Saturday, October 27, 2012

California Proposition 37

Within libertarian circles no proposition is more controversial that California Proposition 37. The purpose of this measure is to force producers to add a label to food products if those products contain any Genetically Modified foods.

The libertarian argument against is very simple. This is an additional regulation. If people genuinely did not want GMO in their food then the free market would solve this problem. All other things being equal that is itself a good argument, and the libertarian instinct to be suspicious of every new law is a good instinct to have. But those who support Proposition 37 would be glad to say that all other things are not equal, which is why they support Proposition 37.

The reason so many libertarians support Proposition 37 is because of a perception that the free market is unable to function in this instance - not because there is no market for GMO free products, but because the federal government restricts that form of advertising. The label is not outright forbidden, but as is the case with modern American fascism, its use is restricted to the point where it is essentially unusable.

Consumers are not able to get the knowledge necessary for the free market to work. Those who have products that are GMO free are not able to advertise such, and those who have products that are not GMO free are not willing to advertise such. Therefore, to undo the mess created by the federal government at the behest of agribusiness, this ballot initiative seeks to force the opposite condition. Since "GMO free" is forbidden, therefore those protected by that ban must label their foods as containing GMOs.

It is not a perfect measure, it does indeed have exceptions. The big targets of wheat, corn, and soy are covered though. One of the major examples of the discrepancies in Proposition 37, that milk is not covered but soy milk is, is explained by the proposition covering the big three. Soy milk is made of soy while real milk is not made of soy. Restaurants are not covered, so if one buys a prepared meal there is no label. To buy the raw materials at a supermarket and to prepare that meal at home, those raw materials are covered.

Even with those exceptions, this proposition amounts to the State of California giving consumers the knowledge they need for the free market to work, knowledge that is being forcibly withheld by the federal government. This is not the case of the liberal fantasy of law being used to correct a flaw in the market, but is instead a case of law being used to correct law.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

California Propositions 30 and 38

From a libertarian point of view, California Proposition 30 and California Proposition 38 are both bad ideas. They both are tax increases in what is already one of the most heavily taxed states in the country, a state that suffers more than others from Great Depression II. They both claim to do the same thing and for the same goal. But even though they are both bad ideas, one of them is clearly more of a bad idea than the other.

The supporters of Proposition 30 advertise it as a tax increase on the rich. It is true that it does increase income taxes on higher income earners, but it also increases the sales tax. The sales tax is a regressive tax that impacts everyone. The supporters of Proposition 38 advertise it as an income tax increase, which it is. Only the income tax is raised, but it is raised on everyone.

Both of these measures are supposed to be for education, to fund the schools. The monies that might be raised by Proposition 30 go into the general fund and are not dedicated to the schools. The reason school funding is impacted by Proposition 30 is because the legislature and the governor put a trigger in the budget to cut school funding if Proposition 30 is not passed. Proposition 38 dedicates all of the revenue that might be raised to the schools bypassing the general fund.

Given these differences, if someone is inclined to agree with the arguments used to sell these propositions, it makes sense that Proposition 38 would be the preferred ballot measure. While the California PTA prefers Proposition 38, the California teachers unions have come out strongly for Proposition 30.

The unions join the rest of the political classes in favor of supporting Proposition 30. Across the state, the more strongly tied to the unions or the Democratic Party a group is, the more likely it is to support Proposition 30 over 38. The arguments in favor of Proposition 30 are very disingenuous.

Both of these propositions are bad ideas, but it is quite clear that Proposition 30 is a far worse idea than Proposition 38.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Going Back, in Theory

It may seem hard to believe, but there are Democrats trying to argue that raising taxes would be a good idea, even though the United States is still in the middle of an economic depression. Democrats have not been so bold about raising taxes since Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign. To support this argument, the economic conditions under Bill Clinton and John Kennedy are brought up. Taxes were somewhat higher under Bill Clinton, and they were a lot higher under John Kennedy. If that were all that were different, there would be an argument in favor of that point of view.

As all libertarians know, total taxation is always equal to total spending. Based on that bit of economic knowledge, taxes were definitely higher under George Bush Jr. than they were under Bill Clinton. The only difference is that Bill Clinton favored direct taxes while George W. Bush favored indirect taxes.

While income taxes were higher under John Kennedy, those same taxes were reduced under John Kennedy. When he assumed office he lowered the top marginal rate from 90% to 70%, making that an argument in favor of cutting taxes. That would seem to be an argument in favor of significantly cutting taxes.

The most important flaw is that the argument is nothing more than a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument. To demonstrate this is actually very easy. If everything was so much better under John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, then the United States should go back to that in full. The regulatory state has advanced greatly since then, as has the security state and the welfare state.

Those who insist that those eras were better with those higher tax rates should also insist those eras were better with less regulation. The return to the taxes of that era should be accompanied by the repeal of all laws passed since that era. If, for some reason, the Democrat making that pro-tax argument doesn't agree, their own position of how conditions were better in that era can be used against him.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Next Marriage Battle

Libertarians already know it. Progressives hope libertarians won't show up when they are arguing with conservatives, because progressives don't want to admit that libertarians already know it. What’s the point of being at the forefront - by definition - if other people are already farther ahead on the issues?

What the libertarians already know and the progressives hope to forget is the history of the battle for marriage equality. The history that progressives hope people forget is why marriage licenses were instituted in the first place, because they were instituted specifically in order to deny them to people whom others did not want to be allowed to get married. In the era of Jim Crow that meant forbidding interracial marriages, and when those laws were initially passed progressives were quite in favor of them. The early libertarians, still called liberals in those days, were not because it was seen as a government intrusion into a private contract.

Eventually the civil rights movement started in the 1950s, not the 1960s as is commonly believed. One of the many struggles of that era was to end racial segregation in marriage. The battle took many years to complete, but eventually it was won and people of different races were allowed to marry. The libertarians had always been there fighting to end marriage discrimination. The progressives arrived late in the game, proclaimed themselves to be at the forefront, and claimed all the credit when marriage equality in race was finally achieved. Then they turned and proclaimed that libertarians are right wing conservatives in spite of being on the same side of that issue.

Those who were opposed to ending racial marriage discrimination would sarcastically ask what would be next, trying to invoke a slippery slope argument that ended with two people of the same gender getting married. Progressives, at the forefront by definition, laughed at it insisting that their current position was the goal and anything else was absurd. Libertarians, on the other hand, were quite willing to embrace same sex marriage even back then. Progressives didn’t want to talk to libertarians about it.

A generation later, and the progressives finally arrived at the position held by libertarians and proclaimed themselves to be at the forefront of the battle to grant marriage equality to same sex couples. Libertarians had always been there fighting to end marriage discrimination. The battle there is slowly being won, and the progressives are claiming all the credit for it happening. They are also proclaiming that libertarians are right wing conservatives in spite of being on the same side of that issue.

Those who are opposed to ending marriage discrimination based on gender sarcastically ask what is next, trying to invoke a slippery slope argument that ends with polyamorous relationships. Progressives, at the forefront by definition, laugh at it insisting that their goal current position is the goal and anything else is absurd. Libertarians, on the other hand, are quite willing to embrace polyamorous marriages. Progressives don’t want to talk to libertarians about it.

One could argue that the reason for the dissent is because the methods of ending inequality are so very different. Libertarians correctly point out that eliminating marriage licenses back in the days when the hot issue was racial marriage equality would have prevent the whole same sex marriage discussion and in the near future would have the same benefit on the polyamorous marriage discussion. Progressives do not want to be behind anyone else on any issue so insist that there is no future polyamorous discussion. Also they do not want to give up on marriage licenses, because even though the goal is to grant them to anyone it is still asking the state for permission to marry. It is very important to progressives that the state get the authority and respect it deserves.

So when the polyamorous discussion finally arrives, progressives will discover that they are suddenly at the forefront again, refusing to acknowledge anyone who was there before they were. And libertarians will correctly point out that if libertarians had been listened to back when the issue was race or gender then there would be no need for a polyamorous discussion.