The Libertarian Standard » Private Security & Law Property - Prosperity - Peace Sat, 16 May 2015 17:42:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace The Libertarian Standard » Private Security & Law TV-G Batman vs James Bond Tue, 28 Jan 2014 12:20:42 +0000 BatmanVsJamesBondIn recent months, my wife and I have been catching up on the Daniel Craig trilogy of 007 movies, and I’ve been watching Batman cartoons with my seven-year-old son. So my thoughts have been full of action heroes — particularly the Dark Knight and Her Majesty’s secret servant.

I remember my father complaining about both characters and contrasting them to the lone-hero tradition of hardboiled detectives and their fictional forebears, the cowboys.

G.I. vs Private Eye

In fact, my father’s point to my preteen self was a continuation of a point he made to me when I was about my son’s age. I’d just gotten a set of “Undercover Agent” accessories for my GI Joe doll (we didn’t call them action figures back then). Gone were the camouflage fatigues and assault rifle; now Joe sported a dark trench coat and a walkie-talkie.

GIJoeUndercoverAgentI said, “Look dad: It’s GI Private Eye!”

My father explained to me that my rhyming name for my new hero was self-contradictory. A GI was an American soldier, an official agent of the US government, whereas a “private eye” was a private individual, a lone hero in the fictional tradition. If dad had been more of a libertarian, he would have said that the military agent is paid by coercively extracted taxes and operates by state privilege, whereas the private detective is an agent of the market, authorized only by private contracts, and liable to the same restrictions as any individual citizen. My father doesn’t talk that way, even now, but he would acknowledge that description as making the same point.

So after GI Private Eye, I grew up with an awareness of the distinction between heroes like James Bond, who was funded and sanctioned by the government, and heroes like Philip Marlowe, who was funded by private clients and sanctioned only by his personal code of conduct.

Astin-Martin vs the Batmobile

Now, a few years later, my father was making a different but related point about James Bond, this time inspired by my love of another toy: my Corgi Astin-Martin DB5, James Bond’s super spy car from the movie Goldfinger. “Look dad, isn’t this car cool?”

1964_Corgi_Aston_Martin_DB5Ever philosophical, my father saw the car as symbolic, not only of that state-agent/private-individual divide he’d addressed a few years earlier with my GI Joe, but also of a divide in heroic literature. James Bond worked for the queen, he explained, in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was a knight for the monarch, and this tricked out vehicle from MI6’s Q Branch was the 1960s adventure-fantasy equivalent of the nobleman’s armor and mount.

I believe he felt the same about the Batmobile, but there are several important distinctions, some that put the historical emphasis on the “knight” in the Dark Knight, and some that put the “World’s Greatest Detective” more in league with the private eyes of American detective fiction.

For one thing, the medieval knight was a soldier for the king because he could afford to pay for armor, weapons, and a battle horse. He could afford to head off into battle instead of plowing the fields — and he could afford the time required for training between wars. The king didn’t pay him to be a knight. He paid the king for that honor. As far as we can tell, James Bond isn’t paying out of pocket for all those vodka martinis, and he certainly didn’t commission Q Branch for any of his gadgets. 007’s license to kill makes him a hired gun, even if he does restrict his paid murders to those sanctioned by his government.

Batman, on the other hand, pays his own way.

The Dark Knight of Liberty

Like most of the medieval knights, his wealth originally came from privilege more than trade. The Waynes are old money. Even “stately Wayne Manor” suggests aristocracy, and where Superman’s Metropolis is shiningly new and forward looking, gothic Gotham is old, with deep roots in Europe. Frames of Batman on the rooftops harken back to Quasimodo atop Notre Dame.

But while WayneCorp may well have risen on government contracts, Batman is not on the payroll. Bruce Wayne is spending his own money to fund his war on crime. This may put him in the ranks of the feudal warriors, but it sets him apart from agent 007.

Finally, who are the bad guys?

For Bond, they are the enemies of the state — meaning that they are whoever Her Majesty says they are. In both the books and films, they are invariably evil, so James Bond will look like the good guy when he finally defeats them, but ultimately the double-O agents are weapons: the government aims them at its enemies and pulls the trigger. We know full well from history who ends up in the crosshairs.

Even my favorite fictional private eyes, however independent and heroic they may prove to be, don’t go looking for trouble until a client hires them to do so.

But for Batman, the enemy is crime — not mere violators of legislation and statute law, not people who manufacture without regulation, trade without license, or copy digital patterns in violation of copyright. A true comic-book fanboy could probably dig through back issues and show us the exception, but I can’t recall Batman ever even picking on drug users.

For Batman, as for libertarians, a crime isn’t a crime without a victim. And it is the victims Batman is fighting for; they are proxies for the parents he was too young and scared to rescue from the back-alley gunman. In the versions of the backstory that I prefer, Batman can never avenge his parents’ deaths, so even the target of his vengeance is a proxy: not a human criminal but crime itself. And by “crime,” I mean rights violations, violence against person and property.

The Dark Knight may be on a perpetual quest, but it is not for a king; it is for the people.


]]> 0, Private Arbitration and Intellectual Property Mon, 14 May 2012 19:21:28 +0000 Tom Woods blogs about an intriguing new service, in I Love People Who Actually Do Things I Only Talk About:

Check out, a new Internet-based dispute resolution website, being touted as an equitable and affordable alternative to government courts. The creator sent me a note alerting me to it, and I’m very interested. He also did an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) at Reddit. Here’s how it works.

Jeff Tucker also wrote about it in Small Claims for the Digital Age: seems like an amazing idea. It’s a arbitration system for the digital age. It is especially useful for international disputes, resolved in days. The site owner answers detailed questions on Reddit. It raises an intriguing possibility that the real long-term results of the Ron Paul campaign won’t be political in the way people think of it but rather entrepreneurial. Many people have been inspired to start new businesses based on the idea of a pure voluntary order.

See the video below. This kind of simple, technology-based private arbitration should be of especial interest to anarcho-libertarians, who have long argued that private arbitration would play a significant role in justice in a stateless society.1 In fact, its founder is a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist, as noted in his Reddit AMA.

One interesting thing is their choice of law, which matters given that many of the disputes might involve parties from different countries:

For court litigation, which law to apply (called “choice of law”) becomes an issue as soon as the dispute crosses jurisdictional borders. Even when the parties specified their choice of law in the contract, good lawyers find ways to challenge this which leads to choice of law becoming a trial on its own. To avoid this issue, smart arbitration service providers such as specify that rather than applying a certain local law, the arbitration will be resolved based on common law and [equity principles]. The concept of basing dispute resolution on “fairness and equity” is known under its latin name [“ex aequo et bono”].

I.e., disputes are resolved by common sense principles of justice—the general rules developed over time in common law and equity courts. (This is similar in a way to international law’s appeal to “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations”. See my post, The UN, International Law, and Nuclear Weapons.)

But if you stick to justice, common sense, and basic property and libertarian rights, then statutory law is out. You don’t appeal to it when making a determination—unless both parties have agreed to this artificial legal standard. (See my Legislation and Law in a Free Society.) Now this brings to mind the case of so-called “intellectual property”—primarily patent and copyright. Both are the explicit results of massive state legislative schemes–the Copyright Act and the Patent Act. Some anarcho-libertarians who are nonetheless pro-IP, such as J. Neil Schulman and L. Neil Smith, are clear that they do not favor state-enforced IP. As I wrote elsewhere, Schulman, “as an anarchist, to his credit admits that if it could be shown that his version of IP could be enforced only by state law, he would abandon it…” In fact, if they are anarchists, they cannot support any legislation since legislation is a creature of the state. But then they turn around and say that they think private arbitration in a free society would be resorted to, to resolve IP and “plagiarism” disputes. Let’s forget for a second that plagiarism has nothing to do with copyright, patent, or market competition. Let’s forget that if you could sue someone for “copying” you unfairly, then this would open up a whole new realm of anti-competitive protectionism—anyone who competes with you, especially “unfairly”, is “stealing” your customers and unfairly “harming” you.

Let’s just assume we have a private legal system largely based on arbitration, which itself relies on general principles of justice, not on legislation. To sue someone you need to allege they have harmed you—invaded your property rights. Some contract breach, tort, trespass, or even crime. Now if you make the text of a novel or the digital file of a song or movie public (for whatever reason), and someone else copies and uses it and redistributes it (for free; or for monetary consideration); or if someone imitates your product and sells a competing ones—what possible common law claim could you have? None. You could make a copyright or patent claim, but only relying on the legistatist quo. You could not appeal to any organic legal principle developed in a decentralized free market legal order. It is not wrong to learn. To compete. To emulate. To copy. To steal customers. To “deprive” a competitor of profit. To do “something similar.” To use information that is publicly available.

My point? If we had a free society with a decentralized, non-legislated legal order, it is impossible to imagine there being patent or copyright law or claims, any more than someone could make a minimum wage or Americans with Disabilities Act claim absent those federal statutory schemes.


  1. See, e.g., Linda & Morris Tannehill, The Market for Liberty; David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism; and “Imagining a Polycentric Constitutional Order: A Short Fable,” chapter 14 of Randy Barnett‘s The Structure of Liberty

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Anarcho-capitalist libertarianism: What is it? Hoppe Radio Interview on Australian Broadcasting Corp. Thu, 26 Jan 2012 16:39:38 +0000 Professor Hoppe was previously interviewed on Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, on the topic “Anarcho-capitalist libertarianism: What is it?” (approx. 25 minutes). It was aired on Jan. 23, 2012; audio is available here. As described on the ABC site, “What is anarcho-capitalist libertarianism? Hans Herman Hoppe explains the idea behind it and why it’s a very different and quite radical way to think about government, society and the economy.”

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Parallel Justice in Germany Wed, 31 Aug 2011 15:37:50 +0000 According to Deutsche-Welle, Muslim communities in Germany are often seeking private arbitration in criminal cases, in opposition to the state “justice” system. This apparently alarms some people. It is a common cry among the politically active conservative set that the liberal embrace of multiculturalism is leading to a fragmented Europe. Consider this note from the article, however:

“When a serious crime is committed, German police step in to investigate what’s happened,” he said. “But parallel to that, special Muslim arbitrators, or so called peace judges, are commissioned by the families concerned to mediate and reach an out-of-court settlement. We’re talking about a tradition that’s more than a thousand years old in Muslim societies.”

I wonder how long it will take for someone to claim that the practice of a 1000+ year old tradition is the result of modern liberalism’s undermining of European values? I’m sure they’ll work out a way to prove that in centuries past, Muslims (and other religious groups) in Europe deferred to secular, socialist democracy.

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Anders Behring Breivik and Norwegian Prisons Wed, 27 Jul 2011 21:27:58 +0000 The latest news from Norway is the prison that might, for the next 21 years, be a home for Anders Behring Breivik. After reviewing the videos and photos, I must say, Ohio State offered me no better when I went there on scholarship some years ago (and my scholarship was only good for four years). My dorm mates were generally more presentable, perhaps, but I never got a hot blonde personal trainer. Halden Prison almost seems designed to entice the vacillating young psychopath, who has not yet worked up the gumption, to go ahead and follow through on his dreams.

It is a subject that, for the modern American, is begging for ridicule and parody. I myself nearly dipped into it in the first paragraph, and I admit that the idea of a man murdering so many innocents and thereby earning an all-expenses-paid stay at the Halden Resort rankles a bit. The fact that the descendants of the Vikings are responsible adds another fascinatingly perverse element to it.

And yet… does the modern American, currently occupied with mocking Scandinavia, not have a closer target for his contempt? Is the prison system that he is forced to subsidize any less perverse and appalling? Might one not even argue — I almost hesitate to type the words — that the Norwegian way, though indisputably stupid, is superior to the American way? Not if one is running for office, of course, but those of us not connected to politics, i.e., those of us who can still afford to use our thinking organ, might wish to examine things with a critical eye.

Though there is some difference between the best and the worst of American prisons, in general they are overcrowded, punitive and dehumanizing. Perfect, therefore, for giving us a sense of satisfaction when we send a ne’er-do-well into its walls but not necessarily designed to achieve the best long-term results. Does the inmate emerge bigger, stronger, more damaged and angrier than ever? Did we incarcerate him a drunk driver but redeliver him to the world a rape victim and incurable antagonist of civil society? Has he made innumerable contacts in the underworld where he will now spend his life working because no business will hire him? An answer of yes — or even maybe — to any of these questions should indicate, to the man who wants to think about criminal justice and not merely express rage, that our system wants some serious reform.

As a general blueprint for criminal justice, I have never seen anything better than what Rothbard argued for, and until I do I shall be a partisan for it. A criminal must pay restitution to his victim once a neutral third party has determined guilt and if the victim so demands. The victim, or the victim’s heirs, decides on retribution. The retribution may not exceed the original crime. Leaving aside for a second the obvious difficulties with precision — and I admit there are many — any society that does not adopt something like this system is medieval in its mindset on the topic and has no business calling itself modern.

So let’s be Rothbardian and release from our prisons anyone who has done nothing to make someone a victim. My understanding is that this alone would cut the prison population by more than half. Let’s follow in the footsteps of Murray and release from prison anyone who is merely a thief, whether by physical appropriation or fraud, and merely make them pay restitution. Let’s release violent offenders after a beating is administered to them in proportion to the beating they gave their victim (if the victim so desires) and let them get a job so they can pay their restitution. Let’s execute murderers.

Now who is left in our prisons? Not many. Just a few violent offenders who represent a standing threat to the community. And how should we design our prison system? I submit to the good reader that it should be something like the Norwegian model.

Remember that prisons in our new Rothbardian world are not castigatory. We gave them beatings and made them pay. There is nothing disciplinary left to do. We hold them for no other reason than that they cannot be trusted to play well with others. But in what environment are they most likely to become the sort of person who can live in civil society and be productive?

The typical pathologically criminal individual has a horrific childhood full of abuse. Though it is not something easy to cure, results can be had if the task is approached in a kind and caring manner. While the Norwegians seem to be asphyxiating on a surfeit of compassion, our system is wholly devoid of it. Halden Prison may strike one as a bit opulent, and more than prisoners would be willing to pay for if they paid for their own incarcerations — as they must in a just society — it still seems to me to be on the right track when rehabilitation is the goal — as it must be when punishment is handled by other means.

Both corrective systems are stupid and, in different ways, counterproductive. I don’t want to see a person like Anders Breivik alive, let alone within a megaparsec of comfort and contentment. But the Norwegians at least have managed to produce something like a feature of a libertarian world, even if they do not put it to correct use. America’s prisons are a ghastly embarrassment.

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Re-Imagining Marketopia: A Reply to Terence Ball Thu, 30 Jun 2011 04:58:53 +0000 A decade ago Terence Ball wrote a critique of some Frankenstein-like creature meant to represent free market ideology. He robbed the graves of men and women as diverse as Murray Rothbard, Margaret Thatcher, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand to put it together and came up with something that no libertarian would endorse, I suspect, but which nevertheless is recognizable as libertarian(ish). It may not be the same species, but it is in the same genus. Or at least the same family.

He imagined a country called Marketopia and described how life would be there, with the purpose of showing us that while markets are good for some things, there are areas where they are inappropriate. As he wrote, “why do some (or perhaps all) Marketopian practices make many – perhaps most – of us uneasy or queasy, or worse?” The great problem with his essay is that he never demonstrates to the reader’s satisfaction that he understands what his own argument is. He claims to be interested in three questions: Why do people get queasy at the practices of Marketopia, what distortions of the language would Marketopia produce and are we already headed towards Marketopia.

About the second question I care nothing at all, and about the third… well, watching a statist fretting over how close we are to a Free Market is a bit like listening to a neocon quaking that Iran presents a military threat to the United States. It would be less embarrassing to watch a grown man sleep with a night light to protect him from the Bogey Man in his closet. The first question bears some scrutiny, however, but I wish I could do it knowing what exactly Dr. Ball had in mind.

Is this Marketopia supposed to be what would always happen if libertarianism ever won the day, or is he just demonstrating how market activity is inappropriate for some relationships? If the latter is his point, I would say he came up with a handful of examples where I agree with him, but what does he propose to do about it? If the former, it should be pointed out that many of these activities are legal now but do not occur.

In Marketopia we get all manner of behavior that does not occur here, or is outlawed. This behavior we are meant to find distasteful fits into three broad categories. The first are those activities which are illegal now, but would not be in a libertarian society.

Organ brokers walk the halls of the private hospitals, keeping close watch on the dying and making deals with the family members whose grief is greatly offset by the prospect of profiting from the death of their loved one. Those awaiting organ transplants are prepared to pay the going price for a heart, lung, kidney, or other vital organs. Typically, competing organ brokers play one patient off against the other, thereby raising the price and ensuring that the organ goes to the highest bidder. Most Marketopians opt for a designation on their drivers’ license, saying that in event of their death their organs should be sold to the highest bidder.

I fail to see what should make someone queasy about a market for organs to save lives. It is not the act of giving up an organ, because I have never heard an objection over that. It must be the fact that the organ is being sold, and yet no one objects to farmers selling food to save those of us who need to eat to remain alive. I truly do not understand it, and not understanding it, I stand little chance of curing the nausea. Therefore I shall limit myself to one question: assuming that those retching at the thought of organ sales can at least agree that a market for organs would create more supply of those organs, which makes them queasier, someone selling their organs, or someone dying because they couldn’t buy one?

While the good reader is busy deciding which scenario induces a greater quantity of vomit, I ask that he take some note of the way the cited paragraph was crafted. Notice the family members nearly forgetting to mourn because of the money they shall get from selling their loved one’s cadaver, or the organ brokers walking the halls, seeking out death. See how unsavory is the practice of pitting desperate and dying patients in a bidding war for organs that could save their lives. One is tempted to suspect that Dr. Ball is simply being unfair, painting as hideous a picture as he can in service of his thesis, rather than trying to be honest.

Why exactly does he conclude that the organ industry would operate in this manner? Has he ever heard of insurance? Why does he assume that dying patients must outbid other dying patients for survival? Why would the organs not have already been purchased each month when they pay for health insurance? And why would organ brokers stalk the hallways looking for organs? Did the dying patient not already sell the rights to them in event of his death years ago (incidentally, people stalking the hallways looking for healthy organs from dead individuals is what happens now. I know this because my wife works in a MICU. People intrude on the grief of families right now in search of organs – I don’t blame them; they are trying to save lives after all – and they are often told no.)?

Blackmail… is regarded as a free-market transaction in which one person pays another for the service of remaining silent.

Entirely unobjectionable, at least from a legal perspective. If I am allowed to reveal your secret, why should you not be allowed to offer me money to drink a nice tall glass of shut-the-fuck-up? Dr. Ball never objects to non-disclosure agreements; why should he care if this sort of consent is purchased? This is similar to the organ case in that all similar activities are legal; it is money that gets people riled up. But who honestly is going to be uneasy about someone having a method of preserving his secrets? Certainly not the man whose secrets would have otherwise been revealed, and certainly not the man who agrees to be silent and finds himself richer. Is there anyone else in this transaction whose opinion matters?

The sale of cocaine, heroin, hashish, and other drugs is viewed in a similar light [to blackmail].

This is not the time to make a five thousand word argument against the drug war. I shall simply appeal to decency: in exchange for drug users not using violence against him, can the good reader find it in his heart not to use violence against them? Understand that this precludes the possibility of imprisonment, because how but by violence or a threat of violence can you get them into prison?

The next category of activities is composed of those things which are hypothetically possible in a free world, and often legal right now in this one, but it strains credulity to imagine anything turning out this way.

For instance, Dr. Ball claims that all roads are toll roads in Marketopia. Let us forget for a moment that private companies operate toll roads right now – roads which never have traffic jams – and ask a few questions to determine how exactly Marketopia came to be dominated by toll roads only. Do developers not make community roads for the neighborhoods they build? Is it actually more profitable to make neighborhood streets toll streets rather than open them for all residents and guests and maintain them through the monthly, quarterly, semiannual or annual homeowners’ association fee? Have no businesses built roads to attract customers to their stores (as happened frequently in colonial America)? Have car companies not paved a few highways to make their product more valuable (as Ford Motor Company offered to do but was rejected)? That last question brings up an interesting point: why should the good reader be taxed to pay for something to make Ford’s products more valuable?

[F]ire and police protection is provided by private companies for a fee, and according to how much protection, delivered how fast, the consumer desires or can afford. If you can’t afford, or choose to forgo, fire protection, one or more fire companies will, in the event of a fire at your house, appear with hoses, hooks, and ladders—and the fire captain will engage you in fast-paced negotiations about how much you think his company’s sevices are now worth. These negotiated post-fire fees (as they are called) tend to be very high, often running into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of Rothbards.

We may dispense with the nonsense about anyone being unable to afford fire protection. If you can afford the house, you can afford $75 a year for fire protection (assuming private companies don’t find a way to provide it for less). This is assuming, of course, that fire protection is not offered by the homeowners’ association as an incentive for buyers (as lawn-mowing and pools are often provided now, and as anything that is demanded could be in a free society). And for those houses out in the country, to them I say “PAY YOUR $75 FIRE PROTECTION FEE OR DON’T WHINE!”

Nevertheless, there are some who may refuse the fee (we cannot seriously claim that they could forget, because the profit-seeking companies would surely set it up to be deducted each month from their bank account or billed to their credit card) and they may have to negotiate at the last minute. Economic theory tells us that there is a maximum price the buyer will pay, and a minimum price the seller will accept. If the post-fire fees are so high, wouldn’t other fire protection companies show up to bid the price down? How could a soaring high price like that not attract competition? There is, after all, no regulatory agency keeping them away.

Dr. Ball makes a similar case about private policing, but I think I can skip it and refer the good reader to the fire protection example.

Marketopians love to be entertained and amused. Most television stations do not broadcast depressing programs; there isn’t much of a market. This means that reports about floods, famines, airplane crashes, and Middle Eastern politics are not featured on the most widely watched news programs.

Right. Those sensational sort of stories don’t attract many viewers.

One of Marketopia’s more thriving enterprises is Rent-a-Friend. For ten Rothbards an hour one can rent an “acquaintance,” for twenty-five a “friend,” for fifty a “good friend,” and for one-hundred a “best friend.” For those who prefer non-human companionship, Rent-a-Pet (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rent-a-Friend) provides dogs, cats, goldfish, gerbils, pot-bellied pigs, and many other animals for periods ranging from one day to the lifetime of the animal… [F]rom Sycophants Inc. you can rent a flatterer to follow you around and praise you…From Losers [Ltd.] you can rent a partner… Loser’s slogan is “You win, we lose—guaranteed.”

Is there some government law preventing these things now? I note a distinct lack of such services despite the freedom to offer them. And if someone needs companionship so badly they are willing to pay for it… what type of violence does Terence propose in order to maintain them in solitude? Again, it would be easier to talk about this if I knew whether he was saying that paying someone to lose to you at tennis is merely distasteful, or an inevitability of a libertarian society.

The marriage contract stipulates what assets each partner will bring to the marriage, which assets they are (or are not) willing to share, how frequently they will engage in sex (and what fee or exchange is involved), how many children they will have (and what the wife will charge the husband for the inconvenience of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth), and so on and on.

Much of this can happen now in what is called a prenuptial agreement. Every contract has terms and marriage is a contract. Why should anyone but the two betrothed have the power to determine the terms of a particular marriage contract? If they want things like the frequency of sex spelled out, that is their business, but we must note, as we have so often, that if people aren’t doing it now, Dr. Ball has the burden of demonstrating why that would be different in Marketopia.

Some especially wealthy men “upgrade” by exchanging older wives for newer and younger models; wealthy women do the same.

It is very important, of course, to prevent people from leaving a relationship they don’t want to be in. Our government, God bless it, has done a good job of preventing rich men from divorcing and marrying younger.

[A] mother might ask her son to “Give Mommy a kiss.” To which the son typically replies, “What’s it worth to you?” The mother will then say something like, “Two Rothbards.” “Four,” he says flatly and firmly. She nods, and as he pecks her cheek, she opens her purse and says proudly with a warm maternal smile, “That’s my boy. The best bargainer a mother ever had.”

The reply to this has already been used for certain examples above. I don’t feel like reproducing it and anyway, I’m so embarrassed for Terence Ball that I prefer to hurry on past this nincompoopery. I’ll linger but a moment to express my own distaste for that sort of thing, but reaffirm my commitment to leaving people alone if that is how they wish to live their lives.

William Graham Sumner University—a private institution, as are all institutions in Marketopia—is not only “run like a business,” it is a business, and a very profitable one at that. A grade of “A” can be purchased for the relatively modest sum of five hundred Rothbards, a “B” for four hundred, a “C” for three hundred.

And why purchase them, since no business is going to hire someone with a diploma from WGSU? Which leads me to ask, how exactly is WGSU a “very profitable” business?

All research at Sumner and other centers of higher learning is financed by large corporations. The tobacco industry supports research on smoking and health… Pioneering research… has shown that—contrary to a once-popular but now discredited belief—there is no link between smoking and cancers of the lung, throat, and other organs.

However, most of the populace ignores that research and instead focuses on the research done by medical insurance and other like industries, recognizing that they have more trustworthy incentives. Kind of like how I get my oil changed every five thousand miles, like Toyota says I should, rather than the every three thousand miles Jiffy Lube insists on.

Finally, we come to the third category, those fictitious practices which are not libertarian or Free Market in the slightest, starting with the Marketopian dictionary.

The language spoken in Marketopia bears a close resemblance to English, at least in vocabulary and spelling, though not in the meaning of many words. Marketopian dictionaries are helpful here. Under “society,” for example, the entry reads: “Fictitious entity believed by collectivists to be real. See also Public.” Under “justice” the entry reads: “Noninterference in market transactions; actions, arrangements and/or decisions conducive to the functioning of free markets.” And under “injustice” the obverse: “Interference with and/or regulation of market transactions.”

Libertarians are perfectly aware that society exists; what we argue is that there is nothing to society that is not a part of individuals and their interactions (unlike the mind, which is not to be found in any constituent of the brain, but only when all those constituents are together). As for “justice” and “injustice”, I can only suggest some reading material for Terence.

After being tried in private court before a judge—juries being slow and inefficient (and unfair to would-be jurors, who are in any event too busy with their own affairs to serve), are never used in Marketopia, even in capital cases—the wrongdoer will be incarcerated in one of the private prisons run by Burglar Kin, McPrison, and other franchises.

It is difficult to know how exactly a courtroom would turn out in a free society, but it is interesting to note that Dr. Ball, who goes so far as to suggest that little boys will charge their mothers for kisses, has failed to imagine that there might be professional jurors. At any rate, people in a free society would be at liberty to choose the legal protection from the company that best suited them and had the most attractive agreements with the other companies.

As for prisons, I don’t see that they would be used very often. Dr. Ball has already conceded that drugs would be legal, so there goes half the prison population. Cut it back some more for the decrease in crime once the black market was gone, and cut it back even more for all the true crimes which would nevertheless be handled by compensation for the victim, and perhaps by violence in kind. Again, I refer him to that reading material linked to above. Prisons would be used for those who have not been executed but simply cannot play well with their fellows.

The private prisons of Marketopia have proven to be both profitable and popular. Prisons serve not only to punish criminals but to entertain a vast television audience. One program, called “Con Cam,” broadcasts videos of prisoners as they go about their daily business—making homemade knives in the prison workshop, extorting money from weaker prisoners, and buying drugs from the guards (perfectly legal of course).

Much of the inhumanity in modern prisons is due to overcrowding, a problem already solved by legalizing drugs and using proper retribution and restitution to handle crime. However, even those few who do get put in prison are still entitled to rights protection, and they may purchase these services like any citizen (of course they may labor and sell the surplus! How else would they pay for their own imprisonment?). Therefore, any extortion that takes place can be rectified. As for broadcasting their lives, that is an impermissible intrusion into their privacy unless they sign on to permit it.

It should be noted that in many instances, I speak of the proper libertarian action when in fact, even a market society might deviate from it. This seems like one likely instance. It could well be that those deemed unfit for life outside prison walls, even in Libertopia, could have their rights stripped from them, despite the efforts of family, friends and altruistic benefactors on the outside who campaign on their behalf. But this is not just a problem for Libertopia and Marketopia; any government faces this conundrum as well. That the government has not chosen to close budget gaps by selling TV rights in prisons probably has something to do with the reception it would receive by the populace at large. Is Terence Ball really going to argue that, no matter how consumerist we already are, the addition of a few more goods and services to the market would so change our character that we would then countenance this sort of thing?

Even if it did, a televised prison show is a small price to pay for freedom.

But the most widely watched televised spin-off of the private prison system is the hugely popular “Who Wants to Live?” A month before his or her execution, the condemned prisoner is introduced to the viewing audience, which then submits suggestions for the manner and method of execution—hanging, firing squad, disemboweling, drawing and quartering, and other even more ingenious means. This supplies special incentives to the prisoner and his or her allies in the anti-death penalty movement to raise money for release or at least commutation of the death penalty. The ensuing bidding war is fierce and frenetic. In most instances, the prisoners lose (unless of course they are wealthy enough to outbid their opponents). Two days before the scheduled execution a final vote is taken. The rule is, “One Rothbard, one vote.” Some viewers—especially members of the victim’s family—are prepared to pay thousands or even millions of Rothbards to ensure the grisliest of deaths for the condemned. And this in turn ensures an even larger viewing audience and therefore increased advertising revenues.

In a libertarian society, the victim determines punishment, as long as it does not surpass in scope the original crime. Only a murderer may be executed, and only if the victim left behind instructions in just such an eventuality, or if his next-of-kin or whomever he designated so decides. No one else has any business in the decisions.

Of course, Dr. Ball could then argue that the circus would revolve around the next-of-kin, and indeed it might. The prisoner might beg for his life; his family might offer money. So what?

Terence Ball’s little thought experiment suffers from all the typical hysteria statists use to greet libertarian ideas: casting them in the worst light possible; rigging the scenario to get the most idiotic worst case outcomes; failing to recognize that a certain problem is shared by all systems, not just libertarian ones; and occasionally understanding the libertarian idea but failing to see its superiority. He goes on to explain how Marketopia is inferior, and he even repeats those tired old canards about deregulation hurting power companies and the banking industry. I have seen worse characterizations of libertarianism, but this one never manages to distinguish itself from the pack of misguided critiques that statists frequently send our way.

Language may indeed change in a free world, but that is the nature of language. This is not a distortion; this is adaptability. And Dr. Ball can calm his terror: we are nowhere near the market world he envisions, nor are we heading in that direction. As for the queasiness he gets when people are allowed to live their own lives, I have a little advice: mind your own business. And if it really bothers you, look away.

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Published: “Immanent Politics, Participatory Democracy, and the Pursuit of Eudaimonia” Sat, 11 Jun 2011 20:26:20 +0000 I just had an article published in Libertarian Papers:

Immanent Politics, Participatory Democracy, and the Pursuit of Eudaimonia,” Libertarian Papers 3, 16 (2011).

Here’s the abstract:

This paper builds on the burgeoning tradition of Aristotelian liberalism. It identifies and critiques a fundamental inequality inherent in the nature of the state and, in particular, the liberal representative-democratic state: namely, an institutionalized inequality in authority. The analysis draws on and synthesizes disparate philosophical and political traditions: Aristotle’s virtue ethics and politics, Locke’s natural rights and idea of equality in authority in the state of nature (sans state of nature), the New Left’s conception of participatory democracy (particularly as described in a number of under-utilized essays by Murray Rothbard and Don Lavoie), and philosophical anarchism. The deleterious consequences of this fundamental institutionalized inequality are explored, including on social justice and economic progress, on individual autonomy, on direct and meaningful civic and political participation, and the creation and maintenance of other artificial inequalities as well as the exacerbation of natural inequalities (economic and others). In the process, the paper briefly sketches a neo-Aristotelian theory of virtue ethics and natural individual rights, for which the principle of equal and total liberty for all is of fundamental political importance. And, finally, a non-statist conception of politics is developed, with politics defined as discourse and deliberation between equals (in authority) in joint pursuit of eudaimonia (flourishing, well-being).

Follow the link above for the pdf and MS Word files as well as discussion of the article on the Libertarian Papers website. You can also download the pdf from my Literature archive.

Older versions of this article were presented at the Austrian Scholars Conference 2008 and appeared in my doctoral dissertation (May 2009) as chapters six and seven.

[Cross-posted at Is-Ought GAP.]

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The State v. Honesty Tue, 26 Apr 2011 01:59:41 +0000 Gizmodo reports on a story from New Zealand about a supermarket which accidentally opened with no employees inside the store. People shopped and checked out using the self-checkout lanes. Half of the people actually paid, but note the explanation as to why the other half did not (emphasis mine):

In fact, after reviewing the tape, a religious studies professor said it seemed like everyone was going to pay until they got stuck at the self checkout machine waiting for an employee to approve an alcohol purchase. Once they couldn’t find an employee, they left with their groceries in tow.

Here we have a case of the government actually incentivizing theft and costing the store money through its moral policing. Without state laws against underage drinking, it is unlikely that stores would require employee approvals for any purchase.

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Life Sentence at 11 Years Old? Fri, 18 Feb 2011 12:00:22 +0000 Good’s Cord Jefferson asks: “Should an 11-Year Old Boy Go to Jail for Life?” Read the account. It is horrifying that a boy could do something so evil. My own daughter is 11. I could simply not imagine her doing anything like this. I am sure many of you feel the same. Indeed, the sense that this boy is completely alien to our own experience is one of the reasons it is tempting to support locking him up and throwing away the key. Despite this, however, such a move would do far more harm than good. This is not simply a matter of him being too young to punish. That is perhaps true, perhaps not. Rather, it has to do with the evils inherent with the state monopoly on justice and punishment, and the particular evils introduced when we combine that monopoly with a child offender.

The state, through taxation, separates the consumer of goods, such as roads and schools, from the buyer of those same goods. None of us are customers of a public school in the sense of being able to take our money elsewhere if we get bad service. This causes people to lobby legislators and other public officials and causes a lot of the aggravation that people express when they need the state to do something. But it also, through the criminal justice system, separates the recipients of justice — the victims and families of victims — from the criminals and tortfeasors. This separation has some very significant evil effects of its own.

By establishing a system of prisons, with wardens, guards, and other personnel, who never have any personal reason to punish inmates, the state creates a punishment industry. Note that this is not a “just punishment industry,” but simply a punishment industry. The people involved in the actual day-to-day punishment have no direct connection to the punished. The inmates are just part of the job. The state actually encourages, necessarily, that the prison industry employees dehumanize the inmates. This is true whether the felon is a serial rapist or a drug addict who has never harmed a soul other than himself.  As morally corrosive to the guards and wardens as this is with adult inmates, it is even worse with children.

In addition to the evil effects it has on the jailers, the privatization of such things will naturally lead to the prison industry lobbying for more things to be considered crimes. Consider the example we see in the arts: Copyright holders have pressed for longer and longer copyright terms, moving laws further and further away from the original terms envisioned by the Framers. Such a push for the expansion of the term and scope of offenses punishable by imprisonment is similarly inevitable.

Punishment is not limited in scope to the punished. It affects the punished, the punishers, and those affected by both. Monopolizing it and expanding it, while perhaps giving some comfort to the victims and those outraged by crime, has the additional effect of expanding the state and, eventually, barbarizing those who support it.

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Aphoristic Observation: Retributive Punishment Is to Restorative Justice as Egalitarianism Is to Equality Fri, 22 Oct 2010 05:51:02 +0000

Instead of raising the victim back up — to balance the scales of Lady Justice, so to speak — it seeks to drag the criminal down to the victim’s diminished level.


Cross-posted at Is-Ought GAP.

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