3 of the federal budget, for example, is simply wealth redistribution. The actual need to tax property versus income and commerce is simply not there at any level of government in the United States.

    Property tax versus other forms of taxes raises another interesting question in that a people too poor to pay other reasonable taxes are likely to be left impoverished in a severe state by property taxes since property taxes left unpaid can result in the seizure of vital property like homes, businesses and things like cars in some states (like mine). A sovereign who impoverishes his own people has an intrinsically hard time claiming to be a just ruler.

    An earthly authority that cannot enforce its will, whether by force or by appeal to force implemented by others, is, I think, no legitimate authority.

    Steve has just declared virtually all married Western men illegitimate authorities in their own households whether he intended to or not.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” – Stalin

    The Pope certainly has the authority to excommunicate, i.e., banish someone from his kingdom. He has the authority, I suppose, to prescribe penance, which could (in theory) be extremely weighty. And his authority is backed up the college of bishops (more or less). The Pope has legitimate authority within the Catholic Church, and in ~102 acres in Rome. Beyond that he is no legitimate authority, nor does he claim to be, nor (probably) would we want him to be.

    Questions of property ownership ultimately fall to collective judgement of some sort.

    No they don’t. Ownership, like fatherhood, arises naturally: it is not something arising out of a Collective Will.

    I didn’t say ownership arises from collective will… just the opposite, that questions/conflicts come down to collective will, or, in the case of limited or no collective, personal brute strength.

    An earthly authority that cannot enforce its will, whether by force or by appeal to force implemented by others, is, I think, no legitimate authority.

    Steve has just declared virtually all married Western men illegitimate authorities in their own households whether he intended to or not.

    Do not virtually all married Western men hold the purse strings? Even if they cannot apply a stick, can they not at least withhold carrots?

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