"FREE RIDER" PROBLEM
John Ziegler's piece on semi-voluntary taxation ["The Pay-What-You-Want Tax Plan," August 1973] was very provocative. But Ziegler exaggerates when he says "a family earning $10,000 pays $4,800 a year" in various taxes. The Herriot-Miller estimates for the Census Bureau show about a thirty per cent tax load at this income level. Bad enough.
Also, Ziegler simply avoids the key problem of the "free rider," and the resulting tendency to under-invest in services for which one can get the benefits without sharing the cost. Ziegler says some would support public schooling, and "others would choose to use their rebates to shop for free market alternatives." Still others would use the present system without supporting it, and would pocket the rebates. I watch "public television" all the time, and never send them a dime. Begging is an inefficient way to raise funds, because there is no connection between use and payment.
Incidentally, Joe Cobb's article in the July issue ["Let's Establish a New Gold Standard"] says exactly what I would have said if I were equally lucid. I'm beginning to think a monetary rule of "zero" would be the simplest and best arrangement. It would also make a terrific bumper sticker: "Freeze the Money Supply."
Associate Editor, National Review
New York, NY
Mark Terry's letter on libertarian government (REASON, July 1973) was good but he never applied the idea [of libertarians taking over a lightly-populated county] to such action at the state government level. REASON carried the idea one step forward in Trends, September 1973, under the title of "Alaska Self-Determination." As a seven-year resident of Alaska, who plans to return soon, I must say that most libertarians do not presently realize the truth spoken in the last sentence of the Trend article ["Alaska could…provide a golden opportunity for libertarians to put their principles into action."]. However, few people in the "South 48" have any idea of what Alaska is like.
The population of 300,000 lives in an area roughly equivalent to the Eastern U.S. from the Mississippi to the Atlantic and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Alaska is a top Libertarian Party state for number of members to total population and for percentage of Libertarian votes in the 1972 Presidential vote total. The electorate is small in number.
Alaskan resources are tremendous. In addition to petroleum, minerals, forests and fish, there are 20 million acres of cultivable land. Alaska's 600 million acre-feet of water crop is one third of the U.S. total, not counting inflow from Canada. (1/3 is east, 1/3 is west of Mississippi, approximately) Hot springs are already in use there and thermal power is abundant. The many rugged mountain chains with their continuous winds, make clean wind power a distinct possibility. (Princeton Windmill, POPULAR SCIENCE, November 1972)
For libertarians who want to control their own destiny, this may not only provide a "golden opportunity" but possibly the only opportunity of a lifetime.
MORE ON JUDGING MUSIC
Judging from the "Letters" section in your September 1973 issue, you should run an article on the question: Can one make objective evaluations of musical compositions? I bet reader response would be terrific.
Surely, in her letter, Miss Familaro does not mean to assert that it will never be possible to judge music objectively. Most likely she means that at present we lack the theoretical insights to do so. But perhaps John Hospers has been secretly studying music theory, and unknown to us has advanced the science to a point where all this is possible.
One also wonders about the judgments one makes in strictly perceptual (nonverbal) terms. For instance, amongst my piano pieces I have a thing called "Mazeppa Galop" (Grand Etude) by A. Quidant. Now I find it difficult to escape the uncanny sensation that somehow or other this piece is something less of an accomplishment that Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude". I find it hard to believe that this particular preference is merely a question of taste.
Paul D. Christoffers
HOSPERS' VIEWS AMPLIFIED
In response to the two letters in the September REASON disagreeing with my judgments of films and musical compositions [REASON, letters, July 1973], let me say that I am neither surprised nor offended when other people's aesthetic verdicts disagree with mine; it isn't threatening to me as it would be if someone with different moral opinions, e.g. a Nazi, were living next door and was prepared to eliminate me, come the revolution. In aesthetic judgments, I would be content if only those persons who refuse to listen to the works of some composers because of what they've been told (and the authors of the letters may not be in this group) would listen carefully to them for themselves and then form their own independent judgments, whatever these might turn out to be. Juxtaposing one reviewer's opinion with a contrary opinion (mine, in this case) is often a way of getting people to do this. In any event, there is no substitute for careful and repeated exposure to the music itself (not program notes, not histories of music or the biographies of composers), since this above all is the indispensable prerequisite for a considered aesthetic judgment.
The author of one letter states that although my judgments about music are "not objective," her own judgments about movies can be "objectively proven": for example, that THE EMIGRANTS is boring. Now, I certainly do not claim to have "proved" anything at all about musical judgments in my letter: I was simply presenting an alternative set of judgments, not trying to defend them; but how on earth could her judgment that THE EMIGRANTS is boring (which nobody I know of agreed with after seeing the movie) be "objectively proven"? One is tempted to reply in kind: "You found it boring—what does that prove?" She made the claim to provability; I did not.
One must be careful, incidentally, to distinguish between those works of art which one likes and those which one judges to be good: the two are not the same—one may like a song for nostalgic reasons which have nothing to do with one's considered judgment about its aesthetic value.
The other letter-writer observes that "Hospers has apparently forgotten that no aesthetic evaluations are worth listening to unless the standard and means of measurement…are supplied." Indeed so. It may or may not be interesting simply to hear someone else's judgment on a work of art; but it is true, of course, that making a judgment is a far cry from validating that judgment. And I know of not a single writer on aesthetics who is unaware of this simple fact. But trying to validate aesthetic judgments is a long and complex affair. Yes indeed, there must be criteria of judgment. (For example, one of a number of criteria for evaluating a work of art is its unity; but the specific kind of unity, and the amount of variety that can be incorporated without sacrificing unity, has been the subject of many a treatise on aesthetics from Aristotle to the present.) The criteria themselves are objective—they refer to features actually present in the work of art; but the reasons why a person adopts one set of criteria rather than another may not be entirely so: some critics (the aesthetic impressionists) claim that all such judgments are dictated simply by irremediable temperamental and other factors which differ from individual to individual, whereas others argue that aesthetic judgments are rooted in biological and psychological characteristics common to all human beings, and are accordingly valid for all human beings (though not for Martians or creatures constituted differently from human beings). This too is a long and difficult business to discuss (as I do at length in courses and seminars in aesthetics): I recommend reading, on this subject, Monroe Beardsley's AESTHETICS (Harcourt Brace 1958), especially Chapters 10 and 11.
The writer of the letter is certainly welcome to be "repelled" by my choice of films and compositions. What I am more inclined to be repelled by myself is the favorite indoor sport of jumping at conclusions: e.g., that just because one doesn't expound an aesthetic theory in a letter less than a page long, one therefore has forgotten the obvious, or is ignorant of aesthetic theory altogether.
Director, School of Philosophy
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
"SOCIAL CREDIT" DEFENDED
Although William Westmiller's article on Canadian politics [Foreign Correspondent, September 1973] should be generally enlightening to U.S. readers, his view of Social Credit unfortunately falls victim to the usual willingness to rely on popular misconceptions of Social Credit rather than on its actual economic ideas. As a result, Mr. Westmiller's summary is completely distorted.
He writes that "the theory of Social Credit…states that paper currency has inherent value". Such a concept is obviously absurd and if that were what Social Credit was about, it would never have attracted more than half a dozen people. In fact, Social Credit maintains precisely the opposite of what Mr. Westmiller claims it does. For Social Credit, paper money has no inherent value at all; it is valuable only inasmuch as it represents real wealth created in the society.
It is not Social Credit but socialist governments which have printed money without regard for its basis, have inflated the currency, and have viewed the treasury as a repository for an infinite stock of taxed "public money". By contrast, Social Credit, in the words of one writer, "is a system which…not only discontinues the collection of taxes, but distributes surplus funds to the citizens in the form of a national dividend. It transforms the state from an organization whose motto is 'Always Take', to a government which is not a continuous misfortune borne by its citizens."
As automation and technology allow more production for less man-hours, you have people continuing to "work" at useless jobs, or becoming unemployed, or going on welfare. Why not let everyone work less for the same money? Instead of the puritan-socialist striving for an illusory "full employment" (which can be obtained easily enough by having the government hire people to dig holes and fill them in again) we should be utilizing technology to create as much unemployment as possible so that people can be free to do as they please.
This is the basis of Social Credit. In 1919, C.H. Douglas, the originator of Social Credit, calculated that no more than three hours work a day for adults between 18 and 40 was necessary to keep England going. (Half a century later, it should be even less). Douglas pointed out that there are two sources of wealth that are held in common and that both traditionalist and Marxist economists overlook: the accumulated sum of knowledge (which includes technical innovation) and the ability to do in concert what cannot be done individually.
These factors mean that each individual is able to create a continuously increasing amount of wealth for the same effort. Douglas proposed that this common wealth be distributed by a stated dividend drawn on what he called the community's social credit. This would close the gap between the total buying power of individuals and the total prices of goods ready for sale.
Gradually, modern technological society seems to be staggering toward what Douglas advocated, in spite of the hidebound ideas of most governments, unions and businesses. The necessary work force gets smaller and smaller with the exclusion of children, older people, younger people, etc., etc. The work week continues to grow shorter. This too, is a kind of "social credit". It is the natural result of technical innovation and capitalist productivity.
Mr. Westmiller echoes the socialists in calling Social Credit "funny money". Seems to me the money we have now is pretty ludicrous. Social Credit would restore real buying power and bring our economics into line with the advances of an industrial society. It is both the result and the vehicle of freedom.
Unfortunately, the Social Credit party in Canada has, over the years, been subjected to the encroachments of Christian fundamentalism, socialism, conservatism, anti-Semitism and plain backwoods boneheadedness, none of which have anything to do with the original philosophy. But perhaps, now that "post-scarcity" economics are a subject of discussion, the social credit that invention and relatively free exchange have produced will be recognized.
It is certainly time for true Social Credit philosophy to be looked into seriously again, instead of being unthinkingly dismissed as "funny money".
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".