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Educating for anarchism #4 — a reply to FSK

13 January 2009 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in philosophy | 18 Comments »

Fellow agorist blogger FSK late last year explored the question: “Is Participating in the State Economy Immoral?

The short answer, of course, is an emphatic “no”, unless you’re going to adopt the patently insane position that we’re all criminals for doing so, as Francois Tremblay does in saying “We are all war criminals” — a position which I will contest to my last breath.

In exploring the question, FSK links to my first “Educating for anarchism” post, and elaborates on a theme that I’ve heard before — and rejected.

This post was originally going to be a reply comment to FSK’s post, but since it grew so long and was so long ago, I thought it deserved a post of its own, here:

FSK writes:

I noticed this post by Mike Gogulski, where he refused a job for the State. The fallacy in his reasoning is that *ANY* on-the-books work supports the State via taxes. Suppose I have two choices. I can do $10k of work directly for the State, or $10k of work in a wage slave job. Suppose my income taxation rate is 50%. In the $10k wage slave job, I contribute $5k directly to the State. Similarly, if I accept the $10k job working directly for the State, I pay $5k directly back to the State in taxes. (In some countries, income on State jobs is tax-exempt. I’m ignoring that possibility here.) If I don’t accept the $10k State job, someone else will take it, still getting paid $10k but perhaps doing marginally worse work. However, by refusing the direct State job, I am forced to accept a marginally lower salary. Overall, the net damage to the State by my refusal to work directly for the State is negligible.

“I refuse to work directly for the State” is an attitude that only works when vastly more than 50% of the population has been convinced “The State is evil!” By that time, the State has already lost anyway. Once a vast majority of people have been convinced “The State is evil!”, then it’s already all over for the State. In the meantime, if you refuse to work directly for the State, then someone almost as qualified will gladly take your place.

Hello, FSK! I’m finally circling back on this post, which has been open in a browser tab since, er… last year :) I’m just gonna reply to the bits that mentioned me.

The fallacy in his [i.e.: my] reasoning is that *ANY* on-the-books work supports the State via taxes.

This is true. However, you overlook something here, though you do kindof address it later — though I have a quibble with that as well.

If I earn $10k making sex toys (something which, as far as I know, no state anywhere actually produces, nor desires), and surrender $5k of my earnings to the state, the state receives a net benefit of $5k, minus collection and enforcement costs, which may be held to be negligible.

If I earn $10k making ICBMs for the state and surrender the same $5k in income tax, the state receives a net benefit of $5k cash PLUS whatever benefit the state assigns to the missiles.

By choosing to make sex toys which do not benefit the state in any way (other than by the taxes imposed upon them) rather than missiles which benefit the state directly, I at least keep my hands off of a transaction which would create greater evil.

I put it to you that by refusing to do the state’s work I am creating a benefit for freedom. Certainly, in the inverse case, you would not praise me for finding a quasi-agorist method of doing work to help provide the state with ICBMs. The object of the work matters as well as the economics.

That was quibble #1. Quibble #2 is this:

[I]f you refuse to work directly for the State, then someone almost as qualified will gladly take your place.

Arguably true, given today’s circumstances. However, in my particular case, there are only a very small number of professional translators who both speak English as their native language and who have a high level of competency in translating the Slovak language. Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that I have a real niche market, and that there are only ten other people in the world, including me, who can deliver the same Slovak-to-English translation job at the same level of quality as I can. My refusal takes me out of the pool of available labor, and thus the state has only 90% of the potential labor force available to it. At any given time, this tends to make getting the state’s work in translating Slovak to English more difficult, as there are fewer resources which can be applied to the task. It might also have the side effect of driving up prices among those other nine translators who are willing to work for the state. At some point, when prices are driven up high enough, the customer stops buying.

However, there is yet another benefit. When I tell one of my agency clients that I do not do any work for directly governments, that I do not do any work on non-governmental company/charity projects that are funded by governments, that I do not do any work for organizations that derive more than X% of their revenues from taxes, that I do not do any work for organizations which engage in certain objectionable statist activities, I am making a contribution toward anarchist education. I have alerted one or more people at that translation agency that there is a moral objection which might be raised against taking certain kinds of work.

In many cases, that message may well fall on deaf ears today. Maybe only 1 in 100 translation agency employees might have their own beliefs modified by coming into contact with mine in this way. But it will be remembered, and perhaps in the future those same people might think over the issue again, or tell a story to a colleague or a friend: “Hey, there’s this Mike guy who says ‘All taxes are theft!’ and ‘I read FSK!’ and won’t take certain kinds of jobs from us, isn’t that funny?” And it can spread from there.

And now, quibble #3:

There is a moral argument for refusing to take jobs and income from the state. All of the state’s money and property is stolen. When we freely accept known stolen property in trade, if we do not become accessories to theft ourselves we at least become facilitators of that theft, in that if we refused to accept unearned wealth in trade and convinced those around us to do the same, then the criminals stealing it would no longer have an incentive to do so, as they could never spend it. I, personally, do not want to be paid out of money stolen from other people through taxation. Recognizing that eliminating this entirely under the statist system may be impossible, I still hold it as my own duty to minimize the occurrence thereof and to encourage others to do the same.

A drop, perhaps, in an ocean of statist shit. But it’s my drop, damnit, and I’d like you to see all sides and all possibilities.

Dixie Flatline of the No Treason blog adds additional commentary, to which FSK replies in An Example of Pointless State Resistance. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

  1. 18 Responses to “Educating for anarchism #4 — a reply to FSK”

  2. By FSK on 13 January 2009

    I never said “Mike Gogulski is a pro-State troll for refusing to work directly for the State.” I really meant “Your resistance may make you feel good, but it doesn’t accomplish much.”

    The nature of the work also matters. If you’re translating court documents, you’re more directly contributing to State violence. If you’re translating for road signs, you’re not contributing as much to State violence.

    Similarly, I could work as a programmer writing a system that collects traffic tickets. That’s directly contributing to State violence. I could write software that helps the State transit monopoly calculate schedules more efficiently. That’s actually producing something tangible. I could write financial software that indirectly exploits State violence. I could put AdSense on my blog, where some/most of the profits go to the State, but I help raise awareness.

    Ideally, I want to work 100% in off-the-books labor, get paid in cash, and make the same rate I currently do as a slave software engineer. That isn’t viable yet.

    There also is the benefit that you raise awareness for “The State is evil!” when you refuse State jobs. I didn’t give you credit for that.

    If you really want to drain resources from the State, you have to work off-the-books and use sound money (or immediately redeem your paper for tangible goods). Obviously, if you work off-the-books, you can’t work directly for the State. (Unless you’re a military contractor in Iraq, where a lot of cash allegedly disappeared.)

    BTW, I have Blogger trackbacks enabled, but it appears to be defective. I’m looking forward to moving to WordPress. “Move to my own domain” is on my agenda now, but there’s no need to rush.

  3. By Mike Gogulski on 13 January 2009

    I never said “Mike Gogulski is a pro-State troll […]

    Well, duh! I never thought that for a moment! What I did think was that your opinion was that what I was doing was either useless or futile or both.

    Anyway, while you’re doing that, I’m gonna figure ways to minimize risk while riding the state transport system for free. Wanna help me make a website, with cams and SMS alerts and ticket-collector profiles?

    Thanks for coming back… guess I caught you awake :)

  4. By FSK on 13 January 2009

    I’m not interested in that. I believe that it’s immoral to use public transportation without paying for it, even though there is a State monopoly. IMHO, agorism would lead to more profit for time spent than figuring out a way to steal free train rides.

    In the USA, people have hacked into the turnstyle programs, reverse-engineering the system and exposing security flaws.

    My criticism of figuring out a way to steal free train rides is:

    – It’s immoral.
    – Other forms of resistance are better return on time invested.

  5. By Mike Gogulski on 13 January 2009

    I believe that it’s immoral to use public transportation without paying for it, even though there is a State monopoly.

    Stick around. I’d like to disabuse you of that notion. It won’t hurt; I promise.

    Imagine the NYC taxpayer. With no other chance to avoid the 11.5% or whatever it is income tax, he rides the subway for free. Crime? I think not. And I’ll defend him against the ticket-taker any day.

  6. By FSK on 13 January 2009

    By that same argument, it’s acceptable to go into Wal-Mart and steal something. Wal-Mart is State owned as much as the NYC Subway.

    Do you believe it’s acceptable to steal from Wal-Mart?

  7. By Mike Gogulski on 13 January 2009

    No. While Wal-Mart may have gotten many favors from the state, it cannot be equated to a purely state enterprise such as the NYC transport system.

  8. By Francois Tremblay on 13 January 2009

    “Do you believe it’s acceptable to steal from Wal-Mart?”

    Yes? How can it not be? Who does the stuff belong to? Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart is not an actual person. It’s a made-up legal fiction.

    If it’s stealing, can you define WHO is being stolen from?

    And Mike, I don’t know why you want to fight my position to your last breath. I don’t know why are you so emotional about it. I think it’s an issue.

  9. By FSK on 13 January 2009

    Mike Gogulski’s attitude is logically inconsistent, but Francois Treblay’s is logically consistent, regarding the morality of stealing public transportation and stealing from Wal-Mart.

    If you believe “It’s morally acceptable to steal from Wal-Mart”, then do you also believe “It’s morally acceptable to steal from a small business owner sole-proprietorship?” Any on-the-books business is as much a branch of the State as Wal-Mart. The small business owner doesn’t really own his business, because he pays taxes and tribute to the State in exchange for permission to operate his business.

    The only logically consistent positions are “Stealing directly from the State, Wal-Mart, or a small on-the-books business is acceptable or unacceptable.” If you can justify stealing from the State, you can justify stealing from the other two. Any on-the-books business is a branch of the State.

    Tactically, I prefer to focus on creating wealth instead of stealing. A true anarchist should be focused on positive things (create wealth that the State can’t steal/leech/restrict) instead of negative things (steal from the State; destroy State property).

    Regarding the dispute over the morality of taxes, any sensible person who’s heard “Taxation is theft!” agrees. Mike Gogulski and Francois Tremblay and FSK agree on “Taxation is theft!” The question is what resistance tactics are appropriate. Francois Tremblay was saying “The odds of being assaulted by the IRS are much less than people think. Therefore, if you don’t resist income taxes, you’re a wimp.” The mainstream media and pro-State brainwashing create the illusion that the State is omniscient/omnipotent.

    Tactically, agorism is the best strategy I’ve read about for tax evasion. I don’t bother resisting taxes on income that is automatically reported to the State/IRS. I agree that “Taxation is theft!”, but I don’t put my freedom where my mouth is yet. I’m looking to build a free market economy in my spare time, while still working at my wage slave job. The collapse of the State is a historic inevitability. I also need to support myself while working towards freedom at the same time.

    It seems that the dispute is over “tactics of tax resistance” rather than “Taxation is not theft!” I voluntarily pay income tax on my wage slave job, because there’s no practical free market alternative yet. It’s very hard to make morally correct decisions in the context of a completely corrupt system.

  10. By Mike Gogulski on 13 January 2009

    @FSK:

    Any on-the-books business is a branch of the State.

    Hogwash. Poppycock. Balderdash.

    By such logic, the business owner who pays even one cent in tax to his masters in the government house should face unlimited expropriation where the expropriators would face no penalty enforced against them by right-thinking people.

    You wanna live in that world? Fine. Count me out, please. Now, where’s my gun…

  11. By FSK on 13 January 2009

    That isn’t what I wrote. I said that stealing from the State, Wal-Mart, or an on-the-books small business owner are all morally equivalent. I say that stealing from all three is wrong.

    The correct agorist solution to the State is to develop free market alternatives to the State, rather than directly stealing from the State or damaging State property.

    The on-the-books small business owner can’t claim the moral high ground over the Wal-Mart CEO or a direct State employee, because he’s supporting the State as much as the others.

    I read somewhere that in certain historic periods, *ANYBODY* who paid taxes was treated as an outlaw, and tax collectors were routinely met with violent resistance by all. A known tax collector could not go into any store and purchase food or lodging.

    I’d certainly like to live in a society where anyone who violates the non-Aggression principle against free market workers is unable to purchase anything in the free market (unless restitution is paid).

  12. By Steven Smith on 14 January 2009

    If a significant or substantial portion of your revenue as an employee, business or entity comes from government in the form of employment, pensions, contracts or grants, you may be regarded as an extension of the state and this status is to varying degrees immoral.

    We may differ and my views continue to evolve but I hold that it is or may be possible, if you’re going to have any sort of government at all (and that is quite an assumption here) to have reasonably just and decent government at a local level if the people are vigilant and engaged. I will not begrudge every person who chooses to serve his or her community through local government. Local corruption is commonplace and of course local police can be abusive and injustice can be perpetrated but it usually does not result in the mass death, ridiculous misallocation of resources and large scale waste of human life that a massive central state does. I would argue that a massive central state decreases the quality of local government too by discouraging the civic participation of decent people and by encouraging dependence and reliance on the central state.

    Paying tax to the state is a personal decision each person must make regarding how much they are willing to go along to get along and that calculation may change throughout the course of ones life. Thus far, I have paid my taxes and I will not judge another man for paying tax and certainly his payment of tax does not justify aggression against him.

  13. By Mike Gogulski on 14 January 2009

    @FSK: Granted, I reframed your statement in a way you didn’t imply. The view I hold, though, perhaps in contrast to yours, is that no property titled to states is legitimately held, and therefore subject to homesteading and appropriation by anyone. It’s a misnomer to call such an act “theft”, as unowned resources aren’t property.

    You seem to be falling into a false binary opposition here, though, saying “he’s supporting the State as much as the others”. That’s simply not true. There is a continuum here, not an either/or. That said, I’d be overjoyed to find the society with the attitude toward tax collectors you describe.

    @Steven: Thanks for piping up here, finally! Now what do I have to do to cure you of the last of your minarchist fantasies, hmmm? :)

  14. By brmerick on 14 January 2009

    Local corruption is commonplace and of course local police can be abusive and injustice can be perpetrated

    …which is why government is evil, no matter whether it is local, state, federal, or global. The Ring is what it is. Bilbo had it for decades. He continued to be a nice Hobbit. But in private moments, he betrayed an evil deep inside, to Frodo and Gandalf at least. Local government is still a monopolization on the use of force and violence. Evil is evil.

    Granted, a parent who is sarcastic towards his children is less evil than a parent who beats on his children. A government that only steals a little money locally is less evil than one that steals a lot at the national level. But in the end, abuse is abuse, theft is theft, force is force, violence is violence, and evil is evil.

    The government steals from me. I will hide what I can from them. The government may be inept, but there is no telling when they will come after you. The local, state and federal governments have all come after me rather suddenly and threateningly, for money in the past. I will continue to pay taxes and file income tax returns until I have learned how to hide all of my money from these bastard fucks, even the cute little local bastard fucks that Mr. Smith tries to rationalize.

  15. By Francois Tremblay on 16 January 2009

    I agree with FSK on every point, except when he says that stealing from a corporation is wrong, which is obviously incorrect since
    “stealing” can only occur when there is someone to steal from. The fact that you don’t WANT people to steal from corporations doesn’t make it wrong, that’s just pure arrogance.

  16. By Mark McCoy on 19 January 2009

    Mike,
    I commend you on your living in accordance with your principles. I have looked into my renunciation of citizenship using the process and form promulgated by that great fiction and took a different tact.

    I had reservations about making a personal statement regarding who I am and what relationship, if any, exists between myself and that fiction; and doing so by the rules set forth by that fiction. I reasoned that since I was assimilated into the State, as opposed to freely, and with fully-informed consent, pledging my allegiance and support to same, nothing occurring during that relationship could morally or lawfully bind me since the axiom goes, “Non videntur qui errant consentire” (Those who are mistaken are not deemed to consent).

    After reviewing the renunciation documents and process I became particularly bemused by the “Statement of Understanding Concerning the Consequences and Ramifications of Relinquishment or Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship”. Some points of contention were numbers 7 and 10. They are still retaining some lingering nexus for not releasing the individual from their jurisdiction. I believe that for me to be bound to the authority if a State, I had to voluntarily accede to its authority, just as dissolving that relationship involves a voluntary and intentional act.

    Instead, I crafted my own document, identifying who I am and the grounds for my no longer aver to that authority having any control over me. I named my document “Public Declaration of Sovereignty, Expatriation, and Dissolution of all Previous National and Political Allegiance”. It is intended to forestall any action taken by government against me under the presumption that I submit to the subjugated status of a U.S., or State, citizen. Copies were sent to the U.S. Department of State, the State where I presently live, as well as the neighboring State where I was born, and the city government where I live.

    I have receipts from all entities, as well as my filing the document with the county recorder of deeds since there were pending legal issues for my transgressing codes and ordinances for which I did not submit to the jurisdiction of the State. Governments, being paper-driven fictions, cannot proceed with the barrier of a “legal” document of which its contents they cannot overcome. All actions against me has appeared to cease. Even the city where I live had considered passing a resolution, upon reviewing my Declaration, identifying me as a “danger” to the City and barred from any public functions. Only one council-woman refused to sign because she understood what I was really saying, and since a unanimous vote was required I was not officially identified as a “danger” to the city.

    Since then, my drivers license has expired and I still travel the roadways in my property, I refused to procure a business license and publicly challenged such authority at a city council meeting where I asked to be arrested and tried (they did not arrest me), and an outstanding warrant for my arrest has not been acted upon despite me being within arms reach of the police dozens of times.

    I am left largely, alone. Some say that I have reached the stage of “being more trouble than what I’m worth” for government, which is fine with me. In my opinion, government is more trouble than what it is worth. I, like you, out of principle do not accept “employment” from the State, because to do such means that I am enjoying the privilege of receiving the stolen and extorted wealth of other people, regardless of whether or not I can use it for my own ends. The taking of such monies implies a strong presumption that I submit to the benefits, pains, and penalties tied to engaging the fiction for my own benefit.

    I would ask you to review my declaration and give me your honest opinion as to whether you believe it one of many possible ways people can confront the beast peaceably and morally by putting it on the defensive of overcoming an individuals public renunciation based upon moral and philosophical grounds.

    I applaud you for your efforts and successes. I am not at the point, yet, where I will abandon this stronghold of ignorance and servitude, but it is on my horizon.

    Kudos, sir, kudos.

    Mark McCoy

  17. By anonymouse on 19 January 2009

    There’s a very simple, straightforward reason why it’s not right to steal a subway ride. The subway may be a state-owned enterprise, but it’s funded in part by rider fares. If you don’t pay for your ride, the government ends up having to pay for it. The $2 that you pay for the subway is $2 that the government doesn’t have to forcibly expropriate from someone else. Now, if the transportation system was instead a net source of revenue for the government, then you’d have a point.

  18. By Francois Tremblay on 20 January 2009

    “There’s a very simple, straightforward reason why it’s not right to steal a subway ride. The subway may be a state-owned enterprise, but it’s funded in part by rider fares.”

    So what you’re saying is that we should always pay for it twice, once through taxes and once through the tickets?

    “If you don’t pay for your ride, the government ends up having to pay for it. The $2 that you pay for the subway is $2 that the government doesn’t have to forcibly expropriate from someone else.”

    Preaching free transport is not a support of government expropriation. We are not responsible for the crimes of the government. All we can do is try to make the situation more bearable for everyone.

  19. By Mark McCoy on 20 January 2009

    I don’t agree with theft of any kind. However, if someone takes from you, there is the right to repossess your property or to procure equitable compensation for your loss by just means. That is not theft.

    I take every effort possible to keep the state from dispossessing me of my property. It is not up to me to exact justice on the state for its wrongs caused to people who either voluntarily submit, or who are lacking the desire to recoup their property.

    Things being what they are in the world, you have to pick your battles. Even though the state has stolen from me in the past by way of income tax, social security tax, and other myriad means of acquiring my property, I chalk those instances up to my fault and write them off as a lesson in ignorance and fear. Now that I know the difference, I take proactive measures to keep my property out of the hands of the state.

    I believe in paying my way for any cost incurred upon an individual or entity for my benefit. That is a voluntary act. I do not subscribe to any claim being made for what others perceive me to owe for what they perceive to be a benefit to me.

    There is a difference between stealing, and recovering that which you have been involuntarily deprived of. If I take something which I have not justly come to possess or produce by way of my industry, then I have acted lawlessly. Anarchy is not about lawlessness, it is about needing no authoritative compulsion to act lawfully. Of course, that law is the higher law of nature which respects other’s rights and treats them as equals.

    When we start justifying the capricious or unlawful acquisition of the fruits of the labor of others, regardless of whether or not they believe or know they support the state, we have removed the line of morality and justice which separates us from them; and further justify their presumption that society is in need of an external conscience and coercive obedience.

    When all else fails, recover what is owed, but do so where no other bears the burden who had not contributed to your loss.


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