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.

On the Use of Force Against the Commission on Presidential Debates

This is the second essay in a three-part series. In this essay, we will consider the philosophical case for using forceful means to protest the policies of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which are geared toward ensuring that the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates do not have to debate anyone else. The first essay discussed a peaceful method of protesting the policies of the CPD, and the third essay will detail the campaign of a hypothetical future third-party presidential candidate who makes use of the tactics described in the first and second essays.

History

In the weeks leading up to every United States presidential election, a series of debates between the candidates are held. When the current series of regular debates began in 1976, this was handled by the League of Women Voters. By 1987, the Republican and Democratic parties decided to take over control of the debates by creating the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul G. Kirk, the Republican and Democratic national chairmen at the time. In 1988, the League of Women Voters announced their withdrawal from debate sponsorship, saying in a statement that

“…the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

The CPD has controlled all presidential debates involving Republican and Democratic candidates since 1988. At a 1987 press conference announcing the commission’s creation, Fahrenkopf said that the commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in debates. Kirk said that third-party candidates should be excluded. A third-party candidate has only been invited once; Ross Perot was allowed to debate in 1992 because both major-party candidates believed that his presence was in their self-interest and would help to draw support away from their major-party opponent. Perot was excluded when he ran again in 1996, and finished with less than half of the votes he earned in 1992. In 2000, the CPD established a rule that for a candidate to be included in the national debates he or she must garner at least 15 percent support across five national polls. This arbitrary and capricious standard has kept all third-party candidates from debating since its inception.

Peaceful Efforts

There have been many efforts by third-party candidates to gain access to the debate stage. The direct approach of trying to reach 15 percent in national polls has obviously been tried by all, with universal failure. The American election system encourages two parties, the media enables the exclusion of alternative voices, campaign financiers donate to the two major parties to maintain their corrupt bargains with the state, ballot access laws are rigged against third parties, and the pollsters either exclude the names of third-party candidates or ask about them after focusing on a two-candidate match-up which will not appear on the ballot. This creates an uphill battle to reach 15 percent which has proven too difficult for any third-party candidate since Perot, and it likely requires the billions of dollars that he had available. These factors together create a Catch-22: A third-party candidate needs to be in the debates to get the polling numbers needed to be in the debates.

Some candidates have realized the absurdity of this setup and tried to fight against it. In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that corporate contributions to the CPD violate the Federal Election Campaign Act. The FEC ruled that they do not, and the D.C. Circuit Court declined to overrule the FEC. In 2004, Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik and Green Party candidate David Cobb were arrested in St. Louis, Mo. when they attempted to enter a debate to serve an order to show cause to the CPD. In 2012, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the CPD, the Democratic National Committee, and the Republican National Committee in D.C. Circuit Court, citing the Sherman Act and claiming “illegal conspiracy or contract in restraint of trade.” The injuctive relief was denied, and the case was eventually dismissed in 2014 due to lack of jurisdiction. Also in 2012, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala were arrested by Hofstra University campus security when they attempted to enter the debate site. They were handcuffed and detained in a warehouse for eight hours before being released. In 2015, Johnson, Stein, the Libertarian Party, and the Green Party filed suit against the CPD, DNC, RNC, Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney, claiming violation of anti-trust laws. The case was dismissed in August 2016 on spurious reasoning, leaving an insufficient amount of time for an appeal.

Efforts to bring down the CPD by going after its sponsors have been similarly fruitless. While such efforts did lead to BBH New York, YWCA USA, and Philips Electronics withdrawing their sponsorship of the 2012 debates, no meaningful impact was made. As the CPD is only important every four years, it is difficult to maintain public engagement long enough to organize an economically significant boycott of the CPD’s corporate sponsors. Even if it were possible to effect such a boycott, the CPD is mostly funded by a small number of private donors who would be unaffected by a boycott in any meaningful way because their identities are hidden.

There have also been debates organized by Free and Equal which invite the most prominent third-party candidates along with the major-party candidates. But as part of the memoranda of understanding that major-party candidates make with each other, they have always agreed not to engage in non-CPD debates with other candidates. All non-CPD debates since the CPD was founded have featured third-party candidates only, and accordingly receive almost no press coverage.

Resorting To Force

It is clear that this problem is not going to be solved in a passive and peaceful manner. Just as government will not hold government accountable because it not in their self-interest to do so, government will not hold accountable a non-profit organization that serves the interest of those who control the government. If the CPD is to be brought down and its sorry excuses for debates either opened to third parties or shut down, a more active and forceful response is required. An active but peaceful method of filling the live audience with anti-duopoly hecklers was detailed in the first essay and is certainly worth attempting, but it is the sort of protest which the CPD could easily prevent in the future by further restricting the audience or holding its events without an audience. As such, let us make a philosophical case for a protest which resorts to force.

In order to justify the use of force within a libertarian moral framework, it is necessary to show that an act of aggression is being perpetrated and that the use of force in question defends against that act of aggression. Let us begin by laying out the facts of the case:

  • The CPD holds debates between presidential candidates.
  • Its criteria are clearly designed to exclude third-party candidates and produce a head-to-head presentation of the two major-party candidates.
  • All available evidence shows that a candidate must appear in these debates in order to win a presidential election.
  • Peaceful efforts to include third-party candidates have been stopped by force.
  • The President is the chief executive of the United States government, wielding immense power and influence over both the American people and the rest of the world.
  • The United States government, like any government, is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area.

From these facts, it is clear that the CPD controls who gets to give orders to those who initiate force in American society, as well as who does not. Namely, only Republicans, Democrats, and those with enough money to run without either of the two parties gets a chance to do this. All others are excluded, and history shows that this exclusion is backed by violence. Involving oneself in third-party politics for the purpose of electing a president who will lessen the acts of aggression that government agents commit against people is unlikely to be the most effective method of defending oneself against the state, but it is a legitimate pragmatic option in a democratic statist system with a population that is unwilling to revolt. These defensive efforts are met with force by government agents who enforce the will of the CPD, DNC, and RNC. Further, the CPD and those who enforce their will act to silence the political speech of some people while amplifying the political speech of other people within a system in which there is no legitimate justification for doing so. Because such force is levied against defensive efforts, it is aggressive in nature, meaning that defensive force used against it is morally justified.

Next, we must consider which targets for this defensive force are legitimate and proper, concerns about organization, tactics and likely responses, and some potential objections.

Legitimate and Proper Targets

This is a case in which some legitimate targets for defensive force are not proper targets. This is because using force against them is within the bounds of the non-aggression principle, but doing so would not accomplish the goal. For example, using force against major-party presidential candidates is certainly justified as self-defense for other reasons, but doing so would be counterproductive in this case. The primary objective is to put third-party candidates on the debate stage for a proper discussion that informs the American people about all of their options, and this objective would be undermined by using violence against any presidential candidate. Neither would the secondary objective of shutting down CPD events be served by using force against the major-party nominees, as the DNC and/or RNC could simply substitute a new candidate and continue as before.

Likewise, using force against debate moderators, establishment press members covering the debate, or administrators of the hosting university would harm the cause. Even though they are complicit in acts of aggression against third-party candidates and their supporters, using force against them would make the protesters appear far less sympathetic to the American people. The legitimate and proper targets are the CPD board members, the debates themselves, and those who use force to protect them. The use of defensive force should be limited to them if at all possible. This would only become difficult in the event of a counter-offensive against the protesters in which major-party candidates, debate moderators, establishment press members, or university faculty decided to participate. Government agents are almost certain to disallow them from doing so, making this a dismissible concern.

Organization

A third-party candidate who has been excluded from the debates by the 15 percent rule but has enough ballot access to win the election and is constitutionally eligible to serve as President would have to be involved in any successful plan for forceful action. This is because it would be all but pointless to hear from a candidate who cannot win and serve, and fruitless to use force to place a candidate in the debates if the candidate does not wish to be so placed. An effort independent from any campaign to organize such an effort would be unlikely to result in anything other than a visit from federal agents to the organizers of said effort. But the candidate cannot be too involved. The candidate needs plausible deniability in order to avoid criminal charges, disavow anyone who goes off script, and be able to become President without having to worry about immediate impeachment.

A forceful protest would have to be organized outside of publicly available channels such as social media platforms, as using non-clandestine communications would alert government agents and result in the protesters being raided and arrested before they could begin. Plans would need to rely primarily upon existing groups near the area of a protest (such as local militia organizations) as well as campaign activists who are not officially connected to a campaign. This is because bringing in large numbers of armed people to a location from elsewhere would arouse suspicion, and involving official campaign staff is likely to get the candidate charged with crimes. Finally, such an effort would need to be planned several months in advance in order to get participants organized, mobilized, and familiarized with the specifics of the operation.

Tactics and Responses

A forceful protest against the CPD could take several forms. The most direct approach would be for a third-party candidate to march on a debate site with a group of armed supporters, declare that they are entering the debate site to place the candidate on stage, and indicate a willingness to escalate the use of force as far as necessary to accomplish this goal. The two most likely responses to this approach would be a violent skirmish in which the third-party candidate and many other people are injured or killed, or the cancellation of the debate due to the security risk being presented. Which one of the two occurred would depend on whether the security forces believed they could win a battle with the protesters. Further debates would be under much heavier guard to make sure that no other candidate attempts such an effort. As such, the direct approach strategy may be crossed off the list.

A second strategy would be to occupy the CPD offices in Washington, D.C. for the purpose of shutting down the CPD at the source. This would involve holding CPD personnel captive inside their headquarters and demanding open debates as the condition for their release. This approach is also very likely to go awry. Resistance on the part of the CPD personnel could very easily result in bloodshed, as could ignoring the protesters’ demands. If this were the only activity undertaken by protesters, then the debates could proceed as planned, putting the protesters in a position of either having to back down or escalate to harming the CPD personnel. This method would also be a public relations nightmare, as no one likes people who take hostages. The most likely response would be a SWAT raid that exterminates the protesters, followed by an establishment media demonization of all third-party candidates. As such, the office takeover strategy is also unviable.

A third method would be to occupy debate venues in advance for the purpose of shutting down CPD events unless they abolish the 15 percent rule and open the debates to all candidates who meet the constitutional eligibility and ballot access requirements. The CPD typically chooses three presidential debate sites, one vice presidential debate site, and an alternate site to use in case one of the former four becomes unusable for some reason. An armed occupation of all five sites for the duration of the debate season would require a few hundred people at each site and provisions to last three to four weeks. More protesters would need to be ready nationwide in order to prevent any hastily scheduled alternatives from having a venue, but given the amount of planning that is required for construction and security, these are not events which could be moved easily. Unlike the former two methods, the protesters would be in a defensive rather than an offensive posture once in position. This method also does far more to stop CPD activities because it targets said activities directly.

While it is true that government agents could overpower the protesters, doing so would needlessly spill a great amount of blood and give them some very negative press. Given the history of standoff incidents and the retaliations which have resulted from them, government agents tend to be more reserved about such confrontations than they once were. Thus, the most likely response by the CPD would be to cancel the debates for the election cycle, with the next most likely response being to give in to the protesters’ demands. Of course, the establishment media would have every reason to demonize the protesters, so there would have to be eloquent and reasonable public speakers among the protesters who could clearly articulate their objectives, why they are resorting to forceful means, and refute establishment media lies and fallacies. The rise of alternative media is certain to make a positive narrative easier to craft.

Objections

The first objection which may be raised is that the CPD is a private organization, and therefore its members have the right to admit or exclude whomever they want. This is an autistic response, as it completely denies the context of the situation. Neither the CPD, the DNC, nor the RNC are free market entities that operate by providing goods and services through voluntary means. These are organizations that are used by the elite to maintain their stranglehold on state power and the unfair advantages that they gain therefrom. While the CPD is considered a private, non-profit organization for legal purposes, it should not be regarded as a private organization for the purpose of determining what its members should be allowed to do because it is an instrument used by those who control the government as a means of perpetuating that control.

Second, some will argue that using force against the CPD violates the non-aggression principle. This stems from the proportionality of force doctrine and the immediate danger doctrine, two perversions of libertarian theory which were introduced by leftist entryists. If a defender may not use any amount of force necessary to stop an aggressor, then all an aggressor need do to get away with immoral behavior is to use force in such a way that the defender cannot use enough force to stop the aggressor. If one may only use force in a situation of immediate danger, then people are left without a way to recover stolen property, stop someone who hires hitmen, defend themselves against state aggression, or do much of anything about criminals who can obfuscate responsibility. With these fake libertarian theories rebutted, the facts of the case discussed earlier clearly demonstrate that the CPD is an aggressor.

A third objection is that all of the above uses of force described in the previous section can result in multiple felony charges for each protester. This is true, but it is no argument against such strategies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail,

“One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”

Just as government will not hold accountable itself or a non-profit organization that serves the interest of those who control the government because it is against their rational self-interest to do so, it is also in their self-interest to criminalize methods of protest which are capable of meaningfully challenging the establishment. Note that should a third-party candidate win a presidential election because his or her supporters resorted to force to stop the CPD from hosting exclusionary debates, the powers of the Presidency could be used to grant a full pardon to everyone involved. The only caveat is that the candidate must maintain a degree of distance from the protesters, as failure to do so could lead to impeachment proceedings.

A fourth concern is that presidential elections do not seem to change the course of the nation very much. Regardless of who wins, the deep state continues as before because there is no rational incentive for a politician to rein it in. In the current framework, this is true. But political campaigns can function as an outreach method for anti-establishment movements of all types because people give more weight to someone who is in the running to have a position of political authority over them. People who would normally never be listened to can gain a platform for their messages by running for office. That being said, it is likely that altering or abolishing the presidential debate structure would allow for different kinds of presidential candidates to win elections, some of whom may eschew realpolitik to rein in the deep state for ideological reasons.

Fifth, one may wonder why we should go after the presidential debates when there are bigger fish to fry. After all, liberty requires revolution, so why not try to end the state now? The answer is that the manpower and resources to succeed in such an endeavor are not yet available. The number of people required to stop the CPD would probably be a thousandfold less than the number of people required to abolish the United States government, and we must work within our means if we wish to be successful. That being said, a large conflagration begins with a single spark, and using force to attempt to stop the CPD could achieve this regardless of the end result. If the protest is successful, then those who would address their grievances by direct action will be emboldened. If government agents crush the protest, then many people will be angry and willing to seek retribution. Either outcome is favorable for a more broad revolutionary movement.

Conclusion

Finally, there is the objection that the use of force to gain debate access does not bear thinking about because no candidate is willing to do it. Unfortunately, this is true at the time of this writing. There are only two third parties of significance in 2016; the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Addressing a grievance by force of arms is not the style of the Green Party. The 2016 Libertarian ticket consists of moderate ex-Republican governors, not revolutionaries who would be willing to resort to forceful tactics. The Constitution Party and other small third parties lack the voter base and popular support to mount such an effort, even if they were willing. It is thus clear that we should expect to see no armed protests in 2016, and the CPD will get away with their shenanigans once again. But as this may not always be the case, the third essay will consider a hypothetical future election in which there is a third-party candidate who decides to force his way onto the debate stage.

The Ethics Of Political Assassinations

At a campaign rally on August 9, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was discussing the possibility of Hillary Clinton appointing justices to the Supreme Court who could weaken gun rights, as well as what might be done about it. He said,

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if Hillary gets to put her judges in, right now we’re tied.”

Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. Though the Trump campaign tried to clarify that he was speaking of energizing voters to stop Clinton at the polls, the Secret Service spoke with the Trump campaign, Clinton used the remarks for political hay, other Republicans denounced the remarks, and the lapdog media devoted entire blocks of programming to attacking Trump, accusing him of calling for Clinton’s assassination. How dare anyone speak of self-defense against a tyrannical government, they effectively said? How dare anyone inform the populace, even accidentally, of the true purpose of the Second Amendment? How dare anyone to the right of Leon Trotsky even think of political violence? On and on they went, decrying such a move as yet another sign of Trump being too dangerous a choice for the Presidency.

But should Trump be backpedaling? Was he really wrong to make such a suggestion, or is there a case to be made for political assassination? Let us examine both the moral and practical cases for political assassinations at an abstract and philosophical level, that we may apply them not to one politician, but to all.

The Moral Case

The word ‘assassinate’ is defined as “to kill (someone, such as a famous or important person) usually for political reasons.” Thus, it is just a fancy term for killing a particular kind of person for a particular reason. But a person’s fame or importance in the opinion of other people is of no concern with regard to objective moral standards. As such, we need only consider when it is justifiable to kill any person, regardless of their standing or affiliation. Fortunately, libertarian philosophy makes this simple. The non-aggression principle says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable, but using force defensively to stop an initiator of force is always acceptable. The question of how much defensive force may be used is also easy to answer. If a defender may not use any amount of force necessary to subdue an aggressor, then all an aggressor need do to get away with aggressive behavior is to use force in such a way that the defender cannot use enough force to subdue the aggressor. To believe in limitations on defensive force is to believe that might makes right, which is the antithesis of both philosophy and morality. Thus, unlimited force is justified in order to defend against an aggressor.

The state is defined as a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiating the use of force within a geographical area. Some people are directly involved in this; these are the police, military, and other enforcement agents of the state. Other people are indirectly involved; these are the politicians, bureaucrats, and regulators. The enforcement class are clearly legitimate targets for defensive force, as they are direct aggressors. Their job is to initiate the use of force on behalf of the latter group, escalating the use of force as far as they must in order to gain compliance. But the political class are also involved in aggression, as they give the enforcers the orders that they carry out. To say that they may not be forcefully defended against equivalent to saying that one may kill aggressors in self-defense but must hold harmless any people who are hiring and directing the aggressors. This is an absurd result because it places the onus upon the would-be victim to spend one’s life either evading a practically endless series of aggressors or giving into their demands rather than allowing the would-be victim to end the threat. Because the political class gives commands to the enforcement class and will hire more members to join the enforcement class should some be killed by the civilian population, members of the political class are as legitimate a target as members of the enforcement class. Therefore, political assassinations are morally justifiable.

Practical Concerns

Although political assassinations are morally justifiable, they tend to be tactically unwise. Whenever a politician is assassinated, another one steps into the office to take his or her place. Abolition of a political office solely by the means of eliminating its current occupant is impossible by design. Whereas people have been assassinating politicians for almost as long as there have been politicians, those who wield state power have figured out the necessity of having a line of succession for positions which are essential for the functioning of the state apparatus in order to ensure continuity of said apparatus. In many cases, there is even a mechanism to keep power within the same political faction should a politician have to replace an assassinated politician. The state is a hydra; cut off one head and more grow back in its place. If the state is to be abolished by force (and it must be), its body must be destroyed, which is to say the enforcement class rather than the political class. After all, the political class cannot rule if no one is willing to enforce their rule because the citizenry have made that occupation too hazardous.

Another disadvantage is that assassinations are frequently used by the ruling class as a pretext to disarm the citizenry and seize more power for themselves. Not only does it follow the dictum of never allowing a crisis to go to waste, but it allows state propagandists to fear-monger and portray an environment of random predation that can strike even the rulers, necessitating an expansion of state power and curtailment of civil liberties because according to them, it is the only possible provider of security. The lapdog media would, of course, do its part to paint those who would use violence in self-defense against government as deranged lunatics and those in government as the heroes who will protect everyone from this “danger.” Lone assassins lack the means to shut enough of their lying mouths, and there are still few people in the alternative media who are willing to defend political assassinations, so the establishment narrative would become dominant. The end result is that the state is empowered by small, isolated attacks upon its figureheads. Only a more robust resistance against the enforcement class rather than the political class could overcome these challenges.

That being said, political assassinations can serve as a form of vigilante justice. Everyone knows that government will not hold government accountable, as the practical purpose of the state is to do that which would be criminal for anyone else and use the state’s monopoly on criminal justice to escape punishment. Politicians and their minions frequently victimize people, then hide behind the legal shield of sovereign immunity should people try to use the courts to seek justice. When people are wronged and they can find no justice through the system for dispute resolution because the system will not turn on itself, vigilante justice is better than no justice at all.

Finally, political assassinations can have value to an anti-state movement as propaganda of the deed. In any revolution, someone must make the first move, and there are usually many people who would be willing to revolt but are unwilling to make that first move. One assassin willing to eliminate a high-profile target and sacrifice one’s liberty (and possibly life as well) by doing so can be both the catalyst and the martyr for a revolutionary movement that topples an oppressive regime.

Conclusion

The probability that political assassinations will bring liberty by themselves is slim, but there is no objective moral prohibition against utilizing such tactics. Whether to resort to such measures is a subjective value judgment that each individual or group must make. As always, an essential feature of liberty is to take one’s own risks, reap one’s own rewards, and suffer one’s own consequences. What is certain is that, in the famous words of Otto von Bismarck, “It is not by speeches and majority resolutions that the great questions of the day are decided—but by iron and blood.”

Government Will Not Hold Government Accountable

Since the beginning of statism, rulers have sought to monopolize the provision of justice and criminal punishment for obvious reasons. Not only is it lucrative to do so, in the form of rulers taking for themselves in fines what should be given to victims in restitution, but it also allows for agents of the state to engage with impunity in activities which are criminalized for the commoner. Since time immemorial for those alive at the time of this writing, the nation-state has done so the world over. But when a government politician or enforcement agent is examined by government investigators or tried in a government court, this creates a conflict of interest. Government prosecutors and judges may be interested in promoting justice (or an illusion thereof), but they must also interested in maintaining the structure of state power, which may be endangered by indicting or convicting a politician or enforcement agent. And then there is the matter that the laws being used by said investigators, prosecutors, and judges are monopolized by the state, the common result of which is that a politician or enforcement agent is exonerated for what would land a commoner in prison.

While there is a long line of abuses and usurpations stretching back millennia, three well-publicized concrete examples of these problems have manifested themselves just in the United States in the month prior to the time of this writing. These are the non-indictment of Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified information, the overturning of Bob McDonnell’s conviction for political corruption, and the acquittal of Caesar Goodson in the Freddie Gray case. Let us consider each of these cases.

Hillary Clinton

While Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she used private email servers and mobile devices to conduct government business. On July 5, 2016, an FBI investigation found that “from the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were ‘up-classified’ to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.” Three additional classified emails were found outside of the group of 30,000, one Secret and two Confidential. Evidence was found that Clinton or her colleagues were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” According to FBI director James Comey, “None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.” It was assessed that hostile actors could have gained access to Clinton’s email account and that they did gain access to email accounts belonging to people who corresponded with Clinton on classified matters.

Despite such a damning litany, Comey recommended that no charges be brought. Although the requirements for criminal charges under USC Title 18, Section 793, Subsection F were clearly met, Comey set up a straw man by claiming that there is not sufficient evidence of intent, even though intent is not part of the statute. This is for good reason because negligence in protecting classified information that can put innocent people in danger, and is therefore a malicious form of incompetence. Comey’s language concerning a “reasonable prosecutor” (whatever that means) was especially concerning, as it condemns as unreasonable anyone in the Department of Justice who might disagree with Comey’s recommendations. It is also noteworthy that Gen. David Petraeus and Maj. Jason Brezler were pushed out of the military in recent years for less.

The most likely explanations for this result are that Attorney General Loretta Lynch received her major career push from former President Bill Clinton, that Hillary could expose much deeper issues and many more violations in response to being indicted, that Comey lacks the fortitude to upset the electoral apple cart, and that Democrats care more about keeping power than accountability.

Bob McDonnell

In 2014, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted of accepting more than $175,000 in gifts, loans and other benefits from Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for the governor’s help in securing state testing of dietary product. Bob was sentenced to two years in prison for bribery and extortion, while Maureen was sentenced to one year and one day for corruption. He appealed his conviction, which was upheld by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015. The Supreme Court reviewed the case and overturned the conviction on June 27, 2016.

At issue was whether Gov. McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts. An “official act” is defined as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit. The Court decided 8-0 that the prosecutor’s view of an “official act” was too broad, and that although McDonnell conduct was “tawdry,” it should not have resulted in a criminal conviction.

Jack Abramoff, a former congressional lobbyist who was imprisoned for fraud, corruption, and conspiracy, said of the ruling,

“I continue to be concerned by what seems to be a lack of understanding on the part of the justices that a little bit of money can breed corruption. When somebody petitioning a public servant for action provides any kind of extra resources — money or a gift or anything — that affects the process. People come to think those seeking favors and giving you things are your friends, your buddies. Human nature is such that your natural inclination is, ‘He has done something for me, what can I do for him?’ The minute that has crept into the public service discussion, that is a problem.”

Whereas the overarching theme of this article is conflict of interest, it is worth noting that the very Supreme Court justices who decided this case are themselves the recipients of lavish paid trips and gifts from private donors.

Caesar Goodson

On April 12, 2015, Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray for possessing what was alleged to be an illegal switchblade. While Gray had a prior criminal record, some of which was comprised of crimes against people and property, simple possession of a switchblade knife would not be criminal in a free society unless one were on private property whose owner disallows such armaments. While being transported in a police van driven by Officer Caesar Goodson, Gray was rendered comatose and was taken to a trauma center where he died on April 19. His death was caused by injuries to his spinal cord. It was found upon investigation that Gray was not secured properly in the van; he was handcuffed and foot shackled, but not buckled to his seat.

Goodson opted for a bench trial rather than a trial by jury. On June 23, 2016, Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Goodson of all charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder, second-degree assault, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicles (criminal and gross negligence), reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. These charges could have resulted in up to a 30-year prison sentence. Williams claimed that the prosecution lacked the evidence to prove its case. Williams acquitted another officer involved in the case in May 2016.

The Common Problem

The thread which ties together these seemingly disparate cases is that all of them involve certain or nearly certain misdeeds by government personnel. These personnel are then subject to what is essentially an internal review, as they are investigated by another branch of the same organization. The investigation predictably finds that no wrongdoing worthy of prosecution or conviction occurred unless the conduct was so egregious that it is simply impossible to cover up, and the bar for this is set quite high.

Government will not hold government accountable because it is not in their interest. The only way to solve this conflict of interest is to eliminate it. If we are to have justice for the crimes of government personnel, we must take direct action to end the government monopoly on criminal justice. The remainder of this essay will consider what forms this might take and address likely objections.

Solving The Problem

The first response of most people when confronted with a proposal to end a government monopoly on a service is that one must be objecting to any organized provision of that service at all. In other words, they assume a false dilemma between state laws, police, courts, and prisons, or a vigilantist free-for-all. There is something positive to be said for vigilante justice, in that it can be better than no justice at all, and no justice at all is what the government system tends to provide for those who are victimized by the state. Vigilantism can also demonstrate that an oppressed people have had enough, and that those in power should listen to their grievances lest they be removed from power by an angry mob. But vigilantism has a tendency to descend into directionless violence that accomplishes nothing in the long run. As such, it is necessary to construct competing criminal justice systems which can replace the government monopoly and provide the due process that a lynch mob cannot.

Laws

We must, of course, start with the law itself, for no good cider may be made from poisoned apples. Government laws have extended into every facet of life and have become so complex that most people run afoul of the law on a regular basis without even realizing it. Without a government monopoly on laws, people would have the freedom to choose their own legal codes by either choosing from a number of law service providers or going into business as such a service provider. This system in which only the laws that people are willing to financially support through voluntary means can be enforced would have the effect of shrinking the laws which are mandatory for every person to the bare minimum; no murder, slavery, rape, kidnapping, assault, theft, vandalism, and so forth. Any activity which does not constitute aggression against a person or their property would not be criminal unless one had agreed not to engage in that activity as part of a valid contract, which is a contract that all parties enter into without fraud or coercion and that does not demand the impossible. This would swiftly eliminate police confrontations with citizens over such issues as possessing a state-disapproved kind of weapon or drug, or engaging in a state-disapproved business venture.

Police

Next, we must consider the enforcers of the law. When the state has a monopoly on law enforcement, its agents can break the law with impunity to the extent that the statist system will not hold itself accountable. But in a system of competing private enforcers, the agents of one police company may be held in check by agents of all of the other police companies as well as a considerably more armed citizenry, as gun control laws would almost certainly be among the government laws which would fall by the wayside. Without the ability to enforce higher-order aspects of legal codes to which people have not consented and with the much greater probability that overreaching enforcers may be fired or martially defeated, non-government police lack the mechanisms that make government police so oppressive.

Courts

Third, we must consider private court systems. Without government laws and courts, every interaction between people of any complexity would need to involve a contract to specify how the people involved in the interaction agree to handle disputes which may arise between them. Individuals would likely hire insurance companies to co-sign their contracts for the purpose of ensuring that victims get restitution without having to wait for a contract breaker to provide it. Should one engage in criminal activity, one would be tried in a court specified by one’s contracts, with the appeals process also specified. Failure to abide by the ruling that one contracted to abide by would be economically crippling, as private defenders and dispute mediators would treat this as a risk worthy of raising a person’s rates significantly or even dropping them as a customer. Being without private defenders and dispute mediators would leave one in a difficult position, as one would have trouble buying, selling, entering into contracts, or even defending oneself.

Punishment

Fourth, we must consider how a private legal system will deal with punishment and restitution. While the libertarian theoretical limits of punishment are quite broad, there is no reason why these limits must be approached in every case. Punishment in a libertarian society would generally take the form of forced restitution in cases where an aggressor refuses to make restitution without being forced, with the possibility of “eye for an eye” punishments where restitution is impossible.

In a private justice system, prisons would be tailored to the purpose of helping criminals provide restitution by keeping them safe and in decent living conditions while they do so. Several incentives are at work toward this end. The private prisons are competing with each other to house prisoners, so they each must try to offer the best service for the least cost. The prisoners are paying customers of the insurance companies which are affiliated with the prisons, so they can take their business and transfer their prison time elsewhere if they feel mistreated or endangered and can find a better option. The insurance companies wish to reduce violent crimes for which they must pay claims, and so have an incentive to keep prisoners from harming or being harmed by anyone. Getting criminals to go to prison could be accomplished by making their continued coverage contingent upon going there and making restitution, with the alternative being life as an outlaw in the traditional sense.

Note that unlike a statist system with mandatory sentencing requirements, a private justice system may allow the victim of a crime to negotiate an agreement with the criminal to reduce or even eliminate the criminal’s obligation to perform restitution. One could even specify in one’s will what should be done to one’s murderer if one is murdered.

Additionally, 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. The lack of government anti-discrimination laws in this proposed system makes the full realization of ostracism possible.

Objections Rebutted

Such a proposal typically meets three criticisms which were not addressed above. First, there is the “public goods” argument that this system may leave behind the poorest people who cannot afford to pay for it. Aside from the fact that “public goods” are a myth, the amount of productivity that could be unleashed by ending the government monopoly on laws should ensure that no one who does not wish to be poor would have to be. Even if this were not the case, the poor could still receive charity or form neighborhood watch groups while using the aforementioned newly legal heavy weapons, which would also be cheaper due to loosened restrictions on manufacture and ownership.

Second, there is the argument that competing private police forces will fight. The problem with this argument is that the incentives are all pointed in the opposite direction. Fighting will result in deaths for both private police forces, which makes it harder and more expensive for the surviving officers to serve their customers while hurting the public relations of the fighting forces. This creates an opportunity for other private police forces to step in and provide services more efficiently, thus sending the fighting forces into an economic death spiral. Note also that heavy area effect weapons cannot be used in such a fight without harming innocents and bringing legal claims and militant reprisals against the offending officers and companies. Failing all of this, such forces would still be less capable of destruction than nation-states currently are.

Finally, there is the contention that the state will not allow such a system to replace its monopoly. The state is quite profitable to those who run it and those who benefit from its influence, and they will not simply surrender this power. This would be the ultimate result of losing a monopoly on criminal law, as a private law system would treat government crimes committed under color of state law as though they were committed by private citizens. This is why liberty requires revolution, as the answer to the state disallowing a challenge to its power is to put it out of a position of being able to allow or disallow anything.

Conclusion

While government will not hold government accountable, the people living under it can, and it is they who must do it if they wish it done. The above market solution outlines an alternative to the statist criminal justice system, but it is up to the citizens afflicted by state crimes to build and operate such a system. The sooner this is done, the sooner all people can be held to the same basic standard of conduct and the crimes of the state can end.