Declare Peace on North Korea!

The United States should offer a peace treaty with North Korea and offer diplomatic relations. The Korean War did not officially end. Let’s end it now.

The chiefs of North Korea have feared an invasion by the USA. They recognize that several heads of countries without nuclear weapons, such as in Lybia and Iraq, were overthrown. It is recognized that nuclear weapons that can be sent to the USA provide a deterrent against an overthrow of the state and even against an assassination of the Korean head of state.

The government of North Korea has evidently convinced the people there that the USA is their enemy and a threat. That propaganda would be less effective if there were a peace treaty.

So the US government should, together with South Korea, China, Russia, and the United Nations, offer to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea.

The USA has negotiated with North Korea on a stoppage of its nuclear weapons project, but North Korea will not give up its weapons, and negotiations along with economic pressure will not be effective, since their greatest accomplishment has been their nuclear achievements, and the Chinese leaders seek to avoid an economic collapse.

Therefore a peace treaty with North Korea should not seek to end the nuclear status of the regime, but eliminate the deeper problem of mutual fears. The peace treaty would state that the U.S. recognizes North Korea as a sovereign country, and that there will be no invasion.

If the government of North Korea refuses to negotiate a peace treaty, then it will be seen that the hostility is being generated by North Korea, not the USA. The USA should then declare peace unilaterally. With the governments of South Korea and China, the USA would write a peace treaty and they would declare unilateral peace. The US would offer diplomatic relations, and if refused, would appoint an ambassador anyway, who would reside in China.

The US government would then broadcast to the people of North Korea, and send them messages via leaflets and computer files, that the USA has declared peace.

The opponents of a peace treaty could argue that this would leave North Korea with weapons that could reach US territory. But if the North Koreans will refuse to give up their nuclear capability, the peace treaty does not increase the danger. Indeed, the treaty, when agreed to by North Korea, would increase safety by prohibiting North Korea from providing nuclear materials and technology to others.

If North Korea accepts the peace treaty, the US would withdraw its troops from South Korea. Their presence is antiquated, since the threat would be from missiles rather than from an invasion by North Korean troops.

North Korea would gain four advantages from a peace treaty. First, assurance that the US is no longer a potential threat. Second, global diplomatic recognition. Third, removal of US troops from Korea. Fourth, the ability to trade freely with the rest of the world.

If the North Korean regime is not suicidal and seeks to maximize its well being, it would accept a peace treaty. But even if it does not accept a treaty, a unilateral offering would deflate its fears and propaganda.


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The Great Blessings of Cash

Paper money offers the benefits of anonymity, immediate payment, no identity theft, and no transaction charges. Government also benefits by printing notes with much greater value than the cost of the paper. However, some economists argue that cash has social costs that outweigh these blessings, and advocate the reduction and eventual elimination of paper cash. Several countries are planning to discontinue their largest currency notes. The European Central Bank is phasing out its 500-euro note; it will stop issuing new ones in 2018. The Scandinavian countries are reducing their paper cash.

Kenneth Rogoff, professor at Harvard University, has written a book, The Curse of Cash, in which he argues that the elimination of large-denominations of paper money would be good for society. Cash is a curse, he says, because criminals use the large bills, and because it limits the ability of central banks to have negative interest rates.

The use of cash by the underground economy is a symptom of bad policy, and the elimination of cash treats the effects rather than the causes. The reason economic activity goes underground is that governments have prohibited economic transactions.

Although some U.S. states have decriminalized medical marijuana, the substance remains illegal in federal law, which prevents the sellers from using the normal banking system. Therefore they use paper money. The prohibition of drugs generally drives the industry towards the use of large denominations, especially “Benjamins,” the US $100 bill depicting Benjamin Franklin. The elimination of Benjamins would make it less convenient to sell illegal drugs. The higher cost would raise the price of illegal drugs, but since the quantity demanded by addicts is not very responsive to a change in price, the drug dealers would find ways to do their transactions.

The legalization of drugs would eliminate the cause of the high demand for paper cash. Just as with alcohol, producers would then use the normal banking system.

The underground economy uses cash also for activities that are legal if taxes are paid on the income and sales. Again, the elimination of cash would make tax evasion less convenient, but not eliminate the incentives to evade having substantial amounts of gains taxed away. Rogoff thinks that if the government prohibits the legal use of Benjamins, the remaining notes would lose value, as they would no longer be legally convertible into small denominations and not be legally payable for goods. But large notes could circulate as a medium of exchange within the underground economy as an alternative currency. Moreover, there are underground currency traders in all countries that impose artificial currency exchange rates.

The problem originates in evadable taxation. The remedy that eliminates the cause is to make taxation unevadable. The main resource that cannot hide is land. The taxation of land value, based on its best possible use regardless of current use, cannot be evaded. The elimination of all other taxes would bring production, trade, and consumption above ground and eliminate the current high demand for paper cash.

Another “curse of cash” argued by Rogoff is that paper money prevents central banks from lowering the transaction rate of “interest” much below zero. Suppose a bank has a negative 5 percent charge on deposits, so that the depositor has to pay $5 per year per $100 deposited. Many people would withdraw the money and hold it in paper cash. Companies would offer to securely store your cash in insured vaults. If all notes above $10 were made illegal, the storage and insurance costs would rise substantially, and the banking system would be better able to have the negative rates.

The alleged benefit of negative rates is that, because the banks also pay negative rates on their deposits with central banks, financial institutions would scramble to loan out the money to investors who would pay a positive rate, or become partners in ventures.

It is bad enough now that savers, especially retired folks, are getting close to a zero return on their retirement savings. Negative returns on, say, large certificates of deposit would further ruin those who depend on income from savings. Again, the artificial device of pushing the nominal rate of interest below zero is an attempt to treat the symptoms rather than cure the causes.

Some blame a glut of global savings for the low rates of interest. But technology is marching forward, to artificial intelligence, robots, medical advances, better batteries, and many other frontiers. There is no shortage of possible investment projects. But governments world-wide stifle investment with taxes and restrictions. The USA, for example, has choked investment since 2008 with tighter banking restrictions and higher costs such as medical mandates.

What is needed is the ultimate supply-side policy, cutting marginal tax rates on labor and investment yields to zero, with a prosperity tax shift, replacing all other taxes with a single tax on land value. The land-value tax would also push land to its most productive use, stimulating productive investment and employment.

As to money, attempts to skew markets almost always fail, so it would be best to eliminate central banks and their manipulations of nominal interest rates. Let markets set the money supply and restore the positive natural rate of interest based on the human-nature tendency to prefer to have goods sooner rather than later.

Controlled market manipulations are failing, and so statist advocates propose even more artificial controls such as eliminating paper money and pushing interest rates below zero. But the further we get from economic freedom, the worse the outcome. Interest rates and money evolved in markets; let them return to their natural base.

Note: this article is also in under the title The Blessings of Cash.

Group Privileges No, Detriments Yes

The concept of “privilege” has become common in political discourse, while the term “detriment” is seldom used. One incurs a detriment, and is detrimented, when one is harmed, offended, displeased, or disadvantaged, unrelated to merit. One obtains a privilege, and is privileged, when a person or group is advantaged, benefitted, pleased, or favored relative to other groups, when the gain is unrelated to merit.

Some socialists emphasize “white privilege.” Suppose a white man is able to walk down a street without being harassed, while a black man will be stopped and questioned by the police. The socialist will say that the white man is privileged in being free of harassment. But actually, the ability of an innocent person to walk without being stopped and frisked is a natural right, not a special favor. The black man has suffered a violation of his natural rights, a detriment not suffered by the white man.

The socialist will also claim that there is “male privilege.” Suppose a man can walk down the street in peace, while a woman walking down the same street will be whistled at, aggressively approached, and may even be physically attacked. Does the man have a privilege? No, one has a natural right to be free of aggression. The woman suffers a violation of her rights, a detriment.

Women suffer many detriments because of social custom and culture, rather than governmental law. Wives tend to do more household work, even when they are working for wages as many hours as the husband. In some fields of work, men have more prestige and authority, unrelated to merit. The culture is not so much giving males privileges as it imposes on women various detriments.

Some detriments are mandated by law. In most places in the US, men are free to remove their shirts, while a bare-breasted woman would get arrested. The men do not have a privilege; the women have a legal detriment.

Female detriments can become tragic in cultures where male children are preferred. A boy is not privileged by not being aborted or killed. Rather, the girls suffer a lethal detriment. In my judgment, more progress can be made to stop this anti-female bias by calling it a detriment rather than saying the boys are privileged. Boys as well as girls have a right to not be murdered.

Female detriments have been lethal in India, where rape and violence has made headlines. But there is substantial rape in the US and throughout the world, which clearly makes being female a detriment in much of the world.

The trouble with saying there is a male privilege is that men do not feel privileged by not being attacked or disfavored. It should be normal to be left in peace, and to be respected. By identifying the problem as a detriment, we can then raise more awareness and support for remedies. We can also then better deal with the real privileges, favors to those who get subsidies from government because of political clout.

The language of privilege versus detriments influences policy. “Privilege” implies special favors that should be removed. “Detriment” implies harms and disadvantages that should be stopped. For the problem of infanticide, for example, it is not that privileged boys should be killed in an equal ratio, but that girls should not be murdered for being female.

Let’s speak less of racial and gender privilege, and more of detriments!

Objective Moral Rules

“Moral realism” is the proposition that objective moral rules exist. A moral rule assigns a moral value (good, evil, or neutral) to an act done by a person. A moral rule, such as “theft is evil,” is intended as a fact.

Moral realism is non-nihilist and non-relativist. Nihilists and relativists believe that no act is inherently good or evil, that there is no morality beyond personal and cultural beliefs. Moral realism is based on an ontology, a way to show that an objective morality exists.

The existence of an objective and universal ethic cannot be based on intuition. Intuition consists of ideas believed without conscious thinking. What people think of as intuition is heavily influenced by the prevailing culture. One person’s intuition may tell him that gambling is bad, while other may think that gambling is harmless fun.

Many ontologies of morality have been proposed. The one I think is warranted in reason is the natural moral law proposed by John Locke, although he did not present a derivation. In my judgment, the ontology consistent with Locke is as follows.

1. There are criteria that are necessary for the existence of a universal ethic. The ethic has to be universal to all persons, comprehensive to all acts, non-arbitrary in its premises, and logically consistent. If one presents an ethic which fits these criteria, then the universal ethic exists.

2. The premises of natural moral law are the biological independence of individual thinking and feeling, the moral equality of persons, and the existence of a personal ethic in each person’s mind. The first two were proposed by John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government. The equality premise is based on the common observation that there is in human nature no inherent basis for one group of persons to be superior masters over a second, inferior, group.

3. The derivation of natural moral law, as expressed by the universal ethic, provides rules for the three moral values (good, evil, and neutral). Good acts are welcomed benefits. Evil acts coercively harm others, as invasions, in contrast to merely offensive acts that depend only on the beliefs and values of those affected. All other acts are morally neutral.

Those who reject moral realism ask about the fact-value problem, the proposition that one cannot derive a moral value from any observed fact. The answer is that the universal ethic does not create any values. The values are held by individuals, in accordance with the third premise, the existence of personal ethics. The universal ethic is a production function which inputs individual moral values (good, evil, and neutral) and transforms them into universal ethic moral values. For example, if a theft takes place, the individual moral value is that it is evil, and since the theft is an invasion, a coercive harm, this individual value becomes a universal ethic value.

If, in contrast, a person observes someone who is walking naked on his property, and judges that to be evil, the universal ethic inputs that value and makes it neutral for the universal ethic, since that is an offense rather than an invasion into another’s property.

Therefore, the natural moral law does not generate values from facts, but rather, produces natural moral law values by inputting personal values and then applying its rules to output universal-ethic values.

Some skeptics reject natural-law moral realism because its premise of personal equality cannot be proven true the way that, say, the law of gravity is shown to be true. The proposition that there is in human nature no inherent master/slave relationships can be observed and inferred, but the conclusion is not apodictic, i.e. absolutely certain. However, the alternative is either supremacism, the alleged superiority of some religion or creed, or else nihilism, the absence of any transcendent morality, and either one leads to war.

The purpose of the universal ethic is the moral basis of proper governance, and since to my knowledge, nobody has come up with a superior moral idea, the ontology is good enough for the practical purpose of providing social peace and harmony with nature.

Is there an Implied Consent to be Governed?

Implied consent means that what one may or may not do is understood without having to ask or say explicitly. In personal relationships, having established some interactions, it is implied that one may continue doing these. If a store is open for business, it is implied that customers may enter, and also that the customers will pay for what they take.

Implied consent has also been applied to the relationship between a resident and the government. The idea is that a person may not agree with some policies, but benefits from others, so it all evens out, and therefore there is an implied consent by all regarding government policies. Some say that if one does not move out, one implicitly agrees with the laws.

Being under the jurisdiction of a government is a major “state” of affairs. We might consider what Lysander Spooner, a 19th-century American philosopher, had to say in his book No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.

“Neither law nor reason requires or expects a man to agree to an instrument, until it is written; for until it is written, he cannot know its precise legal meaning. And when it is written, and he has had the opportunity to satisfy himself of its precise legal meaning, he is then expected to decide, and not before, whether he will agree to it or not. And if he do not then sign it, his reason is supposed to be, that he does not choose to enter into such a contract.”

In the laws of the United States and many other countries, important relationships are required to be in writing and signed. When one buys real estate, the new buyer must sign a contract. When one gets married, there is a signed agreement. Being under the jurisdiction of a government is just as important.

When one buys a unit of a condominium or homeowners association, one is presented with the community documents, the master deed and bylaws, and the buyer signs an agreement. But this is not done when one moves into a governmental jurisdiction. Why not? Spooner says:

“The most they can say, in answer to this question, is, that some half, two-thirds, or three-fourths of the … adults of the country have a tacit understanding that they will maintain a government under the Constitution; that they will select, by ballot, the persons to administer it; and that those persons who may receive a majority, or a plurality, of their ballots, shall act as their representatives, and administer the Constitution in their name, and by their authority.”

But, says Spooner:

“No body of men can be said to authorize a man to act as their agent, to the injury of a third person, unless they do it in so open and authentic a manner as to make themselves personally responsible for his acts. None of the voters in this country appoint their political agents in any open, authentic manner, or in any manner to make themselves responsible for their acts. Therefore these pretended agents cannot legitimately claim to be really agents. Somebody must be responsible for the acts of these pretended agents; and if they cannot show any open and authentic credentials from their principals, they cannot, in law or reason, be said to have any principals. The maxim applies here, that what does not appear, does not exist. If they can show no principals, they have none.”

Although Spooner thought that his arguments against a governmental implied consent supported anarchism or voluntary governance under explicit contracts, there is another possibility. Coercion is the opposite of consent, and no consent is needed to defend against invasions. Therefore if there is a government whose sole function is to protect people from coercive harm, and that government does not itself commit coercive harm both in its laws and its public finances, then no consent is needed.

The function of natural moral law is the proper governance of humanity, to prohibit coercive harm. Therefore, as I wrote in Soul of Liberty, “There is no moral authority for government other than to enforce the Universal Ethic.” If government only enforces natural moral law, as expressed by the Universal Ethic, then no consent is needed, regardless of how the governors are selected, even if the governor is a dictator, as there is only protection from coercive harm.

However, in human reality, there is no perfect governance, and people disagree on the details of law, and so, as a practical matter, if we take human equality to its logical conclusion, no person should be above any other. That implies a voluntary governance among peaceful persons, enacted with the explicit consent of signed contracts. As to those who choose to not be peaceful, since they do not honor consent, they implicitly agree to be punished. That is the real implied consent in governance – those who coercively harm others imply that they may be resisted, put on trial, and punished.


This article also appears in under “Implied Consent.”

Down All Your Markets

The US stock market had its worst ever initial trading weeks in 2016. Speculators are alarmed by the fall in the stocks of China. The economy of China has been growing more slowly, if at all. Also, most of the economies of the world are in growth recessions, a reduction in the rate of growth. The US dollar is high relative to other currencies, which reduces exports.

The government of China has yet to learn that interventions into financial markets often backfire. The Chinese chiefs have halted stock transactions when the market average falls to seven percent. They also have not allowed sales by investors who own more than five percent of a company. One problem with financial “circuit breakers” – a halt of trading – is that when stocks start to fall, speculators will panic and sell more quickly before trading halts. Restrictions on selling stocks create uncertainty when buying them. A speculator will fear being unable to sell shares later.

There is enough inherent uncertainty in markets without government adding to it. Uncertainty makes it important to let the market set the prices. Markets are a discovery process in which prices and quantities evolve through the bids of buyers and offers of sellers. When government interferes, we cannot know the price. Since the leaders of China have decided to have a market economy in goods, input factors, and financial assets, they should allow the market to do its job of setting the prices.

When I visited China three times, I saw a forest of cranes in all the cities I went to. Construction has driven the economy of China, along with exports. But, similar to real estate booms elsewhere, this construction was propelled by governmental policy. Throughout the world, cheap credit and fiscal subsidies to real estate have fueled unsustainable speculation.

Now China has much excess building capacity, and the halt in construction reduces related goods such as furniture and raw materials. The slow-down in China and sluggish growth elsewhere has resulted in a collapse of commodity prices.

The chiefs of China seek to move the country’s economy towards more domestic consumption. But they interfere with domestic spending by imposing a value-added tax of 17 percent on most goods other than real estate. The government of China probably chose to impose a VAT because the World Trade Organization allows the VAT to be subtracted from the price of exports, unlike an income tax. But Chinese consumers suffer a higher cost of living.

The Chinese leaders could have instead enacted LVT, land-value taxation, which would not add to the cost of goods. A tax on land value reduces the purchase price but not the land rent, so also not the price of goods. A tax on most of the rent or land value would stop the land speculation that has made a few people rich at the expense of the public.

The government of China still maintains tight control over the banking system. All the markets – real estate, financial, goods – would be more efficient if interest rates too were set by the market supply and demand for loanable funds. Of course the central banks of Europe, Japan, and the USA also are not letting their markets set the money supply and interest rates. But common practice does not imply optimal policy.

I don’t think the big drop in stock market averages imply impending economic doom. For 200 years, the US economy has had a real estate cycle of an average duration of 18 years. The current cycle began with the depression of 2008. The recovery has been slow, but the expansion has continued as employment and output have grown. Real estate construction has contributed to the expansion, and land values have recovered. The economy seldom has a recession while interest rates and commodity prices are low.

The economy of China has some severe long-run problems, but its economy is still developing and catching up. The government seems ready to let the currency trade more freely, and the coming acceptance of the currency (the yuan or renminbi) into the “special drawing rights” of the International Monetary Fund will boost the economy.

In the short run, the US stock market could fall some more, as markets often overreach, but over the next few years, financial markets will be consistent with the economic reality of restored world-wide economic growth, if there are no major destructive attacks. What we should be worried about is the unsustainability of debt and the next real estate speculative boom. The next economic disaster is about a decade into the future, and nobody is yet alarmed about that.

Natural Rights and Taxation

A moral right is a correlative or flip side of a moral wrong. The right to have X means that it is morally wrong or evil to deny the holder from having X by stealing or destroying it. The right to do X means it is evil for others to forcibly prevent a person from doing X.

People have the natural right to do anything that does not coercively harm others, and the natural right to be free from coercive harm. Natural rights are based on natural moral law, as expressed by the universal ethic. By the universal ethic, all acts, and only those acts, which coercively harm others are evil. I and others have written on natural moral law, easily searched on the Internet.

A legal privilege is a special power or income granted to particular people because of their political status. A king is privileged because of his inheritance and laws regarding this. A slave owner is privileged to own another human being. There are no privileges in natural moral law, since one of the premises from which the universal ethic is derived is human moral equality, an equality of moral worth, implemented as equality before the law and equal legal rights.

In the Constitution of the United States, the 9th Amendment states, in its entirety, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The other rights are common-law and natural rights. Therefore the U.S. Constitution recognizes natural rights, and all laws in the USA should be consistent with the 9th Amendment, although in practice, the 9th is ignored and not widely understood.

This brings us to two court cases. In Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943), the Supreme Court stated that a law requiring solicitors to purchase a license was an unconstitutional tax on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to freely exercise their religion. The Court ruled that “The state cannot and does not have the power to license, nor tax, a Right guaranteed to the people,” and “No state shall convert a liberty into a license, and charge a fee therefore.”

In another case, the Court ruled similarly, that “If the State converts a right (liberty) into a privilege, the citizen can ignore the license and fee and engage in the right (liberty) with impunity.” (Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, Alabama, 373 U.S. 262).

The principles behind the statements of the Court have to apply generally. The federal and state governments may tax privileges, but may not tax a natural right. Since people have a natural right to engage in labor for wages, taxes on wages violate natural rights and therefore the Constitutional rights recognized by the 9th Amendment. Taxes on trade and goods also violate natural rights, which is why state laws claim, incorrectly, that, when they impose a sales tax, they are taxing the privilege of selling goods. (For example, it is written that “California assesses a sales tax on sellers for the privilege of doing business in California.”)

If natural rights are violated by taxing wages, the same applies to the products of labor and the income from the products. Thus a person has the natural right to fully keep and trade produced goods and the financial counterparts as shares of companies and their incomes.

The U.S. Constitution does provide government with the power to tax. Article I, Section 8, states, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises.” The 16th Amendment restricts the income tax to being levied as an indirect tax, but otherwise did not alter or add to the powers of Article I.

There is an apparent contradiction. Article I empowers government to tax imports and goods, and other taxes, but the 9th Amendment prohibits taxing acts which are natural rights.

Clearly the founders did not oppose taxing as such. But the letter and spirit of the law have to go beyond the intents of the founders. The Constitution also did not explicitly outlaw slavery, despite its recognition of preexisting rights. When slavery was later abolished, this was in accord with justice as prescribed by natural moral law and the 9th.

If a parent says to a child, you may go outside and play, and also says, do not throw rocks at the squirrels, the permission to play does not imply that anything goes. Thus when the Constitution authorizes taxes, but then, in an Amendment, says, by implication as recognized by the Supreme Court, that government may not tax a right, then the power of taxation has been constrained.

The U.S. Constitution creates an imposed but limited government, and the founders recognized the need for revenues. The sources of government revenue boil down to two original sources: labor and land. There is human exertion, and there is what nature provides.

Since human exertion and its gains are a natural right, the only source left is nature’s resources, land. Thus the moral question is whether the ownership of land is a natural right. This issue is, of course, much disputed. In my judgment, the moral law of property is, “To the creator belongs the creation, and where there is no creator, the benefits belong to the people in equal shares.” The universal ethic is based on the premise, from the nature of humans being, as John Locke wrote, “all equal and independent,” the independence being that thinking and feeling occur individually.

The benefits of land are measured as its economic rent. Therefore, the rent belongs to the people, and by natural moral law, the individual right of the possession of land is conditional on paying the rent to the rightful owners, the people. A tax on land rent does not violate the natural rights of the title holder.

Although the rent really belongs to the people and not to an imposed government, since government is already an imposition, it violates natural rights the least when rent is used for public revenues to pay for public goods that generally benefit the people. The people receive the rent in kind rather than in cash.

If consistently implemented, the 9th Amendment, backed up by the Murdock case, implies that the income tax as well as excise taxes should not tax the right of labor and trade. The greatest challenge of humanity is to recognize the full spectrum of human natural moral rights.


A similar article by me appears in as “Rights and Privileges”.