Libertarian Prepper

The world divides politically into those who want people to be controlled, and those who have no such desire.

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Six Reasons libertarians SHOULDN’T reject the Non-Aggression Principle

I saw in my Google+ stream multiple shares of an article recently written by Matt Zwolinski, over at libertarianism.org. In his article, the author gave six reasons why he thought the Non-Aggression Principle should be rejected by libertarians. I was curious, so I decided to read it and then give my rebuttal.

A note on terminology

Before listing his six reasons, Zwolinski claims that, “the libertarian armed with the NAP has little need for the close study of history, sociology, or empirical economics,” because with just the NAP, every question of the government’s involvement in the economy, from government roads to government schools, can easily be labeled as immoral.

I would disagree here already. First of all I have an issue with his terminology. Zwolinski refers to government provided goods as “public”. Government schools, for example, are called, “public schools”. I think the use of the word public confuses who actually owns and operates the schools. Regardless of how you vote, or whether you vote at all, those in government will continue doing what it is that they do.

They will not seek your consent when taxing (stealing from) you, when making rules about mandatory school attendance (kidnapping), when deciding next year’s curriculum at their local indoctrination center for children, etc. As such, the use of the term “public”, although popular, is part of the manipulative, Orwellian type of language that penetrates deep into how most people see the world; and something libertarians, if indeed Zwolinski sees himself as such, should avoid and seek to correct at every opportunity.

Is the NAP really the only argument libertarians use?

Secondly, although it is true that the NAP renders moral judgments regarding the State’s participation in our lives fairly easy, I have yet to see anyone, myself included, convinced by that alone. There exists, in the minds of many people, the concept of a “necessary evil”. You may successfully convince a Statist that the State is evil and immoral, but I seriously doubt that this will be sufficient to make them into a libertarian.

For that, you will require the second part of the one-two punch of libertarian argumentation – the practical argument. For this, knowledge of history, economics, and of how society works is of vital importance. I did not become an anarchist when I realized the NAP should be applied to individuals within the State as much as to individuals outside of it, but rather when I had investigated and understood how all of the myriad goods and services currently monopolized by the government can also be provided on a free market.

Next, Zwolinski mentions “political morality”. This is interesting, as I consider the idea of two sets of morality – of two separate categories, a double standard if you will, to be the moral refuge of all scoundrels and thieves. They always think morality is something that applies to others, but not to them. Murder in war isn’t really murder, it’s “collateral damage”.

Zwolinski says that, “there is a vast difference between a strong but defeasible presumption against the justice of aggression, and an absolute, universal prohibition.”

Before continuing on to his six reasons, I can already tell you that everyone can imagine scenarios in which aggression can be justified in some way. If a cartoon-esque madman threatens to blow up the world if you don’t kill just one individual, what do you do? Do you blindly follow the NAP and let billions die to save just one person, or do you initiate aggression? I’m sure there are many such scenarios.

So yes, of course exceptions can be made up for any rule. But what anarcho-capitalists try to achieve with the NAP is to not allow the institutionalization of those exceptions into an entire system of predation; a system that creates a separate moral class in society, who are not subject to the same moral rules as the rest of us, in other words – the State.

Now, let’s go point by point

1. Prohibits All Pollution – As I noted in my last post, Rothbard himself recognized that industrial pollution violates the NAP and must therefore be prohibited. But Rothbard did not draw the full implications of his principle. Not just industrial pollution, but personal pollution produced by driving, burning wood in one’s fireplace, smoking, etc., runs afoul of NAP. The NAP implies that all of these activities must be prohibited, no matter how beneficial they may be in other respects, and no matter how essential they our to daily life in the modern industrialized world. And this is deeply implausible.”

Interesting. I wonder, “must be prohibited” by whom? I assume that in Zwolinski’s hypothetical world, the NAP is already being systematically violated by the existence of a State, which would have the power to enforce such a prohibition throughout everyone else’s property.

But let’s go instead to a stateless society. How would people in a stateless society deal with pollution, and would there really be a blanket prohibition on the by-product of often incredibly useful human activity? No, of course not. Because people respond to incentives, and make cost-benefit analyses. Let me provide an example:

A company, let us call them the Polluter, operates a factory that produces widgets. Widgets, finding a place in everyone’s home, prove to be very useful in alleviating some of the problems we run into through the human condition. Unfortunately, Polluter’s factory is located upstream from a village of fishermen, and the pollution kills many of the fish, and poisons the ones that yet live. Let us say that in this particular arrangement, ownership of the river is divided into parts, with an area upstream being owned by the factory, and the area downstream being owned by the fishermen.

Free market resolution of pollution disputes

How is this conflict to be resolved? The fishermen are likely to begin by filing complaints with the Polluter. Perhaps the fishermen can convince them to change their production methods to be less polluting, or to more properly dispose of the pollution in the first place – not simply dumping it into the river. Already at this point the Polluter may decide to acquiesce to the fishermen’s demands, seeing that an official dispute going through the courts might be time-consuming and costly (never mind a terrible hit to their public relations). But, let’s say they don’t.

The next step would probably involve third party arbitration. The fishermen choose a Dispute Resolution Organization, let us simply call it DRO, that can arbiter the conflict on their behalf. If the Polluter agrees to use the same DRO, then arbitration can commence. There is for example, in existence already, a small claims DRO called judge.me. They’re pretty inexpensive, and 96% of the time the disputants agree to the terms without any further enforcement.

But let’s say that the fishermen’s DRO, let it now be called DROf, is unacceptable to the Polluter. Perhaps P thinks that DROf is biased, and will not arbiter the dispute fairly. Perhaps DROf are known for their pro-environmental agenda. So instead, they will choose their own DRO, called DROp. DROf and DROp can then get together and decide on a third party. Most likely, through past dealings, they already have agreements as to what third party to go to in case of disputes between them.

So far so good – this is simple anarcho-capitalist theory of dispute resolution. Now what? Well, the fishermen are of course in the right – P’s pollution does in fact go onto their property in the river, and this causes damages to them. I would expect a fair court to rule in their favor, but then what? Is the court going to send armed men to shut down the widget factory? That seems implausible. Instead, a sum of money can be agreed upon as damages, to compensate the fishermen for all their troubles. This sum of money, let’s say it is $5 million per year of pollution, is now the benchmark for what happens next.

If the widgets are so valuable, that profit from their production exceeds fines incurred due to negative externalities to third parties, then their production will continue. In this situation, it makes more economic sense to continue producing widgets (and paying fines for damages) than to halt economic activity. This is not the only option. P can also,

– learn to dispose of their pollution properly,

– move their widget factory to another place,

– change production methods to be less polluting,

– buy out the rest of the river so that they can own the property they are polluting,

If on the other hand widget production isn’t all that profitable, and $5 million is well in excess of P’s profitability and none of the other methods are any cheaper, then production will be stopped and P will choose to shut down the factory for good.

P, being run by reasonable businessmen, will choose whichever of the above is the cheapest. They have six options, ranging from continuing their pollution and paying regular fines, to shutting down for good.

Mr. Zwolinski, please put some more thought into your article writing. Obviously, a blanket prohibition would make no sense whatsoever, and only a true Statist would write something like, “The NAP implies that all of these activities must be prohibited,” without making any mention of who the acting agent doing the prohibiting even is (through omission we can presume it is the State).

There are other cases, involving pollution in the air from smoke, car driving, etc., and they can also be solved in similar ways, providing it is possible to scientifically determine where the pollution is coming from (minute amounts of pollution in the air with no clear responsible party would be an exception, but this is a problem of reality, not the NAP). It would take a lot of time to write out how they can also be solved, but I’m sure the reader can do that themselves.

Note that, not only is there no blanket prohibition, but the question of pollution is now being rationally worked out based on its costs and benefits, and the polluter now has all the proper incentives to make an informed decision about how to deal with the problem. A government fine, or prohibition, often being arbitrary in nature, does not create these same incentives. This is the calculation problem all over again.

 

“2. Prohibits Small Harms for Large Benefits – The NAP prohibits all pollution because its prohibition on aggression is absolute. No amount of aggression, no matter how small, is morally permissible. And no amount of offsetting benefits can change this fact. But suppose, to borrow a thought from Hume, that I could prevent the destruction of the whole world by lightly scratching your finger? Or, to take a perhaps more plausible example, suppose that by imposing a very, very small tax on billionaires, I could provide life-saving vaccination for tens of thousands of desperately poor children? Even if we grant that taxation is aggression, and that aggression is generally wrong, is it really so obvious that the relatively minor aggression involved in these examples is wrong, given the tremendous benefit it produces?”

This point begins with a gross misunderstanding of aggression and consent. First of all, what might otherwise be considered a violation is permissible if it is consented to by all parties involved in it. Therefore, it is permissible to kill someone if they ask you to do that. This would be called assisted suicide. In our property rights example above, pollution would be acceptable (or not) depending on the consent of the parties involved. If the fishermen were happy with their $5 million yearly settlement, then the pollution could have continued (providing continuing to produce widgets was worth more than that). Clearly, whether something is or is not an aggression depends on what the property owner thinks.

Next, Zwolinski comes up with a somewhat plausible scenario, in which taxing billionaires (Zwolinski makes the tactically wise decision to not mention people who aren’t super-rich, lest he upsets the majority of his audience), to save the lives of thousands of “desperately poor children”.

Zwolinski precedes this point by talking about “lightly scratching your finger”. Clearly, he doesn’t view taxation as a particularly steep progression in violence from a finger scratch. But it is. Taxation is not simply theft – it is also everything that happens to you should you resist that theft. From beatings and kidnappings (arrest should you try to protect your property) to murder (if you decide to really protect your property). The State would not have been able to tax millions of people every year if it didn’t make the occasional example every time a rebellious tax-resister decided to test the lengths to which agents of the system would go. Thus, taxation is the threat of murder. Almost every government law is, if you really think about it.

Do I think that murdering billionaires is acceptable to save thousands of children? No, I do not. Nor do I think this scenario makes that much sense in the first place, since Zwolinski provides us with no alternatives. Why is potentially murdering rich people the only solution? Can’t we start a charity instead? Appeal to those with extra money to help? Volunteer our own time and money?

If Zwolinski’s reality has no peaceful alternatives (or comical examples such as “I could prevent the destruction of the whole world by lightly scratching your finger?”) then yes, you can come up with all sorts of justifications for violating the NAP. But at that point, you’re already in the realm of fantasy. The NAP is a rule. All human-made rules can have exceptions. The problem isn’t finding those in our imagination, it’s finding them in our reality. While Zwolinski provides absurd examples with no peaceful alternatives, the aim of his argument is clearly to justify the existence of an entire system of violent predation (the State).

By the way, I understand people temporarily violating the NAP to save their lives. For example, I would understand if someone stole some food to survive, but their actions would still have been a violation of someone else’s property rights, and it would be their duty to rectify the situation by paying the person restitution when they are able. I read a story a long time ago, of a homeless man breaking into a convenience store to steal some canned food. He left a note, saying he was sorry and would pay the owner back when he could. Some time later, I think it was a couple of years, he paid him back, with interest. This is the proper attitude to take, and I think the store owner would understand and empathize.

There are extreme situations in which moral rules are often suspended, as in the case of survival. But moral rules were not invented for those extremely unlikely and rare cases. Moral rules arose, among other things, out of real disputes and how they were resolved. This is why juxtaposing them with absurd or rare situations doesn’t make much sense.

 

3. All-or-Nothing Attitude Toward Risk – The NAP clearly implies that it’s wrong for me to shoot you in the head. But, to borrow an example from David Friedman, what if I merely run the risk of shooting you by putting one bullet in a six-shot revolver, spinner the cylinder, aiming it at your head, and squeezing the trigger? What if it is not one bullet but five? Of course, almost everything we do imposes some risk of harm on innocent persons. We run this risk when we drive on the highway (what if we suffer a heart attack, or become distracted), or when we fly airplanes over populated areas. Most of us think that some of these risks are justifiable, while others are not, and that the difference between them has something to do with the size and likelihood of the risked harm, the importance of the risky activity, and the availability and cost of less risky activities. But considerations like this carry zero weight in the NAP’s absolute prohibition on aggression. That principle seems compatible with only two possible rules: either all risks are permissible (because they are not really aggression until they actually result in a harm), or none are (because they are). And neither of these seems sensible.”

If you point a gun at someone’s head, even if only one of the chambers in the revolver is loaded, you are not merely “running the risk”, you are threatening someone with harm, with forethought, with intent. This is very different from driving on a highway, in the sense that most drivers do not intend to hurt anyone else. They don’t plan to have a heart attack while driving. It does happen, of course, but common law and dispute resolution obviously takes into account the difference between accidents and intent to harm.

In fact, a malum in se type crime is usually not said to have occurred unless there was mens rea, or a guilty mind. Why does Zwolinski think that in a legal system based on the NAP this would not be so?

 

4. No Prohibition of Fraud – Libertarians usually say that violence may legitimately be used to prevent either force or fraud. But according to NAP, the only legitimate use of force is to prevent or punish the initiatory use of physical violence by others. And fraud is not physical violence. If I tell you that the painting you want to buy is a genuine Renoir, and it’s not, I have not physically aggressed against you. But if you buy it, find out it’s a fake, and then send the police (or your protective agency) over to my house to get your money back, then you are aggressing against me. So not only does a prohibition on fraud not follow from the NAP, it is not even compatible with it, since the use of force to prohibit fraud itself constitutes the initiation of physical violence.”

This is more interesting. Now, in the type of fraud described above, it’s true that the NAP alone isn’t really enough. But, when you buy something, especially as expensive as a painting by Renoir, you will no doubt sign a contract, in which part of the seller’s duty is to assume all responsibility for the validity of the information, at least to the best of his or her knowledge. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the case even when buying minor items through, say, eBay. The NAP most certainly doesn’t cover all of the law, or all of dispute resolution, but it was never supposed to. That’s why contracts exist.

And providing you have a contract stipulating fraud be illegal, it would also (most likely) stipulate the punishments in case fraud is committed. Perhaps the sale is simply annulled and the money returned. Perhaps an additional fine is incurred. If this is indeed the case, then a violation of the contract (if you can prove it) would permit for violent restitution that would not classify as aggression. And if the seller disagrees, they can ask for third party arbitration first.

 

5. Parasitic on a Theory of Property – Even if the NAP is correct, it cannot serve as a fundamental principle of libertarian ethics, because its meaning and normative force are entirely parasitic on an underlying theory of property. Suppose A is walking across an empty field, when B jumps out of the bushes and clubs A on the head. It certainly looks like B is aggressing against A in this case. But on the libertarian view, whether this is so depends entirely on the relevant property rights – specifically, who owns the field. If it’s B’s field, and A was crossing it without B’s consent, then A was the one who was actually aggressing against B. Thus, “aggression,” on the libertarian view, doesn’t really mean physical violence at all. It means “violation of property rights.” But if this is true, then the NAP’s focus on “aggression” and “violence” is at best superfluous, and at worst misleading. It is the enforcement of property rights, not the prohibition of aggression, that is fundamental to libertarianism.”

Yes, property is the great problem solver, and a dispute must be placed in the proper context before it can be resolved. But I personally don’t think that all of libertarianism (at least the moral half of it) rests on just the NAP. I think just as, or perhaps more important than the NAP, is the idea of self-ownership. Without self-ownership, we cannot even have the concept of aggression upon another person. And likewise, without self-ownership we cannot have external property rights, without which even talking about theft makes no sense. I would argue that self-ownership is primal to everything else, so in a way I agree – but I don’t think that makes the NAP superfluous or misleading, that would be more a criticism of placing the NAP as the axiom than the NAP itself, something I don’t see that many libertarians do.

 

6. What About the Children??? – It’s one thing to say that aggression against others is wrong. It’s quite another to say that it’s the only thing that’s wrong – or the only wrong that is properly subject to prevention or rectification by force. But taken to its consistent extreme, as Murray Rothbard took it, the NAP implies that there is nothing wrong with allowing your three year-old son to starve to death, so long as you do not forcibly prevent him from obtaining food on his own. Or, at least, it implies that it would be wrong for others to, say, trespass on your property in order to give the child you’re deliberately starving a piece of bread. This, I think, is a fairly devastating reductio of the view that positive duties may never be coercively enforced. That it was Rothbard himself who presented the reductio, without, apparently, realizing the absurdity into which he had walked, rather boggles the mind.”

I think this entire point is a straw man, although it’s one that should be addressed anyway. Either the author is assuming that children are the property of their parents, and therefore breaking into the parent’s property to rescue the children from mistreatment is aggression. If this is the case, then I would respond that children are not their parent’s property, and that violating property rights to save an abused child is permissible. Take for example the case of kidnapping – in that case intervening to rescue that person is acceptable. Of course, it’s difficult to determine consent when it comes to an infant who is unable to put their desires into words, but in this case pointing to the inability or unwillingness of the parents to meet the basic needs of the child (water, food) are enough.

On the other hand, the author is not claiming that children are their parents property, but posits the above dilemma because of the view that, “positive duties may never be coercively enforced” (a view he is critiquing). I, however, do not see how having a child is a coercively enforced duty. You have children, generally speaking, by choice. The obvious exception is rape, but even then it is possible to abort the child if you do not want to raise it. Should you carry the child to term, however, you implicitly accept the duties of a parent – a sort of guardian for another human being. You consent to these duties. Should you fail in them on some fundamental level, because of inability, then you should ask for help. If it is because of malice, then the NAP applies to the child who is being abused, and intervention is then not aggression, but defense of a third party.

I hope this clarifies things. I think that the author’s boggled mind comes from misunderstanding and not really thinking things through, in most of the points above, rather than any kind of inherent fault with the NAP.

All in all, not only do I in varying degrees reject five out of Zwolinski’s six points, but I think that the way they are written (and the amount of reasoning that went into them) serves only to paint a caricature of the NAP. I wonder if perhaps that was indeed the purpose – to create a straw man.

I also want to note, that a pro-freedom academic who derives pay from the plunder that is taxation (assuming that is indeed the case) exists in a state of painful cognitive dissonance. Either they must quit their current job and find voluntary work (there are plenty of voluntary teaching and research positions), or they must decide that initiating aggression is okay after all, as long as they’re on the receiving end of the loot.

I wonder if personal motivations informed which of the two this writer has chosen. Regardless of what world-saving and child-vaccinating scenarios have been used in the original article, the author’s actions (again, assuming his position is indeed paid for with taxpayer money) clearly indicate he believes his own current job to be in that set of life-saving exceptions to the NAP.

Although I will be the first to say that using an ad hominem is inappropriate when it comes to rebuking arguments, it is nonetheless worthy to note, at least in passing, what the personal motivations of the author may be. If a government employee whose livelihood depends on the taxpayers tells me that government is necessary, I won’t be afraid to point out the conflict of interest. Unfortunately, most often people defend the existence of predation even as they are victims of it.

 

Update: I received a very helpful comment on my G+ share of this post (actually, several helpful comments), and decided to post one of them on here with permission from the author, Justen Robertson:

“The more salient point is that the principle does not create prohibitions, and indeed cannot create prohibitions, since prohibitions are themselves aggression. It only instructs on how to assign guilt and liability in the event of a dispute. The authors of both articles are still stuck in the statist conception of laws and legality, where one writes a rule on paper and then all persons are restricted from violating that rule by some invisible force (except, of course, for the “bad guys”).

I expect that in a real world stateless society based around the NAP it would be violated regularly for a variety of good and ill intentions. For example, pushing someone out of the way of a bus is a violation of the NAP, while allowing him to die is (at least for many of us) a much greater moral ill. There are a few things that should be immediately obvious, but which may not be in the statist legalistic/absolutist mind.

First, the question is only raised if the “victim” of this act complains, which in most cases is not going to happen. Second, if the victim does complain, the NAP only says that he is entitled to compensation. In a restorative concept of justice, which is complimentary to the NAP (as opposed to a punitive system which arguably is impossible under the NAP), the question then becomes “how does the aggressor put the victim back in the place he would have been if not for the aggressor’s violation of the NAP”. In this case, clearly the aggressor is obliged to run the victim over with a bus. So, ok, go right ahead and resolve that situation, and then the victim’s estate can deal with compensating the owner of the bus and its passengers for damages arising from his own negligent actions.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of reasoning to figure out how all of this plays out in real life, but statism cripples reasoning.”

  • jacksmind

    “Taxation is not simply theft – it is also everything that happens to you should you resist that theft. From beatings and kidnappings (arrest should you try to protect your property) to murder (if you decide to really protect your property). The State would not have been able to tax millions of people every year if it didn’t make the occasional example every time a rebellious tax-resister decided to test the lengths to which agents of the system would go. Thus, taxation is the threat of murder. Almost every government law is, if you really think about it.”

    Thank you so much for giving my facebook friends great fodder for the insane outlook of Libertarian fundamentalists. No one believes taxation is the threat of murder. The enforcement of tax evasion is jail time. Could someone die in a firefight with police for not paying their taxes? Sure. But someone could die in a firefight by ANY enforceable action in a minimal-state/anarchist capitalism such as an individual defrauding another, and the other threatening to harm enough (or kill) through force. Do I think that it’s ok for a billionaire to kill another because fraud was committed in this Ayn Rand utopia. No I don’t. That doesn’t mean that the threat isn’t justified.

    “Do I think that murdering billionaires is acceptable to save thousands of children? No, I do not”

    But let’s just bite this bullet. Your above sentence is one I agree with. But I can’t remember the last time that this happened, which makes me think your argument is not a slippery slope, it’s a slippery cliff. Do I think murdering billionaires is acceptable to save thousands of children? No. Do I think that threatening to put people in jail for not paying their fair share of income that was largely undeserved (I wonder how well things would have worked for them if they grew up poor in Ethiopia foraging through dumps looking for scrap copper)., then yeah I would bite that bullet any day. Yes, that is 100% acceptable.

    • If you’re going to use an ad hominem and call me insane, at least do it properly. The correct term is libertarian, with a small l. Libertarian with a large L (except at the start of a sentence) is a reference to a member of the Libertarian Party. An anarchist like myself cannot be part of the Libertarian Party, at least not without being hypocritical. But, based on the rest of your post, you’re pretty new to libertarianism so this is not surprising.

      Yes, almost every government law will result in jail time if it is violated. At the beginning of 1933, it was illegal to drink alcohol, but legal to own gold in America. At the end of 1933, drinking alcohol was made legal again, but owning gold was made illegal, and didn’t become legal until the 1970’s. The punishment for violating these completely arbitrary scribblings of politicians and bureaucrats was jail time and property confiscation. Using better terms, the punishments were being kidnapped and placed in a cage (with the significant risk of being raped), and having your stuff stolen.

      Whatever law we are talking about, if it is resisted with violence, the result will be beatings and kidnapping, or death. Since the vast majority of government laws and regulations on the books are malum prohibitum and not malum in se, the laws themselves, or rather their threat and enforcement, are an initiation of aggression.

      Let me give you a very concrete example. If a burglar breaks onto my property, and tries to steal my stuff, I have every right to protect my property and resist them. If they turn to trying to hurt me too, then I ought to be able to use up to lethal force to stop the attacker. Now imagine that the burglar is a police officer enforcing a tax law. What happens when you don’t pay your taxes? The IRS, police, etc., break into your house, and start confiscating your stuff. What happens if you resist, the way you would a burglar? I think we’ve already covered that.

      The fact that you have, in your mind, a double standard for what can be considered proper behavior, is troubling. Why do you allow an individual working for the State to have greater rights and powers than anyone else?

      Also, you reference Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was not an anarchist, and I do not support her views. If you want to criticize someone similar to my views, go for Rothbard instead. It is my experience that many people seem to equate libertarianism with Ayn Rand. She must be incredibly popular in the U.S.

      Yes, in a stateless society people can die in a firefight over all sorts of laws, just like now. The difference is that in a stateless society, you can be judged by an actual third party. When the State judges its own police force by their own laws, are they a third party? When a State court and judge, who receive their salary from the taxpayers, judge whether a tax-resister is in the right or in the wrong, are they a third party? No, because the government can never be a true third party in disputes involving itself. This is why the government idea of law is anathema to any kind of real justice. How do Bush and Obama start wars, drone-bomb children, and then get expensive retirement plans and noble peace prizes as rewards? Because there is no justice when it comes to the government and the ruling class.

      You said, “Do I think that threatening to put people in jail for not paying their fair share of income that was largely undeserved (I wonder how well things would have worked for them if they grew up poor in Ethiopia foraging through dumps looking for scrap copper).”

      Libertarianism is pretty strict about what money is deserved, and what isn’t. It is true, that many of the wealthy people have acquired vast amounts of money illegitimately. Through collusion with big government, through fraud, etc. Many bankers are good examples, since Fractional Reserve Banking is essentially legalized fraud. However, stealing money through government is most certainly not a legitimate way of acquiring funds either.

      As Thomas Sowell put it, “I have never understood why it is greed to want to keep the money you have earned, but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.”

      • Point of correction: Drinking alcohol was never illegal in the United States, just the production, sale and distribution of “intoxicating liquors” — with some notable exceptions.

        • Thanks for the correction. Strange that they would prohibit everything except consumption…

          • polaman

            It’s for the parasites don’t put themselves in jail :p

      • Confused

        I cant say that I’m an anarchist, I don’t really know enough about the subject…but I was liberal before reading this discussion. I guess I shouldn’t assume jacksmind is an absolute representative of liberal beliefs, but nevertheless, the concepts here are hard to deny. I cant see how the things I support (anti-slavery, gay rights, womens rights, etc) can exist without absolute self ownership, and if liberals dont believe in that concept, then I guess Im not one.

        • Keep thinking and questioning – you’ll find a consistent position eventually 🙂

  • I disagree. The whole point of third-party arbitration is to avoid violent conflict in the first place. If they went this far, they’re very likely to comply. They might not, of course, in which case the court will issue some kind of justification for use of force to extract payment, and DROp will no longer protect the Polluter, lest they be seen as a rogue DRO who disrespects court judgments.

    I think your hitman scenario is a lot less plausible than you might realize – at the very least because you are seeing none of the hidden costs. Besides the direct cost of hiring hitmen, there is also:

    – The cost of direct, forceful retaliation from the fishermen who survive, from their families, from the DROf that is sworn to protect them, etc.

    – DROp will want nothing to do with the Polluter anymore, and will not protect them from retaliation.

    – Everyone else who holds any kind of business deals with Polluter will be very weary of their use of aggressive violence and their disregard for third party arbitration, probably breaking off their dealings (ostracism).

    – Polluter will be unable to use court services in the future, since they are known for violently and wantonly disrespecting them.

    – Since in a stateless society the legal shield of corporate limited liability does not exist, the resulting judgment against Polluter, or rather the managers and people responsible, is bound to be very harsh.

    – Many of Polluter’s customers, who buy widgets, will probably shun them too.

    – The hitmen are unlikely to succeed, since in a free society the fishermen will probably be well armed.

    All in all, using hitmen to assassinate the village of fishermen is a ludicrous solution. I wouldn’t say it can never happen, but it’s going to be as rare (or rarer) than today. If you want to see how likely people are to adhere to court judgments in a stateless society, look up medieval Iceland and medieval Ireland for examples.

    Point 2: You are in your first half of this point correct – the way the current system is set up, the State effectively owns all land within its territory, and so-called “property owners” are simply renters – caretakers. I’ve said this for a while. Taxation on property ownership is basically paying rent to the actual owner. Immigration laws cannot exist unless the State claims a territorial right to everything within its borders. However, the State doesn’t merely claim ownership to land and buildings, but also to people. That’s what income tax is: the State telling you that you own neither yourself, nor the product of your labor.

    I disagree with your second point about moving out. Move out to where? Where in the world is there a country (human farm) that doesn’t tax people? Perhaps the more salient point is that you’re not actually free to leave, not really. Most countries have immigration laws of varying strictness, and you need to obtain the government’s permission to live there. Moreover, professional licenses are basically dog collars that prevent doctors, lawyers, etc., from working in a foreign country without a lot of time and money in re-certification.

    Oh, and a fun point: the U.S. government will continue to levy taxation on foreign income, even if you’ve moved out and live abroad. It’s one of the few countries to do that.

    Point 3: You said, “libertarians do not believe in preventing crime, only finding justice after the deed is done”

    What? So I should forget about every carrying a weapon in self-defense, and just hope the courts take care of it after the fact? I should forget about various deterrents to crime, about peaceful parenting, making sure families aren’t broken apart by the State which creates fatherless homes in which criminals are more likely to grow up, etc.?

    Perhaps you mean strictly speaking with respect to the NAP, as opposed to what all libertarians believe in general.

    “Most real world situations are very difficult, if not impossible to determine “intent”.”

    Actually, that’s not the case. Some situations are difficult, but most really aren’t. Mentally deficient criminals are a minority. As for BP, intent is irrelevant – they’ve incurred damages, they must now be liable for them to whoever owns the water, or what’s in it, or what’s on the coast, etc. Quite frankly, given the scale of that disaster, BP would have had to pay a lot more in restitution on a free market than in the current model where the oceans are effectively un-owned, with all of the tragedy of the commons that this implies.

    “Is circumcision malice? How do we define what is and is not malice?”

    Yes, I think genital mutilation is a form of child abuse. If a parent cuts off a piece of a child’s nose, how is that any better than circumcision?

  • My point was less about dumb laws, than about the way violence is used to enforce the most arbitrary of a politician’s whims.

    “Disagree. The vast majority of laws reflect an underlying moral principle. Taxes, homicide, tort law, theft, embezzlement, etc. etc. all reflect an underlying immorality.”

    The vast majority of laws are regulations with no moral content whatsoever. Malum prohibitum laws are another example. Prohibitions on marijuana and other drugs, on the carrying and ownership of guns, etc., have nothing to do with morality. Tax laws also have nothing to do with morality, unless you’re one of those people who thinks smoking is immoral, and you think that the higher tax on smokers is a form of just punishment. (Full disclosure: I do not smoke and do not like being around smoke.)

    “The key difference, of course, is the assumption in the former that the burglar has no right to your property, whereas in the later you have no absolute right to your property.”

    You’re making the same point as dan below, and to some extent I agree. In the current system, property ownership is an illusion, and property “owners” are at best renters and temporary caretakers. There is nothing just about such a system, however, least of all because that assumption of property ownership extends over people too, and is a form of slavery.

    “I don’t. The actions of each individual are determined by complex considerations of liberty, justice, etc. In both cases above, no one has absolute right to that which they didn’t deserve. In the first case, the bugler didn’t have that right, in the second case the homeowner also doesn’t have that right–hence the moral permissibly of taxation.”

    Ah, right – the creed of the thief. “You didn’t deserve that money you worked for, so I’m going to steal it from you, but it’s not really theft, because I rightfully own you, the product of your labor, your property, etc.”

    If the taxpayer who actually did real work doesn’t deserve to own his property, then how does someone who outright steals it deserve to own it? Based on what you’ve written, your sense of justice is completely upside down and inside out.

    What exactly is the moral difference between what you’re advocating and outright slavery? Not the difference in degree – the difference in principle? Here, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P772Eb63qIY

    “the threat of death occurs independent of any government.”

    The threat of death can occur from all sorts of places. Obviously the criminals in government are not the only ones. But, they sure lead the pack. In the 20th century, governments have killed over 260 million people. That’s much more than have been killed by all other homicides combined in the same time period.

    The point of a stateless society is not to create a utopia in which everyone is safe and happy – that’s impossible. If you’re saying that’s what ancaps want, then you’re using the Nirvana fallacy. No, the point of a stateless society is to not institutionalize the existing violence into an entire system.

    “They certainly aren’t an ideal third party, but rarely is any third party which can be influenced by coercion, bias, regulatory capture, etc .etc. I’m happy to improve the independence of judges, but it may just be a necessary evil since a stateless system is so unworkable.”

    1. They’re not a third party at all. Watch this short video on what it actually means to be above the law: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khRkBEdSDDo

    2. If you’re going to make bland assertions like, “it may just be a necessary evil since a stateless system is so unworkable,” without any kind of supporting argumentation, then I’m not going to bother replying in the future.

    “But again, they are much better than the stateless solution.”

    Same thing again.

    “These are all loaded terms. I’m sure they aren’t trying to drone-bomb children, but whatever, I’m happy to find ways to hold government accountable, but I’m more concerned by billions of suffering people in the world, who are a victim of nothing but circumstance. To me this is the greater injustice; the one that libertarians have no real solution for.”

    The billions of people suffering around the world are suffering directly as a consequence of their governments. The industrial revolution began in the 1760’s in England. Why did it take so long for it to come to China, for example? Why are there hundreds of millions of Chinese people who live in absolute or relative poverty, while Americans and Europeans are far better off? Why are there 30 million more Americans on food stamps now than there were in 2000? Why, despite technological advancements, are many Americans far worse off than a decade ago?

    If you can’t answer these question, then I suggest you start studying economics. You’ll never figure out how to help the billions of suffering people if you think it’s all just “circumstance” without serious underlying causes. Oh, and taxing successful people who create value in order to create a dependent underclass of poor people through a government welfare system is the WORST way to help the poor. Do you understand how incentives work?

    “These riches are a result of *MANY* factors far beyond the sheer ambition of the individuals, which is why coercive taxation is morally permissible.”

    First of all, I specifically covered legitimately vs. illegitimately derived income. Secondly, non sequitur (although you are welcome to try and explain the logic).

    And finally, your last example. Like the original author of the article I was criticizing, you have come up with a rather absurd and unlikely situation, in which a a billionaire libertarian (because those are actually very rare), donates nothing to charity (again, what? Bill Gates, who you seem to hate, has actually donated vast amounts of his fortune to charities, like many other billionaires), snatches back a 100 rupee note from a poor child on the streets of India, all while on a quest to give a speech on libertarian justice.

    Seriously? I mean, perhaps if you were writing a comedy without the humor. Besides all the counter-factuals, the truth is that you’re using absurd, made up scenarios to justify very real predation by the State. Not predation on billionaires, but on everybody. Exactly like the original author.

    • jacksmind

      “My point was less about dumb laws, than about the way violence is used to enforce the most arbitrary of a politician’s whims.”

      Yes, and to enforce rational laws as well. Yes, things are enforced. I agree.

      “The vast majority of laws are regulations with no moral content whatsoever. Malum prohibitum laws are another example. Prohibitions on marijuana and other drugs, on the carrying and ownership of guns, etc., have nothing to do with morality. Tax laws also have nothing to do with morality, unless you’re one of those people who thinks smoking is immoral, and you think that the higher tax on smokers is a form of just punishment. (Full disclosure: I do not smoke and do not like being around smoke.)”

      Prohibitions on marijuana: is a dumb law.

      The carrying and ownership of guns: moral principle: One should be morally prohibited in the carrying/ownership of arms if such a right creates disproportionate risk on another. Either directly or indirectly.

      Smoking causes cost/risk shifting to those who will pay for their smoking. The moral principle: one should not pass your costs onto another person.

      Now I know you don’t believe in this moral principles. You came form a certain background, place, education, etc. etc. But that itself doesn’t imply that these laws are lacking in moral content. It’s just moral content you don’t agree with.

      “You’re making the same point as dan below, and to some extent I agree. In the current system, property ownership is an illusion, and property “owners” are at best renters and temporary caretakers. There is nothing just about such a system, however, least of all because that assumption of property ownership extends over people too, and is a form of slavery.”

      I’m not sure what you’re saying here, but if you’re saying that private property is unjust, then I agree. Whether it’s inherently unjust, I don’t care much, it is unjust based upon improper endowments alone (where you/i got the education, capital, experience compared to someone living in the ghetto), let alone deeper considerations.

      “Ah, right – the creed of the thief. “You didn’t deserve that money you worked for, so I’m going to steal it from you, but it’s not really theft, because I rightfully own you, the product of your labor, your property, etc.””

      Well not quite. More like, “You didn’t deserve ALL that money you worked for: even though you own your talents (and other endowments), they are largely the result of luck, and they certainly do not entitle you to accrue unequal rewards from the exercise of those talents. Because talents are undeserved, it is not a denial of moral equality for the government to consider people’s talents as part of their circumstances, and hence as a possible ground for claims to compensation.”

      “If the taxpayer who actually did real work doesn’t deserve to own his property, then how does someone who outright steals it deserve to own it? Based on what you’ve written, your sense of justice is completely upside down and inside out.”

      Explained above: under considerations of justice those who are victims of circumstance deserve equal treatment. Just because they don’t have the ability to accrue unequal rewards doesn’t me they don’t deserve to be supported. The mentally ill wandering the streets does not deserve his place in life, and certainly deserves assistance.

      “What exactly is the moral difference between what you’re advocating and outright slavery? Not the difference in degree – the difference in principle? Here, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

      Oh, tons! Here’s one: a slave does not choose to work, any person in a liberal government may choose to work. You don’t have to make use of your talents if you don’t want to, so we incentivise you to make use of your talents by high wages, but this 100% absolutely does not imply that you are entitled to the entire amount.

      “The threat of death can occur from all sorts of places. Obviously the criminals in government are not the only ones. But, they sure lead the pack. In the 20th century, governments have killed over 260 million people. That’s much more than have been killed by all other homicides combined in the same time period.”

      Yes, and if you want your counter-factuals to be some magic world where pixie dust is sprinkled all over history and suddenly all despotic regimes vanish because all governments disappear, then you are certainly right. I’d rather contemplate the necessary outcomes of ANY state, not the straw-man that sometimes horrible killings come from SOME despotic states.

      “The point of a stateless society is not to create a utopia in which everyone is safe and happy – that’s impossible. If you’re saying that’s what ancaps want, then you’re using the Nirvana fallacy. No, the point of a stateless society is to not institutionalize the existing violence into an entire system.”

      I don’t think I said that, if I did please point it out and I’ll correct the statement.

      “1. They’re not a third party at all. Watch this short video on what it actually means to be above the law: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…”

      Well of course they don’t have to be, but they can be. Tort law for example, or even if you want to sue the government.

      “2. If you’re going to make bland assertions like, “it may just be a necessary evil since a stateless system is so unworkable,” without any kind of supporting argumentation, then I’m not going to bother replying in the future.”

      I apologize. I thought this was obvious, but I admit I could be wrong. Has there ever been any modern stateless society that as worked on a large scale? And if not, what are the reasons to believe that such a society would be possible?

      “The billions of people suffering around the world are suffering directly as a consequence of their governments.”

      Well it depends on who you’re talking about. Sure there are some despotic regimes that are horrible to their people. But there are also countries without any government where people are suffering:

      https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/wi.html

      “The industrial revolution began in the 1760’s in England. Why did it take so long for it to come to China, for example?”

      Type of Government.

      “Why are there hundreds of millions of Chinese people who live in absolute or relative poverty, while Americans and Europeans are far better off?”

      Type of Government.

      “Why are there 30 million more Americans on food stamps now than there were in 2000?”

      Population growth plus economic boom v.s. recession. There were also more during the mid-90s too:

      http://www.mybudget360.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/snap.jpg

      “Why, despite technological advancements, are many Americans far worse off than a decade ago?”

      Well it depends on what indicators you’re referring to. but basically: Recession.

      “If you can’t answer these question, then I suggest you start studying economics. You’ll never figure out how to help the billions of suffering people if you think it’s all just “circumstance” without serious underlying causes.”

      Well, of course, it’s many things. But circumstance is a GIANT factor:

      http://s3.amazonaws.com/dk-production/images/581/large/Pew_study_chart_7-12.png?1342127890

      ” Oh, and taxing successful people who create value in order to create a dependent underclass of poor people through a government welfare system is the WORST way to help the poor. Do you understand how incentives work?”

      Well I’m not sure I said we shouldn’t incentivise people. But I’m glad you agree we should tax people and provide opportunites (i.e. not handouts) to get people out of poverty.

      “”These riches are a result of *MANY* factors far beyond the sheer ambition of the individuals, which is why coercive taxation is morally permissible.”

      First of all, I specifically covered legitimately vs. illegitimately derived income.”

      As did I.

      “Secondly, non sequitur (although you are welcome to try and explain the logic).”

      Because it is a matter of brute luck that people have the talents they do, their rights over their talents do not include the right to accrue unequal rewards from the exercise of those talents. Because talents are undeserved, it is not a denial of moral equality for the government to consider people’s talents as part of their circumstances, and hence as a possible ground for claims to compensation. People who are born with a natural disadvantage have a legitimate claim on those with advantages, and the naturally advantaged have a moral obligation to the disadvantaged.

      “And finally, your last example. Like the original author of the article I was criticizing, you have come up with a rather absurd and unlikely situation, in which a a billionaire libertarian (because those are actually very rare),”

      It’s not about the probable. But the possible. To demonstrate how silly the Sowell quote was.

      “donates nothing to charity (again, what? Bill Gates, who you seem to hate, has actually donated vast amounts of his fortune to charities, like many other billionaires),”

      I don’t think I used Bill Gates in this example. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

      “Seriously?”

      Yes. Seriously.

      “I mean, perhaps if you were writing a comedy without the humor. Besides all the counter-factuals, the truth is that you’re using absurd, made up scenarios to justify very real predation by the State. Not predation on billionaires, but on everybody. Exactly like the original author”

      No. I was using the story to demonstrate how silly the Sowell quote was. I’m sorry if you didn’t see that it was immediately under the Sowell quote. But it was not a treatise on all billionaires, all circumstances, all people, and everything as you seem to think.

      • I’m not going to reply in full, because I now understand your position, and it is clearly irreconcilable with mine.

        From what you have said, your position boils down to this: using aggressive, initiatory violence is acceptable as long as you get what you want – in this case redistribution of wealth at gunpoint by government agents. Once I have clarified that someone is indeed advocating pointing a gun at my face if I don’t comply with their fascism, all further discussion becomes somewhat pointless.

        It’s like trying to debate a mugger pointing a knife at you and asking for your wallet.

        • jacksmind

          I would encourage you not to leave so early, as you attribute views to me that I do not hold.

          You say: “your position boils down to this: using aggressive, initiatory violence is acceptable as long as you get what you want – in this case redistribution of wealth at gunpoint by government agents”

          My position: Regardless of what I want (indeed I could be on the other side, the person who is being taxed), it is morally justified and acceptable for the government to threaten to put a person in jail for unjustly claiming rewards due to talents and circumstance he did not deserve. And no guns. They can’t use guns. So I disagree to that extent. No guns.

          You say: “Once I have clarified that someone is indeed advocating pointing a gun at my face if I don’t comply with their fascism, all further discussion becomes somewhat pointless.”

          My position: Again no guns. I don’t want a situation like this:

          Imagine two individuals on an stateless island–Ben and Adam. Adam picks a supply of apples, but then Ben comes along and takes a load of apples without Adam’s consent. ‘Those are my apples, I picked them’, Adam says. ‘No, those are my apples, they came from my tree.’ Ben replies. Then a third party, Charlie comes along. Adam asks Ben if he will agree to allow Charlie to mediate their dispute. Ben runs to his shack, taking his apples. ‘No! These are my apples! And use of aggressive, initiatory violence isn’t acceptable just because you’ll get what you want ‘ Charlie and Ben tell him that he has no right to steal the apples, and they are justified in using coercion He locks the door, boards the windows, grabs his guns and prepares for a fight. ‘Once I have clarified that someone is indeed pointing a gun at my face if I don’t comply with their fascism, all further discussion becomes somewhat pointless.’ Adam replies.

          So again, no guns.

  • Jack

    1. On pollution, when he states that ‘this is prohibited’, he means that it is morally prohibited. Therefore, any pollution that is not consented to by another property owner is morally wrong, and so should not be done. But this would indeed mean that many activities (building a home, which leads to dust being sprinkled next door) would constitute initiating force, and so should not be carried out. The fact that the consequences are not extreme is of course irrelevant to the libertarian, since he is anti-consequentialist. So you cannot respond, ‘well it is only some dust’ – you are opposed to the initiation of force in all forms.

    “Should you carry the child to term, however, you implicitly accept the duties of a parent – a sort of guardian for another human being.”
    ^ How do you justify that? You own your body, and with items you own you produce a baby. It sounds like statism to me to assert that you therefore ‘implicitly accept the duties of a parent’ – you may as well state that by living in a state you ‘implicitly accept the duties of a citizen, including paying taxation’, and that in either case if you fail to carry out your duties (aiding the baby, paying taxes) you may be forced to. How do you justify this appeal to positive rights of the child, which I thought libertarians rejected?