The Third Rail of Libertarianism

August 8th, 2012   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

It is not abortion, intellectual property, nor the debatable morality of voting. The third rail of libertarianism is whether it is proper to receive stolen money in exchange for your labor. Otherwise stated, is it proper to take a tax funded job?

The answer may seem obvious. If you agree taxation is theft, then it is never correct to seek out and accept stolen money. This statement is not a purist position offered by a utopian idealist. I am all too painfully aware that the course of life puts everyone in contact with government on many levels. I use roads and I lick postage stamps whenever no private  alternative exists, but people who apply for government jobs do so in the presence of many private alternatives, which they dismiss.  Indeed, many libertarians who consume tax salaries compete vigorously for the privilege of doing so. If you believe an occupation involves the financial rape of innocent people, then, as a libertarian, you cannot in good conscience pursue that job. There is not a difference of degree between those who use roads to pick up food at the grocery store and those who compete for state paid salaries; there is a difference of kind.

Again, to many I will seem to be stating the obvious. Let me rephrase. Libertarians should not be professors at state funded universities. Ah! For many, the principle of eschewing tax money suddenly no longer applies. Suddenly I am being rude rather than obvious, I am being ridiculous rather than self-evident.

The benefit of having tax paid libertarian academics seems so palpable as to be unquestionable. I question it. I believe libertarianism took a very wrong strategic turn about four decades ago when I was in my intellectual childhood and, so, had far less perspective on the debate to which I was listening. That debate revolved around how societal change occurred.

One side advocated the “trickle down” theory, which argues that intellectual change comes from the top down. ‘Your’ side takes over key political, academic and institutional positions from which ‘your’ ideas are preached and practiced. Slowly the ideas trickle down from the highest level through society so that they eventually end up being expressed in cartoon strips. Thus, for many years, the primary focus of many large institutions within libertarianism has been the conversion of young university students, often the goal of placing them in academic positions. The vast majority of those positions were and are tax paid.

The other side of the debate argued a less elite and more populist approach in which social progress comes from changing the hearts and minds of average people. Not through having them absorb the message of elites but through education or direct participation in grassroots movements and causes that deeply impact their lives, such as homeschooling, the decriminalization of drugs, gun ownership rights… In this manner, change “trickles upward” as the elite are forced to respond to the irresistible force of mass protest and opinion.

There is no necessary contradiction between the two views of social change.  Moreover, progress is a dynamic process that can work through many approaches, all of which can reinforce each other. And I happily admit that many fine libertarian academics work at privately funded institutions. But the question remains: can libertarians take tax money and remain libertarians? Can the use of an irretrievably coercive means produce something other than a coercive end?

The “trickle down” theory won the years-ago debate. Both strategies continued, then and now, but, for decades, an incredible amount of funding and energy has been directed toward electing politicians and training academics who are destined to consume taxes. It has been directed toward creating elites. I believe that focus has seriously damaged the fundamental base of libertarianism’s support – the working person, the average man. I believe the man in the street is the future of freedom, not the one in an ivory tower…let alone one that is purchased with tax money.

Over the decades, I have heard every justification possible for accepting a state funded salary. Four of the most common ones are:

1) “Tax paid academia is not like working for the IRS because the activity of educating does not violate rights but, rather, provides a service that would exist on the free market.” Not true. Seeking and consuming stolen money does violate rights. Moreover, it is not clear that anything akin to the current university system in North America would exist on the free market. For one thing, there would not be a de facto government monopoly on higher education and licensing, which the current system constitutes. State universities are a bastardization of educational freedom, not an expression of it.
2) “The benefits rendered to freedom by tax funded academia are so essential that the means are justified.” Not true. I do not deny that brilliant essays and books have come from that corner but I do deny that tax money was or is necessary to produce them. I have more confidence in the free market than that. Besides which, nothing justifies the perpetuation of and profiting from a violent system such as compulsory taxation. Libertarianism does not state “do not initiate force…unless the cost-benefit analysis is favorable.” It says “do not initiate force.” The appeal to noble benefits only converts an act of theft into one of virtue.
3) “I have no alternative but to work within a university if I wish to use my degree in history, etc.” This is disingenuous. For one thing, there are private alternatives, albeit far fewer than those offered by government. For another thing, many libertarians trained for years with the knowledge that they would almost certainly apply for and accept a government job. They worked diligently to get into exactly the position of which they complain and, so, they have relinquished the right to say “I have no choice.”
4) “I am merely recouping taxes I have paid.” This argument is often used as a justification for accepting benefits such as Social Security. But academics who work for tax paid decades do not reclaim money they have paid into the system over a lifetime. Their lifetime is spent receiving tax money, presumably from youth to old age, from student loans to a university pension. The ‘recouping money’ argument simply does not apply. (Nor is it an argument I credit, by the way.)

Why does the tax funding issue matter? After all, accepting tax money is so common that it has lost much of its stigma. To rephrase the question…Why does it matter if someone who praises monogamy flaunts an affair? Or if a purported animal lover kicks every dog he sees? And an advocate of non-violence beats up his wife? There is the issue of personal ethics, of course, but I leave that to the people involved. I am concerned with the broader issue of movement leaders invalidating their words through their actions.

I call this the third rail of libertarianism because touching it can damage careers, break up friendships, and elicit vicious attacks. That’s one of the main reasons this issue is surrounded by silence. It seems like such an obvious and glaring contradiction, however, that perhaps I can survive the act of touching that rail at least once in my lifetime.

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111 Responses to “The Third Rail of Libertarianism”

  1. JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

    Nice article. I’m sure the result will be akin to punching a wasp nest. Expect 100+ comments on this one.

  2. Thanks JustSayNoToStatism. Of course, I realized the piece might be unpopular — as I mention at the end — and it is certainly more critical of the movement than most of my writing. Frankly, I have an agenda. There were several debates within libertarianism circa early ’80s which I would like to revive them because I think the results could have been better. Other old debates I’m happy to leave alone — e.g. intellectual property — because I think they turned out well.

  3. kris broNo Gravatar says:

    Voting is gambling with the lever of state power and with others lives. Teaching in a public school is simply working in an industry largely taken over by the state. I think voters, and those that are willing to forcefully protect state power, cops, soldiers, other armed agents of the state, and perhaps functionaries that carry out the processing of fines and jails and what not are to blame, not libertarian teachers.

    • Kris Bro: I think a powerful argument can be made that the current academic system, as much as the public school system, constitutes a huge barrier to social change in the direction of individual rights and freedom. But I do agree that educators are not in the same category as police or military who aggressively violate rights.

      My key point was a fairly limited one, however. It was focused on the seeking and acceptance of tax money while, at the same moment, calling taxation theft. Even if academia was a neutral factor in freedom today, I don’t think you can properly use and benefit from an utterly violent and vicious means of supporting it, and that is what mandatory taxation is.

      • kris broNo Gravatar says:

        We live in an unfortunate reality where the ruling class unjustly redistributes wealth (largely from the poor to the rich through inflationary spending and it’s subsequent trickle down), and criminalizes the competition of the poor with the rich (IP, and other business/tax law). The state seizes funds from these people, most of which either flat out advocate and lobby for the seizure, or demand additional services that they know will require additional seizures (more schools, more wars, etc). The only exception to this are your more consistent anarcho-libertarians who have spent considerable time thinking this through. I can’t think of a better outcome than for libertarians to try to work their way into positions on the receiving end of this vast scam (at least the money aspect, not the business privilege) and in affect force as much of this tax burden onto statists as possible, while themselves dodging any payments, and receiving any funds they can out of the system without encouraging the seizing of more funds.

        I think as a matter if tactics, it would be ideal for libertarians to become the greatest welfare queens in existence while simultaneously using these funds to combat their further seizure, and to give themselves and others more time to devote to activism.

        I see nothing wrong at all with a libertarian teacher being on the receiving end of this scam that they rather did not exist, while introducing their students to ideas that no other teacher would promote.

        • kris broNo Gravatar says:

          If libertarians we to follow your advice there would be many public “goods” they would have to avoid, things like libraries, parks, the post office, anything that would direct a tax funded or subsidized benefit to them, where it was possible for them to avoid it. All this would accomplish is make the libertarians life harder, and the statists life easier.

        • RedNo Gravatar says:

          I think this proves Wendy’s point. If libertarians were out there in the real market place, as much as possible, chances are they would make money. Since it’s been proven that libertarian principles of market exchange are a surefire way to riches. Which means instead of having to mooch off their local park or library, then would be the ones making private donations to pay for these services, or starting private institutions to provide the same services. Instead, it seems most libertarians ASPIRE to become “greatest welfare queens in existence” – activists, community organizers and teachers, who get paid to beg for scraps from the State. What a joke. How has that worked out the last 50 years? Meanwhile the ones who have actually given freedom to the “working man” are the businessmen and entrepreneurs who don’t ask permission but instead service other people privately. Yet we’re supposed to vilify these businessmen because they are forced by the state to use roads, etc. like everyone else? As long as libertarianism is a POLITICAL activity, it is just another form of statism. Not until it becomes a lifestyle will it actually challenge the statists. But this is the greatest fear to libertarian activists / community organizers / teachers / think tankers/ Congressmen (cough … Rep. Paul …cough), because the existence of the all-powerful state is guaranteed job security because politics is the only profession they know and want.

          • kris broNo Gravatar says:

            That’s not her point, at least not her primary one, that point I agree with wholeheartedly, which is why I both accept anything that can help me in my life from the system, avoid paying into, or supporting the system in any way, AND work both above and below the table to build libertarian alternatives to statist “goods” and services. The former has actually helped me to achieve the latter a great deal. Her main point is actually that simply accepting a benefit from the tax funded/subsidized system is wrong, or ought not be done, and I think I have explained why this is not the case and is actually a position that helps the State tactically.

            • kris broNo Gravatar says:

              Nothing against Wendy, this is simply one issue we disagree on.

              • Kris…I do not take such discussions personally so please do not worry or cease to state your positions out of concern that I will take offense. The ideas and principles are too important to get my knickers in a twist over a reasonable disagreement. I am delighted to see the issue being discussed because it truly has been verbotin in many if not most circles of libertarianism. At least the circles in which I’ve been running.

                • kris broNo Gravatar says:

                  Noted, and expected. I knew your intellectual skin was thick enough as to not assume any personal attack in my comments.

  4. RedNo Gravatar says:

    Two words to the wise: Hillsdale College

  5. Zell FazeNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with this article 100% actually. It is for this reason that I have never taken a government job. I quite adamantly refuse to do so, or to even consider the option.

    I can see this being difficult for most people to accept though.

  6. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    I have never taken a government job. I am however less critical of those who are libertarian who hold jobs in axademia than in other fields and carrers. Yes, it is wrong but I am less ctitical. There simply is not enough schools and institutions like Mises for those who are Austrian economists for example or professors of other fields for every in acadeny who may be a libertarian on some level to work in. Even in the so called private sector there are employers who will gain property via eminent donain or receive monies from the state to do x, y, or z, So even if one does not have a staye job they can be in such a situation. Wendy you correct however.

    $

    • Hi there H.R. You raise an interesting point about there not being enough outlets for the number of libertarian academics being produced. But what is the cause and what is the effect? Which is to say…if the academics pursued the private sphere, then perhaps far more private education enterprises (including institutions, publishing ventures, online universities, etc.) would be evident. Perhaps they are not in abundance because so many libertarian academics seem to truly prefer the less risky, higher status and often more lucrative tax paid positions. Indeed, many seem to consider nothing else. So…you are correct. But why does this situation exist?

  7. RedNo Gravatar says:

    This sin is worse because it is intergenrational. E.g. Rothbard did it his whole life, said it was ok, and I idolize him so I do the same. Suddenly you have thousands of “wanna be Rothbards” out there, pursuing their deam at taxpayer expense. Get a real job!!!

  8. This is an issue I’ve dealt with for some time and I think McElroy reaches at a similar position I have. If we are to say taxation is property, a consistent libertarian cannot accept tax money as that would be accepting stolen property. I think this is the right solution morally speaking and also in terms of strategy – critics of libertarianism often call out those who use government services as “hypocrites” and dismiss their arguments. However, I think there’s an issue as the government has an expanding reach in nearly all sectors. If you work for a major corporation, even though it’s “private,” there’s a good chance it’s received government subsidies. I doubt there are many institutions that are purely privately funded. After all, many schools accept federally subsidized student loans, which are just as bad as outright government money.

    Rothbard made a point in “Libertarians in a State-Run World” where he argues that one is justified to accept work in a government run position provided that position would exist in a free world. After all, as Rothbard puts it, are to to condemn those in say the former Soviet Union as “criminals” because they worked for their government that controlled the entire economy? I think this is rather too pragmatic – being a soldier in say the US army now, with imperial foreign policies, would be different than being a soldier in a private defense corporation in a free world. However, like I said in some positions, it would be tough to survive – it’d be tough to be an academic in a purely privately funded institution because those are greatly outnumbered by those that receive public funding.

    Here’s another issue on the same theme – is it right for a libertarian to accept welfare payments? Once again, I would say no, for moral and strategic reasons. But once again, this is tricky because some private organizations still receive government money, Catholic Charities for instance around here might receive grant money from local governments. Likewise, taxation to fund welfare programs have crowded out private charitable contributions. As a result, most charities can only really fund those who have already gone through the government and need more help. Should a libertarian therefore starve because he morally cannot accept government weflare yet still cannot receive private charity?

    I think perhaps the solution to these problems is that a libertarian should opt for the private solution whenever possible and only resort to government only if they are practically coerced into it. An academic should strive and do whatever they can to receive a position at a privately funded institution and only if they are on the verge of starvation take one at a public institution. Likewise, a libertarian should live modestly and within their means, however limited, than live comfortably while accepting welfare payments.

    • Liberty Ad Lib: You raise a key point. The state is so pervasive that next to no one can claim to avoid taking tax money in some form. I always want to be clear on recognizing that fact as I do not wish to turn discussions like this one into a ‘purity contest’.

      There is a difference of kind, however, between 1) working in the private sector and inevitably receiving some of tax money that has been confusingly comingled, and 2) actively seeking (and often training years for) a state funded salary. I think your solution is the only practical one in this less than perfect world. Do the best you can to avoid tax money and go private when possible. Living state free is an ideal…by which I do not mean to dismiss it as utopian. It is an ideal in the same manner as perfect health. I am in good health but I will never be in perfect shape. But that does not keep me from exercising and watching my weight, it does not keep from moving as close to the ideal of health as I can. The same logic applies to living state free.

  9. Brodie MowerNo Gravatar says:

    Being a peaceful anarchist says nothing about my moral views, only my political views. An anarchist is someone who believes no one has a right to rule. So no, it is not like claiming to love dogs and kicking them at the same time. But if you want to look down on those that are anarchists and have government jobs, then so be it. It’s not like our tiny community isn’t fragmented enough as it is.

    • Brodie: It is truly not a matter of looking down up anyone. That is not in my nature and a sense of ‘superiority’ is not my motive. My motive is this…there used to be a presumption that libertarians on principle should eschew tax funding and state privileges, always preferring the private sector whenever at all possible. The assumption has eroded to such a degree that raising this issue as a serious discussion — which was the intention of the article — results in people suspecting your motives. (And, no, I am not chiding you but merely pointing out a fact.) I think the movement would be far healthier if the old assumption of always and radically preferring the private sector was back in effect. And trying to reassert it is part and parcel of my advocating a state free life (as much as possible).

      As for politics v. morality, I agree with your point. My political views are not my moral code. But accepting tax money is a political issue; that is, it involves a violation of rights and one of the most coercive mechanisms on this earth: the IRS. Thus, I address the issue of seeking out tax money on a political level and, within the article, I explicitly refuse to comment on the issue re: morality.

      • Brodie MowerNo Gravatar says:

        You are comparing an anarchist that works for the government to ” To rephrase the question…Why does it matter if someone who praises monogamy flaunts an affair? Or if a purported animal lover kicks every dog he sees? And an advocate of non-violence beats up his wife? ” and then you say you don’t look down on them? Okay, if you say so. I see it as someone being stolen from and then taking it and more back from the thieves. I would much prefer an anarchist sheriff to a statist sheriff. To each his own.

        • Ah…I see the confusion. I brought up those examples *not* to morally condemn anyone but in order to demonstrate the inconsistency of espousing principle and, then, contradicting it in actions. Of course, the principle I claim is being contradicted is “taxation is theft” unless, of course, the tax consumer holds another and higher principle such as “theft is OK if it benefits me.”

          • Brodie MowerNo Gravatar says:

            I agree taxation is theft. But not all government jobs have to do with enforcing unjust laws…

            • JacobNo Gravatar says:

              But all government paychecks are funded by theft. If you are working for the state, you are necessarily hiring state thugs to rob people in order for the state official who hired you to pay you. That is the necessary, inevitable, undeniable chain of events that must occur.

  10. kris broNo Gravatar says:

    This is one issue I think Rand(and subsequently Block) was actually right about:

    http://m.reason.com/26821/show/71d51e761e10efd87767c6c42669d17a/

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/block/block100.html

  11. AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

    The question that should be asked is: “Does taking money from the government violate the NAP?”

  12. AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

    Walter Block’s article: “May a Libertarian Take Money From the Government?”

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/block/block175.html

  13. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    I agree that it is a bad idea to work for the state but I disagree with one of your points that you use to support your argument.

    #1. I don’t believe it is wrong to receive stolen money. If that were the case, even working in the black market would be accepting stolen money if you take state/central bank currency. Every fiat note in existence is a previously stolen currency unit, either through counterfeiting, or counterfeiting and then direct taxation. So, really, until we can get to the point where 100% of our transactions are in honest money, we’re all guilty of seeking stolen money.

    • There is a distinction between receiving tax money in some form, which has become almost inevitable in our society, and actively *seeking* it out. I tried to be careful in the article to always use the “seeking” because I am primarily questioning the act of actively trying to gain tax funds.

    • Paul BonneauNo Gravatar says:

      Seth, you’re suggesting that there is no difference between a public sector job and a private sector job, because all dollars were stolen at some time in the past. Yet a private sector job requires no new theft, while a public sector job requires repeated new thefts.

      We cannot help what happened in the past, any more than we can undo the theft of property from the Indians. We are only responsible for the things we have the ability to choose our actions in. Choosing a government job causes additional new and future thefts on your behalf.

  14. Andrew MerrillNo Gravatar says:

    I consider a Corporate alternative to be just the same as a government alternative. Since Corporations wouldn’t exist without the government in the first place. They receive all of the benefits and none of the externalities. They’re probably actually worse than government. So unless your alternative is actually free market in nature and not crony…then it’s not really an alternative.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      I agree with this. The state is not just the government. The state is government and all of its arms, the corporations.

    • I don’t see much a difference between crony capitalist agencies and the state. They are a partnership. Let the free market ring and reign!

      • AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

        Big difference. The state has guns which it uses against innocents. Crony capitalist agencies are beneficiaries and clients of the government. The question to always ask is — “does this action violate the NAP”.

        • Frankly, I consider corporations like GM that got sack loads of tax money taken at gun point to be as morally and politically culpable of theft as government. It is as though government is the hitman or thug that strong arms the public to benefit such corporations at their behest. Moreover, many corporations *do* use guns directly — e.g. in the sense of using law to sue into poverty or oblivion anyone who ‘trespasses’ on their state-backed claims of IP.

          • AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

            I think we agree, but I like to frame it this way: If one accepts stolen money, they have not violated the NAP. If one (Monsanto, for example) pays the government to make IP laws and the government steals money on their behalf, then they are guilty of aiding and abetting. They (Monsanto) violated the NAP by aiding the criminal organization (government).

  15. Dear Wendy, following the Calhoun/Hoppepian libertarian class division, I also think about this issue a lot.

    I am just having some trouble replying some criticism about the division of classes.

    The main objection goes like this: If all government employees are part of the parasitic class, what about those who sell their products or service to government employees? And what about those who sell their products or service to those who have sold their products or service to government employees? And so on and so forth.

    Why a public school professor is different from a massagist who has his business in front of the school and has these professors as his only customers? Or the greengrocer who sells tomatoes for the massagist and/or the professors.

    Praxeologicaly speaking, all are coerced distortion of resource allocation.

    Ethically speaking, all are in some degree the appropriation of what belongs to the taxed.

    Is it possible, at least theoretically, to drawn a line?

    • Hello: Thanks for the post. It is good to know people are giving this matter serious thought on an ethical basis. I can respect people who are doing the best they can in a difficult situation.

      As for hard lines that can be drawn…I addressed this point somewhat in a comment I just posted http://dailyanarchist.com/2012/08/08/the-third-rail-of-libertaria nism/#comment-140264 in which I drew a distinction of kind between seeking tax money and trying to avoid it but — by the nature of society and state being comingled — being unable to avoid it completely. So one hard line is “do you actively seek the tax money or not.” Do you try to grab onto stolen goods or try to avoid doing so.

      Another hard line is — in the presence of viable private alternatives do you choose the state?

  16. cb750No Gravatar says:

    I think one aspect missed here is the antiquating of colleges. Is the role of professor even that important anymore given the easy at which someone can offer their views for free on the internet? When I went to college I was a heavy progressive. Most of the classes I took were progressive in nature as well as marxist economic classes. But what I know of libertarian I got all by myself.

    In fact is academia a desirable route at all for libertarians to promote their message. Is it really fair to dump a well rehearsed ideology on a bunch of intellectually defenseless kids the way conservatives and progressives do?

    Libertarian is like Dennys. No one goes to Dennys they end up at Dennys. Same thing with libertarian. Most people don’t go to libertarian, the end up at libertarian after progressivism and/or conservatism punched them in the face too many times.

    Do libertarians want people raised libertarian who never learned first hand WHY statism and collectivism don’t work or would they prefer the people who come willingly to libertarian learning that valuable lesson about why force does not work.

    It could very well be libertarian cannot be flat out taught only discovered after the trials of statism and force and so a classroom experience maybe futile.

    • CB: I am surprised no one has picked up on your post because I think it is the most provocative one on the thread. I called downstairs to Brad when I saw it and told him he should read it. I don’t think he wants to post, however, and other than giving your observations a ‘thumb’s up’ I am going to leave the Daily Anarchist for today. Cheers to you.

      • cb750No Gravatar says:

        Thanks!

        Libertarian is voluntarism. I would imagine libertarians would want people who voluntarily join not people indoctrinated without learning the lessons. In fact unlike other systems like progressivism and conservatism, libertarian is made up of like minded people who all individually follow the same system. Conservative and progressive are made up of people who follow a central “leadership” and do not function individually. They don’t arrive at their position through individual thought and reason. That is why most relay sound bites from group leaders instead of through their own reasoning.

        That’s probably why one can never kill off libertarians. Each libertarian is an autonomous unit who arrives at their position independently. Severe the structure in some other systems and the whole house of cards comes down or usurp the leadership and the rest follow.

        Why would libertarians want to be like that.

  17. MarthaNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy, this is the second article of yours I have read. I appreciate the way you make your points clearly and succinctly. People are so mesmerized by the state. I have found that if I start using too many words with statists, they fly away over their heads, while the statists begin regurgitating what they have been told all of their lives. A word here, a few sentences there, a short succinct article, such as this, is easy enough for those who have grown up not knowing any better to understand, if only for a moment before they go back to their hypnotized selves. Takes time & patience & few words, as if speaking to a child, to wake them up completely. Thanks for writing a few more words to share with my statist friends when they are ready.

  18. I’d like to chime in on this one.

    A few things to consider:

    1. A libertarian taking a state funded position may be in a position where they can either reduce regulatory burdens on private individuals, or engage in deliberately slow work performance. Obviously the less productive the state is at carrying out its functions, the better off society is in general.

    2. What is the difference between working in a private sector job that enjoys profits created by a protectionist regulations or working in a private sector job that earns its living through subsidies and state contracts? Even notebook producers benefit from state contracts for legal pads. I would argue that there is no difference. Getting a private sector job that is not in someway benefiting from various regulatory schemes is virtually impossible.

    3. I would also argue that state jobs will always be filled. So the argument should really be, is it better for a hardcore statist union loving thug to take a government funded position or a libertarian? I would rather be facing a libertarian cop on the streets than a statist cop. If all cops were libertarians, the level of drug busts would certainly be reduced. Further, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs have the ability to set the enforcement agenda, and direct enforcement away from victimless crimes.

    4. Is it not beneficial to humanity for a libertarian government worker to actively undermine a government position he may be working for? As long as the libertarian who works for the state does his job in a deliberately lax manner, it seems to me that should be counted as a net benefit to humanity in the same way the private production of goods is counted as a net benefit to humanity.

    • Paul BonneauNo Gravatar says:

      Michael, what will end up happening is that the libertarian will become corrupted by the government job, rather than the government job being corrupted by the libertarian. Rationalizing bad behavior is one of the easiest things for humans to do.

      As to private jobs being the same as government jobs, yeah some are. A guy working for Lockheed is basically in a government job. But not all private jobs are like that. Some even compete with the state (e.g. booksellers compete against government libraries).

  19. Rick DiMareNo Gravatar says:

    Since 1937, when wages started being taxed as income because of our use of substitute currencies, the only real way to work for a living, and not feed the state, or indirectly work for it, is to find lawyers who will help us: (1) claim our right to use only Treasury-Direct currencies at U.S. incorporated banks; (2) argue with the IRS that our labor/wages are our personal property, not income; and (3) defend against employers who discriminate against workers who claim the before-mentioned property right in labor.

  20. Josh LNo Gravatar says:

    I used to have a state job and this issue bothered me a lot. But through thinking about it I kind of changed my mind. I still want to not work for the state, more because any “industry” where there is no profit motive has a very sick “business” culture. Not fun places to work.

    A DA poster is the one who pointed out to me that this was more or less an imaginary distinction. There is not some imaginary moral cleansing of currency that happens between when the military members on some massive army base receive their paychecks and the entire town that survives off their spending receives it. My hometown is like that, it wouldn’t exist without two military bases. Economically, it is suicide for my town. No longer my problem.

    In the US the state is so prevalent that nearly anything you consume is soaked with corrupted currency. I don’t think that being the secondary receiver makes you more or less evil. Under this notion it would be impossible for any libertarian/ancap type to live in Washington DC. That city is totally fake.

    That said, I have little to no tolerance for any politician, any cop, and I only forgive the odd military type because of extreme naivety. In addition to getting dirty money they are actively perpetrating violence. But if someone spent their whole life wanting to teach kids but that person also hates the state. I’d recommend they find a charter school or something first, but realistically those are few and far between.

    I get your angle. I just don’t agree anymore. The stealing is the crime and in this case the receiving is pardonable because for many its unavoidable. You actually have to go out of your way dramatically to not be part of it. Basically, not live your life. Every college who received any aid would be guilty, every farmer…. its a long list.

    • Alright. I get that you do not accept that there is a difference of kind between someone actively seeking tax money and someone who –despite their best efforts — inevitably receives tax money or benefits in some form because everything is corrupted by state and society being tremendously entangled. As I understand it, your argument becomes that actively seeking taxes is merely a difference of degree from e.g. selling groceries to someone who may be a civil servant and, so, pay with tax dollars. You admit the tax money is stolen goods but you see nothing particularly wrong with actively seeking stolen goods in terms of a tax salary.

      Then let me ask you. Why don’t you eliminate the middleman and just break into people’s houses at night to get the stolen goods directly? After all, you have established to your own satisfaction that actively seeking stolen goods is valid. Of course, it is safer to use government thugs to violate other people’s property…but this merely establishes the government as your partner and protector in the process of theft. Is it a sense of fear that keeps you from stealing people’s property directly or does such an act make the theft more explicit than you are comfortable with.

  21. Charles H.No Gravatar says:

    One of the big arguments for government is that state-funded schools and universities are essential.

    By withdrawing from them, and establishing private alternatives, professors and instructors can prove that that claim is not true.

    We are seeing more and more private academic alternatives, especially now that the Internet is available. Anyone can get a top-class university-level education (just not the official state certification) if they have the capability and the desire.

    Then, all we have to do is to start hiring people based on their ability rather than their state-certified diplomas.

    And, we can dream about a day when the interpersonal connections made at a place such as Mises University are the important ones, rather than those from state-funded universities, or state-connected once such as Harvard, Yale, etc.

  22. AnonymousNo Gravatar says:

    By this same argument, when the Nazis told the Jews they could no longer own businesses or live in their homes, that created a moral duty for the Jews to dry up and blow away. No matter what conditions the bad actor imposes. the victoms are fully responsible for the implications of the bad actor’s actions. You can always blame the victims for being insufficiently eager to accomodate the bad actor.

    Here is a better analysis. In any situation where the libertarian cannot force all of his aggressors into a jury trial followed by prison, the libertarian suffers from having a state of war declared against him. That’s what war means: the condition when the civil justice processes are not working. Note that I do not assume the civil justice processes must belong to the aggressor. During a state of war, the libertarian is only capable of taking less specific and less deliberative defense measures than a jury trial. The third party innocents such as taxpayers who get damaged by the libertarian are called “collateral damage”.

    Behaving properly during war requires adult human moral judgement to balance collateral damage vs. the libertarian’s lifestyle according to something proportionality and the golden rule. This is an act of central planning, which can’t be done well. Nevertheless it must be done in practice, and it can’t be condensed into simple rules.

    • Josh LNo Gravatar says:

      Well fucking said.

    • Anonymous wrote, “The third party innocents such as taxpayers who get damaged by the libertarian are called ‘collateral damage’.”

      I disagree.

      Oskar Schindler didn’t pay his Jewish workers. Rather, they choose to work for him for free because they were in less danger from the Nazis with a job than without one. But let’s imagine that he paid them a small wage with the extorted money he received from the Nazi government that paid him for ammunition.

      How could you say that the “taxpayers who get damaged by the libertarian [Jews] are called ‘collateral damage'”? The Jews are not damaging the taxpayers (directly or collaterally)–the Nazis are. I see the difference between this and Walter Block working for a state university as a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.

      Therefore, I disagree with McElroy’s position in this article. The IRS employees and law enforcement officers and people who issue orders for other government employees to forcibly collect taxes from people, such as judges, are the aggressors. Other state employees, such as professors, whose actions per se (if done without payment) would not be considered aggressive, are not aggressors for accepting money from the state.

      (Note: The fact that the Jews working for Oskar Schindler were making ammunition that would be used to kill people in the war may create other problems, but since we are only analyzing whether it is permissible for a libertarian to accept money from or be hired by the state, pretend that Schindler hired them to teach people rather than making ammunition.)

      • AnonymousNo Gravatar says:

        Americans today are in far less danger of the withholding of socialized medicine if they have a job with heath “insurance”. This comparison with the Nazi system is already true.

        I think the Schindler example is the rare exception to the moral choice of: ‘how grand is my lifestyle vs. how much will I participate in a system that damages taxpayers’. Since a similar arrangement in today’s first world is a rare excape hatch that most can’t advantage of, I think your objection is narrowly true but generally false.

        I am not willing to let tax-recipient employees off the hook. Leadership theory says that responsibility (duty), authority (power), and accountability (liability to punishment) are all supposed to be equal. You cannot hold me responsible for the rain that canceled the ball game, because I have zero control over the weather. You can hold me responsible for receiving stolen property (payroll from taxes) to the extent I have the authority (power and practical ability) to avoid doing that.

      • AndrewNo Gravatar says:

        Historical quibble: “Schindler’s List” was a fictional story..

  23. Alex ZayachkovNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve been between consulting engagements since the end of March and having exhausted my savings, I am presently living off the liquidation of antiques, collectibles, jewelry, gems and silver coins via eBay and Craigslist.

    Here in Michigan, the Obama Care Exchange is not being challenged and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t pass on an opportunity to work for the State. Several years ago I also worked on behalf of Blue Cross Blue Shield and those experiences solidified for me the Ponzi scheme nature of all third party payer arrangements. So I am eschewing opportunities that do not align with my Libertarian values. It may cost me cash-flow, but it will not cost me my integrity.

    Over the last ten years these values, and my adherence to them have left me living in a tent in state parks and National Forests twice. But I never have trouble sleeping because I hold fast to my values.

  24. AnonymousNo Gravatar says:

    According to the ZAP, the proto-Americans on Lexington Green could not have shot their guns at the British, because their bullets that inevitably missed their targets would fly into peoples’ houses around the green, putting bystanders at serious risk. Anyone taking the ZAP that seriously will behave as a pacifist.

    The ZAP should be treated as a goal state for peacetime, not a universal moral rule. The expectations for libertarians to follow the ZAP should equal the ability for them to follow the ZAP without sacrificing their fully lived lives to the enemy.

  25. JeremyNo Gravatar says:

    “The third rail of libertarianism is whether it is proper to receive stolen money in exchange for your labor. Otherwise stated, is it proper to take a tax funded job?” (your answer is no).

    Wendy,
    I have long been an admirer of your work and I truly value your writing. I posted the above quote because I would like to examine the ramifications of your answer with respect to the State. My first observation is that the qualification of the first sentence by the second is improper. Tax funded jobs are certainly not the only way one can “receive stolen money in exchange for your labor”. Because the State has forcibly inserted itself into all aspects of human life, I posit that it is impossible for any person to avoid receiving at least some money “stolen by the State” in exchange for their labor.

    I own a small business and, if I were to take your admonition seriously, I would have to pose a series of questions to my customers before I could agree to do business with them. It would look something like this:
    1) Do you receive your salary from government? If the answer is yes, I cannot accept your business.
    2) If no, do you work for a business that solicits government contracts of any kind? If the answer is yes, I cannot accept your business.
    3) If no, do you work for a business that solicits or accepts tax subsidies of any kind? If the answer is yes, I cannot accept your business.
    4) Do you work in an industry that lobbies for exclusionary licensing privileges? If the answer is yes, I cannot accept your business.
    5) Are you self-employed? If yes, do you ask all of your potential customers the above series of questions? If the answer is no, I cannot accept your business.

    It is impossible for any person who engages in any economic activity to avoid receiving at least some money stolen by government in exchange for their labor. An ideal that is literally impossible to achieve, in any way, cannot be considered valid. In the comments section you claim that: “There is a distinction between receiving tax money in some form, which has become almost inevitable in our society, and actively *seeking* it out.” I’m sorry but I don’t think this distinction is logically valid. I chose to be self-employed and run a small business. But, I knew that a significant portion of the money I receive will be “stolen by government”. So, I am actively seeking out at least some “State stolen money” because I do not vet my customers as to the source of their money.

    I do not mean this to be a utilitarian argument in favor accepting government jobs (I personally would not accept a government job but I do not think that it is necessarily anti libertarian to do so*). Instead, I would point out that the State is the aggressor. It has inserted itself into every aspect of human action. So much so, that it is literally impossible to avoid being contaminated in some way by it. To consciously limit ones choices and sphere of influence is not a repudiation of the State, but rather a capitulation to it.

    *Of course, there are many government jobs that a libertarian cannot perform without violating the core principles of libertarianism: policeman, prosecutor, soldier, tax enforcer, etc…

    Kind Regards,
    Jeremy Parfitt

  26. RickNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy is right.

    Actions speak louder the words.

  27. LeonNo Gravatar says:

    If net tax consumers are ineligible to vote because of the conflict of interest, I do not have a problem.

  28. Rick DiMareNo Gravatar says:

    For years I’ve been trying to find an experienced lawyer to work under that would help people claim a property right in their labor, which requires the difficult job of proving that wages are not income. However, I’ve found the legal community to be quite adverse to the idea, as least so far.

    Then, I imagined: What if I had to sell out and work for the IRS?

    Although it’s unlikely the IRS would allow me to practice in the area of tax law I’m interested in, and allow me to select the appropriated cases to work on, I rationalized that I might be able to accept the job if I was helping people to define what a property right in human labor was NOT.

    After all, property rights in anything, including real estate for example, only exist because the state is willing to enforce boundaries, maintain land courts, punish and prevent trespassing, etc. In other words, though property rights are based on legitimate human needs, they often exist only because the state is willing and able to forcibly exclude certain “non-owners” from messing with our stuff.

    Regarding what a property right in human labor/energy/actions/wages is NOT, here’s a link to the IRS’s “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments:” http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/article/0,,id=159853,00.html

  29. Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

    I guess it depends, “minarchist” or “anarchist”?

    For myself, I have had many opportunities to go back to a tax-funded job (I had one for a while, a sub-sub contractor) but have chosen not to. It’s a personal choice.

    I would not denigrate someone for doing contractor work like that, although I would take the time to discuss with them the emotional and moral benefits of not doing so. Neither do I poo-poo the Free State Project associates who have gotten elected to government office and then accept the salaries/stipends. That is, if I believe the person to be principled and works in that position to roll-back the power of the state.

    Where I draw the line, personally, is people who want to be employees of the state. Cops, paid firemen, petty bureaucrats, office workers, etc. But again, this is a personal choice. I would not stop someone from doing so in order to put food on their table, but I will not help them and I will continue to work for their jobs to be eliminated.

    Govt “services” cannot be entirely avoided. The principled anarchist will simply not seek them out.

  30. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    You always write well. This article is even better than most! So many ideas here I have thought of over the years but could not exress nearly so well. In particular I have always been bothered by the concept of lawyers who claimed to be libertarians. It seems to me that the profession of law is totdally dependant upon the state. Odtherwise they would be arbiters or some other name than lawyers!
    As you know, I do not believe in the idea of “natural rights”, but the utter hypocricy of claiming to be an anarchist while feeding at the government trough is just bad form! That being said, I am willing to cut poor people some slack as they have few if any other options than taking the government money if they want to get by. I think it is something like 2/3 of old poor folks get by on social security alone. Survival is the first priority. Thanks again for your great article!

    • Thank you Fritz. I appreciate it. And I always keep in mind that many people are put into a difficult situation through no fault of their own and in which they have few choices. I try to make far softer judgments of such people than I do of those who actively choose to profit from the state in the presence of many alternatives.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        One of the most active profiteers from a government protected monopoly today are the big pharmacutical companies. They are in bed with the FDA and buy Congress to be able to charge thousands of percent markup on often unsafe and ineffectilve drugs. William Faloon of the Life Extension Foundation wrote Pharmocracy which tells of his battle to promote free enterprise in health care. With a 34 trillion dollar unfunded liabililty, Medicaid and Medicare could bankrupt us all. But hell, no one seems to even know what free enterprise even is anymore. Like all socialized medicine, Medicare and Medicaid are inherantly unstable.

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  32. Mike StahlNo Gravatar says:

    There are several problems with the position of the article.

    First, as has been pointed out-there is effectively NO “private sector” in the US. That is simply a fact. If someone can point out an industry that doesn’t have some form of government support-either through subsidy, regulation, protection, or other interference-I’d be fascinated to learn of it.

    That being the case, the author has decreed that there is a “difference in kind” between incidental receipt of governmental largess and seeking it out-yet does not explain why this is so or how it applies differently to academics rather than plumbers.

    The primary target seems to be, bizarrely, employees of institutions that, while heavily subsidized, are NOT government entities, and are NOT fully-or even mostly in many cases, depending on how you define student loans- funded by tax dollars. There is very little substantive difference from a non-aggression standpoint between, say, Ohio State University, and the private Yale. Both charge students tuition, both accept subsidized loans and both rely on billions in PRIVATE FUNDING.

    One wonders why libertarians are permitted to eat-since farms and farmers are AT LEAST as heavily subsidized as Ohio State.

    May we work at a bank?

    How about commercial fishing?

    Cut sugar cane?

    Be an M.D.?

    Be a Lawyer?

    Accountant?

    Plumber?

    Taxi driver?

    Work at the big box store that gets huge tax breaks that its competitors do not?

    Write articles for publication on a computer network designed by the military to facilitate communications during nuclear war, and thus making a First Strike potentially survivable?(I know some people dispute this-bollocks.)

    What isn’t sullied? Shall we all just starve to death in martyred protest?

    Also, please let us remember that not all government spending is equal, nor does non-aggression require fastidious bean-counting over income. It does require people to monitor their own behavior. A law prof. at Ohio State will likely never violate non-aggression, and while some of his salary is from tax dollars, much of it is not-to characterize such a person as aggressive is foolhardy. I’d much rather involuntarily pay a Music professor’s salary than buy a bomb that will blow up a music school overseas.

    Likewise, a family on 100% welfare (if that existed-it does not) is not violating non-aggression per se. The politician who created the welfare scheme, and the tax collectors are, however, just as they do when they dip their hands in education, or a corn field, roads, or GM.

    That is the only place where a “difference in kind” exists-between people who ACTIVELY advocate or participate in initiating violence. This is primarily politicians, tax collectors, often police, and military. Not people who teach voluntary, paying, students the History of Bangladesh.

    We may question the need to know the History of Bangladesh, but Ohio State has no trouble filling its classes with paying students.

    By the way-are the students being aggressive as well, or just the professors?

    Considering the constant war, drug prohibition, militarized police, the fear state, and other instances of actual initiated violence; are there not enough pressing areas for discussion? I’ve never worked for government, or at a university and doubt I ever will-but I see no need for the tongue clucking, the point should be that the system is horrid, not that we can pretend that it does not exist . There is no third rail here.

    • Paul BonneauNo Gravatar says:

      This is pretty convincing. One can imagine a spectrum of virtue so to speak, from somebody working completely in the untaxed black market in a completely voluntary way, down to the crony class war profiteers. Professors might fall somewhere in the middle, even if their salary comes from the state.

      Yes, there is little moral difference between Ohio State and Yale, but some schools like Hillsdale are clearly a step up in virtue.

      If a family lived completely on income from “fencing” stolen goods from ordinary thieves, we would likely not pronounce them morally neutral. Why should welfare recipients be thought any more virtuous? It’s irrelevant who the original robbers are, whether senator or burglar. In fact I might favor the ones involved in fencing; at least they don’t imagine they have a right to the stuff.

      “It does require people to monitor their own behavior.” Yes I agree with this. Since there is a spectrum of virtue, it behooves us to avoid making excuses to slide too far down on it. We shouldn’t just throw up our hands and say that nothing is left unsullied, therefore I can work as a drone pilot killing Pakistanis. By the way I did have a farm at one point and refused the subsidies offered me. We do have choices.

    • Rick DiMareNo Gravatar says:

      Feeding or working for the state does seem to be unavoidable, but this is only because of our blind spots concerning the nature of the money we use (which is not really money, but evidence how much of the central bank’s debt we happen to be holding, i.e., the “money” we have, the more indebted we are).

      Except for a small percentage of people (if any) who are demanding Treasury-Direct currencies at a U.S. banking corporation, and objecting to the use of all other currencies, we’re all pretty much owned (lock, stock and barrel) by the privately-owned, profit-motivated money issuer.

  33. VidarNo Gravatar says:

    I had to comment on this article because I think it get the priorities of the anarchist movement backwards. The goal should be to deny the state as many resources as possible. The problem is not people who take tax money (whether through welfare or working for the state in a non-aggressive position), it is those who provide the tax money to the state. Someone who works in the private sector and makes millions of dollars and pays 35% of that in taxes is doing vastly more harm to the cause of freedom than someone who works as a teacher or fireman (now police, military, IRS, and other enforcement types are another category).
    The ideal would be to work “under the table” and be paid cash with no taxes taken out, but if you have to work in a job that pays taxes you should try to pay the least you can by whatever strategy you can get away with. Taking tax money that has already been collected is in many ways a good thing, as it forces the state to tax or borrow more which increases the instability of the system and radicalizes more people as they see their taxes or the debt increase. The vast majority of taxpayers are statists who have asked for the burden of taxation, and I see nothing wrong with indirectly stealing from a statist, especially if that theft helps to open up their eyes as to the true nature of the system.

    • Vidar: I believe the act of seeking tax dollars is far more egregious than the act of paying taxes because the former is entirely voluntary while the latter is done under extreme threat. Moreover, I don’t think it is ever correct to steal from another person, whatever their political beliefs. Nor do I think most people willingly pay taxes. If that were the case, then there would be no need for the draconian policies and penalties imposed by the IRS.

      • VidarNo Gravatar says:

        I don’t think they willingly pay taxes, but they support the system that is only possible because of those taxes.

        My main point is that the struggle between statist and anti-statist forces is more important than what an individual person is doing in relation to the system. The money paid to professors or welfare recipients has already been stolen. Refusing to take that stolen money is not going to encourage the state to give it back. A few principled libertarians not taking state jobs or benefits is not going to reduce the amount the state steals from society in general. On the other hand, taking money from the state not only allows us to live more easily and dedicate more time to the fight for liberty, it takes away resources that could have been spent on war, police, etc. The more the state has to spend on welfare and salaries for its employees (aka bread and circuses) the less it has to spend on truly harmful activities. This is what brought down the Roman empire as well as the USSR. It is the only strategy that has a historical track-record of bringing down empires.

        The battle against the state is not going to be won by a small group refusing to participate in the system, but by the system collapsing under its own weight and inefficiency (see the USSR). Libertarians and anarchists need to spend their efforts now in preparing for this collapse and setting up free enclaves and markets that people can turn to when the state is no longer able to provide for them.

        Also, people need to be aware of how their actions are really affecting the system. Producing value that can be siphoned off to support the state is what should be avoided. The best example is how Galt works as a laborer in Atlas Shrugged. He understands the Dagney, by producing value that the parasites can feed off of, is contributing to the survival of the state system even more than someone who only supports it with words. The victims must actively withdraw their production as well as their sanction from the system in order to defeat it. This is war and while it may be noble to say that you oppose stealing from anyone regardless of their beliefs, when they are supporting a system that is trying to steal not only your property but your life and liberty as well, they need to be shaken up and shown that they too are victims. If doing so includes forcing the state to increase the burden it places upon them until it is intolerable then so be it.

        • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

          I do agree that if the state does fall it will be from its own top heaviness much like ancient Rome. I have proposed that freedom oriented folks go back to the land and create what I called “freedom oriented communities”. Unfortunately, virtually nobody is interested in taking the risk that “dropping out” entails. Who can blame them? There are millions of homeless in the USA alone living horrid and short lives. If you lose your niche in the system you could easily become homeless yourself. I think this is likely an intentional psychological set up by the ruling elite. By having a permanant underclass to recruit out of the middle class is kept in constant fear of dropping into the underclass. Thus the ruling elite have a willing slave class that cuts each others throats for the privalige of serving. Then to add insult to injury, they think they are practicing free enterprise!!! It matters little if this is intentional or just an evolution of our semi-socialistic society. It seems to be becoming that way more and more. My dad said 30 years ago athat the ever widening dicotomy between the haves and the have nots was destroying what was left of the goodness in the USA system. He was more right than he knew.

    • I would also argue that state jobs will always be filled. So the argument should really be, is it better for a hardcore statist union loving thug to take a government funded position or a libertarian? I would rather be facing a libertarian cop on the streets than a statist cop. If all cops were libertarians, the level of drug busts would certainly be reduced. Further, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs have the ability to set the enforcement agenda, and direct enforcement away from victimless crimes.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        First I would say that a libertarilan cop is an oxymoron. You are basically making the classic arguement that the best government is a benign dictatorship. That may even be accurate. But I do not want ANY government. I say that all government is unnecessary and undesirable. Yes, statist positions will be filled so long as there is a state. It may even be pragmatic to take such jobs. My life certainly would have been a lot easier had I grabbed a federal or state funded job when I was young. However I could not face myself if I had done so. The bottom line is that thieves almost always make lots more money than honest, productive folks. State jobs are a form of theft. So I can see a person accepting state work, but don’t feed me the line that having freedom oriented people (your libertarian cop) in state jobs will make the job any less theft. After a while cognitive dissonance sets in and the job defines the man. It is real hard to work 40 hrs per week as a statist slave and still be a free man on the weekends!!! One compromises one’s integrity every day to keep a statist job, especially as a paid enforcer (cop). Cops are the teeth of government oppression. They are not nice guys just doing their job. They are hired thugs protecting the ruling elite by stealing your’s and my freedoms. It is really hard to oppose the state while enforcing its edicts daily. The real question for an anarchist is how to minimize one’s interactions with the legal system, cops in particular. The best answer I have come up with in our society is to go back to the land as much as feasible so you do not have to interact often with society in general. Live off the grid so you don’t have monthly visits by meter readers and you are not supporting the state power monopoly. Build your own house using alternative building methods so you do not have to use government banks to finance. In short, be as self sufficient as possible. Freedom and self sufficiency are virtually the same thing. It can be done. I built my own home out of stone about 15 years ago and live off the grid. If I can do it so can you. And it costs a lot less!

      • FlintNo Gravatar says:

        I’m curious… can you show me some examples of these libertarian cops who get hired, then refuse to enforce any law which is incompatible with the NAP?

        Because I’ve never heard of that actually happening…

  34. Charles H.No Gravatar says:

    I will attempt a bit of response.

    >May we work at a bank?

    It is getting harder and harder for a bank to be “honest”, but a small local bank or credit union would be the best choice. I would tend to discourage working at one of the major banks.

    >How about commercial fishing?

    Yes, why not? It is true that fishing is regulated, but so is everything else.

    >Cut sugar cane?

    Yes.

    >Be an M.D.?

    Yes. I read an article a while back about an MD in Oakland, CA that reduced her standard of living, opened a small independent office, and accepted only cash — $20 for an office visit. That would qualify as libertarian in my book.

    >Be a Lawyer?

    Yes, but only in some fields, and only working independently or in a small partnership.

    >Accountant?

    Yes.

    >Plumber?

    Yes.

    >Taxi driver?

    It is true that in most cities taxis are highly regulated. But most drivers are very independent, even if they have to pay a high price for a taxi medallion. I don’t have a problem with taxi drivers.

    And I will add one question, which applies to me: Work for a small software or technology company whose customers include city or county governments?

    Yes, as long as we are not developing to government contract or with government grants or loans. We sell to government agencies as well as private companies our standard product that was developed entirely with funding from private sources.

    My point is: let’s try to move in the right direction. Everyone has to make their own choices in this matter, but with our choices we can try to support a free society. Making the situation absolute black or white won’t help.

  35. Greg LilleyNo Gravatar says:

    Notwithstanding Paul Bonneau’s comments, I don’t think anyone has really refuted Michael Suede’s points. Others have pointed out the awkwardness of trying to distinguish between taking a government job and accepting money from others who have received stolen property, and I find those to be compelling arguments. Therefore, I disagree with Wendy that accepting government employment is a difference of kind rather than a difference of degree.

    Given the impossibility of the situation we are in when we wish to disengage from the state, there is no way to avoid the limitless ambiguity inherent in the dilemma. As Paul said there’s a spectrum of behavior that runs from the least possible involvement to bombing innocent Afghanis or worse and each of us has to determine how far along that continuum we are willing to travel.

    That said, I should say that on those few occasions where I have disagreed with Wendy in the past, I have eventually almost always come to agree with her position upon further study or reflection. Thanks for another thought-provoking article.

    • AtlasAikidoNo Gravatar says:

      Re: “First, as has been pointed out-there is effectively NO “private sector” in the US. That is simply a fact. If someone can point out an industry that doesn’t have some form of government support-either through subsidy, regulation, protection, or other interference-I’d be *fascinated* to learn of it”.

      “Fascinating” indeed!!

      Doesn’t that Mexican who put in that sprinkler system know he is off the grid? [Sarc Intended]. What of ALL those uncertified teachers, mechanics, programmers, toenail polishers, waiters. (This list could get really long!)

      Nor ALL the anonymous (private) transactions using Bitcoins? Gas stations, restaurants, self published writers, this site etc Paul Bonneau wrote an article at Strike The Root.com regarding such…

      Get a grip!

      • The private sector is economically alive and well in the rapidly growing black market and much of gray market. Many small businesses do not ‘benefit’ from government protections or regulations but manage to struggle onward despite them These businesses are victims of taxation and of every person who actively seeks tax dollars. Just because the businesses are looted by federal thugs on a regular basis does not make them part of the state. And, so, I think it is value to view them as “the private sector.”

        • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

          I wish I could see this growing black and gray markets, but I see less and less of it as government controls become tighter and computer records make it less possible to avoid big brother’s observation. From what I see, the small numbers of people doing productive things on the gray market are nearly starving and usually also on the government dole one way or another. I have a son in this position. And once you are in it, there is virtually no way out.

  36. VasoNo Gravatar says:

    There should be a distinction between punishable offenses and personal moral integrity issues. Working as a tax collector is punishable offense under natural law. Accepting tax funded salary (e.g. of a teacher or a doctor) is bad, but not punishable. Everybody has to make their choices regarding how strictly to maintain their moral integrity and how to judge that of others.

    Murray Rothbard was a good man, but not an ideal one; he would have been still greater had he not accepted government subsidized salary (assuming he had). Most libertarians, myself included, will still respect him.
    Ron Paul has been accepting tax-funded money, presumably, and it’s bad. I hope it has been an error of knowledge rather than a breach of morality.
    By the way, what if destruction of the criminal system is best achieved by joining it? E.g. hasn’t Greenspan damaged the system even more than Ron Paul? If that was his (Greenspan’s) purpose, would it make his work for the FED moral? I guess not, but Ayn Rand thought so, presumably.

    I recently resigned from highly paid job and accepted lower paying one; I am moving from financial services related industry to industrial automation. Morality was a considerable factor in making the decision (I learned economics after starting my previous job), but I would not have been a criminal if I stayed, I think. Besides, I quickly learned the new (private) company is eager to use government “laws” to avoid competition. Most entrepreneurs are happy to use state power to cement their position and destroy free market once they succeed (e.g. Steve Jobs & Apple using patents etc). It’s very sad.
    One must not commit crimes and above that should keep moral integrity as best they can, learn and improve.

    • VasoNo Gravatar says:

      Nowadays even being a successful entrepreneur and producing things people want means supporting parasites and criminals (paying taxes, obeying orders); it likely requires participating in theft (withholding income tax, if you employ workers). Is it better than being paid salary out of what’s already stolen?
      Ultimately, to be absolutely true to liberty one would have to find a place where everything can be done in “black market” or turn to subsistence farming. Those who do it will deserve all the respect, but it does not mean those who don’t should be damned forever.

  37. I should make two distinctions here. Some posters are claiming that because the current state and society are intimately entangled there can be no escaping some involvement with the state and, so, actively seeking tax paid jobs is neutral politically and morally.

    Distinction #1: (which I’ve made several times in earlier posts) There is a difference of kind between the inevitable participation with the state — e.g. using the roads — but doing so as little as possible and only when there is no viable private alternative and between the active seeking of tax dollars. The first option reflects someone who is trying to live as honestly as possible within a hostile framework. The second reflects someone who has joined the thieves and wants his cut of the goods.

    Distinction #2. There are at least two way to approach the question of tax funded jobs. The first is to focus on the entanglement of state and society, as the comment thread has done. The second is to focus on the personal integrity of someone who calls taxation ‘theft’ but actively seeks tax money. In short, the political analysis v. the personal integrity issue.[Note: in the article, I addressed only those libertarians who acknowledge taxation is theft.]

    • Rick DiMareNo Gravatar says:

      Wendy, interesting distinctions, but my legal research shows we may have to make distinctions like this a little finer.

      For example, what about users of currencies that permit government to have extraordinary discretionary spending power vs. users of currencies that allow the natural person to claim a property right in his/her labor and also restrain government’s discretionary spending power and makes it more transparent?

      In other words, somewhat aside from the tax issue, we may be doing things (and neglecting to do certain things), which are largely on an unconscious level, but yet which have an enormous impact on the socio-economic environment.

    • Eduardo F.No Gravatar says:

      I am sorry but you take it for granted that one can choose not to work for the government or, at least, to restrain seeking for any tax funded job.

      I contend that is impossible unless your living plan resumes to lie beneath a (private) bridge. In our days, it is not even possible to know by what extend, in every economic activity that involves human interaction, there is tax money involved. Jeremy, in http://dailyanarchist.com/2012/08/08/the-third-rail-of-libertaria nism/?replytocom=139999#comment-139999, has stated it better than anyone (in this thread, I mean).

      It’s obvious for me that taxation is theft. But, am I also a thief, although of a second order if, after a life’s work, I forego my tax funded pension for which I have been forced to fund for 40 years? I don’t think so. Should I be a martyr? Should we, libertarians?

      PS – Excuse me for my poor English.

  38. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks, Ms. McElroy. I still can’t fathom why people like Block & Rothbard pretend(ed) that seeking tax-funded lifestyles is acceptable, other than to suppose that they have/had a low opinion of their ability to succeed otherwise. Any “…you’re forced to use roads so you might as well do those other things too” claim begs for Bastiat’s warning against allowing society to become that cruel joke in which everyone strives to live at the expense of everyone else. IMO, such “…just let me have this one thing here that the rest of you must fund but which I promise is somehow neutral” arguments are quite shameful in their thin-edge sophistry.

    I founded an online university way back in 1994, complete with a course on “Libertarian Feminist Writers” that studied the works of Wollstonecraft, de Cleyre, Lane, Paterson, Rand, and McElroy. I was more naive back then, in my late 20’s, and I got the inevitable shut-down by statist types — even the bankers and self-professed venture capitalists didn’t like the markets-only approach of my business plan (I was in Victoria, BC at the time so that should tell you something about the entrepreneurial climate). People were telling me to apply for a patent and to apply for a grant and to apply for [some other "official" permission that allows you to feign success]. I gave the patent application a whirl, was nauseated at the entire experience, and (thankfully) backed away from such immoral behaviour once I acknowledged an unintended wake-up call from government stooges stating “…your application needs some adjustment for further consideration — oh, and more fees, please.”

    After ducking beneath the proverbial radar for the past decade, I have returned to working on the business (of which the university is just a small segment). I had wanted to wait until the climate was less hostile, but I’m not exactly in my 20’s anymore.

    Keep ‘em coming, your stuff is always a pleasure to read.

  39. SnowmanNo Gravatar says:

    Wow! I just stumbled upon this site, and the level of well thought out, reasoned intellectual discussion is refreshing, thanks to all. It’s so nice to see a series of responses that did not descend into personal attacks or political drivel, it speaks well of Libertarianism as a whole. My line of work is as a Deputy Sheriff, and of course I live off of ill gotten funds (sort of). I used to be a police officer but I came to realize that constitutional clarity that is lacking in the position of a police officer. I specifically sought out a Deputy Sheriff’s position in a right to work state where I did not have to join a union. Some may be surprised but I work within strict adherence to the Constitution, and I’m not alone. I agree that every one of us receives ill begotten taxpayer monies in some form or another. But, what I haven’t seen is anybody addressing the issue of can you really call much of anything taxpayer funded with fiat currency created out of thin air? I mean before Bretton Woods and the Federal Reserve it would be easier to make the argument, but now what???

    • AtlasAikidoNo Gravatar says:

      If I may? To whom it may concern:

      First things first: The heart of Castle Rock v. Gonzales is a police v. the people dispute. Do the police exist to protect you?

      –The clear answer is no. From the 1856 US Supreme Court ruling on South v. Maryland through to Castle Rock, the courts have ruled that “there is NO Constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen” (Bowers v. DeVito, 1982).

      –At one time, a significant portion of what is now America was protected by *PRIVATE policemen who were PAID BY— and, so, responsible to — the community where they served [and lived]*. The Western sheriffs did protect people and property; they did rescue schoolmarms and punish cattle rustlers. Their mission was to keep the peace by preventing violence.

      –Modern policemen still bask in the glow of that legacy even as they betray it by *taking state salaries and institutionalizing an indifference for the person and property of those they purport to serve*. The modern policeman is, in fact, the antithesis of Marshal Dillon and an expression of the stereotypical British sheriff — *a civil servant responsible ONLY to government and governmental policy*.

      —There IS an extreme disconnect between the public and the police when it comes to preventing violence. The public cries, “That’s your job!” The police reply, “Tell it to the judge.” **And American judges have consistently ruled that the police have no obligation to protect you**.

      —I wonder where that disconnect could come from? (SARC-INT). And who would spread such self-serving frauds and cheats? I shrug dear reader. Perhaps in part those that repeat (spread) discredited memes under the tyranny of good intentions and feel good do-goodism in opposition to the facts. To Serve and Protect — the State
      Mises Daily: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 by Wendy McElroy http://mises.org/daily/5651/To-Serve-and-Protect-the-State

      –“And, so, to the woman who says, “My husband [and or friend] is a good man!” and words to that effect I must reluctantly answer [and concur] with Wendy, *”It does not matter.”* [emphasis added]

      —It’s Not Personal; It’s Institutional—Mises Daily: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 by Wendy McElroy http://mises.org/daily/5439/Its-Not-Personal-Its-Institutional

    • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

      Deputy Sherrif or policeman, a cop is a cop. Your ultimate job is to protect the rights and privileges of the ruling class. Government started when robbers reallized that farmers in the earliest agricultural era were sitting ducks and started the early protection rackets. It is basically the same today. As a person you may be a decent guy, but your job as a cop is to steal my freedom. As such, I must consider you and all cops as evil. What gives you “right” to tell me what to do at the point of a gun? I realize that power (guns) trumps any concept of rights every time. But if you would like to live in a free society, how do you justlify being a hired gun for the very state you oppose?!

  40. Greg LilleyNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Snowman,

    I’m glad you’re trying to work within the constitution, but I’d guess that to most of the people on this board, whether something is constitutional or not isn’t all that important as none of them signed it and they don’t buy into the “social contract” argument.

    And it doesn’t matter much whether government expenditures are financed through taxes, borrowing, or printing. They still ultimately represent wealth that has been stolen from one group to be given to another group. For instance, counterfeiting new money dilutes the value of money that has been earned in the marketplace. But even if the expenditures were funded by aliens from outer space, the fact that the government claims a monopoly to be enforced by violence (or threat of violence) to prevent others from competing with them in certain areas is still a problem.

    – Greg

  41. FlintNo Gravatar says:

    Block’s point sums up the opposition in these comments, nicely: “My take on this is that it is a positive virtue to relieve the government of its ill-gotten gains. Suppose Z steals an apple from Y and then X comes along and takes this fruit away from Z. Did X do anything wrong? Did he act incompatibly with the NAP? Is X no longer a libertarian? Of course not. Very much to the contrary, X did something entirely compatible with our philosophy.”

    That’s the scenario when you drive on the roads. Ideally, you should find some alternative in which you don’t take from the thief, but the thief has no claim to the apple he holds, so taking it is not actually a theft, at all. But the issue is not that scenario.

    The issue is the scenario in which you tell Z, “go steal Y’s apple, and give me half.” If you specifically seek out the thief and request that he commit a theft and share the proceeds of that theft with you, that is an entirely different act.

    The argument can be made in support of taking government money, up to the point at which you have retrieved all the money that’s been stolen from you over the years. But not in excess of that amount, and someone making a /career/ of taking government money will certainly take in more than he has paid to the government under duress (in many cases, someone may go straight from being a student at a tax-funded college, to being a professor at that same college, never having built up an “account” which he has any need to retrieve).

    Selling someone a gun which he eventually uses to commit a murder does not make you a murderer. Hiring someone to commit a murder, does. So does selling a gun to a hitman on credit, when he has specifically told you that he will repay you out of the proceeds from his next hit.

  42. JustinNo Gravatar says:

    I think people cannot be faulted for responding to incentives. That is, I am pro-gay marriage but against government’s involvement in the institution. I am pro-immigration, but I am against the federal benefits that may attract some immigrants. If we were all to feist on government benefits and somehow avoid paying taxes, government would collapse quickly. I realize this is the opposite of what may anarchists do, as some view even voting as akin to supporting the machine. Nonetheless, feist away, but vote against, I say.

    • FlintNo Gravatar says:

      If we feast on benefits, and don’t pay taxes, they will just raise taxes on others.

      The budget is not a fixed quantity – raising the budget by using more services, just causes them to raise taxes in order to fund the increased budget.

      • Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

        Well said. But it is really hardly about money and taxes anymore. It is all about power. In the US money has equated to power traditionally, but government can and does use many other ways to control us. Ultimately it is about military power and the willingness to use it. Thus you see the continuing disarmament of individuals around athe world. Here the 2nd amendment has been ignored by government at all levels including the Supreme Court on many decisions. So as the people are disarmed the government militaries and police get more and better weaponry. This bodes evil for the future of freedom. Without weapons to defend ourselves with, history shows that tyrants will fill the power vaccume every time. I’m afraid that I have become quite cynical concerning the chances for indivlidual liberty in the US and world because the tyrants do not hesitate to use violence to promote their agenda while most freedom lovers are extremely hesitant to do so mostly for reasons of ethics. It is a shame that once out of the ivory tower power trumps ethics every time.

        Of course there is also the problem that the people are so easily fooled. I observe that government either causes or exacerbates every major problem in our society, and yet the vast majority clamor for more rules and regs to fix the problem! Perhaps the old saying is correct and we do get the government we deserve.

  43. Cris CrawfordNo Gravatar says:

    Should a libertarian be a doctor? There is no way to become a doctor in the United States without earning government money, other than foregoing the stipend for being an intern, which I’m not sure would even be possible. After someone graduates from medical school (which school, I am sure, is partially funded with tax money, no matter how private), one cannot legally practice medicine without spending three more years in a residency program. A resident earns about 35,000 a year, which is paid by the government. The same goes for the extended training of specialists.
    If it follows from your argument that libertarians should not become doctors, then I suppose libertarianism is simply a lesser value than the practice of medicine to the people who choose to become doctors, same as the fact that I would most likely steal food if the alternative was starvation.

  44. Mo LibertyNo Gravatar says:

    Below is a letter I sent to the author.
    It takes a pragmatic approach to the problem. IMO, we cannot pretend to live in ivory towers; we live in the world that exists right here, right now.

    The letter has some biases:
    1. We live in a police state.
    2. The police state will continue to grow for some time.
    BTW, I also believe this is a temporary trend that will reverse itself. My fear is that if the trend continues for too long, it will collapse.
    3. That as liberty minded people, we accept differences of opinions. This is in stark contrast to fascist, CNN and Fox adherents who want everyone to think the same.

    The main point of the letter is that we probably work for the govt without even realizing it.

    Hi Wendy,

    Wanted to comment on your article “The Third Rail of Libertarianism”.

    I like to divide libertarians into two boxes: purists and pragmatists. Your arguments are based on idealized theory.
    The theory makes perfect sense. It fails in practice.

    The question:
    “Is it proper to take a tax funded job?”

    Ask that question in a communist country. Every legitimate job in a communist country is a government job.

    The US is much closer to an authoritarian state than a free state. The government holds many monopolies; your examples were roads and postage. We can agree that there are many more. I would include universities.

    How broad is the definition for “tax funded job”?
    I would suggest three broad categories:
    (1) Obviously, those working directly for government have tax funded jobs.
    (2) Those working as contractors for government agencies.
    (3) Those working in private businesses that benefit from the coercive power of government.

    Wait, how can private businesses be considered tax funded?!
    First, regulated monopolies owe their existence to government. Second, many large corporations regularly use government to generate profits.

    Oil companies, for example, allowed the government to start a war in Iraq for their benefit.

    The US economy is, generally speaking, not a free market. There are pockets of free markets. Usually, markets are dominated by a monopoly or oligopoly power. Often, these corporations work closely with government to maintain their “competitive advantage”. For a small scale example, the condominium management companies worked with legislators in my state to create licensing of their profession. They claim it was to maintain standards, however, it was really to prevent new competitors from taking their dissatisfied customers.

    # This argument will not fly with idealists….

    One must find a way to earn a living. Some say 26 million workers are currently unemployed or under employed. It seems there is currently an over supply of workers for a limited number of decent jobs.

    It is not within an individual’s power to be able to redesign the US social structure or economy. You might think so, but you’d be drinking the kool-aide. Regardless, those kinds of changes do not happen before the rent comes due next month.

    As the US continues it’s slide toward autocracy, more and more jobs will fall under the aegis of governments.

    # Arguing with fellow travelers is not the solution

    Libertarians love to argue among themselves. In politics, Libertarians are usually the most aggressive at trashing Libertarian candidates. Not everyone is a “perfect” libertarian or peaceful anarchist. As a movement, we should not throw those under the bus that do not hold pure beliefs. (Fascists want everyone to think alike; not libertarians.)

    # The “invisible hand” is the solution

    In Atlas Shrugged, a few captains of industry stopped the economy. It was fiction. In the Soviet Union, almost everyone stopped the economy. It made history. The Soviet economy collapsed because it did not work. Governments in the US will continue to grow (as governments always do) until they outstrip their resources. The US is probably there already! Some say the Federal Reserve is buying a third of new Treasury Bonds. That is a huge shortfall.

    We can watch the collapse without getting out of our comfort zone. If we can reduce our tax footprint, so much the better. If we take advantage of government programs, then government will have to admit it over promised (lied, cheated, and stole). If we do nothing, the police state will continue to demand more resources with or without permission…. until it collapses.

    We do not live in a perfect world. It is wrong to allow government to oppress others for our benefit. As libertarians we should be sensitive to this issue. Nevertheless, we need not cut our nose off to spite ourselves. I cannot prevent government atrocities. There are limits to what a person can do. We should all work for a more loving, peaceful world. We are, however, constrained by the world as it exists today.

    4 freedom,
    Mo Liberty

    • FlintNo Gravatar says:

      There’s a fundamental difference between working in an industry that has derived some level of benefit from a government policy, and taking a check directly from the government, just as there’s a difference between buying something at a pawn shop (which may be fencing stolen property) and hiring a thief to steal my TV for your use.

      Indirectly benefitting from an evil act is not the same as directly supporting the performance of that act.

      It’s not an issue of “purity.” A “purist” could condemn someone for buying from a pawn shop. Condemning thieves is something that /everyone/ should do.

      • Mo LibertyNo Gravatar says:

        Flint said, “There’s a fundamental difference between working in an industry that has derived some level of benefit from a government policy, and taking a check directly from the government”

        Nope. The company derives benefit from government coercion. The company uses coercive force. In the absence of government coercion, the company would not have a sale.

        Government and some businesses often collude. They work together. Kind of like Republicans and Democrats working together to marginalize other political parties. I consider the two parties one in the same. When government and business collude, they can be considered one entity. (State govt is separate from Federal govt, but is there really any difference? No; one in the same.)

  45. fmNo Gravatar says:

    Would you take an amount or resources from the state so great it would completely hobble it?

    Would you benefit the state as a volunteer? (as in no pay)

    I firmly believe that taking from the state (and not giving back) is how it will collapse, providing labor and moral support for it keeps it going.

    Quitting your gov job to take foodstamps and work in the black/grey market is a huge blow to the state. I don’t take gov assistance because I don’t want them to know a damn extra thing about me, but I don’t condemn anyone who does (until they start talking about how important and great the state is). But be careful not to become dependent on any ‘program’ like that or you’ll be in a bad position as more strings are attached.

    Almost any government job will involve supporting the state a great deal more than your pay harms it and I would never work a job like that.

    In a not-totally-serious-not-funny-joking sort of way if we all worked for the state it wouldn’t have any productive labor to leech off of and would certainly collapse. But probably what would form right after the collapse would be 50-90% gov since that would be in the fabric of the culture.

    • FlintNo Gravatar says:

      “Would you take an amount or resources from the state so great it would completely hobble it?”

      It’s not a zero sum game. They will increase taxes and/or reduce benefits to keep things going as long as possible. While it will eventually fail, folks will be so impoverished by that point, that they will not be able to rebuild any rational society… we’d end up with something worse than the current mess.

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