Tag Archives: Hans-Hermann Hoppe

How To Win An Election

Mises Daily: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 by 

[An MP3 audio file of this article, read by Steven Ng, is available for download.]

In his superb analysis of democracy, Hans-Hermann Hoppe observes that “prime ministers and presidents are selected for their proven efficiency as morally uninhibited demagogues. Thus, democracy virtually assures that only bad and dangerous men will ever rise to the top of government.”[1] Those who seek political office appear to be eager to break the moral code that most of us are willing to follow. The greater the power of the political office that a candidate is seeking, the more likely it is that that individual has no sense of right and wrong.

At the local level, we sometimes find elected officials that we respect, but at the federal level, such candidates are few and far between. With few exceptions, Congressman Ron Paul comes to mind, it seems that the minimum requirement to be a viable congressional or presidential candidate is the ability to exploit others.[2]

George W. Bush is a prime example of candidates’ apparent willingness to be unscrupulous in order to acquire and wield political power. The deceit of his administration during his eight years of reign was readily apparent to unbiased observers, and we see the same characteristics in the Barack Obama administration.

Questions arise from the preceding observation: Why are scoundrels successful in the political arena? Even if we recognize that morally corrupt individuals will seek to rule over others,[3] why do voters support such candidates? Would we not expect people to vote for morally upright candidates? Do corrupt candidates have an advantage over candidates with integrity?

This essay attempts to answer these questions and explain why moral corruption tends to be a characteristic of successful political candidates. Applying economic analysis to political decision making provides us with conclusions regarding the necessary attributes of winning political candidates.

The Nature of an Election

Understanding the nature of an election is the first step in winning an election. Let’s begin by comparing an election to private-sector decisions. Think about how consumers make their daily purchases. A consumer will go to Walmart, grab a shopping cart, and fill the cart with items that he wants and is willing to pay for. There’s nothing in the cart that the consumer does not want and every item is worth more to the buyer than its price.

Such purchases represent market democracy in action. As Ludwig von Mises explained, in a market economy,

the lord of production is the consumer. From this point of view the capitalist society is a democracy in which every penny represents a ballot paper. It is a democracy with an imperative and immediately revocable mandate to its deputies.[4]

In a market, each consumer decides exactly what he wants to buy; he votes every time he purchases goods and services.

In a market democracy, voting is registered by spending money. You can have a blue shirt by voting for the blue shirt with your money. In other words, your vote matters. Each consumer chooses the goods that he wants and he ends up with nothing that he would rather not have.

Also, everybody gets to have a different cart. Some buyers leave with carts full of costly goods, while others walk out with only a few items. You buy the blue shirt, another buyer purchases a red shirt, and I decide to not buy a shirt. The fact that you want a blue shirt does no harm to me. This is an important point. In market democracy, there is no reason for consumers’ disagreements to lead to conflict. Each consumer may vote differently, but one consumer’s purchase of a shopping cart of goods does not compel other consumers to take home the same set of goods.

Finally, each consumer has an incentive to be informed to some degree about his purchases. Because acquiring information about products allows one to make better decisions, buyers take time to know something about these products. This is especially true for expensive items. For items that are a large part of a consumer’s budget, it’s worth the effort to research the available options. One is rewarded for finding high quality items at relatively low prices.

Things are quite different in a political democracy. Choosing between two candidates is analogous going to Walmart and being presented with two shopping carts already filled with items. Everyone will leave the store with the same cart of goods. Each cart contains products that a person may want and products that one wouldn’t choose to have, but the voter is not able to take anything out of either cart.

This demonstrates the concept of bundled choices in political decision making. The carts represent candidates and the products are the political positions of those candidates. The candidates might support policies that a particular citizen favors, but that individual won’t agree with everything a candidate stands for. In private decisions, one chooses only the items he wants, since the choices are not bundled, but in political decisions, you don’t have this option. If you support a candidate, you realize that you are accepting a bundled choice that includes some policies that you do not favor.

Also, for reasons that will be explained later, the two carts are very similar. They contain many of the same items, the items that are different are still similar (e.g., both carts contain a shirt — one red and one blue), and the two carts cost about the same amount. In addition, each taxpayer will end up paying for one of the carts even though he wouldn’t voluntarily purchase this basket of items.

We see here the conflict present in political decisions. You want a blue shirt, someone else wants a red shirt, and I don’t want a shirt. Your wishes conflict with mine. In order for you to be satisfied, you support policies that are harmful to me. We don’t see this type of conflict in market democracy.

Returning to the Walmart shopping cart analogy, when you are presented with the two carts, you are allowed to vote on which cart you want. However, you vote infrequently, say, once every four years, and your vote doesn’t matter. You will end up with the same cart regardless of your vote. In fact, even if you don’t vote, this will not affect the bundle that you receive in your cart.

It’s the same way in any major election. The chance of any single vote changing the outcome of an election is remote. Therefore, voters have little incentive to be informed about the items in the two carts. Going to the effort of learning about the two carts generates few rewards. Even being fully informed about the items in the carts will not change anything, since any individual vote will not change the outcome of the election.

Finally, even though the voters are promised a particular set of goods in the shopping cart that won the election, that doesn’t mean that the voters will receive that set of goods. The candidate could promise to deliver a specific set of policies, but after the election, the office holder is free to deliver a different set of policies to the voters, either because the candidate changed his position on some issues or because he was being deceitful during the campaign in order to gain political support.

The point, so far, is that in an election voters are faced with bundled choices, they vote infrequently, no individual’s vote will affect the election, voters have little incentive to be highly informed about the candidates’ policy positions, and the winning candidate is not obliged to deliver on his promises. Candidates who understand these simple facts about an election will have an advantage over political opponents who do not understand the nature of elections.

Realizing this, candidates need to make two important decisions. First, a candidate must consider which bundle of policies will give him the best chance of winning the election, and second, a candidate must devise a strategy that will give his supporters an incentive to vote in spite of the fact that no individual vote matters. I will consider these two issues in order.

Which Political Bundle Will Win the Election?

Consider a spectrum of possible political positions. There are extremists, such as libertarians and Marxists, at the edges of the spectrum. Most voters are not at these extremes of the spectrum. Many voters tend to have somewhat similar views and they are in what we might call the center of the spectrum. I realize that one might argue that the bulk of voters are nearer to one edge of the spectrum than other edges, but my point is that there is a centrist position in this spectrum and voters tend to be clustered in this region of the spectrum.

In order to win the election, a candidate needs to appeal to this center position. If candidate D takes a position much to the left of center and candidate R takes a position just slightly to the right of candidate D, then R will probably win the election. Similarly, if candidate R takes a right-of-center position, candidate D can win the election by taking a position slightly to the left of R. Therefore, in order to win the election, each candidate wants to appeal to the center of the political spectrum.

The analysis above is a watered down version of the median-voter theorem. Candidates of both parties need to get the support of the middle-of-the-road voter, the “median” voter.[5] This conclusion has some important implications.

First of all, since both candidates are trying to appeal to the median voter, we should expect the candidates to hold similar positions. The last two presidential administrations demonstrate this point. Even though they represent different political parties, many of the foreign-policy and financial advisors of the Bush administration would be comfortable in the Obama administration and in some cases the same individuals are in both administrations. Bush and Obama both support the welfare state and the military empire. They both have proposed budgets greatly expanding the budgetary size and legal reach of our federal government.

Federal debt nearly doubled during Bush’s reign and it appears that it may double again under Obama. Both presidents supported massive healthcare bills that increased federal spending and federal control over the healthcare industry. And, importantly, both presidents support loose monetary policies and the Federal Reserve system, the primary cause of the current economic crisis.[6]

Second, we should expect many voters to be unhappy with the outcome of the election. Those who agree with the political preferences of the median voter may be satisfied with the winning candidate’s positions, but many voters hold positions that are considerably different than the centrist position and will find little comfort in the political positions of the winning candidate.

Third, the need to appeal to the center of the political spectrum creates a dilemma for the candidates. In order to gain political power in our system, a candidate must win two elections, the primary election and the general election. The difficulty for a candidate is that he needs to appeal to a different set of voters in each election. In order to win the primary election, a candidate must attract the median voter of his party’s primary voters. Then the candidate must change his position to gain the support of the median voter in the general election.

In our common political language, the Republican needs to take a right-wing position in the primary and then move to the center for the general election. The Democrat makes a similar change from a left-wing position to a centrist position.

There are at least two keys for a candidate to change his position and still hold his political support. First, a candidate needs to appeal to his base during the primary election, without taking firm positions. At this point, he needs to avoid being too specific. He wants to be able to change his position while at the same time denying that any such change occurred. After the primary, he can swing to the middle of the road.

Each candidate knows that he is changing his positions, but he also knows that the other candidate is acting in a similar manner. The winning strategy here is to be the first to accuse your opponent of flip-flopping, and point to his obvious change of heart, while all the time maintaining that you haven’t changed your position at all. The goal is to shine the spotlight on your opponent’s deceptiveness and assert that you are a straight talker who never waivers in his convictions, all the while ignoring the fact that the only convictions most candidates have is the willingness to do anything to acquire political power. Such deceptiveness pays off for reasons that will be explained later.

Next, we must consider which bundle of political positions will appeal to the center of the political spectrum. The obvious conclusion is that a candidate needs to pick a bundle that contains positions that reward his followers for their support.

Voters will support a candidate who will give them political favors. Various groups are willing to lobby government officials — economists call this lobbying rent seeking — to gain these benefits. Think of it as an exchange. Groups are willing to provide money and political support to candidates and in return candidates transfer wealth to these groups.

A candidate can buy votes by providing concentrated benefits to special-interest groups. These favors can take the form of transfer payments, where the state simply takes money from some people and gives it to others, or some market intervention such as price supports for agricultural products or various protectionist policies. The main budgetary task of the federal government is to hand out these political favors, as the bulk of federal spending is made up of transfer payments. On top of this spending, laws and regulations tend to be aimed at benefitting the politically favored classes.

The downside of handing out favors in exchange for political support is that someone has to pay for these policies. The trick, politically, is to gain support by providing concentrated benefits to various groups while losing a minimal amount of support from those who are harmed by the policies.

Therefore, it’s important to disperse the costs of government largesse. If you take $10 apiece from 10 million people, these victims will have little incentive to oppose this policy. Few would find it worth their time to lobby against a policy that only costs a person $10. However, if you take this $100 million and offer $100,000 to each of 1,000 people, then this group will find it profitable to organize a political action committee and give you votes and cash. In order to get other people’s money, the favored group will be willing to organize, hire lobbyists, send campaign contributions to the appropriate officials, and campaign for the candidate that has organized this wealth transfer.

In addition to dispersing the costs of government programs, it’s also sometimes possible to hide the costs from the taxpayers. For example, few workers understand the tax burden of the Social Security system. On their paychecks, workers see that 6.2 percent of their gross pay is taken from them to pay for Social Security. What they don’t see is that employers match this tax payment with an equal additional payment. It seems that employers are paying half of the Social Security taxes. That’s not the case. Even though the employers are legally liable for the tax, they shift the tax on to workers in the form of lower wages. The Social Security tax burden, 12.4 percent of each worker’s gross pay, falls on workers. This is just one of the many ways that politicos hide the costs of government policies.

When running for office, it’s important to emphasize the benefits of the wealth transfers to the recipients of the transfers and ignore the costs to the victims of the policies. Henry Hazlitt explained that the “art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”[7] Hazlitt illustrated this idea by considering a broken window. Breaking the window creates a job for the glazier, an immediate effect, but repairing the window reduces spending in other sectors of the economy. The long-run effects include the negative effects on the workers in these sectors.

A key to winning an election is to reverse Hazlitt’s wisdom. The art of political campaigning is to look only at the immediate effects for one group, the group that benefits from the policy in question, and ignore the negative effects on other groups. By ignoring the overall effects of a policy, candidates can support destructive policies that harm social welfare. We saw an obvious example of this broken-window fallacy in the 2009 “cash for clunkers” program, when the Obama administration made the ridiculous claim that destroying 700,000 cars in the United States would help our economy. Elected officials have turned the famous broken-window fallacy into the broken-window excuse for handing out political favors.

Candidates know how to play this game. Therefore, they all tend to favor increased government spending, more burdensome regulations, and additional central planning. The country is headed down the road towards totalitarian socialism[8] and the Democratic and Republican candidates are arguing about how fast we should drive the car.

So, in order to gain political support, a candidate needs to cater to special interests by supporting policies with concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, and, to the degree possible, he must hide the costs of the policies. The lesson here is that a candidate that respects private property is at a disadvantage and is likely to lose the election. A willingness to take others’ property — in everyday life we would call this thievery — is critical to gaining political power.

Your Vote Doesn’t Matter

Once a candidate has bribed voters for their support, he next needs to find a way to get his supporters to vote, all the while recognizing that individual votes will have no effect on the election. The odds of a single vote changing the outcome of an election are about 1/N, where N is the number of voters in the election. Roughly 130 million people voted in the 2008 presidential election, so the chance of a single vote making a difference was, roughly speaking, less than one millionth of one percent.[9]

A lot of potential voters, however, can be convinced that their vote will make a difference. In order to win support, candidates stress that each vote does matter. They claim that the election hinges on every single vote and that the upcoming election is always the most important election in a lifetime. Since voting is infrequent, voters will have forgotten that the last election was also the most important election ever.

Linking voting to patriotism or claiming that practicing democracy is equivalent to living in a free country are also successful tactics. Of course, such statements are false, but many people still fall for these claims. It helps that the government schools reinforce these ideas and teach students that it’s their civic duty to vote. After 12 years of hearing this propaganda, many people will accept this position. History shows that this works.

What Role Does Deceptiveness Play in an Election?

The analysis above leads us to the conclusion that candidates will engage in deception. A major problem with supporting policies that have concentrated benefits and dispersed costs is that such policies are not in the public’s interest. Militarism, price controls, protectionist policies, transfer payments, and socializing various industries impoverish the country. When candidates use these schemes to get elected, they generally hide the fact that their proposals harm the country. Instead of being truthful, candidates claim that the destructive policies are good for society. Of course, these policies centralize political power and are therefore good for those closely associated with the state, but the candidates are lying when they claim that the programs generate net benefits to the overall country. Consider a few of the fallacious claims that we should expect to hear from those running for political office:

For instance, a candidate will never claim that his main goal is to acquire political power so that he can enrich himself. He will use pet phrases that hide the true nature of his policies. No matter what policy he is defending, he may claim that the program is “for the children,” or that it will “strengthen the family.” Other possibilities include asserting that the policies will “grow the economy” or “help the environment.” In the current political atmosphere, saying that you are “fighting terrorism” will blind many people to your actual intent. The point is that simple platitudes will fool many people.

Asserting that your positions will help the country works particularly well if you are an incumbent. During time in office, whenever there is good news, an incumbent will claim that his policies created the good news. If the unemployment rate drops, we will hear him claim that this is his doing. The claim that event A (some government policy) preceded event B (some positive outcome) and therefore event A must have caused event B is the post hoc fallacy. Most people will not recognize this as a fallacy, however, so office holders can get away with this sleight of hand.

For those that are skeptical of your claims, it may be necessary to have some “experts,” bought and paid for by the government, back up your claims. Many economists and other academics seek to work for the government and they see that it’s in their interest to draw conclusions that fit the positions of elected officials in order to be rewarded with money and power. Such experts gain fame and riches and elected officials gain by being able to assert that authorities support their policies. Only the public loses out in this game.

As mentioned before, another complication of gaining political office is that you often need to win two elections, a primary election and then a general election. The problem here is the need to appeal to the voters in a particular political party for the primary election and to the general population for the general election. This may require the candidate to switch positions. The set of bundled choices that will win the primary election may be different than the political positions that will win the general election. Candidates will therefore be vague and try to avoid specifics in the primary election.

Another lie we hear is candidates’ assertion that (even though they would take similar positions when in office) there are major differences between them. Each will claim that their policies will lead to prosperity and security, and that their opponent’s positions will result in impoverishment and ruin. Convincing supporters that there is a major difference between the candidates will make it more likely that they will vote. A candidate needs to continually push his supporters to go to the polls.

A common tactic for gaining support is fear mongering. Fear often trumps logic. Voters can be scared into believing that there will be dire consequences if their candidate loses the election. A candidate can appeal to his followers by claiming that if the other candidate wins the election we will be attacked by terrorists, or our taxes will be raised, or we may lose our jobs, or our children will not get a good education, or we will run out of oil, or we may not get adequate health care, or the environment will be destroyed. While some of these claims may be correct, they are true regardless of which candidate wins the election, because either winning candidate will implement policies that will do us much harm. In making to make such claims, candidates rely on the fact that voters will not recognize that the candidates largely agree on the major issues regarding government policy.

Voting is another area where candidates lie. Candidates, or their handlers, know that individual votes do not matter. Yet these same candidates continually encourage their supporters to vote by alleging that each vote could make a difference.

This long list of deceptions leads us to another important lesson. A candidate that is averse to being deceitful is at a disadvantage and is likely to lose the election. Successful candidates tend to be liars.

Won’t people generally discover that elected officials and candidates for elected office lie? Probably not, since most people are rationally ignorant. In other words, it’s not worth it to most people to be well-informed about political issues.

Consider again the shopping-cart analogy. For most people, the cost of understanding the political bundle in the cart is higher than the benefits of gaining this knowledge. Even if a voter has perfect knowledge about the candidates, his individual vote will not have any bearing on the election. Therefore, most voters have little incentive to be informed. It’s rational to be ignorant about the details of candidates’ positions and government policies, and ignorant voters may fail to recognize the candidates’ lies.

Conclusion

This essay considered the question: why are scoundrels successful in the political arena? Analyzing the nature of an election provides us with an answer. In order to win an election, candidates need to offer their supporters other people’s wealth, and candidates must convince their supporters to vote in spite of the fact that individual votes will not affect the election. Accomplishing these two goals requires deception. Therefore, candidates who are willing to violate property rights — to steal — and be deceptive have an advantage over candidates with stronger moral convictions. So of course elected officials are corrupt. Candidates with moral integrity are at a severe disadvantage in the political sphere. Do not put your hope in political solutions.

Mark Brandly is a professor of economics at Ferris State University and an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Send him mail. See Mark Brandly’s article archives.

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Notes

[1] Hans-Hermann Hoppe. 2001. Democracy: The God That Failed. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, p. 88. If the reader is interested in a comprehensive analysis of democratic institutions, this is the book to read.

[2] For an Austrian view of class analysis and exploitation theory, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis.”Download PDF

[3] Friedrich A. Hayek provides a wonderful explanation of this point in “Why the Worst Get on Top,” chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom.

[4] Ludwig von Mises. 1981. Socialism:An Economic and Sociological Analysis. Indianapolis, Liberty Classics, p.400.

[5] Agents of the state have monopolistic advantages that allow them to support policies at the expense of voters in general, and some may argue that elected officials can ignore voters’ preferences, even the preferences of the median voter. This argument has merit. For this reason, strictly speaking, the median-voter theorem is flawed. However, I am arguing that candidates, during an election, must appear to cater to voters’ wants in general, and specifically to the voters that are clustered in the political center. Once in office, political officials may ignore voters’ preferences. The system protects the officeholders from political repercussions when the officeholders support policies opposed by the majority of voters.

[6] For an explanation of the Federal Reserve’s role in causing the ongoing economic crisis, see Tom Woods’Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse.

[7] Henry Hazlitt. 1979. Economics in One Lesson. New York, Crown Trade Paperbacks, p.17.

[8] For more analysis of our move to a socialized economy, see Tom Woods’ Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism.

[9] See Cecil E. Bohannon and T. Normal Van Cott’s “Now More Than Ever, Your Vote Doesn’t Matter” for an explanation of the point that a single vote is unlikely to affect the outcome of an election with many voters.Download PDF

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Justice for All Without the State

http://www.libertarianstandard.com/articles/david-j-heinrich/justice-for-all-without-the-state/

by DAVID J. HEINRICH on JUNE 5, 2010 @ 12:00 PM

Writing on The American Conservative website, Daniel McCarthy argues in “Anarcho-Distributism” that the so-called state of nature that libertarians discuss would not resemble what a Stateless society would look like if the State collapsed. He argues that reasoning from the state of nature may not be the correct starting point for conceptualizing or building an alternative political structure. He therefore claims that anarcho-capitalist arguments about how private defense agencies, protection agencies, or dispute resolution organizations work assume a certain level of equality which would not be present in reality and that these institutions of justice would thus favor the rich. I argue in this article that the free marketcan provide justice without disproportionately favoring the rich.

The State of Nature and the Evolution of Law and Custom

Reasoning from the so-called state of nature is useful for making theoretical arguments about what is justified. To libertarians and other righteous people, justification matters and we need to at least be conceptually capable of justification. That said, of course we also need to consider what norms are assumed in society as it has developed. For example, walking up to someone’s door and ringing their doorbell is not normally considered trespassing. It is also worth noting that there are many libertarians consider the wisdom of common law on other evolved law.

No amount of purely libertarian legal theorizing that is disconnected from socially accepted norms and practices can explain why when you walk into a restaurant and order a meal, you have to pay for it, despite signing no contract.

Analyzing the state of nature, even Robinson Crusoe examples, can help us greatly with some legal questions,  including questions about intellectual property. For example, lets say that Bob and Jane are living on an island. They both catch fish to eat. Lets say that Jane discovers a new and more efficient way to catch fish, perhaps a new technique or some kind of improved tool. Bob observes Jane doing this and copies her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Jane has no right to prevent Bob from using his body and property to achieve his goals, even if he copies her techniques. This is a simple example, yet it cuts to the heart of the matter regarding patents.1

Of course, while the above type of reasoning is useful, we cannot reason our way up from nothing to a completely formed legal system. The much-maligned armchair theorizing is sometimes useful to analyze the validity of existing law, but it cannot be used by itself generate an entire legal structure de novo. The libertarian legal theorist must account for local customs, traditions, circumstances, and generally accepted norms and understandings. Libertarian legal theorizing can tell us that consent is required for transactions and other interactions, but it cannot tell us precisely what constitutes consent in various cases, nor can mechanical rules be laid out to rigidly determine this (although rules of thumb are useful).

No amount of purely libertarian legal theorizing that is disconnected from socially accepted norms and practices can explain why when you walk into a restaurant and order a meal, you have to pay for it, despite signing no contract. Nor can theorizing alone even explain why contracts or the words “I accept” sometimes constitute consent, but other times do not. We have to draw upon other disciplines. We recognize that — no matter how this situation historically evolved — walking into a restaurant and ordering a meal does constitute consent to pay for that meal. We recognize this by the same way that we recognize other forms of consent — by common sense and understanding of custom.

Pushing the Button

We always seek to abolish aggression, to abolish State intervention, even if that exposes other problems — which are themselves caused by other Statist interventions.

Daniel McCarthy argues that society would not look like what anarcho-capitalists think it would look like if the State disappeared tomorrow. Regarding these “pushing the button” hypothetical situations, they are merely that. All anarcho-capitalist agitators realize that we need an ideological shift in a certain percentage of the population. Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe has talked about this in his book, Democracy: The God That Failed, as has Murray N. Rothbard in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto.2

What Rothbard actually said was that a real libertarian would push a button to instantaneously abolish all invasion of liberty. Because no button to end aggression exists, this is a hypothetical question regarding one’s mental state. The point of it is to influence our thinking on various issues. The point is that we should always seek to abolish aggression, to abolish State intervention, even if that exposes other problems — which are themselves caused by other Statist interventions. This related to Ludwig von Mises’ observation that interventionism leads to more interventionism: problems caused by State intervention lead to the alleged justification for more intervention. Libertarians must not only boldly oppose this, but also agitate for movement in the other direction.

Returning to the issue of the State, most libertarians recognize that even if the State were torn down tomorrow, it would be rebuilt rather quickly, one way or another, quite possibly in a more despotic form. So long as there are enough people at least willing to tacitly approve of the State and tolerate aggression against them, both in their deeds and in their minds, States will continue to exist. Were the State to collapse, while the masses of the population might not work towards rebuilding it, they would readily tolerate others — the “elite” — doing this.3 As is normally the case, there is no “quick fix”.

Walter Block’s Revolutionary Tribunals

Regarding Professor Walter Block‘s proposed trials4 for former Statists in a free society — which would likely have restitution, and possibly retribution-based elements — I do not think that they are necessarily a recipe for discord and strife. People like Donald Trump, who has used eminent domain to help enrich himself5 ought not to be allowed to keep ill-gotten gains. Serious attempts to trace property back to original owners would not normally be made; however, in cases where proof could be provided and this could be done, claimants would come forth to state their cases. Most likely, these trials would work via the homesteading of claims by first-comers, perhaps by insurance companies providing private dispute resolution services.

These trials would not be arbitrary, but would be brought by specific claimants, either specific victims, or defense insurance companies trying to improve market standing, and indirectly acting on behalf of many victims. The benefits might be seen in terms of lower premiums, which insurance companies homesteading claims against Statists could afford to offer to gain more customers. Another way that this might work is through outlawry trials. Offering insurance for private protection is a a business, and companies cannot afford to insure individuals who are incredibly high risks. Individuals who might be the recipients of much hostility and attempted repossession in a free market — i.e., prominent Statists — would likely have difficulty finding protection agencies willing to protect them. Evidence-based trials could be held at the request of these individuals, in which case their guilt may or may not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Despite my theoretical support for Walter Block’s tribunals of Statists, by the time we have a truly free market, a truly free world, it is unclear whether or not there will be many Statists left to prosecute.

Would Justice Favor Those with the Most Wealth?

Summarily, the wealthy criminal attempting to violate the law at will would, in the very best case, find every conceivable interaction with others much more difficult and expensive and he would rapidly become less wealthy.

Daniel McCarthy argues that in a Stateless society, justice would favor those with the most wealth, and he argues that there would be just as inegalitarian a distribution of wealth in a free market as there is today. I have several responses to this argument.

First, this problem is exacerbated by the State, being a clear target of these aims. Second, this has not happened historically when we have had basically Stateless societies, or nearly so. Consider: Ancient Iceland,6 Ancient Ireland,7 the not so Wild, Wild West,8 and Pennsylvania from 1681 to 1690.9,10 Bryan Caplan, “The Anarcho-Statists of Spain: An Historical, Economic, and Philosophical Analysis of Spanish Anarchism.” This is an excellent article that illustrates the fundamentally Statist mindset of socialist-libertarians when faced with the voluntary decisions embraced by free people. Socialist revolution of any kind, whether allegedly anarchist or libertarian or not, is inherently murderous.

…thousands of people…were murdered because they happened to have political or religious beliefs that the (socialist) Anarchists did not agree with.

When faced with voluntary decisions of free people in a Stateless society, when these decisions affirm a desire for private property rights in objects and land, in consumer and capital goods; the anarcho- socialist, syndicalist, communitarian, communist, neo-Georgist, distributist, etc must either accept those decisions — hence at least tacitly accept the legitimacy of capitalism and private property — or become a Statist and attempt to enforce his brand of socialism.)) Surely, these places did not have basically egalitarian distributions of wealth, and may very well have been more polarized in many ways. Third, almost every market that I can think of caters not just to the rich, but also to the middle class and even the poor. Consider computers, cars, houses, books, food, financial services, restaurants, etc.

Fourth and finally, the argument may be made that justice is different, as it concerns disputes between people, yet this argument is not entirely convincing, partly because of the historical examples to the contrary, but also because even the wealthy in today’s Statist society do not get away with outright theft or crime as is recognized by the masses. The wealthy usually attempt to privilege themselves with the State through systematic rules, not through outright request of special exemptions. Every politically elite group needs at least the tacit approval of those ruled over, no matter how brutal they are. This applies even in the case of dictators who may order soldiers to slaughter protesting civilians, as the dictator needs the soldiers to be willing to follow his orders.

One ought to consider how a private defense agency and associated individuals who protected rich criminals would be perceived in a free market. Their reputation would be ruined, they would not be able to procure clients, they would not be recognized by other dispute resolution organizations, they would be boycotted, etc. Competing private defense agencies would have incentives to cooperate to eliminate these rogue organizations. Furthermore, other wealthy individuals would have incentives to deal with rich criminals. As with the middle class and even poor people, most rich people are good and lawful. Most of these rich people are rich because they provide valuable services or goods that the middle class desire; hence, they have incentive to deal with rich criminals. Rich lawful individuals would also be aware that they too could be victimized by rich criminals.

One more consideration is that life would be difficult for those attempting to circumvent legal norms in a free society and for their protection agencies. Their protection agencies would incur higher costs. And what happens when the wealthy law-breaking clients of these protection agencies have conflicts with one another? Surely they cannot trust their admittedly corrupt protection agencies to provide a just resolution. And seeing as how these corrupt protection agencies would realize they are protecting clients with limited alternatives, would they not charge extremely high premiums? Seeing as how these individuals would be considered outlaws by civilized people, they would also have to pay for bodyguards.

Summarily, the wealthy criminal attempting to violate the law at will would, in the very best case, find every conceivable interaction with others much more difficult and expensive and he would rapidly become less wealthy. He might also find himself considered an outlaw by most (a technical obstacle) and hence a target.

What Libertarians are Fighting For and Against

US law is positive law and for practical purposes of enforcement, the US Constitution means whatevercourts say it means.

It is worth remembering what libertarians are fighting for: liberty, private property rights, the right to one’s body, prosperity, peace, and capitalism. It is also worth remembering what we are fighting against. All of the decrees of the State are ultimately backed by lethal force and necessarily so. If you disobey any State law, edict, executive order, or regulation — no matter how trivial — the police or perhaps soldiers will kill you if necessary. In the United States, at least, they will usually try to apprehend you first. However, if you resist apprehension, and in defending your right to your body use force approaching lethal force, you will be murdered.

An example that comes to mind which fortunately did not end in that is the case of Edward and Elaine Brown. They barricaded themselves into their house and refused to pay Federal income taxes. Although they had stockpiled weapons and food, they were eventually arrested and sent to prison. They were sentenced to 35 and 37 years in prison and will both be 102 years old when released, assuming they survive that long. Tragically, they had the kooky idea that legal arguments regarding the correct interpretation of what the Constitution authorized would acquit them; these kinds of defenses against tax evasion always have and always will fail.11 US law is positive law and for practical purposes of enforcement, the US Constitution means whatever courts say it means.12,13 For citizens, what matters is not what the US Constitution actually seems to mean as written, but what courts say it means, and anticipating the process by which US courts will come to various conclusions.14

In the case of Edward and Elaine Brown, they were not murdered for defending themselves because they did not escalate their defense to the use of deadly force. They were, however, imprisoned. For people who are not hardened criminals, prison is effectively torture. Edward Brown claims to have been tortured in prison.15 I should also note that while using deadly force to defend yourself against State officials will result in your death, it is not a necessary condition and only condition for this to happen: Many of Gandhi’s pacifist protesters were murdered by British soldiers. It thus ought to be clear that any resistance against States, even if entirely peaceful, can be met with lethal force.

Moving Towards a Completely Free World

It is extremely unlikely that we will ever simply go from having a State to not having a State while retaining the same configurations of property-title ownership. Either there will be complete collapse, and hence ruin of many of the rich, or there will be a gradual decline of States both through political change and secessionist movements. Professor Hoppe talks about this when discussing mass decentralized secession. For the prospects of a free world to have any hope, libertarian intellectual elites must work towards a paradigm shift in public opinion about the State and its legitimacy. When enough people in various regions are sufficiently dissatisfied with the State and of the opinion that the free market can better provide for their needs, mass decentralized small secessionist movements can take place. These kinds of decentralized secessionist movements would be more difficult to prevent than was, for example, the attempted secession of the Southern states from the US during the Civil War.16

Where does this all begin? Freedom begins in your mind. It begins with the realization that taxes constitute robbery, that inflation constitutes a kind of theft or fraud. It begins with the realization that those in the government who would take your wealth are no better than criminals who would rob you at gun-point: simply because one calls something “collecting taxes” does not mean it is fundamentally any different from robbery. So we treat governments and their regulations as mere technical obstacles, not moral obstacles. If we pay taxes, we do so out of mere prudence, not out of any ridiculous feeling of moral obligation. Regarding prudence, we should of course keep in mind the above-mentioned example of the Browns and their fate. Libertarians have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in changing people’s minds.

~*~

David J. Heinrich is a libertarian anarcho-capitalist, pro-punishment pacifist, photographer, and tennis-lover.


Endnotes

  1. For an excellent paper rebutting intellectual property, see Kinsella, Stephan N., “Against Intellectual Property,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 15, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 1-53. Download PDF This paper is also an excellent reference for other papers on intellectual property and is worth reading for the footnotes alone! []
  2. Part III, Epilogue, A Strategy for Liberty []
  3. A relevant paraphrased quote is, “If a meteor hits the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the result will not be atheism.” []
  4. Walter Block, “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism,” in Property, Freedom, & Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, ed. Jörg Guido Hülsmann and N. Stephan Kinsella (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009), 137-148 Download PDF and Walter Block, “Libertarian Punishment Theory: Working for, and Donating to, the State,” Libertarian Papers 1, no. 17 (2009): 1-31. Download PDF []
  5. Donald Trump at least attempted to use eminent domain to enrich himself, and had the nerve to express disappointment when on another occasion his vicious plans to use eminent domain to steal another person’s property were rebutted []
  6. Jesse L. Byock, Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power (California: University of California Press, 1990).
    David Friedman, “Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case,” The Journal of Legal Studies 8, no. 2, Private Alternatives to the Judicial Process (March 1979): 399-415.
    Roderick T. Long, “Privatization, Viking Style: Model or Misfortune?,” Lew Rockwell Column, June 6, 2002.
    William Ian Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland (Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 1997).
    Thomas Whiston, “Medieval Iceland and the Absence of Government,” Mises Daily, December 25, 2002. []
  7. Joseph R. Pedan, “Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland,” The Libertarian Forum III, no. 4 (April 1971): 3-4,8. Download PDF
    Joseph R. Pedan, “Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 1, no. 2 (1977): 81-95. Download PDF
    Murray N. Rothbard, “Chapter 3: The State: The State as Aggressor,” in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Revised Manifesto. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1973), 45-72.
    Murray N. Rothbard, “Chapter 12: The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts: Police Protection,” in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Revised Manifesto. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1973), 215-241.
    Edward P. Stringham, Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice, Illustrated ed. (Transaction Publishers, 2007). []
  8. Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill, “An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 3, no. 1 (1979): 9-29.
    Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill, The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier, 1st ed. (Stanford, CA: Stanford Economics and Finance, 2004).
    Ryan McMaken, “The violent and wild west after all?,” Mises Economics Blog, September 15, 2007.
    Thomas E., Jr. Woods, 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, Reprint ed. (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2008). This is an excellent interview by Jeffrey Tucker with Professor Woods. []
  9. Murray N. Rothbard, “Pennsylvania’s Anarchist Experiment: 1681-1690,” Mises Daily, July 8, 2005. []
  10. There is also a list of other anarchist communities on wikipedia, although the description of the socialistic anarchist communities is overly generous. []
  11. Please see the IRS’ Anti-Tax Evasion Scheme website for further details regarding various anti-tax schemes and court-decisions which rebutted them. []
  12. It might be more technically correct to say that US law means whatever courts say provided that officers and soldiers are willing to enforce their decisions; in the ultimate analysis, US law is whatever is enforced via coercive force. It is also worth noting that the same would apply in a free society. In one meaning of the word, law is essentially what is enforced. However, in a free society, the forces acting on the path of the law would be different. []
  13. Although Oliver W. Holmes’ prediction theory of law fell into disrepute after H.L.A. Hart’s attack on it, rehabilitations have been attempted, and it remains a useful framework for citizens to analyze the law within, when deciding upon actions. See:
    Oliver Wendell, Jr. Holmes, “The Path of the Law,” Harvard Law Review 10 (1897): 457, 469.
    Wikipedia, “Prediction theory of law,” Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
    Wikipedia, “Legal realism,” Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
    H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, USA). []
  14. This should disillusion people who think that legal contortions can free them from Statism. []
  15. Margot Sanger-Katz, “When time came, Ed Brown folded (In recorded call, he also complains of cold),” Concord Monitor, October 19, 2007 []
  16. The Civil War was actually not a civil war at all, but an attempted secession by one government and a war of aggression by another. Please see David Gordon’s excellent review, “The Despot Named Lincoln,” of Thomas DiLorenzo’s book, The Real Lincoln. Also consider DiLorenzo’s Lincoln Unmasked.
    David Gordon, “The Despot Named Lincoln,” Mises Daily, September 15, 2009.
    Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2003).
    Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2007). []

 


Jesus and Soldiers

The following is written up at The Libertarian Standard. The whole evangelical christian warmongering thing is of great concern to me. Most people in that genre consider Oliver North a hero even though the evidence of his crimes makes him a traitor to America and probably a major player in the drug distribution system in the late 70’s through the early 80’s. (E)

The Libertarian Standard

by Stephan Kinsella on November 12, 2010 @ 10:34 am

Last night, I attended “Heal Our Heroes: Ministering to the Military in Our Midst,” an event here in Houston featuring keynote speaker Colonel Oliver North. (I was invited by a friend who had a table.) It was a fundraising dinner for Military Ministry, which provides various spiritual counseling and resources to soldiers. There were parents and a singer who had lost loved ones or suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) etc. from the Iraq or Afghanistan war, various testimonials, etc. It was very Protestant in that Jesus was mentioned repeatedly and they explicitly pushed for us to give money at the end (Catholics are a bit more discreet when they ask for money–they just pass the basket).

I can understand wanting to help those who are suffering from the effects of war–even the soldiers. But after showcasing all the soldiers’ whose lives have been ruined by the military and by war, you would think there might be a word about peace or stopping the fighting that causes such devastation. But no, not a word. I suppose this is understandable: their mission was to raise money, so they focused on that.

But two other things really shocked me, both regarding the degree to which American Protestant Christians have intermingled their faith with patriotism and love of the state. For one, an award was given out, which was a miniature replica of a statue of Jesus hugging a soldier. Now I have no doubt the idea of a loving, compassionate savior giving succor to someone damaged by war is compatible with Christianity, but this seemed to go beyond that. And this impression was reinforced by the words of a young lady who spoke on behalf of MM. She said that in this world there are only two classes of people who have directly given their lives for you: Jesus, who gave his life to save your soul; and the soldier, who gives his life to save your freedom. Jesus comforting and forgiving the soldier–fine. Comparing soldiers to Jesus? Sacrilege. I don’t think Jesus is supposed to have had guilt or PTSD over what He did. Soldiers do, for a reason: War is hell. Jesus didn’t kill and murder people. Soldiers do.

Christians in America, especially Protestants and the “right-wing” types, it seems to me, have their priorities a bit out of place. Statolatry crowds out true faith and religion.

Heal our Heroes-1

Heal our Heroes-2

Stephan is an attorney and libertarian writer in Houston, Senior Fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and the founder and editor of Libertarian Papers. His most recent book is Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe (co-editor, with Jörg Guido Hülsmann; Mises Institute, 2009).
 

Stephan Kinsella

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