We <i>Can</i> Allow Individuals To Opt-Out

Don Herzog writes about "conscientious taxpayers" - those who object to how their tax dollars are used, whether it be for funding wars, abortions, drilling in Alaska, or crosses in urine - and concludes that acccepting liberal democracy as a messy but pragmatic solution to collective decision making is the best approach. He concludes,

Forget the practical worries about how to administer a scheme of conscientious objection for taxes. I think the apparent absurdity of conscientious objection in taxpaying is a reminder that we're all in this political business together. All of us have dirty hands.

And no, whittling down the government to a bare minimum wouldn't solve the problem. Plenty of us would have conscientious objections to that, too. Are you tempted to say, with Mr. Ridgely, "The fact is, a majority never has the moral right to impose its will unless all have first agreed to the majority process"? Not to pry into Mr. Ridgely's domestic arrangements, but just try running a family on that model. "Listen, Dad, I didn't choose you, I didn't choose Mom, I didn't choose my genetic inheritance, I didn't choose my place of birth, and I didn't choose what language I'd grow up speaking. To add insult to injury, now you think we should go for pizza just because everyone else wants to. Well, I want Thai food. And I don't recall agreeing to be bound by what the rest of you decide."

No, government and society aren't one big happy family. Not one big unhappy family, either. But in all these cases, marriage and immigration aside, we don't choose our attachments. Liberal democracy is an attractive arrangement for hashing out decisions on our collective fate. We may decide, together, that we ought to get government out of spheres in which there are reasonable conscientious objections and the payoffs aren't worth incurring those costs. But there's no room here for a general right of individual opt-outs, nor for a presumption that government shouldn't tax to support causes that trigger conscientious objections.

Or, if you like: hail fellow citizens; welcome aboard. Nope, sorry, it's not a luxury liner. Lots won't be to your liking. Lots isn't to mine, either. No whining, please: let's pitch in and get to work.

There is a better pragmatic answer: we don't all have to be in this together. There doesn't have to be a right answer to many of these issues to which conscientious taxpayers object. We can agree to be civilized human beings and allow multiple legal systems from which people can choose whom they are "in this together" with.

Devolve federal power as much as possible to states and localities. Reduce the costs and red tape involved with moving from one jurisdiction to another as much as possible. People who don't like their tax money funding sex education in public schools can move to those places that don't have such programs. Others who prefer not to have their tax dollars funding special privileges for corporations can move where such laws don't exist.

The flipside to this argument involves the struggle to capture large one-size-fits-all federal government. One set of conscientious taxpayers might win a temporary victory during an election and get the opportunity to enact their preferred legal code. But power is only temporary in a democracy, and the next election may bring in a new set of conscientious taxpayers with their own legal code. Why fight this perpetual battle? Why not use geography to obtain a respite from the constant struggle?

We can do better than a homogeneous liberal democracy. We can allow individuals to opt-out. It's not a perfect solution, but distributed governments are better than the status quo. Federalism is the pragmatic solution greatly enhances liberal democracy over the long term for everyone involved, regardless of political affiliation.

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Jonathan, We have a real

Jonathan,
We have a real polycentric society right: the world. There are over 150 legal jusrisdictions on the world map at the nation-state level.

And one of the concerns of those of us who argue against ancap philosophy is that different "protection" groups would war against one another if the US were to move to an ancap society. It would be rule by the strong, which is basically what the world map is now.

A polycentric society (the world) now exists. And its member states war against each other. Would that happen inside the US if the US became more polycentric?

Jonathan You ask some tough

Jonathan
You ask some tough questions. Lets look at a real world example which will illustrate the problems of our various positions.( Believe me I am open to be convinced on this.)
Right now there is much legislative action on the issue of restricting pseudoephedrine, because it can be used to manufacture methamphetamine. http://www.jointogether.org/sa/news/summaries/reader/0%2C1854%2C576681%2C00.html

Let’s assume for a moment that we can agree that homemade meth labs ought to be illegal. Let’s also suppose that the law will be effective. (A questionable assumption. The war on drugs is like playing Whack-a -Mole) Now if one state or polycentric unit restricts the drug, the drug maker need only move to the next state to ply his trade. Presumably if the problem got bad enough the drug makers would all end up in one state. Since the borders between states are unguarded, all the rest of the states would continue to have a methamphetamine problem. Then one of two things would happen. Either the last state or other polycentric unit would pass the law and then there would be effective control or the last state would be taken over by meth producers who would then produce methamphetamine for the whole country. Then the rest of the polycentric units or states would have to guard their borders or take retaliatory actions ,etc. Polycentrism wouldn’t mean live and let live, as squabbling between groups is inevitable. We need Uncle Sam to exert at least some supervision, even if he is a big crook. Or we could pass a federal law and solve the problem nation wide. This is not a clean example, if any thing is. Notice how Big Pharma is also involved.
And no we don’t need world government. Since we didn’t vote for Gadhafi and Castro they don’t have a say in our affairs. However if we are sending billions in oil revenues to a country, we do have a right to expect that they won’t blow up our planes or otherwise menace and assassinate our citizens or use the money to set up hate America schools. I’m afraid there is no way around geopolitics.

Eurosocialists are promoting a sickly, shrinking, society that they won’t fight for. We aren’t there yet. I won’t thank the Democrats for that. Of course Republicans are big spenders, as all congressmen are pork merchants. The only solution is starve ‘em for money.

Jonathan, _I completely

Jonathan,

_I completely agree, and I suspect most libertarians would also. I don’t consent to a lot of things the US govt does, but I see it as the least worst govt to live under given my life’s goals._

Yes, plenty of non-libertarians agree, too. I buy Simmons' argument as well; I'm an anarchist, but of a very specific sort, namely, one who thinks that no government is morally legitimate (i.e., no government actually operates with the consent of most of its people). I would argue though (and have done so here) that there might be moral reasons for supporting a government anyway.

My question about polycentric law isn't really intended as a criticism at all. I think that one of its most interesting features is that it actually might stand a chance of getting around the political obligation problem. Indeed, something like Patri's solution (real dynamic geography) might very well get around _all_ of Simmons' objections to political obligation.

Simmons claims, throughout his writings, that only one real class of citizens seem to have political obligations: naturalized citizens. After all, he argues, naturalized citizens are those who actually did choose their new country of residence. They take a class on citizenship (so they know what they're getting into), and then they take an explicit oath to abide by the Constitution. That looks like a pretty clear case of actual consent. Since consent is morally binding, Simmons argues, naturalized citizens appear to be morally obligated to obey the laws of their freely-chosen country.

Polycentrism would have the effect of making many, many people into naturalized citizens. (How many depends on the version; with Patri's version, it's pretty much everyone. With multiple competing legal systems in the same geographical area, it's also probably almost everyone. With the strong federalism plus easy immigration you outline in this thread, it's probably a lot fewer.) But once a person settles on a legal system and goes through whatever formal procedure that system requires, she whould seem to be morally obligated to obey the law.

Sure there might still be particular laws within that society that you don't agree with, but I don't think that you can justly say that you haven't consented to them. Obviously much will turn here on exactly _which_ legal system you sign on to. Those joining ancap societies, say, won't have this problem. Anyone signing on to, say, a marxist dictatorship, well, _caveat emptor_. Those signing on to something less extreme (say Constitutional democracy) would be aware going in that the democracy uses some sort of procedure to generate its laws (often 50%+1, restricted by Constitutional requirements), so by signing up, one agrees to be bound by whatever rules the system generates.

Finding out later that you don't like the results doesn't seem to be sufficient to get out. To borrow Scott's lottery analogy from another thread, when you buy your lottery ticket, you are signing up for a certain sort of game. You know the rules and (if you're smart) the odds going in. When the game yields results that you don't like, you don't then get to go back to 7-11 and ask for your money back because you decided you didn't like the results. Once you sign on to play, you're obligated to live with whatever results the system to which you agreed generates.

Polycentrism seems to have some good features; after all, I'll then get to choose my own type of society. No one has to feel forced to live with welfare capitalism or with deliberative democracy since it's possible to choose one's own society. My question, though, is whether it will be possible to exit more than once. Actually, that's not quite right. The question is whether it would be _morally permissible_ for me to exit more than once, given that my consent seems to be binding. (One could get around this as long as the contract builds in some kind of escape clause; I think, though, that most states/companies providing legal systems will have strong incentives to make escape clauses (for naturalized citizens anyway) pretty rare and very daunting).

Joe - Lockean natural law

Joe -

Lockean natural law suggests that an organization cannot enforce a "no leave" contract, nor can an individual consent to such. Locke considered slavery, even when voluntarily entered into by the slave, to be invalid and unenforceable according to natural law.

Dave, Let’s assume for a

Dave,

Let’s assume for a moment that we can agree that homemade meth labs ought to be illegal. Let’s also suppose that the law will be effective. (A questionable assumption. The war on drugs is like playing Whack-a -Mole) Now if one state or polycentric unit restricts the drug, the drug maker need only move to the next state to ply his trade. Presumably if the problem got bad enough the drug makers would all end up in one state. Since the borders between states are unguarded, all the rest of the states would continue to have a methamphetamine problem. Then one of two things would happen. Either the last state or other polycentric unit would pass the law and then there would be effective control or the last state would be taken over by meth producers who would then produce methamphetamine for the whole country. Then the rest of the polycentric units or states would have to guard their borders or take retaliatory actions ,etc. Polycentrism wouldn’t mean live and let live, as squabbling between groups is inevitable. We need Uncle Sam to exert at least some supervision, even if he is a big crook. Or we could pass a federal law and solve the problem nation wide. This is not a clean example, if any thing is. Notice how Big Pharma is also involved.

Your hypothetical rests on assumption that states would not be able to enforce laws against homemade meth labs. I'm not sure that that is a valid argument. Different states today do have different laws that they are able to, at least to some degree, enforce - laws against fireworks, radar detectors, speed limits, etc. In those cases in which state govts fail to enforce their own laws in their states, I doubt the Feds would be able to enforce those same laws on a nationwide scale. The exception would be true public goods like national defense. It's usually a case where those unenforcable laws are too costly to enforce adequately (Drug War), and economies of scale would help little, and just as likely, diseconomies of scale would set in.

And no we don’t need world government. Since we didn’t vote for Gadhafi and Castro they don’t have a say in our affairs. However if we are sending billions in oil revenues to a country, we do have a right to expect that they won’t blow up our planes or otherwise menace and assassinate our citizens or use the money to set up hate America schools. I’m afraid there is no way around geopolitics.

This is a normative statement: there ought not be a world govt for reasons X, Y, and Z. I am asking a positive question - if states cannot be trusted not to fight each other on a national level thus requiring the a strong central govt, why can they be trusted at the nation-state level to not to fight each other without a strong world govt?

Brad, And one of the

Brad,

And one of the concerns of those of us who argue against ancap philosophy is that different “protection” groups would war against one another if the US were to move to an ancap society. It would be rule by the strong, which is basically what the world map is now.

A polycentric society (the world) now exists. And its member states war against each other. Would that happen inside the US if the US became more polycentric?

Well, in this thread, I'm only talking about federalism, not ancap, so there could still be a federal govt funding the military while the states take care of most things. But the other part of your argument defeats itself. The logical conclusion reached by your argument is that because nation-states war against each other, there should be a world govt to keep the peace. But I suspect you don't really want that. There is a dynamic to why states fight each other and why they don't, which is something I was getting at in this post...

Tendencies for War

...but never got around to posting a follow-up. I'll do so sooner or later. But suffice to say that different govts behave differently based of lots of different factors - the culture of the citizenry, their basic worldview, the costs for ousting the govt, how entrenched the govt is, etc.

Further, if a large predatory govt state became a threat, there is no reason why various smaller govts couldn't join up as a mutual defense association to fight it. Yes, there is a public goods aspect to it, but it is not insurmountable, as NATO showed during the last century.

Joe, The big problem with

Joe,

The big problem with political obligation is that, as states are currently structured, it is not possible to say that all citizens have actually consented to obey the law. Tacit consent doesn’t work because, for many, they are just stuck wherever they happen to have been born. That they haven’t moved isn’t any real indication that they consent to the laws of their locale. But once people are free to move to different jurisdictions (or even to sign on to a different legal system while staying in the same place), are they then obligated, by virtue of having consented, to obey the laws of their new jurisdiction? Consent, after all, is usually thought to be morally binding.

I completely agree, and I suspect most libertarians would also. I don't consent to a lot of things the US govt does, but I see it as the least worst govt to live under given my life's goals.

More troubling, would it be possible for some legal system to include, as part of its contract, that the arrangement is permanent? I don’t see any moral reason to think that people cannot enter into such agreements. Would that cause particular problems for your view?

I don't know if it would be morally permissable. I instinctively think, "No". But I'm not really talking about contracts and such, but rather just simple immigration between different legal jurisdictions. Immigrants are legally obligated to follow the laws of their new country, though I don't see too strong of an argument for them being morally obligated to follow those laws for the reasons you state. But again, I don't have a clear-cut answer to these moral questions, but only offer reasons why Exit should be empowered as much as possible.

I don't see such this type of "strong federalism" as being that much different from today's world. If you take how things are now and add easy and cheap worldwide immigration, does the moral picture of political obligation really change?

I think there are definitely problems from a positive perspective with jurisdictions not letting people Exit. You might (or might not) be surprised that, like you, I'm very concerned about people living under tyrannical regimes. We've talked about what we can do about it before:

Looking for an answer

Most libertarians are obviously skeptical of states having any role to play, though I myself don't entirely rule it out. Most of the respondents on that comment thread, including my co-bloggers, espoused helping people escape from those places in one way or another as a decent strategy.

Dave, Yes, Locke certainly

Dave,

Yes, Locke certainly thought that natural law prevented such arrangements. But it's hard to see any reasons for agreeing. Natural law strikes me as a fancy way of appealing to unjustified intuitions.

Besides, even if I can't sell myself into slavery, I can still commit my future self to things that, when that future arrives, I'd prefer not to do. I can't just get out of them by saying that I don't want to do it any more. I'm still obligated by virtue of the fact that I gave my word. So once I promise to obey the law in exchange for certain benefits, it's hard to see how, after I get the benefits, I can bail out when I no longer like things.

Again, this worry doesn't apply to states as they exist now, since it's not at all clear that most people have actually consented to any existing state. But I think that polycentric states might well have the problem I outline above.

Brian, When you come down to

Brian,

When you come down to it, my suggestion was really exactly what Cap’n Arbyte states: a way to try to define government down to it’s proper role, rather than a suggested proposal of Jonathan’s federalism. And, as he also points out, everything would end up being pushed into the “mandatory” column.

I think that to "try to define government down to it's proper role" is a less successful tactic than arguing for multiple competing governments. Libertarians almost always choose to do the former, but they run into a brick wall when there is large disagreement on ends. "Division of preferred ends" through division of govt offers incentives for people to acknowledge their perhaps-irreconcible differences and live peacefully.

Yeah, that’s my cynical approach as well – the power benefits to destroying federalism are too tempting.

I disagree. There are few benefits to destroying federalism in a democracy. Yes, the fact that people did destroy federalism argues against this. But I believe that most people would be better off, by their own lights, regardless of their ends, by embracing federalism.

Alex, I actually had

Alex,

I actually had something of a different worry in mind, though I'm not sure that I phrased it very well. My question had to do with a particular sort of problem in political theory, namely, whether it can ever be possible that a person is morally obligated to obey the law. Many philosophers who take up this problem say "no". In particular, liberals (broadly defined) who base their liberalism on autonomy find that there doesn't seem to be any good reason for thinking that most citizens have a moral obligation to obey the law.

The clearest articulation of this view is in John Simmons' _Moral Principles and Political Obligations_. (Full disclosure: I wrote my dissertation with Simmons, so I'm a bit biased here.) Simmons argues that all attempts to show that most citizens have a moral obligation to obey the laws of their state fail. The most promising such argument, Simmons thinks, comes from Lockean tacit consent. But tacit consent still fails in all states as they are currently constituted because, to count as legitimate, the following conditions must be met.

1. The situation must be such that it is perfectly clear that consent is appropriate and that the individual is aware of this.
2. There must be a definite period of reasonable duration when objections or expressions of dissent are invited or clearly appropriate, and the acceptable means of expressing this dissent must be understood by or made known to the potential consentor.
3. The point at which expressions of dissent are no longer acceptable must be obvious or made clear in some way to the potential consentor.
4. The means acceptable for indicating dissent must be reasonable and reasonably easily performed.
5. The consequences of dissent cannot be extremely detrimental to the potential consentor.

In the typical state, it's not clear that any of these holds. In a polycentric state, however, 1-4 would seem to hold. You give some reasons for thinking that (5) might still not work, and I suspect that Simmons would want to make an even stronger case for that, arguing that since it's so expensive to move, it will have to be the case that, if we are to have political obligation, it will be pretty cheap to move around.

But suppose that we get around all of these problems. Now it looks as if, once you choose a government, you have actually consented to it. Your consent is morally binding. So I'm not sure that I see how, morally, one can do the sort of thing that David Friedman suggests, wherein all the residents of France pick up and move when the gov't suggests war.

My worry: if consent is morally binding, then when I join a particular government and thus consent to follow its laws, that's what I'm morally obligated to do. If it then passes a new law that I don't like, simply getting up and moving doesn't seem to be a live option for me. I have, after all, already consented to be bound by the laws of my freely-chosen government. Moreover, because what I've signed is a contract, I don't just get to walk away whenever I want. Unless one side breaches the contract, it's in force whether I like it any longer or not. The contract government will have plenty of incentive to keep me on board, so it's not as if most of them will make it particularly easy to get out. Anyone who has tried to switch cell phone plans knows how hard that can be; imagine when it's your _government_ contract you're trying to get out of.

Joe, More troubling, would

Joe,

More troubling, would it be possible for some legal system to include, as part of its contract, that the arrangement is permanent? I don’t see any moral reason to think that people cannot enter into such agreements.

Yes, that's why one should always read contracts before signing them. :deal: That's another thing that should be mentioned - the wise consumer of government in a polycentric society won't live anywhere that doesn't spell out the nature of their relationship right from the start and give him the chance to explicitly consent to or reject the arrangement. Contrast that with the current situation, where I always get nervous whenever I see law enforcement on the road because I worry that they're about to pull me over for something I didn't even know was illegal... :sweat:

As for whether laws would retain their force in a polycentric society, answer me this: would you agree or disagree with the proposition that moving - finding a new house, a new job, moving all your stuff, switching over your utilities - is a royal pain in the ass? There's more to opting out of a particular political entity than just declaring your rejection ot if. Just as a wise citizen won't move to somewhere where he can't know what he's getting into, he won't exit unless the pain of dealing with his current government outweighs the pain of relocation. Would you move house over a parking ticket?

Jonathan, Out of curiosity,

Jonathan,

Out of curiosity, does polycentric government solve the problem of political obligation? Once I'm free to choose my government and can opt out at will, is it the case that "because it's the law" becomes a *moral* reason for acting?

The big problem with political obligation is that, as states are currently structured, it is not possible to say that all citizens have actually consented to obey the law. Tacit consent doesn't work because, for many, they are just stuck wherever they happen to have been born. That they haven't moved isn't any real indication that they consent to the laws of their locale. But once people are free to move to different jurisdictions (or even to sign on to a different legal system while staying in the same place), are they then obligated, by virtue of having consented, to obey the laws of their new jurisdiction? Consent, after all, is usually thought to be morally binding.

More troubling, would it be possible for some legal system to include, as part of its contract, that the arrangement is permanent? I don't see any moral reason to think that people cannot enter into such agreements. Would that cause particular problems for your view?

When you come down to it, my

When you come down to it, my suggestion was really exactly what Cap'n Arbyte states: a way to try to define government down to it's proper role, rather than a suggested proposal of Jonathan's federalism. And, as he also points out, everything would end up being pushed into the "mandatory" column.

The only problem I have with Federalism is that it doesn’t seem to last.

Yeah, that's my cynical approach as well -- the power benefits to destroying federalism are too tempting. Which is exactly why the "Centralizers" of the 19th century did it.

The Feds are also taking bribes, committing fraud, and becoming de facto drug dealers. But at least with more power to local governments, people can move from one local govt to another.

I think that's the most important point of Federalism, and why I wish it would come back. My views may be skewed by the fact that I'm relatively mobile.

The average taxpayer is not capable of intelligently deciding how his money should best be spent.

Perhaps not, but I would assert that politicians are not either, and they also have a motive to spend it in THEIR interest.

Half Sigma, The average

Half Sigma,

The average taxpayer is not capable of intelligently deciding how his money should best be spent.

Is the aggregate of taxpayers - that is to say, the market? Because that's what that tax proposal above would approximate: marketplace competition between government programs for taxpayer dollars. If people realize that they do need, say, government-supplied education, they'll allocate money for it. Or are you suggesting that a small number of people in entrenched positions of power that insulate them from reality know more about what the people really need than the people themselves? Whose mind, to borrow a phrase, contains the public's mind?

Over in another thread,

Over in another thread, Brian W. Doss refers to
Jacob Levy’s “Liberalism’s Divide: After Socialism and Before”
http://www.liberalvalues.org.nz/index.php?action=view_article&article_id=227

Which I found very stimulating. Obviously relevant to the federalism question as well.

Dave, A polycentric society

Dave,

A polycentric society would be wonderful in theory. We have never had a real polycentric society but we did have many less encumbrances in the past.

We have a real polycentric society right: the world. There are over 150 legal jusrisdictions on the world map at the nation-state level.

In the early 20th century we did have more states rights, which was a form of polycentrism. States rights were used to maintain Jim Crow and racial segregation. Also property rights were claimed as reasons to deny access to public accommodations such as restaurants and theaters. Crooked local officials kept Blacks from voting. Federal power was used over a period of years to break up this system despite local objection.

The same power the federal govt used to make some state govts behave has also been used negatively in greater account, and I believe that overall, the larger and more powerful the govt, the more prone it is to corruption. It becomes a more attractive investment vehicle for nefarious individuals; the loot is bigger.

I don’t know anyone who would want to return to the past on this one.

I don't want to return to the past culture. Culture has made considerable progress since the 19th century.

I do think your ideas have merit, but I don’t see how you could design a system that would prevent local corruption. Even today the Feds are constantly rescuing local communities from bribe taking politicians, drug dealers, Mafia, bank fraud, etc.

The Feds are also taking bribes, committing fraud, and becoming de facto drug dealers. But at least with more power to local governments, people can move from one local govt to another.

All your arguments about a higher power to counteract the little govts also extend to the nation-state level. Lots of nations misbehave and do vile things to their citizens. Would you argue that a world govt is necessary to keep them in line?

So, I still think we need a multilevel system but less than now. A big problem is that locals want Washington money, which they think comes from somebody else. I really see no cogent steps to reverse the trend. Just be thankful that we don’t have Eurosocialism yet, thanks to the Republicans.

If anybody brings Eurosocialism to the US, it'll be the Republicans. They still have lots of people fooled into thinking that they believe in smaller govt while at the same time they enlarge govt in leaps and bounds.

Alas, the lust for control

Alas, the lust for control is overwhelming.

"I think Federalism was/is

"I think Federalism was/is the optimum solution in a pluralistic society, such as our “melting pot”."

The only problem I have with Federalism is that it doesn't seem to last.

I think Federalism was/is

I think Federalism was/is the optimum solution in a pluralistic society, such as our “melting pot”. The problem with its implementation is the two main special-interest groups: collectivists and religionists. Politicians are perhaps the most codependent species on the planet. They seem to be sustained by opinion polls and will continue to rape those of us that don’t “protest” in public regularly.

The average taxpayer is not

The average taxpayer is not capable of intelligently deciding how his money should best be spent.

Furthermore, the results will be easily manipulated by the choices you give. Anti military? Give the taxpayer a single choice to donate to the military. Pro military? Then give separate checkboxes for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and specific weapons programs.

An unworkable idea.

I'll assume you're responding to one of the comments, as this is not what I suggested in my post.

The average taxpayer is not

The average taxpayer is not capable of intelligently deciding how his money should best be spent.

Furthermore, the results will be easily manipulated by the choices you give. Anti military? Give the taxpayer a single choice to donate to the military. Pro military? Then give separate checkboxes for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and specific weapons programs.

An unworkable idea.

Jonathan, My "mandatory"

Jonathan,

My "mandatory" comment was in response to Brian's proposal:

- 2,000 is earmarked for courts, military, police.
- Please distribute the remainder below

There's a mandatory component and a chosen component. Distributing government functions between the two will be a political fight, and I'm not sure anything would escape the mandatory group.

In theory, I love it. I

In theory, I love it. I would like to opt out of everything other than National Defense (not offense, I would take that on case by case), schools, roads, cops, fire protection, ems, courts and a few other necessities.

I think you (and perhaps the Capn) are misunderstanding my point. I don't mean "opt-out" of any government program you'd like. Of course that's politically not pragmatic. Rather, I mean devolve a greater amount of federal power to local governments so that people could more easily opt-out of and opt-in to those legal codes they found displeasing and appealing, respectively, by physically moving.

Based on the stink raised

Based on the stink raised over the Social Security issue, which would basically give a lot of people a chance to "opt out" of a fat federal program, I don't think this is a pragmatic solution in today's political climate. There's too much money to be made. But lets assume that you are only addressing the system and not the implementation of it.

In theory, I love it. I would like to opt out of everything other than National Defense (not offense, I would take that on case by case), schools, roads, cops, fire protection, ems, courts and a few other necessities.

Are people tolerant enough

Are people tolerant enough of what goes on in the state next door (abortion or prayer in school) to make this work? I think it would require a revolutionary increase in the tolerance and respect of the Red and Blue tribes for each other.
I see no signs of that increasedd tolerance and respect.

Dave, you can't design a

Dave, you can't design a government system that prevents corruption period. It's hardly the case that the Federal Gov't is any less corrupt than many local governments. If I had to choose between one national corrupt gov't, a corrupt federal gov't coupled with corrupt local gov't, or a bunch of tiny, localized corrupt governments, I'd certainly choose the last.

You’ll have an immediate

You’ll have an immediate fight on your hands over what programs are mandatory vs. what programs you can choose your distribution toward. And since the problem of what should be mandatorily funded is basically the same problem as what government should be legitimately doing, I don’t think we’ve made a lot of progress. Why won’t everything wind up in the mandatory category?

I'm not sure I understand. What do you mean by "mandatory"? Are you talking at the state level or the national level?

A polycentric society would

A polycentric society would be wonderful in theory. We have never had a real polycentric society but we did have many less encumbrances in the past. In the early 20th century we did have more states rights, which was a form of polycentrism. States rights were used to maintain Jim Crow and racial segregation. Also property rights were claimed as reasons to deny access to public accommodations such as restaurants and theaters. Crooked local officials kept Blacks from voting. Federal power was used over a period of years to break up this system despite local objection.
I don’t know anyone who would want to return to the past on this one. I do think your ideas have merit, but I don’t see how you could design a system that would prevent local corruption. Even today the Feds are constantly rescuing local communities from bribe taking politicians, drug dealers, Mafia, bank fraud, etc. So, I still think we need a multilevel system but less than now. A big problem is that locals want Washington money, which they think comes from somebody else. I really see no cogent steps to reverse the trend. Just be thankful that we don’t have Eurosocialism yet, thanks to the Republicans.

You'll have an immediate

You'll have an immediate fight on your hands over what programs are mandatory vs. what programs you can choose your distribution toward. And since the problem of what should be mandatorily funded is basically the same problem as what government should be legitimately doing, I don't think we've made a lot of progress. Why won't everything wind up in the mandatory category?

I always love moronic

I always love moronic family=society analogies. If you believe that people are children, and therefore not full citizens with a complete set of human rights (which children are not granted by society) then your analogy is fine. Which is why certain authoritarian regimes of history call the state the Father/Motherland, or their leaders the Great Father or "The Papa". Certainly, if our leaders are our parents, they we must obey them.

The problem is, you're proposing true Federalism, which has been dead for 145 years. There isn't a single person in any national branch of the government who will allow this. It was a great idea, and certainly motivated the early states to have laws that pleased their citizens -- but it would basically result in a complete disenfranchisement of the national government in the day-to-day life of the citizens. And we certainly can't have that!

One idea struck me: why not have your tax form (2 more days!) read like this?

- You must pay 10,000 in taxes:
- 2,000 is earmarked for courts, military, police.
- Please distribute the remainder below
--- National Endowment for the Arts (if 0, you can't attend their shows)
--- Social Security (if 0, you can't receive benefits)
--- Farm subsidies
--- EPA

and so on...

We'd really find out how important people thought things were. Your crazy green wackos could pay all their money into the EPA, the social conservatives could stiff the NEA, and crazy young slaves like me could ditch social security.