A Parliament of Whores?

[Originally published at anti-state.com on December 17, 2001]

Robert Vroman makes some good points about the unfairness of comparing government to the Mafia, but I find it even more offensive when government officials are likened to whores.

It’s terribly unfair to compare government officials to whores. It slanders whores. What have whores ever done to deserve being compared with government officials?

The oldest profession is an honorable one. Whores do honest business trading value for value. Can government officials honestly say the same? P.J. O’Rourke meant to criticize government when he called it a Parliament of Whores, but consider how much better off we would all be if government officials were as virtuous as whores.

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they wouldn’t force their services on you. Whores take no for an answer. If you tell a whore you’re not interested in her services she moves on and looks for someone who is. Try telling your government officials you’re not interested in the services of government. Do they move on? No, they slap you with a bill.

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they wouldn’t bill you for services you didn’t request. Whores never announce “From now on I’ll be providing you with a new service, and here’s how much you owe me for it.”

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they wouldn’t start from the premise that you’re born owing their business something. A whore will never argue “Everybody needs to get laid so it’s only fair for everyone to pay their share.”

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they’d never bill you for services they provided to somebody else. A whore won’t tell you “The guy down the block can’t afford my services but I serviced him anyway. Here’s how much you owe for it.”

If government officials were as virtuous as whores they would never need to know the depth of your pockets. Next time you’re filling out an income tax form remember that a whore’s price doesn’t depend on how much money you made last year.

Because that’s not the way an honest profession operates.

A Parliament of Whores? We should be so lucky.

Equal Treatment Is Not A Principle Of Justice

I’ve mentioned a conversation on gay marriage I heard recently between Stephanie Murphy and Mark Edge on Free Talk Live. In my recent piece Marriage Recognition As A Positive Right I explained why I take exception to the comparison of marriage rights to gun rights.

I called the show and argued that the proper libertarian goal was to get the state out of marriage and that state recognition of gay marriage was a step in the wrong direction. Both Murphy and Edge resisted this argument in favor of a principle that government should treat people equally.

Stephanie Murphy stated her principle clearly

“.. actually I think one of the most important principles of liberty is that people are individuals and as such they have natural rights and they should be treated equally.”

Later she concluded with

“I think it helps people be more willing to hear you when you’re saying people should be treated equally, I mean, who could disagree with that?”

That’s certainly a common and generally respected opinion on liberty, but I strongly disagree with it. I will argue that equal treatment is not a legitimate principle of liberty or of justice. I will argue instead that “equality under the law” is a seductive and dangerous principle that, in practice, systematically erodes liberty and justice.

Murphy pointed out that current marriage law discriminates, holding that as a knockdown argument in favor of legal recognition of gay marriage. But what does equal treatment under the law mean? If the law says that marriage is a legal union between one man and one woman then so long as the law is applied to each individual equally it satisfies the formal principle of equal treatment. If it is apparent to you that such law is nevertheless unjust you should be more than half way to understanding why the principle of equality under the law is incoherent.

Wouldn’t equality under the law require recognizing gay marriage since straight marriage is recognized? My answer is that it satisfies the formal principle of equality under the law in precisely the same sense that a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman does – and that neither satisfies the principle of justice. Why not? As Murphy herself points out, legal recognition of marriage entails many state granted privileges. Those legal privileges consist primarily of positive rights – legal claims on other persons and their property. For instance the state forces businesses to provide married employees and their spouses with certain family and medical leave and also with certain insurance coverage. These are just a couple of many, many positive rights being sought by gay marriage advocates – I saw one on John Stossel’s show this week who said there were over 1,100 such privileges granted with marriage and I believe him.

So the argument via the principle of equal treatment is really saying that if you’re going to compel people to provide certain benefits to straights it’s only fair to compel people to provide the same benefits to gays. But of course it’s not fair at all – certainly it’s not fair to the people being compelled. Aggression on behalf of one person cannot justify aggression on behalf of others.

As Lynette Warren and I pointed out in Marriage, The Institutional Man, and The Sovereign Individual:

But what does the state have to offer aside from benefits? The state has nothing sacred or even moral to impart. The state has only carrots and sticks and any carrot it might offer you was taken from someone else by way of a stick. You can only defile that which is sacred or intimate in your marriage by inviting the state to take part in it.

Positive rights cannot be morally justified. And once positive rights are legally granted, people are extremely reluctant to relinquish them. Just look how difficult it is to even publicly discuss rolling back the positive legal rights entailed in Social Security and Medicare. It’s fair to say that “positive rights” are just another term for legal “entitlements”.

The principle of equal treatment is routinely used to argue for the expansion of such entitlements, and with routine success. One of the arguments for Obamacare was that since health care was provided for seniors via Medicare, it should be provided for all citizens. I heard public officials argue that all citizens should be provided with the same health benefits as members of congress – else people are not being treated equally.

Libertarians often get lost in the weeds arguing that they are for equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. But in this they have no leg to stand on, since there is nothing intrinsic in the principle of equal treatment to identify either opportunity or outcome as the proper standard, nor is there even any coherent standard of equal opportunity.

So what is just? There is a very simple principle of justice and it has been identified by libertarians – justice is embodied in the principle of non-aggression. Aggression is unjust and the proper goal of libertarianism is to identify and curtail such injustice. That’s it.

Gays are certainly victims of government aggression, we all are. The moral remedy cannot be to impose even more unjust positive claims on their behalf. The only moral remedy is to roll back any and all aggression against them. If this seems extremely difficult, that’s because it is. But realize that rolling back aggression can only become more difficult with every additional positive right that is made law.

Does the principle of equal treatment add anything whatsoever to the principle that justice is non-aggression? Not a whit. In the absence of aggression you have justice. Equal treatment under the law, on the other hand, is a principle that strongly tends to produce an ever growing body of unjust positive claims on other people and their property.

Marriage Recognition As A Positive Right

Sunday night I was listening to Stephanie Murphy and Mark Edge on Free Talk Live (the best talk radio show on the air, by the way) and the topic of gay marriage came up. Edge alluded to a constitutional argument that New Hampshire gay marriages need to be recognized in all 50 states. Murphy then pointed out that gun rights advocates want reciprocity of state gun permits under the same constitutional principle.

The constitutional arguments don’t really interest me since the constitution has no legitimate authority, but I was struck by a profound difference between the gun rights and marriage rights being discussed – the difference between positive and negative rights. Briefly, a negative right is a right to be free from forceful interference in the conduct of one’s peaceful private affairs, while a positive right is a claim that others have a duty to provide you with something. Free speech is a classic example of a negative right, it is simply the right to not be silenced by force. When people say children have a right to an education they are usually advocating a positive right, an obligation upon others to provide such education. It should be clear that libertarians should support negative rights, not positive rights.

Gun rights are negative rights. What gun rights advocates fundamentally seek is merely to be left alone in the conduct of their own peaceful affairs. But their peaceful behavior in this sphere is criminalized to a very high degree. It is often very difficult for gun owners to remain in compliance with existing gun laws, almost impossible if they travel.

Contrast this with the situation in regard to gay marriage. First recognize that marriage is not a product of the state, what we are really talking about is state recognition of marriage. Gay marriage is recognized in a few states, but not in most. But marriage exists quite apart from legal recognition, as even the government (paradoxically) recognizes – for instance, on one level polygamous marriages are not recognized by the state, while on another level they are recognized: as crimes. Surely libertarians ought to recognize that partners in a voluntary polygamous marriage are indeed married even though their marriages are not recognized by the state. So now I’ll point out that gay marriage is allowed in all 50 states, even though it is only legally recognized in a few. Gays can marry privately, as polygamists and others do, without facing the criminal jeopardy that polygamists – and gun owners – face.

For gun owners and polygamists the mere decriminalization of their peaceful private behavior would look pretty damned close to total victory.

Gay marriage is not criminalized. No doubt there are laws on the books which violate the legitimate negative rights of gays (but that’s true of everyone) and such laws are evil on their face, but gays can marry privately without going to jail like polygamists. Insofar as there is a legitimate right to marry it is a negative right, a right to be free from forceful interference. And that negative right is not being systematically violated with respect to gay marriage.

The “rights” most gay marriage advocates are now seeking are positive rights. There is no legitimate right to have one’s marriage recognized by others. If you look at what I call my marriage and decide that it’s not really a marriage, that’s your prerogative. If you give married people a discount but decide I don’t qualify, that’s your prerogative. If you won’t rent an apartment to me and my wife because you don’t recognize our marriage, that’s your prerogative. None of these actions harm me because I don’t have any right to your recognition or your business.

But take a look at this list of “rights” that these advocates are seeking. I find nary a negative right in the list, there’s really nothing in there about being left alone. Let’s look at some clear examples:

Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees family and medical leave to employees to care for parents, children or spouses. As currently interpreted, this law does not provide leave to care for a domestic partner or the domestic partner’s family member. Family and medical leave should be a benefit for all American workers.

That’s clearly seeking a positive right, a claim against others. Here’s another:

Employee Benefits for Federal Workers

According to the GAO Report, marital status affects over 270 provisions dealing with current and retired federal employees, members of the Armed Forces, elected officials, and judges. Most significantly, under current law, domestic partners of federal employees are excluded from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).

…and another…

Continued Health Coverage (COBRA)

Federal law requires employers to give their former employees the opportunity to continue their employer-provided health insurance coverage by paying a premium (the requirement was part of the consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985; hence the common name COBRA). An increasing number of employers, including 198 of the Fortune 500, now offer their employees domestic partner benefits. Although this trend is encouraging, the Federal COBRA law does not require employers to provide domestic partners the continued coverage guaranteed to married couples.

…and another…

Social Security

Social Security provides the sole means of support for some elderly Americans. All working Americans contribute to this program through payroll tax, and receive payments upon retirement. Surviving spouses of working Americans are eligible to receive Social Security payments. A surviving spouse caring for a deceased employee’s minor child is also eligible for an additional support payment. Surviving spouse and surviving parent benefits are denied to gay and lesbian Americans because they cannot marry. Thus, a lesbian couple who contributes an equal amount to Social Security over their lifetime as a married couple would receive drastically unequal benefits, as set forth below.

Now I wouldn’t deny for a moment that the government is illegitimately interfering in the lives of gays, it does that to everyone. My point is that advocates for the legal recognition of gay marriage are not seeking freedom from government interference, they’re seeking positive rights under the argument that since such claims are already in the law they should be applied equally.

Principled libertarians cannot endorse the expansion of such positive rights – claims against others. To endorse that is to endorse aggression. On Free Talk Live, Mark Edge expressed doubt that legal recognition of gay marriage would entail an expansion of government. What cannot be doubted is that under existing law it would entail an expansion of positive claims against the liberty and property of others, as the examples above show. It is a terrible mistake for libertarians to support this expansion, once such positive rights have been granted people are extremely reluctant to give them up.

Yet many libertarians find arguments for equal treatment compelling. In a coming article I’ll explain why such arguments should be rejected.

Give ‘Em The Bird

So, some of you out there are bothering to vote, still? For you, I recommend a radical vote-avoidance therapy:


What’s the word? Thunderbird!
How’s it sold? Good and cold!
What’s the jive? Bird’s alive!
What’s the price? Thirty twice!

Before voting, secure a few dollars and journey deep into the exciting neighborhood nearest you. Locate and enter the first brightly lit Stop ‘N’ Rob that you see, and locate the Fortified Wines Department. If in doubt, ask the attendant lurking behind the scratched Plexiglass where the “Mad Dog” or “T-Bird” is. Remember the magic formula: (Price / (Volume * Alcohol Percentage)). Use this calculation to locate the election night beverage of choice. Purchase a bottle, or two. Two is better. Before leaving, also secure a few Colas. In cans – that is important. Your beverage might dissolve plastic bottles, and mixing a drink through the narrow bottle mouth would prove hard, soon.

Return home. Do not stop at the polling station, that comes later. You have plenty of time. Don’t worry. Place one bottle in the refrigerator. Claim the other for yourself. Take a drink of Cola. Open your bottle of Apple Wine Product, and fill the can back full with the fortified cordial. Swirl the can so as to mix the wine with the Cola. Take a drink of the now-enhanced soda. Force it down – this is for your own good. Don’t think too hard about how bad the Cola tastes, just think about how much you hate Kerry. Or Bush. Or whoever. Repeat this process until the drink is too strong. At that time, add equal amounts of Cola and wine to the can until the second can is gone.

By this time, gravity should be lessening its effects on random parts of your body. Parts of you will be floating, other parts will be dragging. This is normal. Sip directly from the bottle of fortified apple goodness. Force the now-warm liquid down. Isn’t this more fun than voting? No – don’t rush out to vote yet. Think deeply about the dwindling bottle of wine, and how strangely good it is. Continue to sip and force, force and sip. Pretend you are voting. Doesn’t that feel good? You’re making a difference, you know. Doing your civic duty. Feel free to talk aloud about how voting makes you feel. Turn on your television, and watch the election returns. Your vote is in there somewhere, and it’s making a difference. Yes it is. How does that make you feel? Keep sipping fortified wine.

By now you may have finished the first bottle. The second bottle is waiting for you, in the refrigerator. Go to it. The appliances will be gently rocking up and down on the waves now, this is OK. Continue to sip your wine and contemplate your vote. Soon, your bleary eyes will see the room gently spinning, spinning as you sink to the hard, yet now oddly warm floor. You will sleep now, and dream softly of a better world. When you awake, it will be a new day.

As you attempt to clean the various household surfaces that were soiled during the night, reflect on your vote. Did you really vote? Did it matter? Things are very confusing now, and your head hurts. This is normal. You are sleepy again, but the floor is now hard and cold. And sticky. Perhaps later today, after the headache stops, you can figure this out. Perhaps tomorrow.

Longhorns vs. The Sheep
How New Zealand Differs From Texas

Rain. Depending on where you are right now, and where you’ve been in the past, rain will conjure up images, memories, and even emotions.

If you are from a farming background, you may recall friends and family members losing everything because of rain or the lack thereof at exactly the best or worst moment it could have arrived. If you are fan of old musicals, the thought of rain might cause you to start humming a catchy tune to the annoyance and even possibly fear of those in your vicinity (especially if you currently or have ever worked for the Post Office). If your conscious mind is nourished from the fount of hard-hitting and personally-relevant information from things like CBS Evening news, rain may cause you to immediately begin visualizing mud slides, floods, and prematurely interrupted baseball games.

Of course, these terrible events are then counter-balanced by the joyous opportunity, presented through the same medium, to save these seasonally-drowned waifs for mere pennies a day, but that doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of warm snow.

There is definitely something psychologically significant about rain. It seems that too much of it, and its precursor, clouds, can have an adverse affect on the human condition. It is no surprise that both US-based DisneyPlaces are located in states with unfair and almost shameful amounts of sunshine. It is also no surprise that Seattle is (or at least was, before Al Gore’s dire and thought-proving warnings came true and the internal combustion engine caused El Nino) the suicide capital of America, as well as the birthplace of that most uplifting of musical stylings, Grunge. The silver lining, it seems, often dangles from the end of a rope, awaits at the bottom of a bridge plunge, or dozes off into permanent oblivion by not paying heed to the advice available from one’s doctor or pharmacist. And all because it rained too much.

The total number of sunny days is one of the more subtle things which differentiates two of my favorite places: Texas, and New Zealand. I did not say “The US and New Zealand”, because that would be too broad of a generalization to be valid. I do like all of New Zealand, but I don’t like most of “The US”. I do, however, like most of Texas, which is promoted by its tourist industry as “A whole other country” (sic). And Texas is culturally (and meteorologically, for the purpose of this article) closer to being a single nation than America is. It is certainly easier to maintain one’s personal comfortable cultural interaction patterns in Dallas and Mesquite than it is between, say, San Francisco and Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Anywhere in Texas, I can talk about rodeo or carry my antique war souvenir in a shoulder holster without getting a sideways glance or a pompous chuckle (or a trip to the People’s Conformance Center). In contrast, I feel equally uncomfortable in both San Francisco and anywhere near the United States’ east coast. They give me different flavors of The Creeps, but they’re still in the same phylum. New Zealand has some of that taste as well, but only in its major cities. Auckland can feel a bit like, oh I don’t know, Vermont in summer, with its “We’re terribly busy being civilized. What do you want here, Yankee?” attitude, but I do like it, almost as much as I like the heart of Texas: Austin (which always feels to me like Saturday night with drunk friends).

I guess Austin and Auckland are two of my favorite places, as far as cities go. With the exception of starting with the same letter, they are about as different as nice cities can be.

Austin and Auckland are both quite diverse and metropolitan, supporting a wide range of cultures, sub-cultures, and things cultured in a petri dish, so boredom during people-watching and generic human intercourse doesn’t really occur in either locale. Austin does have a very upbeat, cheery, almost annoyingly self-generated hip-ness to it, and this contrasts with Auckland, which seems to constantly be in auditions for Farthest European City, and competing for the fastest mimic of bad EU and USA laws and standards (Jerry Springer, of all the syndicated options under God’s heaven, is now imported to New Zealand shores along with such things as HIV and bad acid). This is virtually the opposite of any Texan’s attitude towards himself and his home state, which could basically be summarized as a bumper sticker: “Only God Can Make a Texan”. So pride vs. envy is one of several divergences. There are others.

Rainfall, for example. Austin averages about a pint of rain per year, where Auckland’s monthly rainfall during its winter is something like 8.6 on the I-Hope-Somebody-Is-Friends-With-Noah scale. And, non-coincidentally, the area of New Zealand surrounding Auckland has the highest teen suicide rate in the Commonwealth (and several other arbitrary national groupings as well).

Some people assert that the reason for Auckland’s maudlin and demonstrably mortal teenage population has to do more with the culture than the precipitation level. They say that, because New Zealand suffers from an over-abundance of government attention to, funding of, and involvement in virtually everything, and a general cultural tendency to punish success via “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (the clich� which describes the beheading of those individuals which dare exceed the collective average), that the successful kids become disheartened, and the unsuccessful ones just plain give up any hope of ever becoming useful and turn destructive both inwardly and outwardly.

They say that if there is no freedom to take those chances which can result in ultimate failure, then the thrill of success is deadened. Even the hope of winning is replaced by a lazy contentment with losing out to a comfortable below-average (but still within the majority) fate. Only the degree of failure is in question. And as that bar grows lower and lower, eventually those subjected unrelentingly to it subconsciously collapse and conclude that they might as well quit Big Time Right Now rather than continuing to lose over several more years. If you have seen either The Piano, or Once Were Warriors, you have seen the cinematic expression of this dreary local depression. Even the politicians are personal failures, not even buoyed with the glint of personal greed in their eyes, but driven by an aggression-free aspiration to be at the front of the cattle car.

These same people say this may be partly due to how New Zealand society began, and not just how it has been decaying�excuse me, “Becoming More Caring”, over the last few decades. It was effectively populated by the British government offering free land and money and relocation facilities to a cross-section of fiercely loyalist UK society. The colony population was hand-picked to be as vanilla and bland as the majority of the Empire, and the only thing that the individuals themselves had to supply was a willingness to accept their free stuff, and then possibly engage the local semi-indigenous population in trade or occasional armed unpleasantries.

The consequences of founding a nation with this rather calculated and gray colonization population have been somewhat overturned by the immigrants who have arrived during the last 50 years. These immigrants are usually Tall Poppies (except the seemingly endless stream of translocated trade unionists from the UK: May the Lord bless and keep them all, quickly), and tend to stand out like a male construction worker at a Tupperware party. In a society which values egalitarianism (may the Lord bless and keep that also) above all else, it can be a difficult environ to meld with and succeed within. Fortunately for these newer Zealanders, though, they have already overcome incredible odds in order to to run the multi-faceted gauntlet of both long-distance immigration and the herd of sub-failures (bureaucrats) waiting to greet them as they got off the plane/train/auto-gyro and challenge their individual (gasp) validity. They, more often than not, ascend the guarded and too-little-used ladder of individual pride and productivity to become Longhorns amongst the sheep.

Very rarely does one read about immigrants from other western or Asian countries whose children, being given a new life in a new land fully equipped with digital TV and penicillin, decide to take a bath with a toaster because life is “unfair”. And I don’t seem to recall hearing about Texas having one of the highest rates of do-it-yourself do-yourself-in incidents. There’s got to be an explanation.

It must be the weather.

Some might conclude that Dick Freely is an expatriate Texan living in New Zealand.

(This piece was published in Laissez Faire City Times 5/7/01. Republished by permission of Dick Freely.)

What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothin’!

The War Nerd has a big, fat Told-Ya-So for the doofuses (doofi?) who saw the capture of Saddam Hussein as the End Of The War. He also paints a realistic picture of how the Iraqis are taking the whole freedom-at-bayonet-point thing.

It isn’t like it was unpredictable: FedGovCo is making a hash of it all. But, that’s what they do, generally. It’s funny how some folks can rail on and on about how bad government is at fixing potholes or paying young women to have babies or whatever, but assume that the portion of government that is put in charge of taking over other countries is going to do a bang-up job. What did they expect to happen? There isn’t some sort of magical power the military bureaucracy has that the non-military bureaucracy lacks – they operate in the same way, with the same incentives.

About now, the sooper-patriot types are poppin’ gaskets, saying “Well, the US military sure whipped that Iraqi army pretty good, now dinnit?” Sure: much like the city road crew fills in potholes pretty good, the implementation bits of FedGovCo’s armies work fairly well. George Patton is the classic example: he was one of the very best military leaders that history has produced, starting from his innovations in vehicular warfare (he was the first Army officer to conduct a motorized attack, for starters) and leading through his strategic view (he wanted to segue from attacking Nazi Germany to attacking Communist Russia). There are numerous counter-examples, but I will stipulate that, in general the US military makes war well. So what?

The problem is, that like the city’s pothole-fillers, the military has no coherent direction as to what to do, when (you’ll note that not only was Patton’s request to kill commies denied, he was deliberately sabotaged to prevent him taking Berlin). The decision-makers are folks who got into that position by being the sort of person who appeals to the Average Voter, or appointees or hangers-on thereof. When I was a member of the military, we called this the Lowest Common Denominator – that’s the person you had to reach. “You hold the pointy part away from you, ya see…”. It’s not a coincidence that most politicos are boors and boobs – most voters are boors and boobs. And boors and boobs tend to make boorish and boobish decisions: that’s the nature of the beast.

The War Nerd has a big, fat Told-Ya-So for the doofuses (doofi?) who saw the capture of Saddam Hussein as the End Of The War. He also paints a realistic picture of how the Iraqis are taking the whole freedom-at-bayonet-point thing.

It isn’t like it was unpredictable: FedGovCo is making a hash of it all. But, that’s what they do, generally. It’s funny how some folks can rail on and on about how bad government is at fixing potholes or paying young women to have babies or whatever, but assume that the portion of government that is put in charge of taking over other countries is going to do a bang-up job. What did they expect to happen? There isn’t some sort of magical power the military bureaucracy has that the non-military bureaucracy lacks – they operate in the same way, with the same incentives.

About now, the sooper-patriot types are poppin’ gaskets, saying “Well, the US military sure whipped that Iraqi army pretty good, now dinnit?” Sure: much like the city road crew fills in potholes pretty good, the implementation bits of FedGovCo’s armies work fairly well. George Patton is the classic example: he was one of the very best military leaders that history has produced, starting from his innovations in vehicular warfare (he was the first Army officer to conduct a motorized attack, for starters) and leading through his strategic view (he wanted to segue from attacking Nazi Germany to attacking Communist Russia). There are numerous counter-examples, but I will stipulate that, in general the US military makes war well. So what?

The problem is, that like the city’s pothole-fillers, the military has no coherent direction as to what to do, when (you’ll note that not only was Patton’s request to kill commies denied, he was deliberately sabotaged to prevent him taking Berlin). The decision-makers are folks who got into that position by being the sort of person who appeals to the Average Voter, or appointees or hangers-on thereof. When I was a member of the military, we called this the Lowest Common Denominator – that’s the person you had to reach. “You hold the pointy part away from you, ya see…”. It’s not a coincidence that most politicos are boors and boobs – most voters are boors and boobs. And boors and boobs tend to make boorish and boobish decisions: that’s the nature of the beast.

So where and why do the potholes get filled? When my neighbor got a job with the city, the road conditions around our building rapidly improved. I doubt this was coincidence: I lived in the “exciting” section of town, at the time – no nice treatment for us. Likely my neighbor buddied up to the guy in charge of the road crew, and had the truck swing by. Same-same with war: I’m not a bit surprised at the rapid unraveling of the War Party’s stories about WMD factories on trucks and robot drones that can kill us all and advanced nuclear programs and all of the other outright lies that the latest war was built upon. Just look at who benefits, and how. “War is a racket”, is how Smedly Butler put it, and I would only caveat that to add “Government war is a racket”.

And the real funny part is that simple self-interest isn’t a major motivator. Sure, some folks are raking in big bucks from the reconstruction of Iraq after they made money from the deconstruction of Iraq, and some other folks are angling for political power in the aftermath, but a good deal of the decisions are made with no thought, and no fear of consequence. The guy who tells the road crew where and when to work isn’t personally involved in the success or failure of the road system: as long as they go out and work, he doesn’t care. More importantly, as long as he keeps on keepin’ on, filling forms and checking boxes, his job is safe, and his advancement is secure. I mean, it’s not like there’s another city paving outfit that competes with him, is there? The government war-planner isn’t any different from the government paving-planner in terms of motivation: they ain’t got too much.

War isn’t wrong in and of itself: obviously collective violence is no more moral or immoral than individual violence. Mass collective violence is something that I would personally help pay for, given the right target. I think that Mugabe or Castro, for example, would look fine with an extra navel or ten, and I’d put up money to pay for it, given the assurance that it would be done right. At that is one thing that government cannot, by its very nature, give. What most people object to in government war (unneeded killing, lies, the fact that it is funded with stolen money, etc.) is properly a problem with government, not war. The city road department lies and cheats and paves where it shouldn’t – it’s just that there exist private organizations that we can compare it with. To critique government war, you have to think.

I’ve long since given up hope that most folks can see their way out of this: the two-party heritage in politics reduces too easily to a binary choice in every political matter: war patriot or peace hippy, pick one. I call bullshit: I don’t have to be either. I can call the fiasco in Iraq as what it is, and not be in the camp of the Worker’s World Party. I can cheer that Saddam Hussein isn’t running loose without cheering for Bush and Co. The typical binary choice presented by the mainstream isn’t consistent, it’s just constant. It’s much easier to have an opinion that other people have (“Look what Rush Limbaugh says. I agree with him.”) than it is to work matters out for yourself, based on principles. Which, again, most folks ain’t got none of. “Conservative”? “Liberal”? “Hawk”? “Dove”? Empty labels for empty heads.

The implications of the twentieth century are quite clear for anyone who cares to think. Central planning doesn’t work – not for roads and not for war.

Breed Standard

As I observed some years ago, John T. Kennedy is a Rat Terrier. I could go on, but the Rat Terrier Club of America describes him best.

“The Rat Terrier is an American breed that originated from a mixture of crosses by early immigrants of this country… Bred primarily for farm and ranch dogs to hunt, protect and guard against vermin and varmints, Rat Terriers have strong jaws and are known for their quick, agile movements, which enable them to kill rats and other vermin and small game… These early crosses eventually gave the breed the speed and “nose”, as well as the good disposition they are known for today. A non-sparing, playful, happy-go-lucky, devoted companion that is also protective, and yet can be aloof with strangers. They are an efficient, intuitive hunter as well as an energetic and intelligent companion, at home in the city or country.”

In other words, if you find yourself cornered, you’d best pack a lunch because it will be a long day.

Marketing Market Anarchism

[Originally published at anti-state.com on December 17, 2001]

In his article In Search of the Antimarx, Bob “Missing Loop” Murphy airs our disagreement over the merits of attempting to convert masses of people to anarcho-capitalism. Murphy characterizes my view fairly in his short summary of it; in another article I explain why I think rational evangelism won’t work. By this I mean simply that people are never going to be persuaded by rational argument to adopt anarcho-capitalism in numbers sufficient to dissolve government. Talk isn’t going to carry the day for us, and neither can force when we are so outnumbered.

But what I want to address here is Murphy’s intent to go beyond rational argument, to advance an anarcho-capitalist agenda by packaging the message.

First of all I think Murphy’s goal is unrealistic, indeed unattainable:

“I think the only hope for a stateless society is a population committed to true voluntarism, that is, to absolute and total freedom.”

Frankly I would despair if I thought this were true. And anyway, if such a population were so committed to freedom there wouldn’t be much reason to worry about limited government because it would work.

A common argument made against anarcho-capitalism is that it requires perfect people, or at least people far more virtuous than the general population is now. Murphy seems to accept this argument. The argument is wrong because, as David Friedman points out, imperfect people behave far more benignly in markets than they do when wielding government:

“I have encountered precisely the same error among libertarians who prefer limited government to anarcho-capitalism. Limited government, they say, can guarantee uniform justice based on objective principles. Under anarcho-capitalism, the law varies from place to place and person to person, according to the irrational desires and beliefs of the different customers that different protection and arbitration agencies must serve.

This argument assumes that the limited government is set up by a population most or all of whose members believe in the same just principles of law. Given such a population, anarcho-capitalism will produce that same uniform, just law; there will be no market for any other. But just as capitalism can accommodate to a diversity of individual ends, so anarcho-capitalism can accommodate to a diversity of individual judgments about justice.

An ideal objectivist society with a limited government is superior to an anarcho-capitalist society in precisely the same sense that an ideal socialist society is superior to a capitalist society. Socialism does better with perfect people than capitalism does with imperfect people; limited government does better with perfect people than anarcho-capitalism with imperfect. And it is better to wear a bikini with the sun shining than a raincoat when it is raining. That is no argument against carrying an umbrella.”

– from Socialism, Limited Government, Anarchy, and Bikinis
in The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman

The question of course is how to get from here to there. Murphy wants to do it by marketing a message. He admires Marx as a marketer of ideas:

“And you have to hand it to Marx. He sure as hell didn’t lead by example. (He himself was bourgeois and a scoundrel to boot.)

So how did he do it? His writing gave people an entire worldview. Marxism allows you to interpret history, economics, politics virtually everything. And it was all based on a basic human yearning: equality.”

But is equality a basic human yearning? I don’t yearn for it. I’d say the basic human vice Marx played upon was jealousy. And Murphy says it’s “far easier to dislodge an erroneous belief than a correct one”, but then how does one explain the success of Marx? America once had far more limited government and far freer markets but Marx’s false philosophy made great inroads against a more correct philosophy and continues to do so. It’s clear that false premises don’t prevent a philosophy from making great advances. Marxism advanced not by rational argument, not by being correct, but by irrational appeals and systematic incentives.

Murphy is ready to go beyond rational argument and seems to be willing to persuade people on the basis of false premises:

“Or, if you don’t believe in evolution, then (chances are) you’re a believer in one of the major religions. And then of course the popularity of your creed is an example that people can be inspired by the truth as well as by myths.”


To convince religious people that truth can carry the day Murphy invites them to take their own creed as an example. But these creeds are contradictory which means at least some of them are wrong. In fact for any of them to be true most of them must be largely wrong. And since most of these people must be embracing creeds which are largely wrong their own creed is not a valid example of how people can be inspired by truth, quite the opposite. Yet Murphy invites them to accept it as a valid example.

I’m certainly not saying that such an argument cannot persuade many people, Marx demonstrated that false arguments can be very persuasive while appealing to the irrational. I just think such persuasion is worthless for the purpose of getting people to embrace truth, because while it is possible to arrive at a correct conclusion by an invalid argument it is not possible to apprehend truth by such means. I don’t trust someone who has reached a correct conclusion by invalid reasoning because if they’re vulnerable to one invalid argument they’re vulnerable to the next.

Being correct is only an advantage in argument if the audience you’re trying to persuade is competent to grasp a valid argument. The success of Marx’s collectivist philosophy argues very strongly against the idea that Murphy’s chosen audience is sufficiently competent.

To put it bluntly, collectivism can be advanced by “useful idiots” but incompetence can’t usefully advance rational individualism.

The Fundamental Fallacy of Government

[Originally published at anti-state.com on July 30, 2001]

Why do we need government?

Government is a monopoly of force. Why is it that most people favor such a monopoly?

The Declaration of Independence says:

We hold these truths to be self – evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Setting aside the question of a Creator, I agree in principle that first sentence. It says that there are values which are appropriate to men according to their nature and that rights are implicit in their relationship with those values.

The next sentence offers a reason why we are supposed to need government: We need government to secure rights. This quaint notion has gone a bit out of fashion with many advocates of government, today they typically want government to secure all kinds of things, many of which have nothing to do with rights, but they all want government to secure something. And they’re convinced that only government can do it.

Why can’t people secure their rights, or anything else they need, by voluntary means? Why can’t people freely contract to secure whatever they need to secure? Why is a government, a monopoly on force, necessary to secure anything essential?

The fundamental answer which advocates of government offer for these questions is that we need government to solve a public goods problem. We are told that there is something that we all need, but that we will not secure by voluntary means. Often the argument is used for defense. The argument is that we all need to be defended from foreign invaders but the necessary means to do so cannot be funded on a voluntary basis. If the funding of defense is to be voluntary, what incentive is there for the individual to fund it? After all, for the defense to be viable a large number of people must voluntarily contribute their resources to it, but the individual only controls the actions of one person. Thus the individual has substantial incentive to be a free rider, he’ll get the benefit of defense whether he contributes or not, and the defense will be funded or not regardless of whether the particular individual contributes or not.

I acknowledge this is a legitimate concern and I don’t offer any easy answers.

I just point out that the government as a cure is worse than the disease.

Government “solves” one public goods problem by creating another that cannot be solved. Let’s assume a government is instituted to solve the public goods problem of defense. A mandatory tax is imposed on everyone in the territory to fund defense. Of course force will be used to extract the taxes from any who would not pay voluntarily. But in the end we get the defense we all need by eliminating free riding.

So far so good?

Oops, there’s a catch.

You see, by instituting a monopoly of force you’ve created another threat that people need protection from – the government itself. How will people restrain that government? How can they prevent it from becoming a tyranny?

You have another public goods problem on your hands. And you can’t solve this one the way you “solved” the first. Everyone needs government restrained but that can only be achieved by the voluntary donation of efforts by a great many people. But government will be restrained or not regardless of what the individual does, so he has the very same incentive to be a free rider with respect to the restraint of government as he had with respect to defense. And while you can force people to fund defense you cannot even in principle force people to restrain government since the act of forcing them would be an act of governing.

So government can only be restrained by widespread voluntary donations of effort. But the argument for instituting this government in the first place was that individuals could not be relied on to make such voluntary donations of effort. If you can’t rely on people to voluntarily donate the effort required to repel a foreign invader, how can you rely upon them to voluntarily donate the effort to restrain government?

If voluntary effort can be relied upon to restrain government then you don’t need government because voluntary effort could then be relied upon to solve the problems that government is supposed to solve. In this case there is no justification for government since there is no public goods problem to be solved by a monopoly of force. There’s no way to justify forcing people to solve problems that they are perfectly capable of solving voluntarily.

And if voluntary effort cannot be relied upon to restrain government then there is no justification for government because you haven’t solved any public goods problem by instituting government, you’ve only made things worse by creating a public goods problem that cannot be solved.

In either case government makes things worse.

Sorry folks, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and the argument that government is necessary to secure something that we all need has never been anything but an argument for a free lunch.

A Porcupine’s Worth Is His Price

"The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price.."Hobbes

Government is a predator. Those who seek to secure their liberty face the problem of how to avoid being prey. Some look at the leviathan state and despair that they will never have sufficient force at their disposal to defeat such a predator. They need to learn from the porcupine.

The lesson the porcupine teaches is that you don’t have to be strong enough to defeat a predator to avoid being that predator’s lunch. It suffices to be an expensive meal.  Predators tend not to dine on porcupines because a serving of porcupine tends not to be worth the mouthful of quill that it costs.

In Price Theory David Friedman writes:

"… the essential objective in any conflict is neither to defeat your enemy nor to make it impossible for him to defeat you but merely to make it no longer in his interest to do whatever it is that you object to…

Why do nations seek overwhelmingly to resolve disputes peacefully rather than by force? Because war is usually more expensive than it is worth to the party that initiates it.  The reason that Communist China doesn’t take Taiwan by force is not that it cannot do so, but rather because China judges Taiwan will
cost more than it is worth to take by force. Taiwan does not need to be anywhere near as powerful as the predator to survive, it just needs to be more expensive than it is worth to the predator.

Those who fought for American independence understood the lesson of the porcupine.  One of the most powerful symbols in the war for independence is seen in the Gadsden flag.

The message of the Gadsden flag is not that we can defeat all predators, but that we will cost them dearly. The colonists did not seek to be more powerful than the British, they sought simply to be too expensive for the British to rule.

Some advocates of anarcho-capitalism think that to achieve liberty from government we need to convince a majority or some critical number of people that anarcho-capitalist society will be better for them than governed society.

The porcupine teaches a different lesson -that men will be free from government whenever they become too expensive to govern.

This is the crucial insight which makes me optimistic about the chances for anarcho-capitalist society. I’m not optimistic about converting masses of people to accept anarcho-capitalism through any sort of rational evangelism. I’m not optimistic about persuading large numbers of people to be more moral or to use better judgment. But I am optimistic that in the long run people can be made too expensive to govern.

Do Something

Park illegally. Smoke a joint. Drain a swamp. Sell something for cash. Buy something for cash. Don’t report income. Submit false census data. Buy an unregistered gun. Sell an unregistered gun. Don’t license your dog or cat. Piss on your own front lawn. Praise Jesus in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Praise free speech on any campus. Ice a terminally-ill relative who begs to die. Marry the person you love without getting a marriage certificate. Blow up a cactus. Chainsaw a really old tree on your property. Encrypt anything. Tune your car so that it sucks gas and kicks ass. Find a Saturday Night Special Assault Rifle and load it with Cop Killer Bullets, then use it to pop an endangered bunny twixt his soft, fuzzy ears. Fuck somebody who wants to fuck you in a nasty, illegal way. Peel out at a red light. Bet on something with someone. Write an email using the terms “auto sear” and “detonator”. Burn something without a permit. Drive uninsured while talking on your cellphone. Hoard bullets and good pornography. Light a Marlboro in the mall.

God damn it, stop reading and moaning, go out and fucking do something outside the cattle car-shaped box.