Posts Tagged ‘court’

The war on the native

July 16, 2013 1 comment

The nation state is a very new invention. It originated in Europe in war and conquest, as armies conquered some tribes and massacred others. It has expanded and grown and continues to do so to this day. The state was forged in war to subdue others. This basic form remains constant, though the scope of the state has grown, along with expectations about what it can and should do.

The nation was shaped by other processes. Benedict Anderson famously explains that print capitalism was the strongest driver of the forming of the nation and nationalism, as it spread a common language within the borders of the state that did not exist prior to conquest. Since then, the idea of a common culture has taken hold and the nation grows more certain of itself. The advance of media technology in the twentieth century continued this trend. Anderson called nations “imagined communities”, because they were huge groups of people who would never meet with a communitarian identity.

From a different angle, Ernest Gellner writes,

nationalism is, essentially, the general imposition of a high culture on society, where previously low cultures had taken up the lives of the majority, and in some cases of the totality, of the population. It means that generalised diffusion of a school-mediated, academy-supervised idiom, codified for the requirements of reasonably precise bureaucratic and technological communication. It is the establishment of an anonymous, impersonal society, with mutually substitutable atomised individuals, held together above all by a shared culture of this kind, in place of a previous complex structure of local groups, sustained by folk cultures reproduced locally and idiosyncratically by the micro-groups themselves.

In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the 30-Years War (yes, the history of the state is of chaos; it is hard to think one’s idea of “anarchy” could be as bad), effectively baptized the nation state. State borders grew stronger. It was assumed among states that sovereignty, meaning the mutual acceptance of the other’s monopoly on crime within its boundaries, was to be respected. Of course, the urge to use an army at one’s disposal is too great, and the fighting continued until the number of states in Europe shrank and the power of each one to kill grew.

Around 1789, the idea that the state should represent the people, preserve liberty, equality, fraternity, or other revolutionary slogans, caught on. National education systems were erected, inculcating everyone in the logic of the state and the primordiality of the nation. The nation state became timeless, obvious and unassailable. The nation state expanded beyond its borders, as European empires built big ships and conquered the globe. To reach their goals, they killed whomever they had to kill, on any continent they felt like taking.

Ultimately, what the empires left their conquered peoples with was the nation state. The nation state has broken down old social structures and erected new ones. It groups millions of disparate people and assumes they can be represented by a ruling class. It assumes rule by a ruling class is preferable to whatever it has destroyed. It has institutionalised theft and slavery. It has militarised the criminals and disarmed their victims. And even though it legally covers every inch of land in the world, its power over the people within those lines continues to expand. One result of modern state expansion is a war on the native.

Indigenous people all around the world have been persecuted since the inception of the state. They have been forcibly moved so they could be taxed or so the powerful could gain access to land and other resources. They have been killed when they have resisted. Many groups we have never heard of have been wiped out over the years. Others have been decimated and pacified and pushed onto “reservations”. In recent years, much of this wanton violence has been at the request of large extracting corporations. Such corporations, oil and gas concerns, for example, function almost as the right arm of the modern state. The state is a vehicle for accumulating power; the corporation is the most powerful modern tool for accumulating wealth. Heads of state and corporations work together to extract wealth and repress those who challenge them.

Under the nation-state system, the real owner of all land (and thus resources on that land) within the borders of the state is the state. Some states afford a measure of land or property ownership to those not connected to the state, but not many. Even Canada has seen a number of oil spills on supposedly-private land in recent months. Perhaps the people living on the poisoned land will be compensated. But the fact that someone else could ruin their land and they will need to petition the state for restitution is evidence they did not own the land to begin with. Moreover, secession is an option for free members of a federation, but not for citizens of the modern nation state.

Kayapó people being "evacuated"

Kayapó people being “evacuated”

A number of indigenous groups in the Amazon, such as the Kayapó, above, have protested the state’s plan for the Belo Monte Dam. This dam promises to flood a large area of land, dry up other land around the river, devastate parts of the rainforest and hurt fish stocks. Tens of thousands of people in the Xingu River basin are in danger. The locals have protested since the initial proposal of the dam in the 1980s and their demands have been ignored. They are now being attacked and moved. The dam will be built. The people with deep, spiritual ties to this land never had any recourse because those in power did not recognise their claim to the land. The state treats those it can use as tools and those it cannot as waste.

Similarly, in Indonesia, conflict is growing as large corporations have been tearing down forests and erecting palm oil plantations. Henry Saragih, founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union says

The presence of palm oil plantations has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger. Human rights violations keep occurring around natural resources in the country and intimidation, forced evictions and torture are common. There are thousands of cases that have not surfaced. Many remain hidden, especially by local authorities.

Naturally, no one is ever consulted or compensated when their habitat is stolen from them. Local security forces protect foreign corporations. The beneficiaries of globalisation and economic growth do not need to pay its prices.

Unsurprisingly, some people have resisted with violence. Under modern state parlance, they are called terrorists and insurgents. People who once farmed land in much of India until they were kicked off have formed a loose movement known as the Naxalites, led by Maoist intellectuals. Companies such as South Korea’s Posco Steel have appropriated other people’s land for their own purposes, with the help of local police. A peaceful anti-Posco movement has arisen, but protests have gone nowhere. Politicians are under pressure from the companies they have already promised to let build and the villagers who will lose their land; they make more money off the corporations so they just repress the villagers. The Naxalites oppose the advance of the state, and have killed civilians and security forces alike.

The Red Corridor, where Naxals are known to operate

The Red Corridor, where Naxals are known to operate

India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has called the Naxalites “left-wing extremism” and “the single biggest internal-security challenge ever faced by our country”. Bolstered by the advent of 9/11 and the War on Terror, the Indian government has arrested and killed thousands of Naxalites and their supporters in order to maintain its monopoly on crime. On the violence committed by both sides, Arundhati Roy opines

I think you’ve got to look at every death as a terrible tragedy. In a system, in a war that’s been pushed on the people and that unfortunately is becoming a war of the rich against the poor, in which rich put forward the poorest of the poor to fight the poor, [security forces] are terrible victims but they are not just victims of the Maoists. They are victims of a system of structural violence that is taking place.

In some places the Naxalites enjoy popular support. As with other violent, persecuted groups, however, some Naxalites have used violence against unarmed locals, and have been less popular. As with the War on Drugs and countless other cases of aggression, violence begets violence.

At the same time, the Indian government has pursued a hearts-and-minds campaign of offering “development”, such as roads and schools. The simultaneous application of force and the promise of economic incentives has been praised by the Economist and others of similar persuasion. Vandana Shiva, on the other hand, believes “If the government continues its land wars in the heart of India’s bread basket, there will be no chance for peace.” This strategy is bound to fail as it does not address the roots of the problem. Indeed, it has failed. The people are not interested in being absorbed by the nation state. Explains BD Sharma, “[f]or them, development means exploitation.” This should not be surprising. The nation state views incorporation into its ambit a step up, from barbarism to civilisation. The discourse assumes a model of progress from life outside the state, thought of as unhealthy, backward and hostile to life as part of the state, meaning education, health and higher culture. It defends displacing people from their ancestral homes with its offer of schools, hospitals and integration into the wider economy. But the state always achieves its goals with violence.

James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed explains the logic of the state and escape from it through the case of the highland people of Southeast Asia. The evidence is strong that many or all of the people living in the mountainous region recently dubbed Zomia are there because some time over the past thousand years or so they have chosen the life of barbarity over forcible incorporation into the state. One of a number of groups Scott considers is the Karen.


Many of those we now call the Karen consciously fled the predatory state to escape appropriation of their land and agriculture, forced relocation or slave labour. The Burmese military government has attempted to subdue and incorporate the Karen. They fought back for many years, but eventually, technology caught up and the last major Karen base was destroyed in 1995. The people continue to hold out, however, in small groups. The Burmese military continues to wage its campaign against them. It burns down fields and lays mines there. Soldiers fighting Karen guerrillas, conscripted and paid a pittance, take whatever they want from villages on the front lines, and end up terrorising their inhabitants. Like other persecuted groups of Zomia, the Karen have adopted flexible agricultural techniques, mobility, shifting ethnic identities and social structures that split easily over political, social or religious issues. But the state advances and the Karen get easier to destroy. Scott believes it is only a matter of time before the people of Zomia become tax-paying subjects of the state once again.

Nigeria has also seen terrorism as natives of the Niger Delta have defended themselves against oil companies. The campaign to defeat the locals long enough to extract oil and dump waste has involved police and military, who have done their best to turn ethnic groups against each other. As a result of two decades of conflict, the entire region has militarised. Royal Dutch Shell was implicated in the murder of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. As with other corporate malfeasance punished by a monopolist court system, it cost a trifle and enabled the firm to return to business as usual. Shell is not the only company working the area, as Chevron and Nigeria’s national petroleum company are involved as well. The struggle for freedom from the state in the Niger Delta is not over.

Is there hope in democracy? Under Rafael Correa, the government of Ecuador sued Chevron for billions for the destruction of the environment of thousands of people. Of course, a few billion is a drop in the bucket for such a firm, but at least a symbolic victory is possible. Says Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch, Chevron

left hundreds of toxic waste pits. It dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste. And really, the whole time that this trial has been going on over the course of 18 years, the communities continue to live with that legacy, and they continue to suffer the impacts, the health impacts, the cultural impacts, the environmental impacts of that destruction. And so, this is an important day for the communities. It’s just one step; it’s not a victory. But it is very crucial for them. It’s also an important day for the broader struggle for corporate accountability around the world, for broader struggles for environmental justice and human rights.

Perhaps. Will it set a precedent? An example for other indigenous people? The damage has been done. The environment has been wrecked. And it might just leave the same people open to abuse from Petroecuador, which has caused its share of oil spills. And other Andean people are even less fortunate. (See here and here.) The people have been forced to work through state structures, further integrating them into the nation state, and have been lucky enough finally to have someone in the state who will fight for them. None of these things will last if their sovereignty, over their land and their labour, is not recognised.

It is important that we learn the history of both states and nations. On the history of the state, I recommend Franz Oppenheimer’s The State, James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: the God that Failed, Martin van Creveld’s The Rise and Decline of the State and Bruce D. Porter’s War and the Rise of the State. For more on the nation, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Ernest Gellner’s Nation’s and Nationalism and Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism since 1780 are basics of the canon.

The alternative to the state, part 4: polycentric law

July 31, 2012 10 comments

Wouldn’t it be great if we did not have to follow every law the state passes over us? But then, how would we enforce contracts? How would we enforce property rights? What if someone attacked us? If these concerns could be answered, if we could still have contracts and property and security without following the laws of the state, would you be interested?

Advocates of a minimal state (minarchists) spend considerable time debating which government functions can or should be handed over to the private sector. They may say the state should contract out utilities, social security or the military. However, under such an arrangement, the state would retain ultimate control of all those things, because it would have the prerogative of the law. The law is, in fact, the source of the state’s power.

But as I keep asking, why would we want to give the power to make and enforce laws to a small group of people? Is it that we can trust these people because “we” “elected” them, or threaten not to do so? Or that we do not trust others? Anarchists are not against all rules, contrary to the straw man thrust upon them, just against state laws. My post on state law can be found here; it is the why not of state law. Law that is determined not by one institution but by many is called polycentric, customary or privately-produced law. This post is about the why and how of polycentric law.

In The Market for Liberty, Morris and Linda Tannehill dismiss the idea that we need monopolistic law and force to solve disputes.

It is interesting to note that the advocates of government see initiated force ( the legal force of government ) as the only solution to social disputes. According to them, if everyone in society were not forced to use the same court system, and particularly the same final court of appeal, disputes would be insoluble. Apparently it doesn’t occur to them that disputing parties are capable of freely choosing their own arbiters, including the final arbiter, and that this final arbiter wouldn’t need to be the same agency for all disputes which occur in the society. They have not realized that disputants would, in fact, be far better off if they could choose among competing arbitration  agencies so that they could reap the benefits of competition and specialization.

It should be obvious that a court system which has a monopoly guaranteed by the force of statutory law will not give as good quality service as will free-market arbitration agencies which must compete for their customers. Also, a multiplicity of agencies facilitates specialization, so that people with a dispute in some specialized field can hire arbitration by experts in that field . . . instead of being compelled to submit to the judgment of men who have little or no background in the matter.

As we will see, a better system is preferable and possible.

A simple rule is, the easier it is for normal people to do what they want without harming others, to do business and trade, to create and innovate, the better off the people around them. There are, in fact, things a government can do to aid an economy. One of the most important, as seen from the studies in The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto, is upholding contracts and property rights. If there are ways to do these things in a free market, while lowering or eliminating the risks of abuse associated with state intervention, they are worth considering.

Law around the world

In his paper Privately-Produced Law, Tom W. Bell explains that people around the world and throughout history have used more equitable legal systems than the centralised model. Some legal systems that many would write off as “primitive” are in fact very effective at protecting individual freedom and property, resolving complex conflicts, avoiding violence and can legislate changes in the law. They do all these things without the inefficient, unsatisfying elite control of the system most civilised people are used to.

In such systems, people make reciprocal agreements and victims enforce them. Such agreements are necessary to belong to the community in the first place; and since they are mutually beneficial (unless one knows he or she is going to break the law), people believe in them. Economic restitution, proportionate to the severity of the crime, is the main form of punishment for torts. The guilty yield to the punishment largely due to the threat of ostracism.

Old Anglo-Saxon law made courts out of public assemblies. Interpreting the law was not a problem, as custom took care of it. The outcome of the dispute was about the facts of the case. There were no crimes against the state, or against society. There were only crimes against individuals.

Various other groups have come up with laws regarding the conduct of their members, including immigrant communities, merchants and guilds and communes. It is related to arbitration. Commercial arbitration has become a popular, fast and efficient form of resolving disputes for the insurance, construction and textile industries. (Find more on arbitration below.)

Contracts and reputation

In advanced capitalist countries, where legal contracts have a long history and a solid place in the culture, enforcing contracts is one the state does reasonably well. How could contracts work in a stateless society? Well, how did they work before the state began enforcing them? How do they work where there is no state? Generally, the answer is the same: reputation. If you are known for enforcing your contracts, you win new ones, and you make money. If you break a contract, you lose big time. You lose future contracts but you also lose face from all your peers. Nowadays, that could mean being smeared on the internet as well. Shame, and in more extreme cases, ostracism, is a common punishment throughout the world for anyone who breaks with his or her expected obligations.

Reputation is very important. In a small enough community, we would probably not need any kind of court system because if Johnny cheats Holly, everyone will find out, and will shame, attempt to rehabilitate or, at the extreme, ostracise Johnny. We could formalise this process for a larger society with some kind of reputation database, possibly along the lines of what eBay and Amazon use, or possibly more sophisticated, using arbitrators. Arbitrators would be judged on their reputation. They would likely specialise in a field. They could create permissions to add entries and create permissions to read the database, but cannot alter or remove entries.

When Johnny and Holly agree to enter into a contract, they take it to an arbitrator, Justine, who gets a fee. Justine makes an entry in the database. If Justine makes a ruling against Johnny the cheat, and Johnny does not comply with it, the arbitrator puts all of it in the database, showing that Johnny is not someone you would want to do business with. There could be a number of online and offline backup databases to ensure no one tampers with them.

A credit rating is a kind of reputation. Debts that are so small they are not worth taking to court or even arbitrators are still regularly paid off because of one’s credit rating. Stefan Molyneux explains (here and here) that we already operate under such a system, and that expanding it with dispute-resolution organisations, or DROs, could be advantageous to all.

Picture for a moment the infinite complexity of modern economic life. Most individuals bind themselves to dozens of contracts, from car loans and mortgages to cell phone contracts, gym membership, condo agreements and so on. To flourish in a free market, a man must honour his contracts. A reputation for honest dealing is the foundation of a successful economic life. Now, few DROs will want to represent a man who regularly breaks contracts, or associates with difficult and litigious people. (For instance, this writer once refrained from entering into a business partnership because the potential partner revealed that he had sued two previous partners.)

People will need to be represented by DROs because their being accepted into mainstream society will demand it. Without a contract with a DRO, one would have no credibility as an honest broker and thus no chance of entering into contracts—at least, contracts without very high fees and penalties for breaking them.

A DRO would be liable for crimes their clients commit. If a man murdered his wife, he would lose his contract (which would prohibit murder) and have to pay some penalty to the next of kin. That might mean forced labour under some kind of imprisonment. DROs “are as ancient as civilization itself, but have been shouldered aside by the constant escalation of State power over the last century or so…. [They make] all the information formerly known by the local community available to the world as whole, just as credit reports do.” And insurance can be created for just about anything.


Arbitration has made courts superfluous in many areas, with tens of thousands of arbitrations conducted every year. Arbitration is a kind of privately-produced law, as it involves two people voluntarily coming together, choosing their own terms and accepting someone else’s ruling. Arbitrators have been around since the Middle Ages, and developed the whole body of merchant law. None of them could violently enforce their rulings.

In a society of polycentric law, arbitrators would be chosen for their expertise, efficiency and integrity as impartial judges, as they are now. Arbitration has even gone online. is a company that resolves international disputes in a matter of days based on common principles of justice. It is an efficient and very promising service.

Choosing the law

Private law means we can choose which laws to abide by, instead of hoping to impose them on others. Sure, people in polycentric legal societies will get things wrong; but they will get them less wrong, with less drastic, society-wide consequences, than state law. David Friedman’s argument is that, since the government does not do anything efficiently or better than the free market, why would we expect it to make laws right? A monopoly is rarely necessarily or preferable; why would a monopoly on the production of law be different?

In a free market for law, a large number of security firms would exist that, for a fee, would enforce the basic rights, including contracts, of their customers. Imagine my television goes missing. The camera my security agency has installed in my home saw the person who did it. The thief the agency identified denies the crime. I have a rights-enforcement agency, but so do you. The two agencies might go to war over my claim to get my TV back, right?

But wars are very expensive and private firms want to minimise costs. War only profits those who wage it when they steal the money used to pay for it from someone else through taxation. Instead, the agencies could decide on a netural arbitrator who will decide to whom the TV belongs. Since such disputes are likely to recur, policies will stipulate when the firms will approach an arbitrator.

Since such firms will deal with each other for a long time, they will be able to agree on rules and industry standards. Instead of fighting, they will have rules and mechanisms in place to enforce rulings of the arbitrators. If firms attempt to collude, it is likely that customers will desert them, as existing and potential customers find that legitimate claims are not redressed.

In order for a rights-enforcement agency, an arbitration agency or a private court to make money, people need to choose to use it. So who would their customers be? A polycentric legal order would resolve the debates over, say, the implementation of Islamic sharia, because Muslims who want sharia (which is not all Muslims, just so you know) can abide by it, and would not force others to follow it. Strict, Orthodox Jews would shop at a different agency. Libertarians who do not want too many rules would have their own. Pacifists might choose arbitration without enforcement.

Dealing with aggression

Contracts are a very useful way to solve disputes. Perhaps I sign a contract when I move somewhere that I am not going to let my grass grow too high or scatter car parts on the lawn, and if I break it, there is recourse to kick me out. But what about torts or crimes of aggression where there has been no contract? Murray Rothbard has some ideas. The free market offers endless possibilities—whatever people can offer that customers want. Insurance companies would pay the victims of crime, the breaking of contracts, the winners of arbitration, then pursue the aggressors in court to recoup their losses. Competing defense agencies would exist to protect people, and they would likely work closely with the insurance companies: the less crime there is, the less the insurance companies need to pay out. Insurance companies would probably lower the cost of burglary insurance to those with alarm systems, or trained gun owners. Thus, the incentives for swift, efficient restitution with a minimum of violence are built in to the system.

Holly accuses Johnny of a crime. Johnny gives her the finger and does not show up in court or send a representative. As a result, his side of the case is not heard. If he is found guilty, he might nonetheless accept the verdict. If not, he could go to another court, he could appeal, and so on. If courts and appeals continue to find Johnny guilty, they will have found him guilty of aggression. In a society based on the non-aggression principle, this is, in effect, a crime. Private defense agencies thus have the moral authority to demand restitution and employ violence if it is not forthcoming.

In a free society, people would be free not to press charges, or not to employ violence if other parties did not accept rulings against them. Nonetheless, in the eyes of anyone with access to a reputation or contract-rating database (which would be everyone), those who violate the NAP would have all manner of sanction against them. They would find it difficult to buy a car, for instance, because they would not be trusted to pay for it. Finally, crimes against “society” would not exist (and arguably do not exist at the moment).

I am sure that, like with everything an anarchist proposes, statists will be able to find holes in the theory and “what if” their ideas to death. A few holes in the presentation of a theory does not invalidate it, especially when it is something everyone will have the chance to influence, unlike the current way of dispensing law. They are free to continue to believe they are best represented by the “justice” system as it is now. All we ask is that they respect others’ opinions enough to let them try their own way of doing things. They could be attempted on a micro level, with a few hundred or a few thousand people.

A system of polycentric law would eliminate victimless crimes, because people could choose their own laws. It would be fairer, instead of today’s system of treating rich people’s crimes as misdemeanors and minorities or the poor’s crimes as murder. It would simplify laws, meaning far less need for expensive lawyers. It would lower costs, meaning everyone could afford it; or at least, it would be easy to raise money for those who could not. And we would not have every law and verdict handed down by a self-interested elite.

Canada follows the US toward the police state

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

One interesting feature of Canadian culture is its love-hate relationship with the US. Much of what Canadians do is a reaction to what they see in the US as distasteful. They prefer a foreign policy based on peace, for example. They stayed aloof from Operation Iraqi Freedom because like the rest of the world, Canadians knew it was bogus. They are still persuaded to go to war, but only if they can be persuaded the war is about helping people, such as in Afghanistan and Libya. But something is changing. Society is going one way and the state is going the other. The country in which I lived most of my life is following the US trend downward into dictatorship.

First, consider that Canada is experiencing its lowest crime rate since 1973. Crimes that are down include homicide, attempted murder, assault, break-ins, auto theft and drunk driving. Crimes whose numbers are up include drug and firearm offences, which in themselves are victimless. The ruling Conservative Party, which, because it has a majority government, can do anything it wants, has passed a tough-on-crime bill (Bill C-10) that mandates more jail time to potgrowers than to people who sexually assault children. In fact, it includes mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, meaning the judge is no longer a judge but merely a sentencer, and the courts are a waystation on the road to prison. It means more of the War on Drugs, with its concomitant rise in organised crime and violence. The “justice” system will uphold these laws, of course, because it is not about justice but the law. The bill to incarcerate harmless criminals will cost $19b.

The Canadian government is cracking down harder on internet freedom. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned Canadians to support a new law to enable the government to spy on its citizens online with the Bushesque “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Terry Milewski explains, “his bill would, in fact, dramatically change the law to allow the government much, much more access to our online lives and identities.” All Canadians’ basic information can be handed over to the government if it so demands, without a warrant, and thus without suspicion. Bill C-30 allows government “inspectors” to look at any private information on the internet now. Why do they want this information? What are they going to do with it?

Third, in this time of financial belt tightening, the police are getting raises. They already make far more than the average Canadian, but then they are a section of the bureaucracy. But most Canadian bureaucrats are not getting raises. Why do the cops need more money? Is evicting protesters getting more perilous? But perhaps they need it. The inevitable rise in violent crime due to the increased suppression of the drug trade will indeed make their jobs harder. But is it all necessary? Is there nothing better we can spend that money on?

When I say “we”, of course, I only mean we would have decided on that money if it had not been stolen from us in the first place. We have no recourse, because when the government makes up its mind, we can do little. We could protest, but we would need hundreds of thousands of people at least in the streets to repeal any one of these laws; and in true government fashion, similar laws would be sneaked by us later anyway. Moreover, if we protested and the police hit back as hard as they did at the last G-8 summit in Toronto when some 1000 protesters were arrested for disagreeing with the elites, we would simply feed the prison system. The government could use it as evidence that we need more prisons and more repressive laws to make things safer.

Canada will not become safer, only more repressive. Most Canadians will not benefit from these laws. Canada’s government is dancing on the fine line between democracy and dictatorship, and like all those who desire power, it favours an expansion of the power of the state toward the latter. Canadians should not remain complacent.

The strongest police state in history: We are all terrorists now

December 20, 2011 5 comments

In case they are unaware of the laws some people are imposing on them, Americans should be furious about the latest legal grab at their last freedoms. A new law, cunningly woven into the annual defense appropriations bill and passed overwhelmingly, enables the US military to apprehend you anywhere in the world and detain you indefinitely. This law gives the strongest military the world has ever seen total power over you. You may want to reread that last sentence. It is true. The provisions target US citizens, giving every one of them the rights of a suspected terrorist with no recourse. As Guantanamo Bay prison has demonstrated, citizens of other countries had no rights to begin with. Therefore, due to its habit of picking up citizens of other countries, the US government can now wield its power over anyone in the world. That means you. They can detain you indefinitely without charge if they say you are a suspect. And no one will be punished if you are innocent (except you). No one will be held accountable, no matter what happens. This law is perhaps the most frightening in a long line of legal takeovers of your freedom.

Did I say this will be the strongest police state in history? Surely not, you say? Well, the totalitarian states have been strong, but they have rarely had the opportunity to catch people outside the state’s borders. And they did not have military bases all around the world. Remember, it is the trillion-dollar, million-man military that is now authorised to detain anyone anywhere for any length of time.

How did our liberties slip away? Anthony Gregory explains.

Ten years of the war on terror, decades of the war on drugs, and a century of growing government power in general, particularly in the presidency and various police authorities, have perhaps desensitized Americans to what is at stake here. As the proverbial frogs in the pot of water, we are accustomed to rising temperatures and so do not notice when our flesh begins to boil. Yet when the Senate overwhelmingly accepts the principle that the military should displace civilian courts even for citizens captured on American soil, it has adopted a standard of justice remarkably tyrannical even compared to America’s very rocky history.

A hundred years of encroaching control over our minds and bodies plus one spectacular terrorist attack and freedom somehow seems like a luxury to Americans who do not realise they are frogs.

Needless to say, these laws are unconstitutional, like so many other laws that a small minority of the people who swore to uphold the constitution tried to stop. The Bill of Rights, a wonderful idea in its time, lies in tatters. (See here for the history of the gutting of the constitution and limiting of Americans’ freedoms over the past decade.) Now that the government has such power and employs it every day, there is no reason to believe it will hold back. The tired, old canard that, if you just keep your head down and do not commit any crimes, you will be fine, is clearly untrue. Even if this bill had not passed, the US government (though of course not just the US one) can already spy on you from anywhere in the world by listening to your phone calls and reading your emails; has drones circling the skies in the US and all around the world, looking for anything anyone with any power at all deems “suspicious”; can lock you up and torture you in one of its many prisons (and not just ones you have heard of), as it already has with Bradley Manning and foreign journalists (Barack may be even worse than Bush with regard to torture); and can assassinate you without due process. Thus, as any informed libertarian already knew, these despicable practices have been going on for some time. The powerful are merely trying to make them easier.

Continuing the War on Terror will do that. The bill says that suspects will be held only until the end of hostilities. So, as Jon Stewart says, when terror surrenders, you’ll be free to go. For those who do not understand statist war, you must know that war is the health of the state, and the state exists to take your freedom. The more war, the more power the state has; the more power the state has, the less freedom you have. That is a consistent pattern in history. The War on Terror is not so much a war as a series of military operations designed to expand US government power everywhere it can, but the effect is the same. To stir up instability in Central Asia, secure supplies of natural resources and keep restive people down are its goals. This law will help win that war for the powerful.

War creates terrorists, as occupied people facing brutality from foreign powers have peaceful modes of resistance taken away from them. If terrorism is on the rise, blame the dictators and warmongers. (Oh, and when there is not enough terrorism and the hype dies down, the FBI will still arrest people for it.) Likewise, if crime is indeed rising in the US, it could be because of the fallout from the financial crash, which was of course the fault of the elites, and it could be because the criminalisation of and atrocious crackdown on drugs despite all logic incentivises the formation of gangs. Wars, whether on terrorism, drugs or the poor, create the conditions that politicians can use to justify accumulating ever more power. To think that the government exists to keep you safe is now obviously a myth.

But it is not just the Department of Defense that has been amassing power. The police and the courts have always been the tools of the elite, but are now conducting a war on liberty in the US. If you think I am exaggerating, please see my post on police here. Here is a preview. A man was recently sentenced to 75 years in jail for filming police. (Here is that link again.) The law, the police, the courts all tear society apart and destroy lives by criminalising victimless acts and subjecting innocent people to endless captivity. With its multiple layers of security apparatus, from the police to the FBI to the CIA to the DEA to Homeland Security to the military, not to mention the help of friendly governments around the world, the US federal government has enormous resources for violence at its disposal. It has already targeted, Greenpeace and PETA under the pretext of investigating terrorism; who will be next? (Find more incredible facts about how the US is becoming a giant prison here.)

The main reason the government wants all this power (inasmuch as power is not an end in itself for many of the people involved, and aside from the large amounts of money politicians make from prison and related lobbies) is that dissent against government and the elites is growing. (Find a more developed argument here.) The protests that have gone global since Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest corruption and repression have threatened the elites’ position and they are not happy. Most recently, we have seen unnecessary brutality against people demonstrating peacefully at Occupy sites around the world. The photos of tear gas sprayed casually into the faces of the young and old; the arrests of thousands of people for nothing. Democracy or dictatorship, state brutality is everywhere. The elites are sending a message: do not question authority or you will be punished. The only cure for this disease that I know of is to disobey their command. I would like to see more people to join in occupations until this unjust, parasitic institution crumbles to dust.

The lion’s share of the blame for this state of affairs goes to the psychopaths and fools (these are not insults; they are reality) who have been running the US for so long. The US federal government has trillions of dollars that it forced out of the pockets of millions of people. Think how many wars, how many full-body scanners, how many drones, soldiers, police, jails, surveillance systems, tons of tear gas and pepper spray it can buy with that money. And that means that the money it takes from people is used to oppress them. The government does not obey its own laws, so we should not, either. Laws are nothing more than institutionalised control over people, arbitrary interpretations of morality and handouts to lobby groups at the barrel of a gun.

But while most of the blame belongs with the state who forcibly takes everyone’s freedom away, Americans have let their government get away with it all. Ignorant people who do not understand government, war, terrorism and crime continue to believe the government looks out for their best interest. Most of them have not demanded change, content to amble slowly along some meaningless path with their heads down and their fingers in their ears. Others are so scared of crime, terrorism and illness that they gladly give the government as much power as it wants. Sure, we are subject to humiliation whenever we get on an airplane; sure, the US has the biggest prison population in the world; sure, the upper 1% owns a third of the nation’s wealth; and sure, my neighbours are losing their homes; but at least we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Not anymore, you don’t. The most dangerous thing is to believe we are free when we are not. It is impossible to escape from a jail we do not realise we are in.

The War on Drugs

July 19, 2011 14 comments

Adam Kokesh, Adam vs the Man: What do you have to say to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition [LEAP] who would say that ending the War on Drugs would lower the rate of deaths of law enforcement officers unnecessarily in the line of duty?

Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States: I don’t think that’s right.

The logic of the War on Drugs died at birth. Prohibition has never even begun to achieve its stated objectives. How could it? As the astute Pat Buchanan puts it, “There are two sure ways to end this war swiftly: Milton’s way and Mao’s way. Mao Zedong’s communists killed users and suppliers alike, as social parasites. Milton Friedman’s way is to decriminalize drugs and call off the war.” Governments around the world have tried a watered-down, somewhat less totalitarian version of Mao’s way, but they are not achieving his results. What results are they achieving instead?

The consequences

(I have written extensively on the War on Drugs elsewhere. Find my historical analysis of it here.)

Does the criminalisation of drugs help drug users? Why not ask the millions who have been jailed, some for 20 years or more, whose families have been torn apart, because they disagreed with the government’s laws? Joanne Page of the Fortune Society says this is “not a war on drugs; it’s a war on poor people with drug involvement. And the casualties are terrible.”

$1t has been spent enforcing drug laws, with no resulting decrease in drug use. 40m people have been arrested on drug charges since Nixon declared war on drugs 40 years ago. And over 50% of people in overburdened jails in the US are there on drug charges. And yet, in the words of Neill Franklin, executive director of LEAP, “drugs today are more available, more potent and cheaper than ever.” In 2009, the US federal government spent over $2b housing drug-related prisoners. Every 19 seconds, someone in the US is arrested for a drug law violation, 82% of which are for possession. (One estimate asserts that 800,000 a year are arrested on marijuana-related charges alone!) In other words, you are paying so that the government can lock up people with things in their pocket that will never harm you or your children.

Despite the irriting 10th amendment, the US federal government does not recognise all laws passed by states. One type of them is their drug laws. Most states have either legalised medical marijuana or hemp or otherwise decriminalised sale of the plant. The Drug Enforcement Administration regularly raids medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have passed laws legalising them. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here…you know what? Just google it.) Along with the product, it takes the computers and collects the files of people who have bought pot there, apparently holding them so they know who needs to get nabbed next for something they are legally allowed to do. Is it any wonder more and more people are coming to see that the government does not have to care about us? That our safety is the last thing on their mind? That the rule of law lies in tatters? And that this is not what Jesus had in mind? We have a federal government interested in prolonging this devastating war on non violent (and some terminally-ill) people with a middle finger to the constitution. How can this take place in a free society?

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that legalising all drugs would bring in some $40b in tax revenues at all levels if the drugs were taxed at rates similar to alcohol, and we would save another $40b in incarceration and court costs. But as he points out, this might not make much of a dent in the colossal US government budget deficits; and the real reason to legalise drugs is that “all the people who want to use drugs are being somewhere between mildly inconvenienced and grossly harmed by the policy of prohibition. We are not helping drug users in any way, shape or form.”*

Would drug use skyrocket if drugs were legal? Well, why don’t you do heroin? Because it is illegal? (For that matter, why don’t you kill and rape? Because they are illegal?) When the government tells you what you can and cannot put in your own body, it is claiming ownership over you. Protecting you from yourself is not only a misguided idea, because you know better than any government could about what is right for you, but it is demonstrably false. The government would need to destroy all guns, cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, cars, Coca Cola and Big Macs if it wanted to keep you healthy. Maybe it should ban all those things. But in the words of Lev Timofeev, a former Soviet mathematician and analyst of the shadow economy,

Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it. Prohibiting a market means placing a prohibited but dynamically developing market under the total control of criminal corporations. Moreover, prohibiting a market means enriching the criminal world with hundreds of billions of dollars by giving criminals a wide access to public goods which will be routed by addicts into the drug traders’ pockets. Prohibiting a market means giving the criminal corporations opportunities and resources for exerting a guiding and controlling influence over whole societies and nations. [Find more on the effects of prohibition here.]

Mexico is the newest of those nations. In his book the Lucifer Effect, psychologist Philip Zimbardo explains that our actions and our character depend to a great extent on our situation. If we are placed in a situation where we have power over others, we will probably use that power. Drug lords like Pablo Escobar were not necessarily bad people before they took to drugs. But they saw big opportunities to make big money because of the laws that existed. They needed to protect themselves against the long arm of the law, so they started their own militias, and criminalisation became a war. If there is no possibility to engage in commerce through voluntary transactions, but the demand still exists, the trade will continue but it will become dangerous. That is true of any criminal enterprise in the world. As a result, some 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006, not to mention Colombia, Peru and elsewhere in the past 40 years.

The US government has made things worse and killed its own agents. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) sold some 30,000 guns to Mexican drug lords that were used not only to kill innocent Mexican civilians, but eventually US government agents. (See a video that brings the war to your eyes here.) Thousands of Mexicans have protested the War on Drugs, which is fast becoming a civil war brought about by powerful governments that do not have to listen to their people.

Since the War on Drugs guarantees high prices for any illegal drug, it is no wonder poppy farming has become so common in Afghanistan. Supply is in the east but demand is in the west. When the west criminalises drugs, farmers in the east stand to profit. The Taliban now it encourages poppy farming as a way to make money to kill foreign soldiers. Corruption is rampant in Afghanistan. It is the most corrupt country in the world, in fact, according to Transparency International, which said the following: “In poll after poll, Afghans don’t rank the Taliban, terrorism or the economy as their highest worry. Corruption is their top concern and tackling it, their main need.” Not only does government enable high drug prices through prohibition, corruption would not exist without a government because no one would have the power to force people to pay bribes. Not only does the US military now target drug traffickers as part of this ill-conceived war, how is the ISAF supposed to win hearts and minds when its main partner sprays crops in Afghanistan and destroys farmers’ livelihoods? The criminalisation of drugs by the powers that are supposedly at war with the Taliban is shooting oneself in the head to cure one’s headache.

Back on the domestic front, the War on Drugs places huge burdens on the legal system. The backlog of drug cases that divert billions of dollars from the protection of property, the use of expensive courts and trial lawyers to prosecute people for selling a few dollars’ worth of cocaine, the loss of civil liberties, the corruption of law enforcement; these are corollaries of a legalistic approach to prohibiting drug use. Neill Franklin of LEAP explains that most police officers that prosecute the War on Drugs consider themselves soldiers, given orders, expected to uphold the law. But they do not usually spend the time to look at the facts of this pointless war, and as such do not question the criminalisation of drugs. More and more police officers are killed in the line of duty in the US, and you can guess what laws most of them are trying to uphold when they are killed. And yet, because of the law, because the politicians in the back pockets of the pressure groups are in charge, because we put them in charge and then turn our backs to them, the police are under pressure actually to put themselves in harm’s way. LEAP is made up of brave police officers who defy their political masters and stand up for what is right.

The causes

With all these obvious reasons to end the War on Drugs, why does it continue? Does the government care about your health? Is that the reason drugs are illegal? The reason the War on Drugs is so difficult to end is that the government is beholden to—even controlled by—special interest groups. Contrary to what some democrats seem to think, presidents and congresspeople do not wake up in the morning asking what they can do for their country or their constituents. They ask what they can do for their patrons, the lobbyists. Who do you think might benefit from the criminalisation of drugs? Certainly not those looking for treatment. Many laws give rise to new pressure groups. The drug laws have their own. Let’s meet some of them.

Illegal drugs are major competition for legal ones. Tobacco and alcohol companies have no interest in seeing any more drugs on the market. Perhaps that is why they were, for a while, the top funders of Partnership for a Drug Free America. (Now, big pharma contributes the most to Partnership.) Partnership tends not to mention that more than 400,000 people die every year in the US from smoking, 75,000 from alcohol and some 370,000 died from FDA-approved (thank God the government protects us from the market) pharmaceuticals in the past decade (or possibly even more), while the number who have died from marijuana is zero. The government is under pressure from the mighty tobacco and alcohol firms not to legalise their competitors, and has no qualms about killing to keep them happy. If you have ever wondered why lobbyists are so powerful, consider that 80% of those employed as lobbyists by the beer, wine and liquor industry, and 78% of tobacco lobbyists, are former government employees.

Pharmaceutical companies, too, have no interest in letting any other drugs than their own become mainstream. They already face considerable competition from alcohol and tobacco. Their drugs are so high priced (because they can be) that theft from pharmacies is skyrocketing.  No less than the pharmaceutical firms, everyone from clothing manufacturers to paper companies would face steep competition from hemp if it entered the marketplace. But we must protect the public from the stalk of the cannabis plant.

Another reason drugs are still illegal, and one reason the War on Drugs is prosecuted so harshly, is that it pays for a politician to look tough on crime. Crime is only crime because lawmakers say it is, and as such, the more laws there are, the more chances politicians get to look like people who get results. It is the same reason money to protect against terrorism flows like water: the more of your money they spend, the more ability politicians have to appear to be doing something.

Other politicians preside over constituencies that benefit from the prison-industrial complex. With the steady expansion in the number of prisons came the increased number of correctional facility corporations and jobs that rely on them. The special interests driving the increased prison population are one reason why privatisation without a reduction in government power to reward the new industry might not be a good idea. Judge Jim Gray calls the prison guard union California’s strongest lobby group. It oversaw the building of 21 new prisons in the state and encouraged tough new laws (such as the 1994 “three strikes” law) that today have California’s prisons brimming over at almost twice capacity. No wonder they have an interest in full prisons: the average guard makes more than $70,000 a year.

Not all lobby groups are in the private sector. The drug war grants police and prosecutors bigger budgets, which gives them greater power vis-à-vis the public whose money they are spending. The DEA and the ATF receive ever-bigger budgets as well, enabling them to buy cool new equipment to help them do a job they should not be doing in the first place. As their budgets increase, the profits to be made off drugs and the desperation of the groups selling them, the ones created by drug prohibition, increases proportionally, so more people will fight on either side, catching thousands of innocents in the crossfire.

The police have the incentive to steal. In 1970, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, also known as the Forfeiture Act. It was expanded in 1978, and then again in 1984. According to Jarrett B. Wollstein, “[c]ivil asset forfeiture is based upon the medieval doctrine that when property is involved in a crime, the property becomes ‘guilty’, and can be “arrested” and forfeited, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the property’s owners.” You do not need to be tried or convicted. Thousands of people other than the police have made money informing on their neighbours, even when their neighbours have been found innocent. And anything is fair game. Even the car you drove to try to buy drugs can be seized when you get arrested for it. The court makes money off the fine you have to pay; the police keep the car. Not surprisingly, “the level of seizure activity has exploded since 1984,” says Prof. Bruce Benson of Florida State University. Police can seize cars, jewelry and all the money they can find (even if they only say they suspect it is connected to drugs). Many local police drug units are partially or wholly funded by the assets they seize. And since it is easier to catch the little fish than the big fish, the petty criminals, like buyers and sellers, are the ones who lose most.

The military, too, long involved in South America, has its hand out, too. The long-running turmoil in Colombia has given the US military a pretext to plant military bases there. Protecting its citizens is a great excuse for a government to go to war. The empire thanks you for your understanding.

Finally, just like in so many government-connected corporate scandals, the banks are here too. Money laundering is big business, and banks all over the world have cashed in. (See here, here and here.) Governments could regulate the business, but why would they harass their close friends? All of these groups would lose if drugs were legalised, or if the drug war were won.

Make no mistake: the War on Drugs is not simply a failed policy: it is an understandable, even predictable, result of statism. It started in 1970 when a politician (Richard Nixon) wanted to squash his peaceful enemies (hippies) and distract from his foreign policy agenda (the bombing of Laos and Cambodia), and has accelerated thanks to every other politician who has stood to gain from it. In the end, the War on Drugs is a symptom of big government. Big government is the reason your tax dollars are going toward killing and jailing people for victimless crimes, creating and funding drug cartels, and bringing violence to the streets of your hometown. Big government requires a steady flow of votes and campaign contributions in return for rewarding special interest groups with tax dollars. As such, it will not reverse until enough people threaten to withhold their votes for the party that does not end the drug war. However, the reality of the criminalisation of drugs has not hit most people, and will not unless they understand it.

No more excuses

Not only us crazy anarchists understand the logic against prohibition. The Global Commission on Drug Policy reported that “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world…billions of dollars are wasted on ineffective programs,…millions of citizens are sent to prison unnecessarily,… [and] hundreds of thousands of people die from preventable overdoses and diseases.” The report was endorsed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—and 16 other notable names, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. Some of these thinkers have said they are not strictly in favour of the outright legalisation of drugs. Fine. Adopt half measures and you will get half results. Alternatively, we could commit to the full legalisation of drugs and stop having to worry about all this nonsense.

I heard someone say that legalising drugs would not make a difference to the gangs because then they would engage in different activities to survive. But that ignores the fact that the economic incentive of gang membership is the very lucrative drug trade itself. If gangs switched to, say, stealing cars, they would be running far greater risks than running drugs for less money, and their membership would shrivel. Until that happens, expect many more dead everywhere. The most dangerous, most addictive drug is not crack or heroin but laws that create black markets and reward special interests.

It is also said that only the less harmful drugs, like marijuana, should be legal, because legalisation amounts to sanction. But that argument misses the point. All drugs should be legal for two reasons. First, on a purely cost-benefit analysis, there is every reason to believe that legalisation would save money and lives, including through overdose. It would drastically reduce the influence of criminal organisations around the world, reduce the corruption of law enforcement and politicians, reduce harm done by unregulated black market substitutes for drugs whose harm has much to do with their illicit nature, stop tearing families and lives apart, and reduce the incidence of police destruction of property through break ins.

But an even better reason is that no one has the right to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body when the consumption of that substance does not affect anyone else. Our bodies are our property, and no one can take away a free man’s property. Unless we are irresponsible children with no judgment, all drugs should be legal.

*Moreover, as economist Walter Block points out (and I second), giving more money to the government would not be a good thing. “It is sometimes argued that one of the benefits of legalising addictive drugs is that they could be taxed, and the government revenues enhanced,” he says. “From this perspective, this would be the only valid case against legalisation.” How about we legalise drugs and do not tax them?


July 8, 2011 1 comment

Now that we have made the police redundant, how will we deal with crime? “Crime” in the legal sense would not exist in a free society, because people would be constrained by their consciencesand not uniformed thugs. But of course there would still be the initiation of violence against innocent people; it just would not carry any legitimacy. As such, it might be easier to reduce. The state, as it is now, encourages crime.

First, when something for which there is still demand is made illegal, the market goes underground and it becomes more valuable—so valuable, in fact, people will kill for it. People kill each other on the streets because of drugs every day, and the police sometimes kill innocent people they suspect of selling drugs as well. Sex slavery is enabled by the criminalisation of prostitution, and as a result, women from all over the world are bought and sold, and violence against them is routine. Human trafficking, similar in effect to sex trafficking, is the result of closed borders. Any law prohibiting something is a potentially lucrative black market, with the accompanying violence.

Second, to the extent that one is not allowed to defend oneself and must wait for the police to show up, criminals can take advantage of their weakness. The recent riots in the UK are an excellent example of a disarmed populace waiting to be victimised, held to ransom by the state, their protector. The more dependent we are on people who do not care about us, the weaker we are in the face of aggression.

I tend to agree with Murray Rothbard that if there were just one law, it should be that of ownership. That means ownership of everything you have created (though “ownership” over one’s children is somewhat different, as they too are humans who own themselves) or acquired through consensual transactions, plus the right to the protection of your body, which is your possession as well. Property must not be violated, which means that harming others or destroying their property, forcibly taking money or other things legitimately acquired is theft (including taxation). Beyond that, there should be no crimes. But this position is not universally held.

I remember watching Ann Coulter on Youtube saying liberals want to force you to do what they think is right. I wish I had been there to say “Yeah, liberals suck that way. By the way Ann, what’s your stance on gay marriage?” Statists of all points on the spectrum want to gain power in order to use government to force their opinions of what is right and wrong on others.

As such, anything a special interest group do not like or would benefit from the criminalisation of can be illegal. Anything that makes people squirm can be illegal. Policing victimless crimes create victims. The banning of veils in public seems unnecessary and incompatible with a free society. But we do not want to give others freedom; we want conformity. Raw milk is illegal in the US; and laws and regulations, pushed by big farms to destroy little ones, are punishing Americans farmers like crazy. Law is great for that. Kids almost get fined $500 for a lemonade stand, the funds from which would have gone to charity; Orlando police lock up a bunch of people for feeding the homeless. I guess they deserved it. If you want to use public space to help people, you’d better have a license!

Police have the power to read your emails, instant messages and the location of your mobile phone.  Is privacy a crime now? But I guess privacy is a luxury that we, in this age of really scary things, just can’t afford anymore. Sad, really, because not only do we have to follow whatever laws the government decides on, whether we agree with them or not, but because the government appropriates the tools created in the private sector for its own purposes, now we can be tracked electronically in case we break one of them.

Power, by definition, is unaccountable. The police are somewhat accountable, but they also have power, which means to an extent they are unaccountable. The courts are much the same. The purpose of the courts was always said to be the dispensation of justice, but when one juxtaposes headlines that say “Ex-Mortgage CEO Sentenced to Prison [for 40 months] for $3B Fraud” and “Homeless man gets 15 years for stealing $100”, you need to question this purpose. Either the courts are staggeringly inconsistent, or the system is rigged toward the powerful.

Prisons have an enormous amount of power. Once someone is deemed unfit for society, whether because they killed 10 children or stole and returned $100, their lives come under the complete control of the state. But while in prisons one can see the greatest concentration of government power, prisons are riddled with violence and drugs. The state claims to protect against crime but turns the other way when crimes are committed against criminals. Prisons are notorious hotbeds of rape. No one is safe in prison.

The rate of incarceration in the US is 743 per 100,000 people. That is the highest rate in the world. One in every hundred Americans is imprisoned during his or her lifetime, many of them for victimless crimes like drug possession. We tend to look at prisons as inherently good, an unquestioned net benefit for society, but we should pay attention to their costs. More prisons is not a way to reduce crime: it is a way to benefit the prison lobby. If there were no government, we could still have prisons, as there will still be people who are unrelentingly violent, but we would do more careful cost-benefit analyses of how our money was spent on them.

Prisons do not seem to work very well. As the “justice system” has evolved, it has gradually separated the victim and the perpetrator. Now, criminals are expected to “repay their debt to society” instead of repaying it to the only person they have wronged, by going through a court and prison system that costs the victim and all other taxpayers billions of dollars a year; and the victim may not even get compensation. It is not up to him. Prisons seem to be the only solution we can think of to crime: someone kills? Throw him in jail. Someone steals a candy bar? Throw him in jail too, at huge cost to society regardless of the magnitude of the crime.

There should only be two parties in criminal punishment: the one who aggressed against someone’s property, and the victim of that aggression. If the victim wants to forgive the aggressor, it should be done. If the victim orders the aggressor to pay the victim proportionally, it is fair. Not everyone has to go to jail.

How will we deal with other crimes? Stefan Molyneux makes a great case, so I will farm this one out to him. Read his excellent case for dealing with crime here. In the end, the logic of dismissing governments from “protecting” us, to whatever extent they ever have, is airtight.


May 18, 2011 11 comments

Voluntaryism is based on the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle states that self-defense is fine, but you should never aggress, never commit any act of violence, including threats and destruction or theft of property, to someone who has not done the same. All initiation of force is illegitimate. In our last post, we saw how the science of human nature refutes the argument that we need to be forced. Governments initiate the use of force in two ways. One is through taxation, which we will cover in more detail in a later post. The other is through law. Law is a directive you must follow or you are fined or sent to jail. If you resist the fine, you go to jail. If you resist jail, you are attacked. They can be as severe as the government’s arbitrary decisions make them. Laws are what give the government is veneer of legitimacy. If something is legal, it must be moral, right?

Why must things be done by force? That is the question every statist must answer for every issue they think only government can handle. Why does it have to be done by force? Why can people not be allowed to think about it and decide for themselves? Why is government morality superior to that of the individual? I just don’t understand why freedom is less important than the basic result of law, conformity. And yet, many democrats think their system is best precisely because it affords the most freedom. Wanting to pass restrictive laws and then claiming to love freedom is hypocrisy. It seems to be the natural impulse of most people living under a government to avocate passing a law to solve any problem that arises. We will address a few of the countless reasons why laws do not solve problems in later posts. For now, we should bear in mind that laws are not the same as morality. For instance, do you think the reason we are not killing each other is because it is illegal? Well, would you kill anyone? Do you know anyone who would?

Law creates a kind of double standard. The powerful do what they want and the powerless do what they are told. In the words of Stefan Molyneux,

I can’t go next door and threaten my neighbour with force in order to get him to pay for my child’s education, but the government can through property rights and the educational system. I can’t find some guy in my neighbourhood who’s smoking some herb that I find objectionable, lock him up in some basement and then call myself an armed warrior for justice through the War on Drugs. I can’t print money based on nothing and use it as legitimate currency; the government can. And I can’t create debt that other people have to pay without any choice in the matter. That’s called fraud. But for the government it’s called deficit financing and it goes to future generations. So government, by definition, is that social entity which legalises whatever is criminal for everyone else in the population…. Law is an opinion with a gun.

(Stefan forgot to mention that invasion and occupation are called democracy promotion and nation building, but he was in an interview, so we can forgive him!)

Law is thus separate from culture. If something is truly culture or religion, there is no reason to legislate it. Legislation would only entrench a custom or practice that lawmakers or interested parties deem desirable rather than letting it evolve, as cultures and religions do.

Do you believe that the purpose of law is to defend people against the arbitrary exercise of state power? Because that is demonstrably false. Who is it that makes these laws? Self-interested politicians. They hardly ever do anything to curb their own power, although sometimes they use the law to curb the power of future governments; for example, Israeli settlement policy has made it harder (some say impossible) for future Israeli governments to withdraw from the West Bank.

The rule of law is held us as the standard all nations should aspire to. But we have natural laws that govern us, without the need for force. Why is a government considered ideal? Why do we need to be ruled by others at all? How about the rule of freedom? When Winston Churchill heard about the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 and the equally bloody crackdown in Iraq in 1920, he was appalled by what he saw as abuses. And yet, because he was an ethnocentrist like most people, he continued to believe in the superiority of British civilisation because it was characterised by the rule of law. The rule of law didn’t do the Indians and the Iraqis much good, did it?

And why would it? Law has nothing to do with morality. That is why I have no problem with people on juries who vote to acquit people of crimes they do not believe should be crimes, like drug possession or beating up Donald Rumsfeld, even in the face of overwhelming evidence they are “guilty”. (More on this subject here.) If there is no crime, there is no guilt.

Neither is law an agreement of all the people. When friends tell me that the reason we have certain laws and social programs is that we as a society have agreed on them, I have trouble believing their naivety. Laws are created by parliamentarians, whom, if you are in the majority, you did not vote for. They are part of a small clique that decides what is right for people they believe cannot decide those things for themselves. As such, they cannot claim to represent you and the diverse district or country you live in. And you can try to change the law, if you really want. But I do not know how you expect to win. Two reasons more people do not work harder to repeal all the ridiculous laws out there are the enormous time and effort it would take, and the low odds of success. Neither does it help that governments often enact a new law down the road, which while different in appearance, their spirit mimics that of the law that was abrogated. If lobbyists truly want something, it would take an enormous tide of popular opposition to prevent its becoming law.

Law is not good for society. Milton Friedman once said,

calling on the government to solve problems strains that social fabric of agreement on basic values that is necessary to maintain a stable society. In order to have any kind of a stable society, you have to have people agree with one another. You have to have a certain minimum common set of values and beliefs. And you want to avoid straining that set of beliefs. Now, the great virtue of the market is that people who hate one another in other respects can cooperate with each other on the market without any difficulty…. Political mechanisms have the opposite arrangement. You have to enforce conformity on people.

The court system is part of the enforcement mechanism. You have to be pretty patient and rich to take your grievances to court. But private mediators exist who will spare you the hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of “justice” you will find in the dispute-resolution mechanism of the state. Private mediators solve union grievances and divorce proceedings very well, without having to beg a judge for a decision. It is also not necessary to take most debt claims to court. If people or businesses do not pay off their debts, they get bad credit ratings from private companies, and cannot take out loans. (The government has a habit of ignoring credit ratings and encouraging lending to bad credit risks because it is politically popular to do so, but it is not conducive to much lasting good, just subprime mortgage crises.) People sign countless contracts in their daily lives and stick to them: mortgages, loans, car rental agreements, apartments, and so on. If there were some kind of dispute resolution organisation with a database (which could operate for a profit), anyone wanting to enter into an agreement with you would check it. If people violate their contracts, they go into the database as welchers, and if they do what they promise, they get positive ratings. That is what eBay and Amazon do already, and they have shown it works. If they did not fulfill the terms of their contracts, they would have no chance of flourishing in the free market, because no one would do business with them anymore. Insurance companies will want to know both how credit-worthy a person is, how risky the people he or she associates with are, and charge them accordingly for insurance. (If you still have objections, find a more complete discussion here) So do we really need courts for interpersonal dispute resolution? Ah, but perhaps dispute resolution is not justice. Perhaps justice is revenge. I like to think we can find a more peaceful solution.

The only real laws we need are the natural laws of property, which includes our bodies, that which we create, and that which we acquire in voluntary, reciprocal transactions. The sanctity of property is embodied in the non-aggression principle: no initiating violence, no stealing, no threats. (See further discussion here.) The law, the gun that forces us to comply with everything the elites want, runs contrary to the non-aggression principle, and is therefore immoral.