Ethical Theories at the Murrah Building

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and wounding 680. One third of the building was destroyed, along with damage to 324 other buildings and 86 cars, causing $652 million in damage. McVeigh was motivated by his opposition to the United States federal government and his anger over its actions in the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident and the 1993 Waco Siege. He timed the attack to occur on the second anniversary of the burning of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

To most people, McVeigh is obviously a reprehensible criminal whose actions cannot possibly be justified. Some theories of ethics would agree with that assessment, while others would recommend a different outlook. Let us examine the Oklahoma City bombing through the lenses of deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics to see how each provides a different perspective on McVeigh.

Deontology

Deontology argues that decisions should be made by consulting moral principles. The rightness or wrongness of an act is thus determined by whether it is in keeping with such principles. Deontological theories include the Kantian categorical imperative, which says that one should act only according to the maxim that one can will that it should become a universal law; moral absolutism, which argues that certain actions are intrinsically good or evil; divine command theory, which appeals to God as the judge of right and wrong; and Hoppean argumentation ethics, which derives moral rules from the act of argumentation.

In all such theories, murder is forbidden because initiating violence to kill someone cannot be in accordance with universal law. By definition, murder is not universal but unilateral; if it would occur in reciprocity, then it is a mutual assisted suicide rather than a case of murder. The people killed by McVeigh in Oklahoma City were not the individuals responsible for the state-sanctioned crimes committed at Ruby Ridge and Waco, and were only tangentially connected to the people who were responsible. Though 99 of the 168 victims were part of the state apparatus, the vast majority were unarmed civil ‘servants’. Only eight of the victims were federal law enforcement agents and six were military personnel. The rest of the victims were civilians, and they were not being used as innocent shields by legitimate targets for defensive force. Thus, a deontological approach finds McVeigh’s actions to be completely unjust and criminal in nature.

Consequentialism

Consequentialism, or teleology, argues that the morality of an action depends upon the result of the action. Consequentialist theories differ on what results they deem important. Utilitarianism seeks the most happiness for the greatest number of people; state consequentialism values order, material wealth, and population growth; egoism prioritizes good for the self; altruism seeks good for others; and rule consequentialism functions much like deontology but uses the consequences of moral rules to select them.

The initial answer that may come to mind is that the consequences of McVeigh’s actions were 168 murders, 680 injuries, and $652 million in property damage, thus his actions were immoral. But as with many complex situations, there is an answer—namely this one—which is clear, simple, and wrong. The straightforward answer is wrong because it ignores the counterfactual of what would have happened between that day and this if the Oklahoma City bombing had not occurred. Of course, it is impossible to know precisely what the counterfactual would be, and this uncertainty is an intractable problem with consequentialism. But this should not stop us from making an educated guess.

If McVeigh had not acted, then the mentality of those wielding state power would likely have been that they could perpetrate such atrocities as the Waco Siege without penalty. After all, they hold a monopoly on criminal justice that allows them to immunize themselves from prosecution. Absent vigilantism, they are thus able to escape punishment for their misdeeds. With this in mind, in the absence of the Oklahoma City bombing, federal agents probably would have been more willing to resort to force in such cases as the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and the Malheur standoff in 2016. The former and latter cases did not have the personnel involved to be more deadly than Oklahoma City, but the Bundy Ranch standoff could have resulted in hundreds of deaths on both sides if it had turned into a battle. It is impossible to be certain, but McVeigh’s actions may have altered the mentality of government agents to seek peaceful resolutions to such standoffs, which may have prevented many more deaths than the 168 that McVeigh caused.

Ultimately, any consequentialist analysis requires information that cannot be acquired, so we must treat both the possibility that McVeigh altered government responses to resistance groups and the possibility that he did not. If the state would have acted the same regardless of McVeigh’s actions, then McVeigh was an evildoer. But if the Oklahoma City bombing ultimately prevented greater atrocities in the future, such as a shootout at Bundy Ranch, then McVeigh’s actions produced a greater good for a greater number, more order, and more good for others. Among consequentialist theories, only ethical egoism would certainly condemn McVeigh because he brought capital punishment upon himself, which is not a prioritization of good for the self.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics focuses on the character of the moral actor rather than on specific actions. The purpose of examining an action in virtue ethics is to find out what the action says about the character of the moral actor. The means of doing this frequently falls back on deontology or consequentialism. What is considered to be a virtue differs among formulations, and this is subject to the cultural mores of a particular place and time.

The general finding of virtue ethics in this case would be that McVeigh’s character was similar to that of many tragic heroes in ancient Greek dramas. He was motivated by a sense of justice, seeing the United States government murder its own citizens with impunity. But like the tragic heroes of old, he had a tragic flaw that brought about his downfall as well as the destruction of those around him. A tragic flaw in a well-written story could not be an obviously negative character trait, but rather a trait which is positive in moderation but becomes negative when taken too far. McVeigh’s sense of justice went to extremes and blinded him to the fact that his bomb would commit its own injustice against the innocent people caught in the blast.

Conclusion

This exercise shows the stark contrast in results that can come from applying the various normative ethical theories to an extreme act. Deontology absolutely condemns such an act as mass murder. Most forms of consequentialism cannot definitively say much of anything, but they can offer educated guesses and help us see what might make such an act a more tolerable evil than inaction. Virtue ethics offers insight into the character of a terrorist, which helps explain what could motivate someone to such an act of mass destruction. Taken together, these theories give us a comprehensive understanding of the ethics concerning terrorist activity.

A Case Against the Second Amendment

One of the most controversial parts of the United States Constitution is the Second Amendment, which reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Unlike the previous entries in this series, this will not be an argument against the substance of the Second Amendment. Rather, this will be a case against both the exact language of the Second Amendment, its efficacy, and the effect of having it explicitly codified in the United States Constitution.

Language

Let us begin with the words themselves and how their meaning has changed over the centuries. This is a common problem for those who view the Constitution as a dead document, as well as a common exploit for those who view the Constitution as a living document that they can interpret to mean whatever they wish it to mean. In the eighteenth century, ‘well-regulated’ simply meant ‘functioning properly.’ But with the growth of the administrative state, regulation has taken on the novel meaning of law without proper legislation. Likewise, the concept of a militia has also changed from that of all able-bodied males of military age to that of fringe anti-government extremists, as the federal government has usurped the role of the militia and handed it to the National Guard, which it may more easily command and control.

Next, there is the matter of security of a free state. In one sense, ‘free state’ is a contradiction of terms because the presence of a state is a guarantee of an absence of freedom. In that sense, those who seek liberty should not want the state to be secure, but rather to be continually imperiled by its own subjects. But in the language of the time, a free state was one which was sovereign over its geographical area rather than one which was subject to another, more powerful state. In this sense, the Second Amendment is correct to observe that a heavily armed populace is the most effective deterrent against foreign invasion.

Efficacy

The Second Amendment concludes by saying quite plainly now as then that ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ This is an absolute standard, setting a zero tolerance for infringement of the right to keep and bear arms. But how effective has this been? Given that the National Firearms Act of 1934 imposes taxes on certain categories of arms, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 forbids private nuclear weapons, the Gun Control Act of 1968 mandates licensing of arms dealers and manufacturers, the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 outlaws private ownership of machine guns manufactured after that date, and numerous other federal, state, and local measures further restrict what kinds of weapons one may own, it is clear that the Second Amendment is mere ink on a dead animal hide rather than an authentic protection of essential liberty against the whims of legislators.

Another concern with the Second Amendment is the same as with any other part of the Constitution. The interpretation is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Thus, the Second Amendment means whatever people in black costumes say it means, which need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because there is no effective challenge to their power once the appeals process is exhausted. (There are the possibilities that a judge will be impeached and removed or that the Constitution will be amended, but these possibilities are rare enough to dismiss in most cases.) The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which in the case of the Second Amendment means that there is a conflict of interest between defending the rights of the people to keep and bear arms and eliminating the danger to agents of the state that an armed population presents. This incentivizes judges to rule in favor of restrictions on arms, which constitutes a threat to individual liberty and tends toward infringement upon natural rights.

That being said, the case law on the Second Amendment is somewhat more favorable than the legislation. In United States v. Lopez (1995), the Supreme Court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the court ruled that there is an individual right to keep and bear arms rather than solely a collective right. The McDonald v. Chicago (2010) decision extended Heller to the state and local level, while Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016) extended these decisions to all forms of bearable arms. However, other decisions leave much to be desired. In United States v. Cruikshank (1875), the court ruled that the Second Amendment “was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens” and “has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government.” (McDonald v. Chicago largely reversed this decision.) The Presser v. Illinois (1886) decision found that states may prohibit their citizens from forming private military organizations, which protects the coercive monopoly of the state over military defense. In United States v. Miller (1939), the court found that the Second Amendment does not protect particular classes of weapons if they are not ordinary military equipment and legislators cannot imagine how the weapon could contribute to the common defense, thus hindering innovation in defense. The Lewis v. United States (1980) decision says that felons may be prohibited from possessing arms, which is troublesome due to the wide variety of peaceful activities that are considered felonious in the United States. United States v. Rybar (1996) affirmed that Congress may regulate possession of homemade machine guns, thus infringing upon the private property rights of citizens. Overall, the courts occasionally defend the right to keep and bear arms, but are generally unreliable, especially for more powerful weaponry.

To Codify Or Not To Codify

To quote Frederic Bastiat, “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” Perhaps the most damaging effect of the Second Amendment is ideological in nature; it encourages people to rely upon it as an argument for their rights instead of making a stronger case from first principles. This helps to perpetuate the erroneous beliefs that rights come from the state or from the Constitution, as opposed to the correct view that rights are logical corollaries of the most fundamental right, that of self-ownership. As soon as one accepts such a statist basis for one’s rights, those rights are instantly jeopardized, for what the state giveth, the state may taketh away. The implication at that point is that there would be nothing wrong with gun confiscation if the Second Amendment could be repealed or reinterpreted by a future Supreme Court packed with progressive liberals, which is the goal of many leftists in the United States. In other countries which do not have counterparts to the Second Amendment, the laws concerning keeping and bearing arms are much more strict and invasive. But in many places with strict gun control measures, a large number of people still maintain firearms; they just do so illegally. Note that when a product is in demand and legal markets are forbidden from providing the supply to meet the demand, illegal markets will step in and make the banned goods easier to obtain than if the goods were legal but strictly regulated.

Conclusion

The Second Amendment is excellent in aspiration, but thoroughly insufficient in practice. Both the legislative and judicial branches have infringed upon the right to keep and bear arms, in flagrant violation of the promise made by the Framers. It is thus necessary to make a stronger case for private armament on both the theoretical and practical fronts. Theoretically, the case for keeping and bearing arms should be made from the first principles of self-ownership and private property rights. Practically, those who seek liberty must recognize and make use of the fact that one effectively owns that which one can take and defend. Put plainly, the right to keep and bear arms is not secured by some magical parchment or by agents of the state, but by the ability and willingness of the owners of those arms to use them in self-defense against anyone who would attempt to take them.

Song Lyrics: Stickman

This song is written in honor of Kyle Chapman, better known as Based Stickman. He bravely engaged communists in battle on March 4, 2017 in Berkeley, Calif. He was then arrested and charged with several felonies for defending protesters from street hooligans when the police would not. He has since been bailed out and has become a folk hero, appearing on several libertarian and nationalist podcasts. The song does not fit well with my vocal range, but I may attempt to record this anyway.

[To the tune of Spoonman by Soundgarden]

[Verse 1]

Antifa enters the fray
(Based Stickman will save the day)
Stickman
Policemen stand down and watch
(Save us from the Red assault)
Stickman

[Chorus]

Stickman, shield and stick are in your hands
Help us, we’re together with your plan
Help us
Help, oh

[Verse 2]

Volunteer to save our rights
(Based Stickman is our alt-knight)
Stickman
Cops try to put him away
(Their cells can’t keep him at bay)
Stickman

[Chorus]

Stickman, shield and stick are in your hands
Help us, we’re together with your plan
Help us
Help
Help us
Help us, yeah
Help, with your

[Bridge/Guitar Solo]

C’mon x12
With your shield
With your stick
With your
C’mon x4
Stick

[Interlude]

Good night to Antifa x8

[Chorus]

Stickman, shield and stick are in your hands
Help us, we’re together with your plan
Help us
Help, help us
With your, with your stick

[Outro]

Communists come ’round again
(More Stickmen will follow him)
Stickman

Nine Observations on the Westminster Attack

On March 22 at 14:40 GMT, Khalid Masood, 52, drove a Hyundai Tucson vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing three and wounding over 40 others. The vehicle then crashed into the railings outside the Houses of Parliament. Masood exited the vehicle, entered the grounds of New Palace Yard, and fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer. Armed police warned Masood, then fatally shot him. In response, Parliament was placed on lockdown and later closed for the day. The National Assemblies in Scotland and Wales suspended proceedings. Nine observations on this event follow.

1. Security personnel should not be unarmed. Matters of violence are generally decided by who is more able and willing to use force. As it was, the attacker brought a knife to a fight without guns, giving him a strong advantage that he used to terrible effect. If Officer Keith Palmer had been carrying a firearm, he could have stopped Masood before he got close enough to use his knife, as the armed police who arrived later did.

2. Citizens should not be unarmed. In the United Kingdom, access to firearms by private citizens is regulated by strict gun control laws. But criminals are defined by the fact that they disregard laws. As such, the only people who would have a gun in a legally disarmed society would be government agents and criminals (but I repeat myself). Had someone on the bridge been armed, they could have stopped Masood at some point before he reached the railings outside of the Houses of Parliament. Gun control did nothing to prevent the Westminster attack, nor will it do anything to stop the next attack. The politicians prefer it this way, of course; a well-armed populace has little need for the state to protect them and is much harder for the state to victimize.

3. Government prison systems do a poor job of rehabilitation. Masood had a lengthy criminal record, beginning with an arrest for criminal damage in 1983 and ending with knife possession in 2003. His convictions include assault with grevious bodily harm, possessing offensive weaponry, and public order offenses. A better criminal justice system may have been able to reform him, but the government penal institutions certainly failed to do so. In fact, the opposite occurred, as it was reported that Masood converted to Islam while in prison. Spread of Islamic radicalism in prisons is a known problem.

4. ISIS may be lying. In a tweet, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency said, “A soldier for the Islamic State carried out the operation in answer to calls to target the people of coalition states.” But it is in their interest to claim responsibility regardless of whether Masood had any connection to or drew any inspiration from ISIS, as doing so helps them to maintain relevance and prestige. Home Secretary Amber Rudd cast doubt over whether Masood was affiliated with ISIS, and analysts monitoring ISIS point to the lack of biographical information and operational specifics in the ISIS statement suggest a lack of direct involvement.

5. Islam is incompatible with Western civilization. Contemporary Western values include separation of church and state, equality before the law, and rational skepticism. All of these values are largely absent in the Islamic world. The reason that the West has these values is that a great amount of blood was spilled over their recognizance and defense. The Islamic world has yet to undergo the sort of reformation that Western society underwent, and the Quran is particularly hostile to the aforementioned innovations of the West.

Whereas immigrants from Eastern Europe to Western Europe or from Central America to the United States have different customs and traditions, they do have similar (though corrupted) legal and political systems. This makes those immigrants functional within the established systems, even if not as functional as the current populations. Muslim immigration, on the other hand, involves people who support a competing and adversarial worldview. Note that large percentages of Muslims wish to live under Sharia instead of Western common or civil law systems.

6. Preventing vehicle attacks before they start is likely impossible. There have been several incidents in which terrorists have driven vehicles into crowds of people, such as Nantes in 2014, and Nice and Berlin in 2016. Carrying out such an attack is far easier than other methods, in that there is no need to manufacture explosives, acquire arms and ammunition, or engage in multi-stage plots such as hijacking airplanes and crashing them into targets. Given that a terrorist could stay out of sight of the authorities, as Masood did after leaving prison in 2009

7. Successful attacks inspire copycats. One day after the Westminster attack, a French national of North African origin attempted a similar attack in Antwerp, Belgium. The vehicle was intercepted before it could hit anyone. Inside, police found bladed weapons, a riot gun, and a container filled with an unidentified liquid. The Westminster attack was itself carried out on the one-year anniversary of the Brussels bombings. As many attacks are attempted on anniversaries of previous successful attacks, it would be wise to increase security measures on those days.

8. Terrorist attacks make sense in a democracy. A system which does not grant the public a political voice, such as absolute monarchism or anarcho-capitalism, gives terrorists far less reason to kill members of the public, as there is little need for the monarch or the private landowners to listen to whatever calls for action that such an attack may prompt from the public. Conversely, a democratic system politicizes the masses like no other. It explicitly codifies the idea that everyone who is allowed to vote has some degree of political power. This means that targeting civilians becomes useful for promoting political change, both in the form of denying the vote to those who are killed and in the form of coercing the survivors toward a terrorist’s desired political changes. Furthermore, the voters are viewed by the victims of a state’s foreign policy as bearing responsibility for the crimes committed against them by agents of that state, thus causing terrorists who are motivated by vengeance to target civilians. For fringe elements of a society, voting will probably never get them what they want, as they simply lack the numbers to accomplish anything. But terrorism allows them to compensate for this by voting for their extremist causes multiple times over all of the elections that their victims would have otherwise lived through and voted in. While we cannot abolish terrorism by abolishing democracy, it would be a step in the right direction.

9. We should not expect anything to change unless we make it change. Through terrorist attacks in Orlando, Brussels, Paris, and Beirut, the response has generally been for people around the world to hashtag “Pray for Wherever” on Twitter, change their Facebook profile pictures to incorporate the flag of the attacked nation, and do little else. Meanwhile, governments do not change the policies that both encourage terrorists to strike and give them access to their victims. Thus, the terrorists win, which may be exactly what the politicians want. Until the people of Western nations demand real solutions under threat of taking matters into their own hands otherwise, citizens will continue to live with the fear and uncertainty of Islamic terrorism.

Fake Libertarianism Revisited

A significant portion of my work consists of critiquing arguments, decisions, and statements made by other people. But sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such is the case for an article I wrote three years ago about the nature of fake libertarianism. In retrospect, I failed to accurately present the structure of libertarian philosophy, and thus erroneously defined what it means to be a fake libertarian. Let us see what is wrong with my former case and make the necessary corrections.

Just as before, we must first have proper definitions for “libertarianism” and “fake” in order to consider the issue of fake libertarianism. Libertarianism is the philosophical position that the proper use of force is always defensive in nature. Initiating the use of force is never justifiable, while using force to defend against someone who initiates the use of force is always justifiable. A fake adherent of a position is either a person who claims to believe in that position while explicitly rejecting the premises of that position or their logical conclusions, or a person who misrepresents the premises of that position. Note that this does not compel action; a person is free to choose not to respond to initiated force with defensive force. Nor does this constrain one’s entire ideology to a single position; one may believe in additional premises beyond a certain position which are not in contradiction with that position without being a fake adherent, but to falsely represent such premises as being contained within that position does make one a fake adherent.

In my previous attempt, I argued that a fake libertarian is a person who claims to be a libertarian but does one or more of the following:

  1. Supports initiating the use of force for any reason;
  2. Rejects a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle;
  3. Claims that another principle can trump the non-aggression principle;
  4. Claims that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain, or vice versa.

Points (1) and (4) are sound, but points (2) and (3) require some revision. The non-aggression principle is neither an axiom nor the basis of libertarian theory, as my previous attempt would suggest. The starting point for all of libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false is false by contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control over one’s own body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control over their body without that person’s consent. It is clear that self-ownership trumps the non-aggression principle on the grounds that the independent principle overrules the dependent principle. One may also reject a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle if doing so is necessary in order to accept a logical conclusion of self-ownership.

The above would be true but trivial if there were no cases in which the non-aggression principle came into conflict with principles of higher rank, so let us consider three such cases.

Innocent Shields

Strict adherence to the non-aggression principle would suggest that innocent shields held captive by an aggressor are non-aggressors and that harming them is immoral. But if this is true, then anyone who is being more harmfully victimized by the aggressor is doomed. Additionally, considering an aggressor who hides behind innocent shields to be an illegitimate target would provide a means for an aggressor to escape punishment and restitution. Another means of dealing with such a situation is provided by Walter Block’s concept of negative homesteading. To quote Block,

“A grabs B to use as a shield; A forces B to stand in front of him, and compels him to walk wherever A wishes. A then hunts C in order to murder the latter by shooting him. C also has a gun. Is it legally permissible for C to shoot at A in self defense under libertarian law?

[…]

In ordinary homesteading, or what we must now call positive homesteading to distinguish it from this newly introduced variety, it is the first person upon the scene who mixes his labor with the land or natural resource who comes away with the property rights in question. It is the first man who farms a plot of land, who becomes the rightful owner. A similar procedure applies to negative homesteading, only here what gets to be ‘owned’ is a negative, not a positive. This concept refers to some sort of unhappiness, not a benefit such as owning land. The ownership of misery, as it were, must stay with its first victim, according to this principle. He cannot legitimately pass it onto anyone else without the latter’s permission.”

The homesteading principle is a direct corollary of self-ownership, just like the non-aggression principle. This gives them equal standing in libertarian philosophy, meaning that a conflict between the two must not give the non-aggression principle supremacy over the homesteading principle or vice versa.

To use the theory of negative homesteading, we must identify the first homesteader of the misery. In Block’s example, this is B. It is impermissible for B to transfer this misery to C. Thus, the theory of negative homesteading permits C to shoot A and risk hitting B even though a strict view of the non-aggression principle would not. None of this is to say that concern for the innocent shield should be disregarded; only that if an aggressor is too dangerous to ignore and it is impossible to subdue the aggressor without harming innocent shields, then the innocent shields are expendable in order to reduce the overall amount of aggression committed.

Reecean Proviso

The theoretical basis for private property rights in libertarian theory also starts with self-ownership. Because one is responsible for one’s actions, one gains an ownership claim over one’s improvements upon natural resources. It is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves, so property rights over external objects in a state of nature are established through mixing one’s labor with them. As property rights are established and maintained by exercising self-ownership, they are dependent upon self-ownership. As with non-aggression, self-ownership overrules private property in external objects because that which is dependent is subordinate to that upon which it is dependent.

Next, let us note that all sentient beings are equal in their self-ownership, in that all sentient beings have property in their own physical bodies through exclusive direct control over them. Although the nature of their bodies and minds will almost certainly result in different beings appropriating different quantities of external resources and in different beings having more or less capability to defend those resources from challengers in practice, the theoretical strength of a particular property right over an external object by one sentient being is equivalent to the strength of another particular property right over another external object by another sentient being. Applying this to the fact that self-ownership stands above private property in external objects, we get the result that the self-ownership of one sentient being stands above the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being.

A strict view of the non-aggression principle would not allow any appropriation of another person’s private property without their permission, but a case in which self-ownership is in conflict with private property could allow for this. Although this is subject to so many caveats in practice that the appropriate lifeboat scenario may never arise, the theoretical possibility for a situation in which a person is justified to appropriate a small amount of resources from someone else’s property in order to stay alive does exist.

Unrepentant Aggressors and Agency

Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. For private property rights, the non-aggression principle, or indeed even self-ownership, to apply to a person who has violated another person’s rights of the same kind is inconsistent. As such, a thief has no standing to claim property rights, an aggressor has no standing to claim non-aggression, and a murderer has no standing to claim self-ownership until restitution is made for their crimes. In the latter case, restitution is impossible because a murder victim cannot be made whole. An unrepentant aggressor may be attacked in ways which would violate the non-aggression principle if done to a non-aggressor because the aggressor’s actions demonstrate a rejection of the non-aggression principle.

One might protest that a bystander lacks agency in a matter between an aggressor and a victim, but the concept of agency has been shaped in a world dominated by states. Thus, private citizens are discouraged (and sometimes prohibited) not to interfere in certain matters between other people because the state claims sole authority to resolve such matters. In a society organized in accordance with libertarian theory, there is no such monopoly on the creation and enforcement of laws, or on the final arbitration of disputes. The concept of agency in a libertarian social order would likely impose fewer limits on an individual’s conduct, thus leaving one free to use force against unrepentant aggressors even if not in an immediate self-defense situation. The possibility of becoming an outlaw subject to the every whim of anyone who cares to attack an unrepentant aggressor presents a strong deterrent against committing acts of aggression.

Strategic Thinking

A separate but related problem is that of libertarian purists denying the context of a situation and refusing to consider less than perfect alternatives. There are situations in which an option which adheres to libertarian principles is not politically viable and libertarians are not willing to do what would be necessary to make such an option viable. In such cases, there will be several options and all of them will involve acts of aggression. Navigating these situations requires us to figure out either which option is most likely to result in the least amount of aggression or which option is most likely to move society closer to a libertarian social order. Advocating for one such option over the others, or ranking them from best to worst, does not constitute an endorsement of aggression because one is not choosing an aggressive option as an ideal or because one wants to, but as a least evil and because there is no good option.

Parts Unchanged

The definition of what constitutes a fake libertarian was in need of correction, but the when, where, and why remain as they were. Fake libertarianism is still a widespread and growing problem. As before, the reasons for being a fake libertarian are to gain recognition in a smaller field of competitors instead of trying to compete directly with more powerful establishment commentators, to destroy the libertarian movement from within by being an entryist, and to gain capital through false representation of something valuable.

Taking a slightly softer tone with some of those identified instead of calling them fakes and running them off may be sound strategical advice in some cases, especially with respect to the anarchist-minarchist debate. But any movement that wishes to take political power for any purpose, including the destruction of said power, must beware of holiness spirals. Libertarian groups have a twofold problem in this regard; that of strictest adherence to libertarian principles and that of leftist infiltration. Those who reduce their circle of allies to only the most ardent libertarians will lack the numbers to accomplish anything. Meanwhile, leftists who infiltrate libertarian circles and fill them with progressive nonsense can manage to run off real libertarians, which helps to explain the growth of the alt-right movement. Both of these problems are dangerous to the goal of liberty and must be countered whenever they present themselves.

Conclusion

There is no better way to conclude than by restating the closing paragraph from the original piece:

“Just as counterfeiters do not make copies of worthless banknotes and forgers do not falsify meaningless signatures, political charlatans do not pretend to hold a position if doing so has no potential benefit. Thus, true libertarians should take heart. The very fact that there are fake libertarians means that true libertarianism is worth something, and that defending it against those who would falsely assume it and attempt to destroy it is worth doing.”

Book Review: The Age of Jihad

The Age of Jihad is a book about political unrest in the Middle East by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn. The book is a compilation of his notes and articles over a 20-year period (1996-2016) while traveling throughout the Middle East. Cockburn did direct reporting where possible, and relied upon first-hand accounts when venturing into certain places was too dangerous.

Cockburn begins with his reporting from Afghanistan in late 2001 as the United States began its intervention to remove the Taliban from power. Next, he shares his experiences of Iraq under sanctions from 1996, 1998, and 2001, followed by his experiences there during the American occupation from 2003 to 2010. This is followed by his next forays into Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.

The next part of the book focuses on the Arab Spring and the events that followed, with particular emphasis on countries in which the rulers were not quickly deposed. Cockburn begins with the Libyan Civil War of 2011 that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power, along with the difficulties that followed. Sectarian violence in Yemen from 2009 to 2015 and the failed uprising in Bahrain in 2011 each get a chapter.

The last part of the book covers recent developments in Syria and Iraq. First, the Arab Spring in Syria and its development into the Syrian Civil War from 2011 to 2014 is discussed in two chapters. Another two chapters are devoted to the contemporaneous destabilization of Iraq. This culminates in the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Caliphate, in and near which the final four chapters take place.

The book gives important insight into just how terrible daily life is for people in war-torn lands, including the near-absence of basic utilities, shortages of essential items, rampant unemployment, and fear of mistreatment both from rebel groups and one’s own government. The book is filled with anecdotes of behavior which have not been seen since the Renaissance in the West, and knowledge of this behavior helps to explain animosity toward migrants from that region. The reader may be familiar with some of the events described, but almost anyone would find new information somewhere in the book.

One comes away from the book with a sense that both Western and regional powers had to be trying to perform so poorly. Western powers sought to punish Saddam Hussein without regard for the Iraqi people who bore the brunt of sanctions. They ignored cultural attitudes and sectarian divisions while turning a blind eye to mass corruption that greatly weakened the nation-building projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. They removed dictators who were stabilizing forces, thus creating power vacuums which were filled by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is difficult to be so maliciously incompetent without intending to do so.

Overall, Cockburn does an excellent job of conveying the reality on the ground in most of the conflicts in the War on Terrorism and the Arab Spring. The only real improvement would be to add sections on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, which only get passing mentions as sources for jihadists in other places. The Age of Jihad belongs on the bookshelf of any serious student of recent history, the Middle East, revolutions, war, and/or the effects of foreign intervention.

Rating: 5/5

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!

Leave Otto Warmbier In North Korea

On January 2, 2016, then-21-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier (now 22) was on a five-day guided tour in North Korea when he was arrested at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. He allegedly stole a North Korean propaganda banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel on December 30, 2015 to take back to the United States, which the North Korean government called “an act of hostility against the state.” A video was released on March 18, 2016 that purportedly shows Warmbier in the act.

Warmbier said in a statement at his trial that he was offered a used car worth $10,000 if he could return the banner and that $200,000 would be paid to his mother if he was detained. He said that he took the banner in effort to help his family with financial difficulties and to try to join the Z Society, an organization at the University of Virginia. But this should be viewed with skepticism, as many people who have been detained in North Korea and made a public confession have recanted their statements after being released.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in March by North Korea’s highest court after only a one-hour trial, leading to international condemnation. Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the sentence: “North Korea’s sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, in a statement. President Obama responded with new sanctions against North Korea.

Since his sentencing, veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson has been pushing for Warmbier’s release. As of late, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has also taken up the cause. But there is a case to be made against this effort and in favor of leaving Warmbier to his fate. Let us explore that case.

The Case Against Rescue

First, leaving Warmbier to serve his sentence has propaganda value against North Korea. Difficult though it may be to imagine North Korea in a positive light, there are those who do so, and thus it is necessary to engage them on the propaganda front. Many people are empiricists to the extent of being anti-rational, and thus need a clear example of statist tyranny to convince them that such regimes are a moral evil. His continued captivity provides such an example. At the national level, such actions harm North Korea’s standing among other nations. As Napoleon said, “When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him.”

Second, Warmbier’s captivity will serve as a warning to those who would follow in his footsteps. As long as he remains in a North Korean labor camp, it will be clear to all who would think of traveling to North Korea that a long state-sponsored kidnapping and enslavement may be the result. Once again, there are people who need a current ongoing example to remind them of this.

Third, North Korea has a history of using the detention of foreigners as a means of exerting pressure on its adversaries. It is therefore likely that Warmbier’s release will come at a cost. At the time of this writing, it is too early to say how President Trump will handle such situations, but President Obama has established a dangerous precedent of not only negotiating with terrorists, but doing so incompetently. The Bowe Bergdahl exchange and the Iran nuclear deal both come to mind as transactions in which America offered far too much and received far too little in return. This has established a dangerous precedent that concessions may be obtained from the American government by harming American citizens or interests abroad.

Fourth, negotiating with and providing concessions to North Korea rewards them for bad behavior. Behavior which is subsidized will occur more frequently, so a generous offer made to secure Warmbier’s release will only encourage other malevolent actors to abduct Americans in the hopes of receiving their own hefty ransom. Therefore, those who seek Warmbier’s release may actually be contributing to the victimization of other Americans in the future.

Fifth, Warmbier’s continued imprisonment will send a message that if an American travels abroad to a hostile country and gets into trouble with the regime there, neither the American people nor the American government will save such people from themselves. An essential aspect of liberty is the ability to take one’s own risks, reap one’s own rewards, and suffer one’s own consequences without external interference. Warmbier did the first of these, and now he is doing the last. No one forced Warmbier to travel to North Korea. When he was there, no one forced him to steal a propaganda banner, if that is indeed what happened. He either knew or should have known that such behavior was dangerous and could result in his current predicament.

Objections

Mainstream thinkers will likely be protesting that the North Koreans are aggressors who are holding an innocent man captive. They will accuse anyone who advocates abandoning Warmbier of victim blaming, heartlessness, and letting North Korea get away with criminal behavior. Such thinkers should learn to avoid context denial. That the North Koreans are aggressors who are holding an innocent man captive is true, but beside the point. The point is that there is nothing to be done about it which does not have worse long-term consequences than letting Warmbier remain in a North Korean labor camp. Rescuing one man by force is not worth starting a war in which many more innocent people die. Diplomatically negotiating for his release sends the wrong message to others who would capture Americans for their own advancement.

As for victim blaming, there is nothing wrong with it in cases in which the victim really is to blame; i.e. the victim did something stupid in order to become a victim. While Warmbier does not deserve the treatment he is receiving, a rational person would have had every reason to expect it, given North Korea’s history of capturing foreign visitors and using them as bargaining chips to gain concessions from their governments. Furthermore, it is always better to be heartless than to be brainless.

Finally, there is the question of whether the state should block a private effort by the Warmbier family to offer a ransom in exchange for Otto’s release. Again, the theoretical libertarian answer is no but the realpolitik answer is yes. In theory, they should be able to use any means necessary to defend against the aggressors and reclaim their family member. In a better society, they might be able to rally private defense agencies to their side to overthrow the North Korean government and liberate everyone living under it. But because they are not going to subdue the North Korean government by force and ransoming Otto will only encourage rogue states and terrorists to capture more people in the future, it is best to block such attempts.

Conclusion

As terrible as Otto Warmbier’s situation is, leaving him to it is the least of several evils, so it should be done.

On Market Failure

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. Though the term itself has only been in use since 1958, the concept can be traced back to Henry Sidgwick. It is used to describe a situation in which the allocation of goods and services is Pareto inefficient. This occurs when the rational self-interest of individuals is at odds with the optimal outcome for a collective. Such a situation is frequently blamed on conflicts of interest, factor immobility, information asymmetry, monopolies, negative externalities, public goods, and/or time-inconsistent preferences. Among these, monopolies, negative externalities, and public goods receive the most attention from mainstream economists.

But let us pause to consider what a market is. A market is a structure that allows buyers and sellers to exchange goods, services, and information. The participants in the market for a particular commodity consist of everyone who influences the price of that commodity. To say that a market has failed is to say that this process of assembling the information about a commodity which is reflected in its price and its change over time has failed. But the causes listed above are either inconsistent with a free market or unresolvable by interventions which bind the market. Let us explore this in detail.

Monopolies

While monopolies are frequently blamed for market failures, a monopoly in a particular market is typically the result of government intervention which has raised barriers to entry in that market. Through a vicious cycle of regulatory capture, larger businesses can put smaller competitors out of business by bribing politicians and regulators to favor the former and harm the latter. This continues until a market is effectively monopolized. Therefore, this type of monopoly is actually a government failure rather than a market failure.

Another type of monopoly can occur when there are natural barriers to entry, such as the need to build vast amounts of infrastructure in order to provide a good or service. This can give the first entrant into a market an insurmountable advantage. Consumers may then complain that this monopolist is abusing them rather than show gratitude that they are getting a service which was formerly nonexistent. But if the monopolist were really overcharging, then it would become feasible for another provider to either challenge the monopoly directly or provide an alternative service. This type of monopoly is actually a market signal that a particular good or service would be better provided by another means, and entrepreneurs should look for those means.

Third, a monopoly can arise in a free market if one business satisfies all consumers of a good or service to such an extent that no one cares to compete against them. This kind of monopoly is not a market failure, but an astonishing market success.

This leaves only the ‘public goods’ argument, which merits its own section.

Public Goods

Public goods and services are those whose consumption cannot be limited to paying customers. It is frequently argued that this produces waste in the form of unnecessary duplication and excess costs born by those who are not free riders. There is also the matter that non-excludable and rivalrous resources in a commons may be depleted without intervention. The latter can only be fully resolved by eliminating the commons, as restoring exclusive control to the resource is the only method of eliminating the perverse incentives created by a commons. The concerns over free riding and unnecessary duplication ignore incentives, prove too much, and commit the broken window fallacy.

If we wish to have a rational discussion, it is essential to define terms. A problem is an undesirable situation which can be remedied. This is because a situation which is not undesirable presents no problem to solve, and an undesirable situation which has no remedy is just a fact which must be tolerated. The free rider “problem” is a situation of the latter type, as it is impractical to make sure that everyone pays exactly what they should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume. That government monopolies destroy competition, and thus the market price system, makes the free rider “problem” impossible to solve, as the information needed to determine how much each person should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume is destroyed beyond repair.

If taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good means that the state should be eliminated, as the very presence of a state means that some people are consuming more than and paying for less than their fair share of the total wealth in the economy, as states are funded by coercive means which violate private property rights. Those who receive government welfare payments, bailouts, grants, or any other form of government funding are free riding upon the backs of taxpayers and anyone else who uses currency printed by a government’s central bank. The latter group of people are forced riders who are required to pay for public goods from which they receive insufficient benefit. Charity would also be unjustifiable if the concept of the free rider problem is taken to its logical conclusion, as those who receive charity are not paying the full cost for what they are using.

But suppose we ignore this as well. If we accept for the sake of argument that there are public goods and that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good, then the result will be a massive distortion of the economy, as both the state and private charity must go. While the demise of statism is nothing to lament, the absence of any form of private charity would lead to the very sort of Hobbesian war that statists fear and think that they are preventing. It must also be noted that the money for payments for public goods which are now being made was once being put toward another purpose. Whether that purpose was spending on other goods and services or investment (which is really just another form of spending), the diversion of spending away from these purposes and toward public goods will eliminate some other economic activities that were occurring.

Nearly all competitive production involves supposedly wasteful duplication, in that each provider must have the infrastructure necessary to produce that which is being provided. But if the duplication is truly wasteful, the market signals this by rendering the wasteful duplication unprofitable. Government intervention interferes with such signals, and government control over an industry completely eliminates them, leading to far worse government failures than any failure of the market.

Externalities

A problem related to public goods is the problem of externalities, in which costs or benefits affect a party who did not choose to incur those costs or benefits. When firms do not pay the full cost of production, each unit costs less to produce than it should, resulting in overproduction.

The most frequent examples given are pollution, traffic congestion, and overuse of natural resources, but all of these contain externalities because the market has been prevented by governments from internalizing the costs. Air and water pollution are externalities because government intervention on behalf of polluters has eliminated the common law system of private property rights with regard to pollution. Before the Industrial Revolution, pollution was correctly viewed as an act of aggression against people and their property. Those victimized could sue for damages and obtain injunctions against further pollution. Polluters and victims can also bargain to reach an optimal level of both production and pollution. Additionally, the victims would be justified in using violence in self-defense against polluters, though this is an historical rarity. But government monopolization of environmental regulation has prevented these market solutions from being implemented. Therefore, pollution is a government failure rather than a market failure.

Traffic congestion is another tragedy of the commons that causes externalities in the form of pollution, wasted fuel, and lost time. But this is another case in which governments have monopolized a good and produced it out of accordance with market demand. Without competing private firms to build different traffic systems in search of more efficient ones and without private property rights determining location and control over the transportation system, we are left with a non-excludable good that is incentivized toward overuse. Attempted solutions of congestion pricing, mass transit, and tolls mitigate some effects, but not to the extent that private service providers might implement such methods. Again, we have government failure at work.

A third example of externalities occurs with overuse of natural resources, such as fish and lumber. But once more, we see government intervention against private property mechanisms creating problems. Because state personnel in modern democracies do not personally benefit from maintaining the value of state-controlled property and work almost solely with the usufruct thereof, they are incentivized to engage in bribery and corruption. When states sell only the resource rights but not the territory itself, they get a renewable source of income. But firms that harvest renewable resources can abuse this system, stripping the resource bare then vanishing when it is time to replenish. These ‘fly-by-night’ lumber companies, fishers, and other such exploiters lead to the fast demise of resources which were harvested and preserved for centuries prior to state intervention. In short, government fails yet again.

Before moving on, a quick word about positive externalities is in order. This is another way of talking about the free rider problem, so the same criticisms discussed above apply. But we should also consider the benefits of free riders. Although some people will argue that free riders are responsible for higher costs, they are actually signaling that a good or service is overpriced. While degenerate freeloaders do exist, most free riders who are aware of their free riding are willing to pay for what they are receiving but believe that said goods or services are overpriced. In the state-enforced absence of another provider, they choose to “pirate” the public goods rather than pay the cost which they believe to be too expensive. If there are rational, knowledgeable people in charge of a public good that has many free riders, then they will respond by lowering the cost to convince more people to contribute, which can actually raise the total contribution.

The above result is rare, of course, as rational, knowledgeable people tend to be productive rather than become part of the state apparatus. The more useful role of free riders is to crash government programs which cannot be ended by normal political means. Most government programs help a few people by a large magnitude while harming a much larger number of people by a much smaller amount. This means that an irate and tireless minority will work to keep their sacred cow from being gored, while the majority is not being harmed enough to take action to end the harm. Thus, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program, and it is politically impossible to abolish entitlement and welfare programs. While the strategy of overloading such programs was first proposed by leftists who wished to replace them with far more expansive redistributions of wealth, it could also be used by libertarian-minded people who wish to replace such programs with nothing.

Other Culprits

The less-discussed causes of market failure are conflicts of interest, factor immobility, information asymmetry, and time-inconsistent preferences. This is mostly because government intervention is more widely known to either cause these problems or fail to solve them. Conflicts of interest typically occur when an agent has a self-interest which is at odds with the principal that the agent is supposed to serve. For example, a lawyer may advise his client to enter protracted legal proceedings not because it is best for the client, but because it will generate more income for the lawyer. A politician may vote for a law not because it is in the best interest of the people in her district, but because she was bribed by lobbyists who support the law. The only solution to a conflict of interest is to recuse oneself from the conflict, and government offers no answer, especially since it inherently operates on conflict of interest.

Factor immobility occurs when factors of production, such as land, capital, and labor, cannot easily move between one area of the economy and another. This sometimes occurs due to malinvestment caused by government distortions of the economy; in other cases, it results from technological advancement that puts an industry into obsolescence. In any event, government regulations frequently make it more difficult to change occupations and maneuver capital than it would be in a free market. Interventions to help workers in a declining field typically fall victim to the knowledge problem; it cannot accurately retrain workers or educate future workers because it cannot know what the economy will need by the time the retraining or education is complete.

Information asymmetry occurs when some parties in a transaction has more and/or better information than others. This creates a power disparity which is sometimes called a market failure in the worst cases. Common sub-types of information asymmetry include adverse selection and moral hazard. Adverse selection occurs when one party lacks information while negotiating a contract, while moral hazard involves a lack of information about performance or an inability to obtain appropriate relief for a breach of contract. These cases are made worse by government laws, as laws can lead to both adverse selection and moral hazard. For example, an insurance firm that is legally disallowed from discriminating against high-risk customers is itself put at a higher risk through no fault or will of its own, being unable to turn away those who cost the most to insure or cancel insurance policies for reckless behavior by the insured. Fortunately, there are market methods for resolving informational asymmetries, such as rating agencies.

Time-inconsistent preferences occur when people make decisions which are inconsistent with expected utility. For example, one might choose to have ten ounces of gold today rather than eleven ounces tomorrow. Time preferences are expressed economically through interest rates, in that interest rates are the premium placed upon having something now rather than waiting for it. Governments interfere with interest rates through central bank monetary policies, leading to alterations of time preference that can be inconsistent. This is still another example of government failure rather than market failure.

Resource Failure

Another possibility for market failure which is rarely discussed is that of resource failure. If an economy becomes dependent upon a certain non-renewable resource, that resource becomes scarce, and there is no viable alternative, the result can be devastating not only to markets, but to peoples’ lives as a whole. For example, if peak oil occurs and there is no alternative energy source available to meet the energy demands fulfilled by fossil fuels, a market failure will occur due to resource failure. Another historical example is the destruction of trees on Easter Island. Resource failure is generally not amenable to government policy, and may be exacerbated by it if subsidies alter the market to keep it from finding the best solution to a resource shortage.

Complainer Failure

The last type of failure is not a market failure at all, but a failure by a critic to understand the nature of the market. Consumer demand does not drive the economy; capital investment does. The over-reliance on gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic output has fooled many people into believing otherwise, but GDP neglects intermediate production at the commodity, manufacturing, and wholesale stages of production. As such, consumer demand and spending are an effect of a healthy economy and not the cause.

With this in mind, the idea that the market has somehow failed when it does not produce everything that a particular person might want and deliver it exactly where they want it for a cost that the person finds agreeable is ridiculous. A person levying this criticism should be advised to check their hubris. If a certain good or service is not produced in a free market, it is because such production is not sufficiently worthwhile for anyone to make a living through doing so. The fact that everyone gets by without that good or service indicates that no failure has taken place. Those who desire that good or service so much should make an effort to provide it so that they can have it.

Standards

The entire idea of market failures is based on Pareto efficiency. But there is no reason why we must choose Pareto efficiency as the measure of market success. One could just as well define market efficiency as the degree to which it permits its participants to achieve their individual goals. (Note that these are equivalent if the conditions of the first welfare theorem are met.) Another possible standard is that of productive efficiency, which is optimized when no additional production can occur without increasing the amount of resources, time, and/or labor involved in production. An economy with maximum productive efficiency cannot produce more of one good without producing less of another good.

Conclusion

In every case, that which appears to be a market failure is actually a failure of government policy, natural resource management, or economic understanding. We may therefore reject the very idea of market failure as yet another form of statist propaganda.

Why JASTA Is Good

On September 28, 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. The Senate defeated the veto by a 97-1 vote, then the House voted 348-77 to override the veto hours later. Therefore, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, is now a law. The bill passed both houses of Congress without objection earlier in 2016.

It was the first veto override of Obama’s presidency, and the first since 2008. Under Article I, Section 7, Clauses 2-3 of the United States Constitution, Congress may override a presidential veto by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate.

Although no member of Congress spoke out against JASTA during the override procedure, Obama has argued that the law sets a dangerous precedent. It grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity, which could be a double-edged sword if other countries pass reciprocating legislation. This could expose American corporations, diplomats, politicians, and soldiers to lawsuits for their conduct overseas. This caused CIA Director John Brennan to warn that JASTA had “grave implications” for national security. Additionally, 28 senators signed a letter expressing reservations about the potential that JASTA will cause the United States to be sued in foreign courts “as a result of important military or intelligence activities.”

Why JASTA is Good

While the national security statists are scared of what Pandora’s box might have just been opened, this is excellent news for libertarians. This is because it chips away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, could give victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and could reveal clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Sovereign immunity is the legal doctrine by which the state can do no wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution. It is the ultimate manifestation of the fact that government will not hold government accountable because it is against the rational self-interest of those who wield state power. With the ability to grant immunity to themselves, government agents can engage with impunity in activities which are criminalized for the commoner, and they do so on an enormous scale. A double standard of this sort could never be tolerated in a libertarian social order. In a free society, the standard would have to be that actions which are criminal for one person are criminal for another. Wearing a costume and claiming affiliation with a government would be meaningless. For example, just as taxation is robbery, slavery, receiving stolen monies, transporting stolen monies, and conspiracy if private citizens behave identically to government tax collectors, so would a libertarian private court prosecute tax collectors. JASTA and potential reciprocating legislation does not go nearly far enough in this sense, but it is a potential first step toward more justice for the crimes of government personnel.

Speaking of crimes of government personnel, the American military and the civilians who preside over it have committed a great number of them. Since the end of World War II, American foreign policy has caused between 20 million and 30 million deaths. Economic sanctions have contributed to this death toll, while impoverishing many people who have survived and generally failing to achieve their stated objectives. These multitudes of victims deserve justice. With sovereign immunity in place, there is no forum in which they may seek judicial relief. Making peaceful dispute resolution impossible makes violent dispute resolution inevitable, so some people wronged by the United States government decide to seek vengeance in the form of joining terrorist groups to attack innocent Americans in retaliation for their losses. While such acts cannot be morally defended, they are certainly understandable. Reciprocation to JASTA provides a pathway to a more peaceful system of addressing grievances caused by American foreign policy. Even the possibility that Americans may be sued for their wrongful deeds overseas would create a chilling effect against bellicosity that libertarians should welcome.

As such cases begin, the discovery process of these lawsuits could make public certain activities being done in the name of all Americans which are currently unknown to the American people. While the civil religion of democratic statism should not be taken at face value, most people do, so it makes sense in context to have an informed electorate. The people cannot judge various military and intelligence operations if they never find out about them. With JASTA and reciprocating legislation, the newly possible lawsuits filed by foreigners victimized by Americans could serve to educate the American people on the nature of what is being done in their names. Even libertarians who oppose democracy should favor this result, as one cannot protest wrongs of which one remains ignorant.

Objections

JASTA could result in lawsuits for vicarious liability against civilian contractors who provide armaments and other equipment to people who are directly involved in foreign atrocities. This is a feature, not a bug. Knowingly providing a violent criminal institution with the means to victimize the innocent should be treated not only as a civil wrong, but as criminal behavior. Lawsuits against such parties could result in a chilling effect against providing the state with the means to perform its pernicious deeds, which would benefit the American people by weakening the state and resulting in less motivation for retaliatory terrorism against innocent Americans.

Because there is a condition of anarchy between sovereigns, there is no higher court whose judgments are binding and enforced across national boundaries. This means that citizens can sue foreign nation-states as they see fit, but winning a judgment offers no guarantee of payment because the foreign nation-state can simply ignore the court’s decision. This is true, but it does not diminish the indirect consequences of JASTA, which are the real reasons to support it.

Should such cases not be summarily dismissed, there is the potential for many thousands of cases to bog down the court system. But this can create a demand to privatize courts, or at least give more business to private arbitrators of disputes. Should the cases remain in government courts, it will take up time and resources which could otherwise be used to cause more harm to innocent Americans.

Finally, there is the concern that allowing such lawsuits will damage foreign relations after such judgments are ignored. This is also a feature rather than a bug, as the possibility of damage to foreign relations for denying claims for wrongdoing in foreign policy provides an incentive for governments to avoid committing so many atrocities overseas. A world in which citizens may sue foreign governments for damages is thus likely to be a more peaceful world.

Conclusion

Although one would be correct to be skeptical of any legislation that passes by such a wide margin, the likely secondary results of JASTA are intriguing and the fears of it are overblown. From a philosophical libertarian perspective, JASTA is clearly a net benefit.