A Reconsideration of “The Personal Is Political”

“The personal is political” is a slogan that has been around for a long time, used especially though not exclusively by radical feminists. In practice it has served as an exhortation that people make ideology the sole dimension of their personal identity, that they set aside all other bases on which to evaluate their relations with other people and order their conduct even in their most intimate dealings with others. (Here is a recent example so perfect it seems like a caricature.)

To carry on one’s life in accordance with such an exhortation is a recipe for endless misery. The misery comes from the entailed sacrifice of the countless opportunities for connecting fruitfully with others through, for example, family relations, friendships, comradeship, and partnerships based on non-ideological commonalities such as neighborhood, shared artistic appreciation, and participation in team efforts in sports and other activities.

The permanence of the misery comes from the nature of politics, which is an endless struggle that, as many mad ideologists in power have demonstrated all too well, can be terminated only by death. Politics is, among other things, a war that cannot be won unless all one’s ideological opponents are slaughtered and their ideas somehow suppressed so deeply that they too have been destroyed. This latter, however, is a result that even the most ruthless ideologue in the political saddle is unlikely to achieve. As the saying goes, you can’t kill an idea. Even if you kill everyone who now embraces an idea, the idea itself lies dormant, waiting for someone to rediscover and embrace it in the future.

“The personal is political,” if taken in the sense that everything about a person must be forced into the Procrustean Bed of an ideology, guarantees a life of bleak, endless, and futile struggle, which is all the more tragic because it was never necessary or wise in the first place.

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Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute. His most recent book is Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Economy.

Against the Maternal State

In the late nineteenth century, many Americans took pride in living in a country that boasted so much freedom. In describing their society and polity, they often contrasted them with what they called paternalism, which they believed was the rule in certain European countries, such as Germany, where a proto-welfare state began to be developed as early as the 1880s and became a beacon for Americans who disliked the high degree of personal freedom in the USA and wished to replace it with various forms of government dictation and direct participation.

So, in the late nineteenth century, despite the prevailing embrace of freedom, a growing group Americans set out, slowly and haltingly at first, to put their own forms of paternalism in place, beginning with campaigns against alcohol and tobacco, proceeding to mandatory-school-attendance, anti-child-labor, and women’s working-hours laws, and continuing until today, when governments seek to prohibit even forms of speech that some people dislike and perceive as harmful and to punish parents for letting children get out of their sight even in safe circumstances. Compared to the German paternalism of a century or more ago, the American paternalism of today extends much more broadly and deeply into social and political life, and its march shows no sign of losing momentum.

Fundamental Principles of Income Tax Reform

As 2017 was rushing to its end, the U.S. House and Senate passed different versions of income tax reform legislation, one of the Trump Administration’s top policy priorities. If a reconciled bill emerges from conference committee and is approved by majorities in both chambers of Congress before year’s end, the legislative effort would fulfill the president’s promise to oversee the first significant change to the U.S. income tax code since Ronald Reagan occupied the White House.

At the time of this writing, no one knows the devilish details of the final tax reform law, if it is in fact passed in time to take effect before a new tax season begins on January 1, 2018. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that, no matter how well-intentioned and how consistent with the principles of public finance 2017’s tax reform attempt may be, the law’s provisions ultimately will be influenced heavily by a political process that is sensitive to the influence of well-organized special interest groups. Tax reform inevitably creates winners and losers.

France’s New Organ Registry and the New Paternalism

Social media never fails to create drama.

Several months ago, an acquaintance on Facebook posted a video discussing France’s new law regarding organ donation. Specifically, the French government revised its policies on organ donation such that everyone is considered an organ donor upon their death unless they officially opt out of the program. As of January 2, 2017, only 150,00 people had opted out of the registry. (For perspective, France has about 41 million adults between the ages of 15 and 64.)

Indeed, the shortage of transplantable organs is a very real one. According to Donate Life America, an organization that encourages people to register to become organ donors, some 120,000 in the United States are waiting for an organ. Another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes and 22 people die each day waiting for a transplant that will never come. The organization says that while 95 percent of Americans are in favor of organ donation, only 52 percent are registered donors.

Since I’m often incapable of making good choices regarding sharing controversial material on social media, I shared the video. The reaction was about what you’d expect. Some of my friends were horrified at the idea of not having control over what happens to their remains. Others stated that such laws were only forcing people to make good decisions and that such mandates were positive in that people “too lazy” to check a box would be automatic donors.

Our Land, Our Infrastructure, Our Country—a Lot of Loose Talk

Many Americans talk about “our country,” “our public lands,” and “our infrastructure.” Such terminology is inaccurate and misleading. Genuine de facto ownership entails control of the property and the benefits it generates. No one owns the country, though the thousands of governmental entities make and enforce claims to various parts and aspects of it. Local, state, and federal government bureaucracies own the so-called public lands and the infrastructure. In view of the incentives and constraints of these governmental entities, it is only to be expected that the properties will be misused and in many cases damaged or destroyed. After all, if the de facto owners destroy the value of the property, they bear no loss of personal wealth, and hence they have little incentive to avoid such ruination, especially if the mismanagement of resources somehow promotes their political or bureaucratic careers, which is often the case.

You may imagine that because you paid taxes, obeyed laws, or carried out other duties laid on you by the various governmental entities, you have a rightful claim to partial ownership of public property. But these governments beg to differ with you, and they stand ready to back up their own claims as de facto owners with force and violence if need be.

In short, mis amigos, you don’t own squat—not the country at large, and not its public lands or infrastructure, either. Indeed, in a substantive sense you don’t even own your so-called private property, because you hold such property only subject to payment of stipulated property taxes and compliance with untold regulatory requirements. On this range, amigos, you are little more than a milch cow for your masters—and that’s not a mooot point.

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Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute. His most recent book is Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Economy.

Partisan Politics Disenfranchises the Minority Party

The House and Senate have each passed their versions of a tax reform bill. Those bills now go to a conference committee consisting of members of the House and Senate to reconcile their (minor) differences so that both houses can vote on and pass the same bill. The conference committee is just a formality. The Republicans will have already ironed out the differences before the conference committee meets, and the committee will just rubber-stamp the Republican-designed tax reform. Democrats will have no say. Why?

The answer is partisan politics. Members of both parties will (mostly) vote with their parties because of pressure from the party leadership. That means Democrats will (almost surely) vote against the tax reform, so the Republican majority must get almost all their members to vote for it.

Tax Tinkering

It appears the Congress is getting closer to passing a tax reform bill. While there are differences between the current House and Senate versions, they are close enough that it is easy to see that they can be reconciled and tax reform legislation can be passed this year.

Reform on the individual income tax looks like some tinkering with its provisions, not a major reform. The major reform is in the corporate income tax, which would significantly lower rates and provide other benefits.

My Interview with Lenin, One Hundred Years after the Revolution

The mysteries of science have preserved Lenin alive, whose “death” in 1924 was a cunning scheme. I have managed to track him down to talk about the one hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Me: What does the “October Revolution” say to us today?

Lenin: The vanquished were right. History has sent the Provisional Government to the dustbin of history as well as Kerensky, its last boss. But I admit that the best of Russia was in the Provisional Government: liberals and socialists who had fought the Tsar and wanted reforms. There were even some lucid Mensheviks. If liberals like Prince Lvov, moderate social revolutionaries like Kerensky or Mensheviks like Tsereteli, who were in favor of a Constituent Assembly and moderate reforms, had triumphed, Russia would be different country.

Me: Your country was torn apart and became ungovernable. The Bolsheviks, who were not even a majority in the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party, destroyed the Provisional Government.

Lenin: Our victory was not the brainchild of my genius or of the mediocrity of our adversaries. It was the result of my fanaticism, both ideological and strategic, and the Great War. The chaos and the commotion enabled us, who knew what we wanted and were prepared to do anything, to become strong. Fanaticism means being willing to do everything, even contradict oneself, to reach the goal.

Want a Choice Not an Echo in Education? Then Keep the Feds Out

A provision of the recent House GOP tax plan would allow parents to use up to $10,000 of their 529 college savings plans for K-12 expenses including private school tuition. Parental choice in education is a bedrock Republican principle, and President Trump along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are leading advocates.

Yet even if the proposed federal K-12 education savings account (ESA) does pass, it may benefit a relative handful of parents, but it likely won’t expand non-public educational choice to parents whose children need it most. Even worse, such help would come at the cost of further expanding the federal government into K-12 education.

Under the proposed change to 529 college savings plans, included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, “higher education expense” is expanded to include up to $10,000 annually for elementary and secondary school tuition expenses, including public, private, and religious schools. Qualified expenses also include costs associated with apprenticeship programs, such as textbooks, supplies, and equipment. (See Section 1202 Consolidation of College Savings Rules, summary pp. 9-10; full bill text, pp. 91-94. See here also.)

This idea isn’t new. In fact, the feds got the idea from the states, which began implementing prepaid college and savings plans more than 30 years ago, starting with Michigan in 1986. A handful of other states had also enacted similar plans by the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Florida in 1987 and Ohio in 1989.

Consent of the Governed, Revisited

What gives some people the right to rule others? At least since John Locke’s time, the most common and seemingly compelling answer has been “the consent of the governed.” When the North American revolutionaries set out to justify their secession from the British Empire, they declared, among other things: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” This sounds good, especially if one doesn’t think about it very hard or very long, but the harder and longer one thinks about it, the more problematic it becomes.

One question after another comes to mind. Must every person consent? If not, how many must, and what options do those who do not consent have? What form must the consent take—verbal, written, explicit, implicit? If implicit, how is it to be registered? Given that the composition of society is constantly changing, owing to births, deaths, and international migration, how often must the rulers confirm that they retain the consent of the governed? And so on and on. Political legitimacy, it would appear, presents a multitude of difficulties when we move from the realm of theoretical abstraction to that of practical realization.

  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org