Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves


Paleolibertarians adhere to something they call the non-aggression principle. According to Walter Block, writing at (a paleo site):
The non-aggression axiom is the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another.
In another post, Block writes:

The libertarian non-aggression axiom is the essence of libertarianism. Take away this axiom, and libertarianism might as well be libraryism, or vegetarianism. Thus, if a person is to be a libertarian, he must, he absolutely must, in my opinion, be able to distinguish aggression from defense.

Here's a joke. Do you know the difference between a bathroom and a living room? No? Well, don't come to my house. In this spirit I ask, do you know the difference between offense and defense? Between aggression and defense against aggression? No? Well, then, don't call yourself a libertarian.

I can't read anyone out of the libertarian movement. No one appointed me guardian of this honorific. I am just giving my humble opinion. In like manner, if you couldn't tell the difference between a hammer and a chisel, I wouldn't consider you a carpenter. If you couldn't distinguish between a brush and paint, I wouldn't consider you a painter. In much the same way, if you can't tell offense and defense apart, that is, if you believe in pre-emptive strikes against those who are not attacking you, then I can't consider you a libertarian even if you favor free enterprise and oppose criminalizing voluntary adult conduct.

There are areas in which well meaning and knowledgeable libertarians disagree: minarchism vs. anarchism; immigration; abortion; inalienability; punishment theory. Although I have strong views on all of these, I recognize libertarian arguments on the other side. But not on this issue.

You don't have to wait until I actually punch you in the nose to take violent action against me. You don't even have to wait until my fist is within a yard of you, moving in your direction. However, if you haul off and punch me in the nose in a preemptive strike, on the ground that I might punch you in the future, then you are an aggressor.

But what about the in-between case, where you haven't started your swing but I have good reason to believe that you're about to do so? Consider the following comment that I posted today at Catallarchy:
I know that life's not black & white, but a black & white case may help us to clarify the principles that we're trying to apply to rather messy "real world" situations. Consider this hypothetical:

1. In Country A (just as in Country B), the armed forces are controlled by the state. (I don't want to get off onto the tangent of whether war is more or less likely if defense is provided by private agencies.)

2. The only restriction on the liberty of Country A's citizens is that they must pay taxes to support their armed forces. Country B's citizens own no property; their jobs are dictated by the state; their income is dictated by the state; and all aspects of their lives are regimented by state decrees.

3. Though Country A's armed forces are underwritten by taxes, the members of the armed forces are volunteers. The members of Country B's armed forces are conscripts, and Country B's armed forces are, in effect, supplied and equipped by slave labor.

4. Country A would liberate Country B's citizens, if it could. Country B would subjugate or kill Country A's citizens, if it could.

What say you, then, to these questions:

1. If Country B attacks Country A, what limits (if any) would you place on the measures Country A might take in its defense? Specifically:

a. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable at all?

b. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable if they're the result of mistakes on Country A's part or the unavoidable result of Country A's attacks on Country B's armed forces and infrastructure?

c. Is the deliberate infliction by Country A of civilian casualties in Country B acceptable as long as Country A's leaders reasonably believe that the infliction of those casualties -- and nothing else -- will bring about the defeat of Country B? (Assume, here, that Country A's leaders try to inflict only the number of casualties deemed necessary to the objective.)

(Assume, for purposes of the next 2 questions, that Country A inflicts casualties on Country B's civilians only to the extent that those casualties are the result of mistakes or unavoidable collateral damage.)

2. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is about to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to:

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A's citizens?

3. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is developing the wherewithal to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A's citizens?

What I'm trying to get at is whether we should value non-aggression (which I take to be a means to liberty that's favored by certain libertarians) over liberty itself (the end upon which all libertarians agree). In light of that distinction, my answers are:

1. a. Yes
1. b. Yes
1. c Yes
2. a. Yes
2. b. Yes
3. a. Yes
3. b. Yes

Over to you.
Let me emphasize the essential question: Should libertarians favor non-aggression -- which is really a means to liberty -- over liberty itself? Paleos like Block have latched onto non-aggression (which Block, at least, cannot define very well), as if non-aggression were the same thing as liberty. They have mixed up ends and means. Aggression may be necessary to the pursuit of liberty; non-aggression may be inimical to liberty.

Of course, the paleos can always argue that my answers are within the (vague) bounds of non-aggression. And that's okay with me, as long as they also stop harping about American imperialism.

UPDATE (7:26 pm CT): Joe Miller (not a paleo, in my book) has posted a thorough and thoughtful reply to my comment. I will think it through and respond to him here and at Catallarchy.

UPDATE 2 (4:02 pm CT, 07/28/05): I have continued this post at Liberty Corner II.

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Saving the Innocent? (Part II)

I ended "Saving the Innocent?" with the following quotation and observation:
The story is told of a Chinese law professor, who was listening to a British lawyer explain that Britons were so enlightened, they believed it was better that ninety-nine guilty men go free than that one innocent man be executed. The Chinese professor thought for a second and asked, "Better for whom?" 238
That's the question, isn't it? Better for whom? It's better for the guilty, who may claim more victims, but certainly not better for those victims.
And in the next post ("Sunday's Question"), I asked this:
Is a rabid dog any less dangerous because of its brain abnormalities, because it doesn't know what it's doing, because it's not fully grown, or because it's merely defending its territory?
Now I read this in today's paper:

[Texas] Gov. Rick Perry changed the 28 sentences to life in prison after the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be executed because of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

History shows release is possible for some of them.

Death penalties [in Texas] were halted for four years after the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Furman vs. Georgia.

According to state prison records reviewed by The Dallas Morning News, 40 of the 47 Texas inmates who left death row then have been released from prison.

Two died in prison and five remain behind bars.

At least two who were released killed again. One was Kenneth McDuff, who was convicted in 1992 for killing two women. He was executed in 1998.

Of the 40 who were released, 22 committed new offenses ranging from misdemeanors to murder. About half of those paroled returned to prison because of new crimes or violations of parole. Many led quiet lives.

Evidently, in our "enlightened" society, it is better that many innocent persons be victimized so that some murderers can lead "quiet lives."

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained

Too "Right" for a Leftist

Bob Rowthorn, who professes economics at the University of Cambridge, reviews Paul Ormerod's Why Most Things Fail:
...Ormerod concentrates on failure and extinction in biology and economics. In the biological sphere, mutations lead to species that out-compete other species which eventually become extinct or retreat to some marginal niche. Extraneous events such as climate change may lead to the same outcome because some species are better able to survive in the new environment than others. Ormerod argues that failure and extinction are also pervasive in the economic sphere. Mutations and external events play a role in business life just as they do in biology. The counterparts to biological mutations are new technologies, new forms of organisation and new types of product....

In the biological sphere, most mutations are harmful and reduce the ability of the organism to survive. Some mutations linger on, but many are driven out entirely by competition from incumbent genes. Many potentially beneficial mutations are also driven out by competition before they have time to establish themselves, or before a complementary mutation occurs which allows them to achieve their full potential. The same is true in the economic sphere. Many innovations are harmful, and even potentially beneficial innovations may fail to establish themselves in the face of competition from powerful incumbents....

Ormerod's alternative vision of economics lays great stress on social interaction. Individuals and organisations have only a very limited ability to obtain and process information, so they rely heavily on the information they acquire from encounters with those around them. This leads to herd behaviour and unpredictable consequences. It can make it very difficult for firms to plan their investment and innovation strategies because success or failure may depend on huge swings of fortune that are impossible to anticipate.
So far, so good. Ormerod's not really saying anything new, but perhaps it seems new to Rowthorn, whose weak grasp of economics is reflected in Democracy and Efficiency in the Economic Enterprise, of which he is co-editor. A reading of the sample pages (available at the link) brings Rowthorn's idealistic socialism into view, as does the rest of Rowthorn's review of Ormerod; viz.:
Ormerod gives many examples of social interaction leading to outcomes which are impossible to predict. The most striking example is Schelling's model of residential segregation. In the US, there are few racially mixed communities and most blacks and whites live in neighbourhoods which are populated almost entirely by their own kind. This might suggest that there is a strong antipathy between the two groups. Yet a large amount of evidence suggests that this is not the case. Most blacks and whites would like to live in neighbourhoods where their racial group is in a majority, but they are perfectly happy to have a large minority of people from the other group as neighbours.
In sum, the "fact" that blacks and whites would prefer some degree of residential integration (whose fact?) trumps the reality that blacks and whites segregate themselves. Why?
To explore the implication of such preferences, Schelling ran a number of simulations in which individuals were allowed to move house if they found themselves surrounded by too many of the other racial group. These simulations demonstrated two things. In the course of time, the typical result was that blacks and whites spontaneously relocated themselves into highly segregated neighbourhoods. It was impossible to predict where the boundaries of these neighbourhoods would lie or where any particular individual would end up. But it was a safe bet that the bulk of people would end up surrounded largely by people of their own race. This outcome showed clearly that social interaction may magnify small variations into very large differences. It also showed the limitations of the conventional approach to social phenomena, which assumes that large differences must have large causes.
Schelling's results simply show that simulation sometimes mimics reality. The results offer no insight into causation. As for the "conventional approach to social phenomena," I've never heard or read anything which suggests "that large differences must have large causes" (terms that are meaninglessly vague). The "conventional approach" is to find relationships in the data, and to let those relationships speak for themselves. Rowthorn goes on to praise Ormerod's embrace of "non-linearity" as if Ormerod had discovered gravitation. Non-linearity is no news to economists, which tells you something about Rowthorn's credentials as an economist.

Rowthorn finally unveils his agenda:
Ormerod, despite being a man of the left, is sceptical of human ability to predict and plan. If this is true, what is the role for government? Should it be merely a nightwatchman, defending the polity against internal and external threats, enforcing property rights and preventing crime, or should its role be much wider? Can the state intervene effectively to achieve aims that commend widespread support? Ormerod does not discuss this issue explicitly, although his stress on failure would suggest that most state intervention is pointless. For example, he argues that government attempts to alter the distribution of income have had little long-term impact. Yet surely this is an exaggeration. Human nature and market forces limit what governments can do about inequality, but that does not mean they are powerless. The existence of a strong welfare state in Sweden, for example, clearly helps explain why it is a far more equal society than Brazil. More generally, there are many examples of grand projects which governments have undertaken with conspicuous success, such as the TGV network in France or the D-day landings in the second world war. Ormerod's book is concerned with failure. But what is surprising is not that governments fail, but how often they succeed. The same goes for large corporations, which also perform amazing feats of planning and co-ordination. Successful planning by large public and private organisations, in tandem with markets, have created an environment that is more stable and predictable for many people in advanced economies than at any time in history.
Rowthorn has his politics mixed up with his economics:

1. Sweden may be a "far more equal society than Brazil" (whatever that means), but the real question is how much better off Swedes might be if they weren't so blasted "equal" with each other. (It's a hot topic in Sweden these days.)

2. Yes, it's true that goverments can do a lot of things, but Rowthorn ignores the crucial considerations: whether those things are worth doing, and whether government can do them best. Governments "succeed" only to the extent that they do something, but not to the extent that they do the right things or do them as well as they would be done by competitive markets.

3. Rowthorn tries to equate large corporations with government, as if government were nothing more than a special type of large corporation. He tellingly omits the point that large corporations -- to the extent that they're not protected from competition by government -- must respond to the needs of consumers and the pressures of competition in order to survive and thrive. When's the last time the government of the United States went out of business? There was a close call in the early 1860s, and that's about it.

4. Corporatism -- "[s]uccessful planning by large public and private organisations, in tandem with markets" -- substitutes "stability and predictability" for dynamism and prosperity. It's the triumph of bureaucracy over humanity.

What I really learned from Rowthorn's review is that Ormerod -- the "man of the left" -- is too right (and too "right") for Rowthorn.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Moral Issues

A common complaint from the Left about the Right (especially the religious of the Right) is that the Right seeks to impose its moral values on everyone. I don't know about that, but I do know that the Left -- with help from the Center -- has been imposing its moral values on everyone since the 1930s. Among the moral values revealed by the Left's political successes and present agenda are these:
  • Murder is wrong, except when it is committed against the unborn, the newborn, and other defenseless persons.
  • It is better to allow innocent persons to be victimized than to execute dangerous criminals or put them away for good.
  • Theft is wrong, except when it is committed by the state in the name of "compassion" (i.e., taking from the productive and giving to the unproductive) or for any "public purpose."
  • Discrimination is wrong, except when it is committed against white males (soon to be white, heterosexual males).
  • Two wrongs don't make a right, except when the aforementioned discrimination is committed in the name of rectifying "injustices" by discriminating against white (heterosexual) males who had no hand in the "injustices."
  • People should be free to live their own lives, except that they shouldn't be able to smoke in "public" places (i.e., privately owned businesses), decide with whom they will do business, decide how to run their own businesses, send their children to schools of their own choosing (unless they pay extra for the privilege), and on and on, into the night.
  • War is wrong -- even though it saved Europe from Hitler -- and large defense budgets are wasteful and provocative -- even though they brought an end to the Cold War.
  • Free speech is a paramount value, except when it comes to politics, business, and non-Leftish opinions on campus.
  • I've got mine, now we can impoverish those who don't have theirs, in the name of environmentalism.
The question for the floor is this: How on earth can the Left and its fellow travelers claim to be offended by the Right's putative insistence on imposing its morality on everyone else? The Left's moral obtuseness is of a kind with its refusal to admit "liberal bias" in the media.

Related posts (a very incomplete list):

Social Injustice (05/23/04)
The Cost of Affirmative Action (06/01/04)
School Vouchers and Teachers' Unions (07/15/04)
Why Class Warfare Is Bad for Everyone (09/21/04)
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide? (10/04/04)
PETA, NARAL, and Roe v. Wade (11/17/04)
Flooding the Moral Low Ground (11/19/04)
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action (12/05/04)
The Destruction of Income and Wealth by the State (01/01/05)
A Century of Progress? (01/30/05)
Feminist Balderdash (02/19/05)
Unlimited Government? (02/23/05)
Taking Exception (03/01/05)
Protecting Your Civil Liberties (03/22/05)
It's Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid (03/25/05)
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes (03/29/05)
Redefining Altruism (04/05/05)
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values (04/06/05)
Affirmative Action, One More Time (04/26/05)
Illusory Progress (05/15/05)
A Contrarian View of Segregation (05/18/05)
Free Markets, Free People, and Utter Disgust with Government (06/24/05)
An Agenda for the Supreme Court (06/29/05)
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, and Parentalism (07/13/05)
Global Warming and Life (07/18/05)
The Principle of Actionable Harm (07/19/05)
Saving the Innocent? (07/23/05)
Speaking of Religion... (07/26/05)

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Speaking of Religion...'s John Kay, a rather well-qualified economist, writing about "Bush's lack of guilt on global warming":
The debate [about global warming] has become so polarised that it is more and more difficult to pick one’s way through it. The best recent short guide to the issues I know was published on the eve of the Gleneagles summit by the Economic Affairs Committee of Britain’s House of Lords. The report is balanced in approach and conclusions, and has therefore received little attention. The most trenchant paragraphs describe the ways in which politics, science and advocacy have become entwined. The voices of people who know how little we know are routinely drowned by those who claim to know far more than they or we do....

Many of the people who express concern about climate change do not want a technological solution. Their concern is really an expression of guilt about materialism, distaste for capitalism and fear of technology. It is because Mr Bush does not experience any of these feelings that he is right on this issue.
In sum, it is hard for reason to be heard above the din of the Chorus of the Church of Liberal Guilt.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Evolution and Religion

It's hard for me to distinguish between hard-core evolutionists and evangelists. Go to a pro-evolution site like The Panda's Thumb, for example, and browse the posts and comments. There you will find a rather large dose of strident atheism. Hard-core evolutionists seem afraid that challenges to the theory of evolution will somehow lead to proof of the existence of God -- a frightening prospect for them. They are, as Alex Tabarrok would put it, activists rather than scholars.

The late David Stove, a noted Australian philosopher, put it this way in "A New Religion":

Dolphins and some other animals have lately turned out to be more intelligent than was formerly thought, and present-day computers are capable of some amazing things. Still, if the question is asked, what are the most intelligent and all-round-capable things on earth, the answer is obvious: human beings. Everyone knows this, except certain religious people. A person is certainly a believer in some religion if be thinks, for example, that there are on earth millions of invisible and immortal nonhuman beings which are far more intelligent and capable than we are.

But that is exactly what sociobiologists do think, about genes. Sociobiology, then, is a religion: one which has genes as its gods.

Yet this conclusion seems incredible. Was not religion banished from biological science a long time ago? Why, yes. And is not sociobiology a part of biological science (even if a very new part, and a controversial one)? No. Sociobiologists really are committed to genes being gods, as I will show in a moment....

According to the Christian religion, human beings and all other created things exist for the greater glory of God; according to sociobiology, human beings and all other living things exist for the benefit of their genes. The expression ‘their genes' is probably not perfectly orthodox, from the strict sociobiological point of view; being rather too apt to suggest that genes are part of our equipment, whereas (according to sociobiology) we are part of theirs. All the same, the religious implication is unmistakable: that there exist, in us and around us, beings to whom we stand in the same humble relation as calculators, cars, and screwdrivers stand in to us....

Most people would like some religion to be true. This may seem strange, when you consider that every religion is and must be more or less terrifying. But then, there are various things which can outweigh terror. One of them is depression, and if religion is terrifying, atheism is depressing. It is an intensely depressing thought that the brightest and best things the universe has to show are certain members of our species....

Yet if the sociobiologists are right, science has actually now brought us what the human heart has always yearned for but never before achieved: knowledge of beings which, in virtue of their immense superiority to ourselves, are proper objects of our reverence and worship.
A bit later, in "So You Think You Area Darwinian?," Stove wrote:
Most educated people nowadays, I believe, think of themselves as Darwinians. If they do, however, it can only be from ignorance: from not knowing enough about what Darwinism says. For Darwinism says many things, especially about our species, which are too obviously false to be believed by any educated person; or at least by an educated person who retains any capacity at all for critical thought on the subject of Darwinism.

Of course most educated people now are Darwinians, in the sense that they believe our species to have originated, not in a creative act of the Divine Will, but by evolution from other animals. But believing that proposition is not enough to make someone a Darwinian. It had been believed, as may be learnt from any history of biology, by very many people long before Darwinism, or Darwin, was born.

What is needed to make someone an adherent of a certain school of thought is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to that school, and are believed either by all of its adherents, or at least by the more thoroughgoing ones. In any large school of thought, there is always a minority who adhere more exclusively than most to the characteristic beliefs of the school: they are the ‘purists’ or ‘ultras’ of that school. What is needed and sufficient, then, to make a person a Darwinian, is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to Darwinians, and believed either by all of them, or at least by ultra-Darwinians.

I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in the sense just specified. Each of them is obviously false: either a direct falsity about our species or, where the proposition is a general one, obviously false in the case of our species, at least. Some of the ten propositions are quotations; all the others are paraphrases....

10. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life ‘do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive), that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed.’

This is from The Origin of Species, pp. 80-81. Exactly the same words occur in all the editions.

Since this passage expresses the essential idea of natural selection, no further evidence is needed to show that proposition 10 is a Darwinian one. But is it true? In particular, may we really feel sure that every attribute in the least degree injurious to its possessors would be rigidly destroyed by natural selection?

On the contrary, the proposition is (saving Darwin’s reverence) ridiculous. Any educated person can easily think of a hundred characteristics, commonly occurring in our species, which are not only ‘in the least degree’ injurious to their possessors, but seriously or even extremely injurious to them, which have not been ‘rigidly destroyed’, and concerning which there is not the smallest evidence that they are in the process of being destroyed. Here are ten such characteristics, without even going past the first letter of the alphabet. Abortion; adoption; fondness for alcohol; altruism; anal intercourse; respect for ancestors; susceptibility to aneurism; the love of animals; the importance attached to art; asceticism, whether sexual, dietary, or whatever.

Each of these characteristics tends, more or less strongly, to shorten our lives, or to lessen the number of children we have, or both. All of them are of extreme antiquity. Some of them are probably older than our species itself. Adoption, for example is practised by some species of chimpanzees: another adult female taking over the care of a baby whose mother has died. Why has not this ancient and gross ‘biological error’ been rigidly destroyed?...

The cream of the jest, concerning proposition 10, is that Darwinians themselves do not really believe it. Ask a Darwinian whether he actually believes that the fondness for alcoholic drinks is being destroyed now, or that abortion is, or adoption - and watch his face. Well, of course he does not believe it! Why would he? There is not a particle of evidence in its favour, and there is a great mountain of evidence against it. Absolutely the only thing it has in its favour is that Darwinism says it must be so. But (as Descartes said in another connection) ‘this reasoning cannot be presented to infidels, who might consider that it proceeded in a circle’.

What becomes, then, of the terrifying giant named Natural Selection, which can never sleep, can never fail to detect an attribute which is, even in the least degree, injurious to its possessors in the struggle for life, and can never fail to punish such an attribute with rigid destruction? Why, just that, like so much else in Darwinism, it is an obvious fairytale, at least as far as our species is concerned.

(Simon Blackburn's attempted refutation of this article was followed quickly by James Franklin's successful defense of it.)

Stove wasn't writing as a person of religion, for he evidently had no use for religion of any kind. Now, I don't know about the religious views of Frederick Turner (a professor at the University of Texas-Dallas), but he is an evolutionist. Here's what he has to say:

The evolutionists' three sins rolled into one....

The third sin is...dishonesty. In many cases it is clear that the beautiful and hard-won theory of evolution, now proved beyond reasonable doubt, is being cynically used by some -- who do not much care about it as such -- to support an ulterior purpose: a program of atheist indoctrination, and an assault on the moral and spiritual goals of religion. A truth used for unworthy purposes is quite as bad as a lie used for ends believed to be worthy. If religion can be undermined in the hearts and minds of the people, then the only authority left will be the state, and, not coincidentally, the state's well-paid academic, legal, therapeutic and caring professions. If creationists cannot be trusted to give a fair hearing to evidence and logic because of their prior commitment to religious doctrine, some evolutionary partisans cannot be trusted because they would use a general social acceptance of the truth of evolution as a way to set in place a system of helpless moral license in the population and an intellectual elite to take care of them.

And that is my issue with strident evolutionists of the ilk that frequent The Panda's Thumb. They're not only pushing evolution, they're also pushing atheism -- as if the two must be bound. The irony of their position is that atheism is unscientific: It is a belief in an untestable hypothesis, namely, that there is no God.

Scientists should be concerned with knowing the knowable. When they claim to know the unknowable they are simply worshiping a different god than the God of Creation.

Related posts:

Scientists in a Snit (08/04/04)
Atheism, Religion, and Science (01/03/05)
The Limits of Science (01/05/05)
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable (01/15/05)
Beware of Irrational Atheism (01/22/05)
The Creation Model (02/23/05)
The Thing about Science (03/24/05)
Science in Politics, Politics in Science (05/11/05)

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Get a Job

These guys want to do what the market is already doing rather well:
The mission of the Free Culture movement is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person -- and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.
Well it's a "student movement," so what do you expect. In five or ten years most of them will be telling the next generation of idealists to get a job.

But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?

That's the title of a piece by Robert Murphy at the Mises Economics Blog. Murphy says:
On two separate occasions in the last couple of weeks, people have asked me a familiar question: In a system of anarcho-capitalism or the free-market order, wouldn't society degenerate into constant battles between private warlords?”...

For the warlord objection to work, the statist [or minarchist: ED] would need to argue that a given community would remain lawful under a government, but that the same community would break down into continuous warfare if all legal and military services were privatized....

Now that we'’ve focused the issue, I think there are strong reasons to suppose that civil war would be much less likely in a region dominated by private defense and judicial agencies, rather than by a monopoly [s]tate. Private agencies own the assets at their disposal, whereas politicians (especially in democracies) merely exercise temporary control over the [s]tate'’s military equipment. Bill Clinton was perfectly willing to fire off dozens of cruise missiles when the Lewinsky scandal was picking up steam. Now regardless of one's beliefs about Clinton'’s motivations, clearly Slick Willie would have been less likely to launch such an attack if he had been the CEO of a private defense agency that could have sold the missiles on the open market for $569,000 each.
Aside from this brief excursion into Clinton's use or misuse of national defense assets, Murphy's argument is focused in the issue of intra-societal violence; viz: "civil war would be much less likely in a region dominated by private defense and judicial agencies, rather than by a monopoly [s]tate. " Let's return to Murphy:
We can see this principle [of the profligate use of force] in the case of the United States. In the 1860s, would large scale combat have broken out on anywhere near the same scale if, instead of the two factions controlling hundreds of thousands of conscripts, all military commanders had to hire voluntary mercenaries and pay them a market wage for their services?
Murphy concedes that there might have been combat. He's merely quibbling about its scale. He continues:
I can imagine a reader generally endorsing the above analysis, yet still resisting my conclusion. He or she might say something like this: “In a state of nature, people initially have different views of justice. Under market anarchy, different consumers would patronize dozens of defense agencies, each of which attempts to use its forces to implement incompatible codes of law. Now it'’s true that these professional gangs might generally avoid conflict out of prudence, but the equilibrium would still be precarious.

To avoid this outcome,” my critic could elaborate, “citizens put aside their petty differences and agree to support a single, monopoly agency, which then has the power to crush all challengers to its authority. This admittedly raises the new problem of controlling the Leviathan, but at least it solves the problem of ceaseless domestic warfare.

There are several problems with this possible approach. First, it assumes that the danger of private warlords is worse than the threat posed by a tyrannical central government. Second, there is the inconvenient fact that no such voluntary formation of a [s]tate ever occurred. Even those citizens who, say, supported the ratification of the U.S. Constitution were never given the option of living in market anarchy; instead they had to choose between government under the Articles of Confederation or government under the Constitution.
Murphy sets up a quasi-straw man -- the voluntary formation of a state -- then proceeds to blow it down. Big deal. That doesn't prove that the danger of warlords is less than the threat posed by a central government, which is what Murphy implies. Non sequitur. Moreover, many citizens did support the ratification of the Constitution, and those who didn't had the option of going to Canada or over the Blue Ridge. Back to Murphy:
But for our purposes, the most interesting problem with this objection is that, were it an accurate description, it would be unnecessary for such a people to form a government. If, by hypothesis, the vast majority of people -- —although they have different conceptions of justice -- can all agree that it is wrong to use violence to settle their honest disputes, then market forces would lead to peace among the private police agencies.
Murphy's hypothesis is his undoing. He assumes that if the vast majority of people agree that it's wrong to use violence to settle disputes, then that won't happen. Do the vast majority of people believe that it's wrong to use violence to settle disputes? Perhaps, but it doesn't take a vast majority to inject violence into a society; it takes only a relatively small number of renegades, who may be then be able to coerce others into condoning or supporting their criminal activities. There's more:
Yes, it is perfectly true that people have vastly different opinions concerning particular legal issues. Some people favor capital punishment, some consider abortion to be murder, and there would be no consensus on how many guilty people should go free to avoid the false conviction of one innocent defendant. Nonetheless, if the contract theory of government is correct, the vast majority of individuals can agree that they should settle these issues not through force, but rather through an orderly procedure (such as is provided by periodic elections).
Well, Murphy now admits that there's something to the voluntary formation of a state. But, like most anarcho-capitalists, he doesn't want to admit to the legitimacy of an institution that he didn't contract for. Tough. But that still doesn't have anything to do with the superiority of private defense agencies over state-controlled police forces and courts. Nevertheless, Murphy plows on:
But if this does indeed describe a particular population, why would we expect such virtuous people, as consumers, to patronize defense agencies that routinely used force against weak opponents? Why wouldn'’t the vast bulk of reasonable customers patronize defense agencies that had interlocking arbitration agreements, and submitted their legitimate disputes to reputable, disinterested arbitrators? Why wouldn't the private, voluntary legal framework function as an orderly mechanism to settle matters of "public policy"”?
There sure are a lot of hypotheticals piled on top of one another. What Murphy doesn't entertain is the possibility that a small but very rich cabal could create a dominant defense agency that simply refuses to recognize other defense agencies, except as enemies. In other words, there's nothing in Murphy's loose logic to prove that warlords wouldn't arise. In fact, he soon gives away the game:
Imagine a bustling city, such as New York, that is initially a free market paradise. Is it really plausible that over time rival gangs would constantly grow, and eventually terrorize the general public? Remember, these would be admittedly criminal organizations; unlike the city government of New York, there would be no ideological support for these gangs.

We must consider that in such an environment, the law-abiding majority would have all sorts of mechanisms at their [sic] disposal, beyond physical confrontation. Once private judges had ruled against a particular rogue agency, the private banks could freeze its assets (up to the amount of fines levied by the arbitrators). In addition, the private utility companies could shut down electricity and water to the agency'’s headquarters, in accordance with standard provisions in their contracts.
Pardon me while I laugh at the notion that lack of "ideological support" for the gangs of New York would make it impossible for gangs to grow and terrorize the general public. That's precisely what has happened at various times during the history of New York, even though the "law-abiding majority [had] all sorts of mechanisms at [its] disposal." Murphy insists on hewing to the assumption that the existence of a law-abiding majority somehow prevents the rise a powerful, law-breaking minorities, capable of terrorizing the general public. Wait a minute; now he admits the converse:
Of course, it is theoretically possible that a rogue agency could overcome these obstacles, either through intimidation or division of the spoils, and take over enough banks, power companies, grocery stores, etc. that only full-scale military assault would conquer it. But the point is, from an initial position of market anarchy, these would-be rulers would have to start from scratch. In contrast, under even a limited government, the machinery of mass subjugation is ready and waiting to be seized.
Huh? It's certainly more than theoretically possible for a "rogue agency" to wreak havoc. A "rogue agency" is nothing more than a fancy term for a street gang, the Mafia, or al Qaeda cells operating in the U.S. A "rogue agency" run by and on behalf of rich and powerful criminals -- for their own purposes -- would somehow be preferable to police forces and courts operated by a limited government that is accountable to the general public, rich and poor alike? I don't think so. However much the American state engages in "mass subjugation" -- and it does, to a degree -- it is also held in check by its accountability to the general public under American law and tradition. A "rogue agency," by definition, would be unbound by law and tradition.

Murphy's analysis takes place in a land called "Erewhon." He chooses to ignore the fact that he lives in the United States because he wasn't a party to the Constitution. Yet that Constitution provides for a limited government, which in more than 200 years has yet to engage in systematic, mass subjugation of the kind practiced in the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, except in the case of slavery. And guess what? The American state ended slavery. How's that for mass subjugation?

Anyone can conjure a Utopia, as Murphy has. But no one can guarantee that it will work. Murphy certainly hasn't made the case that his Utopia would work.

In any event, by focusing on intra-societal violence Murphy ignores completely two crucial questions: (1) Can an anarchistic society effectively defend itself against an outside force? (2) Can it do so better than a society in which the state has a monopoly on the use of force with respect to outside entities? Murphy implies that the answer to both questions is "yes," though he fails to explore those questions. Here is my brief answer: The cost of mounting a credible defense of the United States from foreign enemies probably would support only one supplier; that is, national defense is a natural monopoly. It is better for the American state -- given its accountability to the general public -- to be that supplier.

To revert to Murphy's example of Clinton's profligate use of expensive missiles, the CEO of a private defense agency might well have an incentive to fire missiles at a bogus target. He might want to demonstrate his apparent "resolve" iprovocation of putative provaction in order to quell unrest among his shareholders or to attract new clients. Murphy's example suggests only that the state may be wasteful in its expenditure of conscripted dollars. Murphy's example does not show that the state is necessarily any less effective than would be a private defense agency or defense agencies. In matters of life and death, a wasteful state is preferable to an efficient private defense agency (if there could be such a thing).

A wasteful, accountable, American state is certainly preferable to an efficient, private, defense agency in possession of the same military might. Hitler and Stalin, in effect, ran private defense agencies, and look where that landed the Germans and Russians. Talk about subjugation.

Related posts:

Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style (09/26/04)
Fundamentalist Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, and Self-Defense (04/22/05)
The Legitimacy of the Constitution (05/09/05)
Another Thought about Anarchy (05/10/05)
Anarcho-Capitalism vs. the State (05/26/05)
Rights and the State (06/13/05)

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Sunday's Question

Is a rabid dog any less dangerous because of its brain abnormalities, because it doesn't know what it's doing, because it's not fully grown, or because it's merely defending its territory?

I invite those who seek to "understand" terrorists and those who oppose the death penalty to ponder that question.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Saving the Innocent?

The killing by British police officers of an apparently innocent man in London's Underground will cue the olde civil liberties chorus:
Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.
--English jurist William Blackstone

"n" -- the number of guilty persons -- has increased since the late 1700s, when Blackstone wrote. Alexander "Sasha" Volokh offers some useful perspective:
Charles Dickens generously endorsed a value of n = "hundreds" for capital cases, and not just "that hundreds of guilty persons should escape," but that they should escape "scot-free." 99 Dickens was, in fact, so generous that hundreds of guilty persons escaping scot-free was not only better than one innocent person suffering -- it was even better "than that the possibility of any innocent man or woman having been sacrificed, should present itself, with the least appearance of reason, to the minds of any class of men!" 100....

Of course, such blithe invocation could easily lead too far down the road to "inconsiderate folly" and "pestiferous nonsense." As one author noted, there is "nothing so dangerous as a maxim": 107
Better that any number of savings-banks be robbed than that one innocent person be condemned as a burglar! Better that any number of innocent men, women, and children should be waylaid, robbed, ravished, and murdered by wicked, wilful, and depraved malefactors, than that one innocent person should be convicted and punished for the perpetration of one of this infinite multitude of crimes, by an intelligent and well-meaning though mistaken court and jury! Better any amount of crime than one mistake in well-meant endeavors to suppress or prevent it! 108....
Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, warned against the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from large values of n:
We must be on guard against those sentimental exaggerations which tend to give crime impunity, under the pretext of insuring the safety of innocence. Public applause has been, so to speak, set up to auction. At first it was said to be better to save several guilty men, than to condemn a single innocent man; others, to make the maxim more striking, fix the number ten; a third made this ten a hundred, and a fourth made it a thousand. All these candidates for the prize of humanity have been outstripped by I know not how many writers, who hold, that, in no case, ought an accused person to be condemned, unless evidence amount to mathematical or absolute certainty. According to this maxim, nobody ought to be punished, lest an innocent man be punished. 128 ....
James Fitzjames Stephen suggested that Blackstone's maxim
resembles a suggestion that soldiers should be armed with bad guns because it is better that they should miss ten enemies than that they should hit one friend. . . . Everything depends on what the guilty men have been doing, and something depends on the way in which the innocent man came to be suspected. 134....
The story is told of a Chinese law professor, who was listening to a British lawyer explain that Britons were so enlightened, they believed it was better that ninety-nine guilty men go free than that one innocent man be executed. The Chinese professor thought for a second and asked, "Better for whom?" 238
That's the question, isn't it? Better for whom? It's better for the guilty, who may claim more victims, but certainly not better for those victims.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained

Case Dismissed

Mike Renzulli tries to make a case that libertarians should join forces with the Democrat Party:
[T]he Democratic Party still considers Thomas be their [sic] founder.
That's nice, but what have you done for me lately? Oh, this:

There have been libertarian traditions within the Democratic Party.... The Cleveland Democrats (a.k.a. "Gold Democrats"), beginning with the leaders of the Free Trade, anti-Tariff, hard Gold movement from the 1870's through the early 1930's, were a dominant group within the Democratic Party....The Cleveland Democrats were the last significant libertarian force within the Democratic Party. Their final major accomplishments were the anti-Prohibitionist movement in the 1920's and the 1932 Democratic Party Platform, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt infamously ran on--and promptly forgot once he was elected....
So much for the long-defunct (and hardly libertarian) Cleveland Democrats. Instead we got FDR's New Deal (a.k.a. fascism in America) and, later, LBJ's Great Society (a.k.a. socialism in America). (Read this to understand the immense cost of those ventures.) I have seen no evidence that today's Democrats are any less committed to the "ideals" of the New Deal and Great Society than were Democrats of the 1930s and 1960s.

I thought Renzulli was trying to woo libertarians, but he switches gears:

There have been conservative Democrats which were fairly pro-freedom, but they mostly died out in the 1950's. Nevada Senator Pat McCarran (McCarran Airport in Las Vegas is named after him) was, what would be called in today's terminology, a paleoconservative. He was pretty closely connected with Senator Joseph McCarthy in his anti-communist crusade, as were other conservative and states-rights Democrats.

But the Demos still have Bobby Byrd. I guess that ought to attract a lot of libertarians.

Oh, here's the argument for libertarians:
It was not the Republican Party who [sic] has been the libertarian political party in American politics, it was the Demcorats.
The Republican Party of the 1920s through 1960s was far closer to being libertarian than was the Democrat Party of the same era. Since then, of course, the GOP has had a taste of power and has compromised its old limited-government principles to hold onto that power. But regardless of the GOP's sins, the Dems' sins are greater. The GOP is still "home" for conservatives who adhere to the principle of limited government. Where are the Democrats on limited government? Nowhere, unless you count the Dems rather adolescent posturing on abortion and support of "progressive" eugenics.

What about those newly profligate Republicans?
With the recent budget being proposed by Bush and Congress, admittedly Republicans and Democrats, to spend $3 TRILLION....It is abundantly clear that in recent years the leadership of the Republican and Libertarian Parties are not interested in upholding the Jeffersonian ideals of simple, frugal government as much as the present leadership of the Democrats.
Renzulli admits that the Democrats are party to the present reign of profligacy in Washington, as they are -- willingly. But Renzulli then tries to suggest that the Dems' present leadership is interested in "simple, frugal" government. Hah! The Dems pay lip service to a balanced budget, not because they want to cut spending but because they want to raise taxes in order to finance latter-day versions of the New Deal and Great Society.

The Dems are more likely to be anti-war and against war-related "infringements" of civil liberties (e.g., peeking at your reading list if you otherwise seem to be engaged in suspicious behavior). But being anti-war isn't the same as being pro-liberty, unless you adhere to the idiotic, paleolibertarian dogma of last-ditch self defense. (Aha! Maybe Renzulli is appealing to paleos. Good luck.) As for civil liberties, would you rather have the federal government peeking at your reading list or regimenting your entire life through regulation and taxation? The latter, of course, is what happens when Dems are in charge.

The Sun may burn out and Hell may freeze over, but this libertarian will never join forces with the Demo(n)crats.

See also:

Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian? (07/29/04)
"The Party of the Little People" ? (08/03/04)
Does Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Have a Future? (08/19/04)
Hobbesian Libertarianism (10/08/04)
What Realignment? (12/05/04)
What's a Libertarian to Do? (12/05/04)
Libertarianism and Conservatism (12/05/04)
Judeo-Christian Values and Liberty (02/20/05)
Where Conservatism and (Sensible) Libertarianism Come Together (04/14/05)
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Public Morality (04/25/05)
Redeeming the Promise of Liberty (05/06/05)

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Whose Side Are They On?

NYCLU Calls Decision To Conduct Random Searches Of Individuals On New York's Subways Unconstitutional

A Note to Larry Summers


It's okay to suggest that women have different aptitudes than men, as long as those aptitudes are superior:
Chris Clarke, the America-based CEO of Boyden, a firm of headhunters, and a visiting professor at Henley Management College in England, argues that women are superior to men at multi-tasking, team-building and communicating, which have become the essential skills for running a 21st-century corporation. Maria Wisniewska, who headed a Polish bank, Bank Pekao, and is an international adviser to the Conference Board, says: “The links between the rational and emotional parts of the brain are greater in women than in men. If so, and if leadership is about making links between emotion and intelligence, then maybe women are better at it than men.”
Read the whole thing, and weep.


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Roberts Looks Better All the Time

From an article by Jo Becker and Amy Argetsinger in today's WashPost:
As an up-and-coming young lawyer in the White House counsel's office from 1982 to 1986, John G. Roberts Jr. weighed in on some of the most controversial issues facing the Reagan administration, balancing conservative ideology with a savvy political pragmatism and a confidence that belied his years....

In 1983, the Supreme Court struck down laws that contained provisions for Congress to veto actions taken by executive departments and agencies. [Rep. Elliott Levitas (D-Ga.)] wanted to meet with [President] Reagan to determine "the manner of power sharing and accountability within in the federal government." The request offended Roberts's notion of the proper separation of powers.

"There already has, of course, been a 'Conference on Power Sharing,' " Roberts wrote, sarcastically referring to the convention at which the Constitution was drafted. "It took place in Philadelphia's Constitution Hall in 1787, and someone should tell Levitas about it and the 'report' it issued."

Good on you, mate.

(Thanks to The Supreme Court Nomination Blog for the pointer.)

Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

BBC News reports:
Pizza man fined for war racism

A Danish pizzeria owner who refused to serve German and French customers because of their countries' position on the Iraq war has been convicted of racial discrimination.

Aage Bjerre, who owns Aage's Pizza in Nordby on the tourist island of Fanoe, was fined 5,000 kroner ($787).

Mr Bjerre, 44, said he would appeal, but would rather go to prison than pay the fine.

"I don't want to sell pizza to people from those two countries," he said.

"Every day I turn tourists down, but my conscience is doing fine."

He added: "I feel that I was convicted for supporting the coalition."...

Mr Bjerre said he had received many messages of support from the US, including job offers, and did not rule out accepting one of them.

He says he has already lost nearly 50,000 kroner ($7,800) because of a drop in business, and because of vandalism to his restaurant.
Note Denmark's typically European approach to freedom of speech* -- there is none. It's a McCain-Feingold paradise. It prompts me to suggest a new bumper-sticker for Volvo-driving American liberals:

I ♥ freedom, European style.

(Thanks to my son for the lead.)
* Consider, for example, the "incitement to religious hatred" bill now being pushed (again) by Britain's Labour Party.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence

The Left will bitterly oppose any nominee for the Supreme Court if the Left finds in that nominee a scintilla of opposition to legal abortion.

What I want to know is why that issue is of such great importance to the Left. What is it about abortion (or the "right" to have one) that seizes the passions of the Left? Is it the notion of self-ownership, that is, the "right" to do with "one's body" as one will? If the Left were consistent about self-ownership it wouldn't also encourage government to take money from others in order to provide "free" programs, ranging from health care to bike trails.

The Left's selective embrace of self-ownership indicates that its elevation of abortion to sacramental status has deeper, more psychological roots. The Left is in an arrested state of adolescent rebellion: "Daddy" doesn't want me to smoke, so I'm going to smoke; "Daddy" doesn't want me to drink, so I'm going to drink; "Daddy" doesn't want me to have sex, so I'm going to have sex. But, regardless of my behavior, I expect "Daddy" to give me an allowance, and birthday presents, and cell phones, and so on.

"Daddy," in the case of abortion, is government, which had banned abortion in many places. If it's banned, the Left wants it. But the Left -- like an adolescent -- also expects government to cough up money (others' money, of course) to quench its material desires.

Persons of the Left simply are simply unthinking, selfish adolescents who want what they want, regardless of the consequences for others. The Left's stance on abortion should be viewed as just one more adolescent tantrum in a vast repertoire of tantrums.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Three Axioms

The state must do three things to ensure liberty and secure its blessings:
  • Protect its citizens from foreign enemies.
  • Otherwise allow individuals freely to pursue happiness in their social endeavors and economic transactions.

Who Looks Like a Republican?

Someone said, apropos the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court, that the judge looks just like a Republican:

Well, I can imagine how a myopic Democrat would react to these photos of several Democrat members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is about to hold hearings on the Roberts nomination:

Republican corporate executive, lying to Congress about his knowledge of the scandal du jour. (Sen. Joe Biden, Del.)

Sleazy Republican used-car salesman. (Sen. Dick Durbin, Ill.)

Republican fat-cat, on his way into a board meeting. (Sen. Ted Kennedy, Mass.)

Small-town Republican pol, cozying up to the VFW. (Sen. Herb Kohl, Wis.)

Rabid right-wing Republican ideologue, spewing his message of hate. (Sen. Pat Leahy, Vt.)

Judge Roberts and the Defense of America

Emily Bazelon, writing at Slate, doesn't like Judge John Roberts's willingness to defend America:

Roberts may...turn out to be a wise, thoughtful, and appealing justice. Tonight when Bush announced his nomination, Roberts talked about feeling humbled, which won him points on TV. But an opinion that the 50-year-old judge joined just last week in the case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld should be seriously troubling to anyone who values civil liberties. As a member of a three-judge panel on the D.C. federal court of appeals, Roberts signed on to a blank-check grant of power to the Bush administration to try suspected terrorists without basic due-process protections.

According to the government, Salim Ahmed Hamdan is the former driver and bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden. He was captured by an Afghan militia in November 2001, during the U.S. invasion, and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. In July 2003, the Bush administration brought charges against Hamdan, as it has done against only three others among the hundreds of suspected terrorists being held at Guantanamo. Hamdan was accused of conspiring to commit attacks on civilians, murder, and terrorism, and the Bush administration moved to try him before a special military tribunal.

This tribunal isn't like the courts-martial that are used for prisoners of war. It goes by rules that cut back the rights of defendants even more drastically than the tribunal that the United States has helped establish in Iraq to try Saddam Hussein has. Hamdan has no right to be present at his trial. Unsworn statements, rather than live testimony, can be presented as evidence against him. The presumption of innocence can be taken away from him at any time; so can his right not to testify to avoid self-incrimination. If Hamdan is convicted, he can be sentenced to death.

The opinion Roberts joined, written by Judge A. Raymond Randolph for a unanimous panel (though the third judge, Stephen Williams, expressed a reservation in a concurrence), swallows all of that and then some. The opinion says that Congress authorized the president to set up whatever military tribunal he deems appropriate when it authorized him to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to fight terrorism in response to 9/11. While the president has claimed the authority only to try foreign suspects before the tribunals, there's nothing in the Hamdan opinion that stops him from extending their reach to any other suspected terrorist, American citizens included. This amounts to a free hand—and one Bush is not shy about extending. The administration has already devised its own tribunals to review its claims that the Guantanamo detainees are all enemy combatants who are not entitled to the international protections accorded to prisoners of war. As of February, 558 hearings had resulted in freedom for only three prisoners. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the legality of these tribunals—a question that Roberts may now help decide.

I hope so.

What Bazelon and her ilk cannot seem to grasp is that America is at war. Hamdan isn't a jay-walker; he's an enemy; he could have been shot on the spot. As Justice Franfurter wrote 61 years ago:
The provisions of the Constitution which confer on the Congress and the President powers to enable this country to wage war are as much part of the Constitution as provisions looking to a nation at peace. And we have had recent occasion to quote approvingly the statement of former Chief Justice Hughes that the war power of the Government is 'the power to wage war successfully.'... Therefore, the validity of action under the war power must be judged wholly in the context of war. That action is not to be stigmatized as lawless because like action in times of peace would be lawless. To talk about a military order that expresses an allowable judgment of war needs by those entrusted with the duty of conducting war as 'an unconstitutional order' is to suffuse a part of the Constitution with an atmosphere of unconstitutionality. The respective spheres of action of military authorities and of judges are of course very different. But within their sphere, military authorities are no more outside the bounds of obedience to the Constitution than are judges within theirs. 'The war power of the United States, like its other powers ... is subject to applicable constitutional limitations',....To recognize that military orders are 'reasonably expedient military precautions' in time of war and yet to deny them constitutional legitimacy makes of the Constitution an instrument for dialectic subtleties not reasonably to be attributed to the hard-headed Framers, of whom a majority had had actual participation in war.
Judge Roberts seems to adhere to that principle. Let's hope that he joins the Supreme Court, for America's sake.

Related posts:

Getting It Wrong: Civil Libertarians and the War on Terror
(A Case Study) (05/18/04)
More about War and Civil Liberties (06/28/04)
Why Soverignty? (09/14/04)
Why We Fight (12/07/04)
Redeeming the Promise of Liberty (05/06/05)
Where Do You Draw the Line? (05/22/05)
An Agenda for the Supreme Court (06/29/05)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Principle of Actionable Harm


Glen Whitman of Agoraphilia writes about Will Wilkinson's flaying of Richard Layard, who
has devised a new kind of negative externality argument. He observes that inequality of status makes many people -- specifically, envious people -- unhappy. As a result, any productive effort to improve one'’s position creates a negative externality by reducing the relative status, and thus happiness, of others. Using standard Pigovian logic, Layard concludes that we ought to discourage (e.g., tax) productive effort in order to correct the externality.
Whitman and Wilkinson spend a lot of words to prove Layard wrong -- which he is, of course.

My initial reaction to Layard's observation that envious people are made unhappy by the relative success of others is this: "That's tough; get over it."

I follow that observation with this one: If feelings count, then government's effort to make the envious happy must make the objects of their envy unhappy, which must -- by Layard's logic -- call for a restoration of the status quo ante. In other words, why should government be in the business of kow-towing to envious persons; why should the feelings of the envious be privileged? I would adapt what I wrote here to suggest that it is the envious, not the envied, who do harm:
1. Government should not act or condone action except when it seeks to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm to liberty.

2. An actionable harm to liberty is one that arises or would arise directly from the commission of an overt act or acts by any person or entity, domestic or foreign.

3. An expression of thought cannot be an actionable harm unless it
a. intentionally obstructs or would directly obstruct governmental efforts to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm (e.g., divulging classified defense information, committing perjury),

b. intentionally causes or would directly cause an actionable harm (e.g., plotting to commit an act of terrorism, forming a lynch mob),

c. purposely -- through a lie or the withholding of pertinent facts -- causes a person to act against self-interest in an economic transaction (e.g., misrepresenting a product, inflating a corporation's statement of earnings), or

d. purposely -- through its intended influence on government -- results in what would be an actionable harm if committed by a private entity (e.g., the taking of income from persons who earn it, simply to assuage the envy of those who earn less).
4. Government should act to prevent, deter, or remedy the actionable harms described in 3.a, 3.b, and 3.c. By the same token, government should avert actionable harms of the type described in 3.d. With those exceptions, a mere statement of fact, belief, opinion, or attitude cannot be an actionable harm or indicate the existence of an actionable harm, regardless of the subject of the statement, unless it amounts to slander or libel (both of which are actionable harms). Otherwise, those persons who do not care for the facts, beliefs, opinions, or attitudes expressed by other persons would be able to stifle speech they find offensive merely by claiming to be harmed by it. Similarly, those persons who claim to be offended by the superior income or wealth of other persons would be entitled to recompense from those other persons.

5. An act of omission (e.g., the refusal of social or economic relations because of some form of bias), other than a breach of contract or duty, cannot be an actionable harm. It is incompatible with liberty for government to judge voluntary actions that are not otherwise actionable harms.
Governmental intervention in our affairs -- for any reason but to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm to liberty -- is harmful in many ways, among them economically. The right to strive uninhibitedly toward economic advancement (without committing actionable harms) has great potential benefits -- for the envious as well as the envied. As I have explained here, it is thinkers like Layard who have robbed all of us of a huge share of those benefits.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Round Up the Usual Hypocrites

From the Associated Press:
British Gov't Under Fire Over Bomber Probe

LONDON - Criticism of the British government grew Monday over the revelation that the vaunted domestic intelligence service did not detain one of the London attackers last year after linking him to a suspect in an alleged plot by other Britons of Pakistani descent to explode a truck bomb in the capital.
Can you imagine the furor if the Briton of Pakistani descent had been detained?

Global Warming and Life

Philip Stott, an emeritus professor of biogeography in the University of London, has much to say about global warming and the G8 summit in "Global warming: Common sense prevails," at spiked!:
Since the Rio Conference in 1992, the Greens and their camp-following Guardianistas have tried, with Cromwellian zeal, to employ the threat of 'global warming' to induce Protestant guilt in us all, to cap growth, to change lifestyles, to attack the car, industry and the Great Satan of America. Now it is surely time to face the facts: there isn't a snowflake-in-hell's chance of this altering real life. Indeed, it would be disastrous for the developing world, the other plank of the G8 agenda, if it did. Without increasing demand in the countries of the North, there is no way in which the poorer countries of the South will be able to grow out of their poverty. The attempt to cap growth through the environmental proxy of 'global warming' is a sleight of hand too far. Luckily, it appears that the general public has no intention of being conned.

But the failure of the Greens is not just with the public. While playing the climate-change card at the G8 Summit, the final Gleneagles' declaration shows that the leaders of the developed world have no intention of sacrificing growth and economic success for an ascetic 'global warming' religion.

First, there is the clear recognition that global energy demand is expected to grow by 60 per cent over the next 25 years, especially in China and India, and that this will require the maintenance and development of 'secure, reliable and affordable energy sources' that are fundamental to economic stability and development, because 'rising energy demand poses a challenge to energy security given increased reliance on global energy markets'. The declaration also correctly acknowledges that around two billion people lack modern energy services. As the document states: 'We need to work with our partners to increase access to energy if we are to support the achievement of the goals agreed at the Millennium Summit in 2000....

[W]hat I wrote recently in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph (2) was more true than I had imagined: 'In the UK, "global warming" is a faith. Here the "science" is legitimised by the myth. This is something that even our august Royal Society has failed to grasp. Too many of us believe we are making an independent scientific assessment, when, in reality, we have subsumed Hume-scepticism to the demands of faith.

'With respect to the science of climate change, the most fundamental question remains: "Can humans manipulate climate predictably?" Or, more scientifically: "Will cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the margin produce a linear, predictable change in climate?" The answer is "No". In so complex a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system as climate, not doing something at the margins is as unpredictable as doing something. This is the cautious science; the rest is dogma.'
Economic imperatives prevail over "scientific correctness."

Related posts:

Hemibel Thinking (07/16/04)
Climatology (07/16/04)
Global Warming: Realities and Benefits (07/18/04)
Words of Caution for the Cautious (07/21/04)
Scientists in a Snit (08/14/04)
Another Blow to Climatology? (08/21/04)
Bad News for Politically Correct Science (10/18/04)
Another Blow to Chicken-Little Science (10/27/04)
Bad News for Enviro-nuts (11/27/04)
The Hockey Stick Is Broken (01/31/05)
The Thing about Science (03/24/05)
Science in Politics, Politics in Science (05/11/05)