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Ownership

It is human nature to care more about what is mine than about what belongs to another. It is partly pride of ownership, partly self-interest in the value of what is owned. If we have paid good money for something, we tend to take care of it so that it lasts, to use it for all it’s worth.

What is taken from us in taxes is ours, but once taken, it is not; it becomes the property of some government. The government representatives have a fiduciary responsibility to use it for our best interests, of course, but really it is “other people’s money” as far as they are concerned. No one representative in the government controls how my taxes are spent. No one representative becomes its new “owner”. Rather, that responsibility is divided up by all the representatives who vote on budgets and allocations of funds. Once taken as taxes, the ownership of those dollars becomes shared, a common resource, as it were. The Tragedy of the Commons [1] then becomes relevant. In this circumstance, each representative seeks to benefit as much as possible from the common resource, using it up as quickly as possible for their own benefit, not necessarily for the benefit of those from whom the resource derived.

This describes the current situation of representative democracy. Legislators, and the special interests they cultivate, get “theirs”, without concern for the preferences of those who originally provide the resources (taxpayers). The end result is runaway spending, often accompanied by inflation and debt. Sound familiar?

In the last analysis, therefore, the failure of representative democracy lies in its failure to provide “ownership” of taxes. (I am avoiding for the moment any argument that a government has any right to tax in the first place.)

Can this problem of “ownership” be resolved? Sure, there are lots of ways. A dictatorship comes to mind, where the dictator has sole ownership of everything. That’s one solution, but not a good one.

Another, and I would argue, better, solution is the one that is embodied in the idea of cantons as expressed here. Each canton becomes a new “owner” of the taxes taken by the government from its citizens. Unlike representatives in a legislature or town council, the management of the canton knows to a very great extent how the people who have chosen it to be the new “owner” of their money would like that money to be used on their behalf. In addition, the management of the canton has a very great incentive to spend that money according to the wishes of the canton’s members.

Representative democracy, where revenues are a common resource of an elite, is a fatally-flawed concept. Cantons, where revenues are owned and managed by people operating on the same principles as the original owners of those revenues, provide the fix.

Government at all levels will never be “right-sized” until taxes are owned, and not treated as a common resource of an elite. Owners understand risk, and work to minimize it. Owners seek value. Owners act responsibly, or they very quickly become “former” owners.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

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Comments on: "Ownership" (6)

  1. Dwight Johnson said:

    martuso, I understand the inability to get your head around the “non-territorial” thing. We like government because of the certainty it provides. We like its ability to use force to decide things. It’s only when it uses its force against us unjustly that we get personally concerned. We are there now. When we fly, we have to go thru the TSA show of force, which is not about security but intimidation. Very often when I head down to the subway to get my ride home, I am confronted by men in black military gear, with the word “POLICE” in large block letters across their chests and backs. Intimidation. We now have to make uncomfortable choices: to acquiesce to the mounting intimidation by government, or to stand against it by declaring ourselves against its use of force. At no time in our short history has this truth been more true: we will either hang together or we will hang separately. Once again, it is our own government that we must rein in.

    Without a monopoly of force, cantons must learn to work together voluntarily to provide services to the people of a territory. Tyranny is easy; freedom is hard.

  2. martuso said:

    I like your answer. Refreshingly honest. I actually expected a bunch of baffeling B.S. I am still trying to wrap my head around non-territorial government. I’ll keep reading.

  3. Dwight Johnson said:

    Too many variables. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  4. martuso said:

    Dwight, It is true that the parties to a contract usually stipulate it’s conditions. What I am referring to is a breach of contract. If one or both parties violates the conditions previously set forth and mutually agreed upon, and through force of arms will not allow the other party to exit, then what? in our present system a court would hear the case and give sentence and the executive would enforce the contract. In the canton system would battle be the decider?

  5. Dwight Johnson said:

    Lysander Spooner is heroic! I too have looked at the US Constitution, and have failed to find my name as one of the signers. As a living person, I refuse to be bound by agreements made by the dead.

    In law, a contract generally stipulates what legal code the contract adheres to, and how disputes will be resolved. These matters are up to the parties to the contract to decide.

  6. I enjoyed your post on ‘the tragedy of the commons’. I am intrigued by the canton thing. I began thinking along these things by reading Spooner’s Constitution of no authority. It is obvious that the concept of a social contract is a useful fiction, ie now a contract, now not a contract.
    As you know, there are groups that, like our own United States will change the terms of the contract, making it illegal to leave. Who would enforce a breach of contract by the individual canton?

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