My Articles Featured On Other Sites

Here’s a list of my articles that have been featured on other sites. At some point I expect to republish all the articles here, but for now at least these are links to the articles or archived copies:


The Fundamental Fallacy of Government

Marketing Market Anarchism

A Parliament of Whores?

The Revolution Will Be All Business

Disputing Narveson On The Coercion Of Free Riders

Economic Secession

[UPDATE: It seems that has gone away since I posted those links so I’m moving the articles to this blog.]


Look Ma: Invisible Hands

The Invisible Hand Of Spontaneous Corruption

The Wrong Hill

An Embedded Premise

The Fallacy Of Control

A Short Argument For Intellectual Property
(I now recognize the above argument is wrong.)

At the Free State Project:

A Porcupine’s Worth Is His Price

Equal Authority

In my last article I argued that equal treatment is not a principle of justice. There are various formulations of equal treatment – equality under he law, equality of opportunity, or equality of outcome, for instance. I’ve sought to demonstrate that these formulations are incoherent, that they add nothing to justice, and they strongly tend to erode justice.

In Equality: The Unknown Ideal, Roderick Long points to a very different kind of equality as the foundation of justice. First he draws our attention to a passage from an early draft of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable: that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But what sort of equality did Jefferson have in mind, in claiming to derive rights from “equal creation”?


For the answer to this question we must turn from Jefferson to Jefferson’s source, John Locke, who tells us exactly what “equality” in the libertarian sense is: namely, a condition

wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection….

In short, the equality that Locke and Jefferson speak of is equality in authority: the prohibition of any “subordination or subjection” of one person to another. Since any interference by A with B’s liberty constitutes a subordination or subjection of B to A, the right to liberty follows straightforwardly from the equality of “power and jurisdiction.” As Locke explains:

[B]eing all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…. And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.

Locke points to the self-evident fact that no individual is born with moral authority over, or moral subordination to, any other individual. By nature individuals have equal authority – legitimate authority over their own lives, but not over the lives of others.

Right there, Locke has essentially derived the non-aggression principle, a priori. The fact that individuals naturally have equal moral authority means that no individual can morally aggress against another.

Notice that equal authority in no way implies equal treatment of the types previously discussed. The only offense against equal authority is forceful interference with another individual’s legitimate authority over himself.

This coincides perfectly with what I said in my last article:

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.

Incoherent Equality

I’ve pointed to James Buchanan’s attempt to apply an incoherent notion of generality to constitutional law. This principle of generality is really what people mean by “equality before the law”. In a review of Politics by Principle, Not Interest by Buchanan and Roger Congleton, Anthony de Jasay gently, but thoroughly, shreds the principle.

Consider taxation: The principle of generality, or equality before the law, posits that all individuals should be taxed equally. That sounds pleasing to many. Unfortunately the principle can give us no guidance on what such generality or equality needs to look like. Does a poll tax where every citizen pays an equal sum satisfy equality before the law? How about a flat tax on income where every citizen pays an equal percentage? But then again, why a tax on income instead of total wealth? Or why not a tax where every citizen is left with an equal income after taxes?

Which of these proposed polices satisfies the principle of equality before the law? Sober reflection reveals that the principle provides no standard by which one may choose between these polices – any ranking of the policies depends on an entirely subjective understanding of equality which has nothing to do with equality before the law.


Although the “treat like cases alike” meaning of generality is no more than a tautology for “apply the rule,” the “non-discrimination” meaning clearly does not bear pushing anywhere near its logical limit – a telling sign that it has some defect that comes to light when the meaning comes to be stretched a little. In fact, Buchanan and Congleton are far too intelligent not to sense this problem. They are fairly diffident about providing a working definition that would tell us, in every case, what rule would pass for general.

In one basic case, though, they are perfectly confident about what rule would be the truly general one. This case is the two-person (or two-coalition), two-strategy game of benefit- or burden-sharing, as exemplified by Hume’s farmers digging a drainage ditch. A two-by-two matrix describes four alternative allocations of the workload. Along what the authors call the diagonal, both farmers dig for two days or neither digs. Along the off-diagonal, either one digs for three days and the other for one, or the other way round. Which of the two off-diagonal, asymmetrical alternatives is the actual solution depends on which “farmer” is enabled by the political choice mechanism to coerce the other. A rule applied to this type of case is general if it outlaws the off diagonal solution, so that only the symmetrical, equal-sharing solutions remain available.

Both farmers work the same length of time. Obviously, the Pareto-optimal solution among all the symmetrical ones is that they should both work as long as it takes to complete the ditch; but this is not the point. The point is that generality has been found to reside in symmetry. From here, a promising avenue seems to lead toward a more developed form of generality. The simple version of the rule would say that the farmers, when placed in the circumstances described, should dig the same number of days, preserving one kind of equality, albeit a rather rudimentary one.

However, there is no compelling reason why equality of days worked should be regarded as the best, let alone the sole valid criterion of symmetry. If one farmer is frail, old, or arthritic, or if one has a higher opportunity cost because when he digs he cannot attend to the calving or lambing, or if his end of the ditch has a nasty, sticky, clayey patch, then a rule laying down equality of labor time might well be held to produce asymmetrical shares of pain or cost. Likewise, it might also be argued that symmetry calls for labor time to vary inversely with productivity or directly with the benefit each farmer will derive from the drained meadow. Symmetry in the relevant variable must prevail, but why is labor time the relevant variable rather than pain, productivity, opportunity cost, benefit, or something else?

Is That The Best Idea You Can Come Up With?

I rather enjoyed the gentle dancing bits at the beginning of this protest at the Jefferson Memorial, but one reason I’m disinclined to take part in something like this is that you never know when the Human Megaphone is going to start chanting something pathetic like: “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!”

At this point, I pictured Charles Durning from O Brother Where Art Thou playing Murray “Pass The Free Trade Pappy” Rothbard, with his idiot son Junior:


People like that democracy Pappy, maybe we should get us some…


Sweet weepin’ Jesus on the cross, is that the best idea you can come up with?


Thank God your momma died giving birth, if she’d a seen ya she’d a died of shame!

Exit, Not Arguments

I find many valuable insights in James Buchanan’s essay The Soul of Classical Liberalism, but I was particularly struck by a point that Buchanan only touches upon tangentially:

Much has been made of the American spirit or soul as influenced by the availability of the territorial frontier during the first century of the United States’ historical experience. Why was the frontier important? The proper economic interpretation of frontier lies in its guarantee of an exit option, the presence of which dramatically limits the potential for interpersonal exploitation. There has been a general failure to recognize that the effectively operating market order acts in precisely the same way as the frontier; it offers each participant exit options in each relationship.

The rational evangelists of libertarianism think we need to argue better, but it’s really exit that makes liberty possible, and exit is not an argument. Libertarians need better exits, not better arguments. They need to see markets as the solution rather than the goal.

Gold, Guns, Ammo, and Food – That’s Crazy!

I love Nevada.  We have wild horses, slot machines, legal brothels, and guys who die leaving $7 million in gold bullion stored in their garages.  We also value a certain arms length congeniality.  So when Carson City resident Walter Samaszko, 69,  passed away in his home in June of a heart attack, it was a few weeks before anyone started wondering where he was.

“He was a good neighbor.  I never saw him that much,” said Joe Baxter.

The men had exchanged waves on occasion from across Mountain View Street,  a modestly quiet area in the northeast part of town.  Baxter didn’t know Samaszko very well, but recently accepted an offer from a real estate agent friend to go through some of the dead man’s possessions  prior to putting the house on the market.  Imagine their surprise when they came upon a couple of ammo cans filled with 4000 ounces of gold coins.  They contacted the Carson City County Clerk Alan Glover and that’s when the clucking started.

“The amount of it was what was overwhelming.  They had to use a wheelbarrow to move boxes and boxes of gold from the house,”  claims Glover, but while 4000 ounces is 250 pounds, the volume only occupies the space of about 1.5 gallons of water.  I may well have used a wheelbarrow, too, but boxes and boxes?  This sounds like something of an exaggeration of the facts.  Easy to do in a case like this, but Glover continues.

“He was a hoarder.  He had cases of salmon.  Cases of tunafish.”

Apparently Glover doesn’t shop at Costco, where it’s common to see customers rolling Kirkland tuna out of the store by the case.  And because Mr. Samaszko possessed what Clerk Glover characterizes as conspiracy books along with some guns and cases of ammo, he concludes that:

“It appears he did not like government very much.”

It’s not apparent in print, but if you watched the KRNV video, Glover clearly comments with some disdain about a man who really can’t correct any of Glover’s conclusions or possible misconceptions.  For example, the use of the term “hoarder” in today’s vernacular connotes crazy people from reality TV who cram their homes with junk, but gold, guns, ammo, and food are not junk.  We like that sort of thing out here in these parts.

And just what does Glover mean by conspiracy books?  Did Samaszko have a copy of The Creature From Jekyll Island or, God forbid, Ron Paul’s End the Fed?  Is that where he got the whacky idea that gold bullion might be a valuable thing to keep around.  Wow.  How crazy is that?


Gene Callahan Joins The Smearbund

(Smearbund – I just can’t get enough of that word lately. That’s why I read Lew’s blog.)

A writer from Lew Rockwell’s stable finally (!) breaks ranks. Gene Callahan has had enough:

The final straw: “Last week, a statement was prepared by Ron Paul’s press secretary Jesse Benton, and approved by Ron Paul, acknowledging Lew Rockwell as having a role in the newsletters. The statement was squashed by campaign chairman Kent Snyder.”

Man, Paul’s behavior regarding these newsletters has been awful. His “I don’t know who wrote these” is about as slippery as a politician can get. Everyone who was around libertarianism in the early 90s knows Lew was in charge of these and knows Rothbard and his crew were into race-baiting back then. (By the way, notice that the longer Lew has been away from Rothbard’s influence, the more decent he’s become? I personally have found him very affable, and I can’t imagine him putting out material like this today. Just shows what hanging around Rothbard can do to you.)

Paul’s got a decent message, but he’s the wrong vehicle for delivering it.

In comments there, co-blogger Bob Murphy farvors a more traditional (*) approach, one that he likens to a blue wall of silence:

I think you are overreacting in the opposite way here, Gene. I.e. yes, I totally agree that (a) certain things in those newsletters were inexcusable, (b) RP is clearly lying about it now when he says he has no idea who wrote it, and (c) it is silly to just dismiss the inquiries as smears.

Having said all that, I do kinda wonder why Sanchez and his co-author decided to write that particular article, when the damage had already been done by the TNR one. If next week some anti-Irish magazine came out with a story that you did a bunch of drugs when you were younger (outlandish, I know), and this was getting you in trouble with your PhD committee, I wouldn’t comment to any reporter who called me up about it. And I sure as heck wouldn’t spend a few days doing research on it because “Callahan won’t come clean on this!”

Does that sound so crazy? If I were to do that, don’t you think some of your buddies would think, “Jeez, I thought Bob was Gene’s friend!” ?

I realize this sounds like cops and their blue wall of silence whenever one of them beats up a suspect, and maybe my view is just that wrong / tribal / petty. But I understand why longtime fans of LRC are lashing out at Reason on this, and don’t view Sanchez as Bob Woodward.

(* Traditional among Rockwell’s writers, that is.)

The Law Is The Law. Or Something.

I saw Ron Paul on CNN’s Situation Room today, he was filibustering to burn up any time during which he might have to face more questions about his newsletters. One thing he said was that he would pardon anyone convicted of a non-violent drug crime. That’s pretty sweet.

But in the Fox debate tonight when the subject of illegal immigration came up he said, “The law is the law and it ought to be enforced.”


If the law is the law for wetbacks why shouldn’t the law be the law for tweakers?