On The Relationship Between Libertarianism and Fascism

In the August 2, 2017 episode of the Tom Woods Show, Woods talks about the moral outrage of left-libertarians and their tendency to call other libertarians fascists, Nazis, or whatever other insults they can muster. To follow up these complaints, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, alluding to the “libertarian fascists” and libertarians with fascist sympathies. He also said that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. In the historical sense of fascism, libertarian fascism is a contradictory term. A person who is a libertarian cannot actually and fully consider themselves a fascist in that sense, or vice versa. However, we can treat libertarian fascism as a placeholder term for a broader ideological shift toward a synthesis of libertarianism and fascism. We may also consider how a private property owner in a libertarian society could have a fascist structure within the bounds of private property.

Examining Premises

The first mistake that Woods (and many other libertarians) make is to assume that the combination of different ideological perspectives is dependent on policy and not the fundamentals of their philosophy. From this, Woods implies that fascism is about centralization and boundless idealism, while libertarians accept people as they are and favor decentralization. Some more simple-minded people also think that fascism is about authority and state power while libertarianism is the complete opposite. This may be true when we look at policy proposals, but policy cannot be the arbiter of ideological coherence or ideologies themselves. We need to analyze the premises of different ideologies if we are to analyze how compatible these ideologies are. This is necessary because ideologies are fundamentally systems of thought and analysis flowing from basic premises. A person using an ideology is a person looking at the world in a certain way and proposing policy positions from that set of value judgments.

To illustrate this, let us consider the example of Milton Friedman. Milton Friedman is claimed by both libertarians and neoliberals as representing their ideologies. This means that both libertarians and neoliberals see Friedman as using their methods of analysis and looking at the world in the same manner that they do. But here we find a contradiction; there appears to be a problem if we are to place neoliberalism and libertarianism on a scale of politics. First, we have to establish that there is a connection between Rothbard and Friedman when it comes to libertarianism; that is, that one could draw a straight line from Rothbard to Friedman and it would naturally follow from their ideological positions. This may be done; one can see that both men respect property rights, advocate for reducing the size of the state, and wish to increase the freedom of the market. But one must also draw a line from Hillary Clinton to Friedman, as they are both neoliberals. Both are cosmopolitan, fairly progressive, and advocate for a sort of economy that is not only free but also open. Although they differ in their degree of state intervention, one can ideologically connect Friedman and Clinton.

But there is a problem, in that no such connection is present between Rothbard and Clinton. There is no consistent line that could connect Rothbardian thought with Clintonian thought. Their philosophies and perspectives are mutually exclusive. There is no principled alliance or synthesis between them; only alliances of convenience may exist. However, when it comes to Friedman, there may be a synthesis between these ideologies. Both Rothbardians and Clintonians will have their criticisms of Friedmanites, but Friedman’s position is palatable for both neoliberals and libertarians. This is because Friedman used both the premises of neoliberalism and the premises of libertarianism. He analyzed the world in a way that followed from the neoliberal desire for openness and personal freedom and the libertarian desire for self-determination and liberty. We can boil down these two positions to this: the neoliberals want looseness while libertarians want property. Neoliberals tend to favor whatever makes national identity, economic policy, or social cohesion looser. Libertarians tend to favor whatever makes property rights stronger, whether it be self-ownership, non-aggression, or property rights in external objects. Coming from both perspectives, one would both appreciate property rights and self-determination but also a loose society without national identity or strong social norms, and this explains the desires of left-libertarians. Friedman was first and foremost an economist, so we see more of the propertarian side of him, but he was also a neoliberal.

The Premises of Fascism

We have already established that the libertarian premises are self-ownership, non-aggression, and property rights. Libertarians tend to favor whatever increases the power of the property owner over his justly owned property. But what do the fascists take as their premises? Contrary to popular belief, it is not opposition to property or to personal liberty. No fascist regime has ever gotten rid of property and the personal liberty question has only been a policy proposal, not something most fascists believe in strongly. There are some fascists who are against property, but they are few and far between and have never had a strong presence in a notable fascist government. In fact, most fascist governments suppress these left-wing variants. In fiction, some fascists are opposed to personal liberty on principle, but these are not reflected in reality; the closest real approximation are people who believe that control is necessary for virtue. But in that case, the premise is virtue rather than control, as the fascist does not want control for the sake of control. To really understand the fascists, we need to look at fascist movements.

In Italy, there were the national syndicalists that eventually became the fascists. They believed in creating a pseudo-syndicalist economy that combines worker interests and business interests to reduce class conflict. They also believed in strengthening Italian society and creating an incredibly traditionalist social order. The Nazis shared the second point, but they wanted an economy where there is comparatively stronger property and there are more capitalistic structures, but on the condition that these structures benefit the nation. In this form, national socialists treat property owners as trustees given property by the nation to take care of the wealth and resources of the nation. We can see many other movements that hold themselves to be both anti-communist and anti-capitalist, but eventually, end up with what we would call a fascist economic policy.

Other movements were somewhat different. The Francoists come from the more orthodox Falangist position, and they are outliers because Franco eventually liberalized the economy and created a more free market than many people would have favored originally. Though Hitler privatized multiple industries, this was nothing compared to the Spanish miracle. The Greek military coup lead by Papadopoulos constantly referred to their movement as being explicitly temporary, however, the attempts of liberalization by Papadopoulos were shut down by other people within the government. It is impossible to know how Greece would have developed if these liberalizations had occurred, but the government was overthrown and Greece eventually became a leftist mess.

One could include Pinochet and use the Chilean miracle as another example of success, but fascists often consider Pinochet to be a sellout, and it is not entirely clear whether Pinochet was actually a fascist or simply a paid CIA operative; an anti-communist or globalist agent. Finally, one can look at the American Nazi party. They are certainly fascists, but they are also constitutionalists. They want to return to the founding documents of the United States, and support sound money and free markets. This contradicts the common image of fascism, and thus may befuddle any libertarian who has not analyzed the premises of fascism.

The Conclusions of Fascism

What all these movements had in common was the ultimate goal of creating a better nation. This meant creating a world where the destructive forces that were threatening to the nation could not take hold and the nation could prosper. They all wanted a society and an economy based around the nation, which they believed would create a better life for the people within that nation. One can see how the policies of all these movements actually follow from the nationalism that fascists take as their ultimate premise. Many say that fascists have no coherent economic policy, but this is untrue. The economic policy of fascists is and always has been to strengthen the nation. The 20th century was marked by a struggle between Marxist world socialism and liberal world capitalism. The Marxists agitated the workers while the liberals agitated the middle and upper classes, creating an immense class conflict that fueled revolution and chaos. The fascists in the early 20th century came along and attempted to create an economy that would work both for the upper and the lower classes, an economy where the workers would get what they think they deserve while the capitalists could keep their capital and use it productively. To do this, they wanted the state to have control of the economy to make sure that no one is exploited (at least, by any entity other than the state) and that everyone will work for the nation to ensure a lack of parasitism for greedy or materialistic purposes (again, outside of the state itself). When this was shown to be unsustainable, the smart fascists shifted to a policy of privatization. This happened under Hitler and Franco to various degrees; they ultimately let go of some state property and handed it to people who used it productively. The Nazis were not ready to give up their desires for the aesthetic advancement of the German people, so they needed to expand their empire to fuel their faulty economy, but some privatization still took place.

The social policy of fascist regimes has always been to make sure that the nation is sustainable and that the nation does not slide into degeneracy. From this follow positions against promiscuity, homosexuality, drug use, and whatever else people do in order to derive hedonistic pleasure at the expense of a healthy society. It also has a strong connection to the view that traditional family structures should be the basis of society, meaning that incentivizing motherhood and the creation of strong men to take care of the women is proper for sustaining the nation. This explains the ethnic element of fascism, as all nations are ultimately determined by the genetic stock of their people and the historical condition where the people have developed. Furthermore, this explains why anti-Semitism is present in historical fascist movements, as fascists tend to view Jews as a hostile minority with disproportionate influence that works to undermine the nation with moral degeneracy and financial manipulation while refusing to assimilate into the host nation.

Libertarianism and Fascism

First, from the premises of libertarianism, fascism is a lesser evil than left-wing socialism. Fascism undoubtedly preserves property more than left-wing socialism does, thus fascist sympathies cannot be construed as completely anti-libertarian. But one cannot take as ultimate goals both nation and property, as the conflicts between these goals would have to be solved by means of arbitrary decision. This means that libertarianism and fascism cannot be combined as ideologies because their premises are different. One may combine republicanism, minarchism, monarchism, anarcho-capitalism, etc. into a broad political movement, as the premises of these positions are sufficiently similar. But there is no way to create a big tent movement that can accurately represent the interests of both fascists and libertarians; the premises come into too much conflict.

Second, there is some value in the notion of being a fascist politically while being a libertarian philosophically. This is a position that some people are becoming more and more sympathetic towards. Left-libertarians like to refer to these people as “helicopterists,” so we can use that term to describe this position. What these people tend to believe is that a military dictatorship is necessary or beneficial if we are to establish a libertarian social order and that we cannot simply transition to absolute liberty without first making sure that policies are implemented to push society toward that goals. These people often argue for violent suppression of leftists, which is not what libertarians traditionally favor, and for a general purge within society that would result in favorable conditions for the formation of a libertarian society.

Third, libertarians may take nationalism as a premise and fascists may take property as a premise, even thought these cannot be their ultimate premises due to the aforementioned conflicts. Fascists may advocate for free-market economics insofar as it increases the health of the nation, while libertarians may advocate for nationalism insofar as it strengthens self-ownership, private property, and non-aggression. In this manner, libertarians and fascists can find common ground by using common premises, and they can create a compromise that is palatable for both fascists and libertarians. We touched upon Milton Friedman earlier to show that it is theoretically and practically possible to embrace different premises even though the policy proposals may contradict themselves. Although there can be a degree of collaboration between libertarians who value the nation and fascists who value property, they will still ultimately be fascists and libertarians, respectively. The priority between property and nation determines with which camp people identify.

Finally, it is possible for a private property owner to administer one’s holdings according to the structure of a fascist dictatorship. Being the owner of property means having a right to exclusive control over it, including its governance structure. However, libertarian standards do not permit forcing non-aggressive people to come into such a structure or remain there against their will, so a libertarian running a fascist governance structure within private property will have to be far less oppressive than statist fascists in order to keep a regime populated. This kind of governance, which offers people no voice and free exit, has proven best at limiting state power throughout history. It would also be best for limiting the tyranny of the private property owner that so concerns critics of libertarianism.

A Consideration Of Helicopter Rides

In recent years, the meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. Let us consider the backstory of helicopter rides in order to better understand their use, ethics, and utility.

Socialism in Chile

In 1970, Socialist candidate Salvador Allende became President of Chile, winning a plurality of votes and allying with the third-place Christian Democrats to gain the necessary majority to rule. He was the first openly Marxist head of state in a Latin American country to come to power through democratic means. The CIA and KGB both spent significant amounts of money to interfere in the election.

Once in power, Allende’s government took over control of large-scale industries, health care, and education. He expanded government theft and redistribution of land initiated by his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, such that no estate exceeded 80 hectares (198 acres) by the end of 1972.[1] Payment of pensions and grants resumed, and social programs were greatly expanded. The arts became funded by the state. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were restored, and political prisoners were released. Price fixing for bread, wages, and rent occurred. Taxes on small incomes and property were eliminated. College was made tuition-free. The voting age was lowered to eighteen and literacy requirements were removed. Between October 1970 and July 1971, purchasing power increased 28 percent.[2] In that year, inflation fell from 36.1 percent to 22.1 percent, while average real wages rose 22.3 percent.[3]

Like all socialist experiments, the short-term results were good. But as Margaret Thatcher would later observe, “Socialist governments…always run out of other people’s money.” Government spending increased 36 percent from 1970 to 1971.[3] The national debt soared and foreign reserves declined. Declining prices in copper, Chile’s chief export commodity, only worsened matters. Black markets in staple foods emerged as rice, beans, sugar, and flour disappeared from store shelves. The Allende government announced its intent to default on debts owed to international creditors, including foreign governments. Strikes began in 1972, to which Allende responded by nationalizing trucks to keep truckers from halting the economic life of the nation. The courts intervened and made Allende return the trucks to their owners.

By the summer of 1973, Allende’s government was ripe for overthrow. On June 29, Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the presidential palace with a tank regiment but did not succeed in overthrowing Allende. In May and again in August, the Supreme Court of Chile complained that the Allende government was not enforcing the law. The Chamber of Deputies accused Allende of refusing to act on approved constitutional amendments that would limit his socialist plans, and called on the military to restore order. Following embarassment and public protest, General Carlos Prats resigned as defense minister and commander-in-chief of the army, being replaced in the latter post by General Augusto Pinochet. Allende accused the Congress of sedition and obstruction, and argued that the accusations were false.

The Chilean Coup

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean Navy captured Valparaiso by 7:00 a.m. They closed radio and television networks in the central coast. Allende was informed of this, and went to the presidential palace. By 8:00, the army closed most broadcast stations in the capital of Santiago, while the Air Force bombed the remaining active stations. Admiral Montero, the Navy commander and an Allende loyalist, was cut off from communication. Leadership of the Navy was transferred to Jose Toribio Merino, who worked with Pinochet and Air Force General Gustavo Leigh in the coup. The leaders of the police and detectives went to the palace with their forces to protect Allende. Allende learned the full extent of the rebellion at 8:30 but refused to resign. By 9:00, the armed forces controlled all but the city center in Santiago. The military declared that they would bomb the palace if Allende resisted. Allende gave a farewell speech, and Pinochet advanced armor and infantry toward the palace. Allende’s bodyguards fired at them with sniper rifles, and General Sergio Arellano Stark called in helicopter gunships to counter them. The palace was bombed once Air Force units arrived. At 2:30, the defenders surrendered and Allende was found dead by his own hand.

Following the coup, the military killed around 3,000 leftists and imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile. Ninety-seven of those killed were eliminated by the Caravan of Death, a Chilean Army death squad that flew by helicopters in October 1973. The squad, led by General Stark, would travel between prisons, ordering and carrying out executions. The victims were buried in unmarked graves. This is one origin of the meme of helicopter rides, though squads other than Stark’s were responsible for the literal act referenced, having thrown 120 civilians from helicopters into the ocean, rivers, and lakes of Chile.

Peronism in Argentina

In 1946, Juan Perón of the Labor Party became President of Argentina. The majority of the Radical Civic Union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the conservative National Autonomist Party had formed an unusual alliance against him, but lost by 10 percent. His two stated goals upon becoming President were economic independence and social justice, but he had no serious plans to achieve those goals other than to attempt to hire the right advisors and underlings while refusing to side with the US or the USSR in the Cold War. Perón was intolerant of both leftist and rightist opposition, firing more than 1,500 university faculty who opposed him[4], shuttering opposition media companies, and imprisoning or exiling dissident artists and cultural figures.

Perón’s appointees encouraged labor strikes in order to obtain reforms for workers, which aligned large business interests against the Peronists. Upper-class Argentine’s resented Perón’s reforms, feeling that they upset traditional class roles. He nationalized the central bank, the railroads, public transport, utilities, universities, and merchant marine. He created the Institute for the Promotion of Trade (IAPI), which was a state monopoly for purchasing foodstuffs for export. Average real wages rose by 35 percent from 1945 to 1949,[5] while during that same period, labor’s share of national income rose from 40 percent to 49 percent.[6] Healthcare and social security were made nearly universal during Perón’s first term. GDP expanded by over 25 percent during this time,[4] which was largely due to spending the $1.7 billion in reserves from surpluses from World War II.

The economic success of Perón’s reforms would not last. The subsidized growth led to an import wave that erased the surplus by 1948. A debt of roughly $650 million owed by Great Britain to Argentina went mostly unpaid, further complicating matters.[4] The Argentine peso was devalued 70 percent between 1948 and 1950, leading to declining imports and recession. Labor strikes began to work against Perón, who responded by expelling the organizers from the unions and calling for a constitutional reform in 1949.

Perón faced no serious opponent for his 1951 re-election campaign, despite being unable to run with his wife Eva, who had fallen ill and would die the following year. Exports fell as low as $700 million in 1952, producing a $500 million trade deficit. Divisions among Peronists grew, and many of Perón’s allies resigned. He accelerated construction projects and increased rank and pay to top generals in an effort to reduce tensions. After Eva’s death, opposition to Perón intensified. On April 15, 1953, terrorists bombed a public rally of Perón supporters, killing seven and injuring 95. He responded by asking the crowd to retaliate. They responded by burning down the Jockey Club building and the Socialist Party headquarters.

In March 1954, Perón had to replace his Vice President, and his preferred choice won in a landslide. This, combined with stabilized inflation rates, motivated him to create new economic and social policies. This brought in foreign investment from automakers FIAT, Kaiser, and Daimler-Benz, as well as from Standard Oil of California. But Perón’s legalization of divorce and prostitution turned the Roman Catholic Church against him, which excommunicated him in June 1955. Perón responded by holding a public rally, and for the second time it was bombed, this time by Navy jets that fled to Uruguay afterward. 364 people were killed, and Peronists again carried out reprisals by attacking eleven churches. This led to the coup that ousted Perón on September 16, performed by nationalist Catholics in the Army and Navy led by General Eduardo Lonardi, General Pedro E. Aramburu, and Admiral Isaac Rojas. Perón barely escaped to Paraguay.

Resistance, Return, and Repression

Shortly afterward, Peronist resistance movements began organizing among disgruntled workers. Democratic rule was partially restored, but political expression for Peronists was still suppressed, so guerrilla groups began operating in the 1960s. Early efforts were small and quickly quashed, but more successful movements formed toward the end of the decade. The Peronist Armed Forces (FAP), Marxist–Leninist-Peronist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and the Marxist–Leninist Armed Forces of Liberation (FAL) were the three major players before 1973. The FAR joined an urban group of students and intellectuals called the Montoneros, while the FAL and FAP merged into the Marxist People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP).

In 1970, the Montoneros captured and killed Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, a military leader in the 1955 coup. In a few years, such events happened on a weekly basis, as did bombings of military and police buildings. Some civilian and non-government buildings were also bombed. Juan Perón returned from exile and became President again in 1973, and sided with the right-Peronists and the government against the left-Peronists. He withdrew support of the Montoneros before his death in 1974. His widow Isabel Martinez de Perón became President after his death, and she signed a number of decrees in 1975 to empower the military and police to defeat the ERP and other such groups. The right-wing death squad known as Argentine Anticommunist Alliance emerged at this time. Isabel was ousted by a coup in 1976, and the military took power. Up to this time, leftists had killed 16,000 people in their guerrilla efforts. The United States government financially backed the Argentine military, while the Cuban government backed the left-wing terror groups.

The juntas that held power between 1976 and 1983 repressed leftist dissidents, being responsible for arresting, torturing, and/or killing between 7,000 and 30,000 people. Many were Montoneros and ERP combatants, but others were civilians, students, left-wing activists, journalists, intellectuals, and labor organizers. Some of those executed were thrown from airplanes to their deaths in the Atlantic Ocean, providing another basis for the meme of helicopter rides. The worst repression reportedly occurred in 1977, after the guerrillas were largely defeated. The junta justified its action by exaggerating the threat and staging attacks to be blamed on guerrillas.

The “National Reorganization Process,” as it was called, failed in its efforts to suppress the left. As the roundup was overbroad, it sowed resentment. Some of those arrested had done nothing other than witness others being arrested in public places. Severe economic problems only added to civil unrest. The military tried to regain popularity by occupying the Falkland Islands, but their defeat by Britain in the Falklands War led them to step aside in disgrace and restore democracy.

Aftermath in Chile

In Chile, Pinochet remained in power until 1990. His 1980 constitution remains in effect, though significantly amended in 1989 and 2005 and slightly amended on eleven other occasions. In the 1990 elections, a coalition of democratic and socialist parties with the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin at the head was successful. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of Allende’s predecessor, led the coalition from 1994 to 2000. The Socialist Party and Party for Democracy led the coalition from 2000 to 2010. The center-right National Renewal won in 2010, but the Socialist Party regained power in 2014.

During Pinochet’s rule, Chicago School economists influenced the regime to adopt free market policies. Despite the prevalence of leftists in power since Pinochet’s rule ended, many of his economic reforms have remained in place and the economy is among the freest in the world. Aylwin and Ruiz-Tagle increased spending on social programs and reformed taxes, but avoided radical changes. Chile managed to avoid serious impact from the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 by using capital controls.

Aftermath in Argentina

In Argentina, voters elected Raul Alfonsin of the center-left Radical Civic Union once democracy was restored in 1983. He both created a commission to investigate forced disappearances and passed an amnesty law that stopped the investigations until 2005. His administration was unstable due to friction with the military and economic issues, leaving office early to let Peronist candidate Carlos Menem take office early after winning in 1989. Though he privatized many industries that Perón nationalized, he expanded both executive power and the role of the state in the economy. He won again in 1995, but the Radical Civic Union was growing and a new alliance called FrePaSo formed. By 1999, all three major parties supported free market economics. UCR and FrePaSo allied behind Fernando de la Rua to defeat Peronist Eduardo Duhalde. After some resignations and turmoil, Duhalde would get his chance in 2002. He managed to bring inflation under control, then called for elections in 2003. This brought another Peronist, Nestor Kirchner, to power. He overturned the 1986 amnesty for members of the military dictatorship and oversaw a strong economic recovery. His wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, took over in 2007. She distanced herself from traditional Peronism after Nestor’s death in 2010, favoring instead the La Campora movement that reveres the Montoneros guerrilla group. In 2015, her party lost to Mauricio Macri and his Republican Proposal party, which was allied with the Radical Civic Union.

The governments from the 1930s to the 1970s used import substitution to increase industrial growth, but this came at the expense of agricultural production. Import substitution was ended in 1976, but growth in government spending, inefficient production, and rising national debt led to inflation problems in the 1980s. The government responded to inflation in the 1990s by auctioning state-owned companies and pegging the Argentine peso to the US dollar. De la Rua followed an IMF-sponsored economic plan to deal with the government budget deficit, but an economic collapse occurred at the end of 2001. The peso was devalued again, and recovery occurred by 2005. A judicial ruling in 2012 led to a selective default in 2014 that was resolved in 2016.

Contemporary Application

Now that the context from which the meme of helicopter rides emerges is understood, we may consider its potential application against contemporary leftist rulers and agitators. Helicopter rides for political enemies are a form of ultraviolence, which is the use of force in an excessive and brutal manner as a public display to make an example out of a particular person or group. This is done for the purpose of establishing dominance and suppressing rivals within a territory, from which peace and order may follow. Utilized correctly, this will break the spirit of resistance movements and solidify one’s hold on power, which will prevent further death and destruction that would otherwise occur from terrorism and civil war. If misused, whether by subjecting overbroad numbers of people to cruel punishment or by utilizing methods that the population deems to be completely beyond the pale, ultraviolence will create resentment that will resurface later as another, stronger resistance movement. Misuse will also have a negative psychological impact on the perpetrators, causing them to lose their humanity through the commission of needless atrocities.

The above examples of Chile and Argentina suggest that ultraviolence by rightists against leftists appears to be insufficient to counter the leftward slide that naturally occurs in politics over time. One possible reason for this is that a continual march leftward is the political variant of entropy, the physical process by which the universe becomes increasingly disordered and chaotic over time. If so, this would explain why all great civilizations eventually fall and all attempts by right-wing movements to use the state to advance their agendas fail to produce lasting change. Another potential explanation is that the state is an inherently leftist institution, in that the nature of the state is to allow some people to do with impunity that which would be considered criminal if anyone else behaved identically, and the nature of the left is to disrespect individual rights in favor of their view of the collective good. This meshes well with Robert Conquest’s second law of politics; any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. A third explanation is that power does what it wants due to its inherent lack of accountability, meaning that a military junta has no real incentive to limit its removal of leftists to those whom have actually committed crimes. Thus, the use of helicopter rides naturally becomes overbroad when coupled with the state, and the distrust and resentment that fuels a revolution against the military government naturally follow.

Many alt-rightists who suggest the use of helicopter rides to eliminate their political rivals do not understand the above context with sufficient clarity. This leads them to long for the day when they get to pilot a massive fleet of helicopters that drops their enemies from staggering heights. For their stated goals, helicopter rides are a tool not fit for purpose, as the cost of helicopters, fuel, and pilots far exceeds that of other methods of physical removal. Helicopter rides as historically practiced also fail at performing ultraviolence, as rumors of helicopter rides pale in comparison to theatrical executions carried out in the public square on live television. The obvious retort that the victims should be dropped onto a hard surface in the public square is likely to fail by being too gruesome for the public to stomach. And ultimately, no matter how many leftists are killed, their ideas and the state apparatus to implement them remain. Overall, the alt-right approach fails because its adherents seek to use the ultimate enemy (the state) against the proximate enemy (the left) without any intention or plan to eliminate the ultimate enemy afterward, which results in long-term losses for short-term gains.

Moral Issues

While the alt-right seeks to misuse the practice of helicopter rides, libertarians and leftists tend to decry the idea as mass murder. The leftists will typically assert that the use of deadly force against someone who does not pose a deadly threat at the moment is murder. But the immediate danger doctrine, as it is known in legal circles, is a standard used by the state to perpetuate itself by creating an artificial demand for its functions of legislation, security, criminal justice, and dispute resolution while rendering the population dependent and irresponsible. Such a standard is not provable from first principles and is clearly at odds with libertarian theory on the use of force.

Libertarian theory allows one to use any amount of force necessary to not only defend oneself against aggressors, but to make people who refuse to perform restitution do so, to stop people who recklessly endanger bystanders, to reclaim stolen property, and to eliminate crime bosses and other unrepentant aggressors. While this does not allow for the full extent of the helicopter rides given by the militaries of Chile and Argentina, it can allow for statists who held power and those who carried out certain acts of aggression on their orders to be executed. Of course, rightists who wield state power (or libertarians who wield private power) in an overzealous manner against leftists would also be legitimate targets for helicopter rides if they kill people who have not committed crimes worthy of death.

A more appropriate libertarian use of helicopters is not to execute anti-libertarians by throwing them out, but to transport them out of a libertarian-controlled territory and warn them not to return. Exile and ostracism, after all, are perfectly legitimate exercises of property rights and freedom of association. Furthermore, removing people who advocate against the norms of a libertarian social order from a libertarian community is a necessary preservation mechanism, but such removal need not be fatal unless all reasonable efforts that do not involve deadly force have been tried without success.

Conclusion

There is a rich historical context behind the idea of helicopter rides for leftist agitators. Unfortunately, most modern advocates of such methods do not understand this context, which leads them to make recommendations which do not align with reality. Though leftists and some libertarians decry all uses of helicopter rides as murder, there are cases in which such acts are morally justifiable.

References:

  1. Collier, Simon; Sater, William F. (2004). A History of Chile, 1808–2002. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Zipper, Ricardo Israel (1989). Politics and Ideology in Allende’s Chile. Arizona State University, Center for Latin American Studies.
  3. Larrain, Felipe; Meller, Patricio (1991). The Socialist-Populist Chilean Experience, 1970-1973. University of Chicago Press.
  4. Rock, David (1987). Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press.
  5. Dufty, Norman Francis (1969). The Sociology of the Blue-collar Worker. E.J. Brill Publishing.
  6. Dornbusch, Rüdiger; Edwards, Sebastian (1991). The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America. University of Chicago Press.

Fashion As A Harbinger Of Revolution

There are many barometers for the health of a society, from economic prosperity to beliefs concerning social issues. One such barometer may be found in the fashion that is being promoted in that culture. The advocacy of modest clothing in good condition indicates a healthy society. Clothing that is deliberately ill-fitting, whether wasteful in material or skimpy in coverage, is a sign of degeneracy. A new clothing trend has developed in America that is symptomatic of the sort of cultural decay that foreshadows a revolution; that of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally.

Current Examples

There are many instances of this, but four examples will serve to illustrate the point. First, let us consider Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans. The product description calls them “Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.” These pants, available for $425, have fake mud and wear marks added to them. (They must be machine washed cold, lest these dubious decorations break off and leave one with an improved pair of pants.)

Another offering, the Damiana Splatter Paint Stretch Woven Jogger Pants, are described as “Slouchy, tapered-fit joggers crafted from extremely durable, destroyed stretch cotton appear as though they stepped straight out of the art studio, creating a disheveled style masterpiece that’s both one-of-a-kind and unafraid to play dirty.“ For $300, you can avoid the excruciating work of wielding a paintbrush and wear pants with fake paint splatters on them in order to pose as an artist or painter.

Third, there are the Maison Margiela Future Destroyed High Top Sneakers available at Neiman Marcus. The non-destroyed version is available for $995, but for the low, low price of $1425, you can have a pair that looks like they went through a car crusher. Multiple gashes, a mostly missing tongue, and inner layers hanging out are marketed as “deconstruction” and “heavy distressing.” As of this writing, they are on sale for $997, so perhaps there is hope in the fact that too few people were willing to pay so much more for an inferior product.

Finally, the fashion of intentional damage is not reserved for men only. Golden Goose offers women a multitude of sneaker designs, and one of them is designed to look like it has been through hundreds of miles of use. Scuff marks abound and the leather is crackled to simulate wear, though it looks more like it is covered in two paints which are incompatible. The $425 price tag is comparable to other offerings which do not always look new, but are not designed to look worn out.

Why It Matters

Some people may wonder why this is important. Why focus on fashion when there are so many greater problems in the world? It is true that fashion is a non-issue in and of itself when compared with the primary problems facing humanity. However, the concern is not with fashion in and of itself, but with what fashion says about the people who create, market, sell, and wear it. Moreover, there are fashion trends which indicate cultural trends, which in turn can serve as an early warning signal that the present system of governance has its days numbered.

Worse, some libertarians and conservatives might wonder why such fashions should not be celebrated. Is this not an instance of the market meeting a demand and freeing people from menial tasks to engage in other, greater labors? This view is misguided because the issue is not primarily one of economics, but of cultural attitudes concerning economic matters. A healthy culture has a strong correlation with liberty. A healthy culture celebrates work; an unhealthy culture mocks it and tries to avoid it whenever possible. A healthy culture values authenticity and living life; an unhealthy culture seeks a hollow and vicarious existence. A healthy culture venerates the ideal; an unhealthy culture worships the idol. The market is fundamentally amoral; its participants meet consumer demand as best they can in order to make profits. If that demand is degenerate in nature, then the goods and services produced will be as well. In other words, garbage in, garbage out. It is also worth noting that freeing people from having to wear a clothing item repeatedly and perform various activities in it so as to produce wear and tear naturally does not provide the increased utility that comes from labor-saving machines. One must still wear clothes to comply with societal norms, whereas one need not keep using older methods of performing tasks.

Mocking The Masses

The four products discussed above are designed to create the illusion of work. The prices of hundreds of dollars per pair of pants or shoes puts them outside the budget of most people who make a living in a trade that involves getting mud or paint on themselves. The end result is a class of products made for wealthier people that let them impersonate the masses beneath them while remaining oblivious as to why those who really engage in such dirty jobs might be angered. If this were done affectionately, then it might not be so bad, as imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. However, the implications are more of mockery.

The idea of the wealthy imitating the poor for fun is nothing new. A famous example is the Petit Hameau, a mock farm area built in the gardens of the Petit Trianon in 1783 for Marie Antoinette. While visiting this area, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would wear dresses of simple gauze tied with satin ribbons and pretend to care for farm animals. The farmhouse interior, of course, was fully equipped with the luxuries expected by royalty of the time. The Petit Hameau was a reflection of France’s culture and moral values, but its artificial nature and lack of necessity made it a mockery of the daily grind of many French people. The exorbitant cost of her amusements did not help her case with critics of the ancien regime, and the public sentiment stemming from her lavish expenditures contributed to her execution by guillotine in 1793.

Though we are probably far from the masses shedding the blood of their economic betters and using their obliviousness and mockery as a pretext, there is no a priori reason why circumstances in America cannot eventually deteriorate to that point. After all, Marie Antoinette likely had no conception of her eventual fate back in 1783. Even if those who wear the items discussed above never meet a nasty demise at the hands of an angry proletariat, the sort of mockery once conducted by Marie Antoinette and now conducted by certain fashion designers and their customers indicates the sort of cultural illness that prefigures a mass uprising.

Inauthenticity

That there is a demand for clothes that come purposefully damaged and covered in fake signs of use says that people have not only lost the sense of dignity that comes from a hard day’s work, but have lost respect for that sense of dignity as well. Instead, a significant number of people prefer the illusion of effort, believe that physical labor is beneath them, and see nothing wrong with taking credit for another’s work. The illusion of effort is troublesome because it can lead people to prefer laziness over diligence. Should this sentiment become widespread, important work will go undone and the infrastructure necessary for civilization will decay.

This leads into the second problem, the sense that physical labor is somehow undignified. For the wealthy, physical labors can be hired out to others. For the intelligent, there is more money to be made in fields which are only accessible to them. But for many people, physical labor is their method for doing honest work for honest wages so that they do not have to live parasitically at another’s expense. It is no shame to work in a blue-collar profession; some people just have more lucrative options. The proper response from elites, then, is not to sneer at blue-collar workers but to be thankful for and respectful of them. The alternative response leads to a widening cultural gap and greater alienation between rich and poor, which cannot continue forever.

This, in turn, leads to the third concern, that of taking credit for another person’s work. By wearing clothes which show the signs of work that one has not only not done, but has paid someone else to create the illusion of having done, this is the effective signal that one is sending. The state is partly to blame for this, as its intellectual monopoly laws have come to serve as the basis for enforcing norms of giving credit where it is due. But such laws attempt to apply the norms of property ownership to that which is not scarce, is not rivalrous, and has no particular form in physical reality. As people realize the nonsensical nature of patents and copyrights, they tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater and come to reject all notions of giving credit where it is due. This undermines the respect between persons that is necessary for a stable social order.

Inverted Class Incentives

In a healthy society, those who are on the lower rungs of the economic latter seek to imitate the appearance and emulate the virtues of those near the top, so as to engage in the behaviors that allowed those who are near the top to climb up there. Conversely, the clothing items discussed above serve as evidence that the opposite is occurring. Those near the top have been made to feel guilty about their station in life by social justice warriors who condemn them as being ‘privileged’ and tell them to check themselves. While these fashions are primarily, in the words of Mike Rowe, “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic rather than iconic,” the shaming of wealth has led many affluent people to signal lower economic status in order to avoid harassment by the moral busybodies of the progressive left. Wearing such clothes is one means of doing this. Thus, we have high imitating low, and if this goes on with sufficient magnitude for enough time, it will lead the rich to poverty while leaving the poor without a good example to follow.

Conclusion

Fashion may seem an innocent playground for leftist elites and detached from the harsh realities of life in middle America, but it can serve as a warning signal that something is deeply wrong with the culture that produces it. The four clothing items discussed above indicate many problems which, if left untreated, will lead to a revolution. These problems have been present for decades, and may persist for a decade or two longer before they provoke an uprising, but that which cannot continue will eventually stop.

On the Supply Objection to the Gold Standard

Since the gold standard was abandoned in 1971, many people have sought to return to such a standard in order to combat inflation and rein in central banks. Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking present several criticisms of this approach. One of these criticisms is particularly nonsensical, but occurs with increasing frequency: that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. Let us address this question from a scientific standpoint, return to economic matters, and address the claimed effects.

Physical Limits

Let us begin by finding the absolute limit of what gold can do for a monetary system. As the United States dollar is the world reserve currency at the time of this writing, it makes sense to use it as the currency to peg to gold. The smallest unit of gold is the atom, and the smallest unit of dollars is the penny. The most extreme possible case would be to set one penny equal to one atom of gold. What would this look like in practice? Any basic text on chemistry can lead us to the answer. The only stable isotope of gold is Au-197, and its molar mass is 196.967. This means that in about 197 grams of gold, or 6⅓ troy ounce coins of the type minted by many governments and private mints, there will be Avogadro’s constant of atoms, which is 6.022140857×10^23. Setting one penny equal to one atom of gold, this is $6.022×10^21 or $6.022 sextillion easily fitting in one’s hand.

This amount of money is so large that people cannot truly understand it due to the lack of a frame of reference for it. Few people will handle anything beyond millions of dollars at any point in their lives. Large businesses may deal with billions of dollars. The most powerful governments have budgets in the trillions of dollars. According to a History Channel documentary, the dollar value of the entire planet is in the quadrillions of dollars, checking in at $6,873,951,620,979,800, and subtracting Earth’s gold content leaves $6,862,465,304,321,880. As the limit of one penny per atom allows one to hold the current market value of a million Earths in one’s hand, it is clear that science imposes no physical limit to make a gold standard infeasible.

Another useful exercise is to try setting the value of all available gold equal to the value of the rest of the planet. The total available gold content at present amounts to 186,700 metric tons. Defining this amount of gold to be worth the above figure of $6,862,465,304,321,880 gives a gold price of $36,756.64 per gram or $1,143,259.40 per troy ounce. This is very expensive by current standards, but current standards do not come close to economizing the entire planet. The actual price would therefore be far lower than this, but this exercise is useful for setting an upper bound.

Current Prices

Perhaps critics of restoring sound money mean to say that the gold standard could not be reintroduced at current gold prices. In this, they are correct; at the time of this writing, gold trades at $1,284 per troy ounce. Multiplied by the 186,700 metric tons of gold available, this gives $7.707 trillion of gold-backed currency, which is not enough for the United States economy, let alone the entire world. The solution, then, is to devalue fiat currencies to fit the available gold supply. According to the CIA World Factbook, the gross world product in 2015 was $75.73 trillion. Covering this with the available gold gives a gold price of $12,616.75 per troy ounce, which is an order of magnitude above current prices, but not outlandish.

Possible Effects

Gold has gained several practical applications in recent times, particularly in medicine and technology. Critics claim that returning gold to monetary use would devastate these industries, along with the jewelry industry. In each case, critics are overreacting. Research toward creating substitutes which work nearly as well in electronics is promising. Gold salts in medicine have numerous side effects, monitoring requirements, limited efficacy, and very slow onset of action. Finally, there is no particular reason why we should care about an industry that produces impractical novelties to the extent of protecting it through fiat currency. It would be better to free up jewelers to do something more productive and helpful to others.

The other major criticism is that returning to a gold standard will cause a harmful episode of deflation. Paul Krugman writes,

“[W]hen people expect falling prices, they become less willing to spend, and in particular less willing to borrow. After all, when prices are falling, just sitting on cash becomes an investment with a positive real yield – Japanese bank deposits are a really good deal compared with those in America — and anyone considering borrowing, even for a productive investment, has to take account of the fact that the loan will have to repaid in dollars that are worth more than the dollars you borrowed.”

But those who are less willing to spend or borrow are necessarily more willing to save, which will allow them to spend more later or fund new businesses and investments. There is also the matter that one cannot hold out forever; one must eventually purchase goods and services. That the technology industry thrives despite producing the most deflationary goods shows that there is nothing harmful about this. It turns out that the value of using a current computer over the next year is worth more than holding out for a more powerful computer next year. It is also true that holding out for more food next month does not work if one cannot survive until then without food now. One may object that this would concentrate wealth in the hands of those who can hold out, but this is a feature rather than a bug because it redistributes resources to those who have been good stewards of resources.

Those who have already borrowed face a larger debt burden in a deflationary environment, and though creditors experience an equal gain, creditors are unlikely to increase their spending to offset the reduced spending of debtors. But again, this is a feature rather than a bug because it incentivizes saving over borrowing while pushing some debtors into default, thus punishing unwise lenders with loss of principal and unwise borrowers with bad credit ratings.

With falling prices, profits and wages usually have to fall as well. But profits are a function of prices and costs, which are also prices. This leaves profits largely unaffected on a percentage basis. Wages are prices as well, and the need to cut nominal wages in a deflationary environment could both incentivize firms to release their worst employees and provide pushback against minimum wage laws.

Finally, there is the belief that the sort of deflation that may be caused by returning to gold would cause a recession. But the above rebuttals deprive this problem of any mechanism by which it might occur. In fact, the empirical evidence suggests that deflation is linked to economic expansion, as occurred in the United States during the 19th century. The only period in which a correlation between deflation and depression does appear is the Great Depression (1929-34), and this may be linked to the central bank policies of the 1920s, which fraudulently inflated the money supply beyond the set gold exchange rates of the time.

Conclusion

While a free market in money would be the most desirable condition from a libertarian perspective, returning to a gold standard is a superior option to that of allowing fiat currency and central banking to continue as they are. The concerns about a lack of gold supply for returning to a gold standard are without merit, and the fears of deflation and devastation to industry are unfounded.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2016 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2016 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

Book Review: Our Sister Republics

Our Sister Republics is a book about the history of the United States and its relations with Central and South America in the early 19th century by history professor Caitlin Fitz. The book discusses the popular sentiment in favor of revolutions against Spanish and Portuguese control in Latin America following the War of 1812, which turned sour after 1826 as the new republics suffered civil unrest and incompetent governance while the United States turned toward racialist nationalism.

Fitz first presents a map of the Americas as they were in 1825, to which the reader should continually refer while reading through the book in order to have a better sense of the involved geography. In the introduction, she explains her terminology, briefly covers American history from the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, and gives a short overview of what she covers at length in the rest of the book.

The opening chapter explains the context in which Americans first came to look fondly upon South America. Early references to Christopher Columbus would lead to the concept of a liberty-loving Columbia. Spain’s distractions with European wars resulted in less trade restrictions between the US and Spanish America. These factors led to affinities for Spanish America once they began to revolt against their colonial masters. Even then, there were some reservations about the ability of South Americans to form republican governments. From 1810 until the mid-1820s, these reservations came to be expressed only when revolutionaries faltered. It helped that the US fought a second war for independence while the South Americans were fighting their first.

The second chapter discusses the agents of revolution who came to the US to foster support for South American rebels. Occasionally exceeding neutrality laws and frequently using American presses for propaganda purposes, they helped provide revolutionaries with the materiel they needed to secure independence. Fitz shows that this was a colorful cast of characters in more ways than one, and illustrates the undercurrent of race which would eventually come to the forefront.

The third chapter gives an overview of the activities of the press in the 1810s, showing how they affected (and sometimes manipulated) public opinion in favor of the revolutionaries. There were occasional dissenters, but they would be marginalized and rebutted until some years into the 1820s. Fitz demonstrates that then as now, there is no such thing as objective journalism because editors are more likely to publish and treat favorably that which they support.

The fourth chapter is about Simon Bolivar and the perception of him in the US. Fitz shows through toasts and baby names that Bolivar gained much admiration in the US, even as Bolivar did not respond in kind. Both whites and blacks found something to like in Bolivar, even though these aspects were quite different. Whites saw republican unity; blacks saw an abolitionist leader.

In the fifth chapter, Fitz discusses the US government’s actions toward South America at the time. Some black and white pictures augment the chapter, and would have improved the book elsewhere had they been included in other chapters. The role of merchants in financing and supplying revolutionaries is examined, along with the activities of privateers and filibusterers. Many Americans today would be surprised to know how many in those days volunteered to serve in foreign militaries. The second half of the chapter focuses on the important American political personalities of the time: Henry Clay, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, but finally the rise of William Smith and those like him who eagerly defended racism and slavery.

The sixth chapter begins with the election of 1824 and the “corrupt bargain” that awarded the Presidency to John Quincy Adams instead of electoral vote leader Andrew Jackson. This event set the stage not only for the Whig versus Democrat party system, but for the turning of the tide in relations with South America. Fitz explains how the passivity of the egalitarian sentiments of the time left them vulnerable to growing slavery in the southern US and the arguments in favor of it. The controversy over the Panama Congress of 1826 furthered the shift in American views toward their southern neighbors. Though Clay, Adams, and Bolivar had high hopes, the congress was a disaster. It is interesting to note that some themes have been constant throughout American history; the Democrats’ antebellum platform of limited government, nationalism, racism, opposition to social reform, and economic populism has much in common with the views of the alt-right. And as always, when rhetoric and reality depart from one another, reality always wins in the long run.

The conclusion looks forward to the 1830s and beyond, showing how the sentiment of the 1810s and its reversal in the 1820s manifested going forward. Fitz ends the book by wondering how America could have turned out differently and for the better had the sentiments of the 1810s not been overthrown. The second half of the book shows how American exceptionalism originated as a pro-slavery, white supremacist idea, and how the US came to be a foe of anti-colonial movements in the 20th century.

Fitz’s appendix and notes demonstrate that she certainly did an appropriate amount of research for the project. Overall, this is an excellent book that covers an oft-neglected aspect of early US history in a manner which engages the reader much better than the average history book.

Rating: 5/5

The Economic Fallacies of Black Friday: 2016 Edition

Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 137.4 million customers will be shopping on Black Friday weekend, down from the 2015 estimate of 135.8 million customers. The actual result from 2015 was 151.4 million shoppers. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2016 would mean an actual number of shoppers close to 153.1 million.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be $655.8 billion, up from $633.0 billion in 2015. This would be an annual increase of 3.6 percent. The estimate for 2015 was $630.5 billion, suggesting that the total sales for 2016 may be around $658.4 billion. This year, the NRF estimates that retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 675,300 they hired during the 2015 holiday season versus an estimate of 700,000 to 750,000. We may therefore expect that retailers will actually hire about 619,400 seasonal employees. On the surface, this may appear to be a marvelous celebration of free market capitalism. But let us look deeper through the lenses of the broken window fallacy and the idea of malinvestment.

To view holiday shopping as a boost to the economy ignores the fact that people could either be spending that money in other ways or saving it. In other words, such an approach is an example of the broken window fallacy because it focuses only on what is seen and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

Per capita spending is predicted to be $935.58 in 2016, up from the 2015 estimate of $805.65. The actual result from 2015 was $952.58. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2016 would mean an actual per capita spending close to $1,106.21. The above problems get even worse if people use credit cards to spend money that they do not currently have. With a current credit card interest rate of 16.28 percent and a minimum payment of 4.0 percent, a debt of $1,106.21 would take almost six years to pay off and would cost $1,567.57. This is $461.36 wasted on interest payments that could have been kept in one’s accounts or put toward a productive purpose. Multiply this by the 153.1 million shoppers predicted earlier, and the result is that as much as $70.6 billion could be spent on interest payments.

When people purchase unwanted gifts and/or buy gifts with money they do not currently have, their choices encourage malinvestments. A malinvestment is an investment in a line of production that is mistaken in terms of the real demands of the economy, which leads to wasted capital and economic losses. The holiday shopping season contains a subset of shopping which creates systematic and widespread mistakes in investment and production. Although the effect is not as severe as what occurs during an Austrian business cycle bust and is both caused and resolved in fundamentally different ways, there is a noticeable hangover effect on the economy. A look at the average monthly returns on the Standard and Poor’s 500 shows that while the worst month for investments is September, the next three worst months for investing are February, May, and March. (April would likely be bad as well if not for income tax returns providing an artificial economic boost.) An economic downturn occurs in the historical average following the holiday season, but as this has become an expected annual occurrence, many analysts simply do not look for an explanation of these results, as they are perceived to be natural. Even so, this appears to be a small-scale business cycle that repeats annually.

With these arguments in mind, would we all be better off if we just canceled the holiday shopping season? It is an open question, but the Austrian School of economics suggests that we could have a better economy if the burst of economic activity in late November and December were spread throughout the year and people did not spend money they do not have on items they do not need.

The Economic Illiteracy of Liberty Mutual, Part II

Every insurance company has a target demographic. For Geico, it is government employees. For State Farm, it is farmers. For Liberty Mutual, it appears to be people who are economically illiterate. Last year, the company released a series of nine advertisements, most of which commit economic fallacies. At the time, I examined and debunked them. Some of those have been phased out, while others remain. They have also made four more advertisements, all of which commit more fallacies. Let us analyze each one and find the fallacies therein.

Blah Blah Blah (Coverage Compass)

A woman says, “Your car insurance policy is 22 pages long. Did you read every word? No. Only lawyers do that. So when you got rear-ended and you needed a tow, your insurance company told you to look at page 5 on your policy. Did it say, ‘Great news, you’re covered!’ on page 5? No. It said, ‘Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah…’”

Reading and familiarizing oneself with the policy that one has purchased should be expected, as it is the car insurance customer’s responsibility to know what is covered and what is not. A person who does not read the fine print before agreeing to legal terms has no one to blame but oneself.

Mistake (New Car Replacement)

A man says, “Your insurance company won’t replace the full value of your totaled new car. The guy says, ‘You picked the wrong insurance plan.’ No, I picked the wrong insurance company.”

This man picked the wrong economics textbook, assuming he has ever read one at all. The reason that many plans cover the current value of a car rather than the original value is that depreciation occurs over time. Wear and tear begins as soon as a car is used for the first time, meaning that a car’s value begins its descent from new car price to scrap metal price as soon as it is driven for the first time. It makes no sense to insure anything for more than it is worth, as this only incentivizes the owner to destroy the insured object and file an insurance claim on it.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a New Car Replacement policy, but it will cost more, and for good reason. When the potential payout for a claim increases and all else is held constant, the insurance rate must increase in kind so that the insurance company can remain profitable. There is also nothing inherently wrong with an insurance company which chooses not to offer such a policy, so the man’s statement about picking the wrong insurance company is only a matter of subjective preference.

Perfect (Accident Forgiveness)

A man and woman present a dialogue.

Man: You both have a perfect driving record.

Woman: Perfect.

Man: No tickets, no accidents.

Woman: That is, until one of you clips a food truck, ruining your perfect record.

Man: Yeah.

Woman: Now, you would think your insurance company would cut you some slack, right?

Man: No, your insurance rates go through the roof. Your perfect record doesn’t get you anything.

Woman: Anything.

Man: Perfect!

Of course their perfect record does not get them anything, for it is not perfect anymore. Damaging other vehicles makes a driver a greater liability for an insurance company because it makes the insurance company pay out claims to the owners of those other vehicles. As past behavior is a useful predictor of future behavior, an insurance company raises rates on drivers who have had accidents recently in anticipation of having to pay more claims caused by those drivers in the future.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with an Accident Forgiveness policy that does not increase rates for the first accident, it will cost more, and for good reason. The money required to keep the insurance company afloat must come from somewhere, and it can only come from raising rates on accident-free drivers, raising rates on drivers with two or more accidents, lowering claim payouts, or some combination of the aforementioned.

Wife’s Car (New Car Replacement)

A man says, “You’re late for work. You grab your 10 gallon jug of coffee and back out of the garage, right into your wife’s car, with your wife watching. She forgives you, eventually. Your insurance company, not so much. They say you only have their basic policy. Don’t basic policies cover basic accidents? ‘Of course,’ they say. ‘As long as you pay extra for it.’”

Again, it is the car insurance customer’s responsibility to know what is covered and what is not. If the policy says that the circumstances are not covered, then it is up to the customer to either deal with such a mistake out of pocket or pay extra for a plan that covers such a mistake. And perhaps such a driver should not have a 10 gallon jug of coffee, as that level of caffeine would certainly impair one’s driving abilities.

Conclusion

This set of advertisements is appealing to the economic illiteracy and sense of entitlement of the general population, especially younger people. Unfortunately, because economic illiteracy is so widespread, Liberty Mutual seems to have a winning marketing strategy.

Make America Miss Again: The 2016 Republican National Convention

On July 18-21, the Republican Party held its national presidential nominating convention in Cleveland. Over a thousand delegates from all 50 states attended the convention, along with dozens of guest speakers. Each day had a different theme, based on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” These were “Make America Safe Again,” “Make America Work Again,” “Make America First Again,” and “Make America One Again.” Let us examine each of these themes, how they were presented, and what is wrong with the approach of Trump and the Republicans.

Safe Again

The theme of the first night was “Make America Safe Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“From attacks on our own soil and overseas to the tragedy in Benghazi, the policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have left us vulnerable. Our immigration system is broken, leaving our country open to security threats and the negative consequences of illegal immigration. A Donald Trump administration will listen to and learn from our nation’s heroes who have put themselves in harm’s way and pursue a national security strategy and foreign policy that will strengthen our military and make America safe again.”

But it is the United States government that does the most to make Americans unsafe, and the Trump agenda does little to address this problem. To the extent that crime has decreased since its peak in 1991, it correlates more strongly with increased firearm ownership among the citizenry than with anything the government has done.

Under a Trump regime, there will still be a multitude of laws which criminalize behaviors that do not aggress against any person or property. The police who enforce those laws will continue to make Americans unsafe. Currently, Americans are 58 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, and this statistic is unlikely to improve unless more terrorism occurs during a Trump administration.

Unfortunately, that could be the case. Trump’s plan for dealing with ISIS (whatever it might be) is likely to motivate many more people to join terrorist organizations and kill Americans. When civilians are killed in drone bombings, as over 55 were in the week leading up to the convention, their surviving family members will want revenge. However horrible ISIS is, they will view it as the lesser evil if Americans killed their family members and ISIS did not. They will probably never find the drone pilots to kill them, as would be just, so they will try to kill American civilians, and some of them will succeed.

Trump’s military policy is to “build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us.” But the American military budget is five times larger than that of its next competitor (China) and as much as the next 11 countries combined. This drives up the national debt, which many experts consider to be the most serious long-term threat to national security.

Of course, the lineup of speakers failed to recognize any of this, instead focusing on the standard Republican fare of Hillary Clinton’s failure in Benghazi, the need for border security, and the hostile climate toward police. This may lead Trump to victory, but those who fail to understand the roots of problems have no hope of solving them. Then again, solving them may not be the point.

Work Again

The theme of the second night was “Make America Work Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“The Obama years have delivered anemic economic growth, the lowest labor-force participation rate in 38 years, and job-killing regulations and legislation like Obamacare. These policies are crushing middle-class families, and a Hillary Clinton presidency would merely be an Obama third term that would deliver the same poor results. Donald Trump is a successful businessman with a solid record of creating jobs and the experience we need to get America’s economy up and running … and get Americans working again.”

Unfortunately, the speeches that night had almost nothing to do with the theme. There was criticism of the Clintons, vague talk of Trump “supporting businesses of all sizes” (whatever that means), and base assertions that Republicans care about jobs and the economy. To quote Peter Suderman, “None of these things are plans in the sense that offer or even suggest a set of specific, plausible, debatable steps that a president might take. That’s what a plan is. A plan is not the end result you hope to achieve; it’s a description of the particulars of how you intend to produce that result.”

What we know of Trump’s economic policy is not much better. His tariff proposals would not protect American jobs, but would make goods and services more expensive for the American population, as all such measures do. The tariffs against American goods that other countries would impose in response would harm American exports and destroy American jobs. His plan to oppose H1-B visas will only raise the cost of hiring people, which will result in less jobs. His support for intellectual property will maintain artificial economic inefficiencies and continue disrespect for real property rights. Labeling China a “currency manipulator,” as Trump intends to do, will strain relations while being enormously hypocritical, given the Federal Reserve’s record of currency debasement.

First Again

The theme of the third night was “Make America First Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“America has always been an exceptional nation. Our Founding Fathers created a system of government that has protected our liberty, allowed American ingenuity to flourish, and lifted people out of poverty by creating the conditions for opportunity and prosperity. Unfortunately, years of bad policies and poor leadership have weakened our position in the world. Under a Trump administration, America will once again be a beacon of progress and opportunity.”

But there is a dark side to American exceptionalism. Too frequently, it is taken to mean that the United States government has carte blanche to commit atrocities which would land leaders of other countries in front of a war crimes tribunal. As for the Constitution, if it has truly protected liberty and allowed for human flourishing, then why does America lead the world in prison population? Why are Americans facing stagnant earnings? It is fair to point to bad policies and poor leadership, but Trump, like so many other politicians and businesspeople, fails to understand the root of the problem. As long as there is a government monopoly on currency and law, this power will be abused by those who are most capable of abusing it for their benefit.

Most of the speakers failed to speak of making America first again in a sense that was separate from the themes of other days of the convention, and some did not even have the word “first” in their speeches. Only astronaut Eileen Collins spoke of a particular example of restoring American supremacy, but the future of space exploration belongs to the private sector, not to nation-states.

Despite all of this, America is first, and therefore cannot be made first again. But this is not the real problem. America is the prettiest horse in a glue factory of global statism, and Trump has no plan to solve this problem.

One Again

The theme of the final night was “Make America One Again.” According to the GOP convention site,

“America faces serious challenges at home and threats from abroad. In order to turn our challenges into opportunities and keep America secure, we need leadership that will focus on what unites us, not what divides us. Donald Trump will move our country beyond the divisive identity politics that have been holding us back by restoring leadership, building trust, and focusing on our shared love of country and our common goal of making America great again.”

This is exactly the wrong approach. America is more divided than it has been in over a century, and these divisions are over differences which cannot be resolved by compromise and unification. This is because there is and will be no common purpose among Americans; various groups are acting toward cross purposes. The only ways that unity can be brought about are for the United States to balkanize or for one side to violently suppress the other, whether by political means or civil war. No political figure, and especially not anyone as polarizing as Donald Trump, will unify such a divided population, and that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

Great Again

The overall theme of the Trump campaign is “Make America Great Again.” But its approach is misguided at every turn, either failing to recognize the true nature of problems or addressing them in ways which will only make them worse. As this is the latest in a long line of such campaigns by all major political parties, a more appropriate slogan would be “Make America Miss Again.”

On Libertarianism and Punishment

At its core, libertarianism is an answer to the question of when it is appropriate to use force. It says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable, while using force to defend against a force initiator is always acceptable. But what should be done once a force initiator is subdued? Let us explore what libertarianism allows in terms of punishments for aggressors.

Punishment Defined and Defended

The first step in constructing a rational case is to define terms. The Oxford English Dictionary defines punishment as “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense.” The Merriam-Webster offers two definitions for our purpose: “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution” and “a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure.” So there is an aspect of retribution, of being deprived of something for having deprived someone else of something; and there is an aspect of force, of inflicting or imposing such a deprivation. The question, then, is what sort of deprivation may be forced upon an offender within the bounds of libertarianism.

The first thing to note is that it is improper to punish someone who has not initiated the use of force. Thus, all punishments for so-called “victimless crimes” which are not necessary to stop further acts of aggression should be abolished. The next consideration is what form a punishment may take. In other words, what may one justly be deprived of for having deprived someone else? Rothbard writes[1],

[M]ust we go along with those libertarians who claim that a storekeeper has the right to kill a lad as punishment for snatching a piece of his bubble gum? What we might call the ‘maximalist’ position goes as follows: by stealing the bubble gum, the urchin puts himself outside the law. He demonstrates by his action that he does not hold or respect the correct theory of property rights. Therefore, he loses all of his rights, and the storekeeper is within his rights to kill the lad in retaliation. I propose that this position suffers from a grotesque lack of proportion. By concentrating on the storekeeper’s right to his bubble gum, it totally ignores another highly precious property right: every man’s − including the urchin’s − right of self-ownership. On what basis must we hold that a minuscule invasion of another’s property lays one forfeit to the total loss of one’s own? I propose another fundamental rule regarding crime: the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights. From this principle immediately derives the proportionality theory of punishment − best summed up in the old adage: ‘let the punishment fit the crime.’”

He asserts this but does not justify it, so let us do so. Libertarianism is a logical construct, therefore it is subject to logic in the form of consistency. To claim a right for oneself while violating the equivalent rights of another person is hypocritical and logically inconsistent, therefore it cannot be rationally advanced in argument. (Of course, this subjective variety of pragmatic contradiction only applies to the hypocrite; it would be absurd to argue, for instance, that all people lose their right to private property just because one thief steals something.) Nor could it be rationally advanced in a court setting, as the legal doctrine of estoppel would prevent it. Thus, a criminal loses his own rights to the extent that he has deprived other people of theirs, and one should be able to kill murderers, beat up assailants, take property from thieves, imprison slave-masters, and so on in proportion to the crimes an aggressor commits, subject of course to liability for attacking an innocent person. For who can rightly object to a taste of one’s own medicine?

Retribution and Restitution

While retribution in kind is within the logical boundaries of libertarianism, a result in which the aggressor is punished and the victim is made whole is self-evidently more just than a result in which the aggressor is punished only. Therefore, it is best for retribution to take the form of restitution, in which a criminal compensates his victims. Sometimes a criminal will agree to make restitution, and sometimes force must be used to compel the criminal to make restitution. In this sense, there can be both the aspect of retribution and the aspect of force described above.

Next, we must consider what constitutes proper restitution. Rothbard writes[2],

“But how are we to gauge the nature of the extent? Let us [consider] the theft [of] $15,000. Even here, simple restitution of the $15,000 is scarcely sufficient to cover the crime (even if we add damages, costs, interest, etc.). For one thing, mere loss of the money stolen obviously fails to function in any sense as a deterrent to future such crime (although we will see below that deterrence itself is a faulty criterion for gauging punishment). If, then, we are to say that the criminal loses rights to the extent that he deprives the victim, then we must say that the criminal should not only have to return the $15,000, but that he must be forced to pay the victim another $15,000, so that he, in turn, loses those rights (to $15,000 worth of property) which he had taken from the victim. In the case of theft, then, we may say that the criminal must pay double the extent of theft: once, for restitution of the amount stolen, and once again for loss of what he had deprived another. But we are still not finished with elaborating the extent of deprivation of rights involved in a crime. For A had not simply stolen $15,000 from B, which can be restored and an equivalent penalty imposed. He had also put B into a state of fear and uncertainty, of uncertainty as to the extent that B’s deprivation would go. But the penalty levied on A is fixed and certain in advance, thus putting A in far better shape than was his original victim. So that for proportionate punishment to be levied we would also have to add more than double so as to compensate the victim in some way for the uncertain and fearful aspects of his particular ordeal. What this extra compensation should be it is impossible to say exactly, but that does not absolve any rational system of punishment − including the one that would apply in the libertarian society − from the problem of working it out as best one can.”

In short, we have a principle that Walter Block calls “two teeth for a tooth,” plus some extra amount. As Rothbard correctly notes, it is impossible to precisely calculate what this extra amount should be, as there is no price system which would allow one to do so and no way to examine a counter-factual world in which the crime was never committed to see what difference was truly made in the victim’s life. A critic may claim that this makes the theory impractical, but in practice this extra amount would be decided by mutual agreement between the criminal, the victim, and any hired agents they may have.

We speak, of course, only of the maximum allowable extent of punishment. A victim has the option to negotiate an agreement with the criminal to reduce or even eliminate the criminal’s obligation to perform restitution.

Forms of Punishment

We have considered matters of material restitution once an aggressor is subdued. But what about matters in which an aggressor is not subdued, or matters where such restitution is impossible?

If an aggressor is active, then any amount of force necessary to subdue the aggressor may be used, for any standard short of this would not only fail to be logically consistent, but would allow an aggressor to succeed simply by escalating the use of force beyond what his victims are allowed to use in defense. The only permissible limitation on defensive force is that which ceases to be completely defensive. Rothbard writes[3],

“How extensive is a man’s right of self-defense of person and property? The basic answer must be: up to the point at which he begins to infringe on the property rights of someone else. For, in that case, his ‘defense’ would in itself constitute a criminal invasion of the just property of some other man, which the latter could properly defend himself against.”

This leads to some implications which many prominent libertarian thinkers appear to have missed. Most libertarians unequivocally condemn the use of torture for any reason, but there is nothing within libertarian theory which does so. What libertarian theory cannot justify is the use of torture against a non-aggressor, such as an aggressor’s family or friends, or someone not known to be an aggressor. Thus, we are restricted to using torture only in scenarios like that of a ticking time bomb which was set by a terrorist. The bomb will detonate before all innocent people could be evacuated from the area, a particular terrorist or group of terrorists is known to be responsible, and the terrorist(s) will not provide the means of deactivating the bomb unless they are tortured. Their active attempt to deny the self-ownership of other people by blowing them up estops them from claiming their own self-ownership, so any means necessary to stop their aggression may be used against their bodies, including torture. However, we should be wary about putting the power to torture into the hands of the state, as its agents have shown on countless occasions that they will not adhere to the above limitations. They have, in the words of Radley Balko, “not used it competently, abused it, and found new, inappropriate contexts in which to use it.”

As with torture, many libertarians condemn the use of corporal punishment as barbaric and counterproductive. Most such arguments focus on the spanking of children as a grotesque violation of the non-aggression principle, and these arguments are not wrong. But for an aggressor who has reached maturity and assaulted someone, these are merely aesthetic and utilitarian concerns which play no role in libertarian theory. Rothbard writes[4],

“In the question of bodily assault, where restitution does not even apply, we can again employ our criterion of proportionate punishment; so that if A has beaten up B in a certain way, then B has the right to beat up A (or have him beaten up by judicial employees) to rather more than the same extent.”

At issue is not a concern of efficacy (for how shall this be measured?) or even deterrence (though this is an important side effect), but a concern for logical consistency.

While there are several offenses for which exact restitution is impossible, in that no amount of money can undo the psychological damage of a rape or a kidnapping, there is no possible restitution for the crime of murder, as it is impossible to make the victim whole in any way. Block writes,

“What the murderer has done, essentially, to his victim is, in effect, steal his life away. If there were but a machine that could transfer the life out of the dead victim and into the live murderer it would be the paradigm case of justice to force him into this machine, and make him disgorge the life he had stolen. It would be a matter of supreme injustice to refuse to do so.”

But no such machine exists (or may ever exist), so there is no result in which the aggressor is punished and the victim is made whole. We are then left to choose between a result in which the aggressor is punished or a result in which the aggressor is free to murder again. Although the victim, being dead, cannot negotiate anything with the murderer in terms of forgiveness or of buying one’s way out of the penalty for murder, this is not an intractable problem. Rothbard writes[5],

“In short, within the limits of his proportional right of punishment, the victim should have the sole decision how much, if at all, to exercise that right. But, it has been pointed out, how can we leave the decision up to the victim in the case of murder, precisely the one crime which removes the victim totally from the scene? Can we really trust his heir or executor to pursue the victim’s interests fully and wholeheartedly, especially if we allow the criminal to buy his way out of punishment, in dealing directly with the heir? …The answer is to deal with the problem in the same way as any wishes of a deceased person are obeyed: in his will. The deceased can instruct heirs, courts, and any other interested parties on how he would wish a murderer of his to be treated. In that case, pacifists, liberal intellectuals, et al. can leave clauses in their wills instructing law enforcement authorities not to kill, or even not to press charges against a criminal in the event of their murder; and the authorities would be required to obey.”

Rothbard neglected to mention one caveat here. While the heirs and the authorities could be obligated not to prosecute or punish a murderer if the victim left a will to that effect, no such limitation exists upon a third party acting solely out of concern for logical consistency and personal safety. As explained above, a murderer forfeits self-ownership, so while the courts may be bound by contract and the victim’s will not to kill a particular murderer, the courts would also have no cause to prosecute someone else who did kill the murderer. A critic may claim that this standard risks the devolution of civilization into a murderous free-for-all, but a person who kills a non-murderer becomes a murderer himself, subject to all penalties thereof. This creates a potent disincentive against killing someone in the name of eliminating murderers who enjoy freedom unless one is absolutely sure that one has the correct target. Another objection is that such a killing deprives a murder victim’s family of what restitution they could get in the form of making the murderer work for them, but an outsider to such an agreement is not necessarily bound by it, depending upon what arrangements he may have with various court companies and defense agencies.

Finally, there is one punishment that one may undoubtedly inflict upon anyone for any reason without any need for judicial oversight: ostracism. To be denied association with one’s fellows as well as with one’s trading partners by said fellows and trading partners can certainly meet all of the above definitions of punishment. Psychologists have found that the pain of ostracism is quite similar to the pain of physical injury in terms of the effect it has on a person. The long-term effects that an episode of ostracism has make it an effective way to enforce beneficial social norms without violating the non-aggression principle.

Conclusion

Contrary to some narrower interpretations of libertarian thought, there is a great deal of room within the bounds of libertarian theory for the punishment of criminals. Not only is forced restitution appropriate for the persistent offender, but there are cases in which corporal punishment, torture, and even assassination could be morally justifiable.

References:

  1. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 80-81
  2. Rothbard (1982), p. 88-89
  3. Rothbard (1982), p. 77
  4. Rothbard (1982), p. 89
  5. Rothbard (June 1978). The Plumb Line: The Capital Punishment Question. Libertarian Review, Vol. 7, No. 5, p. 14