The Case For Judicial Corporal Punishment

The modern penal state is geared towards keeping its prisoners institutionalized, which is to say totally conditioned to the rhythms, desires, and goals of the penal state itself. This process supports the penal state, for institutionalized men and women usually commit more crimes once they return to the outside world. While low intelligence and poor impulse control can explain many cases of recidivism, they cannot explain all cases.

The state and its private prison contractors make more money off of full bunks and crowded cells. Ergo, stringent laws and the growth of the criminal justice system benefits the state at every level. For liberty to exist, this prison-industrial complex must be destroyed. The simplest method for accomplishing this is to return to the pre-modern punishments that the prison-industrial complex replaced. For more serious crimes, exile and outlawry could be reintroduced. For lesser offenses, a return to judicial corporal punishment is a superior alternative to the dehumanizing penal state. Let us explore the history of judicial corporal punishment, make the case for bringing back such punishments, and deal with likely objections.

A History of Violence

In the opening passage of his influential book Discipline and Punish, left-wing philosopher Michel Foucault characterizes pre-modern punishment as a gory spectator sport:

On 2 March 1757, Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris,’ where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a car, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds’; then, ‘in he said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses’…”[1]

The brutal evisceration of Damiens was meant to purge the body politic of one man’s infection. In Foucault’s telling, pre-modern punishment was personal and designed to be didactic (thus the importance of the punishment being seen). Pre-modern punishment was also based around the monarch. For instance, Foucault talks about the ceremony of punishment and how pre-modern kings usually spoke of crime as an assault on them, the office of the sovereign, and, by extension, God. Modern leaders, by contrast, usually speak of crime as aassault on and debt owed to society.

Such public humiliation was not confined to the Old World. Prior to the American Revolution, public executions and lesser punishments such as branding were undertaken by colonial authorities acting on behalf of both the British king and their colonial charters. In Puritan Massachusetts, “scolds” and “brawlers” were placed into the cucking stool. Most commonly associated with witchcraft trials, cucking stools were simple machines whereby guilty parties were repeatedly dunked into “purifying” waters. Elsewhere in colonial New England, bickering couples or fornicators were sentenced to the pillory, where, side-by-side, they were subject to the violent whims of the community that they had angered with their “ungodly” behavior. Property crimes in colonial New England prompted similarly harsh treatment. Those who committed tiefen, or the theft of livestock, food, or clothing from farms, had their ears removed. Counterfeiters suffered the same fate until new laws were established in 1806. Arsonists typically met with a noose.[2]

Popular history has remembered the Puritans as stern and superstitious provincials who saw the Devil peeking around every corner. However, they were a law-abiding society that utilized sharp punishments because of their unusual mixture of theocracy and republican virtue. Namely, every New England citizen was encouraged to spy on each other in order to ensure good behavior. If one local man left his barn door open or if a local woman talked too much, then the delicate covenant with God could be broken. Puritans protected this covenant like they protected their homes against Indian raids—with violence and prejudice.

The colonial South differed very little from New England in terms of its approach to corrective justice. 17th century Virginia saw criminals branded or mutilated in some way. As for prisons, the first one in American history may have been the English ship Susan Constant, the very same vessel that carried Captain John Smith and the Jamestown settlers to the New World.

The Coming of Prisons

British officials were bitten by the criminal justice reform bug early in the 18th century. As a result, James Oglethorpe, who was concerned about debt prisoners in Great Britain, was given control over the Colony of Georgia, North America’s largest penal colony. Here, work and the fresh air became substitutes for dank dungeons or “barbaric” practices like branding or mutilation.

During America’s push westward, physical punishment carried on in much the same way as it had in the 17th century. Horse thieves were hung by vigilante committees, while lynching parties tended to do the work of judges and juries. The lynching parties in the rural South tended to have a racial character, with whites killing black men under charges of rape or engaging in sexual improprieties with white women.

Back on the East Coast, criminal justice reform moved towards a supposedly more humane model of punishment. As was the case in England, American Quakers led the charge for prison systems that were designed to change the behavior of their inmates. From the late 18th century onward, America’s prisons became correctional institutions where wardens attempted to guide their charges to better lifestyles through work, contemplation, and isolation.

For Foucault, the linchpin to this new prison system was the Panopticon—a cyclopean tower that stood in the middle of a ring of prison cells. From this guard tower, prison officials hoped to direct the behavior and thought patterns of their prisoners. He writes,

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary…”[3]

The power of the Panopticon lies in the fact those within the purview of its vision can never be sure if they are being watched. Even if no one is controlling the tower, most prisoners will act as if someone is observing them. The theory of the Panopticon can today be found in the United Kingdom, where closed-circuit television cameras abound on almost every street corner. In the United States, not only is the NSA busy spying on everyone, but technology companies like Google and Facebook use their power to discourage “wrongthink” concerning political issues.

However, as powerful as the Panopticon is, it would have never been born without the Enlightenment and America’s transition from a limited monarchy to a constitutional republic. Rather than seeing crime as an offense against one person (the sovereign) or against a limited community, crime became seen as an offense against the entire society (the demos). It thus became cruel to subject criminals to customized punishments and important that criminals be kept away from the masses. The modern penal state does just that, but the process of creating a separate culture of prisoners actually rationalizes criminality. Criminals were once those who trespassed against divine authority, but criminality is now a profession that has a finishing school called prison.

Peace Through Force

The modern penal state has only been successful in producing more criminals. This is part of its business model, so in order to find a superior alternative, we must do away with the modern penal state. In its place should be private citizens and municipal authorities which do not receive any money from the federal government. Rather than operate contemporary prisons, these communities would subject criminals who have been convicted of serious crimes to flogging, branding, or other such corporal punishments. The most incorrigible criminals would be subject to execution or exile as an outlaw rather than life in prison. Lesser offenses would merit restitution to be performed in a different sort of prison that those which are common today.

It should go without saying that children should not be subject to judicial corporal punishment. Just as using physical violence at the individual level of the parent to discipline children violates the non-aggression principle, so too would the use of communal violence. Instead, every effort to reason with children and teach them virtue must be made. It is only after all such efforts are exhausted to no avail and a disobedient child grows into a criminal adult that they should feel the sting of the lash.

The practitioners should ideally be those aggrieved by the criminals; otherwise, the administrators should be the natural leaders in the community. Because one of the largest problems in modern culture is that the true nature of reality is hidden from the masses, the new corporal punishments should be performed in public, with all citizens encouraged to witness the acts and hear the reasons for them. Bringing back pre-modern punishments would show everyone that violence is disgusting and only righteous when used to deter aggression.

Another added benefit would be that criminal trials and punishments would be an expedited affair. Currently, the average time of criminal trials, whether for misdemeanors or felonies, is anywhere between three months and several years. In the proposed system, trials would be faster, primarily because one of the key components of this system would be a streamlined criminal code. There would be less crimes on the books, for libertarian theory only considers crime to be those offenses which victimize or threaten a person or property. For example, simple possession of drugs or engaging in prostitution in secret would be considered vices rather than crimes, to merit the attentions of the beadle rather than the policeman.

Along with faster trials and more efficient punishments, a return to pre-modern methodologies of punishment would curtail the demand for prisons. At best, only medium-sized jails would be needed to temporarily house those awaiting trial. And since life imprisonment would no longer be an available sentence, there would be no need for “supermax” correctional facilities that cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year. There would only be two options for the most hardened criminals: death or banishment from society.

Objections

As with an earlier proposal for private security, the first likely objection is that bringing back pre-modern punishments would incentivize vigilantism and the madness of crowds. Liberals will claim that such a proposal all but guarantees a return to lynching and racial injustice. Although there is no guarantee that every community would act perfectly rationally, every liberal must answer this question: is it better to have injustice on a small scale or on an industrial scale? Would community-organized punishment really be that much worse than the current penal state, which has seen millions of men pass through its doors thanks to pointless drug laws? The critic would also be conflating racial injustice with the methods of punishment being used, when the two are separate issues. Furthermore, the proposal is not to abandon a judicial structure in favor of vigilantism, but to reintroduce corporal punishment into a judicial structure.

Another possible objection is that the mentally or physically unfit would be subject to corporal punishment. This can be resolved by barring the mentally or physically unfit from certain punishments, although both could still face an array of pre-modern punishments, including permanent house arrest, banishment, and even cruel execution. Doctors and other medical professionals would play a key role in determining whether someone is fit for punishments such as flogging or branding.

A third objection would be that the proposed system would not deter crime. After all, there has never been any conclusive proof that the death penalty deters crime. Indeed, some of the most hardened criminals may even have a death wish. But this may have more to do with the current practice of capital punishment rather than its effectiveness in all cases. Capital punishment in America is a drawn-out process that often sees inmates waiting on death row for decades. Some famous criminals, such as Charles Manson and members of the Ripper Crew, were sentenced to death, but had the good fortune to be housed in liberal states that discontinued capital punishment. A pre-modern regime would not give criminals the chance to languish away in government-subsidized cells complete with food, showers, clothing, televisions, and other amenities. Similarly, rather than be injected with toxins or shocked with thousands of volts of electricity in secret death chambers, criminals would be publicly humiliated in view of all of society. Such an attack on personal pride and vanity would strike a deep cord in most criminals.

Fourth, some will condemn the use of corporal punishment as anti-libertarian, or at least counterproductive. As noted above, such arguments are correct when applied to children, but for adult aggressors who inflict bodily harm upon others, these are merely aesthetic and utilitarian concerns which play no role in libertarian theory. As Murray Rothbard writes,

“In the question of bodily assault, where restitution does not even apply, we can again employ our criterion of proportionate punishment; so that if A has beaten up B in a certain way, then B has the right to beat up A (or have him beaten up by judicial employees) to rather more than the same extent.”[4]

This comes not out of concern for efficacy or even deterrence, but out of concern for logical consistency.

Finally, the greatest objection to this proposal in America is the Eighth Amendment, which outlaws “cruel and unusual punishment.” While this amendment was written with the good intention of restraining the state, it prevents the punishment from fitting the crime in the event of cruel and unusual crimes. One could also argue that the entire concept of a prison is cruel and should be unusual. Furthermore, cruelty done in the name of justice is not immoral. While it may be cruel to brand a criminal for horse thievery, the original act of theft may have been just as cruel, if not more so, especially if a family depended on that horse for its livelihood.

Conclusion

The current penal state institutionalizes bad behavior and encourages recidivism in the form of social ostracism and limited economic prospects. By contrast, a pre-modern approach to criminal justice, even with its attendant violence, does more to discourage repeat offenders and the marginally criminally-minded. Better yet, a pre-modern system would do away with lengthy trials and the specter of long, taxpayer-funded waits on death row. Punishments would be quick, vicious, and public, thus increasing the likelihood of deterrence.

Such a system would have no need for the central state. All trials and punishments could be carried out at the local level. Judges, bailiffs, juries, punishers, and executioners could all be local residents. The holding cells would also have little need for federal funding, for local resources are generally enough for temporary housing before trial. A pre-modern punishment regime would decrease crime, cut out the vampiric state and its bloated penal system, and put authority back into the hands of municipalities.

References:

  1. Foucault, Michael (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Random House. p. 3
  2. Mofford, Juliet Haines (2012). “The Devil Made Me Do It”: Crime and Punishment in Early New England. Globe Pequot Press.
  3. Foucault, p. 201
  4. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press. p. 89

Book Review: Closing The Courthouse Door

Closing The Courthouse Door is a book about role of the judiciary in the American system by law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. The book examines how Supreme Court decisions over the past few decades have greatly limited the ability of the courts to protect civil liberties, hold government accountable, and enforce the Constitution. The book is divided into seven chapters, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the problem of reduced access of the American people to the courts.

In the first chapter, Chemerinsky argues that if rights cannot be enforced and damages cannot be awarded by the courts, then the government and its agents may do as they please, as unenforceable limits are functionally equivalent to no limits. He views Marbury v. Madison as a cornerstone of American jurisprudence rather than a usurpation of power not granted by the Constitution, and views the Constitution as an effort to limit government rather than as an expansion of government beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed. Chemerinsky makes a case for the judicial branch being the most suitable branch for enforcing the Constitution, then addresses and rebuts several competing views of the role of the judiciary.

Sovereign immunity is the focus of the second chapter, and Chemerinsky shows how the idea that the state can do no wrong is at odds with many American values and constitutional principles, including federalism, due process, and government accountability. However, the Supreme Court has made numerous rulings expanding sovereign immunity since the time of the Eleventh Amendment‘s adoption, making it virtually impossible for a citizen to obtain a redress of grievances when victimized by the state. He tackles several arguments in favor of sovereign immunity, such as protecting government treasuries, separation of powers, and the existence of alternative remedies. Next, Chemerinsky examines how case law has granted effective immunity to local governments, even though they do not officially have it.

In the third chapter, Chemerinsky continues with the theme of immunity by discussing it at the level of government agents. He discusses the Bivens case, which allows federal agents to be sued for damages if they violate constitutional rights, and the subsequent hostility of the Court to that decision. Disallowing suits when Congress provides an alternative remedy, when Congress says they are disallowed, when military personnel are defendants, when judges find it undesirable to allow such claims, or when private prisons and their guards are defendants, has all but overruled Bivens. Furthermore, Chemerinsky argues that absolute immunity for certain government officials should be replaced by qualified immunity to give the officials room to work but hold them accountable.

The fourth chapter details how various Supreme Court decisions have narrowed the ability of citizens to bring matters before the courts. Chemerinsky explains how the doctrine of standing has been invented and used to keep actions which do not have particular identifiable victims from being adjudicated. He argues that the narrow interpretation of what constitutes an injury and the refusal to hear claims based on a generalized grievance that all Americans suffer mean that no one is able to challenge the government in court when it violates the Constitution. The second half of the chapter covers the political question doctrine, and Chemerinsky makes the case that it is essentially a punt by the judicial branch to the elected branches of government with the end result of trusting them to follow the law, which history shows to be an unrealistic option.

The gradual erosion of the writ of habeas corpus is discussed in the fifth chapter. Here, Chemerinsky shows how the Supreme Court has upheld vastly disproportionate prison sentences on technicalities, kept federal courts from enforcing the Fourth Amendment through habeas corpus, disallowed claims not made and evidence not presented in state courts from being heard in federal courts, barred arguments for novel rights that the Supreme Court has not yet recognized, and prevented prisoners from filing multiple habeas corpus petitions. He explains how the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has all but removed the right of habeas corpus at the federal level.

In the sixth chapter is called Opening the Federal Courthouse Doors, but the chapter actually shows even more examples of them being closed. For example, plaintiffs can now be required to show facts without being allowed to go through the discovery phase of a case that is required to learn those facts, setting up a catch-22. The abstention doctrine created in Younger v. Harris and is cited as a major barrier to the proper operation of federal courts as well as a means for state officials to abuse citizens. Chemerinsky then discusses the difficulties in using class action lawsuits that have been imposed in recent years as well as the rise in private arbitrations that favor corporations over individuals.

The final chapter begins with cases involving egregious human rights abuses by the CIA. These cases were dismissed on the grounds that state secrets might be revealed if the cases were tried, which is yet another way to keep courts from enforcing the Constitution. Chemerinsky concludes by addressing objections to the arguments made through the entire book.

The book is just over 200 pages, but feels as long as any 400-page book that I have read. To his credit, Chemerinsky’s left-wing political leanings do not appear any more than they must in order for him to make his arguments. Libertarians will undoubtedly think that the changes proposed in the book do not go nearly far enough, but Closing The Courthouse Door is still worth reading for those capable of handling the subject matter.

Rating: 3.5/5

A Case Against the Eleventh Amendment

The first amendment to the United States Constitution following the Bill of Rights is the Eleventh Amendment, which reads:

“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”

This Amendment was ratified in 1795 in response to the Supreme Court decision in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793). The case came from the Revolutionary War, when Captain Robert Farquhar, a resident of South Carolina, supplied goods to the state of Georgia for which Georgia did not fully pay. Farquhar died in 1784. In 1792, Alexander Chisholm, the executor of Farquhar’s estate, filed suit against Georgia in the US Supreme Court over payment that Georgia still owed for the goods. US Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued the case for Chisholm, but government officials in Georgia claimed sovereign immunity and refused to appear. The Court found by a 4-1 margin that the grant of federal jurisdiction over suits “between a State and Citizens of another State” in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution granted federal courts the power to hear cases between private citizens and States, and that States did not enjoy sovereign immunity in such cases.

The Eleventh Amendment was written mostly for the purpose of overturning the Chisholm decision, which stands as one of only a handful of court rulings to be overturned by a Constitutional amendment. The ruling in Hollingsworth v. Virginia (1798) held that every pending action under Chisholm had to be dismissed due to the ratification of the Eleventh Amendment. The only remaining way at the time for a state to be sued by non-residents of the state was for that state to consent to the suit.

Since then, three Supreme Court cases have made further exceptions to a state’s sovereign immunity. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer (1976) held that Congress may abrogate the sovereign immunity of a state pursuant to a valid exercise of the Fourteenth Amendment, Central Virginia Community College v. Katz (2006) held that Congress may do the same in bankruptcy cases through Article I, Section 8, Clause 4, and Lapides v. Board of Regents of University System of Georgia (2002) held that a state waives the Eleventh Amendment if it invokes a federal court’s removal jurisdiction, which is the right of a defendant to move a lawsuit filed in state court to the federal district court for that location.

To make a case against the Eleventh Amendment, we will first note the problems with its interpretation, then we will examine the failings of the doctrine of sovereign immunity in general, as refuting this doctrine defeats the Eleventh Amendment a fortiori.

Procedural Problems

The first thing to note is that the interpretation of this amendment, like every other part of the Constitution, is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Thus, the Eleventh Amendment means whatever people in black costumes say it means, which need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because effective challenges to their power once the appeals process is exhausted are almost nonexistent. (There are the possibilities that a judge will be impeached and removed or that the Constitution will be amended, but these possibilities are rare enough to dismiss in most cases. Chisholm and the Eleventh Amendment are a rare exception to the latter.) The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means erring on the side of expanding the size and scope of government, kowtowing to popular opinion rather than handing down consistent rulings, and reducing government accountability. This constitutes a threat to individual liberty and tends toward the curtailment of civil liberties.

In their interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment, the Court has consistently sided with state governments and expanded sovereign immunity beyond the text of the Amendment. The Court has shielded states from nearly all monetary damage actions brought in any court. The text does not mention a state’s own citizens, but in Hans v. Louisiana (1890), the Court interpreted the Eleventh Amendment to give a state sovereign immunity against citizens of that state. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 majority in Alden v. Maine (1999),

“[S]overeign immunity derives not from the Eleventh Amendment but from the structure of the original Constitution itself. … Nor can we conclude that the specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise within the scope of the enumerated powers.”

This, despite what Justice David Souter observed in the dissenting opinion,

“The 1787 draft in fact said nothing on the subject, and it was this very silence that occasioned some, though apparently not widespread, dispute among the Framers and others over whether ratification of the Constitution would preclude a State sued in federal court from asserting sovereign immunity as it could have done on any matter of nonfederal law litigated in its own courts.”

Souter’s dissent in Seminole Tribe v. Florida (1996), another 5-4 decision defending sovereign immunity, is also illuminating:

“There is almost no evidence that the generation of the Framers thought sovereign immunity was fundamental in the sense of being unalterable. Whether one looks at the period before the framing, to the ratification controversies, or to the early republican era, the evidence is the same. Some Framers thought sovereign immunity was an obsolete royal prerogative inapplicable in a republic; some thought sovereign immunity was a common-law power defeasible, like other common-law rights, by statute; and perhaps a few thought, in keeping with a natural law view distinct from the common-law conception, that immunity was inherent in a sovereign because the body that made a law could not logically be bound by it. Natural law thinking on the part of a doubtful few will not, however, support the Court’s position. […] [S]everal colonial charters, including those of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Georgia, expressly specified that the corporate body established thereunder could sue and be sued.”

Souter’s dissents demonstrate that there is no textual basis in the Constitution for sovereign immunity. But even if there were, the concept should still be opposed. In the next two sections, we will see why.

Problems With Sovereign Immunity

There are a multitude of problems with the concept of sovereign immunity. First, sovereign immunity denies compensation to victims of statism. Those whose rights are grossly violated by government agents are deprived of a redress of grievances by sovereign immunity, as well as meaningful peaceful recourse. Second, immunity for government agents denies due process to the citizenry because due process requires a judicial forum, which sovereign immunity denies to those whose cases are dismissed on such grounds. Third, the unwillingness of courts to hear cases in which states violate legal provisions that are intended to limit state power can render those provisions unenforceable, and an unenforceable law is functionally equivalent to no law at all. The people are thus left to rely on the good faith of governments that they will not abuse the people, which if history is any guide, is not a realistic strategy.

Fourth, that who are immune from civil damages and criminal punishment are unaccountable is a tautology, so sovereign immunity is obviously incompatible with government accountability. Fifth, this lack of accountability creates a moral hazard for those who wield state power. Any such unaccountable power is magnetic to the corruptible, who would abuse that power for their personal gain and the health of the state at the expense of the people. Sovereign immunity thus incentivizes the worst people to seek positions in government in order to abuse state power. Sixth, any just system must be no respecter of persons or affiliations. But the doctrine of sovereign immunity creates a double standard; some people may violate the law with impunity while others may not. Thus, equality before the law is impossible in the presence of sovereign immunity.

Finally, the absence of a peaceful method of obtaining justice through an established system means that those who demand justice must either live without or seek justice violently on their own. Though this is morally justified when done by citizens against government agents, there is a greater possibility of irreparable errors being made through vigilante methods than through judicial methods. There is also a risk of chaotic societal breakdown if vigilantism should become normalized in the absence of the organization and alternative institutions necessary to replace the state with a superior form of social order. Eliminating sovereign immunity would open a new avenue for obtaining justice peacefully.

Objections

In addition to making the case against sovereign immunity, it is necessary to refute the common arguments in its favor. First, proponents will argue that allowing people to sue the state for damages will endanger the public treasury. This could allow people to gain private ownership of government buildings as payment for civil judgments if the treasury is bankrupt, as well as pass on financial burdens to taxpayers. The standard counterargument is that these concerns are outweighed by the positives of eliminating sovereign immunity that were enumerated in the previous section. The sharper counterargument is that these are features rather than bugs. The money in the public treasury was obtained by demanding money from the citizenry and threatening them with violence for nonpayment. Although a monetary judgment would not, for the most part, return these funds to their rightful owners, the recipients would hold the money more justly than the thieves who call themselves by the euphemism of tax collectors. Government buildings are likewise built and maintained by extorted money, and are generally built upon conquered or otherwise stolen land. Passing on financial burdens to taxpayers is a moral evil, but this could be partially remedied by cleaning out the finances of individual government personnel and/or auctioning government assets before tapping into the treasury. On the other hand, increasing the tax burden on the citizenry may inspire them to either leave the state-sanctioned economy for the informal economy or think in revolutionary terms.

Second, there is the argument that sovereign immunity preserves separation of powers by preventing the judiciary from dominating the executive branch. But because a lack of ability to sue the government removes accountability, neuters provisions that limit state power, and creates moral hazard, sovereign immunity removes the very sort of checks and balances that its proponents claim to protect by keeping the judiciary from restraining the executive branch.

Third, there is the argument that there is no authority in the Constitution or other federal law for suits against the government. This is not an argument for the righteousness of sovereign immunity; only an argument that it currently exists. By this argument, such authority need only be created by Congressional legislation or a Constitutional amendment if it did not already exist. But such authority already does exist under the Constitution in its mandates for due process, government accountability, and the supremacy of federal law.

Fourth, there is the argument that adequate alternative methods for redress exist, making the elimination of sovereign immunity unnecessary. Not only does this argument fail to deal with the problems described above, but there are not always alternative methods. Injunctive relief redresses future violations but not past violations, suing individuals may not produce sufficient civil judgments, and statutes may immunize government agents from suit. This argument would once again leave people to rely on the good faith of governments that they will not only not abuse the people, but will perform restitution when they do.

Finally, defenders of sovereign immunity will appeal to tradition, citing the fact that the United States government has enjoyed some form sovereign immunity for most of its history, as have its constituent states. For example, in United States v. Lee (1886), the Court held that “the United States cannot be lawfully sued without its consent in any case.” But appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy; there should be some other reason for continuing a policy besides its longstanding in order to validate the choice.

Conclusion

It is clear that the doctrine of sovereign immunity causes many problems, and that the arguments in favor of it are easily refuted. Further, there is no basis for it either within the text of the Constitution or in a nonoriginalist view. Repealing the Eleventh Amendment and ending sovereign immunity for US states would be a positive step, but it would not go far enough. As shown above, all sovereign immunity should be ended so that agents of the state may be held to the same moral standard as everyone else and many abuses of power may be prevented.

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.

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.

 

On Air Ownership and Pollution

The question of how to deal with air pollution is frequently asked of libertarian theorists, as it is an issue which has been dominated by governments for far longer than a human lifetime. Accordingly, it may be difficult to transition toward a free market alternative to government environmental regulations. Several other attempts have been made to address this issue, but let us tackle the problem rigorously from first principles.

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 of one’s physical body, it is wrong for one person to interfere with another person’s exclusive control of their physical body without their consent. This is how the non-aggression principle is derived from self-ownership. Because each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, one may gain property rights in external objects by laboring upon unowned natural resources, and one owes restitution for any acts of aggression that one commits against other people or their property. But because the non-aggression principle and private property rights are derived from self-ownership, they are dependent upon it. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent, therefore self-ownership takes primacy if there should be a conflict between the self-ownership of one person and the external private property rights of another person.

Now that a logical framework is established, let us consider the problem of air pollution through this framework. The essential fact about air pollution is that the polluter adds harmful substances to the air against the wishes of those who are exposed to it, either through inhalation, external contact, or ground or water pollution as the contaminants are left behind once polluted air has passed through an area. When such exposure occurs, the pollution is not only an act of aggression against private property, but against liberty and life as well in the event of illness or death caused by the pollutants. This means that a polluter may be guilty not only of damaging property, but of assault or homicide.

But what about the air itself? We can deduce what it means to own the air from what it means to own something in general, which has already been discussed. Given the above theoretical framework, a person may own land, but the air above the land is not labored upon and is not static upon the property. (One could gain ownership of some air by performing some labor upon it, such as enclosing in a container or pressurizing it therein, but this is mostly a separate issue from that of air pollution.) But a person must have some reasonable clearance above the land to be able to move freely upon it and generally enjoy the private property right in it. This clearance might also allow one to hunt game birds and to be free from spy drones flown by other people, but could not extend high enough to impede commercial air or space travel overhead. The extent of this clearance is impossible to determine a priori and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis through negotiations and contracts.

At this point, one may be led to think that far from the leftist caricature that libertarianism is unconcerned with environmental pollution, this framework is actually too sensitive to pollution, as any amount of air pollution could be considered an act of aggression. If true, this would require a radical reorganization of society so as to eliminate all emissions. But this is where the Reecean proviso rescues libertarianism from a practically untenable position. Because self-ownership overrules external property rights, pollution that is required for survival is permissible. As Friedman points out[1],

“Carbon dioxide is a pollutant. It is also an end product of human metabolism. If I have no right to impose a single molecule of pollution on anyone else’s property, then I must get the permission of all my neighbors to breathe. Unless I promise not to exhale.”

Another example is the burning of wood in one’s fireplace or campsite to prevent hypothermia, cook food, sanitize drinking water, etc., as disallowing such activities (or their more modern equivalent of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat) would result in a massive depopulation, which in turn would destroy the institutions of private property. But the Reecean proviso cannot defend non-essential pollution, such as that produced by modern transportation or tobacco smoke, as there is no self-ownership to weigh against private property rights. Fortunately, we need not alter civilization quite so radically, as there are other theoretical considerations which are somewhat more permissive.

The distinction between non-harm, non-violence, and non-aggression means that the maxim of ‘no victim means no crime’ is an oversimplification; the more accurate statement is that no victim means no restitution can be owed and no punishment beyond what is necessary to stop acts of aggression should be meted out. This distinction allows us to differentiate[2] between noticeable trespasses and unnoticeable nuisances, the latter of which are only actionable if some damage may be demonstrated. This is because a substance which cannot be noticed and does not demonstrably cause harm is functionally equivalent to being absent, and a lack of cause for restitution leaves a court with no sentence to impose.

The dispute resolution standards in use by the polluter and the pollutee also play an important role, as a different result will occur if both use a reasonable doubt standard versus a preponderance of evidence standard. Still another possibility is that the polluter will use a private court company with one standard of proof while the pollutee will use a different private court company with a different standard of proof. Such instances would need to be negotiated and contracted on a case-by-case basis, but any competent court company would be staffed by people who are aware of such problems and capable of performing such negotiations. Coase explained[3] that such negotiations will result in some level of pollution and some restitution that is satisfactory to both. Perhaps this is not ideal for nature, but it does minimize pollution levels beyond what alternatives to voluntary negotiations have produced thus far.

Another matter is that not all property claims are established at the same time. This means that it is possible for a right to pollute to be homesteaded, in that if all of the pollution generated by a property owner falls upon unowned wilderness and stays there, then anyone who establishes property in that wilderness tacitly consents to the current conditions of present and continuing pollution. Of course, another instance which would need to be negotiated and contracted on a case-by-case basis is that of a polluter ceasing operations for a time, as the newer property owners may come to expect this new, cleaner state of affairs and take action if the polluter resumes operations.

These deviations from a strict ban on air pollution still leave in place a far greater protection of the environment than do statist environmental regulations. Whereas a private owner both exercises exclusive control over a resource and may sell either the resource or stock in it, government officials cannot generally do the latter. This means that government officials lack an important economic incentive to take care of the air. A private owner of an airspace whose air becomes polluted would sue the polluter for damages and seek injunctive relief, but the Environmental Protection Agency or its state-level subsidiaries tend to block such lawsuits when filed by concerned citizens. This lack of incentive also leads governments to pollute the air, to the extent that the U.S. military is the worst polluter in the world.

It is clear that governments cannot be trusted to defend its citizens from such aggressions, but it has done worse; it has prevented free market solutions from being implemented. During the 19th century, people whose property was damaged by factory smoke took the factory owners to court, seeking relief from the pollution in the form of injunctions and damages. The government judges, realizing on which side their bread was buttered, sided with the factory owners, claiming that the “public good” of industrial progress outweighed private property rights. Legislators, also knowing who was more capable of funding their campaigns and bribing them, joined in for the polluters and against the pollutees by eliminating the option of class action lawsuits against polluters who cause damage over a large area. Rothbard recognized[4] that technology has therefore developed to produce air pollution because governments have interfered with private property rights in this area, and a society where this was far more restricted all along would have developed in a more environmentally friendly manner.

The criticism of libertarian theories of air pollution that is least addressed is that they do not effectively deal with situations in which responsibility is greatly dispersed, such as the pollution from driving automobiles leading to smog in large urban areas or places with geography that traps harmful particles. Pollution is no more acceptable if a million people produce it than if one person produces it, but the responsibility of each person becomes so small as to be unmeasurable for purposes of restitution. There is also the matter that crime consists of both an actus reus and a mens rea, and the everyday driver does not operate an automobile with the intent to harm the environment. As with individual cases, we may expect that a Coasean negotiation will occur to minimize both pollution and damages, but the major reason that theorists tend not to address this concern is that no theory can solve a problem of mass action; only a mass counter-action, such as driving less or using more environmentally friendly fuels, can solve such problems.

In closing, a libertarian approach to air pollution does not produce perfect results, but neither does anything else, and turning this problem over to the state has only produced and will only produce ecological disaster.

References:

  1. Friedman, David (1989). The Machinery of Freedom. p.168
  2. Rothbard, Murray (1982). Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution. Cato Journal, p. 55-99
  3. Coase, Ronald (1960). The Problem of Social Cost. Journal of Law and Economics, p. 1-44
  4. Rothbard, Murray (1973). For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. p. 317-327

The Not-So-Current Year: 2015 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 2015 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.

In December 2014, an assassination of two NYPD officers prompted many libertarians to signal hard against the use of force against agents of the state. I decided to argue the opposing case. The harassment of the Meitiv family by Child Protective Services prompted another such article. Julian Adorney resolved that good government police exist, and I responded by explaining why this is impossible. I used another NYPD incident to argue that when government agents and common criminals fight, we should pull for no one. When Tremaine Wilbourn killed a police officer during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tenn, I wrote a list of observations on the event which mostly follow the aforementioned articles.

Many libertarians praise decentralization, and rightly so. But it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good or evil ends, and I explored the latter.

On Burns night, I observed that a proper haggis was unavailable in the United States and found that as usual, the state is to blame. Staying on the subject of food, economically illiterate researchers blamed Walmart for causing obesity, and I explained why this is fallacious.

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz gave cause to examine how such an atrocity could be carried out without the state. The answer, of course, is that it would be all but impossible.

Entering February, I allowed my cynicism to wax to the point of formalizing it as a razor. It could use more detailing and strengthening, which is a project for a later time. I used the razor to explain why the Obama administration might want to disarm elderly people.

Alleged Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht was convicted on February 4 and sentenced on May 29. I made lists of observations on both of these occasions. Some people were none too happy with the state’s treatment of Ulbricht, and their displeasure got them in hot water. This occasion also merited a list of observations.

The movie American Sniper did well at the box office, but a metaphor therein was left incomplete. I decided to complete the analogy of sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves by adding farmers of human livestock to the mix.

A video by Stefan Molyneux about two different types of statists compared them to warriors and wizards. I made the case that countering the state requires libertarians to be both character classes at once.

Ron Paul made a video appearance at the International Students For Liberty Conference, but some attendees decided to interrupt this by reading an open letter to him which was filled with leftist entryist nonsense. I wrote an open letter against them which gained wide recognition and helped run some of the people involved out of libertarian circles. It remains one of my proudest moments as a writer.

At the end of February, Republicans tried to use brinkmanship to force spending cuts, which failed miserably due to their track record of caving at the last minute. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

On March 9, I published my most popular article to date, which is also one of my most shallow, choir-preaching works. The correlation between the two can be most depressing at times. At any rate, here are 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals.

Several commenters have told me that I am at my best when I provide a sound defense for an idea that most people find to be outrageous. I did this several times in 2015, defending the killing of innocent shields in certain circumstances, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, letting Iran develop a nuclear deterrent, and the replacement of democratic elections with jousts to the death.

I went on a rebuttal streak in the spring of 2015. President Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory, and I argued the case against this. Michael Eliot argued that a violent revolution is not the correct strategy for creating a free society, and that the use of methods such as seasteading will be more successful. I explained why this is false. Walter Block argued in favor of Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, and I demonstrated why he is not a good choice. Austin Petersen effectively made a case against libertarianism itself, and I rebutted it.

Paul Krugman delivered some rather standard talking points about public goods, and I showed why they are wrong. I revisited the subject later in the year.

Rolling Stone decided to go ahead with a completely false story about campus rape, and did nothing beyond wrist-slapping to those involved in creating and editing the story. They also defended the ideas behind the story, with which I took great issue. Another sex-related story occurred on April 21 when the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration resigned due to a prostitution scandal that occurred on her watch. I explained why we should not be surprised, and should actually expect more of such behavior. The purity spiral of campus feminism has grown to such an extent that even left-wing feminist professors are not immune. Rape accusation culture struck once more at Amherst College, and the victim took the university to court.

Baltimore police officers arrested Freddie Gray, who died one week later as a result of injuries sustained during the arrest. Riots ensued, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Charles Murray published a book detailing a novel strategy for fighting the regulatory state: overwhelm it with civil disobedience, create a legal fund to defend victims of regulation, and start treating government fines as an insurable hazard. I argued that this would fail, but that it needs to be tried anyway.

The prohibition of excessive bail and fines, as well as cruel and unusual punishment, is a much-revered part of the United States Constitution. I argued that it should not be.

Dylann Roof carried out a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Late June is Supreme Court season, and they delivered at least two bad decisions in 2015. First, they ruled very narrowly in favor of raisin farmers, but left the rights-violating practice of eminent domain intact. Then, they crammed same-sex marriage down the throats of all Americans.

Litecoin exchange rates suddenly spiked in early July. I took an educated guess at why, but it ended up being pure speculation.

Turmoil in Greece threatened to boil over into a default or even a Grexit. I took a deep look into the situation and concluded that only anarchy can fix the problems there.

Two seemingly disparate stories concerning Planned Parenthood and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine had a common thread: there is no such thing as non-lethal aid to an organization that conducts lethal operations.

I wrote a three-part series about fascism and communism in America, as well as how a nation can be both. Although I lated discovered that Lawrence Britt does not appear to be a real person, I found the 14-point list of fascist characteristics to be sound, so I did not revise the article.

A problem which is frequently cited as a reason why we must have a state is the problem of pollution. I dealt with the issues of water ownership and pollution in order to show why the state cannot solve the problem of pollution.

In one of my more controversial articles, I argued that Vester Flanagan, the man who murdered a reporter and a cameraman in Roanoke, Va., was a model social justice warrior. Examiner decided to pull it for offending their audience, but you can find it here.

Everyone knows that the Libertarian Party is not exactly a bastion of excellent strategic thinkers. I decided to offer them help, and a response to my essay advocating an alternate strategy is also worth reading.

Liberty Mutual created a series of advertisements that air regularly in my area, and they are full of economic fallacies. They annoyed me enough to dedicate an article to debunking them.

Reservation scalping occurred at Disney World restaurants, which outraged many people. I applied Walter Block’s reasoning for defending ticket scalpers to argue against the outrage.

September 11 always brings about discussions on security. I argued that there can be no such thing; only temporary and imperfect protection from particular dangers.

The term ‘cuckservative’ arose from alt-right circles to describe those who are insufficiently conservative, selling out their constituents, and/or acting against their own rational self-interests. I created the term ‘cuckertarian‘ to describe a similar problem among libertarians. Another problem with the libertarian movement that I addressed is the embrace of hedonism when libertarianism only requires that we not use aggressive violence to stamp out non-violent degeneracy.

After several years in prison for tax resistance, Irwin Schiff passed away. I wrote a list of observations on the event that gained praise from his son Peter.

I belatedly refuted Matt Zwolinski’s six reasons for rejecting the non-aggression principle. I had meant to do so when he published his piece back in April 2013, but other work took precedence and it languished in development hell. Next, I dealt with Youliy Ninov’s arguments against anarcho-capitalism in what is my most verbose article to date.

Islamic terrorists attacked Beirut and Paris on November 12 and 13, respectively. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Many libertarians misunderstand immigration and borders, so after several pro-open-borders articles published in quick succession by other authors, I tried to set them straight.

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

Robert Dear attacked a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people and wounding nine others. I made the case that although the use of force against Planned Parenthood is defensive in nature, it is frequently impractical and counterproductive.

The success of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, as well as growing support for it in libertarian and reactionary circles, led me to examine the phenomena. I concluded that Trumpism is not a libertarian form of reaction, though we may have some common enemies.

My final article of 2015 addressed the common phrase ‘give back to the community.’ In short, it is communist nonsense that must be rejected.

I began work on another case against a constitutional amendment, but it was not completed for publishing before the end of 2015, so it will appear first in next year’s review.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2016 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

A stateless solution to the problem of water pollution

On August 5, agents of the Environmental Protection Agency were investigating an abandoned gold mine near the Animas River in Colorado. It had been leaking toxic water at a rate of 50 to 250 gallons a minute, and the agents were looking for a way to stop it. They did quite the opposite, releasing more than 3 million gallons of pollutants including arsenic, cadmium, and lead into the Animas River.

In response, the City of Durango and La Plata County have declared states of emergency, and Gov. John Hickenlooper released $500,000 in funds for assistance. Durango’s officials stopped pumping water from the Animas into the city reservoir in time to prevent its contamination, but the people there must now make do with water from an unaffected tributary of the Animas. Those who live outside the city and use well water may have to stop due to contamination. The river is closed indefinitely, and the pollutants have made their way from Colorado to New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

While this event is a major disaster that deserves at least as much attention that it is getting from the establishment media, a government agency causing the very problem it is supposed to prevent should not be news to anyone, as this is the fundamental nature of the state. The state is supposed to protect life, but it has destroyed life to the extent of 370 million people in the 20th century alone. The state is supposed to protect liberty, but it has incarcerated millions of people for no legitimate reason. The state is supposed to protect property, but it violates property rights with taxation, eminent domain, intellectual “property” laws, civil forfeiture, and (somewhat ironically) environmental regulations. That a government agency tasked with limiting pollution would cause a massive toxic spill is par for the course; the real surprise should be that this does not occur more frequently.

Clearly, the environment needs no enemies when it has friends like the EPA. But how can the problem of water pollution be solved without government involvement? Let us examine how this might work within a libertarian framework, and how the incentives therein contrast with the incentives of a government agency like the EPA.

The first thing to note is that all property in a free society is privately owned, whereas the state currently claims ownership over all navigable waterways. But state ownership is not the same as private ownership. Whereas a private owner both exercises exclusive control over a resource and may sell either the resource or stock in it, government officials cannot generally do the latter. This means that government officials lack an important economic incentive to take care of the waterways. A private owner of a river who finds garbage or toxic chemicals therein would sue the polluter for damages, but no one reasonably expects the EPA to file a lawsuit against itself, and such agencies tend to block such lawsuits when filed by concerned citizens. This lack of incentive also leads governments to pollute lakes and rivers with municipal sewage, to the extent of more than 850 billion gallons of raw or untreated sewage that reaches American streams, rivers, and lakes annually.

The essential fact about water pollution is that the polluter adds harmful substances to the water against the wishes of those who are exposed to it, either through consumption, external contact, or soil pollution as the contaminants are left behind once polluted water has been used for purposes such as crop irrigation. When such exposure occurs, the pollution is not only an aggression against private property, but against liberty and life as well in the event of illness or death caused by the pollutants. This means that a polluter may be guilty not only of damaging property, but of assault or homicide.

It is clear that governments cannot be trusted to defend its citizens from such aggressions, but it has done worse; it has prevented free market solutions from being implemented. During the 19th century, people whose property was damaged by factory smoke took the factory owners to court, seeking relief from the pollution in the form of injunctions and damages. The government judges, realizing on which side their bread was buttered, sided with the factory owners, claiming that the “public good” of industrial progress outweighed private property rights. Such case law regarding air pollution applies to water pollution as well. Legislators, also knowing who was more capable of funding their campaigns and bribing them, joined in for the polluters and against the victims by eliminating the option of class action lawsuits against polluters who cause damage over a large area. As Frank Bubb writes, “It is as if the government were to tell you that it will (attempt to) protect you from a thief who steals only from you, but it will not protect you if the thief also steals from everyone else in the neighborhood.” That the government’s tax collectors are thieves of this nature is not unrelated.

Without government involvement, the provision of legal services and pollution remedies will be open to the market. As most people seek to avoid armed confrontations whenever possible, it stands to reason that they will create organizations to resolve disputes peacefully whenever possible and resort to force only when necessary. These dispute resolution organizations would combine the (legitimate) services currently monopolized by government police and courts. Some may also offer various types of insurance, military defense, and/or correctional facilities, while others may contract out such services to other companies. Such companies make possible a number of solutions to the problem of water pollution. Let us examine them.

The threat of water pollution is a situation in which costs are unpredictable and consequences can be severe, so a natural response in a free market would be to have insurance against pollution of one’s private property in a waterway. This benefits everyone because the insurer makes a profit as long as pollution stays below the level specified in the insurance policy and the policy holders get a payoff if pollution does exceed that level. The insurer is also incentivized to spend any amount of money less than what the payoff would be in order to keep pollution from occurring. This could include buying waterways or land near them that potential polluters seek to acquire, paying potential polluters to either go elsewhere or refrain from polluting, helping potential polluters to operate a more environmentally friendly business, helping victims of pollution in their efforts to sue and/or prosecute polluters, organizing boycotts of polluting businesses and those who associate with them, or aiding those who use defensive violence against polluters.

We may anticipate a few criticisms. In the system described, a company could threaten to pollute in an effort to receive payments and/or assistance from a pollution insurer, outbid any attempt to buy up land or waterways, ignore court decisions against them, or try to militarily defeat property owners who use defensive violence against them. These are serious problems, but each of these problems is as bad or worse in a statist system. Threatening people or businesses with harm unless payment is made to them is the definition of extortion. This problem is rampant in statist societies, as states are funded through taxation, a form of extortion. States are far more capable than private companies of making and carrying out such threats. If private property owners in a statist society wish to exclude a polluter from their neighborhood by buying up all of the land, the polluter can have the state use its powers of eminent domain to give them the property and use as much force as necessary to evict the current occupants. (And the state controls the waterways, so no luck there.) While polluters could try to ignore court decisions against them in a stateless society, this would be quite risky because such courts are not likely to hear complaints from people who have a reputation of ignoring court rulings, and other people are disincentivized to do business with someone who ignores court rulings. This fact is what allowed historical merchant courts to be effective though they lacked the power of enforcement. And as discussed earlier, governments have severely curtailed the ability of pollution victims to sue for damages, so whereas court decisions may sometimes fail to stop polluters in a free society, they frequently are not even allowed to try in a statist society. Finally, there is the use of force in self-defense against polluters. This must be a legitimate option in the event that nonviolent methods of preventing the aggression of pollution fail; otherwise, property rights are not rights at all, but limited privileges. It may be that a polluter has the resources to militarily defeat property owners who use defensive violence against them, but a person or business in a free society has only the military might that it can afford, not the military might of a nation-state. The private property owners also have a better chance in a free society because there would be no arms control laws to keep them from owning machine guns, rockets, tanks, missiles, or anything else they may want to use in their efforts. Let us not pretend that this option is off the table in a statist society; it is just monopolized by the state, in that a violator of government environmental regulations would ultimately be stopped by government agents with guns if nothing less were effective at bringing the violator into compliance. But if pollution victims in a statist society were to take up arms to stop a polluter by force, the state would use as much force as necessary to stop them, and the pollution victims are almost certain to lose that fight eventually.

It is obvious that a stateless alternative to the current system has much better incentives to reduce water pollution and protect the environment. The answer to the question of why private property, free markets, and non-aggression have not been permitted to solve this problem as described above is the same as always: the rational self-interest of powerful people is to keep things as they are and stand athwart true progress.

Supreme Court gives raisin farmers fake freedom

On June 22, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Horne v. Department of Agriculture, which decided whether the reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Administrative Committee under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 is constitutional. The requirement forces growers to set aside a percentage of their crop for the government without charge. The justices decided by an 8-1 vote that “The Fifth Amendment requires that the Government pay just compensation when it takes personal property, just as when it takes real property. Any net proceeds the raisin growers receive from the sale of the reserve raisins goes to the amount of compensation they have received for that taking—it does not mean the raisins have not been appropriated for Government use. Nor can the Government make raisin growers relinquish their property without just compensation as a condition of selling their raisins in interstate commerce.” The Raisin Administrative Committee must therefore either stop taking raisins from farmers or pay a just compensation for their taking.

The majority opinion was delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts and was joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan joined as to Parts I and II. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said “Nothing in the text or history of the Takings Clause, or our precedents, suggests that the rule is any different when it comes to appropriation of personal property. The Government has a categorical duty to pay just compensation when it takes your car, just as when it takes your home. …Nothing in this history suggests that personal property was any less protected against physical appropriation than real property. …When the government physically takes possession of an interest in property for some public purpose, it has a categorical duty to compensate the former owner, regardless of whether the interest that is taken constitutes an entire parcel or merely a part thereof. …Selling produce in interstate commerce, although certainly subject to reasonable government regulation, is similarly not a special governmental benefit that the Government may hold hostage, to be ransomed by the waiver of constitutional protection.”

So, why is this decision which is heralded by many as a victory for private property rights actually a fake triumph for freedom? While the Hornes have won the right to keep all of their raisins instead of handing over whatever percentage the USDA demands of them, this decision was intentionally kept narrow by the justices. The ability of the state to violate private property rights in the name of the “public good” was affirmed. The Court only found that the state must pay the property holders just compensation for doing so. Of course, agents of the state will be the ultimate arbiters of what constitutes just compensation, as they have a monopoly on the courts, so even this may be of little comfort to some victims of eminent domain. The Court also upheld that interstate commerce is subject to reasonable government regulation, and again, agents of the state will be the ultimate arbiters of what constitutes reasonable government regulation. The Court affirmed the idea that a government can legitimately claim and own property, even though everything that governments own has been stolen under color of law from private citizens by current and former government agents. The Court declined to apply the decision in this case to other, similar government programs that affect farmers who grow other crops, so those statist price control initiatives will remain in effect, perpetrating distortions on the market.

The reality of property rights in practice has not been changed by this decision. What is effectively thy property is whatever thou can take and defend from those who would seek to control it in thy stead, regardless of whether those seeking to control it have any logical justification for doing so and regardless of whether they choose to call themselves “the state.”