Tax Day

Fox News and MSNBC are having fun with the taxpayer tea party protests today. Fox News is playing up the protests, while MSNBC hosts are making jokes about “tea-bagging,” while pretending that the protests were all orchestrated by Sean Hannity. I’ll be attending the protests in D.C. today, and I’m hoping that the message isn’t just anti-Obama because the Republicans are every bit as guilty as the Democrats for the government’s fiscal mess.

MSNBC hosts who think that the colonists didn’t mind taxes, but were just upset about the “without representation” part, should read Alvin Rabushka’s massive tax history leading up to 1776, Taxation in Colonial America.

Doing my taxes last night, I asked my twins (age 5 1/2): “If Mommy and Daddy had $100, how much should we give to the government?” One twin said “5” and the other said “10,” so they are off to good start on understanding limited government. Mommy reminded the kids that the government provides useful services such as fire and police, but the kids were comfortable with their answers.

I would footnote that state/local fire, police, and corrections spending amounts to just 4 percent of total government spending in the United States.

Pirates as Proto-Governments? You Bet!

I have to confess I don’t understand why Roger Pilon and Ilya Shapiro are criticizing our colleagues Ben Friedman and Peter Van Doren below.  At the risk of being cast as yet another cog in the insidious piratofascist fifth column, I’d like to defend Ben and Peter.

Roger and Ilya reproach Ben and Peter for likening pirates to “pseudo-governments” and mount an impassioned defense of the nation-state as deserving a place in a different category from pirates.

On the distinction between the two, they write: “A tax, at least in principle, and most often in practice, is a charge for a service rendered –- not necessarily a wanted or an evenly distributed service, to be sure…”  To be sure, indeed!  There’s a term for charging people for an unevenly distributed and unwanted service.  It’s called racketeering.  Their description of taxation could apply quite well to a mafia.

Roger and Ilya would prefer to keep pirates and governments in two discrete categories but provide little reason why other than the above.  But if they dislike the analogy, their problem is not with Ben or Peter or Noam Chomsky or St. Augustine, but rather with a body of well-developed academic literature.  In particular, one of the preeminent scholars of the formation of national states, the late Charles Tilly, wrote a famous book titled Coercion, Capital, and European States that would help color in the gaps for them.  The short version is that European elites came to form national states as a means for protecting their fiefdoms from other proto-states, which frequently had predatory aims, and that this process sometimes had the incidental effect of protecting the populaces that lived under state jurisdiction and could be used as means for making war against the neighbors.

Tilly also wrote a well-known essay titled “War Making and State Making As Organized Crime” that makes the following claim: “Banditry, piracy, gangland rivalry, policing, and war making all belong on the same continuum.” Tilly went on:

In retrospect, the pacification, cooptation, or elimination of fractious rivals to the sovereign seems an awesome, noble, prescient enterprise, destined to bring peace to a people; yet it followed almost ineluctably from the logic of expanding power. If a power holder was to gain from the provision of protection, his competitors had to yield. As economic historian Frederic Lane put it twenty-five years ago, governments are in the business of selling protection … whether people want it or not.

Governments and pirates both “put the victim to a choice between two of his entitlements – his freedom and his property.”  In the literature on state formation, this isn’t a controversial point.  I’m really surprised to see that it is for two libertarians.

New at Cato

Here are a few highlights from Cato Today, a daily email from the Cato Institute. You can subscribe here.

  • Andrew Coulson argues that Obama’s rhetoric on education doesn’t square with the reality of his budget.
  • Join the Cato Institute Thursday, April 16 to hear Welile Nhlapo, South African ambassador to the United States, discuss the upcoming South African election.
  • In a new video, Cato scholars reveal the heavy burden of today’s tax code.

The REAL ID Revival Bill Should Not Get a PASS

A draft Senate bill to revive the REAL ID Act has been leaked to to the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, and they find it wanting.

The bill is an attempt to smooth down REAL ID and make the national ID law more palatable. CIS is unhappy because they want a national ID implemented right away.

REAL ID is, of course, failing. Just ten months ago, the Bush Administration’s Secretary of Homeland Security granted waivers to every state in the country - not a single one of them was in compliance by the May, 2008 deadline, and several have statutorily barred themselves from complying.

Legislation to repeal REAL ID in both the House and Senate was introduced in the last Congress, but with an administration and Department of Homeland Security eager to demagogue the issue against a Democratic Congress, that legislation did not move. Repealing REAL ID would not have the same problem in the current Congress.

But since then, Washington’s wheels have been turning. The National Governors Association has turned into an advocate of reviving REAL ID because it hopes that federal dollars will flow behind federal mandates. They won’t, but reviving REAL ID will cement NGA’s role as a beggar for federal dollars in Washington. (Maybe other state legislator groups, as well.)

Everbody in Washington, D.C. salivates over the chance to make “deals” even if that means switching positions on issues of principle like whether the U.S. should have a national ID. We’ll be watching to see which political leaders reverse themselves and support this attempt at a national ID for their love of political dealmaking.

The working name of the REAL ID revival bill is the “PASS ID Act.” It should not be given a pass by opponents of a U.S. national ID and the REAL ID Act.

Are People Finally Seeing the Gloom?

Maybe, just maybe, word might finally be getting out, and people might finally be getting angry, about the dirty dealings in Washington, DC, that are quietly killing the city’s desperately needed school voucher program.

The story has been percolating for more than ten days, ever since the U.S. Department of Education staged a stealthy and too-late-to-matter release of a study showing that DC’s voucher program works. But the coverage has largely been restricted to the blogosphere, along with a smattering of newspaper opinion pieces.

What might be changing that? A smarmy Education Department letter released late last week telling parents who thought they had won a voucher for the 2009-10 school year that no such voucher would be forthcoming. This despite the fact that the voucher program is not scheduled to end until 2010-11. Apparently, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – who seems to be doing all of the political dirty work against DC school choice – decided that it just doesn’t make sense to let kids have a year of private schooling if they’ll just have to go back to DC public schools. Never mind that a year of good schooling is better than no good schooling, or that the program can still be saved if Congress and the DC City Council vote to reauthorize it – barring the door to quality education right now is clearly in the children’s best interest.

The department’s letter has finally sparked some news media interest in the plight of DC school choice. Spurred by the letter, this afternoon Fox News ran what, to my knowledge, is the first non-opinion piece about the Obama administration’s quiet-but-deadly campaign against choice in DC. There is also word that voucher parents are beginning to organize a response to the assault on their children’s educational lifelines, with a strategy meeting scheduled for Wednesday night. Oh, and the opinion pieces keep on coming.

Sadly, as I and a few others have noted over the least week-and-a-half, when it comes to education it seems that President Obama’s rhetoric about putting evidence ahead of politics is just that – rhetoric. Hopefully, more people are starting to see the dim, disappointing light.

Feds Pay Farmers to Till the Desert

No, this headline and story is not brought to you by The Onion.

The latest proof that there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary federal program:

As drought forces families in the West to shorten their showers and let their lawns turn brown, two Depression-era government programs have been paying some of the nation’s biggest farms hundreds of millions of dollars to grow water-thirsty crops in what was once desert.

My sympathy for this farmer lies somewhere between that which I have for Bernie Madoff and Ted Stevens:

Jim Hansen, a 69-year-old cotton grower in California’s Central Valley, said his family business would crumble if the government took away low-cost water and the nearly $1.7 million in crop payments he received in 2007 and 2008.

For more on the insanity that is federal farm policy and why the USDA needs to be downsized and/or done away with, click here.

Dust Off Your Tinfoil Hats

It’s official. Everyone supportive of federalism and/or upset about taxes, etc., is now considered a potentially dangerous “rightwing extremist” by Homeland Security.

From all around the web:

A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines “rightwing extremism in the United States” as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.