Monday, November 28, 2005

Forget The Argument From Efficiency

For three main reasons, freedom can never be won by arguing for economic efficiency. Such efficiency is always debatable, inevitably rests on technical details obscure to most people, and is one of the topics most subject to government misinformation. In Canada, arguing that a free market will produce lower costs in health care, for instance, always brings the contrary example of the United States, and its high spending on medical costs. Refuting this misleading statistic requires exhaustive levels of detail, which the listener has likely never heard before, and which are easy to dismiss. Arguing that health care was cheaper before the government got involved is also unproductive, since people can easily argue that technology was far less advanced in the past, or that there were fewer old people, or less life-extending procedures and pills. The argument from efficiency is never conclusive, since it requires statistics, a mountain of specialized knowledge, enormous patience – and it can be derailed at any time by false, missing or incomplete information.

The argument from efficiency also requires near-omniscience. Arguing that the free market is more efficient – and how each of its supposed ‘inefficiencies’ always results from state intervention – requires detailed knowledge of literally dozens of fields. Explaining to someone why the California energy crisis resulted not from privatization, but state control, requires at least half an hour of lecturing on economics, history and regulation. Not a pleasant prospect! And even if the listener makes it through to the conclusion, he or she has just learned an interesting piece of history. He will not have the ability to extrapolate these facts into general principles of economics – even with help – let alone moral axioms regarding state violence.

You may be adept at arguing against anti-monopoly legislation by referencing the software industry – but what if your listener is well-versed in the steel sector? Telecommunications? Libraries? At some point, your knowledge will falter, and you will have to promise to get back to her. This is why so many freedom advocates rush from books to lectures to web sites for evidence – and risk turning themselves into terminal bores. It is an impossible quest.

Imagine instead that you are a 19th century abolitionist arguing against slavery. You say the slaves should be freed, and base your argument on economic efficiency. The objections you must overcome include the following:
How on earth would freed slaves find jobs when the economy is so bad?
You can’t educate slaves – that’s why they’re slaves!
Freed slaves have no job skills, and would just turn to crime.
Slaves are the only efficient way to run agriculture.
Slaves don’t have any sense of responsibility – it would be cruel to give them their ‘freedom’.
There is no way you can run a plantation without slaves.
They don’t have any property, so they’d have to sell their labour to the plantation owner anyway – how would they be any more free?

As you can see, you would have to be an expert on a half-dozen fields just to answer a few of the objections that could be raised against your argument. The debate would quickly turn into a stalemate, as do all arguments for liberty based on economic efficiency.

The second reason that this approach fails is that people will never accept the risk of wrenching social change for the sake of theoretical economic benefits somewhere down the road. Liberty advocates must always remember that they are playing with fire whenever they talk about a fundamental reorganization of society. Most such ‘reorganizations’ result in far worse conditions for the average citizen. People are generally terrified of fundamental change – and for good reason. A possible increase in economic efficiency will never motivate them to put their entire way of life at terrible risk.

The third reason why the efficiency argument can never win is that people don’t really care about economic efficiency very much. Two quick examples. The first is parenthood. How could one argue that having children is economically efficient? They are expensive, exhausting and time-consuming – and few of the benefits of having children can be measured by economic statistics. This is an example of what generally motivates people. Not economic efficiency, but something else.

For another example, look at any wartime draft. When called up by their leader, men often flock to the slaughter without resistance. What is ‘efficient’ about that? One fundamental truth of human nature is that if people think that something is moral, they will bear almost any burden to support it. Women send their sons to war. Wives kiss their husbands goodbye. Children are proud of their father’s murders.

As it is with war, so it is with state power. If people believe that the state helps the poor, or heals the sick, or educates the ignorant, they will bear any burden to support it. They may grumble at their levels of taxation, but will soldier on regardless.

So if the argument from economic efficiency does not work, what can? There are, in my view, two other main approaches. We will only deal with one here – the argument from consistency – and leave the other to the next article.

What is the argument from consistency? Well, people believe that it is moral for the government to use force to take from the rich and give to the poor. One effective argument against this is to ask whether this is a universal moral principle. If the person says ‘yes,’ then he has to agree that anyone can do it. A poor man can rob a rich man at gunpoint. Anyone who owns less than someone else can mug her, and shoot her if she resists. Is that the kind of world they believe would be good and just? Of course not. So, the principle that it is OK to use violence to transfer wealth has just been demolished. It is no longer a universal moral principle, but something else entirely.

This kind of argument does not require a sophisticated knowledge of history, economics, politics or any other detailed discipline. More importantly, it also does not require that the listener know any of these topics. All that is required is some gentle Socratic persistence.

Of course, the argument never ends there. People will come up with all sorts of nonsense about democracy, collective decisions and the transfer of moral authority to the state, but all those arguments are easy to demolish, as long as one does not forget that the state is nothing but a collection of individuals. Also, contracts that are entered into voluntarily are morally binding. Contracts that are enforced without consent are not. A man who buys a car must pay for it. A man who buys a car for a woman without her consent cannot compel her to pay for it. This is why centralized and enforced democratic ‘decisions’ are immoral.

So what does this look like in practice? Let’s take a common example: health care. Most freedom advocates have run into the difficulty of unraveling the US mess in particular. The argument from consistency might look like this:
  • Medical care must be entirely privatized.
  • But it’s more expensive when the State does not run it. Look at America!
  • I don’t believe so, but what if it is? Can I tell you how much you should spend on health care? Perhaps, in a free society, people would choose to spend half their income on health care. Would you tell them they cannot?
  • But in the US, 30 million people don’t have health insurance.
  • That is the result of terrible government laws which drive the cost of insurance up, and the benefits down – but let’s say that it is purely voluntary, that many people don’t want health insurance. So what? Would you force them to take health insurance?
  • But people should have health insurance!
  • Why? What if it costs half their income, and they’re eighteen, and very healthy, and take the bus, and don’t skydive, and always cross at the light, and so on? For that person, health insurance would probably make no sense. They would be far better off getting themselves educated, or saving their money, or just taking the risk of getting sick. Health insurance is a very personal decision. I would never feel comfortable making that choice for someone else.
  • But if that eighteen year old gets sick, they have to go to a public hospital, and so they incur a social cost.
  • Yes, at present that is true, but it won’t be the case if health care is privatized.
  • So they’ll just die in the streets?
  • Would that bother you? Watching poor people die in the streets for lack of health care?
  • Of course!
  • So you would help them, right?
  • Yes, I would, but…
  • And so would just about everyone else. Everyone cares about such things. The very presence and acceptance of state-funded health care proves that people care about sick people who can’t take care of themselves. So that won’t be a problem. But even if it is – let’s say that not one person in society cares about sick poor people, and they do die in the streets. If that is so, then giving the government more power would not help them, because such apathetic citizens would never vote for politicians who would care about the poor – and the politicians themselves would not care about the poor, since no one does. So – either people care about the sick and poor, and will help them without the government, or they don’t, in which case the government won’t help them either. The entire point of privatization is that we cannot force our own preferences on other people. If you prefer for everyone to have health insurance, I think that is wonderful! You should start up an insurance company and figure out how to provide it. Or support someone else who does. Or give to charity. Or become a doctor and work two days a week for free. Or pay extra for your own insurance so that others can pay reduced rates. There are thousands of ways to help. But the government cannot morally force people to give money to the poor, or provide them with free health care, because if it’s moral to force charity, then anyone can do it. We must then grant poor people the moral right to grab guns and rob doctors and hospitals for themselves.

This approach, of course, rarely clinches the argument. But it might be instructive to notice that the above argument never appeals to the economic efficiency of the free market. One of the most powerful debating techniques is to assume that your opponent’s premises are true, and then prove that they lead to absurd consequences. Thus, the argument which states that certain people may use violence on behalf of others – through taxation and welfare – can be easily countered by saying that, if it is the right thing to do, then everyone should be encouraged to do it. The government is then not needed – a moral person should just arm the poor directly and submit to their inevitable predations.

In conclusion, it is high time that freedom advocates bid a fond farewell to the argument from economic efficiency. It has been an instructive exercise for us to prove – at least to ourselves – that the free market can indeed provide the goods and services currently inflicted on society by brute state power, but it will never be stirring enough to motivate a larger movement. In the difficult march to a freer world, we need a more powerful banner. The argument from consistency is a good first step – but our true banner is not efficiency, or consistency, but the morality and goodness which naturally stirs and rouses to action every noble intent in the hearts of men.

Freedom's Failure: A Theory of Cause and Effect

By any objective standard, the freedom movement has, over the past fifty years – if not the entire history of mankind – been an utter and complete failure. More than fifty years after the publication of seminal works clinching the case against State control, the power of the State continues to grow. State control remains either complete or rapidly growing in education, health care, child care, power generation, media, industry and many other sectors. Libertarian candidates are virtually invisible in the political arena, and during the countless conversations I have had with countless non-Libertarians over the past twenty years, I have yet to meet one who is even vaguely familiar with basic concepts of freedom, such as the evils of taxation, the liberty of the free market, or the violent nature of government power.

Not only have we utterly failed, but we have failed so completely that we have put liberty at terrible risk. The cancerous growth of State power has made our task all the more difficult – and our inability to even slow down the growth of that power ensures that, unless we radically change our position, we will helplessly follow society into the general slide towards dictatorship.
What has gone so wrong? Why have ideas which are true, logical and proven by history had so little effect on society? Why have we lost so completely?

To view my answer within a context we are all familiar with, let’s look at the last major success in the limitation of state power, which was the abolition of slavery – not in America, which was the result of a corrupt civil war – but in the rest of the Western world.

Abolitionists did not condemn slavery because of its economic inefficiency, or by arguing that agriculture survived quite nicely before the introduction of slaves, or by making the case that slavery should be ameliorated, or reformed, or its evils reduced to some lesser degree.

Instead, abolitionists won over the hearts and minds of mankind by thundering, over and over, that slavery was a moral evil that had to be ended regardless of effects. They did not discuss costs and benefits. They did not say that the slave-owners should exercise less control over their slaves. They did not argue that slavery be should reduced to some prior historical level. No, they simply and passionately stated, over and over, for years and years, that it was an absolute moral evil to treat people as property. They did not consider slavery an institution which could be changed for the better. It could only be abolished utterly. For over a hundred years, they refused to give a single inch regarding the utter moral evil of slavery.

And they won.

That is a positive example. Let’s look at a negative one. Soldiers have always been relatively easy to recruit – and even when they have not, the imposition of the draft has easily made up for the lack of volunteers. In the First World War, it could be said that, due to nearly a hundred years of peace in Western Europe, the boy-soldiers who flocked to the Front knew nothing about the real conditions of combat. However, since the rise of "war-nography," or graphic novels, movies and documentaries about war, no young man can claim ignorance about the violence, madness and confusion of combat.

Yet still, young people sign up for the military. Why? There are a number of economic factors, of course, but they can be solved less radically. The real answer is simple: because soldiers are seen as moral. Soldiers are considered noble, brave, heroic and the highest specimens of manhood. We think ‘Marine’, we think: tough, disciplined, honourable, committed to serving the country. Flags, salutes and bugles rise at their funerals. Even now, given the fraud of Iraq, the sentimental fantasy about ‘supporting our troops’ trumps any criticism of their deployment. This position is morally squalid. The military is little more than a mentally-destroyed pack of thugs willing to murder anyone their leader points at. It is the Mafia in uniform – especially in America, which has friendly neighbours to the north and south, and oceans to the east and west. Yet young men still flock to the military because it is so highly respected. If soldiers were shunned in any decent society – just as KKK members are – the lie would finally be exposed, and millions of people the world over would be spared murder and maiming.

Thus on the positive side, we have a social movement – abolitionism – which succeeded by unflinchingly, persistently and passionately condemning the absolute evil of slavery. On the negative side, we have young men willing to give up their limbs, minds and lives because society tells them that being a soldier is the highest moral good.

These two examples – and there are many more – illustrate one basic point.

As advocates of freedom, we have failed because we have argued from the head, rather than from the heart. To generalize broadly, we have argued for economics and efficiency, rather than morality and integrity. We have argued that the government should be limited, or restrained, or reformed, because it doesn’t deliver on its promises, or is inefficient, or is self-serving, or other such drab and lifeless reasons. This is the same as arguing that slavery should be reduced somewhat because it is economically inefficient. It is not a call to arms. It is an invitation to yawn.

If we continue to take this analytical, abstract and bloodless approach, the cause of freedom is hopeless. We are doomed to lives of futility and rejection. The sums of our days will be ashes, bitterness, futility and resentment. If we do not look at our own spectacular failures – and compare them with the few successful moral improvements in history – then we are condemned to repeat them until society finally collapses under the growing weight of the State.
What does this mean in action?

After decades of interesting but largely futile discussions, I no longer argue from any other perspective than moral absolutism. I ask that people clarify their relationship to violence. If they say that they are against violence, I point out that the State is nothing but violence. If they then support the State, I point out their contradiction. If they continue in their support of violence, then I end the conversation with the strongest possible moral condemnations. I say that I will be happy to discuss the matter further, but until they reject violence, then they have the same appearance to me that a KKK member has to a black man, or a Nazi has to a Jew.
This shocks people. It really does. And herein lies the greatest power we have as fighters for freedom:

People will do anything to believe that they are good.

Men will die and kill for the State, if they believe that a good man fights for his country. People will surrender more than half their income to the State, if they believe that the State is helping the poor, housing the homeless, healing the sick, or other such nonsense. They will cheer blank-eyed murderers if they are convinced that a good person "supports the troops." They will give up their liberties if they believe that doing so is "patriotic."

The lesson – and our potential salvation – is that morality rules the world. Whoever controls morality controls the hearts, minds and future of mankind. Morality is the invisible physics that rules all our fundamental choices. Why do thousands of Muslims kneel together? Because they believe that they are good for doing so. Why do parents still herd their children into the vicious pens of government-run schools? Because they believe that education is essential, and without the State, poor people would be a trapped, ignorant underclass. Why do they support spiraling taxes and murderous waiting times in state-run health care systems? Because they don’t want poor people dying in the streets.

Our enemies, the statists, know this well. Look at their language. ‘The Patriot Act.’ Who doesn’t want to be a patriot? Social Security. Health and Welfare. Who wants to be against those things? Medicare. Who’s against medical care?

Staring at their pillaged paychecks and property taxes, people hate the State in their hearts, but they feel guilty for it, because the State owns the moral discourse (which is, incidentally, why the State had to take control of the schools first). As they say, once a Catholic, always a Catholic. The same is true for morality. Once a statist, always a statist. We can fight all we want, but if we don’t utterly condemn the morality of the statist argument, we will always lose.

We have so much to learn from our enemies, from those who have successfully controlled the public discourse for the past century. Look at the invasion of Iraq. It was presented in purely moral terms. Hussein is evil. You don’t approve of him, do you? He wants to kill us. You don’t want Americans to die, do you? Remember 9-11. You don’t want that to happen again, do you? Therefore, let slip the dogs of war!

There can be only one answer. Not ‘less State’ – just as the answer to slavery was not ‘less slavery’ – but no State. We have to accept that reform is impossible, because the lessons of the past and present are too clear. The State can never be diminished. No matter how it is restrained, it always grows cancerously until it devours the society it rules. We must provide a real option. We must be absolute in our condemnation of violence and the brutality of State power. We must oppose the very idea of the State, or we have lost before we even begin.
It is time for us to confidently assert the moral truth about the State. It is time for us to forget about educating people about capitalism, economics and political theory. We can’t anyway, since it’s impossible to compete with twenty-odd years of State propaganda. We can’t appeal to a citizen’s self-interest, because as wars graphically teach us, people consistently act against their self-interest for the sake of moral approval.

There is only one solution. We must take aim at the only soft belly the Leviathan possesses. We must reclaim the language. We must take back the moral core of the debate.

We need to explicitly state that our cause is a moral cause. That we are fighting as the civil-rights leaders fought. As the anti-slavery crusaders fought. Not for incremental gains. Not to educate our enemies or sway the undecided with statistics and economics – but to end the State, the greatest moral evil in the history of the world. With our words, our moral certainty, we rise to do battle with the State itself, which slaughters the helpless by the hundreds of millions. Our enemies are not self-interested politicians, or smarmy leftists, or smug right-wingers, or manipulative statists, but the ‘moral’ underpinnings of the most evil scourge that mankind has ever faced. Our enemy is a murderous social institution that does more killing, maiming and soul-destroying than slavery ever did. The beast we face slays, diminishes and throttles us from the cradle to the grave, and preys on us with the guns and clubs of soldiers, police and prison guards. We rail against leaders who care for us only to the degree that a farmer cares for his livestock, and who no more think of freeing us than a farmer thinks of liberating his cows.
How does this work in practice? I can give you a typical example, based on my own experiences.
Me: All education must be completely privatized.

Person: That would be terrible! The poor would be completely uneducated.
Me: Do you believe that a poor person has the right to rob another person at gunpoint?
Person: No.
Me: Then, even if the poor would be uneducated, must people be robbed at gunpoint to provide them an education?
Person: That’s not what happens!
Me: What happens to you if you don’t pay your property taxes to the State? They come and take you away. And if you resist, they shoot you.
Person: I’m happy to pay my taxes.
Me: That doesn’t matter. You may be happy to be a slave, but you have no right to enforce slavery on me.
Person: I don’t agree.
Me: But you do agree that State education is funded by violence.
Person: (Usually after additional clarification.) Yes.
Me: So then you believe that the State must shoot me if I don’t support your scheme.
Person. (Usually after additional hedging). I guess I do.
Me: Now, imagine that I am a black man in the South. If you were to tell me that you approve of lynching, how do you think I would feel about you?
Person: Pretty bad, I guess.
Me: Then you understand me when I say: you are advocating my murder. Do you still approve of State education?
Person: Yeah, I guess I do.
Me: Then I will not talk to you as if you were a reasonable or moral person. In this matter, you are utterly corrupt and contemptible, and we are just enemies.

I then end the conversation and walk away. I do not talk to that person again. If he wishes to reopen the conversation with me, I ask him if he still advocates my murder. If he says "no," I am happy to talk with him. If he says "yes," then I turn on my heels and walk away once more.
I have lost friendships over this. I have lost family members. But really – what does that matter? We are talking about freedom here – the most precious gift that makes life worth living. We are talking about war and peace and liberty. Do I really want anyone in my life who is so corrupt that they are happy to see me threatened with violence?

This is my solution. It is time for us to get angry, get motivated, and get busy. We have to get over the idea that educating people will save us. A lack of knowledge is not the problem. After a century of explosive State growth, the fall of totalitarianism in Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, endless newspaper articles detailing government corruption, rising debt, falling services and unjust wars, the time is long past for people to begin questioning the moral nature of the State. A man in 1940 may be forgiven for thinking that smoking is harmless – today, he is simply a fool. Hayek and Rand were writing far in advance of history in the 1940s. By now, the evidence has been in for decades, and anyone who continues to believe in the virtue of the State is a self-blinded dupe. We have not failed because people don’t have the knowledge. We have failed because people still believe in the morality of the State. We offer a difference in degree, not in kind. It is not education that we must pursue, but moral praise and condemnation.

We must draw the line, and refuse to step across. The time for action is now, because the hour is growing late. If we do not change our course – and fast – liberty will not survive another generation. If we act, we shall all play a part the salvation of civilization, in freeing people’s necks from the tightening noose of the State. We shall save the soldiers from the shrapnel, the children from hunger, the old from poverty, foreigners from our bombs, the young from ignorance, and civil society from a slow slide into totalitarian savagery.

But if we do not act – or if we continue to act as we have always acted – then we shall have done nothing to avert the worst catastrophe that society can suffer. Collapse, despotism, slaughter, starvation, the end of all that is noble and good in the human spirit. A new dark age. History is unequivocal in this matter. States grow until they destroy civil society. Without strenuous action, we cannot escape. We shall fall into the chasm, as all prior societies have fallen before us.
If we do not act, an evil darkness will descend upon our children as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. And after the decades or centuries that shall pass before that darkness is finally overthrown, future historians shall look back upon us and loathe us for our failures. And we shall have no defense against their judgments, because we lack nothing to save the world except the will to constantly condemn the bottomless evil of the State.

The Argument From Morality (or, how we will win...)

At the end of my article "Forget the Argument from Efficiency," I promised to write about the argument from morality – which is also, in my view, how we will win – and so here it is.
The argument from morality is the most powerful tool in any freedom-lovers arsenal – but also the most personally costly, since it draws lines in relationships that can never be erased. The argument from morality can cost you friends, family, community – and so approach it with courage, and understand that, once you decide to use it, your life will never again be the same.
Simply put, the argument from morality is the most powerful approach to changing society because all major social decisions are made on the basis of ethics. If a population believes that a certain program is moral – i.e. war, welfare, social security and so on – then they may grumble, but they will also roll up their sleeves, get to work and support it no matter what their personal cost. Men will go off to war, mothers will turn their kids over to nannies, people will surrender massive portions of their income and freedom with nary a protest – all in the name of what is good.

Redefining "the good" is very, very hard. Throughout their lives, people make thousands of decisions based on certain moral principles – and it if turns out that those principles were wrong, then they will be forced to admit that their whole lives have been spent in the service of falsehood, or corruption, or evil – and that is more than most people can stomach. In order to preserve their illusions of goodness, they will fight any close examination of moral principles almost to the death!

Morality is a fairly complex subject, of course, but it suffices here to say that morality must be based on a universal and logically-consistent set of principles – if it is just a matter of opinion, then no course of action can be "better" than any other course of action – any more than liking blue is "better" than liking red.

Most people believe that their decisions are based on a consistent set of moral principles, but those moral principles – as Socrates discovered millennia ago – crumble within minutes under any rigorous logical examination. I have found that the most effective approach is to be curious and persistent – but not be afraid to call a spade a spade.

To begin, there are really only three principles to remember when using the argument from morality:

1. Nothing exists except people.
There is no such thing as "the government," or a "country," or "society." All these terms for social aggregations are merely conceptual labels for individuals. "The government" never does anything – only people within the government act. Thus the "government" – since it is a concept – has no reality, ethical rights or moral standing. Moral rules apply to people, not concepts. If anyone argues with you about this, just ask them to show you their "family" without showing you any individual people. They’ll get the point.

2. What is good for one must be good for all.
Moral beliefs, in order to rise above mere opinion, must be applicable to everyone. There is no logically consistent way to say that Person A must do X, but Person Y must never do X. If an action is termed "good," then it must be good for all people. If I classify the concept "mammal" as "warm-blooded," then it must include all warm-blooded organisms – otherwise the concept is meaningless. The concept "good" must thus encompass the preferred behaviour for all people – not just "Orientals" or "Policemen" or "Americans." If it doesn’t, then it’s just an aesthetic or cultural penchant, like preferring hockey to football, and loses any power for universal prescription. Thus if it is "good" for a politician to use force to take money from you and give it to me, then it is also "good" for anyone else to do it.

3. What is bad for one must be bad for all.
Conversely, if it is wrong for me to go and steal money from someone else, then it is wrong for anyone to go and steal money from anyone else. If shooting a man who is not threatening you is evil in Atlanta, then it is also evil in Iraq. If being paid to go and shoot someone is wrong for a hit man, then it is also wrong for a soldier. If breaking into a peaceful citizen’s house, kidnapping him and holding him prisoner is wrong for you and me, than it is also wrong for the agents of the DEA.

Thus far, the argument from morality is very similar to the argument from consistency. The argument from morality comes in by stating that, if it is wrong or evil for me to rob Peter to pay Paul, then it is wrong or evil for anyone – including politicians – to do it. Thus a man who defends state welfare programs, for instance, can only do so on the grounds of personal preference, but he cannot claim that it is moral. In fact, he must admit that, on the basis of any universal principles, the welfare state is immoral, since if it is wrong for anyone to steal, then it is also wrong for everyone to steal – including politicians!

Using the above principles, here are some examples of arguments from morality:

Gun Control
If owning guns is bad, then it is bad for everyone. Guns, then, should be banned. Thus policemen and soldiers must give up their weapons. If policemen and soldiers need guns to protect themselves from dangerous criminals, why not ordinary citizens? Does that mean that possessing guns is sometimes good and sometimes bad? What is the difference? Remember – there is no such thing as "a policeman" or "a soldier" – those are mere concepts. Only people exist, and if gun ownership is a good idea for a soldier, but a bad idea for a private citizen, what happens to the soldier when he goes on leave? Does his nature change somehow, so that now he no longer has the right to own a gun? What about when a policeman changes out of his uniform? Does he change in some fundamental manner, and so loses the right to be armed? Is it only his uniform that has the right to carry a gun? What if someone else puts on that uniform? Of course, these questions cannot be answered, and so the whole argument for gun control becomes logically foolish. People will then turn to the argument from effect – i.e. general gun ownership leads to increased violence – which can also be easily countered. If gun ownership leads to increased violence, then surely the cops and soldiers will become increasingly violent if they alone have guns. Since dictatorships and war are worse than crime (because you can defend yourself against criminals, but not governments), then surely that is an argument against only allowing people who work for the state to carry guns. Thus a person can only argue against gun ownership from a subjective "me no like" perspective – which is a perfect time to explain how the stateless free market can grant him his wish!

The ability to wage war requires that politicians retain the right to steal from certain citizens to pay other citizens to murder people. In other words, George Bush must be able to steal from some Americans to pay other Americans to go murder Iraqis. Of course, if Bush is allowed to do this, why is only Bush allowed to do this? Why am I not allowed to do this? Why does the government make it illegal for anyone else (i.e. the Mafia) to do this? Why is it only good for people wearing certain clothing to be hired on as murderers? Also – if the government can steal from citizens to pay soldiers to shoot Iraqis because Iraqis are a threat, then what about the stealing that pays for it all? Isn’t the government itself the greatest threat to me, since it robs me at gunpoint to pay for a war which encourages terrorism? If it is moral to rob me to pay people to kill those who threaten me, aren’t I morally required to hire mercenaries to shoot those who come to rob me in the first place? If it’s bad for me to do that, why is it not bad for Bush to do that? What is the difference between me and Bush? Are we some kind of different species? If not, then why do we have such diametrically opposite moral commandments? (Here, people will often talk about our "voluntary transfer" of moral authority to the government, but then state force is not required, and so taxation can be eliminated without effect.)

Minimum Wage
If Person A can shoot Person B for not paying Person C enough, why can Person C not also do that? Why can I not do that, if I think my wages should be higher? Why do some people have the right to supplement their income with violence and others do not?
Also, what exactly is the moral difference between $5 and $5.15 per hour? Why is one an evil to be punished and the other not? Does the extra fifteen cents turn the first five dollars from an evil into a good? Does it change the nature of the first five dollars somehow? Also, if it is moral to use violence to increase one’s income, can people on welfare shoot government officials if they want more money? What about people on social security? If not, why not?

Government Parks
If one person (say, Bill Clinton), can draw on a map and transfer the ownership of the property he outlines in perpetuity, why only Clinton? Why can’t I do that? If Clinton can pay state troopers to shoot those who trespass on property he has never visited, can anyone do that?

The war on drugs is based on the principle that Bob can decide what Sally may do to her own body in the privacy of her own home. Why only Bob then? Why cannot Sally also decide what Bob may do in the privacy of his own home? And are drugs illegal because they are always bad? But they are not always bad – no more than alcohol. Ever listen to Sergeant Peppers? What about Pink Floyd? Bohemian Rhapsody? Chet Baker? Ray Charles? Beautiful stuff. All composed on hard drugs. Is it the self-destructive excess that is bad? But it is not the excess that is bad, but even occasional recreational use. Then that must mean that all behaviour that can lead to self-destructive excess must be banned. Working can lead to workaholism. Going to the gym can lead to compulsive exercise. Desserts can lead to obesity. Credit cards can lead to excessive debt. All these things must then be banned – which leads to a logical contradiction. If all activities which can lead to abusive excesses must be banned, then what about the government itself? Is it not an abusive excess to have a government with the terrible power to monitor and punish just about every aspect of citizens’ lives? And finally, what about the budget of the DEA itself? Hundreds of billions of dollars have been wasted in the war on drugs, just to raise profits for criminals and government agencies and chain millions of people in the drug gulags – is that not a textbook example of "abusive excess?" What about government deficits and debts in general? What about the government’s excellent adventures in foreign policy? Its habit of arming and funding foreign dictators? Training and supporting Bin Laden? Giving aid and military helicopters to Saddam Hussein? Invading Iraq? Are they not the greatest and most egregious examples of an excess of self-destructive behaviour? Aren’t the inevitable brutalities of state power – which truly harm the innocent – far more destructive than smoking a joint? If not, why not?

The State
Certain people calling themselves "the state" claim the moral right to use force against other people – a moral right, they claim, that is based on elections. Very well – all we have to do is ask which moral principle justifies this rather startling right. The answer we will get is: when the majority of people choose a leader, then everyone has to submit to that leader. Excellent! Then we must ask if senators and congressmen ever defy their party leader. If they do, then aren’t they acting immorally? Their party has chosen a leader – don’t they then have to obey that person? If they don’t, then why do we? Also, if the principle is that the majority can impose the leader’s decisions on the minority, why is that only the case for the government? What about women, who outnumber men? What about employees, who outnumber managers? And last but not least, what about voters, who outnumber politicians? If the majority should forcibly impose its will on the minority, shouldn’t we all have the ability to throw politicians in jail if they don’t do what we want? What if atheists outnumber Christians in a certain town? Can they ban churches? Can Mormon wives "outvote" their husbands? Students in universities outnumber professors – can they then threaten jail for bad marks? Patients outnumber doctors, prisoners outnumber jailers – the list goes on and on. If the moral theory of "majority rule" is valid, then it must be valid for all situations. If not, then it is a pure evil, since it supports the use of all the ghastly horrors of the state – theft, kidnapping, imprisonment – and sometimes, as we all know, torture and execution. Thus the moral theory which justifies and demands the exercise of such terrible power better be pretty damn airtight – and as you can see, it is riddled with nonsense.
When you present the above contradictions, if your listener cannot resolve them – and trust me, he won’t be able to – then he has to admit that, until they are resolved, he has no moral basis for his beliefs. He can still hold his beliefs, of course, but he cannot claim that they represent any universal principles – they’re just little personal preferences – like if he said that he liked muffins more then doughnuts. He has no right to impose such personal preferences on others – and certainly no right to champion them as state policy. Ask him if he will refrain from advocating his preferences until he solves the problem of universal application. If he says yes, then ask him if he will also oppose such state policies until he solves the problem. If yes, congratulations! Baptize him an anarchist and send him out to spread the word! If not, then tell him that if he continues to advocate what he knows to be false – or at best questionable – then he is a hypocrite.

I know, it doesn’t sound very nice, but really – we are facing people advocating the total power of the state – is sparing the feelings of those arming our enemies to be our main concern? The ideal of freedom deserves defenders made of slightly sterner stuff.

I’m sure the basis for the argument from morality is fairly clear now – and so now, with some practice in the Socratic method of "blank slate" premise-questioning, you are poised to become an expert in the destruction of false morality.

A word of caution, however. As Socrates himself found, the decision to deploy the argument from morality should not be taken lightly. Asking fundamental moral questions makes many people become frightened, scornful or outright hostile. It is though, in my view, the only way that we can win the fight for freedom. Since society makes all of its fundamental decisions based on moral premises, our only chance for success is to undermine and change those moral premises – which requires the skillful, persistent and consistent application of the argument from morality. For too long we have been on the defensive, crying our truths from lonely peaks – and all too often, only to each other. It is time that we took the offensive, and began to cross-examine those who are so sure of their right to use violence to achieve their ends. It will not be easy – and here I speak from personal experience – but it is essential. It is right and good to ask such questions – and, if you decide that you are brave and strong enough to start using the argument from morality, you will have already joined that tiny group of honest thinkers that have forever saved mankind.

Monday, November 14, 2005

These Cages Are Only For Beasts (The DRO debate continues…)

After my first article ‘The Stateless Society’ ( was published, I was asked to explain how a society without government would deal with violent crime. Lew was kind enough to publish my article on ‘Caging the Beasts’ ( which provoked quite a flurry of positive and negative (though never unkind!) responses and requests for clarifications, which I will provide here.

To summarize, ‘Caging the Beasts’ described the measures that private Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) could take against violent criminals – measures many readers found more soul-crushing and repressive than life under the current government!

I am always eager to improve arguments for freedom, and so heartily thank those who took the time to write in – and will do my best to clarify how life in a truly free society will not turn into a repressive web of petty regulations run by fascistic and heavily-armed insurance companies.

For those new to the debate, DROs are private insurance companies whose sole purpose is to mediate disputes between individuals. If you and I sign a contract, we both agree beforehand to submit any disputes we cannot resolve to the arbitration of a particular DRO. Furthermore, we may choose to allow the DRO to take action if either of us fails to abide by that decision, such as property seizure or financial penalties.

So far so good. However, a problem arises if I have no DRO contract, and turn to a life of theft, murder and arson. How can that be dealt with? In ‘Caging the Beasts’, I suggested that DROs would simply band together to deny goods, services and contracts to violent criminals. DROs could also pay informants to track the whereabouts of such predators, and would hound them out of a social and economic life to whatever degree they could.

This last point is where a good deal of my readers and I parted ways – and I recognize that in my zeal to deal with criminals, I painted a rather horrifying picture of DRO powers. DROs paying informants and threatening to drop contract support from anyone who sheltered or aided murderers – all this gave the impression that a stateless society was one which replaced a single central state with a suffocating net of tyrannical DROs.

Let me try to make the case a little clearer. By describing how a stateless society deals with murderers, I was describing an extreme situation, not everyday economic and social relations. A doctor might say: if a patient has an infected leg, and you have no antibiotics, amputate the leg. This does not mean that he advocates cutting off limbs in less serious circumstances! When I say that DROs will track violent criminals and try to deny them goods and services, I do not mean that DROs would be able to do this to just anyone. First of all, customer choice would make this impossible. A store owner can ban anyone he likes – but he cannot do so arbitrarily, or he will go out of business. Similarly, if people see a DRO acting unjustly or punitively, it will quickly find itself without customers.

The most important thing to remember is that DRO contracts are perfectly voluntary – and that hundreds of DROs will be constantly clamoring for our business. If we are afraid that they will turn into a myriad of quasi-police states, they have to address those fears if they value us as customers.

How will they do that? Why, through contractual obligations, of course! In order to sign us up, DROs will have to offer us instant contractual release – and possible cash rewards – if they ever harass us or treat us arbitrarily. As a matter of course, DRO contracts will include a provision to submit any conflicts with customers to a separate DRO of the customers’ choosing. All of this is standard fare in the reduction of contractual risk.

In other words, every person who says, ‘DROs will turn into dangerous fascistic organizations,’ represents a fantastic business opportunity to anyone who can address that concern in a positive manner! If you dislike the idea of DROs, just ask yourself: is there any way that my concerns could be alleviated? Are there any contractual provisions that might tempt me into a relationship with a DRO? If so, the magic of the free market will drop them right in your lap! Some DROs will pay you a million dollars if they treat you unjustly. (And you can choose the DRO that makes that decision!) Other DROs will band together and form a review board which regularly searches their warehouses for black helicopters and robot armies. Other DROs will fund ‘watchdog’ organizations which regularly rate DRO integrity.

If none of the above appeals to you, then the DRO system is clearly not for you – but then neither is the current State system, which is already one-sided, repressive and dictatorial. And remember – in a free society such as I describe, you can always choose to live without a DRO, of course, or pay for its services as needed (as I mention in ‘The Stateless Society’) – as long as you don’t start stealing and killing.

For those who still think DROs will become governments, I invite you to take a look at a real-world example of a DRO (hint: it’s one of the world’s largest ‘employers’). Currently, over 300,000 people rely on it for a significant portion of their income. Most of what they sell is so inexpensive that lawsuits aren’t cost-effective – in other words, they operate in a stateless society. So how does eBay resolve disputes? Simply through dialogue and the dissemination of information (see If I don’t pay for something I receive, I get a strike against me. If I don’t ship something that I was paid for, I get a strike. Everyone I deal with can also rate my products, service and support. If I get rated poorly, I have to sell my goods for less, since, everything else being equal, people prefer dealing with a better-rated vendor (or buyer). If enough people rate me poorly, I will be out of business, because the risk of doing business with me becomes too great. There are no police or courts involved here – thefts are simply dealt with through communication and information sharing.

Thus eBay is an example of the largest DRO around – are we really afraid that it is going to turn into a quasi-government? Do any of us lie awake wondering whether the eBay SWAT team is going to break down our doors and drag us away to an offshore J2EE coding gulag?

Of course any system can be abused – which is why governments are so abhorrent – and so checks and balances are central to any proposed form of social organization. That’s the beauty of the DRO approach. Those who dislike, mistrust or fear DROs don’t have to have anything to do with them, and can rely on handshakes, reputation and trust – or start their own DRO. Those whose scope prohibits such approaches – multi-million dollar contracts or long-term leases come to mind – can turn to DROs. Those who are afraid of DROs becoming mini-States can set up watchdog agencies and monitor them (paid for by others who share such fears, perhaps).

In short, either the majority of human beings can cooperate for mutual advantage, or they can’t. If they can, then the stateless society will work – especially since millions of minds far better than mine will be searching for the best solutions. If they can’t, then no society will ever work, and we are doomed to slavery and savagery by nature.

Therefore, I stand by my thesis in ‘Caging the Beasts’ – if you mug, rape or kill, I for one will support any social action that thwarts your capacity to survive in society. I want to see you hounded into the wilderness, refused hotel rooms and groceries – and I want your face plastered everywhere, so that the innocent can stay safe by keeping you at bay. I abhor the thug as much as I abhor the State – and it is because such thugs exist that the State cannot be suffered to continue, since the State always disarms honest citizens and encourages and protects the thugs.

The Stateless Society Fights Back: Life without a state? Really? Answers to common questions.

My recent articles on the stateless society have generated some fascinating feedback. Questions, issues and criticisms rained heavy on my inbox – here are some of the more challenging queries I received, and my responses.

Question #1: Mass Pollution

In my own discussions with friends and such about anarchy, there is one sticking point where I have had trouble finding the anarchic solution, so I wonder if you might have an idea about it. I guess you could call it distributed pollution. There are many examples of pollution where each polluter does not contribute much to the total, but there are enough polluters that the total pollution is a problem for everyone.

Cars are an obvious example here: it’s cheaper for everyone to pollute individually, but collectively we all suffer. There are two solutions to this problem; one economic and the other social.

The economic answer is that in a stateless society, people will take out insurance against ailments such as asthma, cancer and so on. Thus any air pollution which causes illness will increase the costs for insurers, since they will have to pay out for treatment and life insurance. If pollution-related health problems are projected to cost insurers $100 million over the next ten years, they can spend up to $99.9 million on reducing air pollution – in other words, they can pay car manufacturers/gasoline companies/road owners up to $99.9 million to reduce pollution and still make come out ahead. (Of course, they can also refuse to pay out claims, which will put them out of business pretty quickly!)

The most logical approach would be to allocate the costs of reducing air pollution to those who generate it. DROs (Dispute Resolution Organizations; private insurance mediators) would likely charge drivers and manufacturers for the costs of reducing air pollution – and would structure the contracts so that it would be cheaper to simply reduce pollution than for the DRO to pay for its consequences. Also, remember that car pollution is currently high because road use is ‘free’ to the user, which increases consumption. If car users have to pay for all the costs of driving (roads, pollution etc), use will decline.

If that answer doesn’t satisfy you, no problem – in the free market, there are as many solutions as there are interested parties! Here’s another. Let’s say that for some reason DROs didn’t care about the rising costs of air pollution. The first thing I would do is start a Clean Air Company (CAC), which would, for a fee, guarantee air quality in certain neighborhoods. How would I achieve that lofty end? Simple: emotional advertising and social pressure. First, I would start running ads showing kids and grandmothers keeling over from asthma. Then I would offer bright yellow ‘clean air’ stickers to anyone who signed up for my program – and for cars which met certain low-pollution guidelines. That way, anyone in a neighborhood who didn’t sign up for my clean air program would be highly visible – all their neighbors would know, and social pressure would do the rest.

Don’t believe me? I have two proofs. The first is the fact that waiters are almost always tipped – despite the fact that everyone who doesn’t tip is a ‘free rider’. If you think the ‘tipping’ example requires face-to-face contact, what about tsunami charities? Billions raised, and almost none of those who gave will ever meet the recipients of their generosity.

Finally, governments don’t deal effectively with pollution anyway. The Canadian government eradicated the Newfoundland cod population through subsidized over-fishing. The most polluted lands in the US are owned by the government. Logging is a problem because the government won’t sell the land outright, just the timber harvesting rights, which provides little incentive for renewal. Public property is always taken care of badly – and in the stateless society, there is no such thing as public property, since there is no such thing as a government.

So – DROs would pay to reduce pollution, drivers would pay the full costs of driving, and a clean air company would use powerful and proven social pressures to make sure money was available for pollution reduction. Is it ideal? Perhaps. Could it be better? Sure – those are just my ideas. In a free market, thousands of the best minds will be working to solve the problem of ‘free rider’ pollution. If the problem can be solved, it will be. If it can’t, let’s stop using the government to pretend that it can!

To sum up: if people care about mass pollution, it will be solved. If they don’t, then those same people will also be in the government – and so it won’t be solved by the state either.

Question #2: Invasion

I liked your article, but the practical reality is that under anarchy, the few "evil" men would band together and plunder the "good" majority. How many well-armed, coordinated thugs would it take to ravage an unprotected populace – a few thousand? The good people simply go about their business, then one day, 2,000 armed evildoers sweep into an area, and have their way with it. Even if the general populace were armed, they could hardly stand up to a trained group like this. (BTW, this is what the gun lobby doesn't seem to understand – if the government goes after them with 10,000 soldiers, a "well-armed militia" has not the ghost of a chance.)
Eventually the good group might eliminate the evil group through sheer weight of numbers, but the former would probably lose men at a ratio of 10 to 1, since they will always be caught by surprise and fighting is not their stock-in-trade. This would be repeated constantly and is obviously unacceptable. Isn't this what Genghis Khan, and the Vikings, etc. were – essentially wandering thugs who plundered "good" civilizations?
A private security force would be irresistibly tempted to assume the "evil group" role, I'm sure, so this is no solution.
Believe me, I detest all governments; I just feel that there is one valid role for government to play, and that is to protect its citizens.

The idea that roving bands of thugs will ‘take over’ a stateless society is a surprisingly durable notion, given the disasters we see every day in Iraq. The simple fact is that military invasions are never profitable unless subsidized by the taxpayers of the invading army’s government. From a mere financial standpoint, Iraq is a fiscal disaster – which proves that even invading one of the most oil-rich countries in the world doesn’t pay! Iraq was invaded only because the costs of the invasion are entirely borne by taxpayers – which allows billions to be siphoned off to the military, state agencies and private corporations. The same is true for all occupations in history, from the British and French Empires to the Eastern Bloc to the Iraq occupation. Taxpayers are forced to pay with money and blood, while billions are stolen through subsidies and contracts. The real target in any war is not foreign troops, but domestic taxpayers. War is a means to an end: the end being the pillaging of the public purse.

Free trade is profitable; in the absence of a state, war is not. In a stateless society, DROs will constantly work to defuse the criminal element and ensure that crime does not pay – and it won’t, since an honest income will be so much higher than it is now! Thus the argument that bands of thugs will take over a free society has no basis in economics, logic or history. The worst possible case in a stateless society is that a band of thugs will set up shop locally and demand cash ‘protection’ from honest citizens, like the Mafia. However, that situation is still preferable to the current system, since the Mafia need to ensure that their citizens remain relatively happy in the long run – unlike governments, which drive entire societies into war, bankruptcy and dictatorship.

Another basic fact of war is this: political leaders only invade other countries if they themselves are in no danger. If a politician can stay far behind the lines, make stirring speeches, strike noble poses, hand out contracts and watch his popularity soar, war seems like a pretty good deal. If, however, declaring war threatens him personally, suddenly it doesn’t seem so attractive. The simple proof of this thesis is that no country possessing WMDs has ever been directly threatened with war. (In fact, the best way to logically deduce that Iraq had no WMDs was that the US was prepared to invade it!)

Personal threats against warlike foreign leaders always dissuades invasion – so, what is the best way to threaten the lives of such criminals? So far, the only answer has been the proliferation of WMDs. In a free society, cheaper and less dangerous methods will surely be discovered – and here are some possibilities.

Suppose Canada wanted to invade a government-free US. The Canadian PM starts making threatening speeches and massing troops along the border.

How could the stateless society respond? Well, DROs are the agencies most threatened by invasion, because if the Canadian government takes over, they will be the first to go. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a group of worried DRO leaders. What would we do?

First, we would get to the root of the problem, which is that the Canadian PM is the person responsible for fermenting war. Given this fact, we would avoid threatening Canada’s troops or its general population, who are not the problem, and have no power to prevent the invasion. If we threaten the troops, we’ll make them more belligerent – and if we threaten the general population, we’ll make them more supportive of the war.

So how can we defuse the situation? Here are some ideas (in escalating order):

  1. Offer the foreign troops sanctuary, property and jobs if they lay down their arms, desert and cross the border peacefully.

  2. Declare that, if the troops are not disbanded, no offensive action will be taken against soldiers or civilians, but instead political leaders will be targeted.

  3. Arm everyone along the US side of the border with any weapons they liked – for free (In Switzerland, for instance, every household has to have a gun – and the Swiss have not been involved in a war in 800 years, despite being right in the middle of Europe!).

  4. If the threat continues to escalate, offer $100 million in gold to anyone who can convince the Canadian PM to demobilize his troops (using whatever methods work the best).

  5. Drive all politicians underground by putting massive bounties on their heads.

  6. Kidnap the PM’s family and hold them hostage until the troops are demobilized.

Naturally, things can escalate from the above in ways that are easy to imagine – although I am sure that the problem would be dealt by the first one or two items.

Why are these approaches so effective? For one thing, in a stateless society, there is no single target such as the White House or the Pentagon. Authority is diffused, decentralized, like the Internet, and so cannot be struck at directly. Thus DROs can target foreign leaders, but foreign leaders cannot target DROs – and so the advantage lies with DROs.

Let’s suppose, though, that none of the above works, and foreign troops end up invading the stateless society. Remember that, in such a society, there are no legal limits on the weapons that private citizens can possess. (It is likely that DROs, though, would refuse to represent those who possessed certain weapons – a limit that would doubtless be lifted in the case of imminent invasion!).

Thus the invading army cannot tell which citizens have which weapons. This raises a significant ‘fog of war’ problem. The US felt safe invading Iraq because the general Iraqi population had been legally disarmed by Saddam Hussein, and so could not retaliate. If the US could not determine which people had which weapons – impossible without legal disarmament – they would never invade. Even now, when they are nominally in charge of the country, they face constant attrition from guerilla fighters. Now that the Iraqi population has access to arms, they have the upper hand even in the face of overwhelming US military power. (The main reason for this is that the US military has developed the capacity to blow away armies standing out in the open – with the inevitable result that no army ever opposes the US by standing out in the open, but instead uses guerilla tactics and a war of attrition. It’s as if Vietnam never happened! But that’s inevitable – state armies are not designed to protect citizens, but to create conflict and spend money, and “big thump” weapons are far more expensive than guerilla training.)

Last but not least, if invasion seems close, DROs will hire mercenaries to repel the invaders. In the unlikely event that DRO combatants do actually engage government troops, it will be a case of private incentives versus government inefficiencies – FedEx versus the Post Office. Does anyone believe that a government-run army – which is just the Post Office in fatigues – can beat a private army?

Finally, can anyone out there show me any examples of a government successfully defending its population from violence? Russia in 1917? Germany in 1933? France in 1940? England which, after winning the war against national socialism, imposed socialism on its own population? America, which currently has more than 200 troop bases around the world stirring up anti-US sentiment? What about the Civil War, which murdered 600,000 Americans without even effectively freeing the slaves? The First World War, which caused the Second? Did America emerge from the Cold War more free or less free? (Hint: taxes and regulations!) Did Korea or Vietnam end the Soviet regime? Of course not – the inefficiency of central planning did. What about World War Two? In 1950, more people lived under dictatorships than in 1939 – despite 40 million murdered! So how can anyone say that governments protect their citizens? Violence begets violence. All states do is wage wars, raise taxes and enslave their populations with debts and regulation! Knowing that governments murdered 170 million people during the 20th century, we can all be forgiven for a little skepticism when we hear the argument that governments protect their citizens. It is blind, dangerous nonsense!

There is one final response that, in my view, disposes of the ‘armed gang’ objection. If large numbers of people want to impose their will on others through force, then armed gangs do pose a risk to a stateless society. However, they are still less of a risk than a centralized state! If an armed gang runs roughshod through your neighbourhood, you can choose to fight, pay tribute, or flee to a freer locale. No such choices exist with a government. In other words, if people are generally peaceful, we don’t need a state – and if they are generally violent, we can’t allow a state to exist, because giving violent people a monopoly results in the destruction of civil society.

Question #3: Inertia

People often prefer the evil they know to the evil they don't know. Even though being ruled by the state is awful, it is possible that the alternative is worse. Even if the probability that alternative is worse is small, people do not want to risk what they have for something else, at least not until what they have is so bad as to be unendurable. This is a facet of human nature that the evil in our world exploit on a daily basis. They continue to make things worse slowly in the hopes that people will simply go along with it because they do not wish to risk the alternatives. I know this is bad logically, but most people are ruled by emotions rather than reason and act accordingly. The fear of the unknown is one of the most powerful emotions. Fear is why people continue to support the state even though they acknowledge that it is evil.

I agree with the above – it is usually easier to live with a tolerable (and well-armed!) evil than risk opposing it. However, I have two arguments against this kind of passivity. First of all, government power grows continually, becoming more and more brutal, until it utterly destroys the host society. This was the case in Ancient Greece and Italy, in Germany, England and France after the Middle Ages, in Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and China in the 20th century – and is currently the case with all Western governments. In every single historical case, governments grow until they destroy society. In most cases, governments run out of money, which causes violence to erupt from those dependent on state handouts – resulting in martial law and a general dictatorship. Thus the idea of ‘living with a tolerable evil’ is like ‘living with a tolerable hunger’ – it is only tolerable in the short run. In the long run, the growth of state power murders millions and destroys everything that makes life worth living.

Secondly, there is absolutely no reason to risk one’s life or remaining liberties opposing state power. The state survives on propaganda, and thus can only be opposed in the realm of ideas. Writing, reading and arguing are the most powerful activities in the service of freedom, since all general social decisions are made on the basis of perceived virtue (i.e. state welfare is ‘good’ because it ‘helps the poor’). Change the perceived virtues, and you change the world.

Question #4: No Gun Control At All?
You can’t have everyone having any weapon they want! People would just nuke each other!

Naturally, most people are disturbed by the idea that anyone can have any weapon he wants – does that mean that my neighbor can build a nuke in his basement?

Those who are getting the hang of the stateless society already know the answer to this objection: if enough people are troubled by this problem, someone will find a solution for it!

Here’s an example: I buy a tract of land and build a community on it. I then only lease the houses to people who are willing to sign a contract that they will not build nukes in their basement. (This could extend to any sort of weapon ownership, and is an extension of standard condo agreements.) Presto, I have a completely voluntary society with no nukes in the basement – or no handguns at all if I choose. No need for a government, policemen or the NRA. This way, everyone gets to live with the social rules they want – and the most efficient societies will flourish, just as companies in the free market do now. There is absolutely no reason why social rules should not be subject to the same market forces as everything else in the economy – everyone benefits through a multiplicity of choice and the principles of efficiency!

Question #5: How Do We Win?

This question, of course, came up a lot, and requires a separate article, which I am working on. I won’t mention any details here, except to say that we can win, and it requires no violence – but you’re probably not going to like the answer!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Caging the Devils: The Stateless Society and Violent Crime

After Lew Rockwell was kind enough to publish The Stateless Society (, I received many emails asking the same question: how can violent criminals be dealt with in the absence of a centralized government?

This is a challenging question, which can be answered in three parts. The first is to examine how such criminals are dealt with at present; the second is to divide violent crimes into crimes of motive and crimes of passion, and the third is to show how a stateless society would deal with both categories of crime far better than any existing system.

Thus the first question is: how are violent criminals dealt with at present? The honest answer, to any unbiased observer is surely: they are encouraged.

A basic fact of life is that people respond to incentives. The better that crime pays, the more people will become criminals. Certain well-known habits – drugs, gambling, prostitution in particular – are non-violent in nature, but highly desired by certain segments of the population. If these non-violent behaviours are criminalized, the profit gained by providing these services rises. Illegality destroys all stabilizing social forces (contracts, open activity, knowledge sharing and mediation), and so violence becomes the norm for dispute resolution.

Furthermore, wherever a legal situation exists where most criminals make more money than the police, the police are simply bribed into compliance. Thus by increasing the profits of non-violent activities, the State ensures the corruption of the police and judicial system – thus making it both safer and more profitable to operate outside the law! It can take dozens of arrests to actually face trial – and many trials to gain convictions. Policemen now spend about a third of their time filling out paperwork – and 90% of their time chasing non-violent criminals. Entire sections of certain cities are run by gangs of thugs, and the jails are overflowing with harmless low-level peons sent to jail as make-work for the judicial system – thus constantly increasing law-enforcement budgets. Peaceful citizens are legally disarmed through gun control laws. In this manner, the modern State literally creates, protects and profits from violent criminals.

Thus the standard to compare the stateless society’s response to violent crime is not some perfect world where thugs are effectively dealt with, but rather the current mess where violence is both encouraged and protected.

Before we turn to how a stateless society deals with crime, however, it is essential to remember that the stateless society automatically eliminates the greatest violence faced by almost all of us – the State that threatens us with guns if we don’t hand over our money – and our lives, should it decide to declare war. Thus it cannot be said that the existing system is one which minimizes violence. Quite the contrary – the honest population is violently enslaved by the State, and the dishonest provided with cash incentives and protection.

State violence – in its many forms – has been growing in Western societies over the past fifty years, as regulation, tariffs and taxation have risen exponentially. National debts are an obvious form of intergenerational theft. Support of foreign governments also increases violence, since these governments use subsidies to buy arms and further terrorize their own populations. The arms market is also funded and controlled by governments. The list of State crimes can go on and on, but one last gulag is worth mentioning – all the millions of poor souls kidnapped and held hostage in prisons for non-violent ‘crimes’.

Since existing States terrorize, enslave and incarcerate literally billions of citizens, it is hard to understand how they can be seen as effectively working ‘against’ violence in any form.

So, how does the stateless society deal with violence? First, it is important to differentiate the use of force into crimes of motive and crimes of passion. Crimes of motive are open to correction through changing incentives; any system which reduces the profits of property crimes – while increasing the profits of honest labor – will reduce these crimes. In the last part of this essay, we will see how the stateless society achieves this better than any other option.

Crimes of motive can be diminished by making crime a low-profit activity relative to working for a living. Crime entails labour, and if most people could make more money working honestly for the same amount of labour, there will be far fewer criminals.

Those who have read my explanation of dispute resolution organizations (DROs) ( know that stateless societies flourish through the creation of voluntary contracts between interested parties, and that all property is private. How does this affect violent crime?

Well, let’s look at ‘break and enter’. If I own a house, I will probably take out insurance against theft. Obviously, my insurance company benefits most from preventing theft, and so will encourage me to get an alarm system and so on, just as occurs now.

This situation is more or less analogous to what happens now – with the not-inconsequential adjustment that, since DROs handle policing as well as restitution, their motive for preventing theft or rendering stolen property useless is higher than it is now. As such, much more investment in prevention would be worthwhile, such as creating ‘voice activated’ appliances which only work for their owners.

However, the stateless society goes much, much further in preventing crime – specifically, by identifying those who are going to become criminals. In this situation, the stateless society is far more effective than any State system.

In a stateless society, contracts with DROs are required to maintain any sort of economic life – without DRO representation, citizens are unable to get a job, hire employees, rent a car, buy a house or send their children to school. Any DRO will naturally ensure that its contracts include penalties for violent crimes – so if you steal a car, your DRO has the right to use force against you to get the car back – and probably retrieve financial penalties to boot.

How does this work in practice? Let’s take a test case. Say that you wake up one morning and decide to become a thief. Well, the first thing you have to do is cancel your coverage with your DRO, so that your DRO cannot act against you when you steal. DROs would have clauses allowing you to cancel your coverage, just as insurance companies have now. Thus you would have to notify your DRO that you were dropping coverage. No problem, you’re off their list.

However, DROs as a whole really need to keep track of people who have opted out of the entire DRO system, since those people have clearly signaled their intention to go rogue, to live off the grid, and commit crimes. Thus if you cancel your DRO insurance, your name goes into a database available to all DROs. If you sign up with another DRO, no problem, your name is taken out. However, if you do not sign up with any other DRO, red flags pop up all over the system.

What happens then? Remember – there is no public property in the stateless society. If you’ve gone rogue, where are you going to go? You can’t take a bus – bus companies won’t take rogues, because their DRO will require that they take only DRO-covered passengers, in case of injury or altercation. Want to fill up on gas? No luck, for the same reason. You can try hitchhiking, of course, which might work, but what happens when you get to your destination and try and rent a hotel room? No DRO card, no luck. Want to sleep in the park? Parks are privately owned, so keep moving. Getting hungry? No groceries, no restaurants – no food! What are you going to do?

Obviously, those without DRO representation are going to find it very hard to get around or find anything to eat. But let’s go even further and imagine that, as a rogue, you are somehow able to survive long enough to start trying to steal from people’s houses.

Well, the first thing that DROs are going to do is give a reward to anyone who spots you and reports your position (in fact, there will be companies which specialize in just this sort of service). As you walk down a street on your way to rob a house, someone sees you and calls you in. The DRO immediately notifies the street owner (remember, no public property!) who boots you off his street. Are you going to resist the street owner? His DRO will fully support his right to use force to protect his property or life.

So you have to get off the street. Where do you go? All the local street owners have been notified of your presence, and refuse you entrance. You can’t go anywhere without trespassing. You are a pariah. No one will help you, or give you food, or shelter you – because if they do, their DRO will boot them or raise their rates, and their name will be entered into a database of people who help rogues. There is literally no place to turn.

So, really, what incentive is there to turn to a life of crime? Working for a living – and being protected by a DRO – pays really well. Going off the grid and becoming a rogue pits the entire weight of the combined DRO system against you – and, even if you do manage to survive their scrutiny and steal something, it has probably been voice-encoded or protected in some other manner against unauthorized re-use. But let’s suppose that you somehow bypass all of that, and do manage to steal, where are you going to sell your stolen goods? You’re not protected by a DRO, so who will buy from you, knowing they have no recourse if something goes wrong? And besides, anyone who interacts with you will get a substantial reward for reporting your location – and, if they deal with you, will be dropped from the DRO system.

Will there be underground markets? No – where would they operate? People need a place to live, cars to rent, clothes to buy, groceries to eat. No DRO means no participation in economic life.

Thus it is fair to say that any stateless society will do a far better job of protecting its citizens against crimes of motive – what, then, about crimes of passion?

Crimes of passion are harder to prevent – but also present far less of a threat to those outside of the circle in which they occur.

So, let’s say a man kills his wife. They are both covered by DROs, of course, and their DRO contracts would include specific prohibitions against murder. Thus the man would be subject to all the sanctions involved in his contract – probably forced labour until a certain financial penalty was paid off, since DROs would be responsible for paying financial penalties to any next of kin.

Fine, you say, but what if either the man or woman was not covered by a DRO? Well, where would they live? No one would rent them an apartment. If they own their house free and clear, who would sell them food? Or gas? Who would employ them? What bank would accept their money? The penalties for opting out of the DRO system are almost infinite, and it is safe to say that it would be next to impossible to survive without a DRO.

But let’s say that only the murderous husband – planning to kill his wife – opted out of his DRO system without telling her. Well, the first thing that his wife’s DRO system would do is inform her of her husband’s action – and the ill intent it may represent – and help relocate her if desired. If she decided against relocation, her DRO would promptly drop her, since by deciding to live in close proximity with a rogue man, she was exposing herself to an untenable amount of danger (and so the DRO to a high risk for financial loss!). Now both the husband and wife have chosen to live without DROs, in a state of nature, and thus face all the insurmountable problems of getting food, shelter, money and so on.

Now let’s look at something slightly more complicated – stalking. A woman becomes obsessed with a man, and starts calling him at all hours and following him around. Perhaps boils a bunny or two. Well, if the man has bought insurance against stalking, his DRO leaps into action. It calls the woman’s DRO, which says: stop stalking this man or we’ll drop you. And how does her DRO know whether she has really given up her stalking? The man stops reporting it. And if there is a dispute, she just wears an ankle bracelet for a while to make sure. And remember – since there is no public property, she can be ordered off any property such as sidewalks, streets and parks.

(And if the man has not bought insurance against stalking, no problem – it will just be more expensive to buy with a ‘pre-existing condition’!)

Although they may seem unfamiliar to you, DROs are not a new concept – they are as ancient as civilization itself, but have been shouldered aside by the constant escalation of State power over the last century or so. In the past, desired social behaviour was punished through ostracism, and risks ameliorated through voluntary ‘friendly societies’. A man who left his wife and children – or a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock – was no longer welcome in decent society. DROs take these concepts one step further, by making all the information formerly known by the local community available to the world as whole, just as credit reports do. There are really no limits to the benefits that DROs can confer upon a free society – insurance could be created for such things as:

- a man’s wife giving birth to a child that is not his own
- a daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock
- fertility problems for a married couple
- …and much more.

All of the above insurance policies would require DROs to take active steps to prevent such behaviours – the mind boggles at all the preventative steps that could be taken! The important thing to remember is that all such contracts are voluntary, and so do not violate the moral absolute of non-violence.

So in conclusion – how does the stateless society deal with violent criminals? Brilliantly! In a stateless society, there are fewer criminals, more prevention, greater sanctions – and instant forewarning of those aiming at a life of crime by their withdrawal from the DRO system. More incentives to work, fewer incentives for a life of crime, no place to hide for rogues, and general social rejection of those who decide to operate outside of the civilized worlds of contract, mutual protection and general security. And remember – States in the 20th century caused more than 170 million deaths worldwide – are we really that worried about hold-ups and jewelry thefts in the face of those kinds of numbers?

There is no system that will replace faulty men with perfect angels, but the stateless society, by rewarding goodness and punishing evil, will at least ensure that all devils are visible – instead of cloaking them in the current deadly fog of power, politics and propaganda.