Monday, March 27, 2006

Proving Libertarian Morality: Reclaiming the High Ground

One of the central challenges faced by libertarians is the need to prove that libertarian moral theory is universally correct, while statist and collectivistic moral theories are incorrect. Until moral rules can be subjected to the same rigour and logic as any other propositions, we will forever be stymied by subjectivism, political prejudices and the argument from effect.

Why is this approach so important? Why bother with the grueling task of building a logical framework for the examination of moral rules – and the even more grueling task of communicating that framework to others? Well, as I have argued in previous articles, the freedom movement has made remarkably little progress throughout history. Von Mises wrote seminal works disproving the economic efficiency of socialism and communism in the 1920s – now, eighty years later, Western societies are still sliding into the predicted morass of ever-expanding state power, ever-increasing public debts and declining economies. Although free market economic theories have made some progress in academia (and even the popular media!) they have done nothing to even slow down – let alone reverse – the constant expansion of state power.

In my view, the reason for this is simple: libertarians have never won the argument from morality. These days, none of our opponents argue that the government is more efficient than the free market, or that communism will set us free, or that private property is theft. All the old socialistic shibboleths have been laid to rest – and yet still people support government power, because they believe that government power is moral. Most people believe that the government takes care of the poor, old and sick, protects us from enemies both corporate and militaristic, educates the young, builds us roads, blah blah blah – we’ve all heard the same nonsense since the dawn of time. All we say in response is that the government is inefficient at doing these things, and that the free market would be better – none of which touches the central rationale of state power, which is that people believe that it is good.

Our enemies understand the power of the argument from morality far, far better than we do. They constantly harp on the virtue of state power, starting in kindergarten with environmentalism, ‘friendly cops’ and the need for ‘childproofing.’ The world is dangerous, children hear, and capitalists want to kill you with smog, but your friendly government is always eager to serve, help and protect. Children first experience state power as firm, kindly and friendly teachers – so how could they see and appreciate the violence that underpins the government?

How can we oppose this? How can we best work to undo the endless propaganda of pro-state school, media and prejudice?

By learning from history, that’s how. To win a battle, one must first ask: how were similar battles won in the past?

The closest historical analogy to our current situation occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries, during the rise of the scientific method. The early pioneers who advocated a rational and empirical approach to knowledge faced all the same prejudices that we face today – all the same irrationality, entrenched power of church and state, mystical and subjective ‘absolutes’ and early educational barriers. Those who advocated the primacy of rationality and empirical observation over mystical ‘insights’ and Biblical fundamentalism faced the determined opposition of those wielding both cross and sword. Many were tortured to death as heretics for their intellectual honesty – we face far less risk, and so should be far braver in advocating what is true over what is believed.

In order to attack the false morality of state power, we must start from the beginning, just as the first scientists did. Francis Bacon did not argue that the scientific method was more ‘efficient’ than prayer, Bible texts or starvation-induced ‘visions.’ He simply said that if we want to understand nature, we must observe nature and theorize logically – and that there is no other route to knowledge.

We must take the same approach with defining and communicating morality. We must begin using the power and legitimacy of the scientific method to prove the existence and universality of moral laws. We must start from the beginning, build logically and reject any irrational or non-empirical substitutes for the truth.

What does this look like in practice? All we have to do is establish the following axioms:

  • Morality exists.
  • Moral rules must be consistent for all mankind.
  • The more consistent a moral theory is, the more valid it is.
  • Libertarianism is the most consistent moral theory.
  • Therefore, libertarianism is the most valid moral theory!

Sound like a tall order? But give me three thousand or so words, and we can at least take a swing at the first three.

To start from the very beginning… do moral rules – or consistently preferred human behaviour – exist at all?

There are only two possibilities when it comes to moral rules, just as there are in any logical science. Either moral rules exist, or they do not. (In physics, the question is: either physical rules exist, or they do not.)

If moral rules do exist, where do they exist? Certainly not in material reality, which does not contain or obey a single moral rule. Moral rules are different from the rules of physics, just as the scientific method is different from gravity. Matter innately obeys the rule of gravity or the second law of thermodynamics, but ‘thou shalt not kill’ is nowhere inscribed in the nature of things. Physical laws describe the behaviour of matter, but do not contain a single prescription. Science says that matter behaves in a certain manner – never that it should behave in a certain manner. A theory of gravity proves that if you push a man off a cliff, he will fall. It will not tell you whether you should push him or not.

Thus it cannot be said that moral rules exist in material reality, and neither are they automatically obeyed like the laws of physics – which does not mean that moral laws are false or irrelevant. The scientific method does not exist in reality either – and is also optional – but it is neither false nor irrelevant.

Subjecting moral theories to the scientific method will provide the same benefits that subjecting physical theories to the scientific method did. Before the rise of the scientific method, the behaviour of matter resulted from the subjective whim of gods and devils – just as morality is now. Volcanoes erupted because the mountain-god was angry; good harvests resulted from human sacrifice. No absolute physical laws which limited the will of the gods were believed to exist – and so science could never develop. Those who profited from defining physical reality as subjective – mostly priests and kings – fought the subjugation of physical theories to the scientific method, just as those who profit from defining moral reality as subjective – mostly politicians and soldiers – fight the subjugation of moral theories to the scientific method.

The rise of scientific truth resulted from the expansion of the scientific method, which was a methodology for separating accurate from inaccurate theories by subjecting them to two central tests: logical consistency and empirical observation – and by always subjugating logical consistency to empirical observation. If I propose a perfectly consistent and logical theory which says that a rock will float up when thrown off a cliff, any empirical test proves my theory incorrect, since observation always trumps theory.

A further aspect of the scientific method is the belief that, since matter is composed of combinations of atoms with common, stable and predictable properties, the behaviour of matter must also be common, stable and predictable. Thus experiments must be reproducible in different locations and time. I cannot say that my ‘rock floating’ theory is correct for just one particular rock, or on the day I first tested it, or at a single location. My theories must describe the behaviour of matter, which is universal, common, stable and predictable.

Finally, there is a generally-accepted rule – sometimes called Occam’s Razor – which states that, of any two explanations, the simpler is probably the more accurate. Prior to the Copernican revolution, when Earth was considered the center of the universe, the retrograde motion of Mars when Earth passed it in orbit around the sun caused enormous problems to the Ptolemaic system of astronomical calculations. ‘Circles within circles’ multiplied enormously, which were all cleared away by simply placing the sun at the center of the solar system.

Thus any valid scientific theory must be (a) universal, (b) logical, (c) empirically verifiable, (d) reproducible and (e) as simple as possible.

Now the methodology for judging and proving a moral theory is exactly the same as the methodology for judging and proving any other scientific theory.

The first question regarding moral theories is: what are they? Simply put, morals are a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify preferred human behaviours, just as physics is a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify the behaviour of matter.

The second question to be asked is: is there any such thing as ‘preferred behaviour’ at all? If there is, we can begin to explore what such behaviour might be. If not, then our examination must stop here – just as the examination of ‘ether’ ceased after Einstein proved that the speed of light was constant.

The proposition that there is no such thing as preferred behaviour contains an insurmountable number of logical and empirical problems. ‘Preferred behaviour’ must exist, for five main reasons. The first is logical: if I argue against the proposition that preferred behaviour exists, I have already shown my preference for truth over falsehood – as well as a preference for correcting those who speak falsely. Saying that there is no such as thing as preferred behaviour is like shouting in someone’s ear that sound does not exist – it is innately self-contradictory. In other words, if there is no preferred behaviour, then one should oppose anyone who claims that there is preferred behaviour. However, if one ‘should’ do something, then one has just created preferred behaviour. Thus preferred behaviour – or moral rules – must exist.

Syllogistically, this is:

  1. The proposition is: preferred behaviour must exist.
  2. Anyone who argues against the existence of preferred behaviour is demonstrating preferred behaviour.
  3. Therefore no argument against the existence of preferred behaviour can be valid.

How else do we know that moral rules exist? Well, all matter is subject to physical rules – and everything that is organic is in addition subject to certain requirements, and so, if it is alive, has followed preferred behaviours. Everything that lives, for instance, needs fuel and oxygen in order to stay alive – even plants strain for sunlight. Any living mind, of course, is an organic part of the physical world, and so must be subject to both physical laws and has followed preferred behaviours – to argue otherwise would require proof that consciousness is not composed of matter, and is not organic – an impossibility, since it has mass, energy, and life. Arguing that consciousness is subjected to neither physical rules or preferential choices would be like arguing that human beings are not subject to gravity and can flourish without eating. Thus it is impossible that anyone can argue against preferred behaviour, since if he is alive to argue, he has followed preferred behaviours such as breathing, eating and drinking.


  1. All living organisms require preferred behaviour to live.
  2. Man is a living organism.
  3. Therefore all living men are alive due to the existence and practice of preferred behaviour.
  4. Therefore any argument against preferred behaviour requires the existence of preferred behaviour.
  5. Therefore no argument against the existence of preferred behaviour can be valid.

Since the scientific method requires empirical corroboration, we must also look to reality to confirm our hypothesis – and here the existence of preferred behaviours is fully supported. Almost every human being believes in moral rules of some kind. There is much disagreement about what constitutes moral rules, but everyone is certain that moral rules are valid – just as scientific theories disagree, but all scientists accept the validity of the scientific method itself. Disproving something that everyone believes in is almost impossible. One can argue that the Earth is round and not flat – which is analogous to changing the definition of morality – but one cannot argue that the earth does not exist at all – which is like arguing that there is no such thing as preferred behaviour.


  1. For a scientific theory to be valid, it must be supported through empirical observation.
  2. If preferred behaviour exists, then mankind should believe in preferred behaviour.
  3. Almost all men believe in preferred behaviour.
  4. Therefore empirical evidence exists to support the existence of preferred behaviour – and the existence of such evidence opposes the proposition that preferred behaviour does not exist.

The fourth argument for the existence of preferred behaviour is also empirical. Since human beings have an almost-infinite number of choices to make in life, to say that there are no principles of preferred behaviour would be to say that all choices are equal. However, all choices are not equal, either logically or through empirical observation. To take one example, if food is available, almost all human beings eat every day. If not themselves subjected to violence, human beings are generally not violent. Almost all parents choose to feed and shelter their children. There are many examples of common choices among humankind, which indicate that preferential behaviour abounds and is part of human nature – and requires that any theory claiming otherwise must explain away this teeming evidence.


  1. Choices are almost infinite.
  2. Most human beings make very similar choices.
  3. Therefore not all choices can be equal.
  4. Therefore preferred choices must exist.

The fifth argument for the existence of preferred behaviour is biological. Since all organic life requires preferential behaviour, we can assume that those organisms which make the most successful choices are the ones most often selected for survival. Since man is the most successful species, and man’s most distinctive organ is his mind, it must be man’s mind that has aided the most in making successful choices. The mind itself, then, has been selected as successful by its very ability to make successful choices. Since the human mind only exists as a result of choosing preferred behaviour, preferred behaviours must exist.


  1. Organisms succeed by acting upon preferred behaviour.
  2. Man is the most successful organism.
  3. Therefore man must have acted most successfully on the basis of preferred behaviour.
  4. Man’s mind is his most distinctive organ.
  5. Therefore man’s mind must have acted most successfully on the basis of preferred behaviour.
  6. Therefore preferred behaviour must exist.

Due to the above problems, any argument against the existence of preferred behaviour can be dismissed as incorrect.

Since we have proved the existence of preferred behaviour, the question of morality now shifts. Since preferred behaviour does exist, what theories can quantify, classify, explain and predict it?

First of all, we must remember that morality is optional. As we all know, every man is subject to gravity and requires food to live, but no man has to act morally. If I steal or kill, no thunderbolt from the sky strikes me down. Moral rules, like the scientific method or biological classifications, are merely ways of organizing the facts and principles of what exists.

The fact that compliance with moral rules is optional has confused many thinkers into believing that because morality is optional, it is subjective. Nothing could be further from the truth! Living organisms are part of material reality, and material reality is rational and objective. Applying moral theories is optional, but that does not mean that moral theories are subjective. The scientific method is optional, but it is not subjective. Applying biological classifications is optional, but biology is not subjective. Choices are optional; consequences are not. I can choose not to eat, but I cannot choose to live without eating. I can choose to behead someone, but I cannot choose whether or not they can live without a head. Morality is thus optional, but the effects of moral choices are measurable and objective. There is no subjectivity involved whatsoever.

Now, since morality exists, the next question is: to what degree or extent does morality exist? As mentioned above, the first test of any scientific theory is universality. Just as a theory of physics must apply to all matter, a moral theory which claims to describe the preferred actions of mankind must apply to all mankind. No moral theory can be valid if it argues that a certain action is right in Syria, but wrong in San Francisco. It cannot say that Person A must do X, but Person B must never do X. It cannot say that what was wrong yesterday is right today – or vice versa. If it does, it is false and must be refined or discarded.

To be valid, any moral theory must also pass the criteria of logical consistency. Since the behaviour of matter is logical, consistent and predictable, all theories involving matter – either organic or inorganic – must be also be logical, consistent and predictable. The theory of relativity cannot argue that the speed of light is both constant and not constant at the same time, or that it is 186,000 miles per second, five fathoms in depth and also green in colour!

However, since moral theories apply to mankind, and mankind is organic, the degree of consistency required for moral theories is less than that required for inorganic theories. All rocks, for instance, must fall down, but not all horses have to be born with only one head. Biology includes three forms of ‘randomness,’ which are environment, genetic mutation and free will. For example, poodles are generally friendly, but if beaten for years, will likely become aggressive. Horses are defined as having only one head, but occasionally, a two-headed mutant is born. Similarly, human beings generally prefer eating to starving – except anorexics. These exceptions do not bring down the entire science of biology. Thus, since moral theories describe mankind, they cannot be subjected to exactly the same requirements for consistency as theories describing inorganic matter.

The final test that any scientific moral theory must pass is the criteria of empirical observation. Thus for instance, a moral theory must explain the universal prevalence of moral beliefs among mankind, as well as the results of human moral ‘experiments’ such as fascism, communism, socialism or capitalism. It must also explain some basic facts about human society, such as the fact that state power always increases, or that propaganda tends to increase as state power increases. If it fails to explain the past, understand the present and predict the future, then it fails.

How does all this look in practice? Let’s look at how the requirement for universality affects moral theories.

If I say that gravity affects matter, it must affect all matter. If even one speck of matter proves resistant to gravity, my theory is in trouble. If I propose a moral theory which argues that people should not murder, it must be applicable to all people. If certain people (such as soldiers) are exempt from that rule, then I have to either prove that soldiers are not people, or accept that my moral theory is false. There is no other possibility. On the other hand, if I propose a moral theory which argues that all people should murder, then I have saved certain soldiers, but condemned to evil all those not currently murdering someone (including those being murdered!) – which is surely incorrect.

If, to save the virtue of soldiers, I alter my theory to argue that it is moral for people to murder if someone else tells them to (a political leader, say), then I must deal with the problem of universality. If Politician A can order a soldier to murder an Iraqi, then the Iraqi must also be able to order the soldier to murder Politician A, and the soldier can also order Politician A to murder the Iraqi. This problem cannot be solved, and so my theory is proven invalid.

I also cannot logically argue that is wrong for some people to murder, but right for other people to murder. Since all human beings share common physical properties and requirements, having one rule for one person and the opposite rule for another is impossible – it is like proposing a physics theory that says that some rocks fall down, while others fall up. Not only is it illogical, it contradicts the observable facts of reality, which is that human beings as a species share common characteristics, and so cannot be subjected to opposing rules. Biologists have no problems classifying certain organisms as human because they share common and easily-identifiable characteristics – it is only moralists who seem to have this difficulty.

Furthermore, if my moral theory ‘proves’ that the same man should not murder one day, but should murder the next day (say, when he steps out into the Iraqi desert), then my position is even more ludicrous. That would equivalent to arguing that one day a rock falls downward, and the next day it falls upward! To call this any kind of consistent theory is to make madness sanity.

Since scientific theories require logical consistency, a moral theory cannot be valid if it is both true and false at the same time. A moral theory which approves of stealing, for instance, faces an insurmountable logical problem. No moral theory should, if it is universally applied, directly eliminate behaviour it defines as moral while simultaneously creating behaviour it defines as immoral. If everyone should steal, then no one will steal – which means that the moral theory can never be practiced. And why will no one steal? Well, because a man will only steal if he can keep the property he is stealing. He’s not going to bother stealing your wallet if someone else is going to immediately steal that wallet from him. Any moral theory proposing that ‘stealing is good’ is also automatically invalid because it posits that property rights are both valid and invalid at the same time, and so fails the test of logical consistency. If I steal from you, I am saying that your property rights are invalid. However, I want to keep what I am stealing – and therefore I am saying that my property rights are valid. But property rights cannot be both valid and invalid at the same time! Similarly, any moral theory which advocates rape faces a similar contradiction. Rape can never be moral, since any principle which approves it automatically contradicts itself. If rape is justified on the principle that ‘taking pleasure is always good,’ then such a principle immediately fails the test of logical consistency, since the rapist may be ‘taking pleasure,’ but his victim certainly is not. (The same goes, of course, for murder and assault.)

Thus subjecting moral theories to the scientific method produces results which conform to rationality, empirical observations and plain common sense. Murder, theft, arson, rape and assault are all proven immoral. (Universal and positive moral rules can also be proven – i.e. the universal validity of property rights and non-violence – but we shall talk about that another time!)

To aid in swallowing this rather large conceptual pill, here is a table which helps equate theories of physics and biology with scientific theories of preferred (or moral) behaviour:







Organic Matter

Preferred behaviour for mankind


A rock

A horse

A man

Sample Rule


The desire for survival


Sample Theory



Property rights

Sample Classification





Matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely converted to energy and back.

If it is alive and warm-blooded, it is a mammal.

Stealing is wrong.


Atoms share common structures and properties, and so behave in predictable and consistent manners.

Organic matter has rules – or requirements – that are common across classifications.

Human beings share common rules and requirements.


Logical consistency, empirical verification.

Logical consistency, empirical verification.

Logical consistency, empirical verification.

Negative Proof Example

If mass does not attract mass, theories relying on gravity are incorrect

If organisms do not naturally self-select for survival, the theory of evolution is incorrect.

If communism succeeds, theories based on the universal value of property rights are incorrect.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that (a) moral rules exist, and (b) moral theories must be subjected to the scientific method, just as theories of physics and biology. Furthermore, any moral theory based on non-universal or self-contradictory principles is demonstrably false.

If libertarianism is to succeed, we must examine all moral theories and commandments in this light – otherwise we relinquish moral truth to our enemies, which will only ensure our continued failure.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Saving Children: The Stateless Society and the Protection of the Helpless

All moralists interested in improving society must answer the most essential questions about human motivation, and show how their proposed solutions will create a rational framework of incentives, punishments and rewards that further moral goals generally accepted as good. The 20th century clearly showed that there is no possibility for ideology to invent or create an “ideal man” - and that all such attempts generally create a hell on earth. Utopian thinkers must work with man as he is, and recognize the inevitability of self-interest and the positive response to incentives that characterizes the human soul.

In my recent articles on the stateless society, I have explained how I believe that society can operate in the absence of a centralized government. One question that has repeatedly arisen during the excellent responses to my articles has been this:

In the absence of a centralized state-run police force and law/court system, how can child abuse be prevented, or at least minimized?

My examples of Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) have answered most people’s questions regarding how a stateless society encourages positive, moral and honest behavior among adults. I have also tackled the problems of violent crime, to the satisfaction of many.

However, when discussing ethical issues, is essential to deal with what is perhaps the greatest evil within human society: the abuse of children by their parents or primary caregivers. If we can picture a society as existing without a government, can we picture how that society would more beneficially deal with children? For surely if we can create a society that treats children better than they are currently treated, we have created a goal or a destination worthy of the considerable efforts it will take to achieve it!

In this essay, I will attempt to deal with the methodologies and processes by which a stateless society will improve the living conditions of children. I will not talk here about the positive and beneficial effects of private run schools, since I have dealt with that topic at length in my podcast -- rather, I will deal with the positive interventions that a stateless society can bring to bear on the direct relations between children and their parents.

In any post-tribal society, family life generally becomes rather opaque. Great evils can be committed within the family home, in isolation from the general view of society, and children by their very nature can do almost nothing to protect themselves. Excepting grave or obvious physical injuries, governmental agencies rarely get involved -- and even when such agencies do get involved, it is far from clear that their involvement results in a better situation for the victimized child.

As we know from totalitarian regimes, any situation which combines an extreme differentiation in authority with a lack of accountability for those in power tends to increase abuses of power. This does not mean that all parents are abusive, of course, but it does mean that in situations where abusive tendencies do exist, the power differential between parents and children, combined with the fact that few parents face any legal or direct financial consequences for their abuse, tends to prolong and exacerbate child abuse.

Because of this situation, it is hard to say that the existing system works to maximize the protection and security of children. While there is no perfect utopia wherein children will always be loved, nurtured and protected, any society which contains strong positive incentives for good parenting is a vast improvement over the current situation. Since children are by far the most vulnerable members of society, if a stateless society can protect them better than a society with a government, it is perhaps the greatest moral benefit that anarchism can bring to bear on the human condition.

Before discussing how a stateless society can far better protect the interests and security of children than existing societies, let’s first look at how existing societies create problems for children.

  • The existence of the welfare state has directly contributed to the rise of single-parent families. Abuse is generally more prevalent in single-parent families.

  • The war on drugs has created extremely unstable, volatile and violent social circumstances.

  • Government-run housing projects have gathered together unstable single mothers and unstable drug dealers (in fact, housing projects are sometimes called ‘girlfriend farms’ for such men) - thus exposing children to highly dysfunctional role models.

  • Public school education often creates violent, unstable and dangerous environments for children, where younger children in particular are easy prey for bullies.

  • The rise of taxation has directly contributed to the new requirement for both mothers and fathers to go to work. This has left children vulnerable to abuse by outside caregivers -- and often leads to an excess of unsupervised time alone for children in their early teens.

  • Government-run social agencies are no better at protecting children than any other state agencies are at protecting the environment, helping the poor, healing the sick, or any of the other self-appointed “missions” that bureaucrats devise for themselves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence point to the constant disasters that continue to befall children supposedly being ‘protected’ by state agencies.

  • If a child that is badly raised becomes a criminal, parents are not directly liable for the social, medical, legal or property costs incurred by their child.

  • If, through their bad parenting, parents end up alienating their children, they face a far fewer financial problems in their old age, due to state-run social security schemes.

It is clear, then, that the existing system has room for improvement.

How, then, can a stateless society better protect children than a society with a government? Well, first of all, in a stateless society, disputes between people are mediated by Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs), which are private agencies dedicated to preventing conflicts, and resolving them when necessary. (For more on DROs, please see my archives). Is there any way that DROs can profitably intervene in a situation where there are deteriorating relationships between parent and child, or where the child is being directly harmed?

One of the primary reasons for the existence of DROs is to protect citizens against unacceptable levels of risk. In a free society, if a child goes off the rails and begins hurting other people or damaging their property, it seems highly likely that DROs would hold the parents responsible. To take a true disaster scenario, if your child accidentally paralyzes another child, you as a parent will be on the hook for a lifetime of medical bills, rehabilitation and equipment. Given that childhood -- even in the absence of malice -- is a physically dangerous time, few parents would accept the risk of having no protection for any potential injuries their child might commit or experience.

Like any insurance company, DROs would lower insurance rates for children that were less at risk. An insurance company would prefer that your child be active -- or they would face the health problems which would naturally results from inactivity - but not that your child be aggressive, especially towards other children. Children who learned positive negotiation skills -- or lease didn’t hit, throw, punch or push other children -- would be cheaper to insure. This fact is the foundation of the benefits that a stateless society brings to bear on the safety of children. Parents who raise aggressive children will be charged far more in insurance than those who raise more peaceful offspring.

Some forms of child abuse do not generally result in destructive tendencies towards others, but rather towards the self. Anorexia, self-mutilation, excessive piercing and hyper-dangerous activities are all signs that a child has experienced specific forms of abuse - usually sexual in nature. Given that DROs also provide health insurance, it seems likely that DROs would do as much as possible to prevent these kinds of activities, since they scarcely profit from self-destructive behavior.

If you are unfamiliar with the general theories around a stateless society, you will doubtless now be thinking that bad parents would scarcely appeal to a DRO system, since it would be very expensive to insure their children. That is a natural response, but incorrect.

For instance, most parents prefer to have their children educated -- even parents who abuse their children. Most schools would doubtless prefer to educate children who were covered by DRO protections, because ‘unprotected’ children would be more risky to have in the school. Thus, in order to get your children educated, you have to have a DRO contract that protects them. Thus it will be almost impossible to avoid the significant costs imposed upon you if you are a bad parent. (Of course, bad parents may choose to operate “off the grid” and bypass the DRO system completely, but that is equally true of the current society, and so cannot be considered a significant objection to a stateless society. For more information on this, please have a look at my article “Caging the Beasts”.)

When you apply for medical insurance in the United States, you are subjected to a battery of tests all aimed at determining your general level of overall health, and so your future medical costs. Similarly, life insurance costs usually depend on generally-accepted health indicators like smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Also, generally, the earlier that you buy insurance, the cheaper it is over the long run.

Thus we can imagine that a variety of DROs will approach new parents with a number of different insurance offers all designed to protect the children, both from their own actions, and from the actions of other children.

All these DROs will be eager to offer the lowest possible rates for the parents. How can they achieve that? Well, when a young man applies for his first car insurance, the insurance company usually takes into account any kind of driving training that he has taken. Similarly, DROs will be more likely to offer lower rates to parents who take specific training on how to best raise children to be peaceful and safe members of society. DROs will also work very hard to determine exactly which parenting practices are most likely to produce such peaceful and safe children.

Children need very specific guidelines and parenting skills at different stages in their development. Given that parents are likely to want to keep insurance coverage on their children until they turn 18 - and that DROs are very interested in preventing problems over the long run - it also seems likely that DROs will continue to provide low coverage if parents update their parenting skills periodically (but probably for only the first child!).

There are other significant indicators that parenting is becoming problematic. For instance, substance abuse such as alcoholism or drug addiction virtually guarantees that the children will either be abused, or turn out badly. Thus a DRO will offer far lower rates to parents who have either never shown these tendencies, or if they have, are willing to subject themselves to random testing to prove that they are still clean. (Please note that these tests are in no way intrusive in nature -- parents can always refuse to take such tests, and simply pay for the increased risk involved to the DRO.)

And what about the children? Well, since prevention is by far the better part of cure, their insurance costs will remain the lowest if problems can be identified before they manifest themselves in antisocial behavior. With the young in particular, early intervention is the key. How can DROs best keep the costs low for these children? Well, intermittent psychological testing would be a good start (and remember, we are generally talking about only the first children of ‘at-risk’ families). Naturally, no parents would ever be required to submit their children for testing -- they would just pay for the increased costs if they did not.

This combination of research, financial incentives and constant updating creates two partners in the raising of children -- parents who wish to keep their insurance costs as low as possible, and DROs who wish to prevent problems rather than pay for their remediation.

Parents who were poorly raised themselves often do not understand the best way to raise their own children. Lacking access to objective information and best practices, they often repeat the same mistakes that were inflicted upon them. A stateless society that relied on a private system of cross-insurance would inherently contain a large number of parties with direct and significant financial interests in the well-being of children. Parents currently reluctant to “lift the blinds” on their parenting and familial circumstances would be presented with strong and positive financial motivations for doing so. Parents who refused any kind of DRO coverage for the children -- or who refused reasonable interventions designed to help them improve their parenting -- might face other negative repercussions from the DRO system, which have been discussed at length in my other articles. Thus it seems highly likely that a stateless society would create a wide variety of social interests all focused on improving the parenting of children, and ensuring the children were raised to be as peaceful, happy and productive as possible.

There is an old fable that goes something like this: the Sun and the Wind are having a argument as to which one of them is stronger. The Wind boasts that he is able to uproot trees, tear the roofs off houses and throw down power lines. The Sun looks skeptical. Below them, as they argue, a man is walking along a country road. “Ah”, says the Wind, “I bet I can tear the cloak right off this man’s back!” “Go ahead”, smiles the Sun. And so the Wind goes down and tears around this man, attempting to pry in his cloak off his back. Naturally, the man simply clutches his cloak even tighter, and the Wind can find no purchase. Finally, exhausted, the Wind withdraws. “Let me show you how it’s done”, says the sun. Bursting into full brilliance, the sun generates enormous heat, and the man begins to sweat. After ten minutes or so, the man sighs, wipes his brow -- and slowly takes off his cloak.

This parable contains a powerful message about the difference between a stateless society, and society ruled by centralized government. The government always tries to force people to do things, which only increases their resistance and secrecy with regard to state power. Human society, though, only advances when a multiplicity of competing private agencies create and maintain circumstances which benefit virtue and punish vice. This is an apt description of the free market -- and is also a description of the manner in which a stateless society will continually work to improve safety and happiness of children.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Anarchy, Violence and the State

Does more government equal less violence?

By Stefan Molyneux, MA

When the subject of anarchy comes up, the most common objection to a stateless society is that violence will inevitably increase in the absence of a centralized state. This is a very interesting objection, and seems to arise from people who have imbibed a large amount of propaganda about the nature and role of the state. It seems hard to imagine that this conclusion could ever be reached by reasoning from first principles, as we will see below.

There are several circumstances under which the use of violence will either increase, or decrease – and they tend to resemble the basic principles of economics. For instance, people tend to respond to incentives, and tend to be drawn to circumstances under which they can gain the most resources by expending the least effort. Thus in the lottery system, people respond to the incentive of the million dollar payout by expending minimal resources in the purchase of a ticket.

There are several circumstances under which violence will tend to increase, rather than decrease – and interestingly enough, a centralized state creates and exacerbates all such circumstances.

Principle 1: Risk
Economically speaking, risk is the great balancer of rewards. If a horse is less likely to win a race, the gambling payout must be higher in order to induce people to bet on it. By their very nature, speculative investments must produce greater rewards than blue-chip stocks. Similarly, white-collar criminals generally face less physical risk than muggers. A stick-up man may inadvertently run up against a judo expert, and find the tables turned very quickly – while a hacker siphoning off funds electronically faces no such risk. In general, those interested in taking property by force will always gravitate toward situations where the risks of retaliation are lower.

One of the greatest ways of reducing the possibilities of retaliation is through the principle of overwhelming force. If five enormous muggers circle a 98 pound man and demand his wallet, the possibilities of retaliation are far lower than if the 98 pound man approaches five enormous men and demands that they surrender their wallets.

Clearly, the existence of a centralized state creates such an enormous disparity of power that resistance against government predations is, in all practicality, impossible. A man can either stand up to or move away from the Mafia, but can do almost nothing to oppose expansions of state power.

Thus we can see that the existence of a centralized state creates the following problems in regards to violence:
  1. The use of violence tends to increase when the risks of using that violence decreases

  2. the The risks of using violence tends to decrease as the disparity of power increases

  3. there There is no greater disparity of power than that between a citizen and his government

  4. therefore there is no better way to increase the use of violence than to create a centralized political state

Principle 2: Proximity
Using violence is a brutal and horrible task for most people. Most people are not physically or mentally equipped to use violence, either due to a lack of physical strength, a lack of martial knowledge, or an absence of sociopathic tendencies. However, the government has enormous, relatively efficient and well-distributed systems in place to initiate the use of force against (usually) disarmed citizens. Thus those who wish to gain the fruits of violence can do so by tapping into the government’s network of enforcers, without ever having to direct thely witness or deploy violence themselves.

It can be generally said that the use of violence tends to increase when the visibility and proximity of violence tends to decrease. In other words, if you can get other people to do your dirty work, more dirty work will tend to get done. If everyone who wished to gain the fruits of state violence had to go on and hold their own guns to everyone's everyone’s heads, almost all of them would end up refraining from such direct brutality.

Thus in the realm of proximity as well, the existence of a centralized state tends to both the distance and hide the effects of violence from those who wish to gain the fruits of violence – thus ensuring that the use of violence will tend to increase.

Principle 3: Externalization of Costs
In a stateless society, it is impossible to “outsource” violence to the police orf the military, since they do not exist. With the government, however, those who wish to gain the fruits of violence – i.e. tax revenues, the regulation of competitors, the blocking of imports and so on – can lobby the government to enforce such beneficial restrictions on the free trade and choices of others. They will have to pay for this lobbying effort, but they will not have to directly fund the police and the military and the court system and the prison system guards in order to force people to obey their whims. This “externalization of costs” is an essential ingredient in the expansion of the use of violence.

For instance, imagine if you are a steel manufacturer who wants to block the imports of steel from other countries – can you imagine how expensive it would be to build your own navy, your own radar system, your own Coast Guard, your own inspectors and so on? And even if you found it economically advantageous to do all that, could you guarantee that none of your competitors would do the same? Would still be economically advantageous if you ended up getting into an arms race with all of your fellow manufacturers? And what if your customers found out that you were using your own private militia to block the imports of steel – might they not take offense at your use of violence and boycott you? No, in the absence of a centralized state that you can offload all the enforcement costs to, it is going to be far cheaper for you to compete openly than develop your own private, overwhelming and universal army.

Thus in any situation where the costs of using violence can be externalized to some centralized agency, the use of that violence will always tend to increase. Offloading the costs of violence to taxpayers will always make violence profitable to specific agencies within society – whether private or public. And so, once again, we can see that the existence of the state will always tend to increase the use of violence.

Principle 4: Deferment
How much do you think you would spend if you knew that you would be long-dead when the bill came due? This is, of course, the basic principle of deficit financing – the deferment of payments to the next generation – which is perhaps the most insidious form of taxation. Forcibly transferring property from those who have not even been born yet is perhaps the greatest “externalization” of costs that can be imagined! Naturally, the risks of retaliation from the unborn are almost nonexistent – and neither is any direct violence performed against them. Thus the principle of “deferment” is perhaps one of the greatest ways in which the existence of a centralized state increases the use of violence.

Principle 5: Propaganda
It is well known in totalitarian regimes that in order to get people to accept the use of violence, that violence must always be reframed in a noble light. Government violence can never be referred to as merely the use of brute force for the material gain of politicians and bureaucrats – it must always represent the manifestation of core social or cultural values, such as caring for the poor, the sick, the old, or the indigent. The violence must always be tucked away from conceptual view, and the effects of violence elevated to sentimental heights of soaring rhetoric. Furthermore, the effects of the withdrawal of violence must always be portrayed as catastrophic and evil. Thus the elimination of the welfare state would cause mass starvation; the elimination of medical subsidies would cause mass death; the elimination of the war on drugs would cause massive addictions and social collapse – and the elimination of the state itself would directly create a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk nightmare world of brutal and endlessly warring gangs.

A pPropaganda is different from advertising in that all that advertising can ever do is get you to try a product for the first time – if the quality of the product does not meet your needs or expectations, then you will simply never buy that product again. Propaganda, on the other hand, is quite different. Advertising appeals to choice and self-interest; propaganda uses rhetoric to morally justify the absence of choice and self-interest. Advertising can only stimulate a one-time demand; propaganda permanently suppresses rationality. Advertising generally uses the argument from effect (you will be better off); propaganda always uses the argument from morality (you are evil for doubting).

The private funding of propaganda is never economically viable, since the amount of time and energy required to instill propaganda within the mind of the average person is far too great to justify its cost. In a voluntary system like the free market, paying for year after year of propaganda (which can only result in a ‘first time’ purchase of a good or service) is never worth it. Propaganda is only “worth it” when it can be used to keep people passive within a coercive system like state taxation or regulation. For instance, here in Canada, socialized medicine is always called a “core Canadian value”, and can be subject to no rational, moral or economic analysis. (Of course, if it really were a “core Canadian value”, then we would scarcely need to state to enforce it!) Because the existing system is so terrible, it takes years of state propaganda – primarily directed at children – to overcome people's people’s actual experiences of the endless disasters of socialized medicine. Propaganda is always required where people would never voluntarily choose the situation that the propaganda is praising. Thus we need endless propaganda extolling the virtues of the welfare state, the war on drugs and socialized medicine, while the virtues of eating chocolate cake are left for us to discover and maintain on our own.

Government propaganda is primarily aimed at children through state schools, and primarily takes the form off an absence of topics. The coercive nature of the state is never mentioned, of course, and neither are the financial benefits which accrue to those who control the state. Children do hear endlessly about how the state protects the environment, feeds the poor and heals the sick. This propaganda blinds people to the true nature of state violence – thus ensuring that state violence can increase with relatively little to no opposition.

Government propaganda is primarily delivered through state schools, which parents are forced to pay for through taxation. Thus a ghastly situation is created wherein the taxpayers are forced to pay for their own indoctrination – and the indoctrination of their children. This “externalization of cost” is perhaps the greatest tool that the government uses to ensure that increasing state violence will be subject to little or no opposition. No corporation or private agency could possibly profit from a 14-year program of indoctrinating children – the state, however, by pushing the costs of indoctrination onto parents, creates a situation where the slaves are forced to pay for their own manacles. And as we all know, when slaves don't don’t resist, owning slaves becomes economically far more viable.

For the above reasons, it is clear that the existence of a centralized state vastly increases both the profit and the prevalence of violence. The fact that the violence is masked by obedience in no way diminishes the brutality of coercion. All moralists interested in one of the greatest topics of ethics – the reduction or elimination of violence – would do well to understand the depth and degree to which the existence of a centralized state promotes, exacerbates and profits from violence. Private violence is a negative but manageable situation – as we can see from countless examples throughout history, public violence always escalates until civil society is utterly destroyed. Because the state so directly. P profits from violence, eliminating the state can in no way increase the use of violence within society. Quite the contrary – since private agencies do not profit from violence, eliminating the state will, to a degree unprecedented in human history, eliminate violence as well.

Monday, March 06, 2006

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish!

One of the sad paradoxes of the environmental movement is the degree to which it tends to ignore or obscure State destruction of natural resources. One chilling example of this was the fairly recent obliteration of the cod stocks off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada – which powerfully illuminates the dangers of allowing the State to (mis)manage natural resources.

These cod stocks were among one of the great natural resources of mankind. When John Cabot first arrived near the shores of Newfoundland 500 years ago, he reported that the cod stocks were so thick that he felt he could actually walk ashore from his ship – and his sailors could simply scoop the fish up in buckets! For generations, tens of thousands of fishermen made their living harvesting this immense natural resource. Free of government intervention, they managed to maintain this resource in a manner that sustained itself for centuries.

All this began to change in the late 1960s. Larger and larger foreign fishing vessels began to ply the waters off Newfoundland. These new factory-freezer trawlers could not only catch up to 200 tons of fish in a single hour (twice the take of a typical 16th-century ship for an entire season), but could be re-crewed and supplied by ocean-going tenders – and had onboard processing plants with automated filleting machines to boot!

By the early 1970s, hundreds of these massive (and often publicly-funded) vessels were plying international waters – effectively strip-mining the sea of fish. (Russia had over 400!) Starting in the late 1960s, the cod catch peaked off Newfoundland at 810,000 tons. As the amount of fish available began to decline, the international fishing vessels moved off to other waters, leaving the Newfoundland fishermen with a still-healthy resource base. So all was not lost.

In 1977, following the United Nations “Law of the Sea Convention”, Canada extended its territorial waters from 12 to 200 miles off shore – effectively kicking foreign fishing vessels away from the cod stocks. Atlantic fishermen were overjoyed. Finally, the Canadian government was coming to aid of the fishermen by forcing foreign vessels offshore! Hallelujah, the resource is now safe!

As we can expect, their joy proved relatively short-lived. Also in 1977, the Government of Canada – through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) – took over the management of the fisheries, and quickly and decisively went to work. After getting rid of the foreign fishing fleets, the Canadian government then proceeded to subsidize the building of a deep sea trawler fleet of its very own – and further subsidized the expansion of onshore fish processing plants in Newfoundland. As the new fleet was being constructed, the processing plants lay empty – and so the DFO set up joint fishing ventures with the very same foreign vessels that were supposed to have been kicked outside the 200 mile limit! To ensure continued domestic employment, these foreign vessels were allowed to further pillage the cod stocks, in return for transferring part of their catch to the idle processing plants in Newfoundland.

Why would the government do such a thing? Well, for popularity of course, since selling the future to fatten the present is one thing the government is very good at – but also for the increased taxes that come from a higher level of economic activity.

Now, because so many people had become dependent on government subsidies and programs for their income, a death spiral for the cod industry began. Many local wives, sons and daughters began working in the state-subsidized fish processing plants – and, as the cod stocks began to diminish, families as a whole began to rely more and mo of re on the income of those working in the plants. However, the processing plants could only continue to receive their subsidies if fish kept coming in from offshore – thus there was a strong incentive to fish even more as the cod stocks began to decline.

As family income declined, fishermen began to directly lobby their local and federal governments for increased subsidies. The federal government defined the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) on and, starting in 1981, the Personal Registration System was instituted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) – there was also the Limited Entry Licensing system, which granted fishermen licenses to harvest different species such as crab and lobster. As an unofficial way of controlling numbers, new fishermen were generally classified as ‘part-time’, which meant that they had to go through a fairly lengthy apprenticeship period before getting their full-time licenses. Sadly, however, “part-time” fishermen were only allowed to catch – you guessed it – cod!

Things went rapidly downhill from there. Governments began hurling money at the fishing communities – subsidies were handed out for boats, seasonal unemployment insurance, welfare schemes, alternative employment schemes (one even envisioned that chilly Newfoundland would somehow become the cucumber growing capital of the world through a system of state subsidized greenhouses!) and all such regular ‘instant-gratification’ political and economic idiocies. For instance, in a response to the downturn in the fisheries market in the early 1980s, the Federal government created a crown corporation (Fishery Products International) designed to sell more fish and increase the market. Makes sense, right – if a resource is running out, the best thing to do is to try and sell more of it!

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was set by the DFO, supposedly on the advice of its own scientists. However, intense political pressure was brought to bear on those scientists to produce the ‘correct’ (i.e. politically advantageous) numbers. No politician wanted to face the wrath of the fishermen by telling them that they were not allowed to catch as much as they wanted – or felt they needed to survive.

At first, the scientific models just proved faulty – but even after those faults were corrected, politicians simply increased the TAC over and above the recommended levels for the sake of political expediency. After such excessive quotas remained in place throughout the 1980s, the DFO scientists began recommending drastic cuts – over 50% – to the TAC in 1989.

The scientific ‘miscalculations’ were almost incomprehensible. The DFO scientists based their estimations of cod stocks on the volume of commercial catches – without taking into account massively increased technological efficiencies in fish finding. Thus catches remained relatively high, even while cod stocks were in precipitous decline. Also, fishermen were very aware that the more fish they reported catching, the less their Total Allowable Catch would be – and so under-reporting was commonplace. Finally, fishermen not allowed to catch cod but allowed to catch other fish simply dragged their nets along the bottom of the sea and threw away the cod they caught (called ‘bycatch’) – thus not exactly lowering the incidence of cod destruction.

This was all well-known throughout the 1980s – and everyone who tried to raise the red flag and warn about the coming environmental catastrophe was either ignored or repressed. The government-subsidized Kirby Commission studied ‘all aspects of the Newfoundland industry’ in 1983 – with the notable (and regrettable) exception of the fish themselves. If you wanted a sociological analysis of fishing communities, you were in luck. If you wanted to know whether there would be fish in five years, well…

In 1988, the scientific models were updated, and a new survey revealed that most fish stocks were on the edge of collapse. DFO experts recommended that the TAC had to be cut by more than 50% for the fish to have a chance to survive. Politicians merely laughed and, after a massive internal turf war, agreed to cut the TAC by 10%. As the fishermen continued to over-fish, more data poured in confirming that more than 60% of the adult cod had been captured for several years in a row. Nearly $600 million of state subsidies flooded into Newfoundland.

As is so often the case, as the end drew near – as endless fleets of state-subsidized fishing vessels ploughed back and forth over the emptying seas – local fishermen began to realize the Faustian nature of their bargain with the State. Talk began to turn from how to best milk State programs towards how the cod might be saved from the disaster every fisherman knew was coming. They began to descend upon government offices with demands that the TAC be lowered. They talked to the media, protested, marched, wrote petitions – and, as their desperation grew, they began to understand the truth of turning power over to the government. The government had no interest in their long-term futures – politicians just look to the next election; they don’t care about cod; they care about votes. The people of Newfoundland had taken the tax money, given up control over their own lives, their own communities, and their own resources – and now the time had come to pay the bill.

In a final mad panic, the inshore fishermen dug into their own emptying pockets and commissioned their own study on the failing cod stocks – the Alverson Commission – in the mad hope that their government might respond in a rational manner. No suck luck, of course. The politicians just smiled, passed the report to their handlers, and went right back to talking about their deep and abiding love of the people of Newfoundland.

The end came as swiftly as one would expect. After the 1992 fish surveys were released, just over 1% of the 1960s cod stocks remained. On July 2 1992, the then-Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a moratorium on northern cod fishing. It was, of course, presented as a ‘short term’ solution, which has lasted up until the present. Economically, it was a complete catastrophe – 19,000 fishermen and plant workers lost their jobs, and 20,000 other jobs were lost or harmed. These jobs were not evenly distributed geographically. Hundreds of communities – some hundreds of years old – were effectively wiped off the map.