The Dark Side Of Decentralization

Decentralization is viewed by many libertarians as the best path to freedom, and there are none to speak of who would discount it entirely, even if they think it to be a secondary tactic to some other method. Thus far, decentralization has taken many forms. Bitcoin can grant its users freedom from taxation, currency debasement, and capital controls. Peer-to-peer file-sharing has limited the abilities of government to enforce intellectual property laws. 3D printers have the potential to render both gun control laws and patents irrelevant. Onion routing has freed many people from censorship and allowed for marketplaces that circumvent drug bans. These results are positive and growing with each passing day, despite the occasional minor setback.

All of these tools (and more) have been used to great effect to promote liberty by circumventing state power, but decentralization itself is fundamentally amoral. It is a tactic that can be used by the forces of darkness as well. The most prominent example as of this writing is Islamic terrorism.

There was a time when major terrorist attacks, like those of 9/11, were the biggest fear of people in the West. This was the height of centralized terrorism, when 19 agents of al-Qaida hijacked four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 civilians in a well-planned, well-funded, highly coordinated operation. Here, the state displayed its strong suit: it can effectively destroy centralized enemies. If there is a physical target that can be bombed or a living person that can be exterminated, states are usually able to carry out those acts. (Of course, they frequently go overboard with their bombings and killings, which gives more people cause to become terrorists, but statists rarely care about this, as prolonged war is prolonged health of the state.) The regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein quickly fell after the US military invaded their respective lands. But in their wake came decentralized enemies in the form of anti-occupation insurgents and new terrorist cells. These have proven difficult, if not impossible, to defeat. After all, governments, with their bureaucratic red tape and intrinsic inefficiencies, must be correct every time. Islamic jihadists, with their ability to remotely recruit and train new terrorists anywhere in the world, need only be correct once. They can even strike from beyond the grave, as videos made by the late Anwar al-Awlaki are still bringing new people into the ranks of Islamic terrorism.

So, what to do about the dark side of decentralization? It, like the darkness of centralization, is best fought with the light side of decentralization. We already have some examples of how this might work. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the city of Boston was put under martial law. But agents of the state did not find Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; a private citizen found Tsarnaev hiding in his boat. After the Charlie Hebdo shooting, 10,000 soldiers filled the streets of Paris. But they did not find the shooters; a man hiding under a sink in the building they occupied informed the authorities of their location. In both cases, locating terror suspects was better performed by private individuals than by government agents. The next step is to decentralize the means of dealing with the threat posed by terrorists by using competing private security forces against terrorists. This would increase effectiveness because private security forces would compete with each other to provide the best service at the lowest cost and could be fired for incompetence and/or overreach. And because aggression increases the cost of providing security, the sort of foreign policy misadventures that magnify the number of Islamic terrorists would be drastically curtailed, if not eliminated outright, if government militaries were replaced with private security forces.

Of course, central governments will not stop oppressing their populations unless and until they must, which will only happen with a combination of advancing technology and a willingness to use it in self-defense. In such oppression, centralization and the dark side of decentralization are allies, together for the long haul. For the state to win the war on terrorism would be against its rational self-interest, as the terrorists give the state an excuse to operate, grow, and oppress private individuals in the name of national security. For the state to lose the war on terrorism would also be against its rational self-interest, as failing at the one job it is supposedly solely capable of performing would quickly lead to its overthrow. The terrorists, for their part, need the state to motivate new recruits who would not be brought in by religious fundamentalism alone, as the military interventions that anger people in their home countries would be difficult, if not impossible, with competing private security forces in place of government militaries. In this sense, the state and Islamic terrorism are symbiotic enemies that must defeated together by the third side of libertarian decentralization.

Police Assassinations Versus The Non-Aggression Principle

In the wake of recent assassinations of NYPD officers and violence against police elsewhere, libertarian authors at Reason Magazine and have called the shootings “horrific and unjustifiable,” “assassinations,” “executions,” and “murder.” Let us examine these claims from first principles and see whether this is the case or whether killing government police officers is within the bounds of the non-aggression principle. Then, we will look at some of the philosophical objections raised by these authors and others and see whether or not they are valid.

Did Ismaaiyl Brinsley murder officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, or were these killings justifiable?

Let us begin with the essence of libertarianism: the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle says that it is never morally acceptable to initiate the use of force, and that the use of force to defend against a force initiator (a.k.a. aggressor) is always morally acceptable. We should then explore its limitations. Like any logical statement, the non-aggression principle is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. To claim that one should be free from victimization by aggressors while committing acts of aggression is a performative inconsistency. As such, only a person who abides by the non-aggression principle is logically able to claim protection under it. To abide by the non-aggression principle, one must not initiate the use of force and if one does, one must make restitution for doing so. This means that one may employ violence against any aggressor at any time for the purpose of obtaining restitution for aggression and/or repelling the threat that an aggressor poses, and that one may escalate the use of force as far as necessary to accomplish these goals. Let us look at some basic examples to see how this works:

  1. Alfred is walking down a street. Bob picks Alfred’s wallet out of his pocket and runs away. Alfred chases down Bob, puts Bob in a submission hold, and takes back the wallet as well as Bob’s wallet. This is acceptable. The use of force was initiated, defensive force appropriate to the situation was used, and restitution was made. Concerning Bob’s wallet, Bob cannot claim a property right to his wallet while violating Alfred’s property right to his wallet, so Alfred may choose to take Bob’s wallet without penalty.
  2. Cate breaks into Daniel’s house and steals from it. Daniel hires Acme Dispute Resolution to investigate. Their agents find forensic evidence linking Cate to the crime with complete certainty. They send agents to recover the stolen goods if possible and deal with Cate if necessary. The agents find Cate with the stolen goods and attempt to negotiate with her. Cate uses deadly force to try to repel them. The agents kill Cate, recover the stolen goods, and return them to Daniel. This is acceptable. The use of force was initiated, Daniel hired agents to help him do what he may morally do but may be practically incapable of doing himself, an attempt to obtain restitution was made, the aggressor escalated the situation to the point of deadly force, defensive force appropriate to the situation was used, and restitution was delivered to the victim.
  3. Elle is walking down a street. Farkas approaches, points a gun at Elle, and demands Elle’s purse. Elle hands it over. Farkas runs away with the wallet. Gina witnesses this from a few blocks away. Gina pulls out a gun, runs toward Farkas, and shoots Farkas dead. Gina returns the purse to Elle. This is acceptable. Even though Gina was not the victim and was not hired by the victim, an aggressor who threatens deadly force against people may be stopped with deadly force by anyone who is willing and able.
  4. Hector murders Ivan. No one finds out about it until Jacob is able to prove it with certainty 25 years later. Jacob then kills Hector. Upon being questioned, Jacob presents the ironclad case that Hector was a murderer. This is acceptable. Even though a long time has passed, Hector initiated the use of force and committed a crime for which no restitution is possible, as the life of Ivan cannot be restored. Hector cannot claim a right to his life while having violated Ivan’s right to his life by murdering him. Jacob (and anyone else who figures out that Hector is a murderer) is therefore entitled to choose whether to kill Hector.
  5. Karl has done nothing wrong. Lana hires Mark to murder Karl. Karl kills Mark in self-defense. Lana hears of this and hires Neville to murder Karl. Karl captures Neville and asks him who hired him. Neville refuses to answer, so Karl tortures him until he does. Neville finally tells Karl that Lana hired him. Karl does more research to confirm this, hunts down Lana, and kills her. This is acceptable. Karl is obviously justified in killing Mark to protect himself from being murdered. Karl is justified in torturing Neville because it would be inconsistent for Neville to claim rights to his body while he is seeking to deny Karl rights to his body by murdering him. Karl is justified in killing Lana because while she is not acting directly to murder him, she is hiring agents to do it for her, which makes her vicariously liable. There is also the matter that the alternative is absurd; Karl should not have to spend his life dodging hitmen hired by Lana until he finally fails to do so and gets murdered.
  6. Omar owns a store. Omar has signed no contract with the mafia for their protection, and would rather hire other security forces or defend his property himself. Patrice is a mafia member sent to collect protection money from Omar. Omar informs Patrice of a robbery that occurred at his store the previous week, and refuses to pay on the grounds that the service was unsatisfactory and that he does not want the mafia’s protection. Patrice tells Omar that the mafia has no obligation to protect him and threatens to beat Omar and lock him in a cage if he does not pay. Omar demands that Patrice leave his store. Patrice refuses to leave, begins to attack Omar, and Omar is no match for Patrice in a fight. Omar pulls out a gun and kills Patrice. This is acceptable. Patrice violated Omar’s freedom of association, trespassed on his property, and physically assaulted him. Omar did what he had to do to defend himself and his property (although he may have to do more in the future, as the mafia will be after him now).
  7. Quentin is selling batteries on the street, and no one has demanded that he leave their private property. Roger, an agent of Sally’s Coercion Cartel (SCC), approaches Quentin and tells him that in accordance with SCC policy, he is not allowed to sell batteries in the area without paying 10 percent of his profits to SCC. Quentin demands to be left alone. Roger attacks and kills Quentin. SCC summons a council of non-SCC members who are threatened with punishment for not responding. These people are to judge whether Roger has done something criminal. The proceeding is conducted entirely by SCC personnel in a location chosen by SCC leadership. The result is that Roger is exonerated. Tara finds Roger and kills him. She then hires Ultimate Defense Agency to help her apprehend the leadership of SCC and stop them from stealing from and killing any more merchants. They kill some SCC leaders and capture the rest. This is acceptable. Roger has committed an act of murder, and it is therefore inconsistent for him to claim a right to his own life, so he may be killed. The case of the SCC leaders is more complex. Like Lana from Example 5, they are not acting directly, but are hiring people to initiate the use of force for them, to the point of murdering those who do not comply with their extortion. But as they continually employ agents who initiate the use of force, they are presenting a constant threat which may be answered with as much force as necessary to end the threat. Some surrendered once presented with defensive force, while others kept initiating the use of force and were killed.

Examples 6 and 7 bear closer examination. What if Patrice is not a mafia member, but a government tax collector? What if Roger is not a member of Sally’s Coercion Cartel, but a government police officer? What if the SCC leadership were government legislators and executives instead? From a moral standpoint, nothing would change. It matters not what costume one wears or what organization one claims to work for; the non-aggression principle is a moral absolute. Its violation by an aggressor, along with a refusal by the aggressor to stop aggressing and make restitution for the aggression, may be defended against by as much force as is necessary to end the threat.

The caveat here is that officers Ramos and Liu are not known to have killed anyone in the performance of their jobs. But they are known to have chosen to become government police officers, the job description of which is to enforce the laws and to be paid from government coffers for doing so. To enforce the laws is to present a consistent threat to initiate as much force as necessary to stop a person who is known to be breaking the laws. The laws are not determined in accordance with the non-aggression principle, but by the whims of politicians. As some of the laws are contrary to the non-aggression principle, those laws are immoral. Thus, to become a government police officer is to choose to present a consistent threat to initiate the use of as much force as necessary to stop a person who is known to be breaking immoral laws, or in other words, acting morally. Also, the money paid to a government police officer was collected through taxation, which violates the non-aggression principle by forcing people to turn over their money to the state or be subject to initiatory force. As officers Ramos and Liu chose to enter a profession where they presented a consistent threat to initiate the use of as much force as necessary to stop people who are doing nothing immoral while receiving stolen money for doing so, it would be inconsistent for the non-aggression principle to apply to them. Thus, killing them to defend innocent people from their aggressions is within the bounds of the non-aggression principle.

Now, let us consider common responses and objections which were not dealt with above:

So Ismaaiyl Brinsley was a hero?

Although he eliminated two aggressors, he also killed an innocent person, which makes him a murderer. He was therefore not a hero.

By using force against another person, the cop-killers of New York are now playing the state’s game.

This objection shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper use of force and the nature of the state. The state’s game is initiatory force. By using force against government agents, cop-killers use defensive force. To equate the two is a serious error unbecoming of a true libertarian.

In a battle between government agents and civilians, there can be no victory; only blood spilled upon blood.

The idea here is that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. This is only true if matters reach the point of large-scale conflict and the numbers on each side are roughly equal. The number of civilians is far larger than the number of government agents, and it would only take a few percent of civilians defending themselves against government agents to render the government inert. But even the threat of power has power, and it is unlikely for a large-scale conflict between government agents and civilians to erupt if the civilians strategize correctly. After all, centralized power has consistently been shown to be ineffective at dealing with decentralized opponents. At the point of this writing, the hazard of being an NYPD officer is perceived to be so high that police are drastically limiting their activities. At some point, the hazard of being a government agent would become so high that it would make more sense to go do something productive for a living than to go up against so many people who are willing to use defensive force as to face almost certain death.

Police are human beings. They do the best they can. Their lives are valuable.

People who choose to initiate the use of force are almost certainly not doing the best they can, and if they are, then their survival is dependent on immorality, which makes their survival immoral. Also, value is subjective, and it is possible to subjectively value the human life of an unrepentant aggressor at zero or less.

Absentee parents are the most powerful predictor of problematic children. Killing government agents results in absentee parents because dead people are necessarily absent. This will cause an increase in violence as these problematic children grow up and commit crimes.

It is important to remember that this is not a zero-sum game. Government police officers, if left unchallenged, will enforce all of the laws and thusly imprison innocent people, which results in absentee parents and the accompanying problems described above. Also note that an increase in violence is not necessarily a bad thing if the recipients of violence are aggressors far more often than they are innocent people. Such an increase in violence would serve as a chilling effect against aggressors by eliminating some aggressors and raising the cost of engaging in such behavior for the remaining ones, thereby resulting in a long-term drop in violent crime after the short-term rise.

All police are not collectively responsible for the acts that a few individuals among them have committed.

This is only true in a direct sense. While not all (or even most) government police officers have gotten away with a murder in the line of duty, they are all willfully part of a system that helps the few who have avoid responsibility and retribution for their crimes. Such action creates vicarious liability. They are also still guilty of continuously threatening innocent people with potentially deadly force for engaging in behaviors that politicians happen to dislike.

We have a justice system. Why can’t we use and trust it to hold government police officers accountable?

We cannot use the system because it is inherently biased. In a criminal proceeding against a government police officer, a government police officer is being tried in a government courtroom presided over by a government judge in a case presented by a government prosecutor (who likely has a working relationship with the police officer) to a jury convened by the government under pain of fines and/or imprisonment for not responding for jury duty. How such an astronomically large conflict of interest can be tolerated by a free people is frankly baffling.

If killing government agents is acceptable, why don’t you start shooting?

Just because an action is not forbidden does not mean that it is obligatory. It might also be positive but not obligatory, neutral, or negative but not forbidden. While using defensive force against government agents is morally acceptable, it is usually tactically unwise. Although the NYPD has significantly lessened its oppression of the populace in response to the loss of two of its officers, this is incomplete and impermanent. To completely end the oppression of statism through defensive violence will require a critical mass of people who are willing to participate, and these people will have to be reasonable people who are fed up with the abuses of statism and have realized that no other options are going to work in their lifetimes, not lone wolves with mental illnesses who cause death and destruction to innocent people as well. Without such a critical mass with the proper motivation, such efforts will only serve as an excuse to bolster government police and military forces while curtailing liberty further and making libertarians look like dangerous extremists.

Seven virtuous ideas that require anarchy

There are many virtuous ideas which most people wish to see spread to all of humanity. But contrary to the seemingly endless propaganda that is fed to us from government-approved sources about how the state is necessary for these ideas to be fulfilled, these ideas are actually incompatible with any kind of state. Let us look at seven virtuous ideas and see why they require anarchy.

Rule of law requires anarchy. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law. The law does not rule them. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law is to have no state.

Freedom of association requires anarchy. Freedom of association is the right to choose those with whom one associates. A private person or business may not force peers or customers to associate with them. Criminals may try to do so, but they will suffer legal consequences from the state for doing so. One aspect that distinguishes the state from other people or organizations is that the state forces people to pay for and use its services and suffers no legal consequences for doing so. This violates freedom of association. Therefore, the only possibility for freedom of association is to have no state.

Peace requires anarchy. Peace is the status of being free from violence. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. Initiatory force involves the use of violence. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power will always be a threat to peace. Therefore, the only possibility for peace is to have no state.

Justice requires anarchy. Justice is the process and result of dealing with disputes in an impartial manner. In the presence of a state, its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do; namely, functions of the state which involve initiatory force. If some people are allowed to perform certain actions that others are forbidden to perform, then members of the former group of people will not be treated impartially with respect to members of the latter group of people. Therefore, the only possibility for justice is to have no state.

Equality requires anarchy. In the presence of a state, its power will be sought by various special interest groups who seek favors from the state. But those favors must come from somewhere. As the state does not create, but rather steals, redistributes, and consumes, what it gives to some must be taken from others. Organizations for the advancement of a particular gender identity will thus be implicitly advocating against any other gender identity. Whichever gender identity has the most successful advocacy organizations will thereby have inequality in its favor. Therefore, the only possibility for gender equality is to have no state. This argument may be restated for ethnicity, age groups, the disabled, or any other classification of people.

Private property rights require anarchy. Private property is property which a individual has an exclusive right to control and use. In the presence of a state, the state will fund its activities through taxation, which is the taking of private property for state use. If any person or organization may take property from its rightful owner without penalty, then the owner’s right to exclusive control and use has been violated. Therefore, the only possibility for private property rights is to have no state.

Liberty requires anarchy. Liberty is the freedom to do as one wishes while respecting the right of other people to do likewise. While anarchism offers no guarantee that the simple absence of a state will be sufficient to give us liberty, logic shows that anarchism is a necessary precondition of liberty. As shown above, the state makes liberty impossible, so the only possibility for liberty is to have no state.

How would X work without the state?

In discussions about libertarianism, people will frequently ask how a particular good or service that is currently monopolized by the state. These questions are important, and a free society will have to find answers to them. But in the course of argumentation, such questions tend to be a trap. The intent behind such a question is frequently to derail the conversation by going deep into the weeds on a particular topic, where the libertarian can be lost in endless proposals and criticisms. Before attempting to answer how X would be supplied or work without the state (where X can be any good or service currently monopolized by the state), one should point out a few things.

The first thing to note is that no statist of any kind has legitimacy to ask such a question. A statist supports the operation of a state of some kind. The state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a certain geographical area. When the state monopolizes any good or service, its agents exercise their monopoly on initiatory force to stop competing good or service providers from operating. While a few basic aspects of good or service provision may be deduced a priori, competing providers must operate in order to provide the empirical evidence necessary to know the details of how X would work without the state. Thus, a statist who asks how X would work without the state is supporting efforts to destroy an experiment while asking for the results of said experiment. This is a contradiction, and contradictions equal falsehood. Therefore, only an anarchist may legitimately ask how X would work without the state.

The next matter of importance is the moral aspect of the question. Let us begin with argumentation ethics. When people agree to engage in rational argumentation, they implicitly accept certain behavioral norms. Among these are that truth is universally preferable to falsehood, that reason is universally preferable to initiatory force, and that one will make an effort to persuade others of one’s philosophical position. (This does not mean that all people at all times will believe this and behave accordingly; only that they should.) These norms must be accepted because if truth is not universally preferable to falsehood, then the argumentation may be dishonest and irrational, tending toward deception and fraud; if reason is not universally preferable to initiatory force, then engaging in argumentation rather than resorting to force is a performative contradiction; and if one is not going to make an effort to persuade others of one’s philosophical position, then the argumentation lacks meaning and purpose. The non-aggression principle, which condemns all initiatory force, is therefore impossible to argue against. As the state is based upon initiatory force, it is inherently immoral. As such, the question of how X would work without the state is morally irrelevant. One might as well ask, “If we free the slaves, who will pick the cotton?”

Finally, one should point out that X frequently works poorly with the state monopolizing it. The roads frequently have potholes. The schools frequently indoctrinate children with a pro-state, anti-liberty worldview while failing to teach them useful information. The restaurants are frequently inspected at times when the owners have been given advance warning to eliminate any improprieties. Medicines are frequently held up by government regulations and kept from people who could be saved from death by them. The police are frequently more hazardous to people who are respecting people and property than the criminals they are supposed to help defend against. The military frequently murders innocent people overseas, thereby helping to motivate new enemies faster than current enemies can be killed. The electrical grid is one computer hacking or solar storm away from returning all of us to the 19th century. Suffice it to say that in most cases, the bar above which a free society must operate is set quite low.

None of this is to say that the question of how X would work without the state is unimportant, or that one should not make an effort to answer it. But to do so blindly without contemplation of the motivation of the questioner, the moral irrelevancy of utility, or the horrible jobs that state monopolies tend to do is a mistake.

How an anarcho-capitalist society could save us from parades

This past weekend, the annual local Christmas parade passed by my house, just like always. (Except for last year, when a hard rain thankfully cancelled the parade for the first time in its 40 year history.) And just like always, hundreds of people parked in the fields near the house. Unfortunately, these people tend to be inebriated and lacking in respect for private property. My family and I routinely had to run people out of the various sheds on the property, as they might be harmed by the sharp objects, heavy objects, farming chemicals, and other such hazards therein. In one instance, a random person told others that they could use one of our sheds as a place to urinate. This occurred because the parade organizers never bring enough portable toilets. Someone even had the temerity to drive all over the fields behind the house and out of view of the parade. The day after the parade, we had to clean up broken beer bottles, empty tobacco packs, fast food, and other such garbage left as litter on the property’s road frontage. Unlike previous years, no cleanup crew came by to help us do this.

Naturally, a libertarian can become quite dismayed, disgusted even, at seeing people behave this way. We tried to rope off the yard, but some people just knocked this down and parked anyway. We had “no hunting” signs up, but still found that someone had left spent shotgun shells near the road. (I can only assume that they aimed at some wild turkeys or geese that occasionally visit the property.) The local police officers were of little help; they only sat at the road watching the parade and looked for trouble in the immediate vicinity of the parade. They did nothing about the various transgressions that occurred elsewhere.

As I thought about the events that transpired, I realized that something foundational is very wrong to allow such violations to occur, let alone go unpunished. Then, an epiphany came to me. The reason that any of this can happen is that roads and the land immediately next to it are not private property; they are government-occupied property. The parade organizers can depend on the local government to close off normal traffic on the road to allow the parade to take place. As no one really has an ownership stake in the property and the damage is not typically of a sort that can be dealt with by the courts, there is no incentive to take good care of it.

In an anarcho-capitalist society, carrying out a parade would not be nearly as easy. Without a state, all property would be in private hands, including the roads. A parade organizer would need permission from every person who owns part of the road between the starting point and ending point of the parade in order to carry out the parade. If even one person with a claim on the parade route wished to stop the parade, he could do so, even to the point of using force to defend his property from trespassers. As such, the parade organizer would need to make sure that property damage, trespassing, and litter are kept to a minimum in order to prevent the private property owners from banning the parade in the future. This would mean that private police would need to protect the properties and property owners along the parade route, and as they would be contracted to do a job for the parade organizers and also be subject to the review of the property owners, they would have to do a much better job than the local government police currently do. This would also mean that the parade organizers would have to rent a sufficient number of portable toilets to keep the parade watchers from using people’s yards. Finally, this would mean that a cleanup crew would have to be hired to restore the properties to their original condition, free of parade garbage. Clearly, if we want better parades or just to have freedom from parades in our front yards, an anarcho-capitalist society is the way to go.

A response to arguments against the CIA torture report

On Dec. 9, the CIA released a report detailing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques against captured terrorists during the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks. The report describes what was done to who and when for the 119 known individuals who were held in CIA custody.

Reaction to the report has been mixed, with civil libertarians arguing that the American people have a right to know what has been done in their name and that the activities of the CIA were unjustifiable. National security statists counter that releasing the report threatens the safety of Americans overseas and that the ends of preventing terrorist attacks justify the means employed. Let us examine some of the common arguments made by national security statists.

1. The methods used were not torture. The methods used violate the Geneva Convention if it is construed to apply to unlawful combatants (the enhanced interrogation program’s supporters claim it should not be). They would also violate the Eighth Amendment if they were applied to U.S. citizens. One need only go through the list of techniques to dismiss this argument out of hand.

2. The methods used were effective and necessary. The report indicates that the methods used were not more effective than non-enhanced interrogations. Even so, it is impossible to know this for certain. One would have to examine an alternate timeline where no torture methods were used and compare the results, and this is not possible. As for torture being necessary, the ends cannot justify the means.

3. People died in worse ways on 9/11, so it was acceptable to subject terror suspects to enhanced interrogations. The hijackers who committed the crimes of 9/11 died in the attacks as well, and responsibility for crimes must die with the people who commit them. That being said, other people besides the hijackers acquired vicarious liability for aiding and abetting their efforts. It must also be noted that a threat to initiate the use of force counts as an initiation of the use of force, and that violating a fundamental right of another person while claiming the same right for oneself is logically invalid. Therefore, a person who is not just suspected, but is known to be involved in planning, aiding, or carrying out terrorist attacks is violating the right of other people to exclusive control over their own bodies, and is estopped from claiming self-ownership. Thus, there is no moral prohibition against torturing such a person, especially as a use of defensive force to prevent a terrorist attack that would kill innocent people.

4. The report is ill-formed because no interviews of CIA officials were conducted. This is cause for suspicion, not cause for rejection. Further evidence is needed to show that something untoward has occurred, and interviews of CIA officials should be conducted in order to obtain a more complete account of the events that took place.

5. The report is unimportant because the information was already public knowledge. The general nature of the operations were public knowledge, but the details were not. It is important for every American to be able to know exactly what has been done by agents of an institution that claims to represent their interests throughout the world.

6. The release of this information will cause more attacks against Americans. Again, it is impossible to know this sort of information for certain. One would have to examine an alternate timeline where the report was not released and compare the results, and this is not possible.

7. The release of this information should have been done at a different time. To quote Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), “This clearly is a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, that’s going to continue into the foreseeable future whether this report is released or not.”

8. The release of this information was politically motivated. All actions involving politicians are politically motivated to some extent, so this is true but trivial.

NYPD officer gets away with murder of Eric Garner

On Dec. 3, a grand jury in Staten Island returned a no true bill in the matter of the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD officer Daniel Pantoleo on July 17.

At about 5:00 p.m. EDT on July 17, Garner was allegedly selling bootlegged cigarettes in the Tompkinsville area of Staten Island, N.Y. This fact was disputed by multiple witnesses, who said he had instead been trying to break up a fight between two people who left the scene before police arrived. A video of the interaction between Garner and police shows Garner shouting, “Why you touching me? I didn’t sell anything! I was breaking up a fight!” More than five officers took Garner to the ground, and Pantoleo maintained a chokehold on Garner well after he lost consciousness. Garner said, “I can’t breathe!,” several times before losing consciousness. The police called an ambulance for him, but it was too late. The New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide on Aug. 1, finding that while Garner’s poor health was a contributing factor to his death, the actions of police officers were the primary cause of death.

This case demonstrates that while cameras on police are statistically shown to lower police use of force and citizen complaints against police, they alone will not stop police abuse. Nor are recordings apparently enough to overcome the biases inherent in the grand jury system. That being said, it is not clear whether the officers knew their actions against Garner were being filmed, and they may have acted differently if they had been wearing cameras.

The decision today also illustrates why the state should not have a monopoly on criminal justice. The other officers involved were given immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. As the state has a monopoly on criminal justice, this means that any criminal responsibility on their part will likely go unpunished. Note also that their testimony likely supported Officer Pantoleo, as the rational self-interest of a police officer is to support another police officer. As for Pantoleo, a government agent being tried in a government court by a government prosecutor is a conflict of interest if ever there was one. And unlike the Michael Brown case, there is clear video evidence of the events that took place, leaving little room for doubt about the criminality of the officer. The saying is that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, and an indictment could have been obtained if the prosecutor had so desired. If there were a free market for criminal justice, outcomes like this would be far less likely, as the victim’s family could choose from a number of competing service providers, each seeking to provide the best justice for the crime committed.

The prosecutor did not even present all viable charges. In New York, “A person is guilty of murder in the first degree when: With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; and the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim’s death, and the defendant was more than eighteen years old at the time of the commission of the crime.” A reasonable person would be expected to know that keeping someone in a chokehold after they lose consciousness is an act that can cause death, and that one does not perform an act that one knows can cause death without an intent to cause death. A reasonable person would also be expected to know that choking out a person who has not damaged any person or property despite the person’s health problems and protests of being unable to breathe is “an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim.” In another case earlier this year, a man pleaded guilty to first degree murder charges in New York for choking someone to death, so there is legal precedent for such a charge.

The economic fallacies of Black Friday: 2014 Edition

Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 140.1 million customers will be shopping on Black Friday weekend, down from the 2013 estimate of 140.3 million customers. The actual result from 2013 was 248.7 million shoppers, an increase of 77.26 percent over the predicted value. A similar percentage over the predicted value for 2014 would mean an actual number of shoppers close to 248.3 million.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be $619.1 billion, up from $592.6 billion in 2013. This would be an annual increase of 4.1 percent. This year, the NRF also estimates that retailers will hire between 730,000 and 790,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 768,000 they hired during the 2013 holiday season.

Many ordinary people, as well as many economists, think of this spending and the increase in seasonal jobs as a boost to the economy. To think this is to commit the broken window fallacy, as such thinking fails to account for what people would do with their money if they were not spending it on holiday gifts, or what they could do with money that they would not have to pay back in interest to lenders if they had not engaged in deficit spending during the holiday season. In other words, it focuses only on what is seen, and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

There is also the matter of malinvestment, which according to Austrian business cycle theory, is one cause of recessions. Malinvestment occurs to the extent that people purchase unwanted gifts (which promotes overproduction and misallocation of resources) and/or use money they do not have (which squanders more resources in interest payments on credit cards). It must be noted that the case of holiday shopping does not exactly follow the Austrian business cycle theory, as there is no credit expansion by a central bank that drives the malinvestment, and the boom suddenly halts on its own when the holiday season ends. That being said, when we look at the average monthly returns on the Standard and Poor’s 500, for example, we notice that aside from the historically abysmal returns from investing during the month of September, the worst months for investing are February, May, and March. (April would likely be bad as well if not for income tax returns providing an artificial economic boost.) An economic downturn occurs in the historical average following the holiday season, but as this has become an expected annual occurrence, many analysts simply do not look for an explanation of these results, as they are perceived to be natural. Even so, this appears to be a small-scale psuedo-Austrian business cycle that repeats annually.

With these arguments in mind, would we all be better off if we just canceled the holiday shopping season? It is an open question, but the Austrian School of economics suggests that we could be.

Seven observations about events in Ferguson

Over the past three months, the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. has been the focus of much coverage in the media. The story has been misreported in many outlets, and it has been used as propaganda by race-baiters. If any good is to come from the tragic events which have occurred, then the situation must be examined logically. Seven such logical observations follow.

1. A government agent being tried in a government court is a conflict of interest. A grand jury is convened in a government court house filled with government agents. The case is laid before the grand jury by a government prosecutor, who gets to present a one-sided case. In a case involving a government agent, who has likely helped the prosecutor (or one of his friends) bring and try cases in the past, there is certainly a conflict of interest that could only be resolved by having an independent prosecutor and grand jury (although the latter no longer exists in the current system).

2. That being said, a conflict of interest is not by itself a cause for rejection. While a conflict of interest is cause to be suspicious, further evidence is needed to show that something untoward has occurred. This is especially true when the available evidence supports the conclusion reached. Sometimes, the available evidence for a case really is one-sided, and this case is such a case. There is not enough evidence to even say that it is more likely than not that Wilson committed an offense against Brown, which is the required burden of proof for a true bill of indictment from a grand jury.

3. In a free (stateless) society, a person in an equivalent situation to what Wilson encountered would have been justified to act as Wilson did. Let us examine how a similar chain of events might unfold without a government. A man walks into a convenience store and commits a strong-arm robbery. As he leaves, the store clerk calls his private defense agency to report the crime. The video feeds from the store’s security cameras would show beyond any doubt that the man was guilty of robbery. The private defense agency issues an all-points bulletin against the robber, informing all property owners and service providers of his criminal status. At this point, the robber is effectively an outlaw. He would be unwelcome on private property, which is all property in a free society, including any roads or sidewalks on which he may be traveling. The robber is therefore trespassing on the road or sidewalk owner’s property by using the road or sidewalk to escape from the scene where he committed a crime. The road or sidewalk owner calls up his private defense agency to have the robber removed from his road or sidewalk. When he is found, he is walking down the middle of a road, blocking traffic. This creates even more incentive to remove him. An agent of the road or sidewalk owner’s private defense agency confronts the robber and trespasser, telling him that he is unwelcome on the road and that he will not be welcome anywhere or be a part of mainstream economic life until he makes restitution for his robbery. The criminal assaults the agent and makes an effort to kill him. The criminal starts to leave, still trespassing on the road or sidewalk. Then, he turns around for a second attack on the agent. The agent yells at the criminal to stop. The criminal keeps charging. The agent shoots to kill. The actions of the agent are in accord with defense of person and property under the non-aggression principle.

4. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is a nonsensical slogan. Even though no evidence supports the suggestion that Brown raised his hands into a surrendering posture, this has become a slogan among demonstrators motivated by the incident. As such, it must be addressed. Putting one’s hands up does not amount to a surrender. This can be shown by a simple counterexample. One can raise one’s hands, move toward someone, say that one is surrendering, and then deliver a double-fisted downward blow to that person’s head once within striking distance. Unless the approached person shoots in self-defense before the assailant gets too close, he or she can be attacked.

5. Demanding justice for black people while destroying businesses owned and/or operated by black people is contradictory. As Ferguson is a town composed mostly of black people, most of the businesses in the area provide employment to black people, and some are owned by black people. Violating the property rights of black people and depriving them of economic opportunities, as the rioters did, is the opposite of advocating for justice for black people.

6. Cameras should be worn by police. If Wilson had been wearing a camera that had recorded the entire incident, then there would be no questions about what happened, as there would be an objective record of the events that occurred, rather than just a litany of contradictory eyewitness accounts, the word of Wilson, and the forensic evidence. Outside of this matter, studies show that body cameras worn by police officers lead to a over 50 percent reduction in police use of force and a nearly 90 percent reduction in citizen complaints against police for their conduct.

7. Every aspect of this situation could have been avoided by respect for private property. If Michael Brown had respected the private property of the convenience store owner, this situation never would have happened. If demonstrators had respected the private property of the people of Ferguson, the looting and destruction of the businesses never would have happened. If the state had respected the private property of everyone, there would have been no taxation to pay for policies that lead to economic inequality, which motivates people to turn to criminal behavior.

Four uncomfortable truths about government militaries

Every year on Veterans Day, the establishment media is full of articles of hero worship for soldiers. But there are some truths that need to be confronted about government militaries which the establishment media will not address. Let us address some of those here.

1. The troops do not defend your freedom. The troops work for the state, not for you. Contrary to statist myths, the state does not work for you, just as masters do not work for slaves and farmers do not work for livestock. Of course, masters will take care of and protect slaves to some degree and farmers will take care of and protect livestock to some degree, but this is not primarily for the well-being of the slaves and livestock, as starry-eyed state propagandists would have us believe. It is only so that the master or farmer can more effectively exploit the slaves or livestock. After all, slaves and livestock who are ill-cared-for are less productive, and slaves and livestock who are not defended may escape and/or be exploited by others, which makes them less exploitable by the master or farmer.

One can also see this truth about the purpose of troops by empirical observation. Wars have been fought in the name of increasing liberty at least since President Woodrow Wilson’s claim that World War I was about “making the world safe for democracy.” Since that time, liberty has steadily been lost to encroachments by the leviathan state. The easiest way to silence a pro-military statist is to ask them to name one freedom that has been gained by the myriad wars and overseas misadventures following 9/11.

The idea that government soldiers defend freedom carries with it an implicit assumption that if the government soldiers did not defend freedom, then this vitally important task would go undone. This is a positive claim which carries a burden of proof that statists generally do not bother to try to fulfill. Perhaps it is because they know they cannot; after all, government militaries are funded by taxation and currency debasement, which violate property rights and freedom of association. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an expropriating property protector is a contradiction of terms. And there is no reason why the market should fail to provide a service that is strongly desired by everyone for everyone (except for a few criminals, and even they want it for themselves but not for their victims), to the point that most people will tolerate the oppressions of statism just to obtain a counterfeit version of it.

From this, one can only conclude that either the troops are willfully doing the opposite of defending freedom or they are being deceived. Since they (like most other people) are propagandized to the point of saturation by government schools, churches, and establishment media programming and advertising, it is reasonable to conclude that the latter is usually the case.

2. Praising the troops is selfish and irresponsible. Self-defense is one of the most fundamental rights, and the most important personal responsibility, as the abdication of this responsibility endangers all other rights and responsibilities. Of course, there is nothing wrong with hiring another person or group of people to help one fulfill such a basic need. But as shown above, governments are not hired by you, do not work for you, and do not provide defense services in an objective sense. The troops are ultimately in the position they are in because too few of us do what is necessary to provide for our own defense, including self-defense against the state. It is therefore because of the selfishness (in the form of risk aversion with respect to confronting aggressors) and irresponsibility of most of the American people that the troops are risking their lives at the behest of politicians in the first place.

3. Uniforms are not moral magic. From the act of argumentation, one can show the fact that morality is a valid concept and that there are moral rules which should be considered binding upon all people at all times. We should therefore hold a soldier to the same moral standard as a private citizen. In the line of duty, a soldier commits actions which would be punishable crimes if you or I did them. Every killing of a civilian is an act of murder. Every act of invading a innocent bystander’s private property is an act of trespassing. Every act of destruction that damages an innocent bystander’s property should require restitution. Putting on a uniform and excusing such behavior as doing the job assigned by one’s superiors in the name of a collectivist concept is morally irrelevant.

4. Defense would be better without government militaries. Admittedly, there are no empirical examples of a free market of private military companies providing military defense services in lieu of a government military. Part of the reason for this is that governments will use as much force as they must to keep such an idea from being tested, as its success would doom the state by depriving it of its essential monopolies (the other being criminal punishment). But there are reasons to believe that this could work, and that common criticisms of this idea do not withstand scrutiny.

The first thing to note is that a government military has a monopoly, and that this monopoly is maintained not because they satisfy customers in a free market so well that no one cares to compete with them, but because the state will use its military to destroy any competition within its borders. The presence of a monopoly with involuntary customers necessary leads to inferior quality of service and higher costs, as the monopolists need not provide superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service vis-à-vis a competitor. The opening of provision of military defense to a free market of competing providers must therefore lead to superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service.

The most common criticisms of competing private defense companies are that they will fight each other, that they will lead to rule by warlords, and that they will become a new monopoly on force. Rule by warlords and monopoly on force describe the situation under statism, so if the worst-case scenario is that eliminating government militaries just gets us another government military, all other cases must turn out better than this, making these into powerful arguments in favor of privatizing military defense. This leaves the concern that the private service providers will fight each other. We must recognize that the current service providers do fight each other, which caused 90 million deaths in the 20th century. As such, the bar of service quality that private military defense providers must exceed is set rather low. Fortunately, private military defense providers are limited in ways that government militaries are not. A private service provider must bear the cost of its own decisions, and engaging in aggressive wars is more expensive than defensive actions only. A company that sells war is thus at an economic disadvantage against a company that sells peace. Without the government monopoly on legal services granting immunity to the private soldiers as it does to soldiers of the government military, the private soldiers will be subject to the criminal punishments made prevalent by the defense companies in the area in question. The agencies that decide to fight also must take care not to damage or travel on ground held by customers of other agencies, as this would be considered trespassing, and a trespasser with an intent to murder others in a war is a trespasser who may be killed in self-defense. Thus one could expect to see every private property owner not involved with the warring agencies taking actions to destroy both sides of the conflict whenever they occupy land that is not owned by their customers. (And with no state to forbid ownership of certain types of weapons, the private property owners would be much more capable of stopping military hardware than they are now.) There is no guarantee against such a fight, but there are enough incentives working against it to consider it a remote possibility.