The main idea: representative democracy fails in producing unbiased crowdsourced answers to difficult problems, as do its direct and statistical offshoots. Only unfettered trial by jury can be realistically considered a fair crowdsourcing mechanism.
Previously on Lost…
My previous post tried to analyze the claim that mass (i.e. representative) democracy is the only realistic non-violent alternative to civil conflict and found it in need of severe qualifications, to put it mildly. Here I will try to deal with the other appealing argument made for mass democracy: that it provides an algorithm for crowd-sourcing difficult issues. May democracy be in better luck this time?
In the movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone relates to his sweetheart Kay Adams a story about his father:
MICHAEL: Well, when Johnny was first starting out, he was signed to a personal services contract with this big-band leader. And as his career got better and better, he wanted to get out of it. But the band leader wouldn’t let him. Now, Johnny is my father’s godson. So my father went to see this bandleader and offered him $10,000 to let Johnny go, but the bandleader said no. So the next day, my father went back, only this time with Luca Brasi. Within an hour, he had a signed release for a certified check of $1,000.
KAY: How did he do that?
MICHEAL: My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
KAY: What was that?
MICHAEL: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract … That’s a true story.
Of course, we all recognize the pun – making “an offer he couldn’t refuse” ordinarily means an offer so good it can’t be passed up. In this case, it means literally an offer that cannot be refused because Luca Brasi will kill you.
In The Ethics of Liberty Murray Rothbard made the remark that punishment theory has been scarcely treated by libertarians. The very same thing could be said for the theory of defense. If there has been little attempt by libertarians to determine what sanctions may be taken against an invader of property of another, there have been just as few attempts to determine what means may be used to thwart such an invader.
Rothbard himself devoted a chapter of The Ethics of Liberty to each of these two questions, but then spent a number of paragraphs in the chapter on defense discussing punishment instead, and so himself treated the latter question even more briefly than the former. This brief treatment of defense in The Ethics of Liberty is inspirational, but underdeveloped and insufficient.
In his treatment of defense Rothbard first poses a question of how extensive one’s right to defense of person and property is. He then proposes a basic answer: “Up to the point at which he begins to infringe on the property rights of someone else.” This can scarcely be argued with, for it is simply the principle of non-aggression restated. To infringe upon the property rights of another is indeed impermissible in any circumstances.
Rothbard’s elementary answer is useful in that it settles the matter of how much force may, in the conduct of defense, be brought to bear against people other than the aggressor. The answer is none at all. The non-aggression principle does not permit for any amount of “collateral damage” against third parties. Any act of intimidation, fraud or violence against people other than the aggressor carried out under the veneer of repelling aggression is in fact an act of aggression in its own right, and does not fall under defense.
There is one matter Rotbard’s basic answer does not resolve, however. That is, the question of how much force may in the conduct of defense be brought to bear against the aggressor himself? If there is a right to self-defense — and Rothbard showed that for libertarians there has to be — then there can only be one answer. Against the aggressor, the aggressed-upon may use up to exactly the amount of force that is necessary to thwart the aggression.
Imagine you are a young adult, say, sixteen or seventeen years old. Driving down the highway, you and your friends are laughing and joking. Without warning, you see a police cruiser, circus lights blazing, in your rearview mirror, and quickly pull to the side of the road. You are gripped with terror in the knowledge that you have been breaking the law in a very serious way. When the police officer approaches, you reluctantly roll down your window. He immediately recognizes the smell emanating from your vehicle – he orders you to step out of the vehicle and calls for backup. You are cuffed, your car is searched and a bag of cannabis is found. You are going to jail – it will be the first step in a very long journey that is going to have lifelong consequences. We could have told the same story of a young adult walking down the road with friends, laughing and carousing while drinking, circa 1920’s. During Prohibition, the consumption of alcohol under most circumstances was illegal and punishment could be very severe.
Of course, most people subjected to alcohol prohibition or drug prohibition feel that the measures taken against them are simply unfair. But this doesn’t matter in the eyes of the exponents of prohibition because, as they see it, any criminal feels that the legitimate exercise of power in curtailing or correcting his crimes is unfair.
Alone in your jail cell the first night, you might begin wondering how you ended up in this mess. Did you make a wrong choice somewhere along the way? Had you fallen into the wrong crowd? Perhaps you really are as anti-social as the system is treating you and you’re just not wise or mature enough to realize it. This could be the wake-up call you needed to grow up and straighten your life out.
But as the weeks and months and years drag on, as the legal fees, the court’s fines, the community service, closed-off education and work opportunities – perhaps even some serious jail time – begin to pile on, you will probably lose all thoughts of where you might have gone wrong and your need to reform yourself. The haranguing of your parents will gradually begin to sound like the intolerable screeching of Harpies and will lose its grip on your conscience entirely. You will know, deep inside, that the punishment which you are being forced to endure is out of all proportion to whatever you did wrong – if you did anything wrong at all. Your thoughts may begin to turn to the law itself, and wondering how it is that such an innocuous act as being in the presence of friends smoking a joint could be punished with such medieval abandon.
African Slave Transport
One of the objections that is raised against voluntaryism is that, since “anything goes” in a voluntary society so long as it is voluntary, wouldn’t there be voluntary slavery? If Smith sells himself into slavery to Jones, we as voluntaryists must respect this voluntary choice, no?
Murray Rothbard argues against this view in Ethics of Liberty:
A man can alienate his labor service, but he cannot sell the capitalized future value of that service. In short, he cannot, in nature, sell himself into slavery and have this sale enforced—for this would mean that his future will over his own person was being surrendered in advance. In short, a man can naturally expend his labor currently for someone else’s benefit, but he cannot transfer himself, even if he wished, into another man’s permanent capital good. For he cannot rid himself of his own will, which may change in future years and repudiate the current arrangement. The concept of “voluntary slavery” is indeed a contradictory one, for so long as a laborer remains totally subservient to his master’s will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary; whereas, if he later changed his mind and the master enforced his slavery by violence, the slavery would not then be voluntary.
Francois Tremblay has responded to Voluntaryist Reader’s challenge. Needless to say, there’s a lot to disagree with, here. To start off, he tries to strawman voluntaryism:
The voluntaryist view stops at condign power and states that all other forms of power are irrelevant to freedom.
What voluntaryist ever said this? Any form of force or fraud – even if disguised, even if systematized – is “on the table” to be answered with force, if necessary.
He moves on to criticize voluntaryism but ends up apparently agreeing with voluntaryism, as far as I can tell:
… market exchange, being based on power imbalance, is itself a “manipulation” of people’s values and desires.
I don’t know what “market exchange” is as against simple exchange, but what voluntaryist has ever said that exchange in the present order is free of manipulation? Quite the opposite. The entire system is rotten at its very core – the Federal Reserve has corrupted the single most important and universal good in the economy, money. The law monopoly prevents people from forming or abandoning agreements as they see fit, interfering into the voluntary choices of individuals and presuming to know better than the parties to an agreement what their own interests are. The security monopolies render every citizen virtually helpless against the money and law monopolies. And the ecosystem of regulation-favored cartels, corporate lobbyists and crony capitalists that has grown up around this Iron Triangle force out would-be competitors who do not have access to the artificially large capitalization required to enter the market.
What does the NAP say about ownership of nukes?
Nuclear weapons like to pop up from time to time and make the headlines. They held the national attention during the Cold War, and now Iran is allegedly close to being able to build a bomb of their own. If the Iran bit sounds like déjà vu to you, that’s because it is – Iran has been “only months away” from making a bomb for quite some time:
– “Iran Poised To Build Bombs” (Sept 2003) 
– “Iran Only Months Away From Making Nuclear Bombs” (Jan 2006) 
– “Iran could have ability to build nuclear bomb by 2010, study warns” (Jan 2009) 
– “Goodspeed: Iran may be two months from bomb, two new studies say” (June 2011) 
– “Iran just months from N-bomb” (Sept 2011) 
I’m not a physicist, but I’ve heard that time travel is possible, so there could be something to it – they just happen to be a time-traveling nuclear power.
The point of this article is not to make bad jokes about the nuclear weapons in Iraq Iran, however, but to answer a question posed to libertarianism from time to time: “In a libertarian society, are you allowed to own nuclear weapons?” I will first address the ethical aspect and then the practical one.