“The Price We Pay for a Civilized Society,” 2016 Edition

English: Many dollar banknotes.
Hundred dollar banknotes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tax Day,” the deadline for filing individual federal income tax returns, falls on April 18 this year. Usually it’s April 15, but a federal holiday, Emancipation Day, bought you the weekend if you’re running late. I feel your pain. Sackcloth and ashes! Wailing and gnashing of teeth!

In addition to the annoyance of filling out a bunch of paperwork and maybe even sending a check to Uncle Sam if he didn’t take as much as he wanted out of your paychecks over the course of 2015, you’re in for the usual series of lectures about how this business or that billionaire didn’t pay “their fair share.” Case in point: Javier E. David’s April 16 column for CNBC, “Corporate tax dodging costing US billions in annual income.”

Let’s try an experiment.  I have a dollar in my pocket. OK, I’m taking it out. Now, instead of giving it to you, I’m putting it back in my pocket. Did my actions “cost” you a dollar? No, they didn’t. That dollar was never yours to begin with.

Similarly, when David complains that “Apple, General Electric, Microsoft and Google engage in tax havens that costs [sic] the US $111 billion annually,” he’s getting it backward. That money belongs to Apple, General Electric, Microsoft and Google, not to “the US” (by which David means “the US government”). Wanting it and not getting it is not a “cost.”

Ditto the 1040 you’ve probably filed or are about to file. In most cases, every dime involved is money you earned that the government previously embezzled from your paycheck, or demands that you cough up now (I say “most cases” because some lower income filers end up getting back, through “refundable credits,” money than they paid in).

So here comes the libertarian line that induces tantrums and seizures in lovers of big government:

Taxation is not, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it, “the price we pay for a civilized society.” Taxation is theft, pure and simple. It’s no different in principle than any other embezzlement scheme or protection racket.

If there’s a difference at all, it’s a difference of manners. Muggers and extortionists are morally superior to government in that at least they don’t pretend they’re doing this stuff to you for your own good.

Next time a politician regales you with tales of all the great things he intends to spend billions on, remember who he’s getting that money from, and how.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Election 2016: The Perils of Political Welfare

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Libertarians have traditionally opposed calls for “public financing” of elections, as well as the current system under which candidates can receive “matching funds” from the Federal Election Commission. In 1996, Libertarian Party nominee-apparent Harry Browne mused about applying for such funding, refusing to commit one way or another until, at the party’s national convention, someone in the crowd screamed “SAY IT! SAY IT!” at him and he begrudgingly announced he wouldn’t seek a government welfare check. And that was the end of that … for the next 16 years, anyway

When former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson dropped out of the 2012 Republican nomination contest and sought the Libertarian nomination instead, some party activists were concerned about his campaign debt (as of April 2012) of about $150,000. No problem, said Johnson. He’d qualify for matching funds and pay off that debt.

Qualify he did, receiving more than $600,000 in political welfare. But it turned out his actual debt had been six times as much as originally reported — more than a million dollars — and his campaign committee ended the general election campaign more than $1.5 million in debt.

In 2016, Johnson is back for a second run on the Libertarian ticket and is thus far the closest thing to a media darling the party has ever enjoyed.

But the $1.5 million debt remains unpaid. And on April 5, the Federal Election Commission notified Johnson and his campaign that it wants a good chunk of that 2012 welfare check back. It deems more than $330,000 in “matching funds” to have been improperly spent. The campaign has 30 days to cough up.

What was shaping up as a banner year for a credible third party presidential campaign seems to be going south for Gary Johnson — and for the Libertarian Party, if it nominates him next month at its national convention in Orlando.

Fortunately, the party has other options. Among others, software tycoon John McAfee, libertarian talk radio host Darryl W. Perry, and former Fox producer Austin Petersen have offered themselves up as presidential prospects.

As a long-time partisan Libertarian, I’d hate to see my party set itself up to come in a distant fourth place this November, behind likely Green Party nominee Jill Stein. That’s already a distinct possibility given the likelihood that Bernie Sanders’s supporters will desert a Hillary Clinton Democratic campaign for Stein. It will get a lot more likely if the Libertarian Party nominates a political welfare queen who can’t balance his campaign’s checkbook.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


How to Kill America’s Tech Economy in One Lesson

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US Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are at it again. They’ve released a “discussion draft” of  their “bill to require the provision of data in an intelligible format pursuant to a court order. … if such data has been made unintelligible by a feature, product, or service owned, controlled, created, or provided, by the covered entity or by a third party on behalf of the covered entity.”

In plain English: American tech companies would be legally required to only build encryption technology into their products that they could break pursuant to government demands.

There’s been plenty of ink spilled on why this bill is a terrible idea from a privacy standpoint. To put it succinctly, if a type of encryption can be broken, there’s no way to limit to WHO can break it or for what purposes. So even if you trust the US government — and you shouldn’t — the requirements of this bill would also leave you vulnerable to foreign governments, identity thieves and other financially driven cyber-criminals.

Except that no, it really wouldn’t. The strong crypto genie has been out of the bottle for a couple of decades now. Anyone who really wants encryption can get it now and will still be able to get it if the Burr/Feinstein abomination becomes law. That includes “the bad guys” (terrorists and criminals) and it includes you. The only people affected by this law to a level greater than minor inconvenience will be those who just don’t bother.

Except that no, we’ll all be affected, because this bill is custom-made to destroy the US tech industry … and if Silicon Valley sneezes we’re all going to catch a cold.

Yes, America is the prime combination of large and wealthy as a consumer technology market. There are 320 million of us and we’re all rich by comparison to, say, the average resident of Benin City or Budapest or Beijing.

But the seven billion people in those other places do buy computers and smart phones and software. If this bill passes they will continue to buy computers and smart phones and software. They’ll just buy those things from companies that aren’t headquartered in the US or bound by the ignorance and arrogance of the likes of Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein. Why? Because they don’t want Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein reading their mail.

If you’re surprised that Burr and Feinstein would willingly tank the US economy, sending millions of jobs and billions of dollars offshore just to aggrandize their desire for power, you shouldn’t be. That’s what politicians do. Nothing’s more important to a politician than believing he or she is in control. Even if that belief is, as in this case, false.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.